EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W087)

Dealing with doubts, putting to test: the importance of uncertainty in vernacular religion

Location Salle des thèses B16
Date and Start Time 12 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Anna Fedele (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), CRIA) email
Elisabeth Claverie (CNRS) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores the ways in which dogmas and rituals are transformed in vernacular religion. We call for ethnographically grounded papers that analyze the role of uncertainty in religious practices focusing on the way in which people put to test the efficacy of rituals, sacred sites and figures.

Long Abstract

In the last decades social scientists and religious historians have emphasized the need to pay more attention to religion as lived and practiced. Vernacular religion also identified as "popular" religion is finally being recognized in its own value especially thanks to the work of scholars focusing on Christianity such as William Christian, Meredith McGuire, Robert Orsi and others. Contrary to the assumption that religion works as a sort of magical remedy against uncertainty, providing people with a set of answers and solutions they totally embrace and rely upon, what emerges from ethnographical accounts is that uncertainty and doubt are inherent in lived religion.

In this panel we want to explore the ways in which the dogmas and rituals created by religious institutions are creatively used and transformed in the everyday lived religion of people. We call for ethnographically grounded papers that explore the role of uncertainty and doubt in religious practices focusing on the way in which people put to test the efficacy of rituals as well as the healing power of sacred figures and sites. How do people establish that a certain religion works for them in a historical period in which they are increasingly aware of the existence of religious traditions that are different from the one they grew up with? How do they criticize with their own religious creativity the dogmas and rules of the religious tradition they belong to?

Discussant: Ellen Badone

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Cultivating doubt, seeking evidence: diverse Protestant emotional practices in response to uncertainty

Author: Monique Scheer (University of Tuebingen)  email
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Short Abstract

German Lutherans shy away from rituals that imply efficacy and seek to believe in spite of doubt. In contrast, charismatic Christians claim to be certain. This paper will explore belief practices geared to produce certain emotional effects, putting the efficacy of the spoken word to the test.

Long Abstract

Protestant Christianity in Germany is a diverse field, where the role of uncertainty and doubt is highly contested. My research in Protestant churches in southern Germany has shown that for Lutherans doubt is an important component of inner freedom. Even some pastors convey a sense of doubt about the existence of God to their church members, insisting that we cannot know, but only hope that God is there. They shy away from rituals that imply efficacy and seek to believe in spite of doubt. In contrast, the members of a charismatic church say they are certain God is there and that he is highly involved in their lives. They cultivate this belief in practices of healing that prove that miracles can happen. But of course, charismatic Christians also experience uncertainty. In my paper, I would like to show how in these diverse Protestant traditions, belief practices such as reading the Bible and praying, alone and in groups, are geared to produce certain emotional effects that are interpreted as evidence of God's presence and of his will. These emotions assuage feelings of uncertainty, both for Lutheran and charismatic Christians. Following Webb Keane, I would suggest that it is the efficacy of the spoken word in ritual that is put to the test - does the sermon, the prayer, the song, the biblical verse "feel" right? The emotions expected are different for Lutherans and charismatics, but they share the notion that feelings mediate God's communication to them.

The belief in animal immortality as a source of uncertainty and disquiet

Author: Stanley Brandes (University of California, Berkeley)  email
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Short Abstract

Research at pet cemeteries in the USA, France and elsewhere indicates a growing belief in animal immortality. This paper examines the nature of these beliefs and the causes for their appearance. The paper discusses animal immortality as a contested field, which produces discomfort and disagreement among people from various religious communities.

Long Abstract

Over the past hundred years, citizens in the most economically advanced, post-industrial societies have begun to blur the conceptual distinction between human beings and other living creatures. The most recent manifestation of this trend is the growing attribution of sacred qualities, including the presence of souls and the possibility of immortality, to non-human animals. This belief extends to animals of all kinds (e.g., dolphins and whales), but particularly to household pets, including most prominently dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits. Evidence for the recent florescence of this belief comes in large part from fieldwork at pet cemeteries and crematories in the United States, France, and Japan. Gravestone inscriptions at the oldest pet cemeteries—that is, the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery outside of New York City, and the Cimetière de Chiens outside of Paris—demonstrate the increasing ascription of human characteristics to animals over the past hundred years. These characteristics include religious affiliation, ethnic identity, and the expectation of being reunited eternally with owners in the afterlife. Interviews with clerics and people from different religious communities show disagreement over the presence of animal souls and their immortality. The same disquiet emerges among pet loss support groups, in which owners mourn the death of beloved companion animals. In addition to providing an overview of animal immortality as a contested field, this paper focuses on discomfort and uncertainty among religious Jews, who oppose or defend the belief in animal immortality.

