Writing History, Constructing Religion

  • 81 586 10
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up

Writing History, Constructing Religion

In a creative and imaginative way, this book brings the question of history into the critical theory debate but with a

1,671 663 812KB

Pages 242 Page size 252 x 378.36 pts Year 2007

Report DMCA / Copyright


Recommend Papers

File loading please wait...
Citation preview


In a creative and imaginative way, this book brings the question of history into the critical theory debate but with a direct application to religious contexts, themes and topics. It is, in a sense a kind of reappraisal of an approach to the history of religions, combining contributions from extremely able younger scholars with established authors. —Professor Douglas Davies, Durham University, UK Writing History, Constructing Religion presents a much-needed interdisciplinary exploration of the significance of debates among historians, scholars of religion and cultural theorists over the ‘nature’ of history to the study of religion. The distinguished authors discuss issues related to definitions of history, postmodernism, critical theory, and the impact on the study and analysis of religious traditions; exploring the application of writing ‘history from below’, discussions of ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity’ as opposed to power and ideology, crises of representation, and the place of theory in the ‘historicized’ study of religion(s). Addressing conceptual debates in a wide range of historical and empirical contexts, the authors critically engage with issues including religious nationalism, Nazism, Islam and the West, secularism, religion in post-Communist Russia, ethnicity and post modernity. This book constitutes a significant step towards the self-reflexive and interdisciplinary study of religions in history.

This page intentionally left blank

Writing History, Constructing Religion

Edited by JAMES G. CROSSLEY University of Cambridge, UK CHRISTIAN KARNER University of Nottingham, UK

© James G. Crossley and Christian Karner 2005 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. James G. Crossley and Christian Karner have asserted their moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the editors of this work. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited Gower House Croft Road Aldershot Hampshire GU11 3HR England

Ashgate Publishing Company Suite 420 101 Cherry Street Burlington, VT 05401-4405 USA

Ashgate website: http://www.ashgate.com British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Writing history, constructing religion 1. History – Religious aspects 2. Historiography I. Crossley, James G. II. Karner, Christian 201.6'9 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Writing history, constructing religion / edited by James G. Crossley and Christian Karner. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 0-7546-5183-5 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. History—Religious aspects. 2. Historiography. I. Crossley, James G. II. Karner, Christian. BL65.H5W75 2005 201'.69—dc22 2005000663 ISBN 0 7546 5183 5 Typeset by Saxon Graphics Ltd, Derby Printed by MPG Books, Bodmin, Cornwall


List of Contributors Part I



1 Writing History, Constructing Religion James G. Crossley and Christian Karner


2 Defining History James G. Crossley


3 Postmodernism and the Study of Religions Christian Karner Part II


Writing History, Constructing Religion

4 On ‘Religion’: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers Philip Goodchild


5 Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization Alan Aldridge


6 The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies Hugh Goddard


7 Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia Kathryn Tomlinson


8 Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus Maurice Casey


9 History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist James G. Crossley


10 ‘If Isaac Could Speak …’: Redefining Sacrifice Maria Varsam




Writing History, Constructing Religion

11 Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory Seth Kunin


12 Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion Christian Karner




List of Contributors

Alan Aldridge is reader in the sociology of culture in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham. Maurice Casey is professor of New Testament language and literature in the Department of Theology at the University of Nottingham. James G. Crossley is tutor at Madingley Hall and the Centre for Jewish–Christian Relations, both at the University of Cambridge. Hugh Goddard is professor of Christian–Muslim relations in the Department of Theology in the University of Nottingham. Philip Goodchild is senior lecturer in religious studies in the Department of Theology, University of Nottingham. Christian Karner is a lecturer in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham. Seth Kunin is professor of religious studies and Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of Durham. Kathryn Tomlinson is senior research officer at the National Foundation for Educational Research, prior to which she completed doctoral research at UCL in social anthropology. Maria Varsam has taught American literature at Leicester and Nottingham Trent Universities and is completing her PhD in the department of American/Canadian Studies and Critical Theory at the University of Nottingham.


This page intentionally left blank


This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 1

Writing History, Constructing Religion James G. Crossley and Christian Karner

A wide variety of religions, cultures and languages have something akin to the conventional English use of the word ‘history’ in the dual senses of a description of past events or an all encompassing term for the whole collection of these events (Breisach, 1987, pp. 371, 372–383). Stories, epics, genealogies and biographies of important figures from the past are not difficult to find in religious traditions. History is obviously not something that can easily be ignored in the study of religion. In Islam, Judaism and Christianity there are grand overviews of history from Creation through to the end times. In these monotheistic faiths, calendars are set according to key events in the sacred past so that such events can be continually remembered. Some of the famous religious traditions originating from Asia are often – albeit problematically – thought to ideally extol an ahistorical attitude, an otherworldly emphasis on the changeless, and a cyclical conception of time. However, it would be a one sided and simplistic account, which stressed only such aspects of these religious traditions and neglected their concern for events of the past. Critically commenting on significant attempts, not least by western scholars, to provide a theology of Sikhism, Beryl Dhanjal points out the following: Writers say that God is one, omnipotent, infinite, eternal, absolute, immense, omnipresent, spirit and light etc., which is not untrue, but nor is it distinctive … Much writing concentrates more on history than theology. A recent booklet from the Sikh Missionary Society contains thirty-four pages of ‘history’ and two and a half on actual belief. This is not an uncommon situation. (Dhanjal, 1994, p. 174)

For all the well-known traditions of asceticism, meditation and search for nirvana in Buddhist traditions, a figure in human history is found throughout this diverse movement, namely Buddha. Moreover, not only are there a wide range of biographies across different Buddhist traditions but there are also Buddhist historians of the Buddhist past, such as the monk Bu-ston (1290–1364), author of Chos-’byun (History of Buddhism), a history of Buddhism up to the fourteenth century CE. Hinduism is widely associated with a long tradition of epic literature, stories of kings and genealogies. Lest it be thought that Hinduism – itself a highly problematic term that imposes an artificial unity on a highly heterogeneous range of beliefs, practices and identities – is exclusively concerned with things transcendent, Christian Karner’s second chapter in this volume shows that periodization and an authorized version of the past can be of crucial importance and a matter of no small controversy in the here and now for present day Hindu nationalism in India. 3


Writing History, Constructing Religion

The telling of history in the construction of a ‘religious’ past frequently has an explicitly moral element. The prophets revered in the Islamic tradition (right up to Muhammad) came to correct misguided teaching and establish true faith. In the narratives of the Hebrew Bible, Israel and Israelites are often judged by their behaviour: behave well and prosper or behave badly and face exile (cf. Clines, 1979). This retributive history was also to become important in early Christianity (Trompf, 2000). As such moral views of history show, writing history and constructing religion are often closely interwoven social practices that are anything but a detached chronicling of bygone events of the sacred past. The writing of history and the constructing of religion are, of course, tied up with power and hence with the social construction of insiders and outsiders, of friends and foes. The ‘official history’ of the Bible can be read from different perspectives and has obvious modern day political implications, particularly in the context of the Israel–Palestine conflict (Whitelam, 1996). For example: how would a Palestinian read the Exodus and Conquest stories of the Bible, a part of ‘official’ Jewish and Christian history? The long-standing controversy over the mosque built on what has been claimed to be Ram’s birthplace in Ayodhya, India (see Karner’s second chapter in this volume), was no more a quibble over aesthetics than Stalin’s removal of Trotsky from photographs of Lenin was reducible to the ‘disagreeable’ state of his moustache. In these cases the protagonists are actively engaged in reconstructions of how the past ‘really was’ in order to justify beliefs in the present and ideas concerning the future. An implication of all this is that history cannot so easily be separated from popular understandings of that most slippery of terms ‘myth’.1 It would be simplistic to describe myths as solely concerned with questions of origin, taboo, authority, life and death taking place in the distant past, not least because ‘history’ can serve similar functions. Perhaps the distinction is unnecessary, perhaps myth and history can – on the level of political logic and purpose – be closely related and, at times, indistinguishable (cf. Lévi-Strauss, 1978; Kunin, 1995; and Kunin in this volume)? The phenomenon of postmodernism has brought questions of ideology sharply into focus and raises all sorts of questions, many of them uncomfortable. Adopting a working definition of ideology as language and behavioural practices that serve either the reproduction or the subversion of existing power structures (Augoustinos, 1998), a range of highly pertinent questions emerges: are the official histories of a given religion narratives of power that marginalize or exclude alternative versions and subversive voices? Who controls what we are told about the past? Are the writing of history and the construction of religion so immersed in ideology that nothing of the past can be known to the historian of a given religion? Should anyone even care? How might we critically engage with (academic) theories of religions and their histories as well as with the very concepts they utilize in an all-too-often non-reflexive manner? This book is an attempt to address questions such as these and others related to them. The two introductory chapters raise general issues surrounding the academic study of history and religion. In Chapter 2, Defining History, James Crossley provides an introductory discussion of recent and still current debates raging over the nature of history (for example, narratives, theory, ‘history from below’, objectivity and neutrality) with some consideration of the impact these debates may have on the study of religion. In Chapter 3, Postmodernism and the Study of Religions, Christian Karner provides an introduction to the varied themes and concepts associated with

Writing History, Constructing Religion


postmodernism (for example, discourse and ideology, power, knowledge and identity) and how they can be mapped onto the study of religions. Subsequent chapters provide specific and detailed analyses of historical, ethnographic, textual and theoretical examples of history being written and religion(s) being constructed. While all chapters reflect their author’s own interests and areas of expertise, the inevitable exclusion of countless other – equally pertinent – (empirical/ historical/textual) examples and contexts is counter-weighed by a systematic attempt running throughout the entire volume to address the above-mentioned range of epistemological and methodological, theoretical and conceptual challenges. In Chapter 4, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers, Philip Goodchild observes that the idea of ‘religion’ representing cross-cultural cultural forms is limited to a certain Western (and peculiarly modern) metaphysical concept of truth. Goodchild argues that the study of religion should include a cultural hermeneutic, a careful interpretation of given traditions of thought and activity and their alternative conceptualizations of truth and value. This chapter presents a thought-provoking way of critically interrogating the history and semantic/ideological content of ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ as key-concepts in modern Western consciousness, the ideological assumptions and motivations of those writing about and/or ‘against’ religion, and the political implications as well as ethical possibilities of trying to understand ‘it’. In Chapter 5, Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization, Alan Aldridge analyzes the postmodernist rejection of meta-narratives of history with especial focus on the secularization thesis and one of its major exponents, the sociologist of religion Bryan Wilson. Aldridge argues that although Wilson’s work may seem to be a monolithic piece of modernist social science and a prime target for postmodernist critique, critical engagement with Wilson shows that he is much more subtle and nuanced. While critical of postmodernist analysis, Aldridge does not reject it outright as a sceptical but sympathetic reading can illuminate certain aspects of social life that may otherwise be overlooked. Aldridge’s chapter makes two particularly significant contributions to this volume: first, he presents an insight into a range of religious phenomena and identities in our contemporary, Western, consumeroriented and arguably postmodern society; second, he critically examines the construction of theoretical paradigms and the classification of religious phenomena therein; as a result, Aldridge is able to interrogate the problematic, though often taken-for-granted division between modernism and postmodernism. In Chapter 6, The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies, Hugh Goddard analyzes the problems involved in the wide variety of contemporary voices claiming to speak for Islam, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, non-violent or violent, illiberal or liberal, interactive or non-interactive. Goddard discusses how these differing views can colour approaches to understanding Islamic history, including the distortion of basic factual information for not-so-hidden political agendas and the dangers of a violent Islamophobia that can and does arise from this. Goddard concludes that the representation of Islam and Islamic history is of crucial importance for community relations both at local and global levels. In Chapter 7, Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia, Kathryn Tomlinson provides a discussion of the ways in which a group of people among whom she has conducted anthropological fieldwork construct their identities, variously drawing – in the post-Communist era – on the labels


Writing History, Constructing Religion

‘Turkish’, ‘Soviet’ and ‘Muslim’. It is argued that the Meskhetian Turks’ approach to the past is of an ontological (mythic) as opposed to an epistemological/theoretical kind, emphasizing a practical (or practiced/lived) engagement with the past rather than a detailed concern for historical accuracy or a preoccupation with origins. Tomlinson suggests that if powerful outsiders frame their discussion of the past, present and future of the Meskhetian Turks in terms of a conventional epistemological approach to history, this will result not only in a distortion of the Meskhetian Turks’ relation to their past and hence in a lack of meaningful cross-cultural communication, but could have further detrimental consequences to an already marginalized group of people. In Chapter 8, Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus, Maurice Casey discusses how powerful social groups can determine the outcome of critical historical scholarship and even distort factual information with particular reference to the writing about the historical Jesus in the context of Nazi Germany and Christian communities both ancient and modern. Casey then proceeds to argue that through careful attention to primary sources it is possible to establish verifiable facts about Jesus even if the narrative in which such facts are placed are human constructs. In Chapter 9, History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist, James Crossley examines the beheading of John the Baptist in the context of Jewish rewriting of history and a nod in the direction of certain anthropological approaches to history. It is suggested that the people responsible for this story were a minority group facing the very real possibility of persecution and that this affected their rewriting of history. Crossley also looks at how this group’s writing of history interacted with political and social attitudes, particularly the construction of gender. In Chapter 10, If Isaac Could Speak … : Redefining Sacrifice, Maria Varsam presents a critical feminist-literary approach to a well-known narrative of sacrifice. Looking for the voice of the marginalized, overlooked and silenced sacrificial victim, Varsam engages with the politics of sacrifice and hence with the ideological implications of a key-concept in the study of religious rituals. In Chapter 11, Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory, Seth Kunin discusses the relationship between myth and history through a re-examination of a set of questions, first addressed by Claude Lévi-Strauss, concerning the effects of geographical diffusion/historical transformation on myths (including their eventual ‘death’). Based on his continuing and critical engagement with structuralist theory, Kunin presents a detailed analysis of the Hebrew Book of Judges and a discussion of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico. This chapter thus establishes a meaningful dialogue between two frequently contrasted schools of intellectual thought: a structuralist preoccupation with the cultural logic underlying key-categories and their inter-relations that define a particular social/historical context is thus integrated with a poststructuralist concern with questions of power and ideology. The death of myths, Kunin argues, is the result of their being appropriated by ideologically motivated social actors for political purposes. In Chapter 12, Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion, Christian Karner applies some of the approaches associated with postmodernism to the study contemporary Hindu nationalism. This includes: a discussion of the discursive construction of a particular type of Hindu identity; an analysis of histori-

Writing History, Constructing Religion


ography in Hindu nationalism as an example of the ideological nature of the practice of writing and using history, focusing on the above-mentioned Ayodhya controversy; the remembrance of violence and the ethical implications concerning how this is done; and understandings of ‘religion’ in Hindu nationalism and how this relates to debates about ‘identity’. Karner ends with an endorsement of ‘affirmative postmodern politics’ to provide a challenge to the essentialist and static constructions of identity and history associated with Hindu nationalism. In keeping with the academic spirit of our times, this volume aims to be both interdisciplinary and self-reflexive. It brings historians, sociologists and anthropologists of religion into dialogue with biblical scholars, critical theorists and philosophers. Our very diverse empirical, historical and textual foci and theoretical preferences notwithstanding, we share a concern with religious discourses and discourses about religion, with the effects of power and ideology on those who speak in texts and about them, about their co-religionists and others; we share a concern with the discursive construction of authoritative versions of the past and those excluded, marginalized and silenced therein; there is a recurring pre-occupation with the construction (and social-, institutional-, historical embeddedness) of explanatory frameworks and theoretical paradigms and our own positioning within them. Among other things, this volume is an attempted (and internally as well as deliberately heterogeneous) contribution to debates about the (im)possibility of truth. From our particular historical and institutional vantage point at the beginning of the twenty-first century and to the backdrop of a range of issues to do with power, ideology and representation that surfaced as the arguably dominant intellectual concerns in the final third of the preceding century, we reflect on issues related to the writing of history and the constructing of religion in a number of contexts that span millennia and continents. Our choice of case studies reflects, as already mentioned, our respective areas of research and therefore inevitably excludes many others that would have been equally relevant. However, we hope to draw those currently excluded (or absent) from our own (meta-) discourse into an ongoing dialogue about the challenges of studying religions in (any) historical, empirical and political context, and of historicizing religious studies, its concepts, theories, methods and assumptions. Note 1 For a general introduction to myth and history in the study of religions see Holm with Bowker (1994).

References Augoustinos, Martha (1998), ‘Social representations and ideology: towards the study of ideological representations’, in Flick, Uwe (ed.), The Psychology of the Social, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 156–169. Breisach, Ernst (1987), ‘Historiography: an overview’, in Eliade, Mircea (ed. in chief), The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 6, New York and London: Macmillan, pp. 370–383. Clines, D. J. A. (1979), The Theme of the Pentateuch, Sheffield: JSOT Press.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Dhanjal, Beryl (1994), ‘Sikhism’, in Holm, Jean, with Bowker, John (eds), Picturing God, London and New York: Pinter Publishers, pp. 173–195. Holm, J. with Bowker, J. (eds.) (1994), Myth and History, London: Pinter. Kunin, S. D. (1995), The Logic of Incest, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1978), Myth and Meaning, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Trompf, G. W. (2000), Early Christian Historiography: Narratives of Retributive Justice, London and New York: Continuum. Whitelam, Keith W. (1996), The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History, London: Routledge.

Chapter 2

Defining History James G. Crossley

I commence my argument at a manifest disadvantage. Few spectacles would be more ludicrous than that of an English historian – and, moreover, one manifestly self-incriminated of empirical practices – attempting to offer epistemological correction to a rigorous Parisian philosopher. (Thompson, 1978, p. 197)

History as an academic study is under fire at the most profound level. The validity of concepts such as truth and objectivity are challenged as never before. This has not gone down too well with many conventional historians. But that does not mean that there is widespread hostility to all the challenges to traditional history. The fragmentation of history has opened the way to studying the history of almost anything and everything on their own terms, from slaves to the mental construction of landscape. Questions are also being asked about how those outside university walls view and construct history on their terms, something which has obvious relevance to the study of religious traditions. But this raises further questions concerning the caricaturing and manipulation of historical facts at their most basic level, especially given the existence of those like the Holocaust deniers. This chapter will provide a brief introduction to such debates concerning the nature of history, with some reference to their implications for the study of religion. Somewhat ironically perhaps, I will largely restrict examples to the Jewish and Christian traditions. This is for the simple reason of unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge, and not out of disrespect. Postmodernism and History One of the most notable debates in recent discussion of historiography concerns the interaction (or indeed non-interaction in certain cases) with the intellectual phenomena associated with titles such as postmodernism, deconstruction, the linguistic turn, post-structuralism and so on, and thinkers such as Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard and Rorty.1 The impact on the discipline of history is well summarized by Alun Munslow: Among other things it has challenged objective knowing. It has hesitated to accept the gift of transparent discourse, promoting instead the idea of textually generated meaning. It has questioned the surety of causal explanation founded on inference and contextualization. It has doubted the possibility of the distanced and unified knowing subject or self. It challenges correspondence and correlation theories of truth. It has challenged the separation of subject and object. It is sceptical, at a fundamental level, about the persistent appeal to the cognitive priority of content over form. (Munslow, 2003, p. 1).2 9


Writing History, Constructing Religion

This movement has most famously questioned the validity of grand meta-narratives such as Marxism, something over which many practising historians, rightly or wrongly, would not lose sleep. But seemingly less theoretically based historians have been targeted too, the supposedly disinterested history ‘for its own sake’. Keith Jenkins, for example, advocates the view that this ‘lower case’ history is just as ideological as any of the ‘upper case’ meta-narratives. It is just another foundationless interpretative discourse in a world of foundationless interpretative discourses.3 Hayden White has been one of the biggest influences on postmodern philosophy of history. White argues that the past is always invented by the historian in the sense that it does not conform to any pre-existing narrative. The historian constructs a narrative in a number of ways, be it comedy, tragedy, satire or romance, but historical situations are not inherently tragic, comic, or romantic. Even in my own sometimes very conservative area of biblical studies White has made his presence felt. Wayne Meeks, apparently using the writer of Luke-Acts as his model, pays his dues to White, speaking of how we inevitably construct narratives (Meeks, 2003, pp. 151–162).4 In fact there is ‘no avoiding the task of construction. The narrative is not given; it is made up’ (Meeks, 2003, p. 160). Understandably, these sorts of approaches have provoked some alarm among historians, not least because it would seem that most historians would have to be made redundant. However, there have been responses, ranging from the ignorantly polemical to the genuinely interactive. John Ibbett, who is far from dismissive of the influence of postmodernist thought on history, argues that if Jenkins were consistent his stand against history would extend to his own argument (Ibbett, 2003). Jenkins, in other words, could know nothing other than his own voice. Consequently no one could engage in discussion with Jenkins and Jenkins could not expect or encourage anyone to agree with him. But this is clearly not the case. Jenkins and his opponents do engage in critical discussion, there is an analysis of the respective arguments, and the arguments are moderated in the light of the discussion. As Ibbett puts it, In those discussions we should be reflecting on the adequacy of arguments put forward … This concern with the adequacy of our own arguments requires us to discriminate, and this ability and need to reflect critically is some distance from just locking our horns with other differing and possibly conflicting interpretations. (Ibbett, 2003, p. 65)

This is a reflection of a recurring criticism among historians worried about the impact of postmodernism, namely that even some of the more extreme postmodern thinkers ultimately work with some concept of historical accuracy, truth and objectivity in representing the views of others and responding to representations of their own views (Evans, 2000, pp. 231–238; Spitzer, 1996). There are also moral concerns with a perceived hyper-relativism associated with postmodernism, particularly when human suffering is involved, an issue which will be taken up in Christian Karner’s second chapter in this volume. Is it really possible to tell anyone who suffered in the first Gulf War that it never happened and that it cannot be criticized on grounds of morality because it was nothing more than a media invention, as is seemingly implied in what is quite frankly the most bizarre academic book I have ever read, namely Jean Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (Baudrillard, 1995). There may not be so much of a moral problem when the world of

Defining History


hyper-reality is Disneyland, adverts, television and other seemingly trivial phenomena which deserve to be highlighted for what they are, or indeed some of the nauseating and all too often misleading media coverage of both the first and second Gulf wars. But to say that we cannot find out ‘what actually happened’, is that not a betrayal of any human suffering (Norris, 1992, 11–31, 192–196; cf. Norris, 1990)? Does not hyper-relativism open the door to Holocaust deniers like David Irvine? As Saul Friedlander puts it in his introduction to a project which included a discussion of the implications of Hayden White’s work for the study of the Holocaust, ‘The extermination of the Jews of Europe, as the most extreme case of mass criminality, must challenge theoreticians of historical relativism to face the corollaries of positions otherwise too easily dealt with on an abstract level’ (Friedlander, 1992, p. 2). But when we look closer some advocates of what may be generally called postmodernist approaches to history are not extreme relativists as some might be inclined to think. Meeks claims that ‘although history is always fictive, it does not make up its story whole. It interprets something that, however dimly we may perceive it, really happened’ (Meeks, 2003, p. 160). When history is discussed on the moral level of human suffering this is brought more sharply into focus. Paul Patton translated The Gulf War Did Not Take Place into English and defends Baudrillard against accusations of hyper-relativism. He suggests that Baudrillard ‘does not make truth-claims about what happened’ rather ‘his interrogation of the reality of the media Gulf War presupposes that this is a different kind of event from those which occurred in the desert, a simulacrum rather than a distorted or misleading representation’ (Patton, 1995, p. 16). ‘Baudrillard’s argument’, Patton continues, ‘is not that nothing took place, but rather what took place was not a war’. This was not a war in the conventional sense of ‘a dual relation between warring parties’ but in fact a completely onesided predictable affair (Patton, 1995, pp. 17–18). Similarly, Hayden White does not deny that events such as the Holocaust took place. He notes the emergence of ‘revisionist’ historians of the Holocaust ‘who indeed argue that this event never occurred’. But, White continues, the ‘claim is as morally offensive as it is intellectually bewildering’ (White, 1973b, p. 76). For White the issue is one of interpretation and narrative choice: historians impose a moral narrative on a host of chaotic, pattern-free events. But this leads to a similar problem. Can the Holocaust be represented in a way which would put Nazism in a positive light? Why choose one narrative over another? Surely Perry Anderson is correct in saying ‘certain kinds of evidence preclude certain kinds of emplotment – the Final Solution cannot historically be written as a romance or as a comedy’ (Anderson, 1992, p. 64). In fact it seems as if White is prepared to accept that there are limits to representation, at least the representation of the Holocaust: [I]t is because narratives are always emplotted that discriminations among the kinds of plot types can be made. In the case of an emplotment of the events of the Third Reich in a ‘comic’ or ‘pastoral’ mode, we would be eminently justified in appealing to ‘the facts’ in order to dismiss it from the lists of ‘competing narratives’ of the Third Reich. (White, 1992, p. 40)

If narratives of the Holocaust are to be restricted in such a way, determined in part by the facts, then why can the same not be said about other events and historical situations


Writing History, Constructing Religion

(cf. Browning, 1992, pp. 31–35)? Such examples are crucial. It is not as easy to see such events as mere games, texts or rhetoric (Evans, 2000, p. 124) and so the possibility may be raised that with greater interaction with historical situations there can actually be restrictions on the ways these situations can be represented. Some historians have been completely unaccommodating to all things postmodern. One of the most famous critics was G. R. Elton who claimed that historians are, in a way, fighting for their lives in the face of ‘people who would subject historical studies to the dictates of literary critics’. Certainly, the lives of young historians are at risk, people ‘beset by devilish tempters who claim to offer higher forms of thought and deeper truths and insights – the intellectual form of crack, in fact’. For Elton, ‘Any acceptance of these theories – even the most gentle or modest bow in their direction – can prove fatal’ (Elton, 1991, p. 41).5 However, more sober critics such as Richard Evans, Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob have rightly recognized that postmodernism has had an extremely important and beneficial influence on history writing, even if some ‘postmodernists’ have wrongly seen most historians as crude positivists (Appleby, Hunt and Jacob, 1994, pp. 245–247). One of the more notable features of recent historical works influenced by postmodernism has been the revival of narrative history. Such works are marked by their frequent use of literary techniques and a concern for all kinds of seemingly obscure detail and biography worked into an overall narrative with apparently little concern for theory.6 Simon Schama and Orlando Figes are two of the most celebrated representatives of what is sometimes regarded as postmodernist narrative history (e.g. Schama, 1989, 1996; Figes, 1996). Yet it is clear that these writers do not abandon the traditional concerns for historical truth and accuracy. Schama, while certainly acknowledging the importance of White, also mentions (favourably) David Carr and his ‘quite different and ingenious case for the validity of the narrative’ (Schama, 1989, p. xvi).7 Narratives, Schama accepts, relate to the way historical figures construct events. Figes, who in the very title A People’s Tragedy nods in the direction of a self-conscious literary construction, apparently does not identify himself as a postmodernist historian. Richard Evans recalls, ‘I know that Orlando Figes would never describe himself as a postmodernist because he has told me so himself’ (Evans, 2000, p. 291). In other words, there are certainly historians who see no contradiction between the deliberate construction of a historical narrative and some kind of correspondence with the events which they purport to tell. But, as Evans points out in relation to Figes’ work, the deliberate use of narrative, with a concern for biographical details of individuals famous and obscure, and ‘eschewing of the kind of socioeconomic statistical analysis commonplace in histories of the Russian Revolution twenty or thirty years ago, could not have been written without the theoretical and methodological impact of postmodernism and the decline and fall of the grand metanarratives …’ (Evans, 2000, pp. 291–292; cf. Stone, 1979). Two significant functions of the revival of the narrative should be briefly noted. First, it highlights the importance of human agency. Schama, in defending his choice of narrative form in Citizens, is quite explicit, even to the point of over-emphasis: ‘If, in fact, the Revolution was a more haphazard and chaotic event and much more the product of human agency than structural conditioning, chronology seems indispenable in making its complicated twists and turns intelligible’ (Schama, 1989, p. xv). Second, this revival has opened the way for history writing to become more acces-

Defining History


sible to those outside academia, not least because of the abandonment of the illusion of precise ‘scientific’ language. Such well written histories can therefore have an important educational function, not least at a time when the British education secretary at the time of writing is making noises which appear to challenge the very existence of certain forms of academic study. The popular television work of Schama and David Starkey has an explicit concern with presentation and includes all kinds of seemingly incidental details and intrigue combined with an avoidance of technical jargon. Yet at the same time both manage to provide non-patronizing, detailed, intelligent comment. Both have proven to be popular and both point the way forward to opening historical research to a wider audience,8 not to say a larger bank balance. For such reasons this kind of history should not be avoided by those who favour structural conditioning or those who have a tendency to use social scientific approaches in historical research. In fact there are many such scholars who have hardly avoided the use of literary techniques. Matt Perry has detected ‘the story-teller’s art and an eloquent literary flow’ in the Marxist tradition of historical writing (Perry, 2002, p. 10). In my own field John Dominic Crossan has used a massive range of social scientific approaches in his reconstruction of early Christianity. Not everyone has been impressed with his results (see Maurice Casey’s chapter in this volume) but it is hard to disagree with the following comments: John Dominic Crossan … seems incapable, in his recent work at least, of thinking a boring thought or writing a dull paragraph. His major work The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant is a book to treasure for its learning, its thoroughness … its amazing inventiveness, and above all its sheer readability. (Wright, 1996, p. 44)

History: A Science? Art? Neither? Both? These kinds of discussions echo that old chestnut: is history a science or an art? A useful entry into this debate is the 1903 inaugural lecture of J. B. Bury when he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge (Bury, 1930). He was not altogether impressed with a literary approach to history: I may remind you that history is not a branch of literature. The facts of history, like the facts of geology or astronomy, can supply material for literary art; for manifest reasons they lend themselves to artistic representation far more readily than those of the natural sciences; but to clothe the story of a human society in a literary dress is no more the part of a historian as a historian, than is the part of an astronomer to present in an artistic shape the story of the stars. (Bury, 1930, p. 9)

Bury believed history had been liberated, she had come out from among ‘her old associates, moral philosophy and rhetoric’ and brought into closer relations ‘with the sciences which deal objectively with the facts of the universe’ (Bury, 1930, p. 11). Historical truth can be attained only through the ‘discovery, collection, classification, and interpretation of facts – through scientific research’ (Bury, 1930, p. 13).9 G. M. Trevelyan, who, in 1927, would eventually become Bury’s successor at Cambridge, was not happy, so much so that he resigned from his fellowship at Trinity (Kenyon, 1983, p. 176). He also published a response emphasizing the artistic aspect


Writing History, Constructing Religion

of history writing in an article called ‘Clio, A Muse’ (Trevelyan, 1913). Trevelyan lamented that ‘History was, by her own friends, proclaimed a “science” for specialists, not “literature” for the common reader of books. And the common reader of books has accepted his discharge’ (Trevelyan, 1913, p. 2). But this should not be the case he argued. History should be literary and therefore educational. Yet there was more at stake for Trevelyan. He thought that there is also a patriotic element in doing or not doing ‘scientific’ history. He suggests that the ‘methods and limitations of German learning presumably suit the Germans, but are certain to prove a straight waistcoat to English limbs and faculties’ (Tevelyan, 1913, p. 4). In fact, Trevelyan explains, it is ‘because the historians of to-day were trained by the Germanizing hierarchy to regard history not as “evangel” or even as a “story,” but as a “science,” that they have neglected what is after all the principle craft of the historian – the art of narrative’ (Trevelyan, 1913, p. 14). He advocates the following view: We ought to look to the free, popular, literary traditions in our own land. Until quite recent times, from the days of Clarendon down through Gibbon, Carlyle and Macaulay to Green and Lecky, historical writing was not merely the mutual conversation of scholars with one another, but was the means of spreading far and wide throughout all the reading classes a love and knowledge of history, an elevated and critical patriotism and certain qualities of mind and heart. (Trevelyan, 1913, p. 4)

Things are rarely clear-cut and they certainly aren’t in this case. Both Trevelyan and Bury did in fact concede that in history writing there were elements of the sciences and the arts respectively. Bury, as noted above, accepted that history could provide material for literary dress and it appears that he did not go wholly in the direction of history as a science (Kenyon, 1983, pp. 175–176). For Trevelyan, history is scientific in the general sense of sifting through the evidence to provide an accumulation of the facts. It is also speculative: cause and effect can be discussed in very general terms, generalizations made on the collected evidence. As Trevelyan put it, ‘In this vexed question whether history is an art or science, let us call it both or call it neither. For it has an element of both’ (Trevelyan, 1913, p. 30). On the scientific nature of history, Trevelyan has a point (as he does to some extent on the artistic nature of history). Generalizations are useful for the historian and can be particularly useful in critical reconstruction. As E. H. Carr noted: ‘If the evidence is not clear whether Richard murdered the princes in the Tower, the historian will ask himself … whether it was a habit of rulers of the period to liquidate potential rivals to their throne; and his judgement will, quite rightly, be influenced by this generalization’ (Carr, 1987, p. 63). History seeks to explain, history can find patterns in the past, and history can provide generalizations of cause and effect (Evans, 2000, pp. 45–74, 129–160). But just because it does not provide laws does not mean it is not a science. A point often made is that if we are to use the language of science, a useful analogy may be not with sciences such as physics but those such as geology. Or indeed astronomy: scientific discoveries cannot always be scrutinized in the laboratory nor are they always found through experimentation. There is also a problem with the English language here. It has been pointed out that in other languages the equivalent word to ‘science’ can include history, such as the German Wissenschaft which means a body of organized knowledge (Carr, 1987, p. 56; Evans, 2000, p. 45).

Defining History


Science in this sense is the search for some kind of truth based on broadly agreed practices which can in turn develop this body of knowledge. If we define science like this then history can certainly be accepted as part of the discipline. But if we define science in the sense of physical laws then history cannot be accepted as part of the discipline. Human beings are not always predictable. People have different memories, upbringings, experiences and so on, not to say a whole host of other non-human variables which are always liable to throw a spanner in the works of any constructed law and provide different reactions to different situations. Historians ‘cannot’, as Elton rightly stressed, ‘claim powers of prediction’ because they essentially work backwards with the benefit of hindsight (Elton, 1991, p. 7). On the other hand, generalizations are different. Perhaps we can legitimately talk about unemployment leading to high levels of certain crimes in deprived areas and it may be that this will often be the case in the future. But this is different to saying that whenever there is unemployment there will be high levels of certain crimes in deprived areas. Trevelyan made the not entirely unreasonable point that no knowledge of history can invent a steam engine, or light a town, or cure cancer, or make wheat grow near the Arctic Circle. It is not proven, he continues, that starvation leads to revolt; in fact it can lead to complete submission. No, Trevelyan claimed, history is not scientific deduction; it is an imaginative guess at the most likely generalizations.10 Generalizations by their very nature are not absolute, they do not cover every instance and they do not constitute immutable laws. This is not to say the past is not used to predict the future in practice. In fact this belief is so embedded in recent thought that it should be discussed in a little more detail. In recent political debates concerning the 2003 Iraq conflict this has become quite clear, with arguments raging over the Law of the Evil Dictator. Tony Blair, and he was hardly alone in this, heard echoes of the Second World War in his attitude towards Iraq. Some voices went even further and suggested that those who opposed the war were appeasers, the new Neville Chamberlains. In the US, the right wing pressure group, the Project for the New American Century, which includes prominent Republican figures such as Donald Rumsfeld, Francis Fukuyama, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Paul Wolfowitz and Dan Quayle, have a website which contains articles such as ‘The Axis of Appeasement’.11 Among some, a debate was forming between voices against the war and voices for the war: Saddam is the new Hitler who must not be appeased; Blair is the new Anthony Eden and is doomed for political disaster. So who was right? Was Blair making the mistakes of Suez? Or was he really smoking Churchill’s cigar? Or are both views equally absurd? Underlying this is the view that at the very least there is some pattern to history, something that can be learnt from bygone events.12 Blair’s speech to the House of Commons on 18 March 2003 on the eve of the war deals with these very issues.13 Blair was aware that not everyone was convinced by the parallels with the Nazi regime and that they could indeed be problematic. He explicitly stated that there are ‘glib and sometimes foolish comparisons with the 1930s’ and that ‘history does not declare the future to us plainly. Each time is different and the present must be judged without the benefit of hindsight’. Yet he proceeds to discuss the Iraq crisis with help from the 1930s. Blair quotes from the editorial of a newspaper declaring in late 1938 that peace was upon the nation. Blair suggests that there is in fact one relevant point of analogy: ‘It is that, with history, we know what happened. We can look back and


Writing History, Constructing Religion

say, “There’s the time; that was the moment; that’s when we should have acted”’. He proceeds to explain ‘why I believe that the threat that we face today is so serious and why we must tackle it’ in fairly apocalyptic language: The threat today is not that of the 1930s. It is not big powers going to war with each other. The ravages that fundamentalist ideology inflicted the twentieth century are memories. The cold war is over. Europe is at peace, if not always diplomatically. But the world is ever more interdependent. Stock markets and economies rise and fall together, confidence is the key to prosperity, and insecurity spreads like contagion. The key today is stability and order. The threat is chaos and disorder – and there are two begetters of chaos: tyrannical regimes with weapons of mass destruction and extreme terrorist groups who profess a perverted and false view of Islam.

Blair (or his scriptwriter) appears to have realized that Iraq is not the power Nazi Germany was and so has to replace this model with a more cosmic one which might compete with the power of the Nazis. In fact the more abstract and de-contextualized this model becomes the easier it is to fit in that which is disagreeable, including the typically Blairite view of ‘false’ Islam.14 This is a purely selective approach to history which produces whatever result it so wishes and has no empirical grounding. By the same logic, this ‘law’ could have been used by Saddam’s regime. Could not Saddam cast himself as a new Churchill standing up against the imperialist might of the invader? Could Saddam not be the defender of order in the face of chaos, as even some US commentators thought after the 1991 Gulf War (Chomsky, 2000, p. 29)? I am certainly not advocating this because that would be foolish; rather, I am trying to show that such historical parallels, even as generalized as Blair’s example, hardly work in practice. History does not work in such convenient patterns. No two historical situations are ever the same. Politicians would do well to meditate on the warning of Trevelyan: The first, or at least the most generally acknowledged educational effect of history, is to train the mind of the citizen into a state in which he is capable of taking a just view of political problems. But, even in this capacity, history cannot prophesy the future; it cannot supply a set of invariably applicable laws for the guidance of politicians; it cannot show, by the deductions of historical analogy, which side is in the right in any quarrel of our own day. It can do a thing less, and yet greater than all these. It can mould the mind itself into the capability of understanding great affairs and sympathizing with other men. (Trevelyan, 1913, p. 19)

One benefit of using historical parallels is in fact to show how dangerous an exercise this can be. It is in this capacity that the Suez crisis of 1956 can help us learn. In other words, the Suez crisis does not illustrate that Blair is another Eden; it illustrates beautifully that historical parallels can be far too vague and general to be of any practical use. When Colonel Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, Eden saw another dictator who must not be appeased. Apparently here again is a historical law which can be a guide to foreign policy. For example, in his memoirs Eden states: It is important to reduce the stature of the megalomaniacal dictator at an early stage. A check to Hitler when he moved to reoccupy the Rhineland would not have destroyed him,

Defining History


but it would have made him pause … Nowadays it is considered immoral to recognize an enemy. Some say that Nasser is no Hitler or Mussolini. Allowing for a difference in scale, I am not so sure. He has followed Hitler’s pattern, even to concentration camps and the propagation of Mein Kampf among his officers. He has understood and used Goebbels’s pattern of propaganda in all its lying ruthlessness. Egypt’s strategic position increases the threat to others from any aggressive militant dictatorship there. (Eden, 1960, p. 431)

Suez, of course, turned out to be a complete disaster for Eden and his use of historical parallels clearly did not work. Eden, along with Macmillan, shared, as one commentator memorably put it, ‘false historical analogies and saw Egypt through a forest of Flanders poppies and gleaming jackboots’ (Thomas, 1976, p. 163). Rewriting and Retelling History The use of historical parallels might not show us a clear path to the future but on another level they can be used as a means of defying power, constructing identities or more generally as a way of living out/with the present, not least in religious traditions. In Judaism, around the time of the first century CE, Passover, where God’s delivery of Israel from Egypt was remembered, was a time of tension at least for the Romans and Jews dedicated to the status quo because there were Jews waiting for God to act in the same way once again. Throughout the first century CE, Exodus-Conquest themes partly inspired some Jews to engage in looking to the past to predict the future, such as physically re-enacting the tradition by going out into the wilderness coupled with promises of God liberating the Jews (Barnett, 1981). This, as the political leaders were only too aware, provided opposition to earthly rule and one way or another the contemporary earthly rulers were, apparently, going to be overthrown. In contrast, it would be pointless trying to analyze these Exodus-Conquest traditions for evidence of whether or not Moses really did part the sea or whether or not the walls of Jericho really did tumble down. Studying traditions on the level of remembrance and reapplied meaning in a new context in some ways reflects what Bernard S. Cohn calls an ‘anthropological history’ where ‘texts and codified oral traditions are read not to establish chronologies nor to sift historical fact from mythical fancy, but to try to grasp the meanings of the forms and contents of these texts in their own cultural terms’ (Cohn, 1987a, p. 69; cf. Cohn, 1987b, p. 48). This perspective is echoed with detailed ethnographical examples in Kathryn Tomlinson’s chapter in this volume, on Meskhetian Turks in southern Russia, people not so much concerned with the factual reconstruction of the past but rather with utilizing the past as a way of living in and with the present. Compare also Seth Kunin’s chapter in this volume where he shows that it is not the factual or historical data which makes myths die and underlying structure defective but rather a conscious attempt to use this material to fit a new ideological agenda. Here, as throughout Kunin’s work (see esp. Kunin, 1995), the distinction between historical fact and mythical fancy is not so useful, but the ways in which such material is used to fit an underlying structure is of crucial importance. This ‘anthropological history’ is also echoed to some extent in the general area of theology and religious studies. For example, in my other chapter in this volume I will try to show how


Writing History, Constructing Religion

the story of the death of John the Baptist should not be used as a source to reconstruct the death of the historical John the Baptist. Instead it is best to see this passage as an expression of an early Jewish Christian group living in fear of persecution. Another example is the rise of redaction criticism in biblical studies in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and the use literary criticism which followed has led to a major emphasis on the so-called ‘final form of the text’ along with the language, structure, themes, plot and so on of a given biblical book. It is now extremely common to read the gospel texts to see how they interact with their respective cultural contexts as opposed to the gospels being a window into the life of the historical Jesus. However, this should not mean the death of the more conventional historical criticism. Eric Hobsbawm is deeply worried that ‘history is the raw material for nationalist or ethnic or fundamentalist ideologies’. The past ‘is an essential element, perhaps the essential element, in these ideologies. If there is no suitable past, it can always be invented’. It is worth quoting Hobsbawm’s example more fully: Indeed in the nature of things there is usually no entirely suitable past, because the phenomenon these ideologies claim to justify is not ancient or eternal but historically novel … The past legitimizes. The past gives a more glorious background to a present that doesn’t have much to celebrate. I recall seeing somewhere a study of the ancient civilization of the cities of the Indus valley with the title Five Thousand Years of Pakistan. Pakistan was not even thought of before 1932–3, when the name was invented by some student militants. It did not become a serious political demand until 1940. As a state it has only existed since 1947 … But 5,000 years of Pakistan somehow sounds better than forty-six years of Pakistan. (Hobsbawm, 1997a, pp. 6–7)

In fact, dangerous though it might seem, there is moral argument for historical reconstruction, not least in the case of Holocaust denial. A recent high profile example of this is from 2000 where David Irvine brought a libel case before the High Court in London against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books (and not the other way round as many commentators assume). Lipstadt had previously accused Irvine (and other Holocaust deniers) of deliberately manipulating historical record, linked him with neo-fascist groups and claimed he was an admirer of Hitler (Lipstadt, 1994; cf. Elton, 1991, p. 48). Richard Evans was brought in as an expert witness. Evans argued that to the unwary many of Irvine’s arguments ‘probably seemed convincing’. But, Evans continues, it was only when Irvine’s work was closely scrutinized and his claims followed up with reference to the original documents on which these claims were supposedly based that the lies and distortions became clear. He concludes that ‘Lipstadt was therefore right to describe Irvine as a Hitler partisan who manipulated the historical record in an attempt to portray his hero in an unwarranted favourable light’ (Evans, 2002, p. 110).15 But such dangerous influences are not always restricted to the ‘unwary’. In the field of New Testament studies, the Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (TWNT)/Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) remains a standard work (Kittel and Friedrich, 1933–79). It is recommended to undergraduates and postgraduates and its articles are still utilized by learned professors. As Maurice Casey’s chapter in this volume will show in more detail, the major problem is that its main editor just so happened to be a member of the Nazi party who wrote an anti-Semitic pamphlet, Die Judenfrage (‘The Jewish Question’) and wrote for the official Nazi

Defining History


publication Forschungen zur Judenfrage (‘Researches into the Jewish Question’) (Vermes, 1983, pp. 64–66). Consequently, there are anti-Semitic overtones in the earlier volumes. One of the contributors to these earlier volumes was W. Grundmann. Grundmann also happened to be a member of the Nazi party and a supporting member of the SS. His contributions to TDNT are of dubious academic worth but to top it off he wrote Jesus der Galiläer und das Judentum which argued the impossible: Jesus was racially Aryan and not Jewish at all (Grundmann, 1940).16 If such scholars did not deliberately lie, they surely came very close. This sort of scholarship contributed to decades of subsequent caricaturing of Judaism around the time of Jesus as a cold, unloving, legalistic religion. In fact it was not until 1977 and the publication of E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism that the prejudice of a great deal of New Testament scholarship was made explicit to those New Testament scholars who had yet to fully realize danger of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in the writings of their academic tradition (Sanders, 1977). It is easy to scoff at religious groups or nationalist movements who produce verifiably impossible histories but Kittel, Grundmann and others were, and sometimes still are, taken very seriously indeed. Or, to take another example, the distortion of Islamic history is all too common, presented as historical truth and potentially explosive as Hugh Goddard’s chapter in this volume shows. This all illustrates that historians are required to be faithful to historical facts at the most basic level, not least due to their abuse in the name of ideology and, in the case of Kittel’s dictionary for example, not get complacent and simply rely on ‘standard’ works. More broadly, this requires the continuing need to be constantly vigilant in all areas, wary of consensus opinion and, careful in generalizing about and defining periods or religions of a given period (cf. Alan Aldridge’s article in this volume). Theory, Ideology and Perspective This is not to say that history cannot be, should not be and is not, ideologically driven. Historical writing and scholarship in general can be ideologically committed without sacrificing critical methods or some kind of objectivity (Appleby, Hunt and Jacob, 1994, pp. 241–270; Hobsbawm, 1997b; Haskell, 1998). Haskell suggests that there needs to be more respect for the ascetic self-discipline of detachment in order to achieve ‘some distance from one’s own spontaneous perceptions and convictions, to imagine how the world appears in another’s eyes, to experimentally adopt perspectives that do not come naturally – in the last analysis, to develop … a view of the world in which one’s self is not at the center, but appears merely as one object among many’ (Haskell, 1990, p. 132). In more practical terms this would not mean ‘preaching to the converted’ with no respect for outside views but rather, for example, ‘the powerful argument – the text that reveals by its every twist and turn its respectful appreciation of the alternatives it rejects’. Such a text is so compelling because ‘its author has managed to suspend momentarily his or her own perceptions so as to anticipate and take account of objections and alternative constructions …’ (Haskell, 1990, p. 135). This principle applies to all kinds of history writing and scholarship, be it black history, gay and lesbian history, Marxist history or whatever. Hobsbawm provides a useful analogy from the sciences. Modern genetics, he notes, ‘was


Writing History, Constructing Religion

undoubtedly in great part a product of an elitist, anti-democratic ideology – from Francis Galton and Karl Pearson onwards’. This does not mean that genetics is a reactionary science, not least because other practitioners, such as J. B. S. Haldane, were communists. Thus ‘we have here a field of the unquestioned natural sciences, whose advance has been achieved largely through the political partisanship of its practitioners’ (Hobsbawm, 1997b, p. 178; cf. Appleby, Hunt and Jacob, 1994, pp. 171, 174–197). This clearly applies to the use of interdisciplinary models in history, something that is deeply ingrained in historical writing, not least due to the influence of the Marxist and the French based Annales traditions (Burke, 1990). Again, not all are happy with this. Elton, enemy of all things theoretical, claimed that it ‘does not matter which such theory we choose: they all arise from the same ambition and all do equal harm to the past’ (Elton, 1991, p. 27; cf. Elton, 1967). This is hardly fair. The use of social anthropology, for example, has been invaluable in aiding our understanding of seemingly alien practices such as purity laws. It is not neurotic behaviour or just plain stupid (as some students have commented in lectures) but it is important, among other things, for understanding social boundaries, both internal and external (cf. Douglas, 1966; Okely, 1983). Models are not therefore simply imposed and can be checked by the evidence available to us (cf. Alan Aldridge’s article in this volume). But that said care should always be exercised. Some of the more reasonable criticisms of the use of interdisciplinary models have stressed the importance of fidelity to the texts, avoidance of over generalization and attention to cultural diversity (Finlay, 1988; Mah, 1991; Horrell, 2000; cf. Darnton, 1984; Davies, 1988; Esler, 2000). An example of this is from my own field of study, namely Philip Esler’s attempt to reconstruct the controversies over eating habits in early Christianity through use of anthropological studies of purity by Mary Douglas and Edmund Leach and with reference to the Indian caste system (Esler, 1987, pp. 71–109). Esler gives the following statement: Among the Indian castes, moreover, intermarriage is normally only possible between people who can eat together without risk of defilement … Given the antipathy of the Jews for marrying Gentiles, the Indian comparison suggests that it would be most surprising if they did not also feel a pronounced hostility towards eating with them. (Esler, 1987, p. 76)

