ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P05)

'True religion' and the anthropology of the Scottish Enlightenment

Location Quincentenary Building, Wadsworth Room
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 09:00

Convenor

Gordon Graham (Princeton Theological Seminary) email
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Summary

This panel will explore the historical context and contemporary relevance of the Scottish Enlightenment concept of 'true religion'.

Long Abstract

The thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment developed a normative theory of human nature that would enable them to establish criteria of good and bad with respect to forms of social organization, educational institutions and public policy. Some writers applied the same strategy to natural religion in order to identify its 'true' form. This panel will investigate the theory of human nature that underlies this normative anthropology, and the contemporary relevance (if any) of the concept of 'true religion'.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Towards a Humean true religion

Author: Andre Willis (Brown University)  email

Summary

This speculative argument contends that based on the broad contours of Hume's project what he calls religion’s “proper office” might be constituted by a genuine theism, calm passions, and a practical morality.

Long Abstract

Many philosophers of religion hold the view that David Hume was simply a devastating critic of religion. One cannot deny, however that the category "true religion" is an unexplained element in his work. Most address the presence of "true religion" by explaining it as empty and insincere, a mere "fig leaf" hiding Hume's irreligion. I take an alternative approach and track this inchoate idea for its value for contemporary religious thought. I argue that "true religion" fits neatly into Hume's philosophic schema, was a requirement of his bifurcated approach to religion (true v. false), and can be thought of as a transition between classical notions of religio (a set of virtues that stabilized the social order) and modern conceptions of religion (that aimed for epistemic truth). Hume could not escape grappling with the idea "true religion": he was an interlocutor inside of a discursive tradition that revolved around it. Reconceiving this idea in Hume's work supports generative work in the contemporary study of religion. Of course, his lush writing offered little explicit content for his notion of "true religion". Still, we might make some provisional claims about it: relieved of its claims for metaphysical legitimacy, released from morality derived from fear of Divine authority, and unrestricted by a fixed set of worship practices, religion appears quite bare. Yet, in this austerity religion could be understood as a socially beneficial convention grounded in history and community. This approach correlates with contemporary work in religious studies that refuses to treat religion as a system of beliefs or a trans-historical essence.

David Hume on primitive fetishism and religious rituals

Author: Spyridon Tegos  email

Summary

In this paper I’m exploring the understudied Humean source of fetishism in the history fo religions, Charles de Brosses and its impact on his philosophy of religion. Secondly I explore an associated Humean ambiguity regarding secular and religious rituals.

Long Abstract

David Hume on primitive fetishism and religious rituals

The term fetishism is routinely associated with cultural anthropology and history of religion but it has been historically exploited by Comte, Marx and Freud in close connection to the concepts of identification and alienation in social context. It seems that it appears for the first time at 1760, following the publication of Du culte des dieux fetiches by Charles de Brosses. In a letter to President de Brosses (27 Dec 1763) Hume acknowledges the empirical confirmation that Charles De Brosses's book on fetishism has provided to his thesis exposed in the Natural History of Religion. In this paper first I'm addressing the intricacies of this understudied Humean source and its impact on his philosophy of religion. Secondly I explore an associated Humean ambiguity regarding rituals: Hume holds throughout NHR that ignorance and rudeness apply to both vulgar and savage mentality thereby creating a potential of atavistic therefore socially unsettling behaviour within the frame of modern manners. Yet in other writings(in the Essays as well as the History of England)HUme offers a reassessment of ritualized behaviour; the latter is considered as a crucial operator of civility both in the institutions of religion and modern politeness. This reading could lead to a reevalution of Hume's philosophy of religion in the genealogy of modernity regarding the relationship between secular and religious rites. By the same token it can possibly break grounds for novel speculation over the meanings of 'true religion' in Hume's thought.

Adam Smith, true religion and normative anthropology

Author: Gordon Graham (Princeton Theological Seminary)  email

Summary

This paper will explore Adam Smith's account of religion as a model for a normative anthropology of religion.

Long Abstract

Adam Smith, though a close assocate of David Hume, has an interestingly more subtle account of the role of religion in human life. It is, broadly speaking, an evaluative account rooted in a conception of human nature. In this way it provides a model for normative anthropology. The value of exploring this model lies in the light it might shed on the professed evaluative 'neutrality' of more modern anthropological approaches.