Dealing with doubts in lived crafted rituals

Author: Anna Fedele (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), CRIA)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper analyses the role of doubt and uncertainty in vernacular religion and particularly in contemporary crafted rituals. It is based on research about the spread of the Goddess spirituality movement in traditionally Catholic countries of Southern Europe.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on fieldwork among Portuguese, Italians, Catalans and Spaniards influenced by the transnational Goddess spirituality movement. It explores the way in which Pagan theories and practices arriving from the United States and the United Kingdom are creatively adapted in traditionally Catholic countries of Southern Europe. Raised in Catholic families the spiritual practitioners I encountered criticized Christianity as misogynist and patriarchal, but kept venerating Christian figures such as the Virgin Mary, Jesus and Mary Magdalene. They worshipped female divinities such as "Mother Earth" and the "Goddess" but did not want to identify themselves as "witches" or "Pagans". With their rituals they tried to combine Pagan and Christian figures, symbols and gestures. Through a detailed analysis of crafted rituals I will show how uncertainty and doubt form an important part of lived religion and ritual. I will argue that invented rituals offer a privileged window upon the uncertainty intrinsic in ritualization because participants feel less constrained by a long lasting religious tradition and talk more openly about their doubts and their strategies to neutralize them.

Vernacular Quakerism and the certainty of uncertainty

Author: Peter Collins (Durham University)  email
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Short Abstract

In this paper I intend to describe and discuss the challenges faced by British Quakers, who manage the ambiguities of their belief and practice through a constant process of negotiation and readjustment, in the absence of a guiding credal statement.

Long Abstract

British Quakerism, a faith group known more formally as the Religious Society of Friends grew up in seventeenth century England, in the midst of the English Civil War. These were uncertain times, socially, politically, religiously, and it is likely that such uncertainty was constitutive of both the belief and practice of the group. In adopting a historical perspective I intend to shed light on the shape of vernacular Quakerism in contemporary Britain. Fundamental to their position is their continued eschewal of credal statements. While this facilitates both an extraordinary freedom of belief and openness of debate it has also fixed a form of liturgy which has changed little in 350 years. Drawing primarily on an ethnographic study of a single Quaker Meeting (congregation) I will indicate the ways in which participants manage the ambiguities and indeterminacies that populate their religious and spiritual lives.

Uncertainty and the performance of unmasking and revelation: spiritual power and healing dramas in Puerto Rican brujería

Author: Raquel Romberg (Tel Aviv University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines the ethnography of uncertainty and the skillful performance of revelation and proof in Puerto Rican brujería (witch-healing), suggesting that uncertainty not only constitutes the very nature of this vernacular religion and the charisma of its practitioners, but also shapes the sensuous dramas of its divination, magic, and healing rituals.

Long Abstract

When brujos (witch-healers) reveal during consultations that it's not they who speak when they deliver the messages of the spirits, or when they unmask unsuspecting clients waiting to be consulted for being skeptical about the efficacy of magic, they are skillfully performing the theatricality of revelation and proof, tackling the cravings for certainty that the secrecy of magic elicits. This paper examines the ethnography of uncertainty in Puerto Rican brujería, suggesting that uncertainty not only constitutes the very nature of this vernacular religion, but also shapes the sensuous dramas of its divination, magic and healing rituals, as well as informs the charismatic basis of the spiritual power of brujos. Theoretical ruminations about performativity, charisma, belief, and skepticism will complement ethnographic vignettes that illustrate those ambiguous intersubjective ritual spaces in which the suspension of disbelief has been threatened by doubt and faith has managed to coexist with skepticism. Engaging Malinowski's assertion abut the monotonous, boring nature of magic rituals, this essay argues that the obsessively repetitive mimetic corporeal aesthetics exposed as manifestations of the otherwise concealed world of spirits during divination, possession, and the performance of magic works could be viewed as diagnostics of the relentless need for proof, for repetitive acts of revelation and corroboration in light of the lingering doubts, opacity, and fragility of consultations. In the context of brujería and other vernacular religions that lack a theological center or organization, such technologies and poetics of ritual revelation and proof become essential to their ethics, affectivity, and effectiveness.