Although Esler does not go as far as suggesting that mere ethnographic similarities between the Indian caste system and Jewish eating habits is completely adequate,17 it does seem as if this approach interferes too much in his handling of the Jewish and gentile sources he uses to back up his argument. Crucially, this can be checked with reference to the sources.18 One of the tests cited by Esler is the Letter of Aristeas which has the gentile Egyptian king holding a banquet for the Jewish participants. Esler claims that the author ‘does not specify whether food and wine were passed between the king and the Jews, but it would seem more likely that he ate his and they ate theirs’, similar to the way the biblical figure of Esther was said to have dealt with the problem. Esler gives references to the Letter of Aristeas 182–3 but not, curiously, the immediately preceding verse which directly contradicts his model as it shows that at least some Jews, in certain circumstances, were indeed prepared to eat with gentiles. The Egyptian king says,

Defining History


‘Everything of which you partake … will be served in compliance with your habits; it will be served to me as well as to you.’ They [the Jews] expressed their pleasure and the king ordered the finest apartments to be given to them near the citadel, and the preparations for the banquet were made. (Aristeas 181)

There is nothing wrong with using this anthropological approach: it still highlights the importance of identity and boundary making, and, if we take such sources seriously, how identity is far from fixed and how such boundaries can be negotiated. It is crucial though that the reasons given by the practitioners should not be forgotten; in this particular case if the right food is served then table fellowship can occur. Dissenting and uncomfortable voices should be explained not silenced. It is therefore possible to show that ‘statements must be subject to validation by methods and criteria which are, in principle, not subject to partisanship, whatever their ideological consequences, and however motivated’ (Hobsbawm, 1997b, p. 169). This makes it possible for histories of anything and everything to be written, inspired by a wide range of ideologies and beliefs. The idea of writing history of what some might regard as obscure is hardly new, particularly in the Marxist tradition, and it has continued to flourish not least due to the impact of postmodernism. It may seem for many (this writer included) that the fragmentation of history is a good thing and that surely no one in their right mind would have a problem with this. But the old guard remain. With reference to the 2002 BBC television series Great Britons in the UK, Simon Heffer, a columnist in the Daily Mail newspaper (UK), tells us how he is particularly fond of the idea that history should be about great men and, presumably, honorary men (Heffer, 2002). Heffer is horrified that comedian and singer Michael Crawford came only one place behind Margaret Thatcher (which does provoke the obvious response of how did Thatcher manage to come above the star of Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em?). In some ways this sort of ‘kings and battles’ only view of history has academic backing, for example in the form of John Vincent: History is incorrigibly male, though much less so than it was. That is not to say that it will remain so in the future, still less than it should … It means one thing only: that women have characteristically created less evidence, so obviously so that the argument upon the point is idle … At any rate, the past is incorrigibly male as it is incorrigibly aristocratic, incorrigibly religious, incorrigibly unfair. To those who object, there can be only one answer. Things are as they are, not as we would have them be … That women play men’s roles only adds to the difficulty of assessing the place of women in history … History is about winners not losers. In broad terms, this is because the winners write the history … Some losers remain forever in our mind: Joan of Arc, Cranmer. That is because they were losers who really won. (Vincent, 1995, pp. 24–27)

This is obviously not true. There are countless books on a massive variety of subjects: women, poor, ‘losers’ who did not have any notable influence after death, slaves, in fact absolutely anyone and anything. Or as Appleby, Hunt and Jacob put it, ‘Women, minorities, and workers populate American and Western histories where formerly heroes, geniuses, statesmen – icons of order and the status quo – reigned unchallenged’ (Appleby, Hunt and Jacob, 1994, p. 4). Maria Varsam’s chapter in this volume on the silenced voice of the sacrificial victim is also in this vein. In fact historians constantly read sources against the grain. It may not be fair that history’s victors have


Writing History, Constructing Religion

tended to put things down in writing but that has not stopped the reading of sources in new and different ways. Jim Sharpe points to official records, for example coroner’s inquests, court cases, wills, and parish-register entries, which record incidental details, such as marital life and family activities (Sharpe, 2001). Such details are unlikely to be distorted and as ‘so often when dealing with official records, they are at their most useful when employed for purposes that their compilers would never have dreamt of’ (Sharpe, 2001, p. 31). One of the most famous exponents of ‘history from below’ is E. P. Thompson who wrote the seminal work, The Making of the English Working Class (Thompson, 1963). Thompson had problems with the views that working people are to be seen as largely passive victims or as mere statistics because such views ‘tend to obscure the agency of working people, the degree to which they contributed by conscious efforts, to the making of history’. He also had problems with the views that the historical study of working people should be to find pioneers of the Welfare State or ‘early exemplars of rational industrial relations’ because, among other reasons, ‘only the successful (in the sense of those whose aspirations anticipated subsequent evolution) are remembered. The blind alleys, the lost causes, and the losers themselves are forgotten’. Thompson’s aim was, as he famously put it, to ‘rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity’ (Thompson, 1963, pp. 12–13). Thompson’s remembrance of the supposedly obscure is the most important general feature of his book; it is an honourable task which shows no signs of dying out. Those traditionally marginalized in history should no longer be seen merely as a ‘problem’ to be solved for those with power. History from below shows how people participate in making their own history, participate in creating their own identity, and can even participate in shaping broader ideals and attitudes. We do not merely owe our history and identity to the good and the great. ‘History from Below’: Two Examples I will finish this chapter by giving two examples which not only show what history from below can look like in practice but also show the huge importance of practising ‘history from below’.19 The first example is the 1984–85 Miners’ Strike in the UK. The strike, the lack of a national ballot and all the decisions made are usually attributed to one man and his inner circle: Arthur Scargill, the then President of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). So we get comments such as ‘Scargill’s strike’ from a sober historian (Childs, 2001, p. 239), ‘Mr Scargill’s Insurrection’ from the then British Prime Minister (Thatcher, 1993, pp. 339–378), ‘lions led by donkeys’ from the then electricians’ union leader Eric Hammond (the controversial scenes surrounding this comment are described in Benn, 1992, pp. 579–580), and ‘the NUM leadership … had created divisions by refusing to ballot’ from a Fabian journalist (Lloyd, 1985, p. 37). Countless more examples of how the strike was portrayed as being run by a few dictatorial zealots (and one in particular) could be added to this list of common myth making. But was it really ‘Mr Scargill’s Insurrection’ followed by a rabble of brainwashed miners who obediently followed their leader? One thing has

Defining History


always struck me about this common perception: it does not tally with the views of numerous people working in industry I have known nor most importantly striking miners themselves. The voices of the striking miners and their families are not ones that are regularly heard but they represent at the very least people whose communities suffered, people who endured a year long strike, and people who experienced the deaths of two fellow miners on the picket line. Surely their opinions count. So what did striking miners think? One striking miner who has repeatedly tried to get his and other striking miners’ take on the strike heard is David Douglass, Branch Secretary of the Hatfield NUM who runs the Miners Community Advice Centre in Stainforth (UK).20 He is highly critical of ‘the old myth’, namely that ‘Scargill, the Marxist with his own agenda, gerrymandered a strike’. Douglass calls the ‘old, old story’ that this was Scargill’s strike with miners eating out of his hands ‘Offensive, and obscene lies, which rob 140,000 miners of their place in this history. Our history!’ On the now infamous issue of the lack of balloting, Douglass recalls: The question of whether to have a ballot or not was put to mass pithead meetings all over the coalfield. Men in their thousands voted on whether or not we should have a ballot. When I put the question to 1,200 men at Hatfield they nearly hung me off the welfare roof. They thought we were trying to sell them out …

Douglass adds that ‘thousands upon thousands of swaying miners’ greeted the result of the conference not to hold a ballot. His conclusion on the issue of the ballot is a complete reversal of the received wisdom: This was the democracy we were used to. A mass assembly of their brothers, face to face. Stand on your hind legs, have your say, then vote, where everyone can see you. Then stick by the decision, whichever way it goes. Not whispering behind your hand, voting in private and stabbing your marra in the back. That’s the way the men saw it. They told the ‘union leaders’ no ballot, not the other way round.

Douglass also points to different stories that must not be forgotten, such as ‘women’s support groups, the women’s flying pickets, the platform speakers, the fundraisers … the fight for politics – against sexism, against sexist slogans – those discussions and joint learning by a large section of the class’ (cf. Lloyd, 1985, pp. 25–26). This sort of approach to the 1984–85 Miners’ Strike is a good example of the dangers of establishing opinions of people by looking at their leaders or official opinion. It should be obvious that it is simply good scholarly practice to establish the opinions, behaviour and everyday worries of people by getting as close as possible to the source, a concern echoed in Kathryn Tomlinson’s chapter in this volume. The usual approach to the Strike also provides the static view of two stereotypical groups (‘leaders’ and ‘striking miners’) and comes perilously close to an essentialist understanding of identity (cf. Christian Karner’s second chapter in this volume). It does not take too much hard work to find out that the self perception of the striking miners might actually have been much more fluid, consisting of multiple identities and a variety of perspectives all ultimately functioning against the common essentialist imposition of brave lions misled by rabid donkeys. But all this does not mean, of course, that we should romanticize working classes or any other group traditionally marginalized in historical study, an issue raised in


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Alan Aldridge’s chapter in this volume. Another important function of history from below can be to show that human cruelty is not just restricted to those in power. This brings me to my disturbing second example: Christopher Browning’s work on the Reserve Police Battalion 101 active in occupied Poland (Browning, 1998).21 These reserve policemen were a group of middle-aged family men from largely working class backgrounds. One of their assignments was to round up Jews in Józefów, sixty miles south of Lublin. Active men were to be sent to a work camp. The women, children and elderly were to be shot. The individual policeman was paired off face-toface with the individual Jew they were about to shoot. These reservists were not forcefully conscripted, they do not appear to have been political sympathizers deliberately drafted, and these men were not brought in because they were particularly suited to mass killing and nor were such battalions known for attracting such men. The battalion was ‘the “dregs” of the manpower pool available at that stage of the war’ (Browning, 1998, p. 165). Why did they commit such slaughter? Significantly one of the traditional reasons given for such behaviour – orders from an intolerant regime – does not seem to have been a major motivation for such behaviour. One major reason is that ‘in the past forty-five years no defense attorney or defendant in any of the hundreds of post war trials has been able to document a single case in which refusal to obey an order to kill unarmed civilians resulted in the allegedly inevitable dire punishment’ (Browning, 1998, p. 170). Of course, the fear of disobeying orders was undoubtedly present; there were certainly elements of coercion in the situation of the Reserve Police Battalion 101. However, there were also opportunities for those unwilling to participate to avoid participating in the killings. There were a number of other reasons for these killings according to Browning. Ideology, to an extent, played its part. The battalion, like the rest of German society, were immersed in racial superiority and anti-Semitic propaganda, intensified by the war. Yet the group were not prepared, as others were, for the task of killing. Browning suggests that peer pressure and group conformity played a crucial role (cf. Bauman, 1989). Despite initial repulsion among most of the group, 80 to 90 percent of the men carried out the task. This, Browning argues, was due to, among other things, a fear of isolation within a tight-knit community stationed abroad among a hostile population, to avoid the perception of moral criticism of comrades, and to avoid leaving the ‘dirty work’ to others. The value of such history is immense. It shows that any group of people have the potential, not least in war time, to dehumanize the other and provide both pressure on social behaviour and a set of moral norms which can lead to atrocities such as those carried out by the Reserve Police Battalion 101. This sort of history is profoundly moral. If ever the common belief that we can ‘learn from history’ were true, this kind of history is surely a case in hand. It has the potential to inspire non-conformity when it really matters. It is worth quoting the following: What is one to conclude? Most of all, one comes away from the story of Reserve Battalion 101 with great unease. This story of ordinary men is not the story of all men. The reserve policemen faced choices, and most of them committed terrible deeds. But those who killed cannot be absolved by the notion that anyone in the same situation would have done as they did. For even among them, some refused to kill and others stopped killing. Human responsibility is ultimately an individual matter. (Browning, 1998, p. 188)

Defining History


Conclusion It is no great loss that history is no longer restricted to the study of the elite, the powerful politicians, kings and battles no more than the study of religion is limited to the great churchmen, famous theologians and founding figures. History and the study of religion should be, and indeed often is, open to those traditionally overlooked, from the working classes to the ‘heretics’. This should include studying the lives of the supposedly obscure on their own terms, the problems and issues they faced and their roles in constructing identities. The study of history, like the study of religion and religions, inevitably has a moral content. There is the constant need to be vigilant, most importantly concerning those like the Holocaust deniers. But we should also be wary of the continuing negative influence of ideology that distorts historical record or even believes prejudicial historical record. The study of history, like the study of religion and religions, should be self critical, yet this does not mean that practitioners have to give up ideology, theology or belief. There remain basic checks for historical objectivity: for example, theses can be checked for factual accuracy against the sources they claim to represent. I am aware that these issues have not been discussed in anything like the detail they deserve and that this chapter will not be to the liking of many of the contributors to this project, but there is no point trying to hide viewpoints. If it can provoke discussion then that is no bad thing. These and related issues are crucial for the study of religion and need to be discussed by people from different perspectives and people working in different areas. This book is a step in this direction. Notes 1 On postmodernism, critical theory and the study of religion see the chapters by Christian Karner and Philip Goodchild in this volume. 2 For the influence on history writing see the (very selective) following: White, 1973a; White, 1973b; White, 1978; Ankersmit, 1989; Jenkins, 1991; Jenkins, 1995; Jenkins, 1999; Ermath, 1992; Joyce, 1995; Munslow, 1997; Southgate, 2001. 3 See the references to Jenkins above. 4 White is discussed on p. 162, n. 13. 5 And woe betide anyone ‘who manages to marry deconstruction and Marxism’! That would be ‘like spiking vodka with LSD’ (Elton, 1991, pp. 28–29). Elton meant this in a negative sense. 6 In New Testament studies, Ben Witherington III has written New Testament History. A Narrative Account (Witherington, 2001), yet curiously gives no indication as to what a narrative account might be. 7 For Carr see, for example, Carr, 1986a; Carr, 1986b. On narrative and supposed correspondence to reality ‘as it actually was’ see also, for example, Danto, 1985; LaCapra, 1985; Lemon, 1995; Ankersmit, 1994; Appleby, Hunt and Joyce, 1994, pp. 234–235; Munslow, 1997. 8 This stands in sharp contrast to some of the sensationalism that my field of biblical studies seems to attract. On this see, for example, Stanton, 1995. Cf. also Casey’s chapter in this volume. 9 For a very useful historical overview of the relationship between science and history since the seventeenth century see Appleby, Hunt and Jacob, 1994, pp. 15–90, 160–197, 251–253.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

10 For Trevelyan’s discussion on the differences between science and history see ‘Clio, A Muse’, pp. 6–12. 11 http://www.newamericancentury.org. The ‘Statement of Principles’ (from 1997) also contains similar allusions: ‘The history of the 20th Century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership’. 12 Smith, 2003, provides a brief but insightful discussion of Blair’s (extremely selective) use of history, including issues surrounding the Iraq War. 13 Recorded in Hansard (House of Commons Debates, Session 2002–3), ‘Iraq’ [18 Mar 2003], especially cols. 767–768 and available at http://www.parliament.uk/hansard/hansard.cfm. 14 See also Goddard’s chapter in this volume. 15 For details of Irvine’s misuse of the sources see Evans, 2002, pp. 45–111. 16 On Grundmann, other anti-Semitic New Testament scholars, and their unfortunate influence on contemporary New Testament scholarship see Casey, 1999. 17 Esler, 1987, p. 76: ‘It is not enough to found an argument, however, merely to demonstrate that opposition of Jews to table-fellowship with Gentiles, in the first century CE specifically, exists in the realm of anthropological probability. It is necessary to establish as a matter of historical fact that such an attitude did characterize the Judaism of this period’. 18 For more details on the following see Crossley, 2004, pp. 144–149. 19 An important example of ‘history from below’ from my own field and well informed about the key issues surrounding it is Meggitt, 1998, pp. 14–18. 20 The details presented here are available at www.minersadvice.co.uk. 21 It should be pointed out that there has been some controversy over the issue of ‘ordinary Germans’ and the Holocaust. For an alternative approach to Browning’s see especially Goldhagen, 1996.

References Anderson, Perry (1992), ‘On emplotment: two types of ruin’, in Friedlander, Saul (ed.), Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution”, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, pp. 54–65. Ankersmit, Frank R. (1989), ‘Historiography and post-modernism’, History and Theory, 28, 137–153. Ankersmit, Frank R. (1994), History and Tropology: The Rise and Fall of Metaphor, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Appleby, J., Hunt, L. and Jacob, M. (1994), Telling the Truth about History, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company. Barnett, Paul W. (1981), ‘The Jewish sign prophets – AD 40–70. Their intentions and origin’, New Testament Studies, 27, 679–697. Baudrillard, J. (1995), The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, trans. P. Patton, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Bauman, Z. (1989), Modernity and the Holocaust, Oxford: Polity. Benn, T. (1992), End of an Era: Diaries 1980–1990, ed. R. Winstone, London: Hutchinson. Browning, Christopher R. (1992), ‘German memory, judicial interrogation, and historical reconstruction: writing perpetrator history from postwar testimony’, in Friedlander, Saul (ed.), Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution”, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, pp. 22–36. Browning, C. R. (1998), Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, London: Penguin.

Defining History


Burke, P. (1990), The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School 1929–89, Cambridge: Polity. Bury, John Bagnell (1930), ‘The science of history’, in Temperley, Harold (ed.), Selected Essays of J. B. Bury, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 3–22. Carr, David (1986a), ‘Narrative and the real world: an argument for continuity’, History and Theory, 25, 117–131. Carr, D. (1986b), Time, Narrative and History, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Carr, E. H. (1987), What is History?, London: Penguin. Casey, Maurice (1999), ‘Some anti-semitic assumptions in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament’, Novum Testamentum, 41, 280–291. Childs, D. (2001), Britain Since 1945: A Political History, London: Routledge. Chomsky, N. (2000), Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs, London: Pluto. Cohn, Bernard S. (1987a), ‘History and anthropology: the state of play’, in An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 18–49. Cohn, Bernard S. (1987b), ‘Anthropology and history in the 1980s: towards a rapprochement’, in An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 50–74. Crossley, J. G. (2004), The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity, London: T&T Clark/Continuum. Danto, A. (1985), Narration and Knowledge, New York: Columbia University Press. Darnton, R. (1984), The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, London: Allen Lane. Davies, Natalie Z. (1988), ‘On the lame’, American Historical Review, 93, 572–603. Douglas, M. (1966), Purity and Danger, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Eden, A. (1960), The Memoirs of Sir Anthony Eden: Full Circle, London: Cassell. Elton, G. R. (1967), The Practice of History, Sydney: Sydney University Press. Elton, G. R. (1991), Return to Essentials: Some Reflections on the Present State of Historical Study, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ermath, E. D. (1992), Sequel to History: Postmodernism and the Crisis of Representational Time, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Esler, P. F. (1987), Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Esler, Philip F. (2000), ‘Models in New Testament interpretation: a reply to David Horrell’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 78, 107–113. Evans, R. J. (2000), In Defence of History, London: Granta Books. Evans, R. J. (2002), Telling Lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irvine Trial, London and New York: Verso. Figes, O. (1996), A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891–1924, London: Pimlico. Finlay, Robert (1988), ‘The refashioning of Martin Guerre’, American Historical Review, 93, 553–571. Friedlander, Saul (1992), ‘Introduction’, in Friedlander, Saul (ed.), Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution”, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, pp. 1–21. Goldhagen, J. G. (1996), Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Grundmann, W. (1940), Jesus der Galiläer und das Judentum, Leipzig: Wignard. Haskell, Thomas L. (1990), ‘Objectivity is not neutrality: rhetoric vs. practice in Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream’, History and Theory, 29, 129–157. Updated in Haskell, T. L. (1998), Objectivity is not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 145–173.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Haskell, T. L. (1998), Objectivity is not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Heffer, Simon (2002), ‘History betrayed’, Daily Mail, 23 November, 12–13. Hobsbawm, Eric (1997a), ‘Outside and inside history’, in On History, London: Abacus, pp. 1–12. Hobsbawm, Eric (1997b), ‘Partisanship’, in On History, London: Abacus, pp. 164–185. Horrell, David G. (2000), ‘Models and methods in social-scientific interpretation: a response to Philip Esler’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 78, 107–113. http://www.minersadvice.co.uk http://www.newamericancentury.org http://www.parliament.uk/hansard/hansard.cfm: House of Commons Debates, Session 2002–3, ‘Iraq’ (18 March 2003). Ibbett, John (2003), ‘Our obligation to the past. A response to Keith Jenkins’, Rethinking History, 7, 51–67. Jenkins, K. (1991), Re-thinking History, London and New York: Routledge. Jenkins, K. (1995), On ‘What is History?’: From Carr and Elton to Rorty and White, London and New York. Jenkins, K. (1999), Why History? Ethics and Postmodernity, London: Routledge. Joyce, Patrick (1995), ‘The end of social history?’, Social History, 20, 73–91. Kenyon, J. (1983), The History Men: The Historical Profession in England since the Renaissance, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Kittel, G. and Friedrich, G. (eds) (1933–1979), Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, 10 vols., Stuttgart: Kohlhammer. Kunin, S. D. (1995), The Logic of Incest, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. LaCapra, D. (1985), History and Criticism, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Lemon, M. C. (1995), The Discipline of History and the History of Thought, London: Routledge. Lipstadt, D. (1994), Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, London: Penguin. Lloyd, J. (1985), Understanding the Miners’ Strike, London: Fabian Society. Mah, Harold (1991), ‘Suppressing the text: the metaphysics of ethnographic history in Darnton’s Great Cat Massacre’, History Workshop Journal, 31, 1–20. Meggitt, J. (1998), Paul, Poverty and Survival, T&T Clark: Edinburgh. Meeks, Wayne A. (2003), ‘Assisting the word by making (up) history: Luke’s project and ours’, Interpretation, 57, 151–162. Munslow, A. (1997), Deconstructing History, London and New York: Routledge. Munslow, Alun (2003), ‘History and biography: an editorial comment’, Rethinking History, 7, 1–11. Norris, C. (1990), What’s Wrong with Postmodernism: Critical Theory and the Ends of Philosophy, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Norris, C. (1992), Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War, London: Lawrence and Wishart. Okely, J. (1983), The Traveller-Gypsies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Patton, Paul (1995), ‘Introduction’, in Baudrillard, Jean, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, trans. Paul Patton, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 1–21. Perry, M. (2002), Marxism and History, Basingstoke: Palgrave. Sanders, E. P. (1977), Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion, London: SCM Press. Schama, S. (1989), Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, London: Penguin. Schama, S. (1996), Landscape and Memory, London: Fontana. Sharpe, Jim (2001), ‘History from below’, in Burke, Peter (ed.), New Perspectives on Historical Writing, Cambridge: Polity, pp. 25–42.

Defining History


Smith, Adrian (2003), ‘Tony Blair, the Iraq War, and a sense of history’, The Historian, 79, 6–8. Southgate, B. (2001), History: What and Why? Ancient, Modern, and Postmodern Perspectives, London and New York: Routledge. Spitzer, A. B. (1996), Historical Truth and Lies about the Past: Reflections on Dewey, Dreyfus, de Man, and Reagan, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Stanton, G. (1995), Gospel Truth? New Light on Jesus and the Gospels, London: HarperCollins. Stone, Lawrence (1979), ‘The revival of the narrative’, Past and Present, 85, 3–24. Thatcher, M. (1993), The Downing Street Years, London: HarperCollins. Thomas, H. (1976), The Suez Affair, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Thompson, E. P. (1963), The Making of the English Working Class, Harmondsworth: Pelican Books. Thompson, Edward Palmer (1978), ‘The poverty of theory’, in The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays, London: Merlin, pp. 193–397. Trevelyan, George Macaulay (1913), ‘Clio, a muse’, in Clio, A Muse and Other Essays Literary and Pedestrian, London, New York, Bombay, and Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., pp. 1–55. Vermes, G. (1983), Jesus and the World of Judaism, London: SCM Press, pp. 58–73. Vincent, J. (1995), An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, London: Duckworth. White, H. (1973a), Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. White, H. (1973b), The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. White, H. (1978), Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. White, Hayden (1992), ‘Historical emplotment and the problem of truth’, in Friedlander, Saul (ed.), Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution”, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, pp. 37–53. Witherington III, B. (2001), New Testament History: A Narrative Account, Carlisle: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. Wright, N. T. (1996), Jesus and the Victory of God, London: SPCK.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 3

Postmodernism and the Study of Religions1 Christian Karner

Postmodernism appears to belong to an elect group of terms and concepts – discourse, ideology, ethnicity, culture constitute other illustrative and relevant exemplars – which have been diffused from the realm of academia (as well as, in this particular case, art and architecture) into the popular mind. Such diffusion almost invariably results in an over-usage of the terms concerned, a blurring of definitions and the possibility of their becoming fashionable catchwords devoid of analytical utility. The academy’s response to such dissemination and arguable dispossession of its concepts often consists of a discursive reclaiming of temporarily forfeited territory. This seems to be an apt description of the process currently taking place and reflected in a burgeoning literature on the subject. Even a perfunctionary look at the catalogues of some of the main academic publishers reveals a steady increase in beginners’ guides and companions to postmodernism, offering accounts of its impact on spheres as varied as architecture and art, literary and cultural theory, politics, economics, philosophy and popular culture. On one level, the present volume may be read as part of this emerging genre of academic writing insofar as it investigates the significance of postmodern theorizing to the interdisciplinary study of religions, as well as a variety of possible responses to the challenges and questions it poses. Taking a widely recurring definition of the phenomenon in question, this academic reconquest may be seen to contradict the very spirit of postmodernism and its blurring or deconstruction of the boundaries between the ‘high’ and the ‘low’, the ‘elite’ and the ‘popular’. Such boundaries and the hierarchies implicitly demarcated by them, a postmodern response may suggest, are remnants of a bygone era and a symptom of outdated or at least delegitimized configurations of power. Opinions on such academic attempts (and their political implications as well as cultural meanings) to regain a definitional monopoly over all things postmodern are likely to vary. However, what is beyond dispute is that a volume such as this, partly intended as an exploration of the implications of postmodernism to the study of religions, must begin by establishing a working definition of the term and by investigating its continually debated meanings. In this chapter, I will explore some of the ideas, concepts and propositions frequently associated with postmodernism and the ways in which they impact on the concerns of scholars of religion. Without implying that there is – or indeed can be – such a thing as definitional closure on the subject, I will summarize the work and thought of some of the main and many thinkers widely associated with postmodernism in the briefest possible terms. Their heterogeneous concerns will be 31


Writing History, Constructing Religion

mapped onto the (historical) scholarship of religions and some of its ‘traditional’ theoretical as well as empirical concerns. The following introductory discussion of postmodern theorizing will also address the related yet distinct notion of postmodernity as a ‘periodicizing’ concept crucial to several of the later chapters. I will also sketch the outlines of some possible and frequently articulated responses to the ‘postmodern challenge’ and touch upon the question of what there may be beyond postmodernism. This chapter adopts a deliberately ‘questioning’ tone throughout: partly an attempt to define and position itself as well as the remainder of this volume in relation to existing intellectual trajectories and recent history of ideas, it concentrates on raising – rather than answering or even fully addressing – a range of questions that arise from the highly heterogeneous intellectual phenomenon that is postmodernism. It is my contention that the long list of conceptual, political and epistemological questions presented in what follows matter greatly to the study of religious histories and texts, ideas, identities and practices. Some, though by no means all, of the questions raised in this chapter will receive systematic treatment in subsequent chapters. As for questions raised here and expected to remain unanswered within the confines of this volume, it is hoped that they will provide stimulus for future research in an exciting and important field. ‘Small’ Narratives, Ubiquitous Power, Problems of Representation For the purposes of this chapter, I propose to follow Stuart Sim’s argument that ‘postmodernism subsumes poststructuralism’. Sim summarizes the latter as ‘a term that refers to a wide range of responses to the structuralist paradigm which dominated French thought during the middle decades of the twentieth century – responses such as the … “deconstruction” of Jacques Derrida [and] the various “archaeological” and “genealogical” enquiries into cultural history of Michel Foucault’ (Sim, 2001, p. ix). This definitional inclusion of post-structuralism in the intellectual orbit of postmodernism reflects an inherent heterogeneity, an awareness of which ought to inform our subsequent discussion and reading of both terms. A closer look at the main thinkers widely associated with postmodernism further reveals a lack of clearly delineated boundaries as well as of the kind of group consciousness typical of other, more homogeneous, schools of thought (Best and Kellner, 1991). Some of the key-thinkers of postmodernism are as well known for their often-profound disagreements with one another as they are for their partly overlapping concerns and interests. This lack of theoretical unity is further compounded by the arguably somewhat fuzzy boundaries between postmodernism and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School that are indicative of both important differences and a number of concerns shared between them (Best and Kellner, 1991, pp. 215–255; Rosenau 1992). In terms of the history of ideas, postmodern theorizing exhibits further significant continuities – as well as important differences – with a number of other earlier traditions and ideas, including Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’, Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’, Kuhn’s scientific paradigms and revolutions, as well as arguably some versions of interpretative sociology. My attempt to establish a working definition is also complicated by the fact that some of the most widely known postmodern thinkers, including Michel Foucault (Best and Kellner, 1991, p. 30), never explicitly identified themselves with (or were even posi-

Postmodernism and the Study of Religions


tively sceptical of) the label. ‘Being a postmodernist’, it would seem, is often a categorization imposed externally rather than one chosen by the theorists designated as such themselves. In structural terms (yet certainly not in terms of content), we may indeed draw a comparison between postmodernism as a label and the identification of religious groups or individuals as ‘fundamentalist’. Very often, though certainly not in all cases, both terms are applied to some ‘other’ rather than the ‘self’.2 These definitional problems notwithstanding, it is possible to identify several family resemblances in the thoughts and texts of the theorists associated with postmodernism as a cultural and intellectual movement that has challenged the Enlightenment and some of its most cherished idea(l)s, including those of scientific objectivity and progress. Lyotard’s seminal definition of the postmodern as ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives’ (1984) implies such a general anti-foundationalist scepticism concerning all claims to universal truth and factuality. Relevant metanarratives would include not only the ‘grand theories’ of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin or Sigmund Freud, but also religious scriptures claiming to contain the words and deeds of Moses, Jesus, Mohammad (Rosenau, 1992, p. 6) or any of the religious figures studied by historians of religion. In one sense, postmodern incredulity appears to be incompatible with the traditionally phenomenological nature of many contributions to religious studies and their interest in the consciousness of believers, to whom the scriptures, statements and practices of religious figures are profoundly ‘true and valid’ and hence obvious examples of metanarratives. In what follows, however, I will argue that many of the insights and propositions of postmodernism are of considerable significance to the study of religions. Postmodernism is a broad and sometimes contradictory church (see Seidman, 1994). Amidst this conceptual diversity, there are propositions and approaches that present religious studies with a host of challenges as well as perhaps unexpected promises. Let us begin by returning to the just mentioned objection that postmodern scepticism may be inherently incompatible with the phenomenological project of attempting to tap into believers’ consciousness, within which foundational scriptures seen as meta-narratives often play a central role. Another reading of postmodern antifoundationalism would suggest that such a conclusion is somewhat premature. Instead, we may argue, postmodernism facilitates human consciousness to be reconceptualized in anti-essentialist and less reified terms, suggesting that all knowledge is socially constructed, heterogeneous, significantly shaped by existing structures of power and thus also open to contestation. In Power/Knowledge, Foucault describes and advocates the ‘insurrection of subjugated knowledges’ including those previously marginalized or ‘disqualified’ discourses of the psychiatric patient, the ill person and the delinquent (1980). Crossley’s first chapter in the present volume traces some of the implications of the rediscovery of such previously silenced voices to the study of history. Regarding religious studies (also including the phenomenological variety), we may wonder if postmodernism can provide space and visibility for localized, disempowered and idiosyncratic religious understandings and experiences (also see chapters by Varsam and Tomlinson, this volume). Religious histories could then be reconceptualized as not only contradictory and pluralistic, but also as ‘written’ within existing structures of power and hence shaped – at least in part – by the exclusion of ‘others’. We may then reread religious discourses against the


Writing History, Constructing Religion

dominant grain, in search of the silenced voices of ‘the sinner’, ‘the heretic’, ‘the apostate’, ‘the deviant’ or the otherwise (dis)possessed. It is at this conjuncture that Foucault’s wide-ranging work inadvertently poses another related, challenging, and potentially somewhat troubling question to the field of religious studies. In Discipline and Punish (1991[1975]), Foucault argues that medicine, criminology, psychiatry and sociology – themselves part of the human sciences and the modern episteme (see below) – were instrumental to the formation of the disciplinary society of industrial modernity. Part of a power–knowledge nexus giving rise to a social formation of surveillance (as most clearly represented in Bentham’s panopticon), the human sciences were crucial to the construction and control of ‘docile bodies’. According to Foucault, industrial society requires a normalizing discourse that defines and fixes a very limited number of subject positions and corresponding patterns of behaviour for its constitutive members. Following Edward Said’s seminal lead (1995), we may project Foucault’s compelling analysis of the carceral network onto religious studies to ask several important questions: is the study of religions – as a human science – similarly complicit in the ongoing reproduction of a political order based on normative judgements of inclusion and exclusion? Can our discourses about people’s beliefs, practices and texts ever be innocently descriptive or are they perhaps inevitably prescriptive and hence profoundly political? Drawing on earlier arguments by Rodney Needham and Clifford Geertz respectively, Dan Sperber has suggested that the very concept of belief is at best ill defined and vague and, at worst, conceptually ‘empty’ (1985, p. 47). So what do we mean when we state that a group of people hold certain beliefs? Who are those people? Does the notion of belief do anything other than define and fix a normative subject position for ‘them’? Who is excluded from this group which our discourse ends up delineating and/or reproducing? Whose voice is silenced, whose heterodox ‘beliefs’ are marginalized in the process? And importantly, what are some of the wider political implications of scholarly accounts of religious ‘beliefs’ and identities? Are we taking the argument too far in suggesting that religious typologies, historically produced (at least in part) and still often validated by scholars of religion, play into the hands of census takers and might constitute an instrument of demographic control and surveillance? Michel Foucault has also famously argued that ‘before the end of the eighteenth century man did not exist’ (1989 [1966], p. 336). In The Order of Things, he analyzes the history of successive epistemes – defined as ‘what … delimits in the totality of experience a field of knowledge, defines the mode of being of the objects that appear in that field, provides man’s everyday perception with theoretical powers, and defines the conditions in which he can sustain a discourse … recognized to be true’ (1989 [1966], p. 172) – characteristic of the Renaissance, Classical and Modern periods respectively. He goes on to argue that it is only in the context of the modern episteme since the end of the eighteenth century that the right conditions of existence (or an ‘epistemological consciousness’) have been in place for a concept and science of man to emerge. These archaeological prerequisites included notions of organic structures, internal functions and relations as well as historicity, which displaced the older classical preoccupation with orders of identities and differences and which made the conceptual emergence of ‘man’ as intrinsic to the (modern) human sciences possible. When projected onto a discussion of religion, we may indeed wonder what the

Postmodernism and the Study of Religions


necessary conceptual, cognitive and epistemological conditions may have been for a notion of religion to emerge and to make sense. This is, of course, an intrinsically historical question insofar as it leads to the follow-on as to when these conditions first emerged. Extending Foucault’s observations, we may then wonder if the notion of a separate and ‘separable’ discipline of religious studies is itself another symptom of modernity and the corresponding differentiation of society into distinct spheres, in which the language and classifications of secularized scholarship developed (also see Carrette, 2000, p. 14). How are we to analyze the ‘institutions of knowledge’ (de Certeau, 1988, p. 60), in which the study of religions has taken root? Whatever our answers to these and similar questions, Foucault’s legacy is a powerful one in alerting us to the socially constructed and historically contingent ‘nature’ of our most takenfor-granted conceptual categories (also see Asad, 1993; Goodchild, this volume). Similar questions may be asked concerning the historical/epistemological conditions for the emergence of some other key-concepts and tools of analysis in religious studies, including those of ‘text’, ‘ritual’, ‘myth’ and ‘history’ as well as their still alltoo-often unquestioned opposition.3 A yet more radical version of this line of thought has been described as postmodern anti-representationalism (Rosenau, 1992), the infinite deferral of meaning based on the disjunction of signifier and signified and the ‘substitution’ of ‘the real world’ by endlessly recycled signs and ‘simulacra’ giving rise to a state of ‘hyperreality’ (Baudrillard, 1983, 1989). Arguably, such arguments make representation – and for our purposes, most significantly, the representation of all things religious – impossible. What we are left with is a never-ending chain of signifiers devoid of referential content, an intricate network of intertextuality (Best and Kellner, 1991, p. 21), in which any attempt to stabilize or ‘fix’ meaning constitutes an act of semiotic violence (Johnson, 1997, pp. 32–36). How are we – as sociologists, historians and anthropologists of religion – to respond to such charges without reverting to defensively knee-jerk polemics? Is it perhaps possible to establish working definitions that are sign-posted as such and thus involve us in a process of self-reflection focused on the contingency of our abstractions and the power relations in which our discourse, like any other, is embedded? Would such a process perhaps open the doors to a new kind of postmodern scholarship that celebrates the dialogic nature of writing and the ongoing construction of meaning by an active readership? Does Zygmunt Bauman (1987) go far enough in suggesting that in conditions of postmodernity it is the task of sociologists (to which we may add historians and critical theorists among others) to interpret rather than to legislate? Where are we to position, and how are we to understand, ourselves as authors and interpreters? How are we to deal with our institutional situatedness and the political consequences of our accounts of religion? For example, when asked to provide succinct statements, summaries or predictions for newspapers or TV channels, what are the political implications of our comments on religious conflict? How are we to avoid our complicity in the reproduction of an all too dominant discourse that defines religious identities in simplistically reified, homogeneous and one-dimensional terms? A main cluster of postmodern implications for the study of religions can thus be summarized as a self-reflexive awareness of the interrelations between power and representation and of the institutional parameters shaping the production of knowledge. Once again quoting Michel Foucault, ‘power produces knowledge, …


Writing History, Constructing Religion

there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations’ (1991 [1975], p.27). Drawing on Foucault and Said, Richard King has applied their insights to his study of Orientalism and Religion, in which he argues as follows: [T]he central normative concepts of the discipline of religious studies – terms such as ‘religion’ and ‘mysticism’, as well as constructs such as ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Buddhism’ – have a discursive history that is bound up with the power struggles and theological issues of Western Christianity. (King, 1999, p. 211)

The seminal volume Writing Culture, edited by James Clifford and George Marcus, contains similar reflections on the process of writing about (ethnographic) ‘others’, its underlying ideologies and political consequences. In one of their chapters, Clifford draws on Derrida’s deconstructionist critique of logocentrism to analyze the underlying motivation and ideological orientation written into much anthropology. He highlights an underlying Rousseauian notion of a ‘noble savage’ threatened by the encroachment of Western civilization as the dominant ideology informing anthropological representations of threatened, yet discursively preserved, ‘others’: Ethnography’s disappearing object is, in significant degree, a rhetorical construct legitimating a representational practice: ‘salvage’ ethnography in its widest sense. The other is lost, in disintegrating time and space, but saved in the text. (Clifford, 1986, p. 113)

Given the obvious intertextuality between this influential work and the present volume, what is the relevance of Clifford and Marcus’s advocacy of a self-reflexive anthropology for religious studies? Following Said’s, King’s and Clifford and Marcus’s respective leads, we may strive to unearth the ideological motivations – unnoticed though they often may be – informing our representations of religious ‘others’? Are some of us guilty of ‘exoticizing’ or ‘romanticizing’ religious ‘others’? If so, are such scholarly accounts grounded in a particular history of thought? Do we also operate with discourses based on hierarchical self/other relations that are in need of ‘Derrida-ian’ deconstruction? Alternatively (and echoing Dan Sperber’s abovequoted reservations concerning the analytical utility of the over-used, yet undertheorized concept of ‘belief’), are perhaps some of our categories too blunt to result in anything other than an erasure of difference? The attentive reader will have noticed another element of not too subtle intertextuality between the title of our present volume and Michel de Certeau’s The Writing of History. De Certeau’s influential book turns history upon itself by analyzing historically variable Western understandings of the past. His argument culminates in a Freudian, psychoanalytic discourse of scholarly (self-) reflection, suggesting that contemporary historiography is (in large part) inspired by the historian’s anxiety about death and the mourning, and inscription, of loss (1988). Again, the potential spin-offs and implications for a self-reflexive study of religious histories – not least concerning the above-mentioned (and contested) definitions and interrelations of the concepts of ‘myth’ and ‘history’ – are manifold and complex. They also include the emerging (and, we may admit, troubling) question of why some of us are interested in

Postmodernism and the Study of Religions


religious phenomena in the first place – might there be a deeper psychodynamic dimension to our academic pursuits? Discourses and ‘Decentred Subjects’ in Conditions of Postmodernity Steven Seidman describes much of what characterizes postmodern thinking and has been summarized thus far as a ‘standpoint theory of knowledge’ based on the recognition that ‘knowledge is always produced from a specific social position exhibiting particular interests, values and beliefs’ (1994, p. 10). Charles C. Lemert similarly defines ‘post-structuralism and postmodernism as first and foremost a form of knowledge’ based on the recognition that ‘intellectual work is [always] political’ (1994, p. 265). Richard Rorty (1994) says as much when he argues that language cannot be a transparent medium and that knowledge constitutes a social practice produced and used by motivated as well as socially positioned actors. Some recent contributions to anthropology exhibit a postmodern awareness of the significance of the ethnographer’s own ‘gender and racial-ethnic identity’ (see, for example, Loftsdóttir, 2002), rethink ‘the creation of anthropological knowledge’ as ‘an arena for intersubjective interaction in which ethnographer and informants … impose social roles and cultural categories on the other’ (Paerregard, 2002, p. 405), or redefine informants as ‘dialogic partners’ (van der Geest, 2003). The implications and relevance of these various insights, strategies and sensitivities to the study of religions – whether textual, historical, sociologically comparative or ethnographic – are obvious and undeniable. Though not synonymous, there are a number of shared concerns and theoretical overlaps between postmodernism and discourse analysis, not least the blurring of the ‘boundaries between science, rhetoric and narrative’ (Seidman, 1994, p. 9). Discourse analysis postulates that language always and invariably positions the speaker (or ‘enunciating subject’) within existing relations of power, which the ‘speech act’ in turn helps to either reproduce or subvert (see, for example, Fairclough, 1995). The following statement, quoted from a study of Language in the News, illustrates the discourse analytical awareness of the presence (and effects) of power in the minutiae of language: [A] basic principle in the theory of representation: an individual event cannot be reported independently of cultural values or ideology, which already exist(s) ready to be projected onto it; if it is an event which develops, it can even become transformed to take on the characteristics of its pre-existing paradigm. Representing events changes them. (Fowler, 1991, pp. 206–207)

Like all social actors (and arguably more than others), scholars of religion are in the business of representing and thereby transforming and/or reproducing aspects of people’s lives. Part of a heterogeneous discursive field, we draw on pre-existing frameworks of meaning, which are inherently political insofar as they position ourselves and ‘others’ and in so doing help to reproduce or undermine structures of power and inequality. The recent war in Iraq provided some local insights into the complex interrelations between dominant (media) discourses and academic work.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Various TV channels and radio stations repeatedly asked a well-known scholar of Islam to provide assessments and comments on the rapidly escalating situation in the Gulf, its history and likely future consequences. Amazingly, none of the very same radio and TV stations thought it relevant to also approach some of the specialist scholars from the undeniably equally relevant American Studies department at the same academic institution. Faced with such ready-made ‘selections’ and the frameworks of meaning they imply, how are we to engage with widely circulating – though perhaps largely taken-for-granted – ‘interpretative repertoires’ (Wetherell and Potter, 1992)? What is the relationship between the individual (academic) and pre-existing discourses that impose a religious grid on current affairs? How much room is there for the exercise of critical agency when the discursive parameters are partly determined by the choice of who is asked to comment on a given issue? Can the currency of a discourse transform a war into a religious war? What alternative interpretations might be possible? And why are alternative voices silenced (or denied space/time in the media)? Questions pertaining to individuals’ positioning vis-à-vis pre-existing discourses, their agency and identities are central to the overlapping concerns of discourse analysis and postmodern/post-structuralist theorizing. Both postulate what we may term the primacy of discourse over the subject. It is one of the main assumptions of discourse analysis that ‘subjects’ are fragmented (rather than unitary) insofar as they draw on contextually variable, socially constructed and historically embedded discourses in their ongoing attempts to make sense of the world (Marshall, 1994). The explicitly postmodern version of the ‘decentred subject’ (Best and Kellner, 1991, p. 5) is reflected in Lyotard’s argument that ‘each of us lives at the intersection of many … clouds of narrative language elements’ (1984, p. 37). Similarly, post-structuralism is widely associated with a radical interpretation of the Foucauldian notion of the ‘death of the subject’, according to which the individual subject is ‘nothing but the effects of certain historically shifting practices and technologies’ (Couldry, 2000, p. 117). However, another version of postmodernism does not at all preclude the ‘complex reality’ of the subject and its agency, but – to the contrary – argues that the discursively ‘constituted character of the subject is the very precondition of its agency’ (Butler, 1994, p. 163). This latter version also sits most comfortably with the notion of the active audience (most widely associated with cultural studies) and its role in the ongoing construction of meaning, which can never be fully determined by – or contained within – cultural texts. It is this variant of postmodern theorizing that has arguably received the most systematic attention – notably through the application of reception theory (Iser, 1980; Jauss, 1982) – in the broad field of religious studies (e.g. Fowler, 1981; Culpepper, 1983). Yet, more work remains to be done on how religious meanings are constructed and communicated, how individuals and groups ‘decode’ religious texts, and on how religious subjectivities are constituted and contested. Returning to the construction and reproduction of religious identities, we may take our cue from Stuart Hall’s famous definition. Hall presents a fluid picture of identities as inherently unstable projects of becoming (rather than being), as the ongoing delineation of ‘routes’ (rather than the discovery of ‘roots’). Identities are thus ‘points of suture’, at which the individual is only ever temporarily ‘hailed into place’ (Hall, 1996). The relevance of such accounts of identity construction to religious studies has become increasingly recognized in recent years (e.g. Baumann, 1999; Nye, 2001). To

Postmodernism and the Study of Religions


cite but one of numerous examples, we may remind ourselves of the fuzzy, fragmented and complex character of religious identities in the context of contemporary Japan. As the following account illustrates, Shintoism and Buddhism co-exist not as clearly circumscribed religious and social phenomena but side-by-side and in a context-dependent fashion within groups and individuals: The notion commonly expressed by Japanese people that they are ‘born Shinto and die Buddhist’ … is a clear and direct indication of the … interrelationship between different religious traditions in Japan. While degrees of conflict have always existed …, these are less pronounced than the levels of mutual cooperation … that are most clearly expressed in the division of labour between these religions in dealing with the rites of passage of birth and death. In Japan, Buddhism is to a great extent a religion of death, and Shinto one of life, fertility, growth and production; hence while Buddhism deals with the rites of passage at the end of life, those rites [marking] the stages in the development and celebration of life (i.e. birth and marriage) are more commonly found within the Shinto sphere. … Contemporary statistics produced by the Japanese Ministry of Culture show that some 115 million Japanese are classified as Shinto, and 92 million as Buddhist, along with the several millions affiliated to other religions. This makes a total of almost double the population of Japan, and indicates that multiple belonging … is common. (Reader, 1994, p. 169)

This account of multiple religious identities will inevitably strike a chord with readers familiar with the complexities of – for example – religious lives in India or China. Such observations raise the question of whether ‘multiple belongings’ are a defining characteristic of the contemporary world only or a general symptom of all identities. Or in other words, has postmodernity made identities more flexible and fluid than they were in ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ times (e.g. Bauman, 1992; Bocock, 1993)? We thus arrive at related questions concerning the historicity of postmodernism and the socio-economic conditions frequently associated with it – in short postmodernity as a ‘periodicizing concept’. Contemporary societies have been variously described as post-industrial, ‘network-’, or information societies (for example, Bell, 1973; Castells, 1996, 1997, 1998). Characteristics of postmodernity analyzed in the literature range from information technology to ‘a loss of history’ and a ‘dethroning of authority’ (Lyon, 1994, pp. 3–7), from the ubiquity and assumed power of the media, economic and cultural globalization and ever more efficient techniques of political surveillance to ‘time–space compressions’ (Harvey, 1990) and identities shaped by consumption patterns (rather than the person’s positioning in the relations of production) (Bocock, 1993). Other authors have described the contemporary period as an age of nostalgia (Robertson, 1990) or as defined by ‘two mutually complementary weapons’ of social control – those of ‘seduction’ through consumerism and ‘repression’ through ‘panoptical power’ (Bauman, 1988, p. 221). For the purposes of this volume and assuming that we have indeed entered a postmodern era, questions concerning the contemporary relevance and ‘nature’ of religious practices and ideas present themselves. If (Western) culture is now profoundly commodified (Jameson, 1984), do the logic of the market and consumer choices also affect people’s religious ‘behaviour’, enabling them to pick and choose from a steady supply of exotic ideas and practices that only ever temporarily satisfy their quest for meaning and identity (also see Aldridge, 2000)? Do at least some of us live in what has been termed the ‘spiritual supermarket’ (Haynes, 1998, p. 67)? Anticipating a theme explored in a


Writing History, Constructing Religion

later chapter (Goodchild, this volume), the related and – for our purposes important – question presents itself as to how the study of religion fares in such conditions of allembracing commodification? Is the ‘cultural logic of late capitalism’ (Jameson, 1984)4 indeed so compelling that our very definitions, conceptualizations and studies of religious phenomena become subject to market forces, the rational actor’s profit maximization and the dynamics of fleeting fashions? At the same time, however, there are strong indications that religious identities and practices, as well as at times their study and analysis by interested outsiders, retain a critical potential. Indeed, there are strong grounds to argue for the ideologically oppositional, counter-hegemonic nature of much contemporary religiosity. If modernity is succeeded and countered by postmodernity, does it make sociological/historical sense to talk of processes of social differentiation (in case of modernity) and postmodern ‘de-differentiation’ or ‘the breakdown of boundaries between social institutions and cultural spheres’ (Seidman, 1994, p. 2) respectively? And if so, how does the secularization thesis fare under conditions of postmodernity (see Aldridge, this volume)? How compatible is secularism as an ideology advocating the restriction of all religious matters to the ‘private sphere’ with a world of blurring boundaries? Might we propose a tentative analysis of (some) religious ‘fundamentalisms’ as ‘anti-secular’ (Westerlund, 1996) reactions against modernity and its institutional separation of religion and politics? Are movements of religious revivalism or ‘fundamentalism’ therefore among the symptoms of postmodernity? Economic globalization (see, for example, Storper, 2001) and ‘the rise of the network society’ (Castells, 1996) have exacerbated economic inequalities and sharpened structures of social exclusion; these developments have been further compounded by the contemporary ‘denationalization shock’ (Beck, 2000) brought about by increasingly powerful multinational corporations, the neo-liberal dismantling of yesteryear’s safety nets (i.e. the welfare state), and increasingly atomized lives in a global ‘risk society’ (Beck, 1992). This has coincided with the renewed political significance and mobilizing potential of religious beliefs, practices and identities (see, for example, Haynes, 1998) giving rise to what has been termed the ‘de-secularization’ of society (Berger, 1999). The question thus arises, if the widely observed resurgence of religious politics and/or politicized religiosity across the world is related to ever-more pronounced inequalities, ever-more stifling poverty for countless millions, and ever-more uncertain and anxiety-generating lives for many among the affluent and, it seems, merely temporary beneficiaries of the global economy? Are movements of religious revivalism and discourses of politicized religion and culture5 (Tambiah, 1996) symptoms of what Zygmunt Bauman, more than ten years ago, diagnosed as a ‘neotribal imagining of community’ (1992, pp. 134–136) against the historical backdrop of postmodern globalization and its many dislocations? Classical anthropology defined religious beliefs as, in part, a way of explaining and understanding (mis-) fortune (see, for example, Evans-Pritchard, 1976 [1937]) and rituals as, in part, an anxiety-coping mechanism (Malinowski, 1978 [1922]). Projected into the here and now, the pressing question presents itself, whether economic globalization, contemporary inequalities and social anomie have intensified many people’s yearning not only for the communities, but also for the explanations and rituals provided by religions (also see Karner and Aldridge, 2004).

