Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic Sibiu/ September, 2007

On the Reality of the Divine

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3.1.1 On the Reality of the Divine


To reiterate, this proposal grapples with the dichotomies between collective and subjective, socio-political and religious, structure and agency that are central to the debates in the anthropology of religions. Socially deterministic and reductively individualistic approaches downplay either the agentive or the social dimensions of religious practices and notions, respectively. At the same time, politically oriented approach to religions effaces the magicality of religion (Kapferer 1997: 2003) by stressing the instrumental, binding or dividing, function of religions in social realities (Malinowski 1973 [1939]). One author whom I would like to recuperate and demystify is Levy-Bruhl (1985 [1926]). Levy-Bruhl investigates collective representations created by ‘primitive mentalities’ that he defines as prelogical in form and mystic in content. By taking anti-evolutionist stance, Levy-Bruhl suggests that the governing principle of ‘native’ thinking is the law of participation that consists of given/ naturalized collective representations experienced on affective and corporeal rather than intellectual level. The law of participation refers to the coexistence and intertwined participations of the SUPERNATURAL in objective realities (89), although this assumption has been misread as religious essentialism endemic to smaller societies by Emile Durkheim (1994[1913]: 170). For Levy-Bruhl, the practical and the SUPERNATURAL constitute a symbiotic relationship; the SUPERNATURAL is not confined to a specific manifestation, it is also multipresent, invisible and intangible. The multipresence of the SUPERNATURAL means that it permeates the environment ‘the natives’ live in and operates not according to the philosophical laws of rational thought but as an unstable mix of mystic actions and consequences. Finally, Levy-Bruhl does not claim that ‘the natives’ can’t reflect on their actions or draw generalizations; simply put, our understanding of natural philosophy should not be projected into their mystic reality imbued with SUPERNATURAL forces. ‘Primitive mentality’ conceives of the relations between powers and properties of persons and things “under the law of participation, without troubling about contradictions which rational thought cannot possibly tolerate” (104).

Although Levy-Bruhl’s discussion of ‘primitive mentality’ is susceptible to valid lampooning, I find Levy-Bruhl’s argument about the multipresence of the SUPERNATURAL particularly relevant to my critique of the political and the religious as self-contained spheres with incompatible logics. What I would like to retain from Levy-Bruhl is his understanding that the political and the religious do not necessarily figure as inherently contradictory in people’s embodied subjectivities although there are multiple instances of experienced or conceived frictions between adherence to religious practices and civic regulation of the everyday, such as salat or daily prayer, and a standardized working day, just to supply one example. However, Levy-Bruhl can be reproached for treating collective representations and religions as natural givens rather than intersubjective constructs. Law of participation as a governing principle of smaller societies and its mysticism are also problematic since Levy-Bruhl treats subjectivities and societies as uniform and self-reinforcing wholes, rather than social, political and religious conglomerations. As a result, further problematization and historical archeology of the concepts of the SUPERNATURAL, mystical and magical are required.

Supernatural, Benson Saler (1977: 31-53) explains, is a Western concept that originated abstract differentiation between the natural order governed by laws and the superorganic order that defies necessary relations between things and people and, as result, seems exceptional, irrational, impossible and mysterious. The deeply-entrenched assumptions of positivist sciences underlie the notorious definition of religion as ‘belief in the supernatural beings’ espoused by Tylor. The distinction between the natural and the supernatural is not only normative by virtue of setting what is normally expected in this world but is ethnocentric. The natural/ supernatural dichotomy is rooted in the ancient Greek and Judaeo-Christian traditions of imagining a transcendent and often superior location of a creator outside his own creation. Nor can the distinction between natural and supernatural aspire to universality (Douglas [1979] 2005 :74). Saler (1977) avers that the opposition between the spiritual and the material based on the idea of a creator as a cause and mover of the universe gradually emerged and established itself in Christian theology but it does not have a sweep of folk usage of the supernatural that incorporates powers, Gods, demons, spells and rites into a phenomenological world of people’s actions and meanings. Saler admonishes to remember the dangers of imposing culture-bound descriptive terms like the supernatural on cultures without reference to fieldwork.