Finding proof versus destabilizing certainties in two religious contexts in the Netherlands

Author: Kim Knibbe (Groningen University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will describe and analyze the practices of a spiritualist group with a strong emphasis on finding 'proof' of the reality of the other side. To develop a theoretical approach, this case will be compared to a religious context where the goal is to destabilize the Catholic dogma's.

Long Abstract

This paper is based ons several years of ethnographic research with a spiritualist medium and a spiritualist group in the Netherlands. These are part of larger networks that have been linking up with what is generally referred to as New Age. These spiritualist networks, however, have a much longer history in the Netherlands. When spiritualism was introduced int he 19th century in the Netherlands, it attracted the elites, nowadays the public is usually of a lower middle class and lower class background. Within the spiritualist groups, people gather to practice their paranormal abilties. More public events such as healings and seances often attract a wider public. In both cases, even the most committed members feel the need to maintain an attitude of doubt and uncertainty, but in the service of finding certainty, modelled on the hard sciences. The practices are characterized by an attitude that I call ' sceptical positivism'. The emphasis within these networks is on finding ' proof' of the other side. This quest for certainty will be compared to another religious context, dominated by a discourse of liberal Catholicism,where the emphasis is on learning to deal with uncertainty (see Knibbe 2008). This uncertainty is experienced as liberating. This comparison will be the basis for developing a theoretical approach that departs from Jackson's essay ' minima ethnographica' (1998) to approach both the quest for certainty and for uncertainty.

Vodun face the uncertainty of society

Author: Alessandra Brivio (Università Milano-Bicocca)  email
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Short Abstract

The aim of this paper is to question how vodun people in Benin are today responding to the more and more uncertain and deconstructed society they are living in. Between the many vodun order, Mamy Wata and the vodun Tron better respond to the worshippers’ demands for modernity and success.

Long Abstract

The aim of this paper is to question how vodun people in Benin are today responding to the more and more uncertain and complex society they are living in. Two are the vodun orders I would like to analyse because of their success in present day: Mamy Wata and the Tron (or gorovodu).

Mamy Wata helps people, and especially women, negotiate an economical and social position in the society. Indeed, Mamy Wata is the vodu of richness and success, but also of witchcraft, prostitution and commodification.

The Tron is supposed to be a modern vodun, able to provide simple and quick answers to his adepts, without asking for complete adherence to the order

The first point is to show the contrasting meanings of modernity underlined by this two vodun orders, a contradictory modernity that seems always ready to betraying expectations: the Tron gives more freedom to his adepts but it leaves them more alone in front of deities. Mami Wata helps women in succeeding in their life, compelling them to negotiate a social status that can easily fall under the accusation of witchcraft.

The second point is to question history to explain the development of such vodun orders and their present success, remembering that vodun are the mirror of the historical transformations of society

Doubt, uncertainty and expectations in the construction of ritual interaction between the Peruvian Amazon and Europe

Authors: Silvia Mesturini (LAMC-ULB)  email
Anne Marie Losonczy (E.P.H.E.)  email
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Short Abstract

This panel examines a particular sort of uncertainty and doubt that involves a search for proof concerning the existence of a “world beyond material reality”. Within this frame, we shall interrogate the increasing occidental interest for a particular shamanic practice, linked to Amerindian rituality, and centered on the ritual intake of the psychoactive ayahuasca.

Long Abstract

Our panel is based on the ethnography of rituals inspired by Amerindians, addressed to an occidental audience enticed by the consumption of the Amazonian psychoactive beverage known as ayahuasca. This multi-sited ethnography has been conducted between 2004 and 2010 in both the Peruvian Amazon (the city of Iquitos and certain communities along the Ucayali River) and Europe (mainly Paris and Brussels). These observations led us to examine the cognitive and emotional mechanisms that respond to a diffuse cultural disquiet and reshape ontological doubts among occidental users, leading them to attribute efficacy to these Amerindian rituals. In fact, the participation in rituals accomplished by ethnical shamans of different Amerindian origins or by Occidentals initiated by them, constitute, for the occidental audience, a demonstration of their critical attitude towards their own religious dogmas and cultural certitudes. Nevertheless, this critique, or "cultural disappointment", seems to reinforce, paradoxically, the ontological doubt of the participants, a doubt cast on the very existence and power of supernatural/spiritual indigenous entities, supposed to give them protection and well-being. A common international language and representations about shamanism and ayahuasca circulate between Europe, North and South America, owing to the mobility of the ritual experts and users, the World Wide Web, and testimonial literature. This language and representations prefigure the users' expectations in order to announce the ritual experience as an upcoming proof. The ritual efficacy becomes, at the same time, a congruence between the experience and the expectation and as an actual possibility of solving existentialist questions.