Postmodernism and the Study of Religions


Notwithstanding the many possible contributions of postmodern theorizing to the study of religions outlined thus far, postmodernism should not be seen as a utopian theoretical vantage point promising to shed light on all of the discipline’s previous blind-spots. One of the factors working against such optimism is encountered in the recently made assertion that ‘postmodernism has gone out of fashion’ (López and Potter, 2001, p. 2). By turning to some of the limitations of postmodernism, I implicitly advocate a reading of this chapter (and the volume overall) that accepts the need for the continued – though cautious and reflexive – use of postmodern thinking in studying religions. What Lies Beyond? Assessments of the intellectual viability as well as of the socio-political implications and relevance of postmodernism are sharply divided. On the one hand, there have been several influential attempts to turn postmodern theorizing against itself critically and to extrapolate the ideological biases and institutional powers underlying it. We may thus remember Jameson’s seminal essay ‘Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism’ (1984), in which he describes the ‘cultural dominant’ of ‘late multinational capital’ as a logic of commodification and looks for new alternatives in the shape of critical ‘cognitive maps’. Wicker has similarly suggested that the social constructivism typical of postmodernism plays into the hands of global capitalism insofar as ‘its emphasis on reflexivity, flexibility and negotiability, gives legitimacy to the ideology of the free market’ (1997, p. 20). On the other hand, several scholars have argued for the emancipatory potential of post-structural/postmodern theorizing (e.g. Rosaldo, 1994). Such arguments also include Laclau and Mouffe’s post-Marxist Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), which puts post-structuralism to the service of ‘radical democracy’ and a renewed socialist project that still relies on notions of antagonism and social change but no longer conceives of class as the primary or determining subject position. Cornell West’s advocacy of the new cultural politics of difference (1994) and Seidman’s call (1994) for a revival of critical social theory in the shape of postmodern narratives of moral/political engagement fall into a similar vein. Given the heterogeneity intrinsic to postmodernism and repeatedly emphasized in this chapter, the realization that there are no inevitably ensuing postmodern political consequences or preferences is hardly surprising. Instead, postmodern politics constitute a very broad spectrum ranging from the just mentioned activist approaches to a nihilistic rejection of all political engagement. This diversity of positions is captured by Rosenau’s typology of ‘affirmative’ and ‘sceptical’ postmodernists respectively. The former ‘seek a philosophical and ontological intellectual practice that is nondogmatic and tentative … [but] do not shy away from affirming an ethic, making normative choices, and striving to build issue-specific political coalitions’. ‘Sceptical’ postmodernists, on the other hand, ‘speak of the immediacy of death, the demise of the subject, the end of the author, the impossibility of truth, and the abrogation of the Order of Representation’ (Rosenau, 1992, pp. 15–16). This latter manifestation – or ‘dark side’ – of postmodernism may be largely responsible for the bad press it has received of late. It may also underlie the much-repeated criticism that a postmodern obsession with text and discourse has left us ill equipped to


Writing History, Constructing Religion

deal with questions of political economy or to confront any of the socio-economic and political crises the contemporary age presents (e.g. Best and Kellner, 1991). While it has been the crux of my argument in this chapter that the study of religions will benefit from a continuing engagement with – and application of – postmodern theorizing, there is also a need to ponder on the question as to how the limitations of postmodernism may themselves be transcended. In other words, what – if anything – may there be ‘beyond’ postmodernism? Lyotard’s seminal work on The Postmodern Condition contained a portrayal of scientific knowledge as affected by a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ (1984). Almost twenty years on, it looks as though postmodernism is faced with a crisis of its own (making). There have thus been attempts in various disciplines to work towards a new theoretical paradigm capable of overcoming what many perceive to be a postmodern impasse. One such attempt is found in a recent collection of papers edited by Jóse López and Garry Potter entitled After Postmodernism (2001). The volume makes the case for a ‘critical realism’, which acknowledges postmodern achievements including a ‘more widespread recognition of the sociological determinants of knowledge’ but also holds that ‘one can have good rational grounds for the preference of one theory over another … that go beyond human interests’ (Lopez and Potter, 2001, pp. 4–7). Critical realism reintroduces a crucial distinction between ontology and epistemology. Based on a realist ontology, it argues that certain things and events exist and happen ‘independent[ly] of our beliefs, perceptions or alleged knowledge of [them]’. Yet as López and Potter make clear, critical realism also shares a profound ‘epistemological caution’ with postmodernism: The fallibilism of [critical realism] posits the possibility not only of error …, the social situatedness of knowledge etc., but … also presents the possibility of examining as an object of knowledge the social distortion of knowledge. (López and Potter, 2001, p. 14)

A shared emphasis on ideology and its effects appears to constitute a conceptual ‘bridge’ or continuity between critical realism and discourse analysis. The latter posits, as we saw earlier, that language (as a form of social practice) and power are intimately intertwined. Not dissimilarly, most critical realists hold that ‘we do not create social structure. We reproduce and transform it. But it too causally affects us’ (López and Potter, 2001, p.15). Critical realists suggest that the sceptical postmodernist rejection of the very notion of ‘truth’ may have been somewhat premature. Instead, they hold out the promise of approximating and/or understanding the reality of things and events through appropriately chosen research methods and the relative explanatory merit of competing theories. Yet, critical realism counter-balances its resuscitation of the notions of ‘understanding’, ‘knowledge’, and ‘representation’ with an acute and critical awareness of the politics of ‘knowledge production’. Never situated in an ideologically innocent or non-institutional vacuum, science is inevitably ‘a social practice’. Yet, as López and Potter argue, ‘disinterestedness’ is ‘a goal to be striven for’ (2001, p. 10) rather than a necessary cause of radically postmodern despair and nihilism. Many students and scholars of religion may well find critical realism a more viable and appealing theoretical paradigm than postmodernism. Yet, as I hope to have shown

Postmodernism and the Study of Religions


in this chapter, the recently made argument that ‘religion after Foucault is never the same’ (Carrette, 2000, p. xii) can be extended to include the rest of the intellectual movement with which Foucault is often associated. Postmodernism is clearly not without its share of problems, limitations and contradictions. Perhaps its time at the forefront of social and cultural theorizing has been and gone. However, it is my contention that many of the questions raised by postmodernism continue to be of significance and relevance to the study of religions. Some of those questions have previously been addressed in religious studies. Yet more work remains to be done and this book is – in part – intended to make a contribution to some of the debates raised by postmodernism. As such, it aims to be part of a continually unfolding ‘story’ of research and its engagement with theory. This book brings together scholars from the humanities and social sciences. In doing so it repeatedly crosses conceptual, theoretical and disciplinary boundaries. Seidman has argued that the ‘social process of de-differentiation characteristic of postmodernity’ finds its academic equivalent in the increasingly inter-disciplinary ‘nature’ of the production of knowledge (1994, p. 17). In form (if not consistently in its conclusions), this project is thus decidedly postmodern. What unites us is a shared interest in the practices, texts and ideas often described as ‘religious’ or ‘religion’. In the remainder of this collection, this (assumed) subject matter and some of its constitutive building blocks (i.e. myth and history, ritual and sacrifice, representation and ideology) come under some scrutiny; there is considerable emphasis on epistemological self-reflection, the interconnectedness of power, discourse and (personal and/or social) prejudice, the situated and interested nature of arguably all knowledge. The different chapters in this book address different religious issues in different ways, empirical contexts and historical periods. Reflecting our very diverse interests, this book spans historical epochs separated by millennia as much as geographical areas separated by thousands of miles; it includes abstract, theoretical reflections alongside ethnographic and textual analyses of concrete religious practices and documents. Such empirical and methodological diversity is counter-balanced by a range of recurring questions and themes, including the construction and employment of the all-too-often taken-for-granted categories ‘history’ and ‘religion’, their ideological conditions of possibility and political effects – in the discourses articulated by the people we study as well as in the discourses employed by ourselves. Contributors may differ in their assessments of, opinions on, and responses to postmodernism. Our disagreements and different conclusions notwithstanding, we are all agreed on the pressing need to continue to ask and engage with postmodern questions. Notes 1 I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Leverhulme Trust for a Special Research Fellowship, which made the research underlying and the writing of this chapter possible. I would also like to thank Alan Aldridge, Philip Goodchild, José López and Nick Stevenson for their helpful and thought-provoking comments on earlier versions of this chapter. 2 This argument echoes a crucial analytical distinction introduced to the study of ethnicity by Richard Jenkins: Jenkins (1997) distinguishes ‘social classification’ – or the construction and imposition of a group label by (powerful) outsiders and institutions –


Writing History, Constructing Religion

from ‘group identification’; the latter denotes the experience of meaning and solidarity by self-identifying group members. 3 A more systematic exploration of these and related issues is offered in later contributions to this volume; see, in particular, chapters by Kunin, Tomlinson and Karner. 4 Given that there is little to indicate an imminent change to the currently prevailing mode of production, ‘contemporary’ appears – to the present author – a more apt description than ‘late’. For Zygmunt Bauman’s analogous rejection of the terms ‘postmodernity’ or ‘late modernity’ in favour of ‘liquid modernity’, see Bauman and Tester (2001, p. 97). Bauman adds that the adjective ‘liquid’ also portrays key-characteristics of the contemporary age, connoting – as it does – instability, fluidity and unpredictability. 5 I here refer to David McCrone’s definition of ethnicity as ‘politicized culture’ (1998, p. 25), which informs his analysis of the proliferation of ethnic antagonisms and culture-based identity politics that have profoundly reshaped the (global) political landscape since the end of the Cold War.

References Aldridge, A. (2000), Religion in the Contemporary World, Cambridge: Polity. Asad, Talal (1993), ‘The construction of religion as an anthropological category’, in Asad, Talal, Genealogies of Religion, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 27–54. Baudrillard, J. (1983), Simulations, New York: Semiotext(e). Baudrillard, J. (1989), America, London: Verso. Bauman, Z. (1987), Legislators and Interpreters, Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Bauman, Z. (1988), ‘Is there a postmodern sociology?’, Theory, Culture and Society, 5 (2–3), 217–237. Bauman, Z. (1992), Intimations of Postmodernity, London: Routledge. Bauman, Z. and Tester, K. (2001), Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman, Cambridge: Polity. Baumann, G. (1999), The Multicultural Riddle: Rethinking National, Ethnic, and Religious Identities, New York: Routledge. Beck, U. (1992), Risk Society, London: Sage. Beck, U. (2000), What is Globalization?, Cambridge: Polity. Bell, D. (1973), The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, New York: Basic Books. Berger, Peter (ed.) (1999), The De-Secularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, Washington DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center. Best, S. and Kellner, D. (1991), Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations, London: Macmillan. Bocock, R. (1993), Consumption, London: Routledge. Butler, Judith (1994), ‘Contingent foundations: feminism and the question of “postmodernism”, in Seidman, Steven (ed.), The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 153–170. Carrette, J. R. (2000), Foucault and Religion, London: Routledge. Castells, M. (1996), The Rise of the Network Society, Oxford: Blackwell. Castells, M. (1997), The Power of Identity, Oxford: Blackwell. Castells, M. (1998), End of Millennium, Oxford: Blackwell. Clifford, James and Marcus, George E. (eds) (1986), Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Clifford, James (1986), ‘On ethnographic allegory’, in Clifford, James and Marcus, George E. (eds), Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 98–121. Couldry, N. (2000), Inside Culture, London: Sage.

Postmodernism and the Study of Religions


Culpepper, A. R. (1983), Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design, Philadelphia: Fortress Press. De Certeau, M. (1988), The Writing of History, New York: Columbia University Press. Evans-Pritchard, E. (1976 [1937]), Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande, Oxford: Clarendon Press. Fairclough, N. (1995), Language and Power, London: Longman. Foucault, M. (1980), Power/Knowledge, New York: Pantheon. Foucault, M. (1989 [1966]), The Order of Things, London: Routledge. Foucault, M. (1991 [1975]), Discipline and Punish, London: Penguin. Fowler, R. M. (1981), Loaves and Fishes: The Function of the Feeding Stories in the Gospel of Mark, Chico: Scholars Press. Fowler, R. (1991), Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press, London: Routledge. Hall, Stuart (1996), ‘Introduction: who needs identity?’, in Hall, Stuart and duGay, Paul (eds), Questions of Cultural Identity, London: Sage, pp. 1–17. Harvey, D. (1990), The Condition of Postmodernity, Oxford: Blackwell. Haynes, J. (1998), Religion in Global Politics, London: Longman. Iser, W. (1980), The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Jameson, Fredric (1984), ‘Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism’, New Left Review, 146, 53–92. Jauss, H. R. (1982), Towards an Aesthetic of Reception, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Jenkins, R. (1997), Rethinking Ethnicity, London: Sage. Johnson, C. (1997), Derrida, London: Phoenix. Karner, Christian and Aldridge, Alan (2004), ‘Theorizing religion in a globalizing world’, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, 18 (1), 5–32. King, R. (1999), Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and the ‘Mystic East’, London: Routledge. Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985), Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, London: Verso. Lemert, Charles C. (1994), ‘Post-structuralism and sociology’, in Seidman, Steven (ed.), The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 265–281. Loftsdóttir, Kristín (2002), ‘Never forgetting? Gender and racial-ethnic identity during fieldwork’, Social Anthropology, 10 (3), 303–317. López, José and Potter, Gary (2001), ‘After postmodernism: the new millennium’, in López, José and Potter, Gary (eds) After Postmodernism: An Introduction to Critical Realism, London: Athlone Press, pp. 1–16. Lyon, D. (1994), Postmodernity, Buckingham: OUP. Lyotard, J.-F. (1984), The Postmodern Condition, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Malinowski, B. (1978 [1922]), Argonauts of the Western Pacific, London: Routledge and Keegan Paul. Marshall, Harriette (1994), ‘Discourse analysis in an organisational context’, in Cassell, Catherine and Symon, Gillian (eds), Qualitative Methods in Organisational Research, London: Sage, pp. 91–106. McCrone, D. (1998), The Sociology of Nationalism, London: Routledge. Nye, M. (2001), Multiculturalism and Minority Religions in Britain, Richmond: Curzon. Paerregard, Karsten (2002), ‘The resonance of fieldwork: ethnographers, informants and the creation of anthropological knowledge’, Social Anthropology, 10 (3), 319–334. Reader, Ian (1994), ‘Japanese religions’, in Holm, Jean and Bowker, John (eds), Rites of Passage, London: Pinter Publishers, pp. 169–183. Robertson, Roland (1990), ‘After nostalgia? Wilful nostalgia and the phases of globalisation’, in Turner, Bryan S. (ed.), Theories of Modernity and Postmodernity, London: Sage, pp. 45–61.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Rorty, Richard (1994), ‘Method, social science, and social hope’, in Seidman, Steven (ed.), The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 46–64. Rosaldo, Renato (1994), ‘Subjectivity in social analysis’, in Seidman, Steven (ed.), The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 171–183. Rosenau, P. M. (1992), Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Said, E. (1995), Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient, London: Penguin. Seidman, Steven (ed.) (1994), The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sim, Stuart (ed.) (2001), The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism, London: Routledge. Sperber, D. (1985), On Anthropological Knowledge, Oxford: Blackwell. Storper, Michael (2001), ‘Lived effects of the contemporary economy: globalization, inequality, and consumer society’, in Comaroff, Jean and Comaroff, John L. (eds), Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism, Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 88–124. Tambiah, S. (1996), Leveling Crowds, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Van der Geest, Sjaak (2003), ‘Confidentiality and pseudonyms’, Anthropology Today, 19 (1), 14–18. West, Cornel (1994), ‘The new cultural politics of difference’, in Seidman, Steven (ed.), The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 65–81. Westerlund, David (ed.) (1996), Questioning the Secular State, London: Hurst. Wetherell, M. and Potter, J. (1992), Mapping the Language of Racism: Discourse and the Legitimation of Exploitation, Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Wicker, Hans-Rudolf (1997), ‘Theorizing ethnicity and nationalism’, in Wicker, Hans-Rudolf (ed.), Rethinking Nationalism and Ethnicity, Oxford: Berg, pp. 1–42.


This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 4

On ‘Religion’: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers Philip Goodchild

It is increasingly acknowledged that the use of ‘religion’ as a genus containing several species arose in the early modern period. As Talal Asad reminds us, the reformers’ representation of the Christian God as being situated quite apart from the world, as ‘supernatural’, signalled the construction of a secular space (Asad, 2003, p. 27). It is only from this secular space that one can attempt to determine the ‘true religion’, or to make ‘religion’ into an object of study as such. With the emergence of modern reason in opposition to ‘superstition’, and the order of nature in opposition to the supernatural, ‘religion’ is posited as that which contrasts with reason, and perhaps as that from which one must be liberated in order to attain truth. ‘Religion’ and the ‘secular’ have a common origin, and the concept of ‘religion’ is essentially secular. Moreover, according to Asad, secular modernity is a project, a way of living-in-the-world, and what is distinctive about it is its political-economic project (Asad, 2003, p. 14). Modern reason develops, in opposition to religion, as part of a new way of living-inthe-world, a new way of knowing. In the discussion that follows, modern understandings of religion will be situated in relation to a wider modern project. That modern project is a strategy of universalizing and transcending the given that we shall term ‘capitalization’. The identification of the ‘religious’ with the ‘sacred’ or ‘transcendent’, with what is set apart from the secular sphere, is deployed by secular modernity to distance itself from ‘religion’ as its fantastic other. This orientalizing gesture of positing of religion as a source of fear and fascination, enthusiasm and enchantment, ecstasy and esotericism, superstition and subordination, contagion and corruption, is in continuity with monotheistic denunciations of idol-worship and demon-possession. In short, the sacred is the creation of the study of religion: it is an essential component of the secularizing strategy that renders the modern political-economic project possible (see Peterson and Walhof, 2002). Defining ‘Religion’ Many of the strategies invoked in defining religion are widely recognized to be problematic: there is the strategy of including those cultural forms that resemble a modern Christian emphasis on belief in transcendence, in a liberal, universalizing gesture that simultaneously and implicitly set out its own framework as normative. Typical of such definitions are an emphasis on soteriology, on faith or belief in god(s), on the 49


Writing History, Constructing Religion

transcendent or the transcendental, on sacred texts, and on institutional structures. Yet many cultural forms often called ‘religions’ place little emphasis on such matters. There is also the scientific strategy of isolating an essence so that it can be studied and known for what it truly is; as has often been demonstrated, however, such definitions always presuppose the principles of their explanation or methodological approach in selecting the object for study, in a circular argument, so that if ‘religion’ were to exceed the domain of that particular theory, then its remainder would be invisible. In reaction, there is also the ethnographic strategy of allowing a particular cultural form to speak for itself in its own words, unhampered by alien, hegemonic, transcultural categories, for such categories embody values and political judgements that have a distorting effect. Even this is problematic, however, and hermeneutically naïve: it is assumed that the truth about cultural forms is to be found in empirical elements that can be studied synchronically, and that are present to the observer, rather than in diachronic dimensions of relations to the past, such as obligations to traditions or to ancestors, or relations to the future, such as uncertainties, divinations, or prophecies – relations held by participants, but not held by the observer. For if culture is always a process of cultivation, directing and developing the spontaneous tendencies of human nature, then what is decisive is the growth and development of that nature itself, and not the practices involved. In horticulture, for example, the aim is less to reproduce a seasonal liturgical drama of horticultural practices than to cultivate a garden. It is the same in religion: to isolate culture, however materially conceived, from the people who cultivate and are cultivated, is the last refuge of idealism: universalizing and transcending the given. Given these problems, it is hardly surprising that in recent years the very concept of ‘religion’ has come under attack. Leading the charge was the liberal historian of religions, Wilfred Cantwell Smith (Cantwell Smith, 1978), rejecting reductionist and essentialist conceptions of ‘religion’ in favour of a living faith understood as ‘an orientation of the personality, to oneself, to one’s neighbour, to the universe; a total response; a way of seeing whatever one sees and of handling whatever one handles; a capacity to live at a more than mundane level; to see, to feel, to act in terms of, a transcendent dimension’ (Cantwell Smith, 1979, p. 12). While Cantwell Smith’s aspirations for a ‘world theology’ (Cantwell Smith, 1981) were anathema to many of those who followed, there has been some continuity: on the one hand, he has been succeeded by Christian theologians such as Nicholas Lash who wish to replace the reified concept of ‘religion’ produced by a predominantly propositional mode of thinking with a ‘school of pedagogy’, invoking tradition and narrative (Lash, 1996). Lash’s championing of his own particular tradition against the universalizing tendencies of a reductionist ‘religion’ or a liberal ‘world theology’ speaks for one particular pedagogy of Cantwell Smith’s ‘faith’ (see Lash, 1992). On the other hand, Cantwell Smith has been succeeded by anthropologists such as Timothy Fitzgerald (2000) and postcolonialists such as Richard King (1999) who wish to replace ‘religion’ with the much broader conception of ‘culture’, so as to counter the hegemonic and imperial effects of universalizing categories. Here, the intention is to enable Asian cultural traditions to manifest their own particular modes of cultivation or culture, undistorted by ideological or imperial universal categories that might compromise their integrity.

On ‘Religion’: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers


Now, what is striking here is that the likes of Lash, Fitzgerald and King represent ‘cultures’ that comprise millions, in relation to which the academic study of religion is a minor field of engagement. Nevertheless, the effects of universalization, manifested in liberalism in Christianity, in ‘secondary orientalism’ in Asia, and in the political counter-responses dubiously brought together under the heading of ‘fundamentalism’, may indicate that the elite community of scholars of religion who write in hegemonic European languages have a very distinctive and powerful role in a much wider cultural dynamic known as ‘globalization’. In short, terminological debates in the academic field of ‘theology and religious studies’ may be involved in underlying conflicts that affect millions. To some extent, debates over ‘religion’ are a constituent part of a broader conflict between a rampant economic globalization that turns religions, spiritualities and cultures into marketable commodities for consumption, and the struggles to maintain local and particular cultures and pedagogies as authentic frameworks for the determination of collective life. In order to address the nature and place of ‘religion’, therefore, it is important to situate the debate within a wider field of cultural forces, and in relation to an analysis of that wider field that may inescapably have its own cultural, political, and, indeed, theological commitments. Only once we have done this will it be possible to decide a fruitful strategy for the word ‘religion’, and the academic field that it names. The Cultural Turn The common influence that unites the diverse critics of the word ‘religion’ is what we might call the ‘cultural turn’ in the broader academic field. In a process that we may name ‘particularization’, the virtues of historicization and contextualization have come to take precedence over generalization and grand theorizing. At stake, here, are issues of epistemology and politics: reality is supposedly only known in its concrete particularity, and the rights of cultural difference are asserted against an imperial and colonizing theory that subordinates all to the One. The result is a loss of faith in both universal theological constructs and scientific categories of explanation, for both require the use of concepts that are no longer deeply embedded in the contexts of their occurrence. The concept ‘religion’ would be a prime example, for if most languages do not have a direct verbal equivalent, then it is imprecise to identify their cultural productions as ‘religions’. For by naming a ‘religion’, the distinction between the religious and non-religious, as developed in the modern West, is then imposed onto the culture in question as though it were an evident, indigenous category. What is at stake in the use of general concepts is a hermeneutic break – the more terms such as ‘religion’, ‘the transcendent’, ‘God’, ‘salvation’, ‘the sacred’, ‘myth’, ‘spirituality’, ‘mysticism’ or even the names of specific religions are used as cross-cultural categories, the less precision or hermeneutic purchase they have. The more general the term, the weaker its content. Instead, the meanings of such terms have to be placed onto them, either directly by definition, or indirectly by the range of usage in academic discourse. Ultimately, the specificity of the culture in question vanishes behind a web of generalizing terms, with the result that the study of religion is speaking only about itself, imposing its conceptual grid upon the world which it appears to master through knowledge. Such ‘knowledge’, however, remains in


Writing History, Constructing Religion

practice a matter of belief insofar as its conceptual schema and models cannot be tested without selecting their own relevant data. Thus both theological and naturalistic accounts of religion, insofar as they use terms that at once select, interpret and explain religious phenomena, are caught up in their own circularity. Such conceptual schema have been tested and questioned by precise hermeneutical, historical and anthropological research. In general – if one still dares to make generalizations – one could say that culture has replaced both God and metaphysics. Gavin Flood has outlined the crucial argument for a cultural approach, in opposition to scientific explanation: only that which is represented (in the ‘text’ of belief and action) can be explained – thus presentation is prior to explanation. Yet presentation always occurs within a narrative context, and thus interpretation takes priority over explanation (Flood, 1999, p. 78). ‘Culture’, in the broad sense of the material available for interpretation, would appear to have a semantic autonomy in relation to both participants and observers. It is therefore necessary to explore what is at stake in the positing of the semantic autonomy of the field of culture. As Kathryn Tanner has usefully summarized, the characteristics of a modern anthropological notion of culture include the following: culture, although it is understood as a human universal, highlights human diversity, for culture varies with social group. Moreover, insofar as culture is conceived as an entire way of life, or everything about the group that distinguishes it from others, then it includes social habits and institutions, rituals, artefacts, categorial schemes, beliefs and values. Furthermore, although cultures are contingent, human constructions, they are associated with social consensus and social determinism, since one can only create new possibilities of human endeavour from the cultural resources that are already present (Tanner, 1997, pp. 25–29). In short, the emphases on diversity, on the entire way of life, and on determinism require a careful hermeneutic presentation of cultural products prior to any theological or naturalistic explanation. For words only gain a determinate meaning within such a cultural context. Now, those inculcated in the pedagogical virtues of historicization and contextualization might immediately raise questions about this new human universal called ‘culture’. Those who speak of a ‘postmodern’ turn allude to the interrogation of the modern notion of ‘culture’, and its implicit positing of cultures as stable, consensual, self-contained and sharply bounded units (Tanner, 1997, pp. 40–58). An attention to historical process, diversity, conflict and cross-fertilization yields the diagnosis of Edward Said: ‘all cultures are involved with one another; none is single and pure, all are hybrid, heterogeneous, extraordinarily differentiated, and unmonolithic’ (quoted in Eagleton, 2000, p. 15). As Flood explains, if one is involved in ongoing dialogue with the world and with others, then one can never be completed or finalized by the objective perception of another (Flood, 1999, p. 77). Nevertheless, such suspicion of the notion of ‘culture’ emerges from the hermeneutic virtues of particularization, and, insofar as such pedagogical habits continue to be practised, then the notion of ‘culture’ will remain as an internally fissured, open site of engagement, conflict and change, where cultural identity becomes a hybrid, relational, fluid affair. Meanings may be temporary and local, but they can only be fully represented or reconstructed by ‘thick description’, just as they are only first presented or constructed by the processes of stabilization, traditioning and pedagogy encountered within cultures. Far from offering a critique of the ‘cultural turn’, the postmodern condition only intensifies it.

On ‘Religion’: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers


It would thus appear that one of the prime functions attributed to ‘religion’ by the now despised phenomenological approach – the creation of meaning, or order out of chaos (see Eliade, 1959) – has been taken over by the study of religion. Cultural studies has become a pedagogy of particularity, producing local, discrete, partial and temporary meanings. Yet in spite of the essentially theological nature of the semantic autonomy that structures phenomenology and hermeneutics (see Alliez, 1995), as Terry Eagleton remarks, culture may be a poor substitute for a fading sense of divinity (Eagleton, 2000, p. 2). For what is omitted in such an account is a sense of purpose in the selection of fields for study and hermeneutical strategies adopted. One needs to ask of religious studies: what’s the point? Without an over-arching discipline that shapes the selection and interpretation of fields of study, without a strong sense of local tradition and pedagogical practice within the academic field, without a defining set of problems, issues and debates, then the discipline dissipates into a fissiparous cultural form like those that it attempts to describe. In practice, the general consensus in the discipline is an implicit ethic of multiculturalism, affirmation of difference and respect for the other. It is my contention that such a universalizing consensus of the lowest common denominator is inadequate in respect of both epistemology and politics. This ethic has recently been dissected by Alain Badiou, who, stating his case in the strongest of language, writes: The objective (or historical) foundation of contemporary ethics is culturalism, in truth a tourist’s fascination for the diversity of morals, customs and beliefs … a vulgar sociology, directly inherited from the astonishment of colonial encounter with savages. (Badiou, 2001, p. 26)

By affirming cultural rights, one treats people as potential victims of cultural annihilation, and potential objects of moral condescension. The result is a stodgy conservatism based on the retention of cultural ‘property’, that identifies good as resistance to a prior evil, and so identifies any campaign of cultural transformation as threatening and thus evil. Yet blocking the political force of any collective aspiration towards a higher good, its essence is resignation before the path of historical necessity – the force of historical necessity being the economy (see McMurtry, 2002). In practice, the defence of property is a central part of colonization, for the forces leading to the transfer of property or cultural change may be invisible if they are driven by market forces, and thus appear to be a part of cultural dynamics itself. This political inadequacy of culturalism results from its weak epistemology, its inability to think the singularity of situations as such. Thus, far from being just a commentary on the condition of religion in postmodernity, the study of religion has come to reflect it. Once personal preference dominates the shaping of the field, then it comes to resemble a marketplace, where consumer preference – of undergraduates, postgraduates and scholars – follows fashions and trends as market commodities. The key determinant deciding the fate of a new theoretical approach or a field of study – whether one is considering the place of new religious movements, alternative spiritualities, gay and lesbian studies, Christian theology or economics in the religious studies curriculum – will be its saleability. Then, far from contemporary religious studies lacking an underlying purpose or unifying principle, it may be determined by one in practice that apparently has little to do with either ‘religion’ or ‘pedagogy’.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

A Critique of Culture Eagleton, in an incisive critique of the idea of culture, has described culturalism as ‘one of the great contemporary reductionisms’ (Eagleton, 2000, p. 92). He cites a series of well-known problems with cultural relativism: its logical incoherence in positing culture as the universal of human nature; its epistemological circularity, in describing everything from the point of view of a particular culture; its own relativity to a particular contemporary Western culture; its inability to justify its own pragmatism on pragmatic grounds; and, most significantly for our purposes, its conflict with the tendencies towards universalization or the positing of universals in many different traditions and cultures, including both so-called ‘local’, ‘indigenous’ or ‘ethnic’ religions on the one hand, and so-called ‘world’ or ‘missionary’ religions on the other. In short, culturalism or particularization has its own universalizing strategy. If there are no instances of a ‘whole way of life’ that make their cultural boundaries clear, then the effects of unity, coherence and cohesion which are produced for some observers result from their hermeneutic decisions. Local and partial cultural unities, if they are to be more than geographical and historical locators, involve the imposition of some semantic content, or at least its elevation from frequency of repetition to an encompassing identity, with the result that a transcendent meaning is posited that selects and defines the field of inquiry. If ‘religious studies’ has had its own implicit theological model, as Fitzgerald argues, then so has cultural studies, for it relies on the same strategies of universalizing and transcending the given. Now Eagleton proposes that: Our very notion of culture rests on a peculiarly modern alienation of the social from the economic, meaning from material life. … it is itself the illness to which it proposes the cure. (Eagleton, 2000, p. 31)

For insofar as the anthropological notion of culture as a ‘whole way of life’, even an incomplete whole, implies notions of uniting and consensus-building in a semantic realm that exceeds the consciousness of the individual, then it functions in the same way as the state in Marx’s analysis (see Marx, 1975): it is a kind of premature utopia, abolishing struggle at an imaginary level so that it need not be resolved at a political level (Eagleton, 2000, p. 7). It is ideological. For even if it names the unity of politics, sexuality and economic production in a distant society, or if it names one’s own group of bohemian dissenters, or if it names a dominant form of commodity production, it still consists in a realm of meaning that is separate from the material processes by which it is conditioned. This is of course manifest in the way in which the distinction between the religious and the secular has been imposed onto colonized societies, enabling the creation of secular institutions of governance and the market, while the preservation or conflict of ‘religions’ and ‘cultures’ takes place in a separate sphere (Fitzgerald, 2000, p. 5). In this respect, Fitzgerald argues that the invention of the modern concept of religion and the religious is part of the historical process of Western imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, the ‘correlate of the modern ideology of individualism and capitalism’ (Fitzgerald, 2000, p. 8). What concerns me, however, are the ideological effects of the construction of a ‘secular’ academic discourse on religion and culture, the construction of a semantic

On ‘Religion’: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers


field of ‘knowledge’, ‘interpretation’ and ‘explanation’ which stands independently of the particular cultures that it explores. What strategies of universalizing and transcending the given are invoked here? Well, so long as the field is historicized and particularized, then the import of its content is purely semantic: it contributes towards the construction of a global history, a forever partial representation of the cultural world; it contributes towards a process of cultural construction through which the collective self-understanding of that particular culture known as the academy is cultivated; it provides the resources through which battles between theological and antitheological commitments can be fought; but it remains alienated from the institutional and social processes that govern its reproduction. Cultural hermeneutics provides a sense of mastery, a dominant narrative or interpretation that weaves its strategies of differentiation and particularization into a spell of specialist knowledge. Yet however faithful or insightful such interpretations may be, the only role of the other who is studied is to function as a resource for the production of a semantic content. The semiotic encoding of religious and cultural labour functions as the extraction of a surplus value of signs. Now, what is significant here, is that each sign extracted, from the most general, such as ‘religion’, to the most specific such as a proper name, functions both in the domain of ‘facts’ – insofar as one can verify or contest the truth of interpretations – and in the domain of ‘values’, insofar as it provides a normative focus for the construction of collective meaning. And while in the domain of ‘facts’, the procedures of scientific discourse may structure the reproduction of such signs, in the domain of ‘values’, the validity of a term such as ‘religion’ will depend on what kinds of investments are placed upon it. A critical history of the investments placed on the term ‘religion’ can easily be constructed. Graham Ward, for example, picks out a key moment in both the emergence of modern Western thought and in the formation of the category of ‘religion’, when Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, was posted as the British ambassador at the French court of Louis XIII between 1619 and 1624 (Ward, 2003, pp. 52–60). His failure to keep France neutral in the war against the Protestants was followed by the publication in Paris of a small book, De Veritate, on the very concept of truth over which people were being killed all over Europe. Herbert proposed a more rigorous Protestantism that grounded truth in the most ‘certain and infallible’ principles: universality and self-evidence. The result was a ‘secular’ foundation for truth – a foundation not in the past or the future but in this present age – that specifically excluded the excessive claims of established religious authority or prophecy, in favour of the light of reason and evidence. In De Religione Gentilum, comparing for the first time the diverse forms of doctrine and worship known to him both within and beyond Christianity, he abstracted five ‘universal’ principles known to all, listed in Life as: 1. That there is a supreme God. 2. That he is to be worshipped. 3. That verture and Piety ioyned with Faith in and love of God are the best ways to serve and worship him. 4. That wee ought to Repent of our Sinnes and seriously to return to God and the Right way. 5. That there is a reward and Punishment both in this life and after it. (quoted in Ward, 2003, p. 57)

Much more significant than this as a statement of religious truth or a sermon addressed to those involved in religious conflict, are both the structure that prepares ‘religion’ as a cross-cultural category, and the motivations and method for the inquiry:


Writing History, Constructing Religion For men are now not only exhorted with every device that language can employ by arguments from the pulpit, but are tormented in spite of protests of conscience and the inner consciousness, by the belief that all who are outside their particular Church are condemned, whether through ignorance or error, to undergo instantly or with the concession of a short postponement, eternal punishment after death. (quoted in Ward, 2003, p. 56)

There are two intertwined problems here. One problem is that of minimizing religious conflict over truth, which had become a matter of life and death because eternal salvation was believed to be at stake. Such conflict could be minimized if one could arrive at truths that are both universal and evident – thus appealing to a secular commonwealth in which all are united prior to divisions of tradition or identity. The other problem is that of finding a minimal truth that is sufficient for salvation – whether salvation of souls or a temporal salvation from conflict, sin and error. Ward picks out the two solutions that were to have a defining influence over modern Western conceptions of ‘religion’: a turn towards ethics as the common currency for political harmony, accompanied by a turn towards subjectivity manifested in a ‘spirituality’, or inner apprehension of divine truth, as evidence for such salvific principles (Ward, 2003, pp. 56, 59). While Herbert’s idealist attempt to lay the foundations of modernity may be largely forgotten, his empiricist successor, John Locke, proceeded to similar solutions from similar problems. His foundationalist epistemology was explicitly formulated to resolve issues of religious conflict (Locke, 1964). Similarly, his attack on patriarchalism in the name of democratic governance was formulated in line with his attempt to remove the power of the magistrate from religious affairs, clearly separating out the secular commonwealth ‘as society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving and advancing of their civil interests’, such as life, liberty, health, leisure and possessions (Locke, 1977, p. 245), from the Church as a ‘voluntary society for the public worship of God’ (Locke, 1977, p. 248): with the implication that the more secular power was removed from the religious sphere, the more religious power could be removed from the secular sphere. The foundations of modernity were both political and epistemological: on the one hand, it was felt necessary to exclude religious authority, for treating of matters of the salvation of the soul, the past age, and the age to come, religious authorities claimed an import that exceeded the obligations of this present age, including mutual respect for life, limb and happiness. The quest for universality is essentially secular insofar as it is delimited to the universality of this present age. Alongside such political exclusions, however, were also epistemological exclusions: for Herbert and Locke, revelation could only be believed if it could be proved that it was given by God, had been accurately reported, and concerned later ages (Gay, 1968, p. 43; Locke vol. 2, 1964, p. 284). In other words, the requirement of evidence took priority over authority: again, evidence was essentially secular in that it excluded the voice of the past (tradition) and the voice of the future (prophecy) in favour of this present age. In relation to both political and epistemological emphases, the secular was constituted as a defence against the dangers of excessive localizations of truth and power; as a politics and soteriology, the secular was constituted as a prerequisite for universal progress towards the secular salvation of enlightenment. This foundation is repeated again and again in explicit rationales for the study of religion.

On ‘Religion’: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers


The success of the modern project of progress towards a utopian, secular space could only be guaranteed if that space can be kept pure from the corrupting influences of tradition and prophecy. While Herbert’s innate principles of religion fell before the critique of Locke, Locke’s rational religion fell before the critique of pure reason carried out by Hume and Kant; they, in turn, in proposing a philosophical consideration of ‘religion’ rather than God, intensified the turns towards ethics and subjectivity (Collins, 1967). Only with the more recent cultural turn has the secular space of subjectivity been replaced by that of ‘culture’, where it assumes the mantle of a politics and an epistemology. One speaks of ‘culture’ to contest the rational hegemony of the West; one also speaks of ‘culture’ to contest inaccuracy in interpretation. While the result would appear to be very different from Herbert’s positing of universal, ethical principles, since it posits a field of contestation, the result is in fact very similar: a semantic and semiotic field of conflict is elevated above actuality where democratic debates can be conducted in a field of representation, while the determining political realities are elsewhere: in land and property rights, in employment practices and cheap labour, in funding and the creation of credit, in energy production and dollar hegemony, in selective media representation and moralizing comment, and in military and foreign policy intervention. My claim is that although a cultural hermeneutics can diagnose the role that the concept of ‘religion’ played in the cultural politics supporting the imperial expansion of global capitalism, it continues in the same tradition itself. Thus Ward’s insightful cultural hermeneutics are deployed to depict a narrative of the passage of the term ‘religion’ through modernity into postmodernity, expressed through a series of revelatory readings of modern cultural texts, that is achieved at the cost of extraordinarily crude generalizations about what the concept of ‘religion’ has been doing in modern Western philosophies, in contemporary, emergent spiritualities, and in the academic study of religion. The overall effect is a reductive and totalizing narrative, for Ward’s aim is to hold such cultural constructions at a distance from a competing theological tradition. The same is true for a more anthropological cultural hermeneutics – if the aim is to reproduce the particularity of a culture as faithfully as possible, then the result is to construct a totalized and complete representation, however many fissures, struggles and lacunae it describes. My proposal is as follows: notions of religious tradition, culture and identity function as semantic mediators through which a religious subject relates to her experience. There is a fundamental alienation at work here: ‘culture’ has become the transcendental condition of the possibility of experience – one would not have access to one’s experience without a culture through which to interpret it. To reject such cultural mediation is to appeal to the indifferent and uninterpreted: whether the ‘Ultimate Reality’ of John Hick’s liberal ecumenical theology (Hick, 1989) or the monism of ‘perennial philosophy’. The alternative to cultural differentiation would appear to be a pure, contentless consciousness event (see Forman, 1999). Then either ‘religion’ remains a nostalgic appeal to a contentless ‘transcendence’ above cultures, or else one accepts cultural differentiation as the only means of access to concrete, particular reality. Thus cultural mediation becomes not merely a transcendental condition, but an obligation: one has to cultivate the semantic realm in order to come close to reality. My objection to such cultural mediation is purely metaphysical: the reality of the undifferentiated One as well as the reality of the culturally particular is a semantic


Writing History, Constructing Religion

construct. There are no cultural particulars. We are only dealing with ‘theological’ constructs – whether they are monotheistic, monistic, or polytheistic. For in the work of semantic construction or interpretation, the material diversity of ecstatic vision, metaphysical insight, prophecy, ritual performance, material process, righteous anger, questioning, uncertainty, anxiety, the development of character, utopian expectation and the results of pedagogical practice becomes homogenized and translated into a semantic content. A description of a particular practice of meditation, for example, bears none of the characteristics of that meditation. What the semantic autonomy of scholarly production achieves is an alienation from a lived, bodily, temporal process – often conceived as involving a relation to the extra-temporal – which screens its alienation behind a veil of ‘authentic’ representation. While individual scholars may choose to draw on their own experience in order to construct their interpretations, that too is eliminated in the final production. Then the field of discourse that constitutes the academic study of religion is itself inherently ‘secularized’, inherently detached from the processes of cultivation that give rise to particular views. The ‘present age’ which defines the secular spaces of ‘mind’, ‘reason’, ‘subjectivity’, ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ where the field of knowledge is located is utopian: it is present nowhere; it is a cultural construct. In short, the key words of modernity such as ‘mind’, ‘reason’, ‘subjectivity’, ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ designate fields for the investment and production of academic discourse where a conflict has been fought with those who are ‘behind the times’, who do not appreciate the benefits of the new strategies of analysis, with an objectified other within the Western tradition itself, in an apparently dialectical history of progress. Yet, throughout, a real process of capitalization has been creating meaning from a process that escapes it, yet from which it draws its sole energy and life. If the academic study of religion risks killing off the interest in religion from which it feeds, this is not because of its dry, disciplined nature, inhibiting immature bursts of personal enthusiasm, but because its representations necessarily leave out the source of fascination. Capitalization Herbert’s universal and self-evident principles posited themselves as both autonomous from specific religious traditions and as the mediating criteria through which religious truths can be recognized and known. While their autonomy is their political strength, mediation is their epistemological strength. Now, the successive emphases of modernity on reason, subjectivity, ethics, spirituality, experience and culture have each attempted to isolate the essence of these political and epistemological values in a purer state. The actual underlying political advantage is autonomy; the actual underlying epistemological advantage is mediation. Now, any autonomous mediator will necessarily intensify its own role in a process of capitalization: for an analysis of how this works in its purest state, we need to borrow the example of money. The unique role of money is that it is both a commodity that can be possessed, and a measure of value. In order to maximize the value of my own choices, I must increase my stock of money, for my choices will only be as significant as the amount of money I have to pay for them. Thus money, as a measure of value, attributes the

On ‘Religion’: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers


supreme value to itself, for it is the means of access to other values. At the same time, in the system as a whole, an increase in the quantity will not by itself bring any increase in wealth. There must be an increase in the quantity of goods and services, and thus an increase in the amount of property that is available for exchange. In a process of colonization or patriarchal accumulation, an increasing proportion of the natural and cultural worlds must be geared towards commodity production. These are the defining dynamics of economic globalization. Precisely the same processes are at work in cultural globalization, including the academic study of religion. For it would seem that ‘religion’ is the one area of life most devoid of material production, and most resistant to capitalization. But the study of religion turns religious activity into a named semantic content, where it can be subject to exchange in the sphere of knowledge: once mediation between differing religious and non-religious traditions takes place through the semantic sphere of knowledge, then knowledge of religion takes precedence over religion itself. Moreover, an increasing amount of religious activity must be converted into knowledge. The study of religion is part of an autonomous process of the universal colonization of the life-world. So long as this is concealed beneath a theological or scientific agenda, then it would seem that one is still seeking unifying explanatory principles. But once these are abandoned, in the postmodern cultural turn, then the production of a particularizing discourse is revealed as the underlying dynamic of academic study. If there is no longer a conceptual unity to organize the semantic field, then it will be organized by its underlying conditions of production and communication – an institutionalized tradition of the ‘study of religion’, gradually giving way before market forces. The process of the construction of knowledge as ‘capitalization’ is dependent on a faith, and even an eschatology. All our current knowledge is projected and provisional: to make a claim about a cultural form is to project what, when we have finally acquired all the relevant necessary knowledge, it will prove to have been. The interpreter has not yet gained that privileged perspective of infinite knowledge; the interpretation will be subject to improvement and refinement; yet, in order to approach that final stage, one needs to project what that infinite knowledge will have been, in order for current conceptions to become subject to study, improvement and refinement. The value of any given interpretation, then, is maintained by credit – so long as other scholars will allow an interpretation to stand in the place of the final truth, and exchange and build other interpretations and pieces of knowledge on that basis, then it may count as knowledge. To the extent that the construction of knowledge and interpretation depends on processes of credit and capitalization, then it will be subject to economic phenomena, including those of accumulation and devaluation. There is an investment cycle: when the category of ‘religious experience’ was proposed by William James, for example, it appeared to hold promise both as a political way of avoiding conflicts between the competing truth-claims of differing traditions, and as a field of research leading to the generating of knowledge (James, 1982). As a proposal alone, however, it did not hold value: only when there was a transfer between symbolic systems, when a textual tradition was generated and then interpreted in terms of the category of ‘religious experience’, did it come alive as a category. Value is ‘value in motion’; it requires the labour of semantic production. The evidence of the utility of the category of ‘religious