One instance of folk conceptualizing of divine and objective realities as a “total experience” is described by Godfrey Lienhard (1961: 147). Among Dinkas of Sudan, spirits and powers do not operate in a separate world from terrestrial beings; “Dinka religious notion and practice define and regulate the relations between beings of these two different natures in the single world of human experience which is their common home” (ibid.: 28). Experience for Dinkas does not stand for a reaction to cultural and physical conditions foisted on them by environment but to an active construction of interpretations and discovery of reasons for one’s experience through practices and knowledges, such as witchcraft, that are gleaned from effective relations between people and divinities. AGENCY OF DINKA. The explanation of belief and experience converging within a single realm of experience is also found in Levy-Bruhl and Rodney Needham. Levy-Bruhl gradually revised his notion of “primitive mentality” in favour of “mystical mentality” that does not characterize specifically non-Western social representations (Needham 1972: 165). The fundamental attribute of mystical mentality is the sentiment of the presence and action of invisible powers in concrete circumstances. The dealings of people with the mystical forces residing in ordinary environment constitute an experience that recognizes two orders of reality but the difference between belief and experience tends to be obliterated.

The assumption of the practical involvement and presences of divinities in ordinary experiences permeates theories of radical empiricism in pragmatist thought. The key premise, or a generalized conclusion, of radical empiricism is that divinities refer to contingent processes, relations and their consequences in specific social and natural circumstances of people’s existence (Frankenberry :336). ORGANIC REALITY=TOTALITY/ NO, BECAUSE A TOTALITY IS LEANING TOWARDS MONISM. Methodologically, the advocacy of relational and processual emergence of an organic reality entails an investigation of what is concrete, elementarily bodily, about these processes and experiences. The concreteness or naturalness of the religious suggests that angels, gods, and demons are relationally created ontological participants, on a par with ecological elements like stars, and not an abstract mind, and that they populate and intertwine with existential worlds rather than external transcendental superstructures or ephemeral underworlds (Loomer sited in ibid.: 338). In other words, relations are as real as entities (ibid. 342) and, subsequently, are saturated with feelings and tactile knowledge.


Sufism and Politics


I DON’T DEAL WITH POWER BECAUSE IT IS COMMON TO TALK ABOUT IT AS A SUBSTANCE (like the Milesian school of Greek philosophy).

Nevertheless, descriptions of relations between religions and political systems as cross-cutting as it has been suggested by the Manchester anthropologists are problematic because “too often, the sociopolitical system or the bounded community has so been given priority that it regularly appears to have religion as somehow reflecting or corresponding to it” (Werbner 1984: 172). This is often exemplified by the studies of political Islam. The notion of political Islam has become a dominant analytical framework in a number of disciplines (Soares 2005: 4) that fashion political Islam as doctrinal not only in its aspirations but in practice. More often than not, political Islam is associated with Islamic resurgence and fundamentalist movements driven by retrospective or reformist visions of normative relations between Islam and a specific or universal political order (Eisenstadt 1995; Esposito 1997). It is not uncommon to invoke political Islam in reference to the hypostatized entity called ‘the Arab world’ (e.g. Nielsen 1992) and to stress the uniqueness of the totalizing links between ‘Islam’ and the state. Stereotype-based discursive fusion of ‘Islam’ and the state is particularly rife in European accounts of secularism as a political teleology (Asad 2003). Similar to the earlier debates about rationality of a ‘primitive’ culture (Moore and Sanders 2001; Tylor 2002 [1871]), the assumption of seamless unity between ‘Islam’ and the state is a moral judgment of ‘Islamic society’ that has not quite accomplished the functional differentiation between religion and statecraft allegedly manifest in Western Europe.