Hume, Tylor and Lang: Of Miracles, Marvels, Animism and Materialism

Author: Nathan Porath  email

Summary

This paper will explore Andrew's Lang's original critique of the David Hume/E.B.Tylor's genealogy through the philosophical as well as methodological problem of Religious Experience in the research field.

Long Abstract

Anthropological irreverence towards the enlightenment existed at the very birth of the discipline. E.B Tylor, whose Primitive Culture was an immediate genealogical development out of David's Hume's History of Natural Religion, (NHR) saw many of the enlightenment philosophers as being 'advanced animists' perpetuating surviving concepts from the dawn of humanity.

His defecting student Andrew Lang (who claimed to have had numinous experiences) showed his own irreverence towards the enlightenment by contesting David Hume's own critique of miracles and religious healing. Lang was the first to raise the problem of numinous (Religious) experience within anthropology.

The problem of religious experience in anthropology is not only a philosophical problem (ontological/phenomenological) but also a research methodological one - what do we do with those phenomena, which David Hume would have called 'miracles, prodigies and 'enthusiasm' that are sometimes experienced during field research?

This paper will explore the philosophical, anthropological and methodological problem of religious experience in relation to the works of David Hume, E.B.Tylor and Andrew Lang. It suggests that the irony might be that the materialist meta-frame which provides anthropology with its ontological point of discursively referencing religious data, also provides the context for religious experience in the field. This raises an interesting question of whether anthropology can develop a totally monist approach that can embrace the ontology of spirit-based knowledge systems beyond their semiotic phenomena or must it be always locked into a naturalist ontological dualism in relation to them?

Is the concept of the 'sacred' a fundamentalist type of 'sympathy'? Reflections on morality in Hume, Durkheim, and the 'anthropology of religion'

Author: Michelangelo Paganopoulos (Goldsmiths, University of London)  email

Summary

The paper compares the contrasting approaches of Hume and Durkheim to morality and religion, in order to reflect upon methodological and historical issues regarding the anthropology of religion.

Long Abstract

Hume's 'moral atheism' was based on a distinction between the spheres of morality and religion. The paper compares the contrasting approaches of Hume and Durkheim to morality and religion, the 'science of man' against the science of the 'sacred', in order to reflect upon the Durkheimian moral concept of the 'Church' as a religious step too far from Hume's emancipating concept of 'natural religion'. The paper asks if the concept of the 'sacred', embedded throughout the history of the 'anthropology of religion' in various ways and contexts (Asad 1973/1993), constitutes a Christian fundamentalist way of thinking, ideologically manifested as a kind of naturalized enthusiasm for the sacred. By liberating Durkheim's approach to the 'sacred' from its moral implications, when associated with the evolution of the morality of purity and pollution (Douglas 1966/1970), the paper proposes for a return to the field of the 'anthropology of religion' as a daily practice(s).

At the same time, however, it asks if this secularized approach to the 'sacred' is limited in terms of the emotional and subliminal feelings religion brings to people. In this context, the paper expands on the question of morality as intuition or as a habitus, and consequently, it wonders if the Human is naturally a fundamentalist animal, motivated by sacred delusions, passions, and self-centrism, as manifested in the Dialogues through the characters of Philo, Demea, and Cleanthes, emotions which challenge the Christian ideals of transgression and unity as expressed in numinous 'sacred' experiences.

Poetic wisdom: Vico on myth

Author: Aleksandar Boskovic (Institute of Social Sciences)  email

Summary

Giambattista Vico's concept of myth presented a radical departure from the rationalist ideas of his time. Myths, fables, and religions form important clues about the origin and development of early human institution.

Long Abstract

Giambattista Vico's concept of myth presented a radical departure from the rationalist ideas of his time. Myths, fables, and religions form important clues about the origin and development of early human institutions. The idea that human beings cannot live without religion and myths even in the Age of Reason (the age when he lived himself) presented an emphasis on the problem of belief - something that will become more important with the Romantic movement. That is why the evolution of rules, laws and regulations was necessary, and in their final form they make possible lives of humans as members of the society.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.