Writing History, Constructing Religion

experience’ was demonstrated by the range of usages to which it was put; at the same time, such evidence also counted as a promise for the future value of the category. According to this model, however, the currency of ‘religious experience’ was not diminished by its scarcity, the inability to find empirical or textual phenomena that corresponded to it; on the contrary, the currency was devalued by its very success, its over-usage – once nearly anything can count as a ‘religious experience’, then it was no longer a very useful term. In the same way, the concept of ‘religion’ has reached its devaluation phase – it is no longer required as an organizing principle for the propagation of a universal culture. Investments have shifted from modern, conceptual universalization to semantic universalization. The significance of the ‘postmodern condition’ amounts simply to this – the commodification of the life-world occurs through the mode of production alone, and no longer through its content. Universalization and transcending the given no longer require a belief in God or Ultimate Reality, just as they no longer require belief in the secular, public spaces of ‘reason’, ‘subjectivity’ or ‘culture’. All they require is the practical commitment to the semantic autonomy of culture in the form pedagogical practices of particularization. Difference and diversity may be affirmed in the name of an even more repressive practice of universalization. Defending ‘Religion’ What, then, are we to make of the concept of ‘religion’? The question of whether a concept of ‘religion’ can accurately represent cultural forms across cultures remains limited to a certain Western, metaphysical notion of the truth. ‘Religion’, here, remains a part of the internal conversation of the modern West – and it is within such a conversation that it may continue to play such a role. Two kinds of modern inquiry into religion can be placed under the headings of the two famous etymologies: if Cicero derived religio from relegere, ‘to reread’ or carefully observe the tradition, then one kind of inquiry has been the careful observation of traditions. The authenticity of a true study of religion would be guaranteed by its fidelity to the practices of worship observed – one ‘religiously’ tries to represent how religion truly is. This tradition is represented not only by phenomenologists such as Otto and Eliade, and not only by philologists and cultural anthropologists, but also by theorists of religion such as Tylor, Durkheim and Freud. Yet Lactantius derived religio from religare, ‘to bind back’, pointing towards a philosophical inquiry into ‘true religion’ – what is it to be truly religious? Following the ethical and subjective turns of Herbert, Locke, Hume and Kant, modern philosophers such as Schelling, Hegel, Whitehead, Bergson and Berdyaev have practised a normative ‘philosophy of religion’ where the aim was to cultivate a particular development of character and perspective. In this tradition, learning the pedagogical practices of other traditions can be conceived as part of the enrichment and improvement of the Western tradition; indeed, accuracy of representation is here a condition for a genuine encounter, and thus a genuine opportunity for learning which does not proceed through passing through an enumeration of one’s own projections. Precisely at the point of the ‘cultural turn’, however, such a tradition of inquiry into religion

On ‘Religion’: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers


would distance itself from cultural hermeneutics in two respects. For the ‘cultural turn’ has demonstrated the significance of an ‘entire way of life’ above and beyond the textual constructions of religious philosophies, which will always remain deficient. Yet to the extent that the cultural study of religion results in the production of texts rather than characters, it fails to take the cultural turn itself. The question that lies before us is that of what we wish the study of religion to achieve in the ongoing cultural conversation of the Western world. ‘Religion’, here, occupies a crucial site within that conversation. For not only does it serve as a key point of encounter with external cultural forms, but it is also a place where the values of the entire culture can be called into question. Indeed, the study of religion offers a site where the ‘theological self-reflection’ of the broad, secular culture of Western modernity can take place. For all our contemporary emphases on contextualization and historicization, such a culture has defined itself by the liberation of an autonomous realm of signs – whether signs of value, such as money, or signs of truth, such as knowledge – and the subjection of all human activity to such signs, so that value and truth may capitalize upon our labours. In seeking to possess value and truth, to keep it in our hands, pockets, bank accounts or libraries, we have given ourselves over to an unlimited quest. Moreover, as soon as we conceive value and truth in terms of such signs, and we borrow partial signs of value and truth, then we find ourselves in a condition of unlimited debt where we are required to demonstrate that we possess value and truth. Not only do we remain pious, directing our attention towards an always displaced future consummation when value and truth will finally be attained or revealed, but we are possessed and enslaved by the autonomous processes of the production of truth and value. The study of religion has had a crucial role in this process of capitalization. It stands at the interface between that ordered mode of piety that is Western modernity and competing traditions of piety. As long as its aim has been to produce a semantic content that represents the truth of such competing traditions, then it has effectively functioned as a practice of capture and conversion. Yet the semantic product of academic discourse is only the public face of the study of religion; alongside this, in private, the researcher engages with the problems and questions addressed in particular religious traditions; the researcher participates in their pedagogical practices. Moreover, such engagement may be sceptical and critical. In short, the study of religion is one of the few sites in the modern university where the horizon of knowledge and value is not purely ‘secular’, that is to say, not caught up in the illusion of its own construction. For the ‘secular’ is the constitution of a world of the present age, where the past, the future and the extra-temporal have no direct role, and all representations of truth and value have to take place within a present, public sphere, in spite of the fact that this is an impossible ideal. In short, the self-critique of the modern West, often known as ‘philosophical postmodernism’, draws attention to the assumptions, prejudices, gaps, fissures and epistemological breaks that constitute our illusory world. Yet while it may demonstrate that the bases of our activity are insubstantial, it can offer no alternative, for it only has the strategies of the modern West available to it. There are strategies of thought and action, however, that place the unity of truth and value outside of collective consciousness. Such strategies are excluded from the modern secular West as those of ‘superstition’ or ‘enthusiasm’ (Hume and Kant); they are defined as ‘religious’ in


Writing History, Constructing Religion

contradistinction to the secular self-constitution of the West. Now, whether or not such a distinction between the secular and the religious can be found in competing cultures, it is an effective and meaningful distinction that separates the modern, capitalist West from other cultural formations, as well as from its repressed, inner nature. Moreover, to inquire into the possibilities of truth and value that exceed public consciousness from within the modern secular West is to study ‘religion’. Where the limit of postmodern philosophy points to that which, in Jacques Derrida’s phrase, we may designate ‘religion without religion’ (Derrida, 1998), those who suspect that the past, the future, or the extra-temporal may have something to contribute to the constitution of ‘truth’ and ‘value’ may wish to develop a critical study of religion. Such a ‘study of religion’ would include careful representations and interpretations of particular traditions of thought and activity that respond to a source of truth and value outside public consciousness – it would include cultural hermeneutics. It would also include sceptical and critical inquiry, exploring how such traditions may be instances of false consciousness. It would also include theological evaluation of such traditions, in order to discover which traditions of thought and activity may enrich our conceptions of what ‘truth’ and ‘value’ might be. In short, it would look very much like our contemporary departments of theology and religious studies. Yet the content of such a curriculum would not be structured primarily by the historical presence of ‘world religions’, nor would it be structured by any transcultural essence, whether deriving from Christianity or from scientific theory. Instead, following in the footsteps of John Bowker (and Karl Jaspers), we may note that religions ‘cluster around’ those limitations that are ‘particularly intransigent or opaque in nature’ such as disease, earthquakes, madness, and above all, death (Bowker in Flood, 1999, p. 48). Alongside such perennial universals as death and suffering, we may note the new universals of economic globalization and ecological crisis. Again, there are also tradition-specific postulated universal limits, such as creation, law, liberation, or enlightenment. Each of these limits constitutes a defining problem, setting constraints to what can be achieved by a ‘secular’ approach. If we are to come to terms and relate effectively to such limits, then we require an ongoing conversation concerned with human responses to the universal. For if there is a meaning to ‘truth’ and ‘value’ concerning human responses to such limits, then the discourse on such a meaning will be the study of religion. And ‘religion’ may be understood as attention to those sources of truth and value that exceed the limits of experience. References Alliez, Eric (1995), De l’impossibilité de la phénoménologie: sur la philosophie française contemporaine, Paris: Vrin. Arnal, William E. (2000), ‘Definition’, in Willi C. Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon (eds), Guide to the Study of Religion, London: Cassell. Asad, Talal (2003), Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity, Stanford: Stanford University Press. Badiou, Alain (2001), Ethics, London: Verso. Cantwell Smith, Wilfred (1978), The Meaning and End of Religion, London: SPCK. Cantwell Smith, Wilfred (1979), Faith and Belief, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

On ‘Religion’: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers


Cantwell Smith, Wilfred (1981), Towards a World Theology: Faith and the Comparative History of Religion, London: Macmillan. Collins, James J. (1967), The Emergence of Philosophy of Religion, New Haven: Yale University Press. Derrida, Jacques (1998), ‘Faith and knowledge’, in Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo (eds), Religion, Cambridge: Polity. Eagleton, Terry (2000), The Idea of Culture, Oxford: Blackwell. Eliade, Mircea (1959), The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, San Diego: Harcourt Brace. Fitzgerald, Timothy (2000), The Ideology of Religious Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Flood, Gavin (1999), Beyond Phenomenology: Rethinking the Study of Religion, London: Cassell. Forman, Robert K. (1999), Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness, Albany: SUNY. Gay, Peter (1968), Deism: An Anthology, Princeton: Van Nostrand. Hick, John (1989), An Interpretation of Religion, Basingstoke: Macmillan. James, William (1982), The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York: Penguin. King, Richard (1999), Religion and Orientalism: Postcolonial Theory, India and the ‘Mystic East’, London: Routledge. Lash, Nicholas (1992), Believing Three Ways in One God, London: SCM. Lash, Nicholas (1996), The Beginning and End of ‘Religion’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Locke, John (1964), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, vols I & II, London: J. M. Dent. Locke, John (1977), ‘Letter on toleration’, in John Yolton (ed.), The Locke Reader, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Marx, Karl (1975), ‘On the Jewish question’, in Early Writings, Harmondsworth: Penguin. McMurtry, John (2002), Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy, London: Pluto Press. Peterson, Derek and Darren Walhof (eds) (2002), The Invention of Religion: Rethinking Belief in Politics and History, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Tanner, Kathryn (1997), Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology, Minneapolis: Fortress. Ward, Graham (2003), True Religion, Oxford: Blackwell.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 5

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization Alan Aldridge

Introduction If postmodernist theorizing is characterized by a refusal of meta-narratives of history, then the secularization thesis must surely be one of its principal targets. Can the thesis withstand the blast of postmodernist critique? To examine this question, I focus on the work of Bryan Wilson, an adroit and unswerving exponent of a full-blooded version of secularization theory.1 Wilson’s professional practice bears all the signs, even stigmata, of modernist social science. A critical re-reading suggests, however, that Wilson’s oeuvre is more nuanced than a postmodernist critique would imply. Even so, postmodernism, when viewed sceptically but sympathetically, has had the merit, for all its shortcomings, of reminding us of certain aspects of social life that we might have been in danger of forgetting. Secularization as a Meta-narrative ‘Secularization as a metanarrative is dead. Or rather, the popular interpretations of Max Weber – those that ignore the new possibilities for polytheisms, prophets, or alternative rationalities, and that focus only on the prospects for the “polar night of icy hardness” as the steel cage of secular instrumental rationalization closes in – are dead’ (Lyon, 2000, p. 137). So writes David Lyon in his Jesus in Disneyland, a powerful analysis of religion in the condition of postmodernity. Organized religion may indeed be struggling to find a role and a constituency, particularly in Europe. Conventional mainstream Christian denominations have declined in many affluent First World societies, but that does not mean the death of mainstream Christianity, let alone the demise of other faiths, and still less an end to the human quest for meaning conferred by transcendent points of reference. ‘Secularization’ may be valid as a specific process that has been under way in particular social settings, but as a meta-narrative of Western history it fails utterly. As Lyon drily remarks at the conclusion of the passage I have quoted, ‘the curtain has yet to fall on faith, spirituality, and the quest for transcendence’ (Lyon, 2000, p. 137). Here, in contrast, is the verdict of a champion of the secularization thesis, Bryan Wilson: ‘When, outside the confines of the relatively small circles of those who have involved themselves with it, one raises this subject with historians, sociologists, 65


Writing History, Constructing Religion

economists, or psychologists, one sees how readily those engaged with other aspects of the social system and its culture take secularization for granted. Their overwhelming tendency, as I have observed it, is to regard religion as a peripheral phenomenon in contemporary social organization, and one which, in their studies of the broad contours of social change, productivity, economic growth, or human psychology, they rarely find need to consider’ (Wilson, 1992, p. 210). Sociology of religion is a minority interest even among sociologists, and its standing within the discipline is a matter of dispute. To many sociologists it is something of a backwater, a field cultivated by a small band of devotees, some of whom, one might suspect, are attracted to it principally as a means of vindicating their own faith and of finding a future for religion in an uncertain world. Outside of sociology, social scientists (at least in Wilson’s experience) tend to express amusement that anyone could take religion so seriously, particularly if the sociologist in question is an atheist or an agnostic. Wilson’s concluding comment is no less dry than Lyon’s verdict: ‘Of course, these various and numerous social scientists could be overlooking a social force of paramount importance in the operation of those facets of the social system in which they are expert, but I doubt it’ (Wilson, 1992, p. 210). In his first chapter in this volume, Christian Karner reminds us of Lyotard’s seminal definition of the postmodern as ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives’. In the sociology of religion, the secularization thesis – a specific instance of the Weberian thesis of rationalization and disenchantment – has held sway, at least until very recently, as the dominant meta-narrative of history. It has had no more powerful or subtle a champion than Bryan Wilson. Not only is he a paradigmatic modernist, he also completed most of his work on religion before the rise of postmodernism as an intellectual force. In work that focuses specifically on religion and postmodernity/postmodernism, Wilson’s work has received minimal attention. There is, for example, no reference to it in Kieran Flanagan and Peter Jupp’s 1996 collection, Postmodernity, Sociology and Religion. David Lyon’s Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times (2000), despite its emphasis on the critique of secularization theory, contains only one mention of Wilson. The collection edited by Paul Heelas, Religion, Modernity and Postmodernity (1998) has a few passing references, but no sustained engagement with his work. Perhaps it is thought that Wilson’s contribution has been refuted or superseded by the insights of the postmodernists or by the condition of postmodernity? My aim in this chapter is to re-examine Wilson’s work in the light of the challenge posed by postmodernist theorizing and the condition of postmodernity to our understanding of religion and communities of faith. His oeuvre is, I shall argue, an acid test case of postmodern theorizing and postmodernity. Are his arguments still valid? Were they, in fact, ever valid? And is his sociological praxis a case of meticulous scholarship and profound insight or of unreflexive sociologizing that finds objective certainty where there is none? Sociology as a Modernist Practice Postmodernism self-evidently positions itself in relation to a modernism that it claims both to reject and to supersede. Given the unwillingness of postmodern theorists to

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization


specify exact meanings for the terms ‘postmodernism’ and ‘modernist’, any attempt to proceed methodically through a checklist of traits, assessing Wilson’s ‘score’ on each one, would be stultified at the outset. Such an approach would in any event be merely mechanical, absurdly individualistic and a case of crude operational quantification that would be utterly at variance with the humanistic regard for culture that suffuses his own work. What we may do instead is to examine a number of the themes that recur as theorists attempt to capture the elusive distinctions between modernist and postmodernist discourse. Even without ventures into checklists and quantification, it seems reasonably clear that Wilson’s professional practice gives ample evidence of his ‘modernist’ persuasion. Definition Wilson’s work aims at clarity, which necessarily includes clarity of definition. In an early work, Religion in Secular Society, Wilson proposes the following definition of secularization: ‘the process by which religious thinking, practice and institutions lose social significance’ (1969, p. 14). Here, as elsewhere, his approach bears certain distinguishing features. First, he offers, in Durkheimian fashion, a definition of the key term at the outset of his study. Second, the definition is precise, and he adheres to it. Third, again in Durkheimian fashion, he sees no cause to modify definitions once formulated; the definition of secularization given above has never been altered in any way. Despite the centrality of definition in Wilson’s sociological practice, he does not turn the process of defining key terms into hard labour. Remarkably, he is content to work with a minimal definition of religion as ‘invocation of the supernatural’ (Wilson, 1982, p. 159). Unlike Durkheim, he does not engage in prolonged discussion of alternative definitions, eliminating each one in turn as it proves inadequate or incoherent. Where he does follow Durkheim is in insisting that definitions be sociological, and in particular that they be free from theological influence and from the preoccupations of any particular faith or movement. Classification What is true of definition also holds for classification. Among Wilson’s many contributions to the sociological analysis of religion is his typology of religious sects. It originated in his empirical study of three movements: Christadelphians, whom he designated adventists, Christian Scientists, who were gnostics, and the Elim Pentecostals, who were conversionists (Wilson, 1961). To these were added a fourth category, the introversionists, exemplified by the Exclusive Brethren. It did not take long for Wilson to refine and extend this classification, so that by the time of Religious Sects (1970) and Magic and the Millennium (1973) it was firmly established in the sociological canon. The transformation he wrought had three key elements. First, he tried to purge the classification of its cultural specificity and more particularly of its Christian overtones. A sign of this was terminological: adventists (who might or might not be awaiting the second coming of Christ) become revolutionists, and gnostics (who might or might not espouse a mystical interpretation of the


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Christian gospel) became manipulationists. The problem of Christian overtones did not affect the terms conversionist and introversionist, so these were retained. Second, he extended the classification, in an effort to make it an exhaustive typology of varieties of religious ‘deviance’ from the mainstream. To this end he added three categories: reformists, for example Quakers, utopians, such as the Bruderhof, and thaumaturgical sects, such as the snake-handlers of the USA’s Deep South. What originated as a simple classification of sects became a deliberate attempt to produce a comprehensive Weberian analysis of the ideal-types of religious deviance. Third, and underpinning the first two elements, Wilson set out the principles on which the classification was built. Those principles incorporated a double rejection: of ‘the traditional theological basis for sect classification in terms of doctrine’ and of ‘sociological attempts to distinguish new religious movements by the degree of institutionalization that they have achieved’ (1973, p. 16). In their place Wilson lays out an approach which is neither culture-bound, as for him theology necessarily is, nor flat-footedly organizational in focus, as though religious movements were in the business of selling soap or marketing financial services. Wilson’s analysis is rooted in what he argues are the core concerns of religion, namely theodicy – coming to terms with evil and suffering and soteriology – finding the path to salvation. Reducing his interpretation to its minimum, we can say that the paths to salvation mapped out by sects represent seven distinct responses to the world. Revolutionists tell us that God will overturn the present world; thus Jehovah’s Witnesses await the War of Armageddon, the final defeat of Satan and the life of peace on Paradise Earth. Introversionists summon their people to abandon the world; ‘come ye out from among them and be ye separate’ is a seminal injunction for Amish and similar communities. Reformists urge us to change the world according to God’s will; thus Quakers have been involved in a range of movements and campaigns to make the world a better place, particularly for socially disadvantaged and pariah groups. Utopians call us to reconstruct the world according to God’s blueprint; they establish communities which outsiders are able to join or emulate, albeit at considerable personal cost. Conversionists call for a change of hearts and minds; they look for sudden transformations, as people are blessed with the holy spirit or washed in the blood of the Lamb. Manipulationists require that we change our perceptions; thus Scientologists provide theories and techniques that offer the prospect of improved health, enhanced intellectual functioning and the worldly benefits that are likely to accrue. Thaumaturgicals provide miraculous cures for evils and afflictions; they propose remedies for conditions and diseases which orthodox medicine is powerless to cure (Wilson, 1973, p. 27). Otherness of the Objects of Enquiry Just as Max Weber borrowed the term charisma from the Christian tradition but purified it of Christian, and indeed of all value-loaded meanings, so Wilson uses the term ‘sect’ in a neutral way. Sects, for him, are movements of religious protest that have a strong sense of their identity and the distinctiveness of their mission. Contrary to what many theologians and church members believe, sects do not necessarily define themselves in relation to ‘the church’ either as a social institution or as a vehicle of a certain approach to spirituality. Sects are protesting not against the

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization


church but against ‘the world’; for them the church may or may not be a salient part of that world. If Wilson is correct in asserting that churches are losing social significance, we may expect that sects will be ever less inclined to take them as a point of reference. Wilson forces his readers to take sects seriously. The classification serves this purpose, since it manifestly means that they are not all the same, and not, therefore, to be lumped into some residual category that we could then choose to stigmatize or ignore. Sociologists have been criticized for devoting so much attention to sects; yet this has been precisely one of the discipline’s most decisive contributions to the understanding of the part religion plays in society and in the lives of our fellow citizens. In defence of sociology, I should like to quote a passage from the distinguished Christian scholar, Ninian Smart, who writes sensitively about the world’s great religions. Here, however, is what he has to say about Jehovah’s Witnesses in The Religious Experience of Mankind. He devoted a mere paragraph to them, in the course of which we are informed that Witnesses are ‘peaceful, but fanatical; they know their Bible backward and forward, but they are rarely well educated. Such a movement appeals to those of modest education – clerks and landladies in England, for instance, are well represented in the movement; these are people who know something of what education is through schooling and contact with students, but they have not got higher education. The secret hope of the Millennium and the marvellous way they can interpret the Bible are compensations for their deprivation’ (Smart, 1971, pp. 632–633, quoted in Aldridge, 2000, pp. 117–118). From the brevity and tenor of Smart’s depiction of their spiritual lives, we may safely conclude that he thinks they make no significant contribution to ‘the religious experience of mankind’. There is no evidence that Smart was familiar with the movement or any of the serious work that has been published about it; instead, he reflects an ill-informed stereotype, all the more telling for someone with a breadth of knowledge about the ‘major’ faiths. Sociologists have, in my view, performed a valuable task in taking sectarian movements seriously. Even so, an awkward question needs to be asked. Christian Karner raises it in Chapter 3 of this book, where he asks: Are some of us guilty of ‘exoticizing’ or ‘romanticizing’ religious ‘others’? For all his manifest respect for the integrity of sects, does Wilson fall into that trap? It is, after all, obvious that he is not himself a member of a movement such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course, we can use our knowledge of our own society to infer that it is extremely unlikely that Wilson, or any other university-based sociologist of religion, is a Witness. Witnesses are deeply suspicious of university education; they foster acceptance of the biblical texts as authoritatively interpreted by the Watchtower Society; other religious movements, even apparently comparable revolutionists such as Seventh-day Adventists and Christadelphians, are viewed as falling far short of the Truth. This is not an orientation likely to commend itself to any sociologist seeking to study religion comparatively and impartially. I have quoted Ninian Smart’s unfortunate portrait of Jehovah’s Witnesses as zealous, ill-educated, socially deprived clerks and landladies. If we stripped out the condescension in his account, we might accept that a valid point remained. In terms made current by Pierre Bourdieu, Jehovah’s Witnesses and professional sociologists


Writing History, Constructing Religion

typically possess a different mix of social, cultural and economic capital, and in consequence have a radically different habitus. Bryan Wilson is an Emeritus Fellow of All Soul’s College, Oxford, and a Fellow of the British Academy. Let us be sociologically serious: the probability that anyone in such a socio-cultural position is a Witness or might conceivably become one is, even in the absence of any acquaintance with the man in question, very close to zero. It is not a question of formal logic; as a philosopher might say, there is no logical contradiction between being a sociologist of religion and being a Jehovah’s Witness. The contradiction is sociological; in Bourdieu’s terms, it is a question of the logic of fields. Wilson makes no attempt to conceal this point. Tellingly, he frequently addresses his readers as ‘we’, presupposing – correctly, it must be pointed out – that we are not ‘they’. There is, I would concede, a hint of ‘In Darkest England’ about Wilson’s work on religious sects. He ventured where few intellectuals have wished to go, exploring subcultures which could all too easily be dismissed as unworthy of serious attention: predominantly working- and lower-middle class, lacking in ‘legitimate’ cultural capital, and not metropolitan but provincial. There were parallels elsewhere in British sociology in the 1950s and early 1960s, perhaps most famously in Young and Willmott’s (1957) work on the urban community of Bethnal Green, in the East End of London. Like Wilson, they adopted a broadly sympathetic view of the people they were studying, so much so that they were frequently accused of ‘romanticizing’ the working class. Young and Willmott emphasized the warmth of kinship ties and the social significance of neighbourliness in the working-class community; the implied contrast was the coldly individualistic calculus that prevailed in middle-class (non-) communities. This rosetinted portrait of the working-class Gemeinschaft tended to play down problems of patriarchy, ethnocentrism, violence and crime. Similarly, Wilson underlined the seriousness, commitment and personal integrity of ‘sectarian’ communities of faith; the implied contrast was the shallow, lax, compromised religiosity of mainstream denominations. His depiction of sectarian religion had little place for bigotry, philistinism and anti-intellectualism. A salient feature of sects as Wilson analyzes them is that they insist that members comply with their norms of behaviour, and are quick to ‘disfellowship’ anyone who falls significantly short. In Wilson’s account, what is emphasized is the seriousness of purpose and the high ethical principles that justify expulsion from the community; little mention is made of the potential human cost of the unmerciful enforcement of virtue. Even so, one might well argue that ‘sects’ have been the objects of so much intolerance and misunderstanding that a sympathetic hearing and a degree of advocacy are a necessary counterweight to prejudice. Lack of Reflexivity? In a striking passage taken from Religion in Sociological Perspective (1982, pp. 25–26), Wilson reflects on the nuanced relationship between sociologists of religion and the people who are the objects of their enquiry. Wilson’s own respondents have typically been members of minority religious movements. In such encounters, he tells us, the sociologist can appear to be something of a curiosity. Members of such ‘sects’ as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christadelphians rarely encounter people who are interested in and knowledgeable about their beliefs and practices, and yet who show no inclination to seek a commitment to their respondents’ faith.

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization


Wilson has always pursued his work as openly as possible, so that the people whose faith he studies know that he does not share their beliefs or even necessarily their values. He reports that they often pose questions of the kind, ‘You know a lot about us; you know about the truth: why do you not join us?’ Interestingly, he acknowledges that this is a difficult, fundamental and legitimate question, one that deserves a frank answer. It cannot be brushed aside with a brutal dismissal on the lines, ‘I know what you think is the truth, but I do not accept it’. Indeed, Wilson adds – and here we see his high professionalism at work – ‘it would be professionally wrong to discuss what one accepted or rejected as “the truth”’. The reason why respondents invite sociologists to join them in their faith is, as Wilson reminds us, not just because they possess a faith but also because they have a genuine concern for another human being. By interviewing and observing our respondents, we implicitly lay ourselves open to evangelism. We should not, therefore, see such invitations as unfair, inappropriate or insulting; they are, on the contrary, a compliment. We are worth recruiting! The compliment does, however, raise a personal and professional dilemma. Wilson’s own resolution to the problem is this: ‘You must regard me as a photographer. Since I am taking pictures of what I find, I cannot be in the picture myself’. Although not a perfect reply, Wilson argues that it ‘maintains the investigator’s detachment and the integrity of the professional nature of his commitment’ while sustaining ‘the necessary sympathetic relationship of investigator and respondent’. In the light of postmodernism, it may seem a strange position to adopt: the sociologist as photographer? Much will depend, clearly, on what one takes the role of the photographer to be. In my view it would be a serious error to see Wilson as advocating an ‘objectivist’ or ‘positivist’ position; he has not said, ‘I am a camera’. Photography, like sociology, is an art and a craft. Does he, though, stand accused of a lack or reflexivity? Certainly, his works are far from confessional; his methods are overt but unobtrusive, his style is unemotional and clinically detached, and he is – as he promises his respondents – nowhere to be seen in the picture. To criticize him on those grounds is to accept a postmodernist definition of reflexivity, as if self-awareness, and reflection on the institutional location and professional responsibilities of the sociologist, were the same thing as agonized, or ostensibly agonized, confessionalism. Sociology as a Humanistic Science Wilson has always been generous in encouraging younger scholars and commenting constructively on other sociologists’ work even when it is clear that he disagrees with them on points of analysis and interpretation. I recall one instance, however, which to avoid needless provocation I shall not identify, when Wilson was manifestly disapproving of another’s attitude. The case concerns a study of a new religious movement. The author began his account with some slighting remarks about the movement and its guru. He also commented that, given the bizarre beliefs and practices for which the cult had become notorious, he, the author, was in career terms ‘on to a winner’. For Wilson, such flippancy is a betrayal of the high ideals and mission of the sociological profession. We may recall Durkheim’s claim that religion belongs to the serious side of life; if so, it demands to be taken seriously.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Here is Wilson’s account of the sociologist’s standpoint: The scientific orientation of the sociology of religion is deliberate. The steady consolidation of this position among those who investigate religion in its social implications has created a sense of distinction between this explicitly professional commitment and the work of religiously-committed commentators which is necessarily regarded as amateur. This is not to say that a sociologist of religion cannot be personally a religiously-committed man; clearly that is a possibility. But in his sociological work he must adopt the professional stance of the detached, neutral, and objective investigator; and this we may take as a necessary qualification. (Wilson, 1982, p. 23)

Unlike other practitioners such as David Martin, Peter Berger, Grace Davie and Robin Gill, Wilson has always maintained that there is an unbridgeable gulf between sociology and theology. There are three main reasons for this. First, theology is, at least in Wilson’s view, a normative, prescriptive discipline, whereas sociology is analytical and value-neutral. Second, sociology has universalizing thrust, and so must liberate itself from all ethnocentric biases: ‘If the wider aims of sociological analysis are to be met it is essential that our categories should be freed from the presuppositions of one particular cultural tradition or of one historical period … If sociology is not itself to be a culture-bound discipline like theology, it must have fundamental categories of this type, which recognize the similarity of social processes in diverse contexts, and provide a common stock of analytical apparatus capable of extensive application’ (Wilson, 1973, p. 17). A third reason to draw a sharp divide between sociology and theology is to avoid the danger of subordinating sociological enquiry to the disciplines and agendas of religious organizations. If any warning were needed, we could observe that the sociological study of religion in France has been blighted by the tradition of sociologie religieuse, which cut itself off from the sociological mainstream and aligned itself with the concerns of the Catholic Church. Wilson’s work testifies to his strong sense of sociology as a discipline with high professional ideals and strict scientific boundaries. Sociology may have little in common with theology, but it does have close intellectual links with such disciplines as history and social and cultural anthropology. The decisive factor that sets sociology apart from these disciplines is the sociologist’s ambition to produce concepts and theories that have as wide a scope as possible, transcending cultural and historical particularities. There is loss as well as gain in this. Sociologists must inevitably miss some of the local quality and richness of phenomena. ‘To formulate new categories and to coin a new terminology, and perhaps especially one that aims at generality and width of applicability, is to jeopardize the possibility of grasping the distinctive and peculiar feeling-tone of the diverse phenomena that have been subsumed into these general types, by virtue of their similarities of structure, function, and process. It is at this point that what the sociologist hopes to gain must be reluctantly paid for in the coin of the historian and the anthropologist’ (Wilson, 1973, p. 18). As a humanistic science, sociology is grounded in classic, foundational works, on which succeeding generations of scholars have built. The legacy of the classics is evident in Wilson’s writings, and he is explicit about his intellectual debts. Surely the outstanding source of inspiration is Max Weber, not only for his penetrating and wide-ranging studies of religion. Weber’s theory of ideal-types, commitment to soci-

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization


ology as a professional discipline, and culturally pessimistic diagnosis of the incessant march of rationalization and the disenchantment of the world: all these have left their imprint on Wilson’s work as a sociologist. The impact of Emile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tönnies is also profound. Durkheim’s emphasis on religion as a moral community, and Tönnies’s distinction between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (association) are incorporated into Wilson’s claim that religion is necessarily communal in character. The decline of community is at the heart of the Wilsonian theory of secularization: Just as religious faith defies rationalization, when its proponents retreat into declaring some propositions to be a ‘mystery’, to be apprehended only by faith, so religious institutions also show a low capacity for rationalization. The basic reason for this is that religion is always primarily a communal, as distinct from a societal, institution. Its operation is always essentially local. The basic commodity that religion purveys – reassurance about salvation – must be available wherever its agents operate. The vital activities to reassure men must be replicated over time and space. Unlike economic organization, or law, or education, within which institutions a rational, societal hierarchization can be established, religion is limited in its internal subdivisions. (Wilson, 1976, p. 89)

For Wilson, ‘Sociology is always engaged in reinterpreting society in every age – and since there are many interpreters there is no consensus’ (Wilson, 1975, p. 13). Sociology does not simply accept the received canon as an immutable legacy; instead, sociologists build on their inheritance. There are many instances of this in his work. For example, his typology of sects emerged out of an engagement with Robert Merton’s (1957) influential categorization of forms of anomic behaviour (which was itself an outworking of Durkheim’s concept of anomie). Wilson then used his classification of sects to launch a systematic critique of Richard Niebuhr’s (1929) theory, which was itself derived in part from Weber, that sects invariably evolve into denominations. One reading of Wilson’s sociological practice might characterize him as a positivist. As López and Potter (2001, p. 7) argue, ‘Crudely speaking the positivist account of science stresses the progressive nature of knowledge acquisition. It has a tendency to present science as an ongoing cumulative process of discovery and to stress the disinterested objectivity of the scientific endeavour’. That this is indeed Wilson’s perspective on the sociological enterprise does not, however, make him a positivist. Sociology is a science, but it is a humanistic science. In opposition to all forms of behaviourism, he repeatedly stresses the need to empathize with and interpret human action; understanding – Weberian Verstehen – is essential to the science of sociology. Descriptive statistics play a minor role in his analyses of secularization, while inferential statistics have no place at all. His work is qualitative; no attempt is made to quantify the unquantifiable. In so far as quantification is mentioned at all, it is interpreted as a symptom of the drive to rationalization. The progressive nature of knowledge acquisition to which López and Potter refer carries two implications for Wilson. First, sociology is a community of scholars, not a motley assortment of self-propelled individuals. Community is as important to the practice of sociology as it is to the practice of faith. Second, these scholars are independent. In the sociology of religion, as we have seen, this means that they are free from the authority of any religious movement or confession. More generally, it implies independence from the political dictates of any agency outside the academy.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Secularization: The Fate of Religion in the Modern World Wilson clearly espouses a meta-narrative of history – the meta-narrative of secularization. If postmodernism is defined as scepticism towards all meta-narratives, then his work is bound to fall under a cloud of suspicion. In the Weberian manner, Wilson’s writings are marked by a profound cultural pessimism. To see his work as a celebration of secularization would be a perverse reading. Admittedly, one can detect an ironic stance towards theological propositions, and scathing satire directed at the liberal views of some theologians and clerics. Here is an early example, taken from Religion in Secular Society (1969, pp. 97–98). Lay people typically want assurance and certainty but, Wilson observes, clerics often fail to provide it. ‘That some clergy themselves become sceptical, and cease to believe in many of the things which laymen believe in as essentials of the faith, or believe in them in an entirely different way, can only be a source of confusion and despair to those who want to believe in certain, and usually simple, truths’. By adopting avantgarde views, religious intellectuals may hope to cultivate good relations with their secular counterparts, but they are doomed to fail. Rebuffed by secular intellectuals and their own laity, some theologians and clerics come to espouse radical views which others see as a denial of the fundamentals of the faith they are charged to profess. For Wilson (1969, p. 98), ‘The alienation of the clergy is one of the remarkable phenomena of the Church of modern times’. The vigorous affirmations of the sects stand in contrast to the hesitancy, opacity and blatant revisionism of the churches’ leaders. Declining churches seek to bolster their flagging support by engaging in ecumenical ventures; meanwhile, the prospering and self-assured sects confidently pursue their robust convictions. Religion in Secular Society ends (1969, p. 263) with the speculation that if religion finds new functions to perform in a secular society, that religion ‘would be not the religion which accepts the values of the new institutionalism, the religion of ecumenism, but the religion of the sects’. Wilson’s ironic remarks about liberal clerics and theologians do not amount to a celebration of secularity. Many passages in his later books evince a degree of despair at the barrenness of secular culture, occasionally tempered by rays of hope. Magic and the Millennium ends on such a note (1973, p. 504). He speaks of humanity’s ‘ambivalent hankering for magical and millennial solutions’. Wilson interprets this as a reaction against the rationalized world in which we are obliged to live: The search for the unprogrammed in the increasingly programmed society is a commentary on the further limits of planning and rational organization: it is a commentary on the persistence of demand for fantasy, for colour, and in its more trivial respects, for ceremony, pageantry, and the sentiments engendered by traditional performances, in an impersonal, calculating, instrumental, and progressive society. The demand for fantasy – for freedom, as it is often expressed – is a type of persisting irrationality in a rational world, reminding us of the fragility of our very complex social order, of the delicacy of the socialization process on which it rests, and of the untamed, perhaps untameable, element of man’s spirit.

In this remarkable verdict on modernity, individuals are pitted against a rationalized system of which they are a product and yet whose offerings leave them unsatisfied.

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization


In other passages, Wilson’s tone is more sombre; the light seems to have been extinguished and hope banished. As community declines, society is increasingly coordinated by merely technical controls rather than by morally charged social bonds. Secularization brings demoralization: moral judgements are replaced by causal explanations. It is, at its bleakest, a culture that has ceased to believe in responsibility or guilt. Echoing Daniel Bell’s (1979) analysis of the cultural contradictions of capitalism, Wilson argues that the Protestant ethic ‘would be dysfunctional were it to continue to command adherence in the consumer society’ (Wilson, 2001, p. 49). Such a society requires hedonism, not asceticism. The ‘values’ of consumer society invite cynical contempt and ironic detachment, but cynicism and irony are not materials for collective resistance. Their main impact is to reinforce the very demoralization from which they recoil. In this demoralized consumer culture, religion has lost its raison d’être; since humanity no longer needs to be reconciled to evil and suffering, there is no soteriological task to perform. Perhaps the reason for Wilson’s bleaker version of the secularization thesis is his fear that individuals are increasingly engulfed in a consumer society that provides them not merely with goods and services but also with a set of values and a menu of lifestyles that guarantee willing submission to the logic of rationalization. As this logic increasingly penetrates individual consciousness, so, following Zygmunt Bauman (for example, 1998), we might say that consumers are not repressed but seduced. On Wilson’s account, sects provide stable systems of belief and identity. ‘The sectarian’, he argues, ‘is almost always conspicuous by virtue of his religious commitment’ (1969, p. 210). Sects are, typically, culturally bounded, close-knit, faceto-face communities. They promote a strong sense of right and wrong, with unambiguous norms of personal conduct that are strictly policed. Nowhere is this more evident than in gender roles and norms of sexual conduct and propriety. The sects on which Wilson has focused his attention uphold marital fidelity; the subordination of women to the authority of men, and of children to parents; procreation as the purpose of sexual activity; and heterosexuality as the divinely decreed norm from which other expressions are a wilfully perverted deviation. They express a robust endorsement of character virtues and the power of the human will to resist temptation. Playful experimentation with alternative or multiple identities is simply impermissible. Wilson’s work has always displayed a respect for members of ‘sects’. His early essay on secularization, Religion in Secular Society, contrasts sects favourably with mainstream denominations and churches. The latter are too ready to compromise with secularity, whereas sects ‘are the most intense collective manifestations of the religious disposition to be discovered in secular society’ (Wilson, 1969, p. 226). The book ends with a ringing endorsement of sectarianism as the most viable form of religious community in the secular future. This stands in stark contrast to his verdict on newer ‘cults’. Such movements, which came to prominence in the West at the end of the 1960s, were frequently represented, and sometimes represented themselves, as the avant-garde of the counterculture. Wilson contests this claim at three levels of analysis. At the individual level, the engagement of people who associate with such ‘cults’ is relatively light; for most people it is simply an interlude of fun between youth and adulthood, rather like the modern gap year between school and university, or a year’s backpacking after


Writing History, Constructing Religion

university and before paid employment. The frivolous, playful and temporary involvement of young people in cults has little in common with the serious, life-transforming commitment of the members of religious sects. Cultists are not ‘members’ of anything, nor have they made a ‘commitment’; such terms fail to characterize their involvement, and are often anathema to them. Correspondingly, many of the social movements themselves are not seeking permanence of membership or institutional structures. Finally, at the level of culture and society, the so-called counterculture is, on Wilson’s evaluation, ‘little more than a range of phenomena from the hippies, flower people, speed freaks, Jesus people, Hare Krishna devotees, and the rest, who do not represent a culture at all, but just a congeries of options in a plural society – a diverse set of options “out”’ (Wilson, 1976, p. 110). This pseudo-culture has no power to transform society and poses no challenge to it; on the contrary, it is an epiphenomenon of secular consumerism. Reflections on Secularization after Postmodernism Postmodern writings suffer from some serious problems. I would single out three. First, postmodern theory tends to make wildly inflated claims for itself. It paints modernist theory in an absurdly poor light, in order to point up a contrast with the illumination that postmodernism purports to bring. As Grace Davie observes (Davie, 1996, p. 106), the more subtle and penetrating our conceptualization of modernity, the less need there will be for the concept of the postmodern. At its worst, in the hands of some postmodern theorists, ‘modernist’ becomes little more than a term of vulgar abuse. All the virtues are appropriated by postmodernists, leaving modernists to plead guilty to a gamut of vices. A case in point is ‘reflexivity’. Is Wilson’s work unreflexive simply because it is not confessional? I have argued above against exactly that equation. Nor does the confessional mode necessarily imply honesty and veracity; confessions can be mendacious, competitive, self-promoting or self-deluding. Second, too much postmodern writing relies on rhetorical flourish rather than careful empirical investigation (Bruce, 2002, pp. 229–241). Ex cathedra declarations take the place of findings. To some degree, the causes of this are material: bluntly, shortage of serious funds for independent social science research, particularly in the field of religion. As funding bodies increasingly require operationalizeable outputs and ‘deliverables’ that will benefit user groups, so research into minority religious movements comes to be represented as irrelevant – unless they are seen to pose a threat to the social order. Third, postmodern theory is undermined by its own extreme relativism. No single factor has done more to cause social theorists to repudiate postmodernism (Gellner, 1992; Beckford, 1996). Many years ago, Peter Berger (1970) called on sociologists to ‘relativize the relativizers’ – a tactic to which postmodernism is wide open. Most problematically, postmodernist theory positions itself as opposing all meta-narratives, yet manifestly it is itself a meta-narrative. Turning the postmodernist critique against itself has produced a number of such embarrassing contradictions. For all its failings, postmodern theory should not be casually dismissed. Its challenge to the inheritance of the Enlightenment may be incoherent, but it has rekindled awareness of the complex ways in which knowledge is socially constructed. To say

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization


that it was fashionable is also to concede that it captured something of the spirit of the contemporary age, as López and Potter remark (2001, p. 3). The fact that it was fashionable does not make it invalid; instead, we should ask not only why it has gone out of fashion but why it was ever in vogue. An asymmetrical answer might suggest itself: the fashion was an irrational spasm that afflicted some intellectuals, but we have now recovered our sanity. Such an answer, I would argue, does scant justice to postmodern theorizing, which was part of a wider ferment in social thought. Not everyone lightly abandoned the sociological classics, as some postmodernists did; their refusal of meta-narratives of history led some to jettison Marx, Durkheim and Weber as though these great theorists were not worth studying. Even so, many theorists saw the need for radical reconceptualizations to meet the challenges of contemporary realities. Old certainties were called into question by an explosion of freshly minted key concepts, including Ulrich Beck’s risk society (Beck, 1992), Zygmunt Bauman’s liquid modernity (Bauman, 2000), and Manuel Castells’s network society (Castells, 2000). All these should be interrogated critically, but none of them are to be discarded as mere frippery or conceptual posturing. Reflecting on secularization theory after postmodernism, I suggest that the following are among the fundamental themes that call for reappraisal. The Project of Identity In the particular case we are reviewing, we may concede that our existing ideal type of the sect may not be the most appropriate sensitizing device for the analysis of the new religious movements that have recently emerged in western societies. (Wilson, 1982, p. 105)

This is a striking, but perfectly consistent, admission. If sociology is a humanistic science, then its concepts and theories will evolve to meet the challenges of new times and to incorporate the critical comments of professional colleagues. The outbreak of the ‘new religious consciousness’ in the West in the late 1960s came as a shock to many sociologists. It was, frankly, unpredicted. Scholars struggled to explain it, and to gauge its significance. Was it a passing fashion, or did it represent a sea-change in society and culture? What was ‘new’ about these faiths? Why, in particular, was there a turn to the East? New religious movements such as the Unification Church (the Moonies), the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna) the Divine Light Mission (subsequently known as Elan Vital), and Scientology were rapidly branded ‘cults’ both by academic commentators and in the mass media. Wilson’s initial response to these movements was to argue that they could be assimilated into his typology of sects: they were manipulationalists, who offered new understandings, insights and gnosis as the path to salvation from evil and suffering. Arbitrarily to invent a new category, ‘the cult’, was unnecessary and conceptually muddled. Yet many sociologists felt that a reconceptualization was called for. It was not an easy task, but it would have been foolish to expect it to be so. Even the terminology raised awkward problems. Clearly, the term ‘cult’, at least as it was used by the media, was intentionally pejorative. It meshed well with the accusations of ‘brainwashing’ that began to be levelled at many of the new religions, particularly those which appeared to be targeting young people. Brainwashing became a central accusation in


Writing History, Constructing Religion

campaigns of the anti-cult movement. The term ‘sect’, once intensely offensive, had lost much of its sting; ‘cult’ was better fitted to the purpose of stigmatizing the new movements. In popular and media discourse, ‘cult’ signalled the exotic, the sinister, the alien. Sects were home-grown and familiar; cults were foreign imports, or new inventions with an alien flavour. Despite the efforts of sociologists to purify the language, ‘sect’ still stood in opposition to ‘church’; but, as churches were divested of their institutional power, so the sect–church dichotomy lost its grip over the public imagination. The critique of the cults, however, was far better suited to mobilization of public concern in a consumer society. Cults brainwashed vulnerable people, particularly the young; dealing with the cults was not, then, a theological problem but a matter of consumer protection. I referred in the previous paragraph to what became known as the anti-cult movement; but this phrase has always been seriously misleading. There never was a coherent anti-cult movement, but rather a diverse and shifting array of groups, tendencies and individuals expressing concerns about the alleged activities of cults. Some Christian groups saw cults as deviations from orthodox teaching, true spirituality and Christian discipleship. Other more secular groups were concerned with alleged infringements of civil liberties. Parents, relatives and friends of young people who had joined cults campaigned to rescue their loved ones from the clutches of movements that they saw as at best dangerous and at worst predatory and evil. Moral entrepreneurs offered ways of liberating young people from their entanglement with cults, including controversial services such as kidnapping and ‘deprogramming’. Some politicians called for tighter legislation and penalties to curb cult activities. Suspicion and hostility towards cults were given powerful support by the testimony of ex-members, some of whom gave lurid accounts of their life within the cult before they broke free. In this cultural context, ‘brainwashing’ was a key metaphor that enabled all these diverse groupings to unite in their opposition to ‘the cults’. Brainwashing took the debate outside of the sphere of theology; to attack cults was not, then, to practise religious discrimination. Brainwashing also provided ex-cult members and their loved ones with a convincing explanation and justification of what had happened: crucially, the past could be disowned, and re-entry into the wider society successfully negotiated, albeit still with difficulty. Sociologists were quick to recognize that the brainwashing metaphor was discursively useful to the disparate parties in the so-called anti-cult movement. Brainwashing was neither a social reality nor a valid scientific conceptual construct, but a legitimating device. The fact that brainwashing was readily attached to the term ‘cult’ signalled just how problematic the latter category was for the purposes of sociological analysis. To avoid the prejudicial flavour of ‘cult’, sociologists gradually adopted two other terms: minority religious movements and – the preferred term for many – new religious movements (NRMs). It is perhaps not entirely pedantic to point out that these phrases have always been problematic. First, what is a ‘minority’ religious movement? In most First World societies, one might argue, all religious movements are statistically in the minority. Perhaps, then, ‘minority’ should be taken to refer to a movement’s peripheral status in relation to a mainstream? But if one is convinced by the secularization thesis, then the mainstream has dwindled to the point where all reli-

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization


gious movements might be seen as peripheral, just as, following Berger’s analysis, the faithful have become a ‘cognitive minority’ in secular society (Berger, 1970). Second, what is a ‘new’ religious movement? The International Society for Krishna Consciousness may have been founded by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as recently as 1966, but it traces its origins to the centuries-old tradition of Vaishnava Hinduism, which cultivates worship of the god Vishnu and his avatars Krishna and Rama. In the perspective of its devotees, ISKCON is not a ‘cult’ but a constituent of a great world faith that has existed since the dawn of time. The Western ‘turn to the East’ in the 1960s and 1970s was a product of supply- as well as demand-side factors. Crucially, the US had relaxed its immigration laws. After the First World War, Congress enacted restrictive legislation which meant that Asian religious teachers and gurus were admitted to the country for only brief visits on tourist visas. The turning-point came in 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson rescinded the exclusionary rules against Asian immigration. ‘For the first time’, as Melton (1992, p. 10) points out, ‘Asian faiths became a genuine option for religious seekers in the West’. Religious entrepreneurs responded quickly. Before the year was out, Prabhupada had taken up residence in New York. He then shrewdly moved ISKCON’s headquarters to the symbolic capital of the counterculture, San Francisco. There were doubtless demand-side factors at work too, not least a countercultural turn to the East in disillusionment at the excesses and hollowness of Western consumer culture and the apparently tired and compromised faith communities that failed to offer a vibrant alternative to it. Even this was not a wholly ‘new’ phenomenon, since Eastern faiths and philosophies had been attracting interest in America for more than a century (Finke and Stark, 1992, pp. 239–244). Perhaps, then, what is ‘new’ about Hare Krishna and Vaishnava Hinduism is that they are new to us? They are, to put it more formally, socially constructed as new religious movements. This observation serves to underline the socially situated character of the concepts of sect, cult, minority religious movement and new religious movement. As the social context changes, so these concepts may need to be modified or abandoned. It is a point that Wilson fully acknowledges. Arguably, one of the key insights of postmodern theory has been the realization that identity can be more fluid and flexible than many sociologists had tended to assume. No one has expressed this more tellingly than Stuart Hall (1996), in his much quoted distinction between identity as a stable ontology (roots) and as a precarious project of becoming (routes). As Karner says in his introduction, we are more familiar than we once were with cultures in which religious identities are fluid and fragmented; the case of Japan is a leading example. The crucial point is this: we have no warrant for saying that the fluidity that is implied in the conception of identity as a project implies superficiality. In this context, a postmodernist perspective can help to liberate us from invalid presuppositions inherited from the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Classifying Movements, Identifying Themes The Wilsonian classification of sectarian religious movements, discussed above, displayed a high degree of formalism. In its fully-flowered version, the classification aimed to be an exhaustive typology of types of religious deviance based on the