An alternative logic in the studies of ‘political Islam’ demonstrates the extent to which convergence of Islamic and state practices is an attribute of modernity rather than a timeless quality of Islamic politics (Eickelman and Piscatori 1996, Eisenstadt 1995). Historical studies of contextualized processes of Islamic governance are galore (Berkes 1998, Hourani 1983), but the relations between ‘Islam’ and the state are often construed in terms of organized political protest (Beinin and Stork 1997) or resistance to the latter’s imperatives. It seems that many analytical endeavors to think about resistance and religion replicate European ideals of autonomous liberal agent (de Alwis 2004, Mahmood 2003) and spring from deeply entrenched assumptions about separateness of public and private sphere (Johansen 2003) often to the detriment of a more subtle understanding of how religion and the political constitute each other in a variety of settings.

By contrast to a popular image of uniform Islam, anthropology has shown “how a single, long-established, highly codified, extraordinarily self-conscious, not to say self-absorbed ‘world-religion’ Islam, had worked itself out in quite different ways with quite different effects in quite different settings” (Geertz 2005: 8). Indeed, there is a burgeoning literature on the contextualized dynamics of Islams worldwide. Anthropological studies range from piety movements in Egypt (Mahmood 2005), possession cults in Africa (Masquelier 2001), sexuality (Combs-Shilling 1989), religious nationalism (van der Veer 1994), power and contestation (Hirschkind 2001) or poetry and resistance (Abu-Lughod 1986) to violence (Gilsenan 1996), identity, globalization and transnational migration (Allievi and Nielsen 2003) and so on.

Sufi orders of Islam have also received considerable anthropological attention. Eickelman and Piscatori (1996: 72) suggest that Sufi groups are never apolitical because they contribute to the contestation of dominant political structures. Sufi beliefs and practices often clashed with Sunni communal rationale and spirituality and with ‘purity’ movements of Islamic scripturalists. The reasons for historical antinomy between Sufi orders and ‘official’, later state, ‘Islams’ can be interpreted in terms of idiosyncratic Sufi values like immanence with God, alienation, individual autonomy, ascetism, drunken or sober ecstasy, and morbid inwardness that often incorporated local beliefs and practices (Netton 2000). Also, Sufism created internal hierarchies with shaykh and religious master, murad, on the top and a novice, murid, in complete submission to a spiritual teacher (Trix 1993). In addition to the divergences of the mystical lifeworlds of Sufi orders from Sunni practices, Sufi political and military actions frequently provoked confrontations with the political authority of a given state or colonial government. The state responses or strategies of dealing with Sufi orders have differed considerably and oscillated between total suppression or rallying Sufi groups as the basis of a national identity. In Pakistan (Ewing 1983), the state fears of the hereditary authority of Sufi saints, pirs, rooted in the Sufi administration of shrines and charity endowments, waqf, resulted in the redefinition of Sufi pirs as modernizers of the nation and the appropriation by the state of Sufi control over mosques and welfare. In today’s African states like Morocco and Libya, Sufi orders took part in the leveling and homogenization of national identities and were instrumental in anti-colonial wars (Evans-Pritchard 1949, Geertz 1968). In Turkey, Bektashiyya and other Sufi orders were persecuted and banished from the 19th century on, while in Albania attempts were made to promote Bektashiyya lodges as a kernel of nationalist ideology oppositional to Sunni Bosnian ulema (Duijzings 2000: 174).