Vendredi saint chez Catherine de Nab'a (Beyrouth) ou la réactualisation d'un mythe religieux

Author: Emma Aubin-Boltanski (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris)  email
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Short Abstract

Le Vendredi saint de chaque année, Catherine de Nab’a, une visionnaire de Beyrouth, revit la Passion du Christ et les souffrances de la Vierge. Son transport mystique se traduit par l’apparition de stigmates sur son corps. Ce rituel, qui réactualise un mythe religieux, fera l’objet de ma présentation.

Long Abstract

Depuis plus de vingt ans, une femme surnommée Catherine de Nab'a « voit » la Vierge et des saints. Son corps est de plus régulièrement « visité » par eux. Au cours de ses extases, elle délivre des messages divins. Chrétienne maronite du Liban, elle est mariée et mère de trois enfants. Son appartement, situé dans le quartier populaire et mixte de Nab'a à Beyrouth, est fréquenté par des dévots de différentes religions, chrétiens et musulmans. Ma présentation sera consacrée à un rituel qui se déroule chaque année, le jour du Vendredi saint, dans la maison de la visionnaire. Ce jour-là, Catherine revit et réactualise par son corps à la fois la Passion du Christ et les souffrances de la Vierge. Le transport mystique se traduit par des hurlements et des larmes, ainsi que par l'apparition de stigmates au front, aux pieds, aux mains et au flanc. Je tenterai de démontrer que face à ce rituel-spectacle, les réactions sont contrastées. Les nombreux fidèles qui entourent Catherine pour l'occasion adoptent des attitudes différenciées. Par leurs prières, leurs chants, leurs cris et leurs pleurs, certains engagent leurs corps dans l'expérience. D'autres, plus distants, parfois ironiques, se contentent d'observer la scène, de la prendre en photo ou de la filmer. Quelles sont les raisons du succès grandissant de ce rituel qui met en scène la Passion? En quoi consiste son efficacité ? Quelles sont les attentes des visiteurs ? Comment l'Église maronite réagit-elle à ce phénomène?

Epreuves et preuves dans la construction sociale d'une sainte "populaire" (Nord Ceará, Brésil)

Author: Agnès Clerc-Renaud (Université de Strasbourg)  email
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Short Abstract

La construction sociale d'une sainte populaire sera interrogée à l'aune des mises à l'épreuve qui s'exercent tant sur différents protagonistes des récits hagiographiques (la sainte, son veuf, le voyant, la villageoise qui a perdu la raison, etc.) que sur les fidèles, à travers les pratiques de dévotion observées dans et autour de son sanctuaire.

Long Abstract

Dans le contexte religieux du Brésil contemporain, où la porosité et la labilité des appartenances cultuelles sont attestées depuis longtemps (Aubrée, Birman, Boyer, entre autres) les divergences entre catholiques et évangéliques se focalisent notamment autour du culte des saints. Dans cette perspective, on interrogera les écarts et les ajustements entre différents modes de mise à l'épreuve dans les pratiques cultuelles d'une sainte "populaire".

Dans ce bourg littoral du nord de l'État du Ceará cohabitent les fidèles de deux églises évangéliques (Assembléia de Deus et Assembléia de Deus Montese), un groupe de jeunes catholiques charismatiques, un groupe de prière d'une église catholique dédiée à São José, patron de la localité reconnu comme tel par le clergé et deux chapelles édifiées par des fidèles, l'une dédiée à São Pedro, patron des pêcheurs, l'autre à Santa Adelaide, sainte "populaire" décédée en 1929 dans la localité.

Par l'analyse des récits hagiographiques recueillis (fév-mars 2009 ; août 2010), on montrera la façon dont les mises à épreuves participent de la construction sociale de cette figure, en s'exerçant sur différents protagonistes : la sainte, son veuf, le voyant qui demande la translation de sa dépouille, la villageoise incrédule punie par la perte de sa raison…

On interrogera également les continuités et discontinuités entre les d'épreuves relatées dans ces récits et celles auxquelles se soumettent les fidèles dans les pratiques cultuelles (paiements de promesses, neuvaines, processions, par exemple) réalisées autour de la chapelle et du tombeau de la sainte

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.