Writing History, Constructing Religion

criterion of the movement’s ‘response to the world’. Interpreted crudely, here was a classificatory scheme into which each and every minority religious movement could be neatly slotted. All the analyst had to do was identify the movement’s response to the world: was it revolutionist, manipulationist, conversionist, introversionist, reformist, utopian or thaumaturgical? If so, the typology would surely be vulnerable to the postmodernist critique of formalistic conceptual structures. Yet when we examine Wilson’s writings on the subject we see that they are far more nuanced than such a reading would suggest. He is well aware that these are analytic tools in the manner of Weberian ideal-types; they do not correspond in a one-to-one fashion with the variegated social realities they help us to comprehend. They involve, necessarily, a high degree of abstraction and interpretation. The verdict on them must be in a sense pragmatic: how useful are they to think with? Take, for example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wilson acknowledges that it is hard to classify. The important question to ask is, why is this so? One reason, I would contend, is that this organization’s self-conception is radically at variance with its social standing (outside the state of Utah). It sees itself as a church – indeed, the Church founded by Christ and now restored to us. It calls itself a church, and has adopted church-like structures of authority. In its own eyes, it is not a minority, not new, neither a sect nor a cult, and emphatically not in any sense ‘deviant’. Like other self-styled churches, it embraces more than one of the seven Wilsonian ‘responses to the world’. Consider, as a second example, Jehovah’s Witnesses. This, for Wilson, is a paradigm case of the revolutionist type of movement. In order to classify Witnesses as revolutionists, their beliefs, practices and institutions are interpreted as steeped in the hope of a new world order to be inaugurated by Divine intervention in the ‘last days’ of the present dispensation. They are opposed to the democratic apparatus of modern nation-states, and to pan-national organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations. Yet we can also observe that, in their daily lives, Witnesses are typically law-abiding citizens, dutiful employees and concerned parents. Some of this complexity is captured in the term revolutionist. Witnesses are not active revolutionaries, nor do they refuse to plan for the future, even though Armageddon is impending. Yet without their millenarian hope, how many would take to the streets in the emotionally bruising activity of doorstep proselytizing? Wilson’s intention is not to obliterate but to illuminate tensions such as these. The seven-fold typology is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If a postmodern sensibility leads us to seek dynamic themes rather than static classifications, that is not at all contrary to the spirit of Wilson’s approach. Postmodern theorizing has performed a useful service by reminding us of this. What is illegitimate is to claim that postmodernists have discovered it as a weakness. The Decline of Charisma Like Durkheim, Wilson sees individual religiosity as secondary and derivative; in itself, it has little social significance. There is, nevertheless, one way in which individual religiosity has paramount importance for Wilson. The personal authority of the pure charismatic leader, the prophet, has the potential to transform the lives of his or

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization


her followers and, through them, the fabric of the wider society. Even here, the leader is dependent on the followers; without them, there is no charisma, only delusions of grandeur. Charisma is rare, and it is dying out. It flourishes in societies where ‘there is a persistent tendency to interpret social relationships and social organization in essentially personal terms’ (1975, p. 21). We are not speaking here of a philosophical commitment to the principle of methodological individualism. Instead, it is an unselfconscious tendency to interpret world-historical events as though they were simply the outcome of mighty acts wrought by great men and women. Such a view is still found in modern societies; it is stoked by the ideology of populism, and frequently breeds conspiracy theories. Wilson is trenchant about such patterns of thought: they are unsophisticated, unreflective, childish, and they persist only ‘in some of the lessdeveloped subcultures of our own society’ (1975, p. 22). They are far more common, and more consequential, in ‘simple’ (pre-modern) societies, where both nature and society are understood ‘in the personal idiom’. This personal idiom is incompatible, Wilson argues, with the separation of fact and value, the objective detachment that is integral to the natural and social sciences. In the modern world, despite sporadic anti-scientific reflexes, the scientific approach prevails in determining the trajectory of social and cultural change. Science is manifestly incompatible with charisma in the serious Weberian sense; the arbitrary, frequently inexplicable but typically imperious commands of a charismatic prophet are at variance with the sceptical disregard for authority and the insistence of evidence that characterizes the scientific attitude. The ascendancy of the scientific method is one manifestation of the rationalization of the world, a process which renders personal charisma implausible to all but the zealous few. There is certainly contemporary evidence of influential populist movements, led by charismatic figures; examples include: in France, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front; in Austria, Jörg Haider’s Austrian Freedom Party; and in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. It may well be that Wilson has underestimated the capacity of populism to shake the foundations of contemporary societies. The Gesellschaftlich Possibility For Wilson, religion depends for its vitality on stable local communities enduring over time. It thrives on particularistic and affective relationships between people who treat one another as whole persons: between priests and their congregations, gurus and their devotees and charismatic leaders and their disciples. Religion without fellowship is self-defeating. Here is one among many of Wilson’s statements on this point: ‘I interpret religion very largely as necessarily a face-to-face, person-to-person phenomenon; when religion ceases to be that, it loses a great deal of its vigour and of the power it holds over the individual. In our role-articulated world, face-to-face relationships in the community have ceased to be the principal context of people’s lives’ (Caporale and Grumelli, 1971, p. 177). Religious faith cannot flourish in an impersonal Gesellschaft. The question arises, how valid is this observation? Beckford (1989, p. 110) has questioned whether there is a necessary connection between religion and local community, suggesting that it may have been an historical contingency rather than a categorical necessity. Why should gesellschaftlich social formations be infertile


Writing History, Constructing Religion

ground for religious faith? There is, clearly, a Durkheimian echo in Wilson’s emphasis on the community of the faith. The Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft dichotomy is related to another of Durkheim’s oppositions, that between the social and the individual. Sociality is integral to the Gemeinschaft, whereas individualism is a product of the Gesellschaft. There is, however, a good case for claiming that gesellschaftlich religious movements have a wide appeal under the conditions of modernity and postmodernity. Among the most successful movements of our times are those which Wallis (1984) characterized as world-affirming; examples include Transcendental Meditation, est (Erhard Seminars Training), Scientology, and the Human Potential Movement. World-affirming movements find much to value in the world. Their optimistic philosophies of human perfectibility have no place for the concept of original sin. We are not conceived and born in sin; instead, aspects of our upbringing and environment mean that we are failing to fulfil our potential. We are not sinners in need of salvation, but sufferers whose fulfilment depends on freedom from the restrictions under which we labour. The mission of world-affirming movements is, therefore, to unlock the powers that lie dormant in us all. Our liberation is not as members of any community, but as individuals. Many world-affirming movements have a core of committed members who practise more advanced techniques that are not expected of rank-and-file participants. Even so, these are not what Weber called virtuoso religions. Most of the people who use the services of world-affirming movements do so as consumers. Members are typically neither poor nor deprived nor socially excluded, but people whose worldly success leaves them caught in the competitive pressures of contemporary society. Worldaffirming movements offer a set of techniques which people can use to improve their mental, spiritual and physical powers. Compared to the self-denying disciplines required by the classic ‘sect’, the techniques promoted by world-affirming movements are relatively undemanding personally and socially. No special talents are required, nor are practitioners forced to abandon their career, education, friends or family. On the contrary, the promise is that careers, education and personal relationships will all benefit from the enhanced abilities acquired through practising the techniques. In keeping with the ethos of consumerism, world-affirming movements often have the organizational structure and managerial style of secular multinational corporations. They strive to market their goods and services as efficiently and profitably as they can. Services are, wherever possible, commodified and mass-produced. In his conclusion to Religion in Secular Society, Wilson speculated that sectarian religion would prove to be better adapted than any other type of religious collectivity to survival in a secular society. This did not imply the overthrow of secularity, since sects were self-limiting protests against secularization. They had a huge impact on their members, but lacked the capacity and sometimes even the desire to bring about radical changes in the wider society. Many of these sects were of the type Wallis called world-rejecting movements: authoritarian, tightly disciplined communities that expected commitment and conformity from their members on pain of expulsion. Measured against them, world-affirming movements can seem compromised; yet we should take care not to pass off value-judgements as if they were sociological analysis. World-affirming movements are entitled to seek an accommodation with the wider society; that does not in itself make them any the less religious. It may be that

Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization


they, and not the world-rejecting sects, are the form of religion best adapted to contemporary conditions. Concluding Remarks Postmodern theorizing has been subjected to devastating criticisms. Its claims are often judged excessive; postmodernists stand accused of exaggerating the originality of their own contributions, while ignoring or misrepresenting earlier work the better to attack it. They paint a grotesquely distorted portrait of modernism, in order to position it unfavourably in comparison to postmodernism. Postmodernists often profess an extreme form of relativism but do not really practise it, since they (prudently) fail to apply it to their own work. It has often been said that postmodernism’s weakness is revealed by its own prefix. A theory defined simply as coming after some other body of theory surely lacks any clear and distinct definition. Such elusiveness, it is said, may confer a tactical advantage, but to the serious detriment of postmodernism’s theoretical coherence, analytical capacity and critical impact. What has a re-reading of Wilson after postmodernism revealed about his version of the secularization thesis? Not a refutation, I would argue; we have no more reason to reject Wilson’s work than we have to abandon the classical meta-narratives on which he and others have built. Perhaps, though, for all its shortcomings, postmodernism can alert us to the potential significance of aspects of religious phenomena we might otherwise overlook. Postmodernist theorizing has challenged us to rethink some core assumptions, not least about patterns of religious identity and commitment in a consumer-oriented society. Note 1

This chapter was written before the death of Bryan Wilson in October 2004. It is offered in tribute to the work of a great scholar.

References Aldridge, A. E. (2000), Religion in the Contemporary World: A Sociological Introduction, Cambridge: Polity. Bauman, Z. (1998), Work, Consumerism and the New Poor, Buckingham: Open University Press. Bauman, Z. (2000), Liquid Modernity, Cambridge: Polity. Beck, U. (1992), Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, London: Sage. Beckford, J. A. (1989), Religion and Advanced Industrial Society, London: Unwin Hyman. Beckford, James A. (1996), ‘Postmodernity, high modernity and new modernity: three concepts in search of religion’, in Flanagan, Kieran and Jupp, Peter C. (eds), Postmodernity, Sociology and Religion, London: Routledge, pp 30–47. Bell, D. (1979), The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, second edition, London: Heinemann.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Berger, P. L. (1970), A Rumour of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, Harmondsworth: Penguin. Bruce, S. (2002), God is Dead: Secularization in the West, Oxford: Blackwell. Caporale, Rocco and Grumelli, Antonio (eds) (1971), The Culture of Unbelief, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Castells, M. (2000), The Rise of the Network Society, Oxford: Blackwell. Davie, Grace (1996), ‘Religion and modernity: the work of Danièle Hervieu-Léger’, in Flanagan, Kieran and Jupp, Peter C. (eds), Postmodernity, Sociology and Religion, London: Routledge, pp 101–117. Finke, R. and Stark, R. (1992), The Churching of America 1776–1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Flanagan, Kieran and Jupp, Peter C. (eds) (1996), Postmodernity, Sociology and Religion, London: Routledge. Gellner, E. (1992), Postmodernism, Reason and Religion, London: Routledge. Hall, Stuart (1996), ‘Introduction: who needs identity?’, in Hall, Stuart and du Gay, Paul (eds), Questions of Cultural Identity, London: Sage, pp. 1–17. Heelas, Paul (ed.) (1998), Religion, Modernity and Postmodernity, Oxford: Blackwell. López, José and Potter, Garry (2001), ‘After postmodernism: the new millennium’, in López, José and Potter, Garry (eds), After Postmodernism: An Introduction to Critical Realism, London and New York: Athlone Press, pp. 3–16. Lyon, D. (2000), Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times, Cambridge: Polity. Melton, J. G. (1992), Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, New York: Garland Publishing. Merton, R. K. (1957), Social Theory and Social Structure, Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Niebuhr, R. H. (1929), The Social Sources of Denominationalism, New York: Holt. Robertson, R. (1970), The Sociological Interpretation of Religion, Oxford: Blackwell. Smart, N. (1971), The Religious Experience of Mankind, London: Fontana. Wallis, R. (1984), The Elementary Forms of the New Religious Life, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Wilson, B. R. (1961), Sects and Society: A Sociological Study of Three Religious Groups in Britain, London: Heinemann. Wilson, B. R. (1969), Religion in Secular Society: A Sociological Comment, Harmondsworth: Penguin. Wilson, B. R. (1970), Religious Sects: A Sociological Study, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Wilson, B. R. (1973), Magic and the Millennium, London: Heinemann. Wilson, B. R. (1975), The Noble Savages: The Primitive Origins of Charisma and its Contemporary Survival, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Wilson, B. R. (1976), Contemporary Transformations of Religion, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wilson B. R. (1982), Religion in Sociological Perspective, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wilson, Bryan R. (1992), ‘Reflections on a many sided controversy’, in Bruce, Steve (ed.), Religion and Modernization: Sociologists and Historians Debate the Secularization Thesis, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 195–210. Wilson, Bryan R. (2001), ‘Salvation, secularization, and de-moralization’, in Fenn, Richard K. (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 39–51. Young, M. and Willmott, P. (1957), Family and Kinship in East London, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Chapter 6

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies Hugh Goddard

Introduction This chapter will examine four significant current questions in the field of Islamic studies: (a) who speaks for Islam? (b) who speaks about Islam? (c) how do they do it? and (d) what are the implications of these issues? Who Speaks for Islam? It should not be surprising if, in a religious community which is made up of over a billion human beings, there is no complete agreement concerning the question of who speaks with authority on behalf of Islam. Do the following words, for example, some of the most famous issued in recent years in the name of Islam, represent the opinion of all Muslims? Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders World Islamic Front Statement 23 February 1998 Shaykh Usamah Bin-Muhammad Bin-Ladin Ayman al-Zawahiri, amir of the Jihad Group in Egypt Abu-Yasir Rifa’i Ahmad Taha, Egyptian Islamic Group Shaykh Mir Hamzah, secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan Fazlur Rahman, amir of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh Praise be to Allah, who revealed the Book, controls the clouds, defeats factionalism, and says in His Book: ‘But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)’; and peace be upon our Prophet, Muhammad Bin-’Abdallah, who said: I have been sent with the sword between my hands to ensure that no one but Allah is worshipped, Allah who put my livelihood under the shadow of my spear and who inflicts humiliation and scorn on those who disobey my orders. The Arabian Peninsula has never – since Allah made it flat, created its desert, and encircled it with seas – been stormed by any forces like the crusader armies spreading in it like locusts, eating its riches and wiping out its plantations. All this is happening at a time in which nations are attacking Muslims like people fighting over a plate of food. In the light of the grave situation and the lack of support, we and you are obliged to discuss current events, and we should all agree on how to settle the matter. 85


Writing History, Constructing Religion No one argues today about three facts that are known to everyone; we will list them, in order to remind everyone: First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbours, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples. If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans’ continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless. Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million … despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation. So here they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbours. Third, if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighbouring Arab state, and their endeavour to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula. All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on Allah, his messenger, and Muslims. And ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries. This was revealed by Imam Bin-Qadamah in ‘Al-Mughni’, Imam al-Kisa’i in ‘Al-Bada’i’, al-Qurtubi in his interpretation, and the shaykh of al-Islam in his books, where he said: ‘As for the fighting to repulse [an enemy], it is aimed at defending sanctity and religion, and it is a duty as agreed [by the ulema]. Nothing is more sacred than belief except repulsing an enemy who is attacking religion and life.’ On that basis, and in compliance with Allah’s order, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims: The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, ‘and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together’, and ‘fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.’ This is in addition to the words of Almighty Allah: ‘And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? – women and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord, rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will help!”’ We – with Allah’s help – call on every Muslim who believes in Allah and wishes to be rewarded to comply with Allah’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


wherever and whenever they find it. We also call on Muslim ulema, leaders, youths, and soldiers to launch the raid on Satan’s U.S. troops and the devil’s supporters allying with them, and to displace those who are behind them so that they may learn a lesson. Almighty Allah said: ‘O ye who believe, give your response to Allah and His Apostle, when He calleth you to that which will give you life. And know that Allah cometh between a man and his heart, and that it is He to whom ye shall all be gathered.’ Almighty Allah also says: ‘O ye who believe, what is the matter with you, that when ye are asked to go forth in the cause of Allah, ye cling so heavily to the earth! Do ye prefer the life of this world to the hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life, as compared with the hereafter. Unless ye go forth, He will punish you with a grievous penalty, and put others in your place; but Him ye would not harm in the least. For Allah hath power over all things.’ Almighty Allah also says: ‘So lose no heart, nor fall into despair. For ye must gain mastery if ye are true in faith.’ (http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm)

These words, with their accusations that because of its ‘occupation’ of the Arabian Peninsula, its participation in the ‘crusader-Zionist’ campaign against the Iraqi people, and its support for ‘Jews’ petty state’ and its occupation of Jerusalem, the United States has declared war on Allah, his messenger (in other words, Muhammad) and Muslims have caused widespread revulsion in the West, especially after the events of 11 September 2001, and much controversy among Muslims, but the extent of support for the sentiments expressed may be indicated by reports that Usama has become a very popular name for newly-born boys in the Arab world, and that Usama bin Laden himself won many votes in a web competition seeking nominations for the greatest Arab of all time, run by the Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Centre (The Sunday Telegraph, 14 December 2003). Influential as these words may have been, however, the reality is that Usama bin Laden speaks only for himself and his associates, whose numbers are by no means clear, as he represents neither his own family, by whom he has been disowned, nor the nation where he was born, Saudi Arabia, of whose citizenship he has been deprived. It is important, therefore, to retain a sense of proportion as to their representativeness or otherwise. Are the following words, also famous or infamous in their day, any more representative of Muslim opinion? I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed and published in opposition to Islam, the prophet and the Qur’an, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been declared madhur al-dam (i.e. those whose blood must be shed). I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islam again. Whoever is killed in this path will be regarded as a martyr … (Cited in Ruthven, 1990, p. 112)

These are the words of another fatwa (literally ‘legal opinion’), issued by the Supreme Ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, on 14 February 1989, in condemnation of Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, which was regarded as being an affront to Islam, to Muhammad and to the Muslim scripture. Despite the fact that its


Writing History, Constructing Religion

author was a Shii Muslim, and Shii Muslims represent only somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent of the world’s Muslims, the fatwa won widespread support throughout the whole of the Muslim world, among both Sunni and Shii Muslims, but again it was furiously debated, and significant though it was support for the fatwa was by no means universal among Muslims, either within the Muslim world itself or in those contexts where Muslims were in a minority, such as in the West (see Goddard, 1991, pp. 95, 99–100). To take a third example of an attitude which appears highly confrontational, how representative is the approach illustrated by the following brief news report? PAKISTAN: At least 18 members of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a banned Sunni Muslim militant group, were detained yesterday, police said. They are suspected of shooting dead 11 Shia police recruits – all ethnic Hazaras – in an attack on Sunday in the south-western city of Quetta. (The Independent, 10 June 2003)

Here, from another part of the Islamic world, Pakistan, we see an attitude which not only dismisses the claim of Shii Muslims to be authentically Muslim but also, in a decidedly unecumenical spirit, declares that, as such, they should be killed. In this case ethnic factors were also involved, with the Hazaras representing a separate linguistic group, located mainly in the central region of Afghanistan, but given the traditional claim of many Muslims that Islam transcends ethnic barriers, the incident is still a demonstration of very deep hostility to the Hazaras, regardless of whether it is the sectarian religious or the ethnic linguistic factors which are more responsible for the antagonism. How representative, however, is this view, even among the Sunni Muslim community in Pakistan? The pronouncements of other significant leaders and thinkers within the Muslim community are generally much less antagonistic and confrontational. Again three examples will be given. Perhaps the most influential Sunni Muslim religious leader alive today is the Egyptian-born teacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He is not particularly well-known in the West, partly because he is not very fluent in English, which means that his views are not often reported by the Western media, but in the world of Islam, and particularly in the Arab world, he is hugely influential first as a result of his weekly television show ‘Islamic Law and Life’, which is broadcast by the Qatar-based satellite TV station alJazeera, and second because of his involvement in and support for one of the most widely-used and best-informed Islamic websites, IslamOnline (see Sakr, 2002; Bunt, 2003, pp. 147–160). Since IslamOnline is also available in English, through this medium al-Qaradawi does enjoy widespread influence outside the Muslim world too, and he is also the President of the (Dublin-based) European Council for Legal Opinions and Research, whose annual conference he chairs. With respect to his opinions, for example on the events of 11 September 2001, al-Qaradawi participated in a summit meeting of Christian and Muslim leaders which took place in Rome under the auspices of the Community of Sant ’Egidio three weeks after those events, and insisted that the shedding of blood is one of the greatest sins in Islam, justified only in the case of selfdefence against soldiers who attack Muslims. He also observed that it was extremely important not to brand civilizations on the basis of their extremists, observing that

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber, was both American and Christian, yet no one sought to generalize his crime and suggest that it was representative of either (The Tablet, 13 October 2001). IslamOnline, too, is often very ecumenical and creative in its judgements, responding to a request for advice from a Pakistani imam, for example, about whether or not it was permissible for him as an imam to officiate at a Christian wedding that if it is permissible for Muslim to judge between non-Muslims in legal cases, so it is also permissible for them to bring them together in marriage, provided that there exist no factors which would prohibit the couple’s marriage to each other. ‘You should perform the wedding in the name of Allah. Remind them to be good to each other and make a good family. Have at least two witnesses for this marriage and pray to Allah to bless them and guide them in the right path’ (http://www.islamonline.net/fatwa/ english/FatwaDisplay.asp?hFatwaID=100167). Another highly influential and widely-respected leader in the Sunni Muslim community is the head (Shaikh) of al-Azhar in Cairo, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi. As the senior religious figure in the largest Arab country in terms of population, and the head of the institution of learning which claims to be the oldest university in the world, having been founded in 969 CE, Tantawi enjoys huge influence not only in Egypt and the Arab world but also across the whole of the Muslim world even as far as Indonesia. Among the pronouncements to which he has put his signature as co-sponsor, together with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and a number of Israeli and Palestinian religious and political leaders, from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities, is the Alexandria Declaration of 21 January 2002: The First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land January 21, 2002 In the name of God who is Almighty, Merciful and Compassionate, we, who have gathered as religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities, pray for true peace in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and declare our commitment to ending the violence and bloodshed that denies the right of life and dignity. According to our faith traditions, killing innocent in the name of God is a desecration of His Holy Name, and defames religion in the world. The violence in the Holy Land is an evil which must be opposed by all people of good faith. We seek to live together as neighbours respecting the integrity of each other’s historical and religious inheritance. We call upon all to oppose incitement, hatred and misrepresentation of the other. 1. The Holy Land is holy to all three of our faiths. Therefore, followers of the divine religions must respect its sanctity, and bloodshed must not be allowed to pollute it. The sanctity and integrity of the holy places must be preserved, and freedom of religious worship must be ensured for all. 2. Palestinians and Israelis must respect the divinely ordained purposes of the Creator by whose grace they live in the same land that is called holy. 3. We call on the political leaders of both peoples to work for a just, secure and durable solution in the spirit of the words of the Almighty and the Prophets. 4. As a first step now, we call for a religiously sanctioned cease-fire, respected and observed on all sides, and for the implementation of the Mitchell and Tenet recommendations, including the lifting of restrictions and return to negotiations.


Writing History, Constructing Religion 5. We seek to help create an atmosphere where present and future generations will co-exist with mutual respect and trust in the other. We call on all to refrain from incitement and demonization, and to educate our future generations accordingly. 6. As religious leaders, we pledge ourselves to continue a joint quest for a just peace that leads to reconciliation in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, for the common good of all our peoples. 7. We announce the establishment of a permanent joint committee to carry out the recommendations of this declaration, and to engage with our respective political leadership accordingly. Delegates: •

His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey

His Eminence Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, Cairo, Egypt

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron

Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, Rabbi Michael Melchior

Rabbi of Tekoa, Rabbi Menachem Froman

International Director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee, Rabbi David Rosen

Rabbi of Savyon, Rabbi David Brodman

Rabbi of Maalot Dafna, Rabbi Yitzak Ralbag

Chief Justice of the Sharia Courts, Sheikh Taisir Tamimi

Minister of State for the PA, Sheikh Tal El Sider

Mufti of the Armed Forces, Sheikh Abdelsalam Abu Schkedem

Mufti of Bethlehem, Sheikh Mohammed Taweel

Representative of the Greek Patriarch, Archibishop Aristichos

Latin Patriarch, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah

Melkite Archbishop, Archbishop Boutrous Mu’alem

Representative of the Armenian Patriarch, Archbishop Chinchinian

Bishop of Jerusalem, The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El Assal


Within the Shii Muslim community in Iran, an influential and thoughtful voice has been that of the President of the country, Muhammad Khatami, who was elected to that post in free elections in both 1997 and 2001. He was the author of the idea of the year 2001 being declared by the United Nations as the year of Dialogue among Civilizations, partly as a response to the celebrated thesis of the American political scientist Samuel Huntington (1996) concerning the Clash of Civilizations. President Khatami’s comments on the events of 11 September 2001, made in a speech to a gathering of American religious leaders in New York in November 2001, deserve to be quoted in some detail:

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


Nihilism as a mere philosophical indulgence may prove socially quite harmless. But what we are witnessing in the world today is an active form of nihilism in social and political realms that threatens the very fabric of human existence. [It] assumes various names, and it is tragic and unfortunate that some of those names bear a resemblance to religiosity and some proclaim spirituality … Vicious terrorists who concoct weapons out of religion are superficial literalists clinging to simplistic ideas. They are utterly incapable of understanding that, perhaps inadvertently, they are turning religion into the handmaiden of the most decadent ideologies. While terrorists purport to be serving the cause of religion and accuse all those who disagree with them of heresy and sacrilege, they are serving the very ideologies they condemn. … The role of religious scholars has now become even more crucial, and their responsibility ever more significant. Christian thinkers in the 19th century put forward the idea that religion should be seen as a vehicle for social solidarity. Now that the world is on the edge of chaos … the notion of Christian solidarity should prove helpful in calling for peace and security. In the holy Koran, human beings are invited to join their efforts in, and means solidarity, which can be translated into co-operation to do good. We should all co-operate in the cause of doing good. (The Economist, 24 November 2001)

Apart from the interest inherent in this statement about the destruction of the World Trade Center as a demonstration of a philosophy of nihilism, it is also of interest because of the degree of interest in and understanding of nineteenth century Western Christian thought which it demonstrates, and this is a characteristic shared by much twentieth and twenty-first century Iranian Shii thought, in contrast to much Sunni thinking. The interesting, and hard to answer, question, however, is the extent to which these different views are representative of the opinion of the Muslim community as a whole. Are Usama bin Laden, Ayatollah Khomeini and the Sipah-e-Sahaba more representative and influential of Muslim opinion worldwide as a whole, or are the views of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Muhammad Tantawi and Muhammad Khatami more representative? It is extremely hard to judge, but, different as they are on many questions, they do demonstrate effectively how hard it is for anyone to claim to speak representatively on behalf of the Muslim community as a whole.1 And for outside commentators, regardless of who is speaking, it is vitally important for some indication to be given of the proportion of Muslim opinion which the speaker’s view represents: is it all Muslims (100 per cent), most Muslims (75 per cent), a half of the Muslim community (50 per cent), some Muslims (25 per cent), or a few Muslims (under 10 per cent)? Who Speaks About Islam? A closely-related but nevertheless distinct question is that of who is best able to speak about Islam? Are insiders, those who have grown up within the tradition and have detailed knowledge of its traditional sources and culture, most qualified to speak on Islamic topics, or are the opinions of those who have grown up outside the community but have received an academic training in Islamic studies, and are therefore able to exercise critical judgement upon it, of outsiders in other words, somehow more valid (McCutcheon, 1998). In reality each of these groups has advantages and disadvantages in seeking to address issues within Islam, with the former having the advantage of being formed


Writing History, Constructing Religion

within the community at a very deep level, but perhaps the disadvantage of finding it difficult to question or exercise critical judgement on certain aspects of the tradition, and the latter having the benefit of a lengthy and thorough training in the study of different aspects of the Islamic tradition, but perhaps the disadvantage of lacking a certain feel for the inner meaning of Islamic beliefs and practices and sometimes even demonstrating a certain insensitivity towards them. In today’s world, however, the two groups are of course no longer mutually exclusive, since there is now an increasing number of Western converts to Islam who combine a thorough Western academic training in Islamic studies with an insider’s membership of the Islamic community and the active practice of the faith. In this connection it is perhaps worthy of note that the lecturers in Islamic studies in the theology faculties of the universities of both Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom are Western converts to Islam, respectively Dr Yahya Michot and Tim Winter/Abdul Hakim Murad. On the basis of their own biographies and experiences they are thus in a particularly strong position both to educate Muslims from different parts of the world about how much of what they think of as Islamic in their own faith and practice actually derives from local culture and tradition rather than from the essential teachings of Islam, and to help non-Muslims gain a better appreciation of the inner meaning of Islam, what it means to be Muslim, rather than simply an outside observer’s view of rituals and beliefs. Passionate debate about these issues, with respect to political as well as religious matters, has been stirred by the justly celebrated work of Edward Said, Orientalism.2 As a Palestinian from a Christian family who was educated at British schools and American universities and went on to become the Professor of Comparative Literature at Colombia University in New York, Said was perhaps uniquely qualified to address the question of the extent to which Western writers about the Middle East and Islam, however learned and well-trained, had succeeded in coming to an accurate and proper understanding of these things, and his conclusion, that by and large they had not succeeded, stimulated a great deal of critical self-reflection and debate within the scholarly community (see Said, 1999; Macfie, 2000). Greater urgency has been added to the discussion of who should speak about Islam by the recent contributions to the subject by a number of significant political and religious leaders in the United States, particularly in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001. John Ashcroft, for example, the Attorney General of the United States, and the son and grandson of Pentecostal pastors, was recorded as saying on 9 November 2001, at a time when he thought that the microphone in front of him was not live, that ‘Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your sons to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sent his son to die for you’ (quoted at www.enduringfreedoms.org). Shortly afterwards Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham and the head of Samaritan’s Purse, an organization which has subsequently become a big aid donor to Iraq, and the person who said the prayers at the inauguration service of President George W. Bush, stated that Islam is a ‘very evil and wicked religion’ (www.msnbc.com, 16 November 2001). Six months or so later Jerry Vines, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant church in the USA, caused outrage in the Muslim

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


community when he described Muhammad as a ‘demon-possessed paedophile’ (New York Times, 15 June 2002). Later in 2002 Jerry Falwell, the former leader of the Moral Majority in the USA also provoked an anguished response from different parts of the Muslim world when he said, on CBS News’ ‘60 Minutes’ programme ‘I think Muhammad was a terrorist … He was a violent man, a man of war’ (www.cbsnews.com, 6 October 2002). Given the outrage which his comment caused, Falwell did subsequently apologize (www.bbc.co.uk, 13 October 2002). This was not a course of action followed by his fellow evangelist Pat Robertson, who early in 2003 described Muhammad as a ‘wildeyed fanatic’, a ‘robber’ and a ‘brigand’ (The Economist, 8 February 2003). No apology was forthcoming for this remark. Most recently, and perhaps most worryingly, given the profession of its author, in late 2003 Lieutenant-General William Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defence, with special responsibility, almost incredibly, for intelligence, made a number of statements to the effect that the enemy in the war against terror was not Usama bin Laden but Satan.3 And recalling conflict with a Somali warlord in an earlier stage of his career, General Boykin is recorded as having said ‘I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol’ (The Tablet, 15 November 2003). The General did explain later that this comment was intended not to refer to the warlord’s worship of Allah but rather to his worship of power and money, so that it was those things which were the focus of his idolatry, rather than Islam as such, but the damage had already been done (www.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3202690).4 It would be possible to quote many other examples of this kind of polemical discourse being used about Islam in the United States, especially since 11 September 2001. Benny Hinn, a popular televangelist, presumably referring to the Middle East conflict, said ‘This is not a war between Arabs and Jews. It’s a war between God and the devil’ (quoted by Caldwell, 2003, pp. 13, 27). And in the secular sphere Ann Coulter, a conservative columnist with no particular religious conviction, wrote in one of her columns in September 2001, ‘We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity’, and followed this up with another column in June 2002 in which she proposed that ‘I think it might be a good idea to get them on some sort of hobby other than slaughtering infidels’ (ibid.). All of these pronouncements come, of course, from a particular religious and political context in which the interests and perspectives of, on the one hand, influential neoconservative politicians and, on the other, high-profile conservative, not to say ‘fundamentalist’, Christian leaders seem to coincide (Wagner, 2003, pp. 10–14). There is also a long history of negative comment about Islam running through the whole process of development of North American Christianity, particularly of the Protestant kind (Kidd, 2003). Much of the background to these statements, however, comes from the increasingly strong dispensationalist stream of thinking in the USA, based around Dallas Theological Seminary, with its thoroughgoing Christian Zionism and completely uncritical support for the expansionist ambitions of some sectors of opinion in the state of Israel, and its conviction that events in the Middle East, not least in Iraq, provide the best evidence for the imminence of the second coming of Christ and the rapture of true believers directly to heaven (see Boyer, 1992; Fuller, 1995; Melling, 1999). The strength of influence of this line of thinking is perhaps best evidenced by the popularity of the series of novels, based loosely around the Book of Revelation and


Writing History, Constructing Religion

the other apocalyptic sections of the New Testament, the Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Barry B. Jenkins. The eleventh in the series, Armageddon: the Cosmic Battle of the Ages, was published by Tyndale House on 8 April 2003, and within 24 hours had climbed to No 4 spot in Amazon.com’s list of bestsellers, and the twelfth and final book in the series, Glorious Appearing: the End of Days, in which Jesus finally returns, in support of the remnant of Christian believers at Petra and Jerusalem, was almost as popular when it was published on 30 March 2004.5 Given the fervent conviction with which these views are held, at least within some Christian circles, it is not altogether surprising that very negative views of Islam, as the supposed opponent of the state of Israel and thus of God’s plan not only for the Middle East but the whole of human history, seem to emerge as the necessary corollary of dispensationalism. To his credit, despite his status as a born-again Christian, President George W. Bush has dissociated himself from such opinions, continuing to state as he did in the immediate aftermath of 11 September 2001 that Islam is essentially a peaceful religion and that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, but many evangelical leaders quickly made clear their profound disagreement with his remarks (www.telegraph.co.uk, 24 November 2003). What is of greater concern is when the holders of these very negative views concerning Islam attempt to impose them, or at least to prohibit the teaching of other views, through the courts, in the universities of the USA. This is what happened in the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in the summer of 2002. Following the events of 11 September 2001, and as a result of increased interest among students in Islam, the university authorities in Chapel Hill decided to select Michael Sells’ book Approaching the Qur’an as the book which all new students should read before going up to university, in order that they could participate in a discussion of the book as part of their orientation at the start of the year and in order to help them prepare for university level study. The book was selected by a committee of faculty, students and staff, and the programme was explained in the following words on the university’s website: Overview The Carolina Summer Reading Program is designed to introduce you to the intellectual life of Carolina. Required of all new undergraduate students (first year and transfer), it involves reading an assigned book over the summer, writing a one-page response to a particular subject, participating in a two-hour discussion, and sharing your written response with others. The goals of the program are to stimulate discussion and critical thinking around a current topic, to introduce you to academic life at Carolina, to enhance a sense of community between students, faculty and staff, and to provide a common experience for incoming students. Some find they enjoy sharing the reading with members of their family during the summer. This year’s reading is Approaching the Qur’án: The Early Revelations, translated and introduced by Michael Sells. Although the summer reading is required, if any students or their families are opposed to reading parts of the Qur’án because to do so is offensive to their own faith, they may choose not to read the book. These students should instead complete their one-page response on why they chose not to read the book. On Monday, August 19th, from 1:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m., all students are expected to attend and bring their one-page response to their small group discussions led by selected faculty and staff. This is an opportunity for you to connect with members of Carolina’s learning

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


community and to share a common academic experience with your new peers. Students can learn more about completing the written assignment and preparing for these discussions by referring to the Assignment and Study Questions sections of this website. Anyone interested in finding out about previous book selections, may refer to the Other First Year Initiatives section of this website. The Book Approaching the Qur’án: The Early Revelations, translated and introduced by Michael Sells, consists of thirty-five suras, or short passages from the chief holy book of Islam, that largely focus on the experience of the divine in the natural world and the principle of moral accountability in human life. Easily accessible to any college-level reader, these suras are poetic and intensely evocative, beautiful meditations, comparable in many ways to the Psalms of David and other classics of world literature. This book includes a CD with recitations in Arabic from the reading. Michael Sells, the editor and translator of Approaching the Qur’án, is a distinguished professor of religion at Haverford College. A widely published author and highly regarded expert on Islamic literature, Sells provides clear translations of the original Arabic, brief commentaries on each sura, and a concise introduction to the Qur’án’s literary and historical context. Relying on this material, students and discussion leaders from all backgrounds will need no additional preparation for discussing this edition. Westerners for centuries have been alternately puzzled, attracted, concerned, and curious about the great religious traditions of Islam. These feelings have been especially intense since the tragic events of September 11. Approaching the Qur’án is not a political document in any sense, and its evocation of moral ‘reckoning’ raises questions that will be timely for college students and reflective adults under any circumstances. The Carolina Summer Reading program is especially happy to offer a book of enduring interest this year that also offers the Carolina community an appropriate introduction to the literature and culture of a profound moral and spiritual tradition that many of us now wish to learn more about. (http://www.unc.edu/srp/srp2002/index.html)6

Vigorous exception was taken to this programme, however, by the conservative Christian group the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy, based in Virginia, on the grounds that, first, the university was infringing the rights of students under the US constitution by requiring them to study the Qur’an, as the scripture of a particular religious tradition, and thus infringing the constitutional separation between religion and the state; and second, that Sells’ book did not represent Islam accurately since it did not include the verses of the Qur’an which are quoted by Islamic militants in order to justify their actions. The AFA therefore took the university to a state court, asking the court to halt the summer reading programme. The court declined to do this, however, so the course was able to go ahead as planned (www.bbc.co.uk, 20 August 2002). In commenting on the whole issue both Carl Ernst, the Professor of Religious Studies at Chapel Hill, who first suggested the book as a candidate for the reading programme, and Michael Sells, the author of the book, stressed the crucial importance of the difference between promoting a religion, on the one hand, and promoting the understanding of a religion, on the other, and stressed that their concern was most definitely with the latter rather than with the former, even if complete discontinuity between the two, in terms of encouraging students to develop


Writing History, Constructing Religion

an empathetic understanding of Islam, is very difficult. They also pointed, however, to the strong current of anti-Muslim prejudice which the incident had shown up in the United States, and which Ernst suggested had much in common with antiSemitism and racism as a form of bigotry (Ernst, 2003a, pp. 14, 16, 18).7 In the preface to his latest book, Ernst reveals that this controversy was not the only one which he had to face in 2002, because he also had to endure a second incident: [I]n the summer of that year … I delivered the completed manuscript of this book to the publisher who had initially commissioned it. To my complete astonishment, after considerable delay, the publisher informed me that the press would not be able to publish the book. There was no question regarding the quality of the manuscript; this was, instead, a matter of personal attitudes among the editorial staff, resulting from the terrorist attacks against American targets on September 11, 2001. I was told that some of the editors were now personally uncomfortable with being associated with any book on a subject that could be used to justify terrorism. The identity of the publisher is unimportant. What is most remarkable about this incident is that it demonstrates the extent to which, even in the world of publishing, the subject of Islam has become so controversial that some people cannot confront it. (Ernst, 2003b)8

In the end the refusal of the commissioning publisher to publish the book did not matter since the university press of the author’s own university agreed to publish it, and indeed Ernst makes clear that this was in the end a very positive change since this was the same press as had originally published the magnum opus of his own teacher, Anne-Marie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (ibid., p. xxiv).9 But he also commented that with respect to the other incident, involving Sells’ book, ‘the outrage over the university assigning a book about Islam revealed once again a deep-seated fear and hostility that opposed even reading a book on the subject’ (ibid., p. xv); and with respect to the two incidents together his conclusion was that ‘Under these circumstances – when publishers, religious groups, and politicians are opposed to an impartial and fair-minded discussion of Islam – it is painfully obvious that such a discussion is exactly what we need’ (ibid.). Incidents such as these, therefore, make it very clear that the question of who should speak about Islam is a hotly-contested one, in the United States in particular. Should it be insiders, or should it be outsiders, and among the latter should it be those who have a professional academic training in the subject, who have studied the relevant languages (Arabic, Persian and Urdu in Ernst’s case) and spent a great deal of time in the Muslim world, even if they are not themselves Muslim, or should it be those who, on the basis of some a priori religious or theological judgement, think that they possess the necessary degree of knowledge to pronounce about Islam even without very much knowledge of its languages and cultures? This makes the third question investigated by this chapter, namely how those who speak about Islam, whoever they may be, should do so, an extremely important one. How Do They Do It? In one of his early articles, the great Canadian scholar of religion Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1959) suggested three questions which should be asked of any statement

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


about religious traditions, in order to assess the authenticity of the statement’s understanding. First, are the conclusions agreed to by a member of the tradition under study? Second, are the conclusions agreed to by a member of at least one other religious tradition? And third, are the conclusions agreed to by a person trained in academic discipline? Smith thus attempted to outline some criteria by which statements about religious traditions could be judged in order to assess whether or not the statements could be seen as accurate. The examples which we have looked at already indicate how difficult it would be for many of the statements which we have looked at, particularly the examples of statements made about Islam, to be adjudged authentic under these criteria. In addition the criteria themselves perhaps need a certain amount of refinement, so that, first, it should be made clear that each of the people making judgements about the authenticity of the statements need to be able to fulfil at least two of the criteria which Smith listed – in other words, they need to be either both a member of the tradition under study and a person trained in an academic discipline, or both a member of another religious tradition and a person trained in an academic discipline. Second, it should be made clear that the academic discipline in which they need to be trained is the study of religion. Otherwise the views of an insider (a member of the religious tradition under discussion) who is academically trained in, say computer science or engineering, could be used to deny the authenticity of a statement by a critical, or analytical, scholar who is not a member of the tradition under discussion. Equally, the harsh judgements on say, Islam, of an outsider, a member of another religious tradition, whose academic training is in medicine, could also be recognized as being authentic. Smith’s attempt at a kind of triangulation, in other words, to establish a system whereby ill-informed, or even prejudiced, statements about other religious traditions can be tested against certain criteria, and if they fail to meet them can then be discounted, is a very helpful and useful one, even if it needs some further refinement and tightening.10 More recently the South African Muslim scholar Farid Esack (2002) has also devoted some attention to this question, with particular reference to the study of the Qur’an, which is naturally enough an area of considerable sensitivity in Islamic studies. Esack suggests, in the introduction to his book, that there are six basic approaches which are possible towards the study of the Qur’an. These he entitles, the approaches of, first, ‘the uncritical lover’, ordinary Muslims who are not particularly interested in analytical or critical questions concerning the Qur’an, but rather, like a human lover, are quite content to enjoy the presence and beauty of the beloved so that they can be transported to another plane where they may experience ecstasy. The kind of questions which critical scholars ask of the Qur’an are thus, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, perverse. The second approach Esack calls that of ‘the scholarly lover’, represented most commonly, he suggests, by ‘confessional Muslim scholars’, who are quite prepared to use scholarly argument and techniques to argue for the beauty of the Qur’an, but who do so quite simply on the basis of prior faith that the Qur’an is the absolute word of God. This approach, he suggests, is well represented by the writings of A. A. Mawdudi, whose monumental work Tafhim al-Qur’an (‘Understanding the Qur’an’), is in the process of being edited into an English version by the Islamic Foundation in


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Leicester (Mawdudi, 1988). It is also widely evident in many Islamic websites on the Internet. The third approach he entitles ‘the critical lover’, which is that of critical Muslim scholars who, while still retaining a deep love for and commitment to the Qur’an, are quite prepared to view questions about the nature and origin, and language, of the Qur’an as perfectly legitimate and indeed constructive in promoting a better and deeper understanding of it. This path, Esack concedes, does not always sit too well with the previous two approaches, and is, of course, often controversial to those who follow them, but the analytical work of Muslim scholars such as Fazlur Rahman, Muhammad Arkoun and Nasr Muhammad Abu Zayd, he suggests, is both fruitful and potentially instructive in seeking to promote a better understanding of the text. Each of the first three approaches is practised by insiders. The second group of three, however, are generally found in the writings of outsiders. The fourth he entitles that of ‘the friend of the lover’, adopted by scholars who, though outsiders, take up the approach so important to social anthropologists, that of ‘participant observers’. In this category he locates scholars such as Wilfred Cantwell Smith, William Montgomery Watt, Kenneth Cragg, and the Harvard scholar William A. Graham. These writers seek to compensate for some of the ‘scholarly injuries’ inflicted on Muslims by Western scholars in the past, and seek to adopt a new attitude towards Islamic faith. The fifth category Esack entitles ‘the voyeur’, the ‘disinterested observer’, the revisionist historians, in other words, whose basic premise is the indispensability of the source critical approach to the study of the Qur’an and Muslim history, and who take this method up and use it without any regard for Muslim sensitivities on these subjects. Western scholars such as Patricia Crone, Michael Cook, Andrew Rippin and John Wansbrough, are regarded as encapsulating this kind of attitude. Finally, the sixth approach Esack characterizes as that of the polemicist, the person who is in fact besotted with another woman, usually either the Bible or secularism. Having for centuries tried to convince Muslims of the beauty of his or her own scripture, but having enjoyed little success, the representative of this point of view simply resorts to telling the Muslim how ugly his or her beloved is. In doing so, the polemicist is often more than happy to make use of the conclusions of the revisionists of the fifth approach, but this is done on the basis of a kind of double standard whereby these methods and conclusions are perfectly happily applied to the Muslim scripture but are, of course, utterly repudiated with reference to the polemicist’s own scripture. The most interesting part of this scheme, as Esack himself suggests, is the thin line which exists between the third and fourth approaches, where the different approaches of insiders and outsiders meet: The line between the last of the categories above, the critical lover, and the first below, the participant observer, is often a thin one. … In other words, is the critical lover really still a lover, and is the ardent friend of both the lover and the beloved not perhaps also a lover? … Thus what the two categories have in common is that those at the other ends of the continuum really accuse them of being closet non-Muslims or closet Muslims. (Esack, 2002, p. 6)11

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


With respect to his own position, Esack is perfectly open: I am a critical and progressive Muslim, a student of the Qur’an with a respect for all serious scholarly endeavour. I have thus calmly described and critiqued various positions without impugning the motives of any particular group of scholars. … I believe that it is essential for any person trying to understand the Qur’an and approaches to it, to also be introduced to the array of opinions surrounding it in a non-polemical manner. While this work thus follows the broad contours of critical Muslim scholarship in most of its assumptions about early prophetic history, other opinions are presented for consideration. (ibid., p. 10)

This seems a model approach in seeking to answer the question of how those who speak about Islam should seek to do so. It recognizes, first of all, that on important issues and questions there is almost inevitably going to be a range of opinion, among both insiders and outsiders. And second it makes clear its conviction that the opinions of both insiders and outsiders merit being taken seriously, and that the most effective approach is likely to be the one which devotes careful attention to the views of both groups. Qur’anic studies, in other words, are better done together (by both insiders and outsiders) than separately. To quote Esack himself once again: In the years of my own journeying into the world of the Qur’an I have been struck by the adversarial nature of the relationship between Muslims and others. With some noteworthy exceptions, it often appears as if we are simply incapable of hearing what critical outsiders have to say about our text. This ability to listen – even if only as a prelude to subsequent rejection – is a condition for surviving in the world of scholarship today. This is arguably the first introductory book on the Qur’an by a Muslim that reflects that attempt to listen. (ibid., p. 11)12

A similar readiness to take account of the range of opinion on difficult questions of religion is demonstrated, from within the Christian community, with respect to the whole issue of the theology of religions, by the Jesuit writer Francis Clooney: Almost no theologian entirely dismisses other religions today, but neither is anyone willing to be counted as a pure and simple pluralist, much less a relativist. … All of this is very complicated, and one may ask whether the work of the Christian theologian of religions has become impossibly complex. … It may be true that the goals of balance and integration are what the theology of religions has actually been about from the beginning. But today the issues are vastly more complex with respect to the objects of study, the methods, and the identities of those engaged in the study. … From now on, a tradition-specific theology of pluralism, Christian or other, will mark a contribution to a larger conversation in which noone gets to speak without accountability to those spoken about, where no one has full authority to start and stop the conversation, and in which there is no entirely fixed dividing line between insiders and outsiders. (Clooney, 2003, pp. 319, 324, 326)13

Both Clooney and Esack thus point to the importance of mutuality in seeking to speak about issues involving Islam or any other religious tradition. It is important, indeed essential, to have insiders and outsiders taking full account of each others’ views and perspectives, and, wherever possible, it is helpful if the representatives of the different communities involved in the discussions and debates are able to speak, in some way, together. Examples of this process, involving different communities, are the recent


Writing History, Constructing Religion

dialogue conferences involving Anglican Christians and representatives of Muslim communities from different parts of the world, and the various conclusions emanating from different Euro-Arab discussions (see Ipgrave, 2002, 2004; Hopwood, 1985). Two other helpful guidelines which may be worth keeping in mind when seeking to speak about issues involving the study of Islam are, first, the importance of remaining aware of the differences and tensions between ideals and realities (see Goddard, 1995, pp. 1–9). And second, the importance of seeking to keep in mind, and where possible combine, the textual (or historical) approach to the study of Islam, and the community-focused (or anthropological) approach (see Goddard, 2000a, pp. 205–210; Nanji, 1997). What are the Implications of These Issues? The implications of these issues could hardly be more serious, involving as they do not only the relationship between the world’s two largest religious communities but also the relationship between some of their most important political representatives in the international sphere. It is important to remember here, of course, that Christian–Muslim relations and the relationship between the world of Islam and the West are not synonymous. Many Muslims, in other words, live in minority contexts outside the frontiers of what is usually called the world of Islam, and equally many Christians do not live in what is usually called ‘the West’. As regards the Christian community this has given rise to the pleasing aphorism that ‘most Christians are not Westerners and most Westerners are not Christians’, and with respect to the Muslim community the large number of Muslims living in minority situations has been highlighted in publications such as Muslim Minorities in the World Today (Kettani, 1986), which estimated that these Muslims made up 38.1 per cent of the total Muslim population of the world.14 Huge numbers of people are therefore involved in these relationships, in some of the most important regions of the world in terms of both politics and economics, which have in recent times seen both civil wars and international conflicts. Polarization of language has therefore been a feature of much recent discourse about ‘the Other’: [N]either official nor popular discourses in Muslim majority societies nor the West show a clear understanding of the complex way that religions interact with contemporary societies. They tend instead to oversimplify into polar opposites: Islam is either ‘peace’ or ‘fanaticism’, the West is the ‘defender of world liberty’ or an ‘evil capitalist oppressor’. (Herbert, 2003, p. vii)

In this situation an accurate and informed understanding of Islam, including its diversity is extremely important, so that it is appreciated that the Muslim community does not necessarily speak with one voice, but that it is rather, like any other religious community, a debating community.15 An accurate understanding of Islam is also important for community relations within individual political units or societies, as can be shown from two incidents in

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


the context of the United Kingdom which took place during the period in which this chapter was being written (July 2004). First, in an article in The Sunday Telegraph on 4 July 2004, under the title ‘Dr Williams, beware of false prophets’Will Cummins, for whom no biographical details are given but who is evidently not a regular columnist for the newspaper, wrote: … Mohammed enjoined his followers to spread Islam by the sword. After his death in 632, Muslim armies poured out of the Arabian peninsula (the only place to which Muslims are native, though even there Islam was imposed by force) and, unprovoked, attacked its neighbours. Christian Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Anatolia, Spain, the Balkans, the Maghreb and Sicily, as well as Buddhist central Asia, Zoroastrian Iran and Hindu India, all became ‘Muslim’ by virtue of naked imperialism. The indigenous non-Muslims were either exterminated (the fate of the Christians of North Africa), or reduced to the status of third-class citizens in their own countries, their fate to this day. The Crusades – for which the Pope has apologized to Islam (he did so again last week), rather as an old lady might apologize to a mugger for trying to retrieve her purse – were simply an attempt by medieval Christians to get their homelands back. (www.telegraph.co.uk)

He continues: The endorsement by Dr Williams of the idea of continuity between Christianity and Islam violates the teaching of every Church father since Muslim communities first appeared in the seventh century. These cite Christ’s own warning that people would arrive in His wake claiming to bear a message from God superseding the Incarnation’s: ‘Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.’ (ibid.)