    1. Cosmology

    2. Anthropology of the State

3.3.1 Being Political and Political Subjectivity/ Citizenship

3.3.2 The state and state managers

This research addresses the exigencies of creating and inhabiting the world of closeness and incommensurabilities INTIMACY of the state and Sufi Islam in the realities and imaginings of Bektashi Turks in Macedonia. In addition to larger dichotomy between the real and the imaginary, the proposal straddles analytical dualities and concepts in the anthropology of religion, such as excessive psychologizing and social determinism of religious subjectivities, historical materiality and subjective imaginings, political structures, religious anti-structures and reflexive agency of simultaneously religious and political subjects, as well as the embodied and affective dimension of this agency. The objective is to problematize and demolish the categories of religion, the state and the self and to interrogate the relations between them in the daily realities of Bektashi Turks in Macedonia. Fine-grained ethnographies of the imaginary and real links of phenomenological, or ordinary Islams, especially Sufi orders, and the state are rare (Abu-Lughod 1989, Roy 2005). The lacuna can be explained by the belated (but not absent) interest of anthropology in the state (Herzfeld 1997: 1). The conceptualization of the state in anthropology poses considerable challenges because the state partakes of materiality and abstraction; it starts as a construct but transforms into naturalized structuration (c.f. Bourdieu 1992, Giddens 1995), a reified idea (Abrams 2006 [1977]) or even a “structural effect” (Mitchell 1991: 94), that impacts on people’s actualities and is sustained through “social transmission and symbolic coding with some degree of human consciousness” (Trouillot 2002: 40).

The state has been addressed through a cluster of concepts such as rational bureaucracies (Weber 2006 [1968]), institutions and state apparatuses (Althusser 2006), power, coercion and disciplinary control (Foucault 1991, Tilly 1992). I think less attention has been devoted to the analysis of how the state as a cultural force (Farnell 2000) is subjectively internalized by actors, adroitly recycled and routinely enacted in socially mediated ways. And although I locate the state in people’s perceptions, I would like to stress that the state is concretized and objectified in collectivities, shared representations, procedures and strategies of regulation and supraindividual structures (c.f. Nettl 1968) and can be captured in its effects on and its conceptualizations by human subjects (Trouillot 2001). Therefore, I subscribe to the view that the state is a “non-material totality that seems to exist apart from the material world of society” (Mitchell 2006 [1999]), but despite its abstract and elusive character, the state encapsulates durable and taken-for-granted (Bourdieu 1992) but messy social relations, visible forms (Mitchell 1991: 81) and ramifications in people’s mundane lives.


In this proposal, nevertheless, I would like to expand the notion of the state by redefining it in terms of political cosmology. The term political cosmology, similarly to the state, will be deployed to describe a historically contingent and intersubjective factish or founding fictions that become tangible representations and effects (Taussig1997: 94)11. Political cosmology creates cognitive categories, understandings, emotions and desires which are concretely conditioned by and materialized12 in localized realities (Hansen and Stepputat 2001, Strauss 2006). Herein, political cosmology will be regarded as a more encompassing term than the state because it is imaginatively congruent with distinct cultural systems such as religion (Starrett 1997: 282). Steinmetz (1999) reminds us that culture is a constitutive variable of the state that supplies the latter with ritual and pragmatic content. It is possible to claim that the cultural and the political are intrinsically entangled (Navaro-Yashin 2002: 13) in a “dialectic of articulation” (Comaroff 1982: 143-172) and expansion of internal dynamics of these fields into each other. To consider the state and by extension political cosmology as a factish is to inquire into how the state operates on the molecular level of people’s psychology, cognition and bodies and becomes phantasmic, terrifying, and seductive configurations of events, political institutions and actors, and SUPERNATURAL spirits in people’s quotidian existence. In the felicitous terms of Clifford Geertz (1968: 39), world experienced and world imagined elucidate each other. These fantasies, as mental space and experiential realities (Brenner 1997), can be repeatedly revitalized through everyday encounters and acts of defiance and obedience (Hansen and Stepputat 2001: 18) of religious subjects and in stories of omnipresent evil, humour and obscenity of officialdom (Mbembe 2006 [1992]) that conflate “the official with the comic that makes kitsch an appropriate aesthetic for the magic of the state” (Taussig 1997: 94).

