This essay examines the standing of three important and widely accepted criticisms of the use of the concept of belief within the anthropology of religion. It does so by examining whether these criticisms track the historical use of the concept within the discipline, that is, whether the problematic implications that they associate with the concept can reasonably be inferred from the historical use of the words ‘believe’ and ‘belief’ by anthropologists. It argues that the criticisms do not meet this standard, and that we therefore have reason to think that they are pseudo-problems, which have no legitimate claim on our attention. It concludes by suggesting some reasons why these apparently arbitrary concerns about the concept of belief should have arisen, looking first at some discussions of the meaning of the terms ‘believe’ and ‘belief,’ and second at the reception of Rodney Needham’s 1972 monograph Belief, Language, and Experience.
The theoretical framework presented in this article makes it possible to understand religions as constantly changing networks of actors and infrastructures that incorporate, modify, discard, and reformulate numerous “elements” in terms of specific conceptualizations often rooted in concrete contexts of application, and “structures,” i.e., larger conceptual contexts such as evolution, cosmogonies, or anthropological views of humanity, in a necessary ongoing creative process.
Such a process, and the usefulness of the tool, will be illustrated in this article through discussion of the work of Robert T. Browne, particularly his book The Mystery of Space. To date, research has assumed that Browne derives all of his theory from Theosophy. By applying the above theoretical framework and situating Browne’s work within a broader network of discourses, the article challenges this conclusion and is able to paint a more complete picture. This illustrates the usefulness of the analytical tool presented.
Coming from the perspective of embodied or enactive cognition, this article argues for the bodily roots of all tradition. Given that tradition entails a givenness inherited from the past meeting with interpretation/modification/construction in the present, it examines tradition as an aspect of self-organizing cultural, particularly religious, systems, including in situations far from equilibrium. Building upon Michael Polanyi’s idea that what we tacitly rely upon becomes incorporated into our bodies, the article takes a phenomenological approach to argue that traditions function as part of our bodies through which we meaningfully engage the world. As such, tradition sets limits to our critical penetration, as much of our knowledge is unspecifiable. The Enlightenment ideal that all tradition is thoroughly contestable – open to explicitation and needing justification – remains strong in the academy. The article examines both the pitfalls of critical reflection and when critical reflection is appropriate or necessary.
Reflecting on the shape of the current field, this essay argues for the continued relevance for Manufacturing Religion, a book first published in 1997; describing the conditions of its writing, publication, and reception, it provides a variety of current examples to illustrate that the critique of scholarship that conceives of religion as a unique or deeply personal experience, one that defies explanation and merely requires understanding or even appreciation, continues to be an important critical tool in the contemporary study of religion.
This article examines how religious diversity is manifested and represented in contexts undergoing intense urban pressures. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in the Raval quarter of Barcelona, we analyse the open-air festivities of religious minorities and the emergence of new neighbourhood associations’ mobilizations. Specifically, we focus on the role of food in these events as a way to explore how diversification and urban transformation interrelate. Whilst food becomes the means through which religious and secular actors interact and articulate forms of place-making, it also becomes a resource to present religion in forms deemed ‘acceptable’ to the general public.
This study examines the question of how religious knowledge of the Umbanda religion is transferred from Brazil to German-speaking Europe in an interreligious network. Since the personalization of the Umbandistic spirits is not familiar in the cultural context in Europe, an emotional archive through the body becomes significant. In understanding the different aspects of religion in Africa, Brazil and Europe in relation to kinship, regionality, personality and nature, which are reflected in the sacred dimension, the focus is laid on the ontological understanding of the spiritual world and its understanding of nature and human beings. The argument of a shift of attention in the Umbanda religion to a stronger focus on nature in Central Europe is based on an observation of a change of the entanglements and borders of the religious field of Umbanda in German-speaking Europe integrating a great part of psychological aspects, especially a newly-founded therapy of nature.
Si des moniales de la période sont reconnues non seulement comme actrices de la Réforme catholique par leurs écrits mais aussi comme autrices, les femmes laïques ont plutôt fait l’objet d’une hagiographie qui dérobe désormais leur autorité spirituelle possible à notre lecture. Nous mettrons en regard la transmission posthume d’une autorité déclinante d’une part et ce que l’on peut savoir à présent de la conduite de ces femmes par les lettres d’autre part. L’étude parallèle des cas contemporains d’une dame parisienne de haut rang et d’une fille de pédagogue comtoise fait apparaître le contexte de contradictions dans lesquelles ces dernières ont écrit : à la fois avec l’accord voire l’encouragement d’un réseau masculin lettré, mais aussi en obéissant à une exigence de conformité à la représentation qu’un groupe veut donner de son pouvoir. Tout en participant de la sécularisation du discours chrétien, leurs écrits ne nous sont parvenus que par bribes : l’historiographie semble avoir jugé suffisant de conserver leur nom et de réduire leur œuvre à des traces de cet enseignement.