The context of this piece is clearly a highly ad hominem attack on the Archbishop of Canterbury, but there is one statement to which exception must be taken even in this context, namely the one that ‘The indigenous non-Muslims were either exterminated (the fate of the Christians of North Africa), or reduced to the status of third-class citizens in their own countries, their fate to this day’. On a historical level the first half of this statement is simply not true, since the tolerance usually extended to Christians and Jews in the early Islamic empire was in marked contrast to the treatment which Jews generally received in the medieval Christian world (see, for example, Cohen, 1994). And how, in this case, does the author explain the fact that there are still sizeable Christian communities in Egypt, where they make up perhaps 10 or even 15 per cent of the population, and Lebanon, where they are probably at least 40 per cent of the country’s inhabitants, if all non-Muslims are supposed to have been exterminated at the time of the Islamic conquests? What is true, and a great deal of interesting research has been done on this in recent years, is that in the centuries after the Islamic conquests a gradual process of conversion to Islam began, and that over time, through a combination of genuine religious and theological conviction on the one hand, and financial and social pressure on the other, the majority of the population converted to Islam (see especially Bulliet, 1979). In the majority Christian context of the former Roman Empire this process happened most rapidly in North Africa where, for a variety of reasons, including the


Writing History, Constructing Religion

fact that the church represented a Roman elite rather than taking deep roots among the local population, as evidenced by the fact that there were no Bible translations into local languages, Christians were only a small minority of the population even by the tenth century. This did not mean that they were exterminated, however (ibid., ch. 8; see also Frend, 1975; Goddard, 2000b, pp. 70–71). Second, in a BBC documentary broadcast on 15 July 2004, the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, is recorded saying ‘Islam is a vicious, wicked faith’ which ‘has expanded through a handful of cranky lunatics about 1,300 years ago until it’s now sweeping country after country’. He also suggests that it is important to stand up to Islam or ‘they (Muslims) will do for someone in your family’. Other members and former members of the party are recorded as saying such things as that they want to blow up Bradford’s mosques with a rocket launcher, or machine-gun worshippers with a million bullets as they emerge from their mosques on a Friday. Mr Griffin himself refers to the dangers of the Islamification of Britain, and, most incredibly, suggests that Islam has expanded through the use of rape: ‘It’s one of the ways in which it’s expanded; it’s also expanded as the Koran tells its followers to do so – it’s expanded at the point of the sword’ (www.bbc.co.uk). The basis of these accusations, particularly the one about the use of rape as a means of spreading Islam, seems to be accounts of events which took place in the context of the communal fighting which erupted at the time of Indian independence from Britain in 1947, which Griffin has picked up from Sikh or Hindu sources who have on occasion flirted with the British National Party as a way of pursuing their own agendas. More recently, of course, in the context of Europe, rape has been used as part of a programme of ethnic cleansing, but against Muslims, by Serb paramilitaries in Bosnia, but whatever the reliability of the accounts surrounding events in South Asia in 1947, and however widespread or otherwise they may have been, Griffin’s statements fail completely to take account of the vital distinction referred to above between ideals and realities. There is a huge difference between statements which begin ‘Muslims have …’ and statements which begin ‘Islam teaches …’, especially if the former statement is qualified, as also suggested above, by the addition of the words ‘some’ or ‘a few’. With reference to the terrible things done by some members of all communities, both religious and political, to others of their fellow human beings it is definitely a case of, to quote Jesus’ words in the New Testament, ‘let he who is innocent cast the first stone’ (John 8:7), and as well as being of very doubtful historical accuracy as a whole Griffin’s comments fail completely to demonstrate any sense of proportion concerning the representativeness or otherwise of the actions to which he refers.16 What statements such as these seem to demonstrate is quite simply Islamophobia, the irrational fear and hatred of Islam, whether for religious or political reasons, or a combination of the two. The week after it published the article by Cummins, the Sunday Telegraph published a letter written in his support under the title ‘Mohammed is the anti-Christ’ (www.telegraph.co.uk).17 What makes this kind of view somewhat sinister is its common association, in the United Kingdom as well as in the United States, with Christian Zionism since alongside the website version of Cummins’ article was a link entitled ‘Christians support Israel’ to an organization called ‘Christian Friends of Israeli Communities’, whose focus is to link settlements in Israel with Christian churches and individuals throughout the world, and just in case

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


there is any ambiguity concerning the location of these settlements the website makes it clear that they are located not in pre-1967 Israel but in ‘Judea, Samaria and Gaza’, that is the territories occupied by Israel in that year (www.cfoic.com). When this kind of religious thinking is combined with the kind of xenophobia represented by the British National Party a potentially very dangerous kind of Islamophobia results.18 The accurate representation of Islam is therefore vitally important for community relations, in the United Kingdom as well as on a global level, even apart from the simple importance of endeavouring to perceive and locate the truth. Notes 1 The situation would of course be made even more complicated if the views of Muslim thinkers who, for a variety of reasons, have either had to take refuge outside the world of Islam, or alternatively may still reside in the world of Islam but have had to publish their books outside the world of Islam. An example of the former is Nasr Muhammad Abu Zayd, who as a result of accusations of apostasy in Egypt was compelled to take refuge in the Netherlands, where he now teaches at the University of Leiden; and an example of the latter is Fatima Mernissi, who still teaches at the University of Mohamed V in Rabat in Morocco, but whose books on the position of women in the world of Islam and on the relationship between Islam and democracy are published in different languages in the West, but not in Arabic in Morocco. 2 First published by Routledge Kegan Paul in 1978, reprinted with a new afterword by Penguin in 1995, and reprinted with a new preface in a 25th anniversary issue by Penguin in 2003. 3 Intelligence should perhaps be put in inverted commas in this context. 4 See also the comment on Boykin’s statements by James Carroll in The Boston Globe, 21.10.2003. 5 LaHaye, Tim and Jenkins, Jerry B. (2003), Armageddon: The Cosmic Battle of the Ages, Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House, and idem. (2004), Glorious Appearing: the End of Days, Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House. For comment, see Frykholm, A. J. (2004), Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America, New York: Oxford University Press, and Forbes, B. D. (2004), Rapture, Revelation, and the End Times: Exploring the Left Behind Series, London: Palgrave Macmillan. See also the very popular websites www.bible-prophecy.com and www.raptureready.com. 6 The book under discussion is Sells, M. (1999), Approaching the Qur’an: the Early Revelations, Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press. 7 Also see Sells, Michael ‘From North Carolina, Heart of the Qur’an Belt’, http://www.sblsite.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=98. 8 Published in the United Kingdom in 2004, under the title Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World, by Edinburgh University Press. 9 Referring to Schimmel, A. (1975), Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 10 It has also been suggested by the Swedish scholar David Westerlund that a fourth question should now be added to Smith’s original three, namely are the conclusions agreed to by a member of the opposite gender. 11 The six approaches which have been discussed here are outlined in more detail in the Introduction to the book, especially pp. 1–10. 12 Ibid., p. 11. 13 Since Clooney is a scholar of the Hindu tradition, it is worth mentioning here that many of the issues which have been discussed in this chapter are not only relevant to the study of the



15 16



Writing History, Constructing Religion Islamic tradition, since several controversies concerning the study of the Hindu tradition have also erupted in recent months. See the headlines of a number of recent articles in The Times Higher Education Supplement: ‘Email threats and egg-throwing spark fears of Hindu extremism’ (a lecture on Hindu texts at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London by Wendy Doniger, Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago) (21.11.2003), ‘Silenced for hinting at an Indian Oedipus’ (death threats against Paul Courtright, Professor of Religion at Emory University, Atlanta, because of some aspects of his book Ganesha: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, which has been withdrawn from sale by OUP in India) (28.11.2003), and ‘OUP withdraws book after violent protest’ (the book concerned being Shivaji: the Hindu King in Islamic India by James Laine, Lecturer in Classical and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) (23.01.2004). See also the comment by John D. Smith, Reader in Sanskrit in the University of Cambridge, in the same issue of the THES (23.01.2004). These figures have been significantly altered, however, by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transfer of the majority of the almost 50 million Muslims of that state to the newlyestablished Muslim-majority republics of Central Asia. Even allowing for this change, however, over a third of the world’s Muslims continue to live in minority situations. A good study of this process, in the context only of Iran, is Abedi, Mehdi and Fischer, Michael J. (2002), Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition, University of Wisconsin Press. Some months earlier a similar lack of sense of proportion with respect to the Arabs was demonstrated by the BBC presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk in an article for The Express on Sunday (4 January 2004) in which he referred to Arab states as ‘despotic, barbarous and corrupt’ and Arabs as ‘suicide bombers, limb amputators and women repressors’. He was dismissed from his post by the BBC. This letter was reproduced on the US based website ‘Jihad Watch’ with the following comment: ‘The gloves are off at the Telegraph in Britain. I urge all of you to write a letter to the Telegraph in support of Will Cummins. Also, send the most thoughtful letter to the editor that you can muster criticizing Islam. They just published a letter comparing Muhammad to the Anti-Christ. That means they are going to publish just about anything’. (www.jihadwatch.org/archives/002480.php) A comprehensive report on Islamophobia, under the title Islamophobia: a Challenge for Us All, was produced under the chairmanship of Professor Gordan Conway by the Runnymede Trust in 1997. A follow-up report, produced independently of the Runnymede Trust, entitled Islamophobia: Issues, Challenges, and Action, under the chairmanship of Dr Richard Stone and edited by Robin Richardson, was published in 2004 by Trentham Books of Stoke-on-Trent.

References Abedi, Mehdi and Fischer, Michael J. (2002), Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition, University of Wisconsin Press. Boyer, P. (1992), When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Bulliet, R. W. (1979), Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period: an Essay in Quantitative History, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Bunt, G. (2003), Islam in the Digital Age, London: Pluto. Caldwell, Deborah (2003), ‘How Islam-bashing got cool’, Religious Studies News, October, 13–27.

The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies


Clooney, Francis X. (2003), ‘Theology, dialogue and religious others: some recent books in the theology of religions and related fields’, Religious Studies Review, 29 (4), 319–326. Cohen, M. R. (1994), Under Cross and Crescent: the Jews in the Middle Ages, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ernst, Carl W. (2003a), ‘In the public interest’, Religious Studies News, 18, 14–18. Ernst, C. W. (2003b), Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Esack, F. (2002), The Qur’an: a Short Introduction, Oxford: Oneworld. Frend, William H. C. (1975), ‘Nomads and Christianity in the Middle Ages’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 26, 209–221. Fuller, R. (1995), Naming the Antichrist: the History of an American Obsession, New York: Oxford University Press. Goddard, Hugh (1991), ‘Stranger than fiction: the affair of The Satanic Verses’, Scottish Journal of Religious Studies, 12, 88–106. Goddard, H. (1995), Christians and Muslims: From Double Standards to Mutual Understanding, London: Curzon Press. Goddard, Hugh (2000a), ‘Christian–Muslim relations: a look backwards and a look forwards’, Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations, 11, 195–213. Goddard, H. (2000b), A History of Christian–Muslim Relations, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Herbert, D. (2003), Religion and Civil Society: Rethinking Public Religion in the Contemporary World, London: Ashgate. Hopwood, D. (1985), Euro-Arab Dialogue, London: Croom Helm. http://www.anglicannifcon.org/Alexand-Declaration.htm http://www.bbc.co.uk http://www.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3202690 http://www.cbsnews.com, 06.10.2002 http://www.cfoic.com http://www.enduring-freedoms.org http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm http://www.islamonline.net/fatwa/english/FatwaDisplay.asp?hFatwaID=100167 http://www.msnbc.com, 16.11.2001 http://www.telegraph.co.uk http://www.unc.edu/srp/srp2002/index.html Huntington, S. (1996), The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York: Simon and Schuster. Ipgrave, Michael (ed.) (2002), The Road Ahead: a Christian–Muslim Dialogue, London: Church House Publishing. Ipgrave, Michael (ed.) (2004), Scriptures in Dialogue: Christians and Muslims Studying the Bible and the Qur’an Together, London: Church House. Kettani, A. (1986), Muslim Minorities in the World Today, London: Mansell. Kidd, Thomas S. (2003), ‘“Is it worse to follow Mahomet than the Devil?” Early American uses of Islam’, Church History, 72, 766–790. Macfie, A. L. (ed.) (2000), Orientalism: a Reader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Mawdudi, A. A., (ed. Ansari, Zafar I.) (1988), Towards Understanding the Qur’an, Leicester: Islamic Foundation. McCutcheon, Russell (ed.) (1998), The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: a Reader, London and New York: Continuum. Melling, P. (1999), Fundamentalism in America: Millenialism, Identity and Militant Religion, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Nanji, Azim (ed.) (1997), Mapping Islamic Studies: Genealogy, Continuity and Change, Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

New York Times 15.06.2002. Ruthven, M. (1990), A Satanic Affair, London: Chatto and Windus. Said, E. (1978), Orientalism, London: Routledge Kegan Paul. Said, E. (1999), Out of Place: a Memoir, London: Granta. Sakr, N. (2002), Satellite Realms: Transnational Television, Globalization and the Middle East, London: I.B. Tauris. Smith, Wilfred C. (1959), ‘Comparative religion: whither – and why?’, in Eliade, Mircea and Kitagawa, Joseph (eds), The History of Religions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 31–58. The Economist, 24.11.2001. The Economist, 08.02.2003. The Independent, 10.06.2003. The Sunday Telegraph, 14.12.2003. The Tablet, 13.10.2001. The Tablet, 15.11.2003. Wagner, Donald E. (2003), ‘Shaping the Bush doctrine: neo-conservatives and Christian fundamentalists in context’, Living Stones, 22, Summer, 10–14.

Chapter 7

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia Kathryn Tomlinson

With Soviet Communism no longer providing a focus for the West’s battle of political wills, Islam and asylum seekers have, at least in Britain, increased their presence as topics of fraught popular and political debate. To generalize, Islam is seen as a religion of extremes, and refugees as people whose ‘identities’ are rooted in past places of residence, to which they desire return. The Meskhetian Turks resident in southern Russia provide a case study that counters these assumptions, in that they neither communally seek ‘return’ to their homes of sixty years ago, nor use Islam as a political tool. The Meskhetian Turks are a small Muslim population, numbering approximately 300,000, who live dispersed across the former Soviet Union. The diaspora is a creation of the past sixty years. In November 1944 the group was deported from Meskhetia in Georgia to Central Asia, officially accused of smuggling, banditry and espionage in collaboration with their kin across the Turkish border (Aslan, 1996, pp. 34–35). They were resettled in Central Asia, under ‘special settlement’ conditions that limited their movement. Although these were lifted in 1956, in 1968 a decree reported that they had ‘settled permanently in the territory of the Uzbek, Kazakh and other union republics’ (Khazanov, 1995, p. 200). They were not allowed to return to Meskhetia, and this remains the case today. In 1989, conflict between Uzbeks and Meskhetian Turks in the Ferghana valley in Uzbekistan led to over a hundred deaths and the dispersal of almost all Meskhetian Turks then resident in Uzbekistan, as well as some from other Central Asian republics. The population is now spread across the former Soviet Union, particularly in Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan, as well as increasingly in Turkey and the USA. Krasnodar, where I carried out ethnographic fieldwork from 1999 to 2000,1 has the largest Meskhetian Turkish population in Russia: about 17,000. It also has the largest number denied propiski (R)2 – residency permits – and citizenship, which results in them also being denied state benefits including pensions, access to regular employment and official registration of marriages and house purchases. Two weeks after I arrived in Oktiabr’skii,3 the village of 230 people in which I lived, two carloads of visitors came to the home of Cafar, my Meskhetian Turkish host. The guests were relatives of a young man shortly to marry Cafar’s elder daughter. In a lull in the slightly stilted conversation, Cafar explained who I was. Mamur, the groom’s brother-in-law, turned to me and said, ‘You should have come fifteen years ago. Then things were good, everyone was equal. The best way of life is 107


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Communism’. He asked me whether there is demokratia (R) in my country; I replied that it is called democracy. Mamur and his father-in-law laughed; the latter added with feeling, ‘Of course, because there there is capitalism’. A quietness followed, with downcast eyes. Cafar then muttered, almost inaudibly, ‘It was better earlier. Then everybody had a job; to be without a job was unimaginable. Now half the people are without work’. Mamur then told me that the Meskhetian Turks had lived in the Ottoman Empire, and then in the Soviet Union. Then, Stalin wanted to enlarge his empire, so moved the Turks out to Uzbekistan and settled his own people where they had lived. Mamur turned to his father-in-law to clarify the date of these deportations; ‘Yes, it was in 1944’. After they were driven out of Uzbekistan in 1989, some people have moved four times in their lives, some twice in the last ten years, particularly those who had gone to Chechnya.4 ‘There are Turks in every town, every village, because we do not have a homeland [rodina (R)] to go to. There are Turks in Baku, Turkey, Belgorod, Germany, Stavropol’.5 With a little bitter laugh, Cafar quietly added Georgia to the end of the list. When the as¸ (a special rice dish made with carrots and meat) was brought in, the conversation moved on, and despite several further meetings before and after the wedding, Mamur and his relatives did not talk with me about their history again. On our first meeting, most Meskhetian Turks told me a similar version of this story; often only a few words, ensuring that I knew of their former residence in, and forced migration from, Georgia and Uzbekistan; and that, ‘We have no homeland’. That life was better under Communism was also frequently mentioned in these introductory statements. Usually the conversation moved swiftly on to discuss the potato harvest, or the amount of money spent by a bride’s family at a recent wedding. Thereafter the events of 1944 or 1989 were rarely discussed, neither among themselves in Meskhetian Turkish nor with me or others in Russian. The extent to which these events have little presence in everyday life was illustrated when sixteen-year-old Güzel told of a recent history lesson, in which her Russian teacher talked about the Meskhetian Turks. Only when the teacher mentioned Ferghana did Güzel realize that she was talking about her and her relatives. At home she asked her mother whether they were Meskhetian Turks, as she had not known that this was their name. Relating the teacher’s words, Güzel still talked about the Meskhetian Turks in the third person. She said that Stalin, in some year, had had all the Meskhetian Turks loaded into train wagons, ‘but not the passenger wagons; the ones without seats, for goods; the narrow ones’. Several families were in each one, and the doors were locked. When the train stopped, ‘the guards did not even open the doors to let in fresh air. Lots of people died, and they threw the bodies out of the train, not knowing where to bury their relatives’. Then when they got to Central Asia ‘life was very bad’. And then in 1989 the Uzbeks ‘started throwing them out’. Güzel said that she almost cried when the teacher was telling the story. Detailed knowledge of the self-representation of a group that does not make collective use of its history or religion for political ends is vitally important in the present global climate, in which most of the Muslims about whom we hear (and those who form objects of study) are those who do foreground their religion. Or rather, (political) Islam is fore-grounded in others’ representations of these people. This is as true in the former Soviet Union as elsewhere, in that much research6 here is being

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


undertaken into the Islam of extremists or elites, but the everyday practice of Islam among people who do not trumpet its importance is less evident. While anthropologists have managed to depict Islam as embedded in ‘plural cultural worlds’ (Donnan and Stokes, 2002, p. 2), the everyday religious practices of Muslims have often been taken for granted as background factors which do not require deep analysis (Lindholm, 2002, p. 113). Seeking to fill some of these gaps, this chapter examines three aspects of what it means to ‘be’ a Meskhetian Turk: being Turkish, being Soviet, and being Muslim. This chapter thus explores Meskhetian Turks’ representation of themselves, at times in contrast to others’ representations. As Bloch argues, ‘No human scientist can … ignore how people represent themselves to themselves in history because it is, to a certain extent, in terms of these representations that they will react to revolutions, migration, or colonial conquest’ (Bloch, 1996, p. 280). As Meskhetian Turks have experienced these and other upheavals, an examination of their position in relation to their past seems particularly pertinent in evaluating their stance towards the present and the future. In seeking to understand the way in which Meskhetian Turks relate to, and the extent to which they engage with, their past, and the role of that past in the present, I have drawn upon Daniel’s (1996) distinction between heritage (or mythic) and history as orientations or dispositions towards the past: [T]he mythic – as an ontic discursive practice – provides a people with a way of being in the world; history – as an epistemic discourse – provides a way of seeing the world. The former is an embodied discursive practice that is fundamentally ontological, and the latter is a theoretical discursive practice that is fundamentally epistemological. (Daniel, 1996, p. 50)

I argue that the Meskhetian Turks’ disposition towards their past is one of living (with) it in the present, a heritage or mythic, rather than history, orientation. Furthermore, I suggest that the nature of Meskhetian Turks’ engagement with their religion parallels their approach to their past – both the recent Soviet past and the distant past in which their ‘origins’ as Turks (or not) may be sought. In this chapter I therefore extend Daniel’s framework to apply it also to dispositions towards religion. In all three cases (as Turks, Soviets and Muslims) theirs is, I argue, a heritage disposition, ‘a vague, though rich, potentiality’ rather than something ‘sharply defined and clearly instantiated’ (ibid., p. 27). To conclude I examine some implications of this disposition for their future. Daniel’s heritage/history approach is part of his attempt to understand the (violent) conflicts that have occurred between (Jaffna) Tamil and Sinhala Sri Lankans in the past twenty years. My intention is not entirely dissimilar, but I restrict my interest to the understanding of the outlook of one side of potential future and actual past violence – that of the Meskhetian Turks, as against their Russian and Georgian (present and future), Uzbek and 1940s Soviet (past) antagonists. Daniel argues that the discordance between these two narratives of reality provides ‘one of the structural conditions for collective violence’ (Daniel, 1996, p. 69). Physical conflict over a way of ‘being in the world’ has not (yet) occurred between Georgian (and Russian) scholars and Meskhetian Turks. But contrasting approaches to history have led to a conflict of words on an international plane, which has serious consequences for all concerned, none more so than for the Meskhetian Turks themselves. This conflict has


Writing History, Constructing Religion

partly focused upon the name used to refer to the group in question (see Ossipov, 2000, pp. 161–162). For some actors, the question of whether or not my informants are ‘really’ Turks is a matter of extreme significance in negotiating their present and future place of residence. It is to this aspect of their past, and hence of their present self-representation, that I turn first. Being Turkish Meskhetia is a region of mountainous south-western Georgia, bordering Turkey and Armenia, and separated from the Black Sea by the Republic of Adzharia. ‘Meskhetia’, as my informants use the term, refers to the regions of Meskheti and Dzhavakheti, also known as the Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki districts after the area’s major towns. The term ‘Meskhetia’ derives from ‘Meskhs’, the name of a people resident in what is now Georgia in first century CE, and probably long before then. Rosen, who refers to them as the Mushki tribe, asserts that one of their kings, called Mita, was ‘none other than the famous King Midas of the golden touch’, whose empire was destroyed by invading Cimmerians in 696–695 BCE (Rosen, 1991, pp. 16–17). The Meskhs/Mushki are also referred to in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 38: 1–4) as the Meshech or Mosokh (op. cit.; Aslan, 1996, p. 5). Some writers describe the Meskhs as a Georgian tribe, and hence assert that they formed the (Georgian) basis of the present day Meskhetians (Chavchavadze in Aslan, 1996; Gachechiladze, 1995; Rosen, 1991). However, the area known in the first century CE as Samtskhe (from Sa-meskhe, ‘country of Meskhs’) (Yunusov, 2000, p. 10), and later as Meskhetia, has, in the intervening two millennia, been the place of settlement (by invitation and invasion) of multiple others, many of them Turkic peoples from Central Asia.7 The interaction between Georgian and Turkic peoples, and the contrasting representations of Georgian history, are demonstrated by descriptions of the reign of the Georgian king David the Builder in the twelfth century. From a Georgian perspective, during this period Meskhetia ‘became the centre of Georgian culture and power’, as David ‘[drove] the Turks … out of Kvemo Kartli, Tblisi, and Tao’ (Rosen, 1991, p. 201). Yunusov’s pro-Turkic explanation of these events asserts that the Turks in question, the Muslim Oguz, were only driven out with the considerable assistance of the (Christian Turkic) Qipchaks, who made up 50,000 of David’s 60,000-strong army. In order to defeat the Oguz, David invited the Qipchaks to live in Georgia, and married the daughter of their leader (Yunusov, 2000, pp. 14–15). Thus hundreds of thousands of Oguz and Qipchaks, and other Mongol and Turkic invaders, had settled in Meskhetia by the thirteenth century, from which time its main town, Akhaltsikh, is mentioned in sources by the Turkish name Ak-sika, or ‘White Fortress’, a literal translation of the Georgian name. This accounts for the present day Turkish designation of the region as Ahska, and of my informants as Ahska Türkleri. At this time even in Georgian texts the local leaders were given the Turkish title Atabek, from which came the fifteenth century name of one of the four kingdoms of what had been Georgia, Samtskhe Saatabago, ‘the land of the Atabek called Samtskhe [Meskhetia]’ (ibid., p. 15). The most recent Turkic invasion was that of the Ottomans, who conquered Meskhetia in 1578, although it was not secure as part of the Ottoman Empire until

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


1639, when a treaty signed with Iran brought an end to Iranian attempts to take the region. Yunusov asserts that the period of relative stability provided by Ottoman rule was central in ‘unifying all generations of Turks’ settled in what is now MeskhetiDzhavakheti (Meskhetia) into a ‘new type of Turkic race with its own particular culture’ (ibid., pp. 17, 19). According to this position therefore, the Meskhetian Turks are descended from Turkic peoples who moved into Meskhetia. In opposition stand those who assert that the Meskhetian Turks are rather Georgians converted (forcibly or otherwise) to Islam during Ottoman rule, and that perhaps these Georgians were indeed descended from the Meskhs, resident in the area over two millennia ago (Gachechiladze, 1995, p. 25). Between these lie those who see the Meskhetian Turks as a population of mixed descent: some descended from Turks, others Turkicized Georgians (Akiner, 1986). The dispute is far from purely academic. In line with the experience of other Soviet nationalities,8 the debate over the origins of the Meskhetian Turks has serious political consequences for all concerned, not least for my informants. The Georgian government has long been reluctant to allow the Meskhetian Turks to return to Georgia, let alone to Meskhetia, and debates concerning such political issues have concentrated largely (to the detriment of pressing humanitarian issues) on the group’s name (Meskhetian Turks, Ahska Turks, Georgian Muslims, Meskhetians), and hence on their origins. In Soviet documents about the deportation they are referred to simply as Turks, as distinct from the Kurds and Khemshins deported with them (Bugai, 1994). According to Wixman, the term ‘Meskhetian’ only came into use in the late 1950s,9 and then ‘as a colloquial designation for the Turkified peoples (Meskhi [Georgians], Khemshil [Armenians], Kurds and Karapapakh), who formerly lived in the Meskhi region’ (Wixman, 1984, p. 134).10 However, it does not seem to have been in such ‘colloquial’ use in Uzbekistan. Rather, the Uzbeks called them Caucasians, Kavkazi (R) or Kepkezler (Uzbek).11 Indeed, my informants saw ‘Meskhetian Turks’ as an invention of their second displacement, rather than their first. One man explained, ‘When we were thrown out of Uzbekistan, the President of the USSR gave us a new name: Meskhetian Turks. Meskhetia is a mountain – as if we had just come out of a mountain!’ Others agreed, ‘Only when all that started did I hear the name Meskhetian Turks; I didn’t know before that we were Meskhetian’. However, when it is necessary to do so, they now often use ‘Meskhetian’ to distinguish themselves from other Turks. Khazanov states that, ‘in the late 1930s, the Meskhetian Turks did not pay much attention to their official name and ethnic affiliation. Remarkably enough, they continued to call themselves ierli (the locals, the natives), which did not have explicit ethnic connotations’ (Khazanov, 1995, p. 197). I suggest that this lack of concern with their official name is not restricted to the 1930s, but is as prevalent now as it has been throughout the last two centuries. Although recorded in censuses, passports and other official documents as Georgian-Sunnis, Tarakamans, Muslims, Azeris and sometimes Turks in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and as Azeris, Uzbeks and Turks while in Uzbekistan, I suggest that what others have labelled bizim s¸ennik, ‘our people’, does not reflect the manner in which they perceive(ed) themselves. In the recent past they have, for the most part, insisted on ‘Turk’ as that which Khazanov calls their ‘ethnic affiliation’. What they, as opposed to others, called this in the distant past is very difficult to say.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

When the discussion is framed in such historical terms, most of my informants show little interest in ascertaining their origins. Occasionally I was asked, ‘Do you know where we came from?’; other non-Meskhetian Turkish acquaintances, frustrated by their neighbours’ lack of knowledge on this topic, also asked me this.12 Some Meskhetian Turks had a little knowledge of their past. One of three sisters, chopping beetroot together for a wedding salad, said, ‘There are lots of versions of “who we are”, who we come from. Some say that we’re not really Turks, but Georgians, and others say that we are really Turks’. Her sister stated that the Georgians asked Turkey for people to come and live in Georgia, to which Turkey agreed, but only if these people were given land in Georgia. Georgia agreed, and this is how they came to be there in Georgia. On another occasion, a man said, ‘I read somewhere that when the Turks came and fought in Georgia they brought their people and left them there’. Such discussions were usually held in matter-of-fact, if not disinterested, tones of voice. One unusual report was that of Müratdin, a fifty-year-old man, who declared, ‘I know lots about nationalities’ problems’, and explained that he had read a book written in 1601, held in a library in Istanbul. He said, ‘We have been called many things. We have been called Azerbaijani. We are not Azerbaijani, and never have been. But we are also not Turks. We are Meskhetians. We are descended from two brothers’. He said that he learnt this latter ‘fact’ from the book written in 1601. He asserted that he had read another book, published in 1671, in which it was recorded that there were then thirteen families of Meskhetians. Müratdin’s insistence that they are ‘Meskhetians’ irritated his (younger) cousin, although out of respect the latter kept his comments until after the former had left. ‘He always talks a lot. And he says we’re not Turks but Georgians. Get lost, Georgian!’ Müratdin’s intellectual curiosity is unusual.13 Also exceptional is his assertion that they are not Turks. For most, being a Turk is unquestionable. It is a term used to define those who are bizim s¸ennik, ‘our people’. A woman explained that when they say of others that they are bizim s¸ennik, it means that ‘they’re also Turks’. S¸ennik also translates as ‘people’ in other contexts: çok s¸ennik, ‘many people’, and Ne diyacah s¸ennik?, ‘What will people say?’ Like ‘people’ in English, the word refers not only to groups of human beings, but to a specific group, the Meskhetian Turkish people. Their self-representation as Turks relates to their discussions of the past. Several people mentioned that they called themselves Osmani Turkleri, Ottoman Turks.14 ‘We are what is left of the Ottoman Empire. In Turkey forty per cent are Kurds, not Turks. We are the only pure-blooded Turks’.15 However, they describe themselves as Ottoman Turks in the present, rather than as descendants of past Ottoman Turks. In this sense, their disposition towards the past compares with that of the Jaffna Tamils, as ‘a consciousness of the present, one’s present heritage of the past, [rather] than of the past as past’ (Daniel, 1996, p. 27). The contrasting approach to the past, history as a way of seeing the world, can also be illustrated in reference to their Ottoman nature. When I reported to a colleague at Krasnodar’s Kuban State University that my informants say that they speak Ottoman Turkish, he insisted that they are mistaken, since Ottoman Turkish is the Arabic literary language; that is, that it is an aspect of the historical, factual, past, and cannot be a living heritage. The Georgian insistence that my informants are not Turks may also be understood in this manner. The general Georgian position is that my

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


informants’ historical origins are as Georgians, who were Turkified by invaders. The Georgian government maintains a disposition towards the past that insists that what is ‘history’ is the only appropriate way to position oneself in the present, hence the Meskhetian Turks must consider themselves Georgians (or at least not Turks) in order to continue a dialogue about their ‘return’ to Georgia. Analysis in these terms also makes it possible to explain the significant error in the analysis of the first international humanitarian organization to be interested in the plight of the Meskhetian Turks, in whose publication it is stated that ‘The majority of Meskhetians appear to have experienced difficulty deciding whether they are Georgians or Turks’ (Sheehy and Nahaylo, 1980, p. 26). I argue that the Meskhetian Turks usually do not feel the need to make such a decision. To be a Turk is to live the past, as inherited practice, in the present; while deciding whether or not one is Georgian requires one to see epistemic ‘history’ as relevant to one’s present, which, I argue, the majority of my informants do not. I will return to the significance of this position at the end of the chapter. Being Soviet During his fieldwork with the Nivkhi on the island of Sakhalin in eastern Russia, Grant discovered that rather than considering themselves Asian or European, his informants insisted, ‘We’re Soviets’. He states, ‘Most Nivkhi I knew thought of themselves as Soviets first and Nivkhi second; a good number of others, especially younger people, thought of themselves as Soviets only’ (Grant, 1995, pp. 40, 159). In addition to using the distinguishing labels of ‘Meskhetian’, ‘Ottoman’ or ‘Ahska’, so too the Meskhetian Turks refer to themselves as Soviet Turks. One man illustrated this when relating a conversation with an Armenian work colleague: Armenian: What’s your nationality? Meskhetian Turk: Turk. Armenian: Turk from Turkey? Meskhetian Turk: No, Soviet Turk. Armenian: They accept you in Turkey like the Armenians accept us in Armenia!

This conversation was significant enough to be reported twice within my hearing, once in Russian to me and his family, and later, in Meskhetian Turkish, to a neighbour. It demonstrates the camaraderie between many of those displaced within the former Soviet Union (many of my informants’ friends are displaced Armenians16), as well as an awareness of the problems faced by those who seek to cross state boundaries to live with those who may be seen as co-ethnics. But in the present context I am interested particularly in the self-identification as ‘Soviet’. One of the first things that Mamur said to me during the visit related at the beginning of this chapter was that I should have come earlier, as the best way of life is Communism. Unlike stories of their displacement, which are rarely repeated, ‘Earlier it was better’ is often lamented publicly and in detail. In her work on early 1990s Moscow, Ries identifies a similar genre, of ‘complete disintegration’ tales, through which her informants talked their way through the upheavals of the collapsing Soviet Union. Ries asserts that such stories mediated contemporary reality, ‘making it possible to think, act and survive’ (Ries, 1997, p. 51). Just as the Muscovites’ tales


Writing History, Constructing Religion

were only partly nostalgic, but also ‘implied some hope, albeit muted, of the possibility of relief’ (ibid., p. 112), so too the Meskhetian Turks’ ‘earlier it was better’ tales reflect partly on their present difficult circumstances, as well as on the selectively remembered past. One frequently mentioned aspect of the earlier and better times under Communism was the fact that goods were available at prices that my informants could afford, and which rarely varied. One man described at length the prices of goods during the Soviet period: The dollar:rouble exchange rate used to be one [dollar] to thirty kopecks!17 People were paid up to 400r a month, but if you just worked for a sovkhoz (R) (state farm) you got 60r a month. But life was still better. A flight to Uzbekistan then cost 54r. With 500r the whole family could fly to Uzbekistan, stay there for a week, buy clothes and fly back. Now it costs 2,500r simply to fly there. To go visiting to Krymsk [a town six hours away by bus], including buying sweets and biscuits to take with you, you needed only 15r. And no-one took milk into town to sell; the sovkhoz collected it morning and night, and took it straight to the milk factory. There was plenty of milk, and it was sold in the shops, 15k for a bottle, 30k including the bottle. And people say that under Communism things were bad!

Another man said, ‘Earlier it was better. A sack of flour cost 13r, and I brought home 100r or 150r.18 Plus afterwards I worked in the field; I worked in the fields in Uzbekistan too. Everyone could live on their pay, but if you wanted more you worked in the ogorod (R) (allotment)’.19 For this man, working in the allotment is no longer an option, but a requirement for earning his living. And a woman, tired of separating the cream from her milk every day, lamented that a kilo of butter (which she makes from the cream) costs 57r, but it used to be 3r40k. I asked when this was; ‘In Soviet times, until 1991’. The price apparently never inflated; butter, until 1991, was always 3r40k a kilogram. The focus on food prices, visiting costs and wages is unsurprising, given the centrality of visiting and provision of food in Meskhetian Turkish society, and the difficulty with which these are now provided. Similar is the nostalgia for the public holidays, days of relaxation with huge parades, for which ‘people used to prepare for weeks, and bought new clothes’. But there is more to the attachment to the Soviet Union than enjoyment of public holidays or a concern with prices. I was repeatedly told, ‘Now it is not interesting. It was interesting under Communism. You should have come earlier; it was interesting then. Now it is not interesting’. One elderly man said that when, three hundred years ago, Russia took over Meskhetia, they were told, ‘You will pay no taxes, not serve in the army’, but, ‘They were poor, they were not helped’. Then, when Soviet times began, they began to have to pay taxes, and serve in the army, but they were also made literate. Life got better, they got richer, because ‘they [the Soviets] helped’. Another man, not known for his political engagement, expounded the virtues of communal ownership: Whoever says that under Communism it was worse, doesn’t know how to live! For example, earlier no-one had their own lorry, no-one had their own tractor. Everything was state [owned]. If you want to cut hay, you pay him money, and he cuts it. And like that, then there weren’t private things. No, what are you saying? Earlier it was better.

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


Recent historical research on the ‘extraordinary times’ of the 1930s testifies to the excitement felt at participation in the construction of a new, forward-looking society, even by some of those who had most reason to be disenchanted with the Soviet project (Fitzpatrick, 1999, p. 1; Grant, 1995; Hellbeck, 2000; Kotkin, 1995). As Grant notes, ‘Much of the zeal demonstrated on North Sakhalin kolkhozes [collective farms] attested to real patriotism and the spirit of building a new society of which many if not most saw themselves a part’ (Grant, 1995, p. 105). An analysis of the daily experience of the Meskhetian Turks in the 1930s or during their years in Uzbekistan is not available, and thus positing their then attitude to or involvement in the Soviet project is unsound. Yet perception of themselves and their relationship with the state continues to be framed in terms of their position as ‘Soviets’, and their comments regarding equality, homeland and work suggest that this attachment is based on more than nostalgia under trying circumstances. In discussions about their present difficulties due to lack of citizenship, many Meskhetian Turks stated that, ‘We have no homeland’, and that, ‘Our homeland is the Soviet Union’.20 I suggest that it is significant that this statement is in the present tense. Meskhetian Turks are aware of the problems that this implies, particularly when seeking to obtain the multitude of documents necessary for daily interaction with the bureaucratic apparatus. One man, whose sister married a Turk from Turkey and who had difficulty obtaining a passport, said bitterly, ‘They ask, “Where are you from?” If we say the Soviet Union, they say, ‘The Soviet Union no longer exists; you are from no-where, no-one”’. Because of such statelessness it took his sister six years to obtain a Turkish passport, despite her married status. Humphrey notes that the lack of one or other document places one in a category of the dispossessed, those who ‘have been deprived of property, work and entitlements’ (Humphrey, 1996, pp. 75, 70). Additionally, they are ‘people who are no longer possessed. That is, they are no longer inside the quasi-feudal corporations, the collective “domains”, which confer a social status on their members and which in practice are still today the key units disposing of property and people in Russia’ (ibid., p. 70). In Oktiabr’skii, one of the ‘domains’ in Humphrey’s terms – in this case the sovkhoz (R) (state farm) – continues to dispense services, many of which are vital to rural survival. The sovkhoz provides the bus that takes children to school and voters to election booths; the fields on which the villagers’ cattle graze; the hay field, ploughed potato fields and pre-planted maize rows; and milk delivery during the winter. Yet although these services come free or cheap to members of the sovkhoz, they are also provided, either free or for cash, to all village residents. There can be no doubt that the diversity of the sovkhoz’s services has decreased since 1991, yet I suggest that the Meskhetian Turks’ dispossession stems not so much from them no longer being inside ‘the collective domains’, but rather that the collective domain, the state, no longer operates, or allows them to operate, as they wish to. Mamur’s statement at the beginning of this chapter (that ‘You should have come fifteen years ago. Then things were good, everyone was equal. The best way of life is Communism’) is in part a lament of their lack of citizenship and the benefits that it entails. Although undeniably such sentiments are a reaction to their present conditions, which are in almost all senses more difficult than they were during the Soviet period, it would be foolish to ignore the extent to which the Meskhetian Turks continue to function with, and perceive their world through, a certain set of expectations about


Writing History, Constructing Religion

their relationship with the state. What it means to be Soviet, to identify with the Soviet state, can be examined through their concept of rabota (R). While rabota is best translated as ‘work’, it must be recognized that this means a great deal more than the physical labour, trud (R), involved in earning a living. Ahmed and Salim are brothers who live with their wives, children, mother and deceased brother’s children. Their experience demonstrates that ‘work’, rabota (R), is an ideologically loaded term that denotes a particular relationship with the state. Not all employment or labour counts as work. ‘Nobody works now; they all do business’, Salim’s wife declared. Ahmed continued, ‘Fifty per cent of the population here is unemployed’, a figure in which he included himself. However, Ahmed is one of the richest and most entrepreneurial Meskhetian Turks I know. Although when we first spoke money was short, he and his brothers annually cultivate for sale tonnes of vegetables on sovkhoz land. His past activities – as a meat seller, long-distance furniture delivery man, and illicit distiller of vodka – have earned, and lost, him considerable sums of money. Six months previously he had been fined one million roubles, he said, for the vodka operation, a sum that he had just paid off. When we spoke the brothers were seeking a ‘client’ (purchaser) for 10,000r worth of onions, and had just started selling illicit petrol.21 When I met them again a few weeks later, Ahmed declared, ‘I told you, within a week things would get better. We are making 400–500r everyday [selling scrap metal] and should get 6,000r tomorrow’. To put this in perspective, my regular hosts had a maximum monthly income of 2,000r. In rural southern Russia, a biznesmen (R) is anyone who thus uses his contacts, capital and entrepreneurial activities to obtain an income.22 Amongst the Meskhetian Turks, to do biznes (R), or simply to sell things (torgovat’ (R)), is no longer despised as speculation, unproductive labour, partly because so many rely on it for survival. It is not immoral, but it is also not ‘work’. But the perception of immorality remains among much of the rural population, and in part explains Russian hostility to Meskhetian Turks practising developments of activities that were illegal during the Soviet era (Humphrey, 1991, 1999).23 The sale of goods is not conceived negatively by Meskhetian Turks in part because they see the income as the legitimate result of hard labour. Salim told of an old woman at the market complaining that his tomatoes were too expensive, who said, ‘You Turks should be thrown out’. Salim told her, ‘The price is because of my labour. Look at my hands!’ The old woman responded: ‘Don’t try to teach us! We also work!’ Salim replied, ‘If you worked, you would know the price of labour, and not say they are expensive’. At this the woman’s husband led her away. Salim explained, ‘He understood, she didn’t’. Meskhetian Turks conceive of themselves as a ‘people that likes to work, that does not leave work undone’, an industrious or ‘“labour-loving” people’.24 They explain that they work hard in the summer and relax in the winter, but because they do not spend all their cash on drink, they have money to spend in the autumn. The Russians, they say, having drunk all their money, see Meskhetian Turks as rich, and complain about ‘rich refugees’. Notably even Russians who declare ‘I can’t stand them, I’ve had it up to here with Turks’, agree that, ‘They are very honest people. They work hard’. They are resented for their success; which is also seen by many (Meskhetian Turks and international observers) as the reason for the Uzbeks’ actions against them in Ferghana (FMP, 1998; Wynne Russell, personal communication).