The involvement of international and regional powers into Macedonian politics has endured making a strong case against the assumptions of political sociology that the state maintains a sovereign control over its static and naturalized territory and is defined by the binary opposition between ‘the domestic’ and ‘the foreign’ (Brenner 2003: 2). By contrast, innovative approaches highlight not only the perforated character of state frontiers, but also institutional processes and practices of sociospatial regulation on sub- to supranational scales. However, the complexity and historicity of these practices tends to be obfuscated by a liberal personification and individualization of a state as a rational, goal oriented ‘actor’, pervasive in political and international relations sciences (Agnew and Corbridge 1995 :87), or by representations of the state as a binding abstraction that reinforces popular definitions of the state in terms of a distinct geopolitical unit of self-management. The state became equated with a nation that implies a homogenized national identity and is analogous to society, even though many states are not singular nations (Agnew and Corbridge 1995: 83). Finally, the state constitutes not only material-institutional forms of regulation but cognitive categories and discursive strategies that shape a taken-for-granted epistemology of the state (Lefebvre )

3.4 Embodiment and Self

  1. Methodology

Because the focus of this research is on Sufi religion, I will need to investigate further and to question the rationale of collaboratively constructing research around a Bektashi baba, a spiritual guide, dervishes and their extended networks of families13, friends, disciples and opponents, as well as state figures and institutional functionaries that interact with dervishes in a variety of settings. Spatially, this research will navigate within the sacred topography of a tekke, a Sufi lodge, and Bektashi shrines, but I am also interested in domestic and work localities of dervishes. Temporarily, I will look at a full calendar circle to uncover the regularities of ritual and mundane practices and celebrations and at the practical or ritual composition of a day. During the year, I would like to observe and participate in religious fasts, celebrations of Bayram and anniversaries of the death of saints14, Easter and New Year holidays. I will pay attention to the national holidays like the commemoration of the Illinden uprising on August 2nd, as well as personal or family celebrations of the birth of a child or more prosaic events. However, I will record not only ‘outstanding’ events that punctuate daily lives but the very trivial, repetitive and semi-conscious organization of the quotidian lives of Bektashi Turks. In all instances, I will create an ethnographic archive of the observable and explicit practices, kinship classifications, verbal statements including rumours, gossips or rationalized accounts and other empirical material. Through informal interviewing, I will try to amass a wealth of collective mythologies, personal narratives and life stories, even though their structure might be different from chronological biographies15 conventional in my milieu. But I will also attempt to understand the inarticulate, that is, assumptions, cognitive principles and pragmatics of knowledge and material practices. The ethnographic material will be enriched by nuanced descriptions of discursive expressions of emotions and body techniques.


I will remain aware of my own position in the field environment in the light of reflexivity about my own personal and academic background (Bourdieu 2003) and larger historical context, but I will avoid foregrounding the autobiography to the same extent as some postmodern anthropologists tend to do (for critique Spiro 2006 [1996]). While I do not think that autobiography necessarily lapses into narcissism, I would like to emphasize the materiality of the world we live in that can’t be represented by the motif of my brief encounter with the life world of Bektashi interlocutors (Dresch and James 2000). Therefore, I will amplify the conditions of sociality under which I will obtain collective narrative and mythologies, individual stories, and non-verbal ethnographic material. The big challenge that I anticipate is an unavoidable reduction of people’s presence to an ethnographic written representation (Fabian 2006).

The anticipated result is a fine-grained ethnography of religiously suffused political cosmology of the state among Bektashi Turks. In my analysis I would like to amplify an agentive construction of the Bektashi reality, to show how a political and religious SUBJECTIVITY of a member of a mystic Sufi order is experienced and articulated in discursive, bodily and affective practices in everyday and ritual settings. Thus, the Bektashi political cosmology will not be reduced to an etherealized and glossed description of classifications and rules. The actual world of exuberance, suffering and routine, with twists and turns, half-truths and desires which inform the theories and cosmologies of one’s position in the historical landscape of Macedonia, will be drawn out by the pointillist brush stroke that recreates Bektashi lived phenomenological realities.

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