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


While physical labour is valued, and the ability to thus labour respected, unlike others who work the land the Meskhetian Turks do not consider it an ideal occupation.25 Most would prefer to be working, ‘by profession’. Their profession is that learnt at college, for which they obtained a diploma, in gas installation, say, or electrical engineering. That most Meskhetian Turks, barring some medical personnel, do not work ‘by profession’ is attributed both to the lack of such jobs in Russia’s current economic climate, but also to the fact that without correct documents they are not entitled to such employment. But there is more to ‘not working’ than lack of a professional job. When I said to Mamur that he wasn’t unemployed because he worked the sovkhoz land, he said, ‘No, we do not have a book where it is written how much we have worked’. The ‘book’ is the labour book, in which a person’s type of work and length of service are recorded. After completing their stazh (R) – a certain number of worked years, differing according to profession – the worker is entitled to a pension, although possession of a labour book also entitles one to other benefits. Only companies and institutions that pay tax record the stazh, and thus only working for these entities constitutes ‘work’ (rabota (R)). Doing business, growing crops on sovkhoz land and Salim and Ahmed’s other entrepreneurial activities, despite resulting in a considerably greater income, do not count as work. The entitlement to a pension, while important for some, is mostly of limited financial value, not only because the amount is small,26 but also more because Meskhetian Turks do not expect to have to provide for themselves in their old age; their sons support them. Rather, value is located in the fact that the pension and other entitlements accruing to one who ‘works’ demonstrates their involvement with the state, and the state’s relationship with them. Humphrey notes that the success of the Soviet enterprises was measured not in profit but in the material, social and cultural benefits they provided for their members, envisaged as an exchange, ‘between the workers who were persuaded to produce something and hand it over to the state and the managers who agreed to redistribute state-benefits of every kind to the workers’ (Humphrey, 1996, p. 74). The Meskhetian Turks’ continued high-regard for (lowpaid) ‘work’ over (high-earning) business or trade indicates that they continue to evaluate their lifestyles in these terms, and feel attached to a providing state, modelled on their memory of the Soviet state. To ‘work’ is to fulfil their part of the exchange; they expect the state to both fulfil its part of the bargain, and to enable them to do the same. For my informants, then, being Soviet is a present day perspective on, amongst other things, one’s entitlement to earn a decent living and receive support from the state. It is, to return to Daniel’s framework, a way of being in the world. This is not to say that Meskhetian Turks do not also recognize other, past, aspects of being Soviet, including those which led to their initial deportation in 1944. But I suggest that, in comparison to the way in which Meskhetian Turks are unable to live out their Soviet work heritage, these matters of history are matters of little contemporary regard. This was illustrated when my host showed me his passport, in which, in common with some other Meskhetian Turks, his nationality is recorded as Azerbaijani. He said that during the Soviet period every Turk had a little ‘7’ printed in the corner of the passport pages, so that he could not be taken for secret work in the army. His wife had not heard this before, nor seen her little ‘7’. He said that this stands for ‘traitor’, for


Writing History, Constructing Religion

which, he said, ‘We were thrown out of Georgia’. Tishkov notes the existence of the little numbers, stating that ‘to those who had to use a special serial number for members of “punished peoples”, the passport was a constant reminder of deportation and humiliation’ (Tishkov, 1997, p. 233). Given the proud and matter-of-fact manner in which my host reported on his little 7, and his wife’s lack of prior knowledge about it, I suggest that rather than being a constant reminder of humiliation, these numbers and the epistemic view of the role of the past in the present, are of little immediate consequence to today’s Meskhetian Turks. For my informants being Soviet is another part of being Meskhetian Turkish, in the present; it is only rarely a way of seeing the world through reference to the past. Being Muslim As I suggested above, Meskhetian Turks’ disposition towards Islam can be seen as a continuation of past practices in the present, as opposed to a textual approach to the world. One example of this orientation is the absence of explanatory discourse on the wearing of headscarves. All married Meskhetian Turkish women wear headscarves, and the donning of one is the clearest sign that a young woman has married. It is a source of discomfort to young brides-to-be; one young woman who loved dancing refused to attend several weddings prior to her own as she would have to cover her head in front of her future husband’s relatives. When, after several months, I began wearing a headscarf, it elicited what seemed to be positive comments, including, ‘Who told you to wear a headscarf?’ and ‘You’ve become a Muslim’. Yet, when asked why she wore a headscarf, a relatively young widowed woman, who always took care to cover her hair when she left the house despite being marriageable, thought for a moment and said, ‘I don’t know. If we don’t wear them it is a sin. For girls as well. Earlier we wore sleeves down to here [indicating on her wrist], and girls wore headscarves. Now they don’t’. No further explanation was given, and no other woman volunteered an explanation for the wearing of headscarves. Here a framework for understanding Meskhetian Turkish sociality through the medium of the headscarf, following (amongst others) the example of AbuLughod’s (1986) work on the Awlad ‘Ali Beduoin of Egypt, was not forthcoming. However, absence of religion (as opposed to absence of discourse about religion) is a matter of concern. As I sat in the sunshine in autumn 2000 helping to sort a ton of onions into different sizes ready for sale, storage or immediate planting, Fatima talked approvingly of an English boy who had converted to Islam, about whom she had seen a programme on television. She asked me what was my religion; I responded carefully that I knew there is a god but I am not christened. Fatima insisted, ‘You must have a religion. Everyone must have a religion. Do you like the Muslim faith?’ I said it is ‘normalno (R)’ (colloquially ‘good’). Fatima continued, ‘It is the best faith. You should go to a mullah and tell him that you want to accept the Muslim faith. Do you understand? You should go to a mullah’. This was not the first time that my lack of practising faith had been a source of consternation, and nor the first time my informants had sought to do something about it. During the month-long fast of Ramadan – or Ramazan as they know it – when I had also been fasting, another old woman had instructed me to repeat after her a phrase in

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


Arabic. I, of course, understood little of what I said, other than ‘Mohammed’ and ‘Allah’, but the old woman said, ‘Molodets (R)’ (a term of approval; literally ‘good boy’) several times. Not until later did another woman explain to me that because I was not a Muslim, I had to say these words so that good would come of my fasting for others. Later still, when the same old woman had had me repeat the phrase again, I understood that I had said al-shahada, the formal declaration of faith, and was told that to become a Muslim all I had to do was repeat these words – as I had done (cf. Lindholm, 2002, p. 114). Occasions like these, when Meskhetian Turks discussed Islam with me, were rare. While Gellner states that Islam is a ‘total’ religion, complete and egalitarian (Gellner, 1981, p. 1), in reality Islam’s effects have, as Tapper notes, ‘never been total’ (Tapper, 1991, p. 12). Gilsenan warns anthropologists against assuming that Islam is the most important aspect of life in Muslim society (1982, p. 20); and his account of village life in North Lebanon hardly mentions the religion (Gilsenan, 1996). But being Muslim is unquestionably embedded in the daily and celebratory practice of being Meskhetian Turkish. The nature of Islam among Meskhetian Turks can be illustrated by a description of the two significant annual events in the Meskhetian Turkish calendar: the month-long fast of Ramazan with its associated holiday (bayram); and Kurban Bayram, the holiday that follows a little over two months later. One man explained Ramazan to me by saying that during the day, it is forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, kiss. When asked why, he (and others) initially explained by way of analogy with the Russian post (R) (Lent) during which he said Russians do not eat fat. I pushed the question, asking why the fast lasted for thirty days. He now said that he did not know. But he thought that God had initially said that they should fast for three days, but that someone had stolen the book in which that was written, and thus men fast for ten days for every one previously ordered day, in order to make sure they get the right days. He added that during Ramazan drinking vodka is completely forbidden, so he would not drink at New Year (which fell towards the end of Ramazan in 2000), adding that he would drink next New Year (which would not fall during the next Ramazan). In the village in which I lived there was some confusion over when Ramazan was due to begin. There was much discussion about a Russian–Muslim calendar that someone in the next village had seen, as well as the dates provided by someone’s uncle further north. As it happened, the most ‘religious’ woman in the village (the oldest, and the only one who prayed five times a day) got the start date wrong, and her household started a day early. Nobody was much concerned, only a little amused. So we rose at about five o’clock each morning, in order to eat yasluk – the name for breakfast during the fast – before sunrise. The sunset and sunrise times printed in Russian calendar were consulted to find out when we should start and finish eating. Some households prepared special food for yasluk. In particular, a slightly risen flat bread, with fat spooned over it after cooking, was freshly prepared; although this was not only made at Ramazan, it was said that the extra fat helps one keep the fast well. As Ramazan fell early in my time in Krasnodar, my grasp of Meskhetian Turkish was at this point somewhat limited. So at the time I did not fully understand what was happening when, at the first yasluk, my host and hostess argued about the fact that they had not told me ‘what to say’, with my host declaring that this would not matter for three days. But I was told to wash my mouth out three times. At sunset on the first


Writing History, Constructing Religion

day, my host poured himself a cup of cold tea, and another for me, and told me to repeat what he said, and then drink. I asked why we could eat although it was not fully dark, and he told me to ask the mullah, he did not know. He then had me repeat the words which approximately translate as I intend to fast Fast for God Creator of the world I intended to fast I opened with a prayer May God accept it With 100,000 mercies.27

These were the words that had caused consternation between my host and hostess – the prayer with which the fast is broken – as I had not been fully instructed in the proper practice. It is forbidden to fast if one is ill, or pregnant, or travelling considerable distances, as to fast ‘would be difficult for you’ and would therefore be ‘dirty’. Women are also not allowed to fast while they are menstruating. Any days that are missed for any of these reasons count as a debt to be made up by additional days of fasting either at the end of Ramazan or at the beginning of the next one. Not everyone keeps Ramazan; approximately half of my adult informants did, with marginally more women than men doing so. As one man said, ‘By our laws, in the book, the Qur’an, it says that women should start praying at seven years, and men at twelve years. That is what it says in the book. But who like this, who like that. At Ramazan, some keep it, some don’t’. At Ramazan Bayram, the holiday that marks the end of the Muslim fast, a man talked about what he called the bigger, more important holiday: Kurban Bayram, ‘holiday of sacrifice’. He said that it takes place two months and ten days after the end of Ramazan, and is named after the slaughter of a calf or other animal each year for seven years.28 The meat is split three ways: a third to be eaten by the household; another to be given to close kin, and the last shared around the neighbourhood. Others who talked about Kurban Bayram always gave the same explanation of its significance: as a slaughter of an animal every year for seven years, whose meat is then shared. As for Ramazan, there was no reference to the words or practice of Mohammed, or explanations drawn from the Qur’an, as to why these events and acts are significant. As Kurban Bayram approached, there was again confusion in the small local Meskhetian Turkish community over its date. A neighbour, Iassin, reported that while he had been in the neighbouring village, two women had told him that tomorrow (16 March) was to be the holiday. Iassin had been confused, as his uncle had said that Kurban Bayram was on 19 rather than 16 March. He had asked for clarification from a man ‘who is younger than me but who reads a lot’, who explained that the seconds and minutes added to the time when fasting stopped over Ramazan all counted, and added up to three days, hence the holiday would be on 16th not 19th. My hosts already knew that the 16th was the correct date, because they had read as much in the television schedule in the local paper.

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


On Arafa, the evening before Kurban Bayram, my hosts prepared as¸ (the special rice dish). The smell from such fatty foods is said to feed the ancestors, and as¸ is often prepared on a Thursday for this reason. My hostess complained that Iassin’s wife did not prepare as¸ at this time. Iassin’s wife later excused herself by saying they were bored of as¸, having cooked it for a sick child the previous week, and that she’d rather cook for the guests who arrived on Kurban Bayram itself. My hostess remained unimpressed. But her son also did not understand why as¸ was being cooked the night before; ‘If it is bayram tomorrow, why are you making as¸ today and not tomorrow?’ After eating his as¸, my host left for his uncle’s house in another village, as much to visit his older relatives as to join the Arafa prayers. Meskhetian Turks say that on holidays one should visit one’s elders, hence when my host returned home the next day on Kurban Bayram his sister and his recently married daughter, along with the latter’s husband and his relatives, had arrived from the next region. My hostess, her daughters and I had spent the morning cleaning and sweeping the yard, preparing cakes and a special meaty soup, alongside the usual chores of milking, feeding the new calf, and turning milk into cheese. As guests arrived the men greeted one another with shaken hands and women with an embrace as usual, but all replaced the everyday spoken greeting29 with ‘Bayram mübarek olsun’ (‘May the holiday be blessed’). Kurban Bayram, like Ramazan Bayram, is an occasion for visiting and good eating. Luxury foods including sweets, biscuits and fruit, which are prohibitively expensive for daily consumption, are bought to offer to guests, and jars of pickled tomatoes and preserved fruit are opened. Katmakh, an oily, labour-intensive bread, is baked, and the usual potato soup is replaced by one containing meat and stuffed peppers. Visitors and hosts – almost invariably relatives – share news and laughter. On this occasion the newly-wed daughter’s pregnancy was discussed in hushed whispers by the women; this was the first her mother knew of the now two-month pregnancy. After lunch, a note arrived for a young man, calling him to the town’s military headquarters to receive the date of his call up to the army. The guests talked with his mother about the fear that he may be sent to Chechnya, and discussed the ongoing passport applications for those who have not yet been granted citizenship, despite residence in Russia for ten years. Late in the afternoon, Iassin’s daughter called round with meat wrapped in newspaper. Iassin had contributed 1000r, along with six other men, to buy a calf for Kurban Bayram and is now obliged to slaughter an animal each year for the next six years. My hostess and her married daughter made the meat into dumplings (khinkali) the following morning. In the evening, the family visited other elderly relatives at the end of the village, again sharing food and news. Other than the usual prayers and thanks for food after meals, accompanied with a hand movement as if washing the face; and a young woman’s giggling that when washing for prayer in the morning, she had washed her nose rather than her ears and so asked her ears for forgiveness, Allah and the theology of Islam went unmentioned, both in the early discussions of Kurban Bayram and during the day’s celebrations. While every household possesses a Qur’an, hung on the wall in a velvety bag, very few can read Arabic, and although the gathering of men on Fridays and for special prayers is known as koran okumaya (reading the Qur’an) in practice many mullahs cannot read Arabic either, and the prayer consists of memorized chants. Accosted at the bus station by a Christian evangelist, a young Meskhetian Turkish woman told her


Writing History, Constructing Religion

‘I’m Muslim’. When the Russian, undeterred, asked her, ‘What does the Qur’an say about the future?’, my informant replied that she did not know. Similarly, excessive questioning by the anthropologist, as to why certain things are done, is ultimately met with a laugh and an exasperated, ‘Ask a mullah!’ It is the welcoming of guests into an ordered house, the preparation of traditional food, the eating together with relatives, with men and women seated on mattresses at separate low tables, and the sharing of news that make this a (Muslim) holiday. Being Muslim among the Meskhetian Turks is not discussed as it is not questioned. There are examples of Muslims whose commitment to their faith has been intensified as a result of their displacement (Mandel, 1990, p. 163, 1996, p. 155; Diop and Michalak, 1996, p. 86). There are also those for whom the collapse of the Soviet Union has been said to provide the opportunity for a ‘revival’ of Islam (Omel’chenko and Sabirova, 2003, p. 183). This does not seem to have been the case among the Meskhetian Turks. As Pilkington notes of Islam in Tatarstan and Dagestan, ‘In comparison with Orthodoxy, for example, Islam maintained an everyday significance, and was articulated through a multitude of everyday rituals and practices that although deviating from “standard” Islam, allowed it to survive as a faith system even through the Soviet system’(Pilkington, 2003, p. 6). Being Muslim for Meskhetian Turks (and for others in the former Soviet Union) is a continuous application of practices, rather than an epistemological endeavour, and as such enacts a continuity with the past as heritage rather than history. Conclusion The Meskhetian Turks are not ‘people who live for the moment’, in the manner described by Day et al. (1999) for whom the past is given little attention in the present day. On the contrary, the Meskhetian Turks’ present is very much moulded by the past, both in the continuation of practices, and in the resonances of events of recent and more distant past. To return one last time to Daniel, the Meskhetian Turks share with the Tamils ‘more a consciousness of the present, one’s present heritage of the past, than of the past as past. “History” is one thing, “heritage” another. The one is sharply defined and clearly instantiated, even if only in the imagination; the other is a vague, though rich, potentiality’ (Daniel, 1996, p. 27). This distinction has more than academic significance. In his discussion of heritage as cultural property, Rowlands states that, ‘heritage, whilst ostensibly about the past, is always about the future. About having a future and the recognition that those excluded or marginalized from this discourse are also being denied one’ (Rowlands, 2002, p. 113). Although Rowlands discusses heritage in terms different from those employed here, his point – that those who do not speak the same language about the past are excluded from decisions about the(ir) future – holds frighteningly true for the Meskhetian Turks. I suggest that a misrepresentation by international actors of the desires of this ‘group’, using the language of rights and drawing heavily on an epistemological view of the past, could have far-reaching results: if not a third forced migration of the Meskhetian Turks, then at least a further widening of the diaspora under conditions of limited choice. As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, most Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar have not been granted citizenship, despite being entitled to it by their resi-

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


dence in Russia at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union (see for example Ossipov, 2002). The Meskhetian Turkish ‘question’ has been a matter of international concern since that time, involving the UNHCR, OSCE, Council of Europe, International Organization of Migration (IOM), and the governments of Russia, Georgia, Turkey, and increasingly the USA. Meskhetian Turks are ‘represented’ primarily by two organizations: Vatan (meaning homeland), which campaigns for return to Meskhetia, as Meskhetian Turks; and the smaller Khsna (‘salvation’ in Georgian), which calls for repatriation, as Georgians, to Georgia but not necessarily to Meskhetia. Neither organization can be said to accurately represent the views or desires of a majority Meskhetian Turks, and certainly very few of my informants in Krasnodar hold to either view. In any case, neither organization has much impact on negotiations over their community’s future. In 1999 the Council of Europe stipulated that Georgia must facilitate the repatriation and integration of the Meskhetian Turks as a condition of the country’s accession to the Council of Europe, a process which was required to be completed within twelve years of Georgia’s accession (Adam, 2000, p. 10). While this stipulation seems to have been included on the basis of international actors’ perceptions of Meskhetian Turks’ best interests, in line with international discourses of nations, rights and repatriation, it incidentally conveniently relieves the pressure on Russia, Turkey and the Ukraine to improve conditions for their Meskhetian Turks, and places most of the responsibility for resolving the Meskhetian Turkish ‘question’ on Georgia. But the law permitting repatriation and integration that was to be adopted by Georgia in 2001 was still being drafted in 2003 (Ossipov, 2002, p. 9). Moreover, as Nodia notes, ‘The Armenian minority and the Georgian majority of SamtskheJavakheti [Meskhetia] are both flatly against repatriation of Muslim Meskhetians’ (Nodia, 2002, p. 35). Not unrelated to this attitude is the fact that, ‘Most of the Georgians consider Javakehti as a historical Georgian land and even as one of the cradles of the Georgian ethno-genesis, while the Armenians, including the Armenian community of Javakheti, perceive it as a historical motherland of the Armenian nation’ (ibid., p. 34). As was shown above, this is not a debate into which the Meskhetian Turks have much interest in entering. A more recent development is the United States’ proactive encouragement of migration across the Atlantic, with up to 10,000 Meskhetian Turks being expected to apply for refugee status in the USA by August 2004. Only those without legal status in Russia will be entitled to apply. It is difficult to see this seemingly generous offer towards the Meskhetian Turks on the part of the Americans in isolation from the gratitude that both Georgia and Russian governments are likely to feel towards a state that removes these stateless persons from their midst. Mark Getchell, head of the IOM office in Moscow responsible for administering the scheme, stated, ‘It is just hoped by the government of the U.S., I think, that taking [an] initial group might relieve some of the pressure in the [Krasnodar] region to the point where for local authorities – and perhaps for Georgia – the numbers [of Meskhetians remaining in the region] will be smaller and the solutions may be more easily attainable’ (Peuch, 2004). The extent to which any of my informants might see a reduction in their numbers in Krasnodar as contributing towards a ‘solution’ of the hardships of their daily lives is questionable. As the Meskhetian Turks are already widely dispersed across the former Soviet Union, making weddings the only occasions on which many relatives meet, the relocation of


Writing History, Constructing Religion

10,000 to America will make interaction with relatives far more difficult. It is also unlikely to be easy for the Meskhetian Turks to continue to ‘be Soviets’ – which, as I have shown, is an important aspect of their self-representation – if they are living in New Jersey. For my informants, the past is not used as a set of facts, but to argue for a communal position in the future. Unlike the Chechens, or the Crimean Tatars – both groups also deported to Central Asia during the 1940s, and in the latter’s case, only recently been permitted to ‘return’ to the Crimea – Meskhetian Turks have not systematically used their historical past as a tool for political engagement in attempts to secure a more stable future. Indeed this is unsurprising if, as I have argued, the importance of the past is its presence in present practices, here discussed in terms of being Turks, being Soviets and being Muslims. Nor is their religion used as a rallying cry to draw support from other Muslims.30 Following Bloch’s argument that people react to external events in terms of their representation of themselves in their past (Bloch, 1996, p. 280), the Meskhetian Turks’ practice of living yesterday as heritage today leaves them vulnerable to others’ (historians, policy makers, politicians) use of history in defining their tomorrow. Were the latter to consider the circumstances of the Meskhetian Turks in terms that did not prioritize an epistemic understanding of the value of history in the present, the presence of the Meskhetian Turks in any of their present or potential areas of residence may be seen as less of a threat. Such an approach may also prevent a further divisive or even forced migration of this people. Notes 1 University College London Graduate School and the University of London Central Research Fund generously supported the research on which this chapter is based. The research was undertaken through fifteen months ‘participant observation’, which involves the researcher living with her informants and participating fully in everyday and celebratory events. The researcher examines what people say, what they do and what they say about what they do. 2 Words in italic are Meskhetian Turkish, except Russian words, which are followed by (R). Meskhetian Turkish has its roots in Anatolian Turkish, but the experience of living in Soviet Georgia, Uzbekistan and now Russia, plus the avoidance of Atatürk’s Turkish language reform, means that Meskhetian Turkish differs from ‘Istanbul Turkish’ in grammar, accent and vocabulary. All Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar speak some Russian, which is the language of the market, school and work. For some young people, particularly those living in villages with few other Meskhetian Turks, Russian is effectively their first language. Many elderly people speak very little Russian, other than the words that have been incorporated into Meskhetian Turkish and Uzbek. 3 All village and personal names are pseudonyms. 4 I later learnt that two of Mamur’s wife’s married sisters had lived in Chechnya, but moved to a neighbouring region in Russia at the beginning of the first Chechen war. Others in Krasnodar have relatives who are still in Chechnya. 5 Belgorod and Stavropol are towns in other parts of Russia. Note that those in Azerbaijan are said to live in Baku – whereas in fact most live in villages far from the capital. It is usual for Meskhetian Turks to refer to a place of residence by a (relatively) nearby major town. 6 See Cummings (2004) for examples of recent work in this area.

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


7 For a detailed summary of these migrations written from a Turkic (Azerbaijani) perspective, see Yunusov (2000, pp. 10–19); Gachechiladze (1995) and Rosen (1991) provide a Georgian perspective. 8 For an account of a similar conflict between the Chuvash and Tatar intellectuals, see Shnirelman (1996). 9 Nekrich, whose work on the deported peoples was published in New York in 1978, does not use the term ‘Meskhetian’ at all, despite referring to Conquest (1970), in which the term is used. This suggests that the term was not in common use in the Soviet Union when Nekrich left in 1976. 10 I shall not here be concerned with the debate as to whom the terms ‘Meskhetians’ or ‘Meskhetian Turks’ include, as discussed by Aydngün (2001), Bennigsen and Wimbush (1985, pp. 216–219), and Conquest (1970), among others. 11 One Meskhetian Turk said of her Uzbek neighbours, ‘They lived in the country, they didn’t know anything!’ She laughed that her Uzbek friend, working with her at the sovkhoz, used to say, ‘When are you going to your homeland, Kepkezler?’ 12 A Hamshin Armenian woman, herself displaced during the war in Abkhazia, chastized two Meskhetian Turkish women, declaring that they should know where they came from, so that they could tell their children, and they would pass it on to their grandchildren. The Meskhetian Turkish women said nothing. 13 This absence of intellectual curiosity is possibly related to the limited number of welleducated Meskhetian Turks. At the turn of the twentieth century, educated Meskhetian Turks were mostly from bey (aristocratic) families, many of whom fled to Turkey at the time of the Revolution. Many of those who remained, and other educated people, were arrested and many killed in 1928–37 (Aydngün, 2001, pp. 131, 158; Yunusov, 2000, p. 28). In Uzbekistan, initial restrictions on movement limited opportunities for study until 1956. Thereafter it is possible that discrimination against Meskhetian Turks continued. However, some denied that there was significant discrimination in Uzbekistan, and most adult men, and some women, attended at least a vocational college. In Krasnodar in the years following 1989, access to education beyond school has been minimal, due to a lack of necessary citizenship documents, and the prohibitively high cost. In 1999–2000, the fees alone for a year’s post-graduate study at Kuban State University in Krasnodar amounted to 10,000r (approximately £250); my hosts had a maximum monthly income of 2,000r. However, other factors also affect the average level of education, including, particularly for girls, the early age of marriage and parental reluctance to invest in or allow girls to continue their education. 14 Although some had heard of the name Ahska Türkleri, Osmani Türkleri was mentioned more frequently, and the former is not used in daily Meskhetian Turkish conversation. This contrasts with Aydngün’s (2001) work with this group in Kazakhstan and Turkey. However, it should be noted that Aydngün is herself Turkish, and that her informants were on average far better educated and better employed than mine, and had access to institutions connected with Turkey. 15 As these comments suggest, Meskhetian Turks have an ambivalent relationship with Turks from Turkey. In some contexts, such as the shared language which is appreciated (by some) through their satellite television from Turkey, Turkey’s Turks are svoi (R), ‘our own’. But most are aware of differences, in, for example, work practice and hospitality expectations. Even for those considering emigration to Turkey, the country is not seen as their homeland, as a place where they belong (cf. Aydngün, 2001). 16 This is contrary to what is expected by many Armenians who have no personal contact with Meskhetian Turks. A perception of antagonism between Armenians and all Turks (citizens of Turkey, Azeris and Meskhetian Turks), epitomized by the massacre of Armenians by Turks in the early twentieth century, persists in Krasnodar among many urban educated Armenians and some rural people.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

17 There are 100 kopecks to the rouble. At the time of fieldwork the dollar:rouble exchange rate was approximately 1:25. 18 At the time of my fieldwork a sack of flour cost 300r; my hosts used up to two and a half sacks of flour to make bread each month (i.e. 750r), and brought home monthly wages of between 1000r and 2000r. 19 An ogorod (R) is a piece of land on which a household grows food largely for its own consumption, or for sale for small purchases. 20 Very few people talked of Meskhetia, or Georgia, as their homeland (rodina (R)). I have discussed the Meskhetian Turks’ disposition towards (their/lack of) homeland in more detail elsewhere (Tomlinson, 2004). 21 Some petrol tankers have a couple of 100l containers under the tank, and the drivers were going to sell this ‘spare’ petrol to Ahmed to sell on locally. 22 This differs from Humphrey’s usage of biznesmen as ‘managers who run new private conglomerates’ (Humphrey, 1999, p. 34). Whereas she identifies six types of traders, I suggest that the Meskhetian Turks discriminate only between those who sell things at the market that they have either grown themselves, or bought from a city market to resell in a town or village; and those who sell things obtained through other means. 23 Articles in local newspapers regularly accuse Meskhetian Turks and Armenians of monopolizing meat and produce markets and thus maintaining high prices (see, for example, Gusev, 2000). 24 Salim complained of a nephew who visited from Turkey and did not have the strength to turn the handle to start their jeep. His nephew repeatedly tried to convince Salim to move to Turkey, saying that he would live easily, but Salim clearly did not want to ‘live easily’ if it involved having hands as weak as his nephew’s. 25 This is despite the fact that the Meskhetian Turks have always been a predominantly rural population, and may in part be because they do not feel a strong tie to the land (cf. PinaCabral, 1986, p. 152). 26 About 600r a month in early 2000. 27 This translation is based on my transliteration of the Meskhetian Turkish and Gülnur Akturan’s transliteration into Turkish transliteration. Any mistakes are my own, due in part to my then limited knowledge of Meskhetian Turkish. 28 The animal must be unwounded, as it is when it was born; therefore Meskhetian Turks do not chop off the tails of lambs for cleanliness – as do others in Russia – so that they remain eligible for Kurban Bayram slaughter. 29 Between women, this is, ‘Yaks¸i mi siz? Nasil siniz?’ – ‘Are you happy/blessed? How are you?’ to which one responds either by saying ‘Iyiyim’, ‘I am well’, and/or by repeating the same questions. Men exchange the greeting ‘Selamün aleyküm’, ‘Peace be upon you’; the second man replies, ‘Aleyküm selam’. 30 For example, they seem to have very little communication with their neighbours the Adygeans, whose Muslim republic lies completely enclosed in Krasnodar region, and whose mosques lie barely 10km from some of my informants’ homes.

References Abu-Lughod, L. (1986), Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, Berkeley: University of California Press. Adam, Ségolène (2000), ‘The Meskhetian issue in the post-Soviet context’, paper presented at ‘Ahska (Meskhetian) Turks: Identity, Migration and Integration’ workshop, METU, Ankara, 14–15 December. Akiner, S. (1986), Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia


Aslan, K. (1996), The Ahska Turks, Ankara: The Cultural and Solidarity Association of the Ahiska Turks. Aydngün, A. (2001), ‘Rethinking on ethnic identity formation and shift: the case of the Ahska (Meskhetian) Turks in Turkey and Kazakhstan during and after the Soviet regime’, unpublished PhD thesis, Ankara Middle East Technical University. Bennigsen, A. and Wimbush, S. (1985), Muslims of the Soviet Empire: a Guide, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Bloch, Maurice (1996), ‘Internal and external memory: different ways of being in history’, in Antze, Paul and Lambek, Michael (eds), Tense Past: Cultural Essays in Trauma and Memory, New York: Routledge. pp. 215–233. Bugai, N. (1994), Turki iz Meskhetii: Dolgii Put’ k ReabilitatsiiI [Turks from Meskhetia: Long Road to Rehabilitation], Moscow: Izdatel’skii Dom ROSS. Conquest, R. (1970), The Nations Killers: the Soviet Deportation of Nationalities, London: Macmillan. Cummings, Sally (2004), ‘Islam in the former Soviet Union: review essay’, The Global Review of Ethnopolitics, 3 (2), 67–72. Daniel, E. V. (1996), Charred Lullabies. Chapters in an Anthropography of Violence, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Day, S., Papataxiarchis, E. and Stewart, M. (eds) (1999), Lilies of the Field: Marginal People Who Live for the Moment, Oxford: Westview Press. Diop, Moustaphe and Michalak, Laurence (1996) ‘“Refuge” and “prison”: Islam, ethnicity, and the adaptation of space in workers’ housing in France’, in Metcalf, Barbara Daly (ed.), Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 74–91. Donnan, Hastings and Stokes, Martin. (2002), ‘Interpreting interpretations of Islam’, in Donnan, Hastings (ed.), Interpreting Islam, London: Sage, pp. 1–19. Fitzpatrick, S. (1999), Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Forced Migration Projects (1998), Meskhetian Turks: Solutions and Human Security,New York: Open Society Institute. Gachechiladze, R. (1995), The New Georgia: Space, Society, Politics, London: UCL Press. Gellner, E. (1981), Muslim Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gilsenan, M. (1982), Recognising Islam, London: Croom Helm. Gilsenan, M. (1996), Lords of the Lebanese Marches: Violence and Narrative in an Arab Society, London: IB Tauris. Grant, B. (1995), In the Soviet House of Cultures: a Century of Perestroikas, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Gusev, V. B. (2000), ‘Chto nas zhdet uzhe zavtra?’ [What awaits us tomorrow?], Apsheronskii Robochii, 26 (73), 1–2. Hellbeck, Jochen (2000), ‘Fashioning the Stalinist soul: the diary of Stepan Podlubnyi, 1931–39’, in Fitzpatrick, Sheila (ed.), Stalinism: New Directions, London: Routledge, pp. 77–116. Humphrey, Caroline (1991), ‘“Icebergs”, barter, and the mafia in provincial Russia’, Anthropology Today, 7 (2), 8–13. Humphrey, Caroline (1996/7), ‘Myth-making, narratives and the dispossessed in Russia’, Cambridge Anthropology, 9 (2), 70–92. Humphrey, Caroline (1999), ‘Traders, “disorder”, and citizenship regimes in provincial Russia’, in Burawoy, Michael and Verdery, Katherine (eds), Uncertain Transition: Ethnographies of Change in the Post-Socialist World, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 19–52. Khazanov, Anatoly (1995), ‘People with nowhere to go: the plight of the Meskhetian Turks’, in Khazanov, Anatoly, After the USSR: Ethnicity, Nationalism and Politics in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Madison and London: The University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 192–210.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Kotkin, S. (1995), Magnetic Mountain: Stalin as a Civilization, Berkeley: University of California Press. Lindholm, Charles (2002), ‘Kissing cousins: anthropologists on Islam’, in Donnan, Hastings (ed.), Interpreting Islam, London: Sage, pp. 110–129. Mandel, Ruth (1990), ‘Shifting centres and emergent identities: Turkey and Germany in the lives of Turkish “Gastarbeiter”’, in Eickelman, Dale and Piscatori, James (eds), Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 153–171. Mandel, Ruth (1996), ‘A place of their own: contesting spaces and defining places in Berlin’s migrant community’, in Metcalf, Barbara Daly (ed.), Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 147–166. Nekrich, A. (1978), The Punished Peoples: the Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War, New York: W. W. Norton. Nodia, G. (ed.), (2002), Ethnic-Confessional Groups and Challenges to Civic Integration in Georgia: Azeri, Javakheti Armenian and Muslim Meskhetian Communities, Tblisi: Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development. Omel’chenko, Elena and Sabirova, Gusel’ (2003), ‘Practising Islam: rituals, ceremonies and the transmission of ethno-Islamic values’, in Pilkington, Hilary and Yemelianova, Galina (eds), Islam in Post-Soviet Russia: Public and Private Faces, London: Routledge Curzon, pp. 183–209. Ossipov, A. (2000), Russian Experience of Ethnic Discrimination: Meskhetians in Krasnodar Region, Moscow: Memorial Human Rights Centre. Ossipov, A. (2002), The Situation and Legal Status of Meskhetians in the Russian Federation, Moscow: Memorial Human Rights Centre. Peuch, Jean-Christophe (2004), ‘Russia: IOM expects up to 10,000 Meskhetians to apply for U.S. refugee status’ (RFE/RL Feature Article), MINELRES [online], Available: http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2004-May/003340.html [13 July, 2004]. Pilkington, Hilary (2003), ‘Introduction’, in Pilkington, Hilary and Yemelianova Galina (eds), Islam in Post-Soviet Russia: Public and Private Faces, London: Routledge Curzon, pp. 1–11. Pina-Cabral, J. (1986), Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve: the Peasant Worldview of the Alto Minho, Oxford: Clarendon Press. Ries, N. (1997), Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation During Perestroika, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. Rosen, R. (1991), The Georgian Republic, Hong Kong: Twin Age Ltd. Rowlands, Michael (2002), ‘Heritage and cultural property’, in Buchli, Victor (ed.), The Material Culture Reader. London: Berg, pp. 105–114. Sheehy, A. and Nahaylo, B. (1980), The Crimean Tartars, Volga Germans and Meskhetians: Soviet Treatment of Some National Minorities (Report No. 6, 3rd edn), London: Minority Rights Group. Shnirelman, V. (1996), Who Gets the Past? Competition for Ancestors among Non Russian Intellectuals in Russia, Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press. Tapper, Richard (1991), ‘Introduction’, in Tapper, Richard (ed.), Islam in Modern Turkey: Religion, Politics and Literature in a Secular State, London: IB Tauris. Tishkov, V. (1997), Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict In and After the Soviet Union, London: Sage. Tomlinson, Kathryn (2004), ‘Landless villages in a landless state: Meskhetian Turks without post-Soviet homelands’, paper presented at Association of Social Anthropologists conference, ‘Locating the Field’, Durham, 29 March. Wixman, R. (1984), The Peoples of the Soviet Union: an Ethnographic Handbook, London: Macmillan. Yunusov, A. (2000), Meskhetian Turks: Twice Deported People, Baku: Institute of Peace and Democracy.

Chapter 8

Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus Maurice Casey

Some of the most extraordinary intellectual debates in recent years have been between historians and people who may or may not be thought of as philosophers of history. The latter mostly belong to an overtly postmodernist mode of being, and have between them managed to claim inter alia that there are no historical facts. The initial response from historians who thought it worth replying to such claims was to lay out how they thought history was being done, without any satisfactory defence of their ways of doing things. In the last few years, a more reasonable response has been mounted by scholars such as Evans, In Defence of History (1997), and McCullagh, The Truth of History (1998). Such scholars have recognized that all historical theories are human constructs. They have also pointed out that all theories in such fields as physics and computer science are human constructs too. No one claims that in consequence none of our television sets or word-processors really works. Similarly, we ought to defend accurate historical research over against inaccurate historical work, whether the latter be controlled by large social groups, or done by maverick individuals. Accurate historical research should be thought of as providing genuine insight into the past, including among its achievements the recovery of genuine historical facts. Equally ferocious debates about Jesus of Nazareth have been conducted separately from this, though most students of his life and teaching have noticed that he was an important historical figure. This is because of the supposedly academic fact that he belongs in a different field of study. This is certainly a fact, and it is a fact about university departments and about groups of academics such as Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, more than a thousand academics who make up the international academic society for the study of the New Testament. This field of study is, however, largely inhabited and controlled by Protestant Christians. This is a rather amorphous group of people with different agendas, some of them sufficiently unrecognized to have made the expression ‘hidden agenda’ a byword. Moreover, many institutions, such as major British universities and Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas itself, genuinely operate academic criteria in decisions about appointments and membership. But when some 90 per cent or more of applicants are Protestant Christians, a vast majority of Christian academics is a natural result. Moreover, the figure of Jesus is of central importance in colleges and universities which are overtly Protestant or Catholic, and which produce a mass of books and articles of sufficient 129


Writing History, Constructing Religion

technical proficiency to be taken seriously. The overall result of such bias is to make the description of New Testament Studies as an academic field a dubious one. The purpose of this chapter is to examine some of the resulting trends. I begin in Nazi Germany, because this provides exceptionally clear examples of people controlled by their own social subgroups, examples which enable us to shed light on the scholarship of the preceding and succeeding periods as well. I then consider examples of the best critical scholarship of recent years, where some of us who read our doctorates in the 1970s imagined the scholarly world was bound to go. I turn next to the American Jesus seminar, which boldly goes where no one ever should have gone, and to the conservative Christian reaction against the American Jesus seminar. Finally, I offer some reflections on the most dangerous life of Jesus ever written, the gospel attributed to John. Nazi Germany I begin in Nazi Germany, where attempts to show that Jesus was not Jewish became more and more widespread.1 Such attempts were not new. Many Germans had already argued that Jesus was Aryan, not Jewish, but such Germans had not previously been New Testament scholars. In the nineteenth century, one of the most famous was the composer Richard Wagner. Perhaps the most influential single book was the 1899 work of H. S. Chamberlain, which was translated into English in 1910, as The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, and which reached its 29th German edition in 1944. Chamberlain’s argument that Jesus was not Jewish was based in the first place on racist principles. He considered the racial settlement of Galilee centuries previously, when it might be thought that Galilee was resettled with Gentiles after the deportation of Israelites to Assyria. It was in this way that, despite confessing that Jesus was Jewish in religion and education, he could state that: ‘The probability that Christ was no Jew, that he had not a drop of genuinely Jewish blood in his veins, is so great that it is almost equivalent to a certainty’ (Chamberlain, 1910, pp. 211–212: ET from Chamberlain, 1899, pp. 218–219). With that main point made, and an Aryan Jesus apparently established, Chamberlain could go on to picture Judaism very negatively, in contrast to the religion of Christ. This enabled him to see Christ as totally opposed to Judaism: ‘His advent is not the perfecting of the Jewish religion but its negation’ (Chamberlain, 1910, p. 221: ET from Chamberlain, 1899, p. 227). This book was popular because it satisfied the needs of German people who were conditioned by centuries of Christian anti-Semitism. No one imagined that Chamberlain was a New Testament scholar. In due course, however, scholars were profoundly affected by this anti-Jewish environment. I turn next to an outstanding example, Walter Grundmann (cf. Siegele-Wenschkewitz, 1982, pp. 182–189; Heschel, 1994; Head, 2004, pp. 70–89). Grundmann joined the Nazi party in 1930, and became active in the Deutsche Christen movement. The term Deutsche Christen is difficult to translate into English. A literal translation would be ‘German Christian’, but the Deutsche Christen movement was much more specific than this (Bergen, 1996). It was a deliberate attempt to produce a form of Christianity which maintained a Nazi ideology as well. Though it was internally motivated by people whose German and Christian identities were intertwined, one of the tasks of the movement was to

Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus 131

produce a form of Christianity to which most Nazis would not object. Consequently, it was abhorrent to those German Christians who formed the ‘Confessing Church’ (Bekennende Kirche) in opposition to it. Members of the ‘Confessing Church’ included three of the most important theologians of the twentieth century, Barth, Bonhoeffer and Bultmann. Grundmann also served as assistant to the notoriously anti-Semitic Gerhard Kittel from 1930 to 1932, preparing the Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, still the standard Theological Dictionary of the New Testament found in theological libraries and used by students all over the world as if it were nothing but a standard work of reference, though its early volumes are seriously biased by the culture of its founders (Casey, 1999; Head, 2004, pp. 70–74). On 1 April 1934, Grundmann became a supporting member of the SS. In 1936, he became a professor at Jena. He had not written a Habilitationschrift, the standard German qualification for promotion to professor, but Hitler signed the papers for his appointment following a recommendation in which the Nazi rector of the university said that the Faculty wanted to become a stronghold of National Socialism, so that Grundmann’s scholarship could be path-breaking for a National Socialist perspective in the realm of theology. In 1939, the Deutsche Christen movement opened the Institut zur Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben (Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life), with Grundmann as its academic director. His address at the opening, on 6 May 1939, was programmatic: ‘Die Entjudung des religiösen Lebens als Aufgabe deutscher Theologie und Kirche (The Dejudaization of the Religious Life as the Task of German Theology and Church)’. This declared that the elimination of Jewish influence on German life was an urgent task. There should therefore be no doubt about Grundmann’s central life-stance. He was not a frightened rabbit, nor someone doing his best in more difficult circumstances than we have to live through: he was a committed anti-Semitic Nazi. His contributions to falsehood reached a climax with his 1940 book, Jesus der Galiläer und das Judentum. There is no English translation, but the title means Jesus the Galilean and Judaism. Like Chamberlain, Grundmann argued that not only was Jesus completely opposed to the Judaism of his time, he was also racially Aryan, so not Jewish in any sense at all. Like Chamberlain, Grundmann did this by going back into the history of Galilee centuries previously and by using a racist theory of identity. In this way, the possibility that Galileans might have been descended ultimately from Gentiles overrode the fact that many Galileans at the time of Jesus, including Jesus and all his first disciples, were culturally Jewish. Thus Grundmann avoided a major aspect of the Jesus of history, replacing him with a quite specific version of the Christ of faith. Moreover, this was done by a professional scholar deeply involved in the study of texts which can be regarded as primary sources. Radical Form Criticism In this light, we may look back from the 1930s to the social function of a major scholarly movement in the preceding years, that of Form Criticism, or Formgeschichte, as it was originally known. This movement began in Germany. It has


Writing History, Constructing Religion

flourished there ever since, and has spread to other countries too. Its major ‘result’ was to suppose that most of the material in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke was created by the early church, leaving us with very little information about the historical Jesus. Conservative Christian scholars have often been puzzled as to why Christian men should ever have produced such radical criticism, not least because of the intellectually arbitrary way in which it was carried through. For example, in his classic 1921 work on the history of the synoptic tradition, Bultmann discussed the narrative of Mark 2:23–28. This is a story about some of Jesus’ disciples going through the fields plucking grain on the sabbath (for detailed discussion, Casey, 1998, pp. 138–173). Some Pharisees objected to them doing this, assuming that plucking grain should be regarded as work, which everyone agreed was prohibited on the sabbath (see the fourth of the ten commandments at Exodus 20:8–11; Deuteronomy 5:12–15). Jesus defended his disciples with two arguments, which presuppose that poor and hungry people are not to be regarded as working if they pluck grain left for them at the edges of fields. His first argument was by analogy from the behaviour of David, who obtained and ate the shewbread in the Temple and gave it to his companions when they were hungry, an incident which was assumed to have taken place on the sabbath. Jesus’ second argument was more fundamental, deriving his decision from the intention of God when he created the sabbath for the benefit of people. Underlying Jesus’ arguments is the natural assumption that work is ploughing, carpentry and the like. Underlying the question from his opponents is the practice of expanding the biblical regulations as they are applied to the whole of life. This practice was widespread in the Judaism of the time. These points were thus natural in the life of the historical Jesus, and do not meet the needs of the early church. Bultmann argued that this story was entirely the product of the early church, and gives us no information about the historical Jesus at all (Bultmann, 1921, p. 14; ET, 1963, p. 16). Bultmann’s first point is that Jesus is questioned about his disciples’ behaviour rather than his own. Bultmann does not, however, discuss why the disciples might be going through fields plucking grain, so no reason for the difference between the behaviour of Jesus and that of his disciples could possibly emerge. Bultmann next declares that the church ascribes the justification of her sabbath customs to Jesus, but he does not discuss the absence of all such disputes from Acts and the epistles, which makes the notion that the early Christians kept going through fields plucking grain on the sabbath rather strange. Nor does Bultmann discuss whether this kind of legal dispute is typical of early Judaism, which it is, to the point that the historicity of such stories is very probable. Bultmann declares that the scriptural proof, the use made by Jesus of the story of David, was used apart from its present context in the controversies of the early church, but he does not discuss the absence of any evidence that the early church had such controversies, nor the appropriateness of such an argument in Jesus’ Jewish culture. He declares the final argument from man as Lord of the sabbath an originally isolated saying on the grounds of the typical connecting formula ‘and he said to them’: he does not, however, anywhere show that this expression usually does indicate the addition of secondary material, nor does he discuss how natural this expression is as part of a continuous narrative in Aramaic, the language which Jesus spoke and in which the earliest traditions were transmitted. At no stage does he make any attempt to uncover a coherent argument in the passage.

Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus 133

Moreover, Bultmann’s treatment of this passage is typical. Again and again he and other form critics used absolutely arbitrary declarations that material uncharacteristic of the early church was really created by the early church: again and again they refused to read texts as consecutive wholes: again and again they refused to even examine Gospel passages as if they might derive from Jesus within the environment of Second Temple Judaism. Moreover, this process was carried through by scholars who spent their whole lives in detailed study of the texts which they so drastically failed to understand. It is no wonder that more conservative scholars coined the phrase ‘form-critical circle’, to denote the repeated assumption that a narrative has been created by the early church, when the passage itself is the only evidence that the early church was interested in the matter. What went wrong? It is at this point that the work of Grundmann and others is so illuminating, because it enables us to home in on the social function of the work of Bultmann and others. The effect of their radical criticism was to ensure that out from under the synoptic Gospels there could never crawl a Jewish man. If, moreover, we can become convinced that we do not know anything much about the Jesus of history, the Christ of faith can continue unhindered. We can see this in Bultmann’s 1926 book Jesus, translated into English as Jesus and the Word. This contains not one single episode in which Jesus is immersed in detailed discussion of the practice of the Law. This is supposed to be for critical reasons. In fact, however, it is the effect of Bultmann’s removal of an indelibly Jewish aspect of Jesus because Jewishness was so unwelcome to German culture. This was, moreover, done by means of a process of detailed scholarship, in which Bultmann engaged existentially with the biblical texts throughout his life. This is well indicated by his vigorous presentation of the Matthean antitheses (Matthew 5:21–48), the nearest Bultmann gets to detailed discussion of the practice of the Law. In each case, the Matthean version of Jesus’ teaching begins with something on the lines of ‘you heard that it was said’, followed by some aspect of Jewish Law, to which Jesus responds with authoritative teaching beginning ‘but I say to you’. It is, however, notorious that most of the content of the Matthean antitheses is found also in the Gospel of Luke, but the actual form of the antithesis, with the authoritative response ‘but I say to you’, is unique to Matthew. For example, Matthew 5:31–32 presents Jesus’ remarkable prohibition of divorce as follows: Now it was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate’ [cf. Deuteronomy 24:1]. But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of her having sex with another man, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

The version at Luke 16:18 is simpler and typically lacks the Matthean rhetoric: Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and he who marries a divorcee commits adultery.

It is therefore most unlikely that the Matthean antithesis form is original and it is certainly much less well attested than some of the disputes between Jesus and his opponents over details of the Law. Bultmann concludes that ‘Jesus … opposes the view that the fulfilment of the law is the fulfilling of the will of God’ (Bultmann, 1934, p. 70). That conclusion is clean contrary to the teaching of Jesus. It was,


Writing History, Constructing Religion

however, just what German Christians needed from the Christ of their faith, for it bluntly contradicts the centre of Judaism. It was, moreover, produced by means of detailed exegesis of selected texts. It also illustrates the centrality of anti-Judaism in the work of a distinguished member of the Confessing Church, the opposite wing of the German churches from the Deutsche Christen movement. Bultmann’s general cultural environment led him to write Judaism out of the teaching of Jesus, using spurious intellectual arguments which wrote most of Jesus of Nazareth out of history altogether. He was left with the Christ of his faith in the guise of an historical figure about whom little can be known. Slow Progress Throughout this period, conventional lives of Jesus, not seriously different from liberal lives in the nineteenth century, continued to be written. Such included, for example, those of the Anglican Bishop A. C. Headlam in 1923, and the French scholar Guigenebert in 1933. A few years after the Second World War, some attempts were made to restart the quest of the historical Jesus, what is sometimes known as the second quest. It is generally dated from a lecture delivered by Käsemann in 1953 and published in 1954. This was genuinely a new start after the Nazi period, though not the first thing to have happened since Albert Schweitzer. I must draw attention to one book, the 1959 work of J. M. Robinson, published under the title A New Quest of the Historical Jesus. The title of this book recognizes the new start made by Käsemann. In this light, the whole book is entirely devoted to justifying the basic idea of having a quest for the historical Jesus. It moves entirely within a Christian frame of reference, especially one which reflects German concerns. Robinson correctly believed that the French and Anglo-Saxon quests were an untroubled continuation of the nineteenth century quest. He noted, for example, Guignebert’s Jésus, published in 1933 and Vincent Taylor’s 1954 book, The Life and Ministry of Jesus. Robinson accepted, however, German concerns that a Jesus of history might become a result of man’s striving before God, and therefore illegitimate. Robinson himself argued that the Incarnation, the Gospels and the kerygma demanded that the historical Jesus be taken note of, and that the historical-critical method would be necessary to fulfil this task. What is interesting is that this argument should have been necessary. The profound irony of the standard German concern is that it is so remote from the social function of not having an historical quest for the historical Jesus, which remained what it had been for Bultmann, Grundmann and others, avoiding a Jewish man. By 1987, enough new work had been done for some scholars to feel that another genuine new start to the quest of the historical Jesus had been made, and this was clearly articulated by Tom Wright in a paper read to a meeting of British New Testament scholars that year. He made three points which seemed plausible to many of us at the time.2 1

Standards of proof have risen. Of particular importance at the time was Morna Hooker’s demolition of the Criterion of Dissimilarity in her 1971 paper. This criterion had been in use for many years, but it was not properly labelled and described until the 1960s. When clearly described, it states that anything in the

Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus 135



Gospel accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus which is paralleled in Judaism or the early church must be attributed to the church, rather than to Jesus. This produces a quite unique Jesus, who cannot be connected with the Judaism of his time, and who is so remote from the early church as to make it impossible to see how Christianity started. Hooker was therefore entirely right to argue that we should stop using this criterion. The criterion of multiple attestation was of major positive importance. As used at the time, it asserted that anything independently attested more than once in our oldest sources was likely to be true. For example, there is clear evidence that the controversy over Jesus casting out demons by the power of the devil was featured in both Mark (3:20–30) and in Q, scholars’ name for other material found in both Matthew and Luke (Matthew 12:22–32; Luke 11:14–23; 12:10, and for detailed discussion, Casey, 2002, pp. 146–182). This was taken to be strong evidence that the controversy really took place. Again, multiple attestation by form was important: so when we find exorcisms in narratives, summaries, parabolic sayings and controversy, that was very strong evidence that Jesus performed exorcisms. Wright’s second point was that the quest is being carried out by people who have different perspectives. The impetus to renew the quest of the historical Jesus after the Second World War began in entirely Christian circles, justified and disputed by entirely Christian arguments. In the subsequent period, we had the very important work by the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes (Vermes, 1973, 1983), and I had been seeking to make some technical contributions from a non-religious perspective (e.g. Casey, 1980). In 1987 we seemed to be part of a welcome trend. Wright’s third point was that increased attention has been paid to Jesus’ cultural background. This again seemed obvious in many people’s work at the time. Two scholars, Geza Vermes and E. P. Sanders, had been conspicuously successful in portraying Jesus as belonging to first century Judaism, and they have continued to do so in subsequent years (Sanders, 1985, 1993; Vermes, 1973, 1983, 1993). I therefore consider briefly the main points of their work, to illustrate how scholarship could move forward towards a more accurate historical view of Jesus’ life and teaching. I also illustrate what goes wrong when something does.

Vermes and Sanders Vermes came in from an overtly Jewish perspective. The great strengths of his work are his complete knowledge and profound understanding of the Jewish primary source material, and the sober and judicious manner in which he locates Jesus within the Judaism of first century Galilee. Noteworthy achievements include an illuminating comparison between Jesus and other Galilean holy men, or hasa¯ d¯ m, devout Jews of a generally unconventional kind about whom miracle stories were told. Vermes discussed particularly Honi the Circle-Drawer, who successfully prayed for rain during a drought, and Hanina ben Dosa, who was said to have cured Gamaliel’s son at a distance (Vermes, 1973, pp. 69–78). In discussing them and Jesus, Vermes also made fruitful use of the modern category of ‘charismatic’. At a different level, Vermes wrote a seminal paper on the son of man problem (Vermes, 1967), which is from a technical point of view one of the most difficult problems in New Testament


Writing History, Constructing Religion

studies. He was able to bring new evidence to bear on this problem because of his thorough knowledge of rabbinical literature and his careful analytical technique. In general Vermes always handles rabbinic literature in a careful and critical way, never taking it for granted that late material must represent Judaism at the time of Jesus. His work on the Dead Sea Scrolls also enabled him to contribute with great methodological skill to discussions of the relative importance of the Scrolls and of rabbinical literature for our understanding of Jesus. He also made significant contributions to particular aspects of the teaching of Jesus, notably the Fatherhood of God. It is only regrettable that Vermes has not written a complete life of Jesus. In spite of this, his contributions have been so extensive and wide-ranging that every scholar trying to contribute to our knowledge of the historical Jesus should benefit from Vermes’ work. Nonetheless, Vermes’ work is not without fault, and it is instructive to see what goes wrong when something does. The major difficulty is that Vermes has not been able to give a convincing explanation of why Jesus was crucified. Vermes of course knows the relevant texts very well, having spent his whole life in detailed study of both Jewish and Gospel texts, and he has seen the importance of the Cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15–18). But he belongs to the Jewish community, whose members were persecuted for centuries partly on the grounds of deicide, a charge which held them responsible for crucifying Jesus and thereby killing God. This appears to be what has prevented Vermes from understanding the fundamental nature of Jewish opposition to Jesus, and its importance as a cause of the crucifixion. Thus Vermes’ own life, and especially his membership of the Jewish community, has caused the same kind of distortion familiar to us from the work of Christian scholars. A second problem lies in instances where Vermes uses conventional scholarship to discount the historicity of parts of our oldest sources. Like so many other scholars, he got into difficulties over Mark 9:1: ‘Amen I say to you that there are some of those standing here who will not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God come in power’. This saying predicts the coming of the kingdom of God within a very short time, an event which did not take place. Unable to fit this into the teaching of Jesus, Vermes turned to Bultmann for the view that it is a Christian ‘community formula of consolation in view of the delay of the Parousia’ (Vermes, 1993, p. 141, quoting Bultmann, ET, 1963, p. 121). This shifts the responsibility for the mistake to the early church, which wrongly expected the second coming of Jesus, the Parousia, in the very near future. Yet the term ‘kingdom of God’, which is central to this saying, was central to the teaching of Jesus, and this saying does not mention the Parousia. Accordingly, the saying fits perfectly into the teaching of Jesus, and is not expressed in terms appropriate for Bultmann’s ‘formula of consolation’. Given Bultmann’s lack of understanding of Judaism, it is deeply ironical that Vermes should resort to him on such occasions. This illustrates the massive bureaucratization of New Testament scholarship, which has now got to such a stage that a distinguished dead professor can be cited in support of almost anything. As a result of his profound knowledge of ancient Judaism, as well as his own Jewish identity, Vermes’ picture of the Jesus of history is more Jewish than that generally produced by Christian scholars. This led Vermes to launch an entirely proper challenge to orthodox Christian belief. Correctly using the traditional distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, Vermes pointed out that the historical Jesus the Jew is not consistent with the deified second person of the Christian Trinity (Vermes,

Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus 137

1973, pp. 15–17, 223–5; 1993, pp. 208–215). Christian scholarship has completely failed to meet this challenge, though it is but a scholarly version of a complaint made by persecuted Jews for centuries. This illustrates again the drastic domination of a supposedly academic ‘field’ of ‘study’ by members of a single religion, who usually set the agenda and determine what is to be commented on. The other most important contributor to our knowledge of the historical Jesus in recent years has been E. P. Sanders. His most significant contribution in scholarly terms was his 1985 book Jesus and Judaism, perhaps the most brilliant book on Jesus written so far. In 1993, he also contributed what is arguably the best single volume Life of Jesus so far written, The Historical Figure of Jesus. One of the major reasons that Sanders was able to make such an important and wide-ranging contribution to our knowledge of Jesus was his profound understanding of Second Temple Judaism, an understanding expounded at greater length in other books and articles (Sanders, 1977, pp. 1–428; 1990; 1992). Christian control of otherwise respectable scholarship in this field has been so gross that one of Sanders’ first tasks was to demolish Christian prejudices about Judaism, a task which he achieved with intellectual brilliance and incisiveness. For example, in his excellent introduction to Jesus and Judaism (Sanders, 1985), he repeatedly shows how twentieth-century scholars put forward a view of Judaism which was dependent on their need to regard Judaism as inferior to Christianity, rather than on their understanding of Jewish source material. In particular, Judaism was held to be legalistic, nationalistic and with a remote God, so that Jesus could be portrayed as bringing love, universalism and nearness to God. Among numerous advances at a detailed level, Sanders showed that the common scholarly discussion of Matthew 12:28//Luke 11:20 was distorted by ideological motivation: ‘the kingship of God has come upon you’ is an important comment on Jesus’ exorcisms, but customary Christian moves to ‘the uniqueness of Jesus’ selfconsciousness or claim’ are not justified by the primary source material (Sanders, 1985, p. 137). Sanders’ extensive demolition of contemporary prejudice is doubly remarkable because Sanders himself comes in from a perspective of Christian commitment. In addition to purely scholarly brilliance, therefore, this is also one of the most remarkable examples of a critical scholar transcending his ideological background in order to produce, by means of evidence and argument, correct new results. His work shows that careful historical research can lead to progress when it is properly done. Sanders’ first positive achievement was to direct attention away from sayings of Jesus to the prime importance of facts which can be established beyond reasonable doubt. At the beginning of his excellent outline of Jesus’ life for general readers, he listed the following: Jesus was born c. 4 BCE, near the time of the death of Herod the Great; he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village; he was baptized by John the Baptist; he called disciples; he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities); he preached ‘the kingdom of God’; about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover; he created a disturbance in the Temple area; he had a final meal with the disciples;


Writing History, Constructing Religion

he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest; he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate. (Sanders, 1993, pp. 10–11; cf. Sanders, 1985, p. 11)

In retrospect, this may look both obvious and not much. Its importance in 1993, and of the earlier version already in 1985, was the certainty with which these points can be established. Sanders showed that the main points of Jesus’ ministry ought not to be in doubt. Into this outline Sanders fitted a considerable amount of material in a logically ordered and culturally appropriate manner. Among many good points was his treatment of miracles. Chapter 10 of The Historical Figure of Jesus begins with an excellent treatment of the ancient perspective on miracles, which has so often been ignored in modern treatments of them. In particular, Sanders noted that ancient people ‘saw miracles as striking and significant, but not as indicating that the miracleworker was anything other than fully human’ (Sanders, 1993, p. 132). One of the reasons for this was the occurrence of healings which were not understood, to the point that they were taken to be the action of a healer or of the God prayed to. Sanders notes particularly the healings reported by devotees of Asclepius, reports in which possible and impossible healings stand side by side. Accordingly, stories also include ‘nature miracles’: for example, Honi the Circle-Drawer, already known to us from Vermes, was held to have successfully prayed for rain, while a prophet called Theudas was followed into the wilderness by many people who evidently believed that the waters of the Jordan would part before him (Sanders, 1993, pp. 135–140). Finally, Sanders notes that exorcisms and other healings lay within the culture of Second Temple Judaism. All this enables Sanders to take a more informed perspective on Jesus’ exorcisms and other healings than is usually found. He does not follow rationalist attempts to explain them away, nor credulous attempts to treat them as otherwise impossible events which only Jesus by divine power could do. He situates them within Jesus’ ministry, as mostly events which were very important to him but which were not events of such power and uniqueness that they persuaded most Jews to follow him. This is much the most sane treatment of these stories that I have seen. The good sense which informs Sanders’ treatment of miracles pervades all his work. It is reasonable to consider his combination of learning and sanity as a reasonable summary of what has made his work better than that of anyone else so far. Nonetheless, with Sanders as with everyone else, we have to see what goes wrong when something does. Like Vermes, Sanders cannot quite cope with the conflicts between Jesus and his opponents. When he gets to disputes including that between Jesus and the Pharisees over the disciples plucking grain on the sabbath (Mark 2:23–28), he too invokes Bultmann, for Bultmann argued that such disputes are so unrealistic that they could not have taken place (Sanders, 1993, p. 265, invoking Bultmann, ET, 1963, p. 39). We have, however, already seen that Bultmann’s discussion of this passage is completely unsatisfactory because of its arbitrary and dogmatic nature. Moreover, its social function in the work of Bultmann was to remove Jesus from a Jewish environment. This is profoundly ironical, because Sanders is coming in from a liberal Christian perspective which is disturbed by the evidence of Jesus’ ferocious conflicts with some of his fellow Jews. The reasons why

Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus 139

Sanders cannot cope with the evidence of these severe conflicts are accordingly almost the opposite of those which affected Bultmann. As a liberal Christian, he needs Jesus not to appear too much opposed to Jews. This moderately overt agenda has led him to appropriate some of Bultmann’s work, the social function of which was to remove the Jewishness of Jesus. This illustrates quite how hidden an agenda can get. Jesus’ opponents also objected to him associating with ‘sinners’. Sanders imagines that these people were really ‘the wicked’, because he supposes that behind the Greek word hamarto¯ loi, which means ‘sinners’, there lay the Hebrew resha‘im, which means ‘the wicked’, or its Aramaic equivalent (Sanders, 1985, p. 177). This is a standard mistake. The texts about the sinners are difficult. Instead of trying to reconstruct possible Aramaic sources, Sanders has altered the meaning of these Greek texts by substituting one different word in Hebrew. In his more learned book, he should have offered complete Aramaic reconstructions, and proper philological discussion of the semantic areas of the relevant Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words for ‘sinner’, and perhaps also ‘wicked’ and the like. It would be wrong to end this discussion of Sanders on such a note. His great learning and good sense have enabled him to make the most important contribution of all to our understanding of the historical Jesus. If most scholars had worked like Vermes and Sanders, there would be no doubt that the quest of the historical Jesus is a quest to find him, and it would have been a great deal more successful than it has generally been. Crossan and the American Jesus Seminar When Wright read his 1987 paper, the pre-eminent work of Vermes and Sanders was complemented by that of several scholars who had made smaller advances without writing anything like a complete life of Jesus. The outlook for historical research into the life and teaching of Jesus was therefore extremely hopeful. Since 1987, however, a lot of very unfortunate work has been done. Much of this is connected with the American Jesus seminar, so I begin with the enormous 1991 book of one of its most distinguished members, J. D. Crossan: The Historical Jesus, with a subtitle The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. Crossan presents Jesus as ‘a peasant Jewish Cynic’. Like all recent suggestions that cynic philosophers help us to understand Jesus, this is inconsistent with the fact that the Gospels do not mention philosophy, cynics, major cynic philosophers such as Diogenes, nor cynic peculiarities such as living in a barrel. Moreover, there is not sufficient evidence that cynic philosophy had penetrated into Judaism in Israel. Our primary sources accordingly present Jesus as a prophet and teacher in a Jewish environment, using terms such as ‘Son of man’ and ‘Son of God’: they do not present him as a cynic philosopher. Most of the time Crossan works with five primary sources: Mark, ‘Q’, the rest of Matthew or Luke, John and the Gospel of Thomas. He will not admit the authenticity of material unless it is independently attested twice. This may look at first sight like a reasonable development of the criterion of multiple attestation, but its effects are quite destructive. If anything is attested by our oldest Gospel, Mark, Crossan will accept it only if it is independently attested. So out goes the whole of Mark 1:16–38,


Writing History, Constructing Religion

with the call of the first disciples and an early exorcism on the sabbath, as ‘a Markan creation’ (Crossan, 1991, pp. 346–347). Yet this passage has many features of very old tradition. One of the most notable is that people wait until the end of the sabbath before bringing other people to Jesus to be healed (Mark 1:33). This is because they obeyed their natural interpretation of the Law prohibiting the carrying of burdens on the sabbath (Jeremiah 17:20–21). If Mark had created this after a successful Gentile mission, he would surely have had to explain it, though he would have had no rationale for making it up in the first place. Equally, the difficulty of a rich person entering the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23f.) is accepted only because it turns up also in the Shepherd of Hermas (Sim. 9,20:2b–3) (Crossan, 1991, pp. 274–275). Yet the repetition of only one aspect of the Markan passage in a second century Christian source is quite irrelevant to whether Jesus said it. It is more important that it fits into Jesus’ teaching, that the disciples’ reaction was that of more conventional Jews, and it is not the kind of thing that the early church was interested in. We may therefore be quite sure that the incident really took place. In practice, therefore, good early tradition with a perfectly good setting in the life and teaching of Jesus is excluded unless later Christian tradition repeats it. Later Christian tradition may, however, be acceptable, if it is independently repeated. Hence the high proportion of parables and wisdom material accepted by Crossan. They are independently repeated, parables because they can be retold and reinterpreted, wisdom material because so much of it is generally acceptable. There is also serious distortion of one of the central concepts of the teaching of Jesus, the kingdom of God. On pp. 284–287, Crossan discusses the apocalyptic kingdom of God. Appropriate quotations are given from the Psalms of Solomon, the Testament of Moses and the Similitudes of Enoch, all documents written in Israel at about the right time. Such documents provide the cultural background against which Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom. On the following pages, however, Crossan discusses the sapiential kingdom of God. His evidence is taken from Philo, the Wisdom of Solomon and the Sentences of Sextus. All these sources were written outside Israel, and resulted from far too much Greek influence to be helpful in understanding the ministry of Jesus. Under the general notion that hellenization had penetrated Israel, however, these documents are taken to provide a serious cultural framework. Once this has been done, Crossan declares that he will locate Jesus’ kingdom as sapiential and peasant. There is no proper discussion of sayings such as Mark 9:1: ‘Amen I say to you that there are some of those standing here who will not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God come in power’. From Crossan’s point of view, a saying like this is attested only once, since Matthew 16:28 and Luke 9:27 both result from editing and copying Mark 9:1. Such sayings are therefore not acceptable, not even if they have an excellent setting in the ministry of Jesus, a doubtful one in the early church and none at all in later documents such as the Gospels of John and of Thomas. The overall result of this process has the same social function as most scholarship on the Jesus of history: it reduces his Jewishness. Moreover, the depiction of Jesus as a cynic enables him to be fitted into Crossan’s intellectual environment. I turn therefore to the American Jesus seminar as a whole. The seminar was set up by R. W. Funk with the best possible intentions. Funk was impressed and distressed by the significant role played in American life by Christian evangelists, especially on tele-

Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus 141

vision. These evangelists were putting forward a verifiably false version of the Christian faith, coming in from a fundamentalist perspective. Funk also knew some ordinary ministers who were preaching a fundamentalist version of Christianity. Funk set up the Jesus seminar to tell the truth about Jesus, and to do so with people who had the authority of critical scholarship behind them. In 1996 a book by him was published under the title Honest to Jesus, which correctly reflects his intentions. What better aim could a scholar have? Unfortunately, the methods adopted by the seminar prevented these aims from being achieved. In the first place, some of the best scholars in the USA were not members of it. They did not, for example, have E. P. Sanders. Second, a number of fellows of the seminar had only recently completed doctorates at American institutions, and the seminar decided the authenticity of material about Jesus by majority vote, averaged out as the fellows did not agree with each other. In practice, this meant an averaged majority vote by people, some of whom were only just qualified, in the absence of several leading authorities. In a published version of some of their results, one version of the coloured beads with which they voted was given like this: Red: Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it. Pink: Jesus probably said something like this. Gray: Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own. Black: Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.

This is from the introduction to a 1993 book appropriately entitled The Five Gospels (Funk et al., 1993, p. 36). This is because of the exaggerated importance which they have attributed to the Gospel of Thomas, their addition to the canonical four. Their voting was so bizarre that they ended up with more red in that Gospel than in our oldest genuine source, the Gospel of Mark. The result of their voting is a figure they are happy with. In particular, he is much like a cynic philosopher, which suits their intellectual ambience, and has nothing to do with the apocalyptic and eschatological concerns which characterize American fundamentalism. What is even worse is the effect of the Jesus seminar on conservative American Christians. Some of them write books as if to demonstrate that the Jesus seminar is wrong is to demonstrate the absolute truth of Protestant fundamentalism or Catholic orthodoxy, whichever the perspective from which the author is writing. For example, in 1995 Wilkins and Moreland edited a collection of essays devoted to refuting radical scholarship, under the title Jesus Under Fire. The vast majority of its criticisms are fired back at the American Jesus seminar, and its own life-stance wobbles between Conservative and Fundamentalist, including feeble defences of the historicity of the Fourth Gospel in general and the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1–45) in particular (Wilkins and Moreland, 1995, esp. pp. 38–39, 131). It follows that the effect of the American Jesus seminar has been the opposite of its intentions. On the one hand, it has grievously misled anyone who believes what it says. Equally, it has not corrected the views of most Christians who look at the world from inside extreme dogmatic blinkers. It has rather encouraged them to imagine that all their dogmatism is right, because they can see with perfect clarity that the Gospel of Thomas is not a major source for the historical Jesus, and Jesus was not some sort of cynic philosopher.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

The Gospel Attributed to John It would, however, be quite wrong to suppose that the writing of inaccurate accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus is a modern phenomenon. One of the major resources of conservative Christians is the Gospel attributed to John. Scholars have known for more than a hundred years that it is quite inaccurate as an account of Jesus’ life and teaching, but many people in the churches are not aware of this. All I can do here is to isolate a small number of main points (for a thorough discussion, Casey, 1996). The kingdom of God was a major facet of the teaching of the historical Jesus. We have already seen trouble caused by one of his important predictions: ‘Amen I say to you that there are some of those standing here who will not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God come in power’ (Mark 9:1). By the end of the first century, the kingdom had obviously not come into power. Moreover, Jesus was crucified as ‘king of the Jews’, so someone like the high priest Joseph Caiaphas must have impressed upon Pontius Pilate that when God did establish his kingdom, there would be no room for the Romans in it. The kingdom of God is mentioned in no more than two passages in the Fourth Gospel, one to deal with each of these problems. At John 3:3, seeing the kingdom of God is dependent on being born again and/or from above, an event which was perceived to take place at Christian baptism. This is further clarified at John 3:5, where ‘entering’ the kingdom of God is dependent on being born of water and the Spirit. There are synoptic Son of man sayings in which ‘entering’ the kingdom of God is presented as a future event, and at least some of them can readily be interpreted eschatologically, just like Mark 9:1. One of the closest to John 3:5 is Matthew 18:3, ‘Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become as children, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven’. There is also a very similar saying at Mark 10:15//Luke 18:17. Both sayings have the concept of becoming like a child, which could be rewritten as rebirth. Both have a clear negative with ‘to enter’, used of not entering the kingdom if a condition of entry is not fulfilled. Both begin ‘Amen I say to you’, for which ‘Amen, amen I say to you’ at both John 3:3 and 3:5 is the normal Johannine rewrite. Taking into account other detailed parallels, we must conclude that such sayings provide us with the tradition which the Johannine community have rewritten. From their own perspective, they have solved the problems posed by the perception that Jesus’ predictions about the coming of the kingdom had not been fulfilled. They have removed the unwelcome time element in the concepts of ‘seeing’ and ‘entering’ the kingdom of God, and made both of them dependent on Christian baptism interpreted as being born again from above, a purely Greek concept unknown from the Judaism of Jesus’ time. The second passage has Jesus in solitary personal debate with Pilate himself. The debate opens with Pilate’s question ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ (John 18:33), taken from Pilate’s public question at Matthew 27:11//Mark 15:2//Luke 23:3. The synoptic Jesus answers no more than ‘you say’. The Johannine Jesus, however, before he gets to ‘you say that I am a/the king’ (John 18:37), makes the crucial statement, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my attendants would have fought for me so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. Now my kingdom is not from here’ (John 18:36). Jesus goes on to explain that he came into the world to bear witness to the truth, Johannine terms which imply his pre-existence and deity. Pilate then goes out to the Jews and tells them ‘I find no fault in this man’ (John

Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus 143

19:38). This is a further development of the other evangelists’ attempts to show that the Roman praefectus, the governor of Judaea responsible for Jesus’ execution for maiestas (treason), did not really believe in his guilt. The completed story is meant to show that Pilate was fully aware of Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom, and did not regard him as guilty on that account. Thus this Gospel has almost removed the kingdom of God from the teaching of Jesus, leaving only two inaccurate passages which wrongly imply that Jesus solved the two serious problems which really did arise from the ministry of the historical Jesus. In so doing, the authors have used or implied several positive aspects of their own lives which had no connection with the historical Jesus. These include the hellenistic concept of rebirth on the surface of Chapter 3 and Christian baptism not far beneath it, and Jesus’ descent from heaven on the surface of his conversation with Pilate with his pre-existence and deity implied. There is also the remarkable description of Jesus’ opponents as ‘the Jews’, even though he and all his first disciples were Jewish. Other passages carry this much further, reflecting the situation of the Johannine community in late first century Ephesus. Throughout this Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as conscious of his position as the incarnate Son of God who is co-equal with the Father. One important statement is ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30), a statement so provocative that ‘the Jews’ immediately take up stones to throw at Jesus. At 10:33, they give their reasons – ‘for blasphemy, and because, although you’re a man, you make yourself God’. In response, Jesus does not deny the charge but justifies his position, asserting as he does so ‘I am the Son of God’, and ‘the Father is in me and I am in the Father’. An equally serious dispute is narrated in Chapter 5, where we are told that ‘… the Jews sought all the more to kill Jesus, because he not only abrogated the sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God’ (John 5:18). Here too Jesus does not attempt to answer the charge that he called God his own Father, or made himself equal with God, for the Johannine community believed that he was the only-begotten Son of God (for example, John 3:16), and as such genuinely equal with God the Father. This highly developed Christology is absent from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke because it was a late development. It is closely associated with the description of Jesus’ opponents as ‘the Jews’ because it was intertwined with a major split between the Jewish and Christian communities. At times, the polemic is even more serious, with ‘the Jews’ defined as children of the devil (John 8:44) and told that they do not believe in the writings of Moses (John 5:46–47). This is why this document was central to Martin Luther’s construction of a scripturally based theological argument for measures against the Jewish community. Luther’s recommendations included burning down the synagogues or schools of ‘the Jews’, destroying their houses, confiscating all copies of their prayer books and Talmud, and forbidding their rabbis to teach on pain of death (Luther, 1543, ET, 1971, pp. 170–171, 141, 278, 281–284, 289–291, 268–270). As the German people were subjected to anti-Semitic propaganda in the 1930s, they could read calumny against ‘the Jews’ in their sacred text, and recommendations for persecution in their most prestigious theologian, before Grundmann and others ever got going. Hence my description of this document as the most dangerous life of Jesus ever written. It is not merely inaccurate: it is inaccurate in such a way as to fuel the grossest of Christian prejudices.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Community Control and Independent Scholarship So, then, who’s afraid of Jesus Christ? Most people who write serious scholarly works about Jesus are controlled by the communities to which they belong. Most of these communities are vigorously avoiding either the Jesus of history, or the Christ of faith, or both. I began in Nazi Germany, where Grundmann and others were avoiding one of the outstanding characteristics of the Jesus of history, his Jewishness. They continued with the Christ of their faith. I looked then at the formcritical movement, and found that it too was avoiding unwelcome aspects of the Jesus of history, leaving the Christ of faith untouched. I noted that the so-called ‘second’ or ‘new’ quest had to face the question of whether there should be a quest of the historical Jesus at all. This was in danger of repeating previous faults, and cannot reasonably be said to have made much progress. I looked at J. D. Crossan and the American Jesus seminar. They were overtly avoiding the Christ of fundamentalist Christian faith, and in practice they have largely avoided the Jesus of history too, replacing both figures with a cynical being who suits them. I took a brief look at one of the sources of the Christ of faith, the Gospel attributed to John, and found that it too was replacing inconvenient aspects of the Jesus of history, and presenting the Christ of the Johannine community’s faith. As representatives of outstandingly good critical scholarship, I looked at the work of Vermes and Sanders. Here I found helpful attempts to present the Jesus of history, by scholars both of whom have succeeded in advancing knowledge in this field. Neither of them is free of mistakes, which are generally caused by the same factors as those of the more faulty work to which most of this chapter has been devoted. It does seem to me to be possible to make further progress. There are of course problems with the primary source material. I have noted that one of the canonical Gospels is horrendously unreliable, and as we can see in James Crossley’s second chapter in this volume, even our oldest and best sources contain fiction and distortion as well as fact. For reasons which I have looked at briefly, I remain nonetheless convinced that further progress is possible, and that this could enable us to establish the main points of Jesus’ ministry, as well as a detailed account of many significant events in it. As I have argued in two recent books (Casey, 1998; 2002), I particularly believe that careful attention to sources originally written in Aramaic, the language which Jesus spoke, can help us to recover an increasingly accurate account of what Jesus said and did. This is part of the process of recovering a more Jewish Jesus, a figure who is liable to cause severe problems for the Christ of faith, if only Christians can be persuaded to encounter him. What prevents us from doing as much as this is not that facts cannot be established, nor the inherently distorting effects of constructing a narrative containing them. It is that most people belong to communities which control their view of Jesus. It is accordingly the responsibility of those of us who have the good fortune to work in decent independent universities to carry this work forward. If we do not do so, nobody will, for everyone else is too fond of their own group’s stories, whether these are born of acceptance or rejection of the Christian faith. It is therefore of central importance that we proceed vigorously, with all the evidence and techniques at our disposal.

Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus 145

Notes 1 I am grateful to Dr P. Head for discussing these issues with me, and for giving me a copy of the paper which he read to the Jesus seminar of the British Society for New Testament Studies in September 1999. See Head, 2004. 2 The following account is based on notes which I made at and shortly after the lecture. Cf. Neill and Wright, 1988, pp. 379–403.

References Bergen, D. L. (1996), Twisted Cross. The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich, London/Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Bultmann, R. K. (1921, ET 1963), Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht; ET The History of the Synoptic Tradition, Oxford: Blackwell. Bultmann, R. K. (1926, ET 1934), Jesus, Berlin: Deutsche Bibliothek. ET Jesus and the Word, London: Collins. Casey, M. (1980), Son of Man. The Interpretation and Influence of Daniel 7, London: SPCK. Casey, M. (1996), Is John’s Gospel True?, London: Routledge. Casey, M. (1998), Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Casey, Maurice (1999), ‘Some anti-semitic assumptions in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament’, Novum Testamentum, 41, 280–291. Casey, M. (2002), An Aramaic Approach to Q: Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chamberlain, H. S. (1899, 291944, ET 1910), Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, 2 vols München: Bruckmann. ET The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols London/New York: Lane/Bodley Head. Crossan, J. D. (1991), The Historical Jesus. The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, Edinburgh: T & T Clark. Evans, R. J. (1997), In Defence of History, London: Granta. Funk, R. W. (1996), Honest to Jesus. Jesus for a New Millennium, New York: Polebridge. Funk, R. W., Hoover, R. W. and the Jesus Seminar (1993), The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, Sonoma: Scribner. Grundmann,W. (1939), Die Entjudung des religiösen Lebens als Aufgabe deutscher Theologie und Kirche, Weimar: Verlag Deutsche Christen. Grundmann,W. (1940), Jesus der Galiläer und das Judentum, Leipzig: Wigand. Guignebert, C. (1933, ET 1935), Jésus, Paris: Renaissance du Livre. ET Jesus, London: Paul, Trench, Trubner. Head, Peter (2004), ‘The Nazi quest for an aryan Jesus’, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 2, 55–89. Headlam, A. C. (1923), The Life and Teaching of Jesus the Christ, London: Murray. Heschel, Susannah (1994), ‘Nazifying Christian theology: Walter Grundmann and the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life’, Church History, 63, 587–605. Hooker, Morna D. (1971), ‘Christology and methodology’, New Testament Studies 17, 480–487. Käsemann, Ernst (1954, ET 1964), ‘Das Problem des historischen Jesus’, Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, 51, 125–153. ET ‘The problem of the historical Jesus’, in Essays on New Testament Themes, London: SCM, pp. 15–47. Kittel, G. (ed.) (1933–42, ET 1964–67), Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, vols 1–4, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer; trans. G. W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vols 1–4, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Luther, Martin (1543, ET 1971), ‘Von den Juden und ihren Lügen’, in D. Martin Luther’s Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe (1883–), vol. 53, pp. 417–552, Graz: Akademische; ET ‘On the Jews and their lies’, trans. M. H. Bertram, ed. F. Sherman, in Luther’s Works, ed. J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehman, vol. 47, pp. 123–306, Saint Louis: Concordia. McCullagh, C. B. (1998), The Truth of History, London: Routledge. Neill, S. and Wright, T. (1988), The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861–1986, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Robinson, J. M. (1959), A New Quest of the Historical Jesus, London: SCM. Sanders, E. P. (1977), Paul and Palestinian Judaism, London: SCM. Sanders, E. P. (1985), Jesus and Judaism, London: SCM. Sanders, E. P. (1990), Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah, London: SCM. Sanders, E. P. (1992), Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE–66 CE, London: SCM. Sanders, E. P. (1993), The Historical Figure of Jesus, London: Penguin. Siegele-Wenschkewitz, Leonore (1982), ‘Mitverantwortung und Schuld der Christen am Holocaust’, Evangelische Theologie, 42, 171–190. Taylor, V. (1954), The Life and Ministry of Jesus, London: MacMillan. Vermes, Geza (1967), ‘The use of bar nash/bar nasha ¯ in Jewish Aramaic’, App. E in Black, M., An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edn, pp. 310–328; reprinted in G. Vermes, Post-Biblical Jewish Studies, Leiden: Brill, 1975, pp. 147–165. Vermes, G. (1973), Jesus the Jew, London: Collins. Vermes, G. (1983), Jesus and the World of Judaism, London: SCM. Vermes, G. (1993), The Religion of Jesus the Jew, London: SCM. Wilkins, J. and Moreland, P. (eds) (1995), Jesus Under Fire. Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Chapter 9

History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist James G. Crossley

… this rambling, unedifying account of John’s death … (Wink, 1968, p. 10)

Introduction: History, Storytelling and the Death of John the Baptist In Judaism before, during and after the New Testament period there was a long established tradition of retelling and expanding versions of the past. Missing details were added, existing details were expanded, apparent inconsistencies were tackled, great figures were made greater and people were made to behave in ways in which the writer thought they ought to. The book of Jubilees, for example, expands the stories of the patriarch Abraham. Abraham (or Abram as he was at this stage of his life) becomes a great inventor of agricultural implements (Jubilees 11:23–24), he is now said to have set fire to the idols’ house when he left the pagan Ur (Jubilees 12:12–14), rather than simply leaving according to the biblical version (Genesis 11:28–31), and he even managed to speak Hebrew and study Hebrew writings during the six rainy months (Jubilees 12:27). As this implies, this retelling of history could have a clear ideological function. A good example of this is the biblical story of the patriarch Joseph’s wedding to Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian priest. I say story of a wedding, it is rather a single verse which says nothing more than this: ‘Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-peneah; and he gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, as his wife. Thus Joseph gained authority over the land of Egypt’ (Genesis 41:45). Yet this is expanded into a document in its own right in later Judaism roughly around the time of the New Testament, called Joseph and Aseneth. The text confronts the problematic issue of a Jewish hero marrying a pagan priest’s daughter. We now learn that Joseph sits alone eating Jewish food, he is horrified at the habits of the Egyptians, and Aseneth has to convert to Judaism. This storytelling would continue to be extremely popular in the rabbinic literature.1 The general name for this sort of practice is ‘haggadah’ or ‘aggadah’. This tradition of retelling history is not necessarily to be taken as an accurate account of historical events, although some Jews no doubt did. There is evidence that some Jews viewed them as functioning more on the level of poetic truth (Herr, Hirschberg, and Gutmann, 1971, pp. 354–366). Probably the most detailed, knowledgeable and impressive attempt to show the relevance of these haggadic traditions for New Testament studies is the work of Roger D. Aus (Aus, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998). One passage discussed by Aus is the 147


Writing History, Constructing Religion

story of the death of John the Baptist as told in Mark 6:17–29 (Aus, 1988, pp. 39–74). Aus argues that the author of this passage utilizes the haggadic traditions surrounding the book of Esther – particularly the stories of King Ahasuerus’ birthday banquet where, according to some versions, the innocent Queen Vashti was said to be decapitated – to explain why and how John was beheaded.2 Aus provides some extremely precise thematic and linguistic parallels between the Esther traditions and the Markan account. Some, as he acknowledges, may be questioned individually, but cumulatively they function as a powerful argument for the importance of this haggadic background being crucial to understanding the Markan passage (Aus, 1988, p. 67).3 These parallels with haggadic traditions suggest that the story of the death of John the Baptist – with Herodias, the dancing Salome and the tragically flawed Herod Antipas – did not happen.4 Admittedly, some of the arguments often used by biblical scholars against the historical accuracy of Mark 6:17–29 are not strong,5 but there are at least two arguments, in addition to that concerning the haggadic traditions, which do carry some weight. Elsewhere in the gospel material, including the gospel of Mark, Herod Antipas and John the Baptist are nothing but enemies (e.g. Mark 1:14; 6:14–16; Matthew 14:5; Luke 3:19–20; 9:7–9). In the account by the Jewish historian Josephus, Herod Antipas is only portrayed as dealing ruthlessly with John. Herod Antipas put John to death because he was alarmed at the popular support for John (cf. Matthew 14:5, ‘Though he [Herod Antipas] wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet’), who seemed to have complete control over his adoring audience. Fearing sedition, Herod Antipas decided to strike first and get rid of him before the movement led to an uprising. Consequently John was brought in chains and put to death. Josephus even says that ‘the verdict of the Jews’ was that Herod Antipas’ defeat by the Nabateans was divine punishment for Herod Antipas’ treatment of John (Antiquities 18:116–119). Never are they said to have had any reconciliation; never is Herod Antipas said to show any remorse for John’s death; never is anyone but Herod Antipas said to be responsible for the death of John. Never, except in Mark 6:17–29. Only in here is Herod Antipas said to respect John and only here are Herodias and Salome said to be responsible for the death of John. If what Mark had said really did happen then we could legitimately expect some hint somewhere else given that it runs contrary to every other explanation.6 The other important reason against the historicity of Mark 6:17–29 is that Herod Antipas’ promise to give half his kingdom to Salome (Mark 6:22–23) would have been impossible. Herod Antipas’ power was answerable to Rome and as such he simply would not have been able to give anything like half his kingdom away.7 If the events described in Mark 6:17–29 did not occur then it may be asked why this story arose. In an article which I admit gets most things about John the Baptist wrong, Morton Enslin provides an important yet brief explanation as to the origins of this story (Enslin, 1975, pp. 13–14). The earliest Christians constantly faced charges of subversion, not least due to their emphasis on the coming kingdom which would strongly imply the end of the Roman Empire. Jesus had already been executed in circumstances which some would inevitably interpret as pointing to a rebellious leader and ‘to have another of their members seen as having been executed by Herod Antipas because of political menace was intolerable’ (Enslin, 1975, p. 14). Hence we get this story. I would argue that this suggestion is along the right lines. It provides an explanation as to why we have a story which goes against everything we know about

History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist


John’s relationship with Herod Antipas but which can be plausibly located in first century Christianity. In addition to providing more details to Enslin’s brief comments, I will go beyond his suggestions, arguing that something like Mark 6:17–29 can be located fairly precisely in the late thirties/early-mid forties CE, that it is a piece of classic Jewish retelling of history firmly within the haggadic tradition highlighted by Aus and that it forms a plea for survival in the face of a very real and deadly political threat from political rulers of Palestine. But I hope that this study is not merely an example of traditional historical reconstruction. It nods gently in the direction of what Robert Darnton calls ‘history in the ethnographic grain’ (Darnton, 1984, p. 3).8 Darnton provides several examples of this, the most famous of which is the joyful massacre of cats by a group of workers in eighteenth century Paris (Darnton, 1984, pp. 75–104). This, Darnton notes, ‘strikes the modern reader as unfunny, if not downright repulsive’ and that our ‘own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of preindustrial Europe’. But this perception of distance can provide a useful starting point of investigation, just as those anthropologists who have found the best starting point in attempting to penetrate an alien culture ‘where it seems to be most opaque’. By ‘getting’ the joke, proverb, riddle, ceremony or whatever it is possible to start grasping a ‘foreign system of meaning’ (Darnton, 1984, pp. 77–78). Mark 6:17–29 also has what must surely seem odd features to a twenty-first century Westernized reader. After all, how many will be familiar with scenarios such as a mother using her daughter to dance alluringly in front of a king in order to secure a vow which in turn secures the decapitation of an opponent? In fact it is these very issues which provide the best point of entry in aiding our understanding of this seemingly obscure passage. We may start first with the role of the women.9 Dangerous Women What should be certain is that women are unambiguously blamed for the death of John in Mark 6:17–29.10 Despite telling Herod Antipas that ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’ (6:18; cf. Leviticus 18:16; 20:21; Deuteronomy 25:5–10; Damascus Document 5:8–11; Josephus, Jewish War 2:116; Josephus, Antiquities 17:341; Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth 55a), it was Herodias who bore the grudge against John and wanted him imprisoned and killed. The blaming of Herodias would have struck a chord with at least some Jews of the time, including those with some power, such as the Jewish historian Josephus (cf. Taylor, 1997, p. 247). Josephus was certainly not impressed by her and cites her as the major reason for Herod Antipas’ eventual downfall. He portrays Herodias as a woman envious of the newly acquired wealth and position of her brother Agrippa I and so nagged Herod Antipas to seek further fortune and status in Rome (Antiquities 18:240–255). Herod Antipas, content with the way things were, resisted her for a while but the more he resisted the more she insisted: ‘The upshot was that she never flagged till she carried the day and made him her unwilling partisan, for there was no way of escape once she had cast her vote on this matter’ (Antiquities 18:246). Sparing no expense, the couple set sail for Rome. They did not get their way and were eventually exiled to Lyons. This is not how a wife was expected to behave. Josephus’ judgement on the matter further suggests that a


Writing History, Constructing Religion

negative view of Herodias would have gone down well in certain circles: ‘And so God visited this punishment on Herodias for her envy of her brother and on Herod [Antipas] for listening to a woman’s frivolous chatter’ (Josephus, Antiquities 18:255).11 Herodias, some people thought, was more than capable of deceiving and manipulating even the tetrarch Herod Antipas. Herodias, so the Markan story goes, would have her day on Herod Antipas’ birthday (6:21). Her daughter Salome now plays a pivotal role (6:22). Understanding Salome’s wooing of Herod Antipas in its cultural context explains why Herod Antipas had to put John to death against his will. Although there are references in Jewish literature to dancing which has an entirely positive non-sexual function, Salome’s dance can only be taken in an erotic sexual sense in Mark 6:17–29;12 it might be worth comparing the sometimes debauched nature of dancing in Jewish literature, especially in wine-houses or taverns as the following example shows: Our Rabbis taught: Every scholar who feasts much in every place, eventually destroys his home, widows his wife, orphans his young, forgets his learning, and becomes involved in many quarrels; his words are unheeded, and he desecrates the Name of Heaven and the name of his teacher and the name of his father, and he causes an evil name for himself, his children, his children’s children until the end of time. What is it [i.e. how does he bring his name etc. into contempt]? Said Abaye: he is called a heater of ovens. Raba said: A tavern dancer (mrqyd)! R. Papa said: A plate licker. R. Shemaiah said: A folder [of garments] and a man who lies down [to sleep where he is, being to drunk too go home]. (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 49a; see also Babylonian Talmud Baba Qamma 97a; cf. Mishnah Taanith 4:8; Babylonian Talmud Taanith 31a).13

There are also some parallels with the Esther traditions. In one tradition there are references to women dancing (rqd) naked at the banquet and a wine saturated Ahasuerus wishing Vashti to do the same. She refused and was slain (Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 49 on Esther 1:8, 10–12, 19). There appears to be an even more significant parallel recorded in the Babylonian Talmud commenting on Esther 1:2: ‘Satan came and danced (ryqd) among them and slew Vashti’ (Megillah 11b). Aus suggests that this is part of a tradition of a development of Esther Chapter 1 which stands behind Salome’s dancing and the death of an innocent (Aus, 1988, pp. 52–53). The problem with Aus’ view is that the passages he cites for this tradition are centuries later than the gospel passage. However, even if the Esther parallels cannot be proven, general beliefs surrounding the alluring and dangerously misleading nature of provocative female behaviour was certainly established at the time of the gospels. According to Josephus (Antiquities 12:187–189), Joseph of Jerusalem went to Alexandria to marry off his daughter to another Jew of social standing. He ate with the Egyptian king and while they were dining a ‘dancing-girl’ (orche¯stridos; cf. Mark 6:22 – orche¯samene¯s) entered. Joseph fell in love with her but wanted to hide the scandal of marrying a gentile. His quick thinking brother saved the day by disguising his own daughter, Joseph’s niece, for the romantic liaisons. Joseph was too drunk to realize what was going on but not too drunk to have sex with her. Consequently he fell madly in love with her and they ended up marrying (cf. Philo, Embassy to Gaius 41–42). Women, from a certain perspective, could be very dangerous. A quick note on some of the reasons given in Jewish law for divorce which appear to count as adultery will show how extreme dancing could have been perceived.

History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist


According to Mishnah Ketuboth 7:6 a woman should be divorced without her marriage settlement if she transgresses Jewish custom. Jewish custom is defined here to include going out with loosened hair and talking with men (cf. Tosefta Ketuboth 7:6). Divorce law could sometimes be very one sided. It was often the women who acted ‘adulterously’ by doing what hardly seem to us to be provocative. Contrast this with the view attributed to Rabbi Aqiba where a man can divorce his wife if he finds a prettier woman (Mishnah Gittin 9:10; cf. Mishnah Ketuboth 5:6; 7:2). Similar views are also present in Christian traditions. According Matthew 19:10 the disciples are said to find it amazing that a man can only divorce a wife for sexual immorality on her part, so much so that they say, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry’. Men, it seems, were almost expected to divorce and remarry. In this general context the female is constructed negatively as a seductress whereas active male sexuality is a good thing. Thus, Salome’s actions are quite the opposite of how a good Jewish woman would supposedly behave, especially in front of a group of men. It does not matter that Herod Antipas is not married to Salome, this belief amply shows that Herod Antipas is being portrayed as doing something that most men would be expected to do. Female sexuality could be dangerous, even for the most upright man. The Damascus Document, a text associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls, encourages its members not to allow themselves ‘to be attracted by the thoughts of a guilty inclination and lascivious eyes. For many have gone astray die to these; brave heroes stumbled on account of them, from ancient times until now’ (Damascus Document 2:16–17). In Judaism of the first century CE there was a long established tradition of associating evil and the demonic with a seductive female sexuality (see Baumgarten, 1991, pp. 133–143). One such way was to have a wicked woman as the personification of evil. A key text for this view in first century Judaism was the biblical book of Proverbs. The writer warns of the sexually immoral woman who lures men in, ‘Do not let your hearts turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths; for many are those she has laid low, and numerous are her victims’ (Proverbs 7:25–26). This was developed further in a document from the Dead Sea Scrolls named by its editor, J. M. Allegro, ‘The Wiles of the Wicked Woman’ (Allegro, 1964, pp. 53–55), otherwise affectionately known as 4Q184. This woman is seductive, enticing men away from the straight and narrow, even the elect. She is always lurking in the shadows, her eyes scan hither and thither, and she raises her eyebrows impudently, to spot a just ma[n] and overtake him, and a [no]ble man, to trip him up; the upright to turn (from) the path, the righteous chosen ones from keeping the precept, to make those with a steady [mind] ridiculous with recklessness, and those who walk upright to alter the ordi[na]nce … and seduce the sons of men with smooth words. (4Q184 1: 13–17)

Sadly, it was not always easy to tell the difference between the female personification of evil and the female personification of wisdom (Baumgarten, 1991, p. 143; cf. Zur, 1993, pp. 103–107). Wisdom was also personified as a sexually alluring woman. A psalm, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and elsewhere (Sirach 51:13–19), called 11Q5 11 (or 11QPsa) 21:11–18, employs erotic imagery and sexual innuendo to describe the female personification of wisdom:


Writing History, Constructing Religion

When I was still young, before I had gone astray, I searched for her. She came to me in her beauty, and up to the end I kept investigating her. Even when the blossom falls, when the grapes are ripening, they make the heart happy. My foot tread on a straight path, for since my youth I have known her … I became ablaze for her, I could not av[e]rt my face. I stirred my soul for her and on her height I was not calm. ‘My hand’ (ydy) opened […] her nakedness I inspected. I cleansed ‘my hand’ (kpy)… (21:11–18).

The sexual innuendo may not be so obvious to many of us so it is perhaps worth just noting one example (see further Sanders, 1965, pp. 79–85; Muraoka, 1979, pp. 168–178; van der Woude, 1995, pp. 253–254). The Hebrew words for ‘hand’ (and ‘foot’) can function as a euphemism for genitals and it appears that this is the case here.14 And so it is that Lady Wisdom is willing and able for all who seek her. But, in a cruel ironic twist, good and evil personifications only go and act similarly making it all the more difficult to distinguish between the two (cf. Camp, 1996, pp. 92–94, 96–97). So Proverbs 7–8: She [the sexually immoral woman] is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares, and at every corner she lies in wait … (Proverbs 7:11–12) Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out … (Proverbs 8:1–3)

The personification of female sexuality is therefore dangerously ambiguous and this ambiguity is echoed in the stories of Esther and Salome: Esther, on the one hand, uses her sexuality positively, while Salome, on the other, uses her sexuality negatively – and anyone could be fooled. As Janice Anderson comments, ‘“Salome” is the dark obverse of Esther – Esther’s shadow sister’ (Anderson, 1992, p. 128).15 Of course, it is a big hermeneutical leap to suggest that Salome in Mark 6:17–29 is to be read as a personification of evil. That is not the point. The point of noting the female personifications of evil is to show how female sexuality could be constructed and that it would not be constructed in such a way and so vigorously throughout the centuries if the perception of the dangerous nature of female sexuality was not present (cf. Broshi, 1983, pp. 54–56). In this perilously ambiguous context, Herod Antipas ought to be careful: sinister forces are at work. But Herod Antipas was lured; and with these underlying assumptions, what man would not? Or, to put it another way, we are supposed to believe that it was not really Herod Antipas’ fault that he was turned on by this woman.16 As Mark puts it, the young girl (to¯ korasio¯) made Herod Antipas ‘pleased’ (e¯resen), a word which carries sexual connotations in biblical Greek (6:22; cf. Greek Septuagint versions of Genesis 19:8; Judges 14:1A, 14:3A; 14:7A; Esther 2:4, 9; Job 31:10). Close parallels are found in the Esther traditions where the same words for ‘girl’ and ‘pleased’ as found in Mark 6:22. For example, ‘The girl [Esther] (to korasion) pleased (e¯resen) him [the king] and won his favour’ (Esther 2:9). In fact there is a strong emphasis on Esther pleasing the king throughout Esther Chapter 2 (2:4, 9, 14, 15, 17) and is picked up in the Aramaic traditions (Aus, 1988, pp. 53–55). These are particularly apt examples, not only for very close linguistic similarities between Mark 6:22 and Esther 2:9 but also because the ‘pleased’ King Ahasuerus will

History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist


go on and promise Esther half his kingdom (Esther 5:3) (Aus, 1988, pp. 53–55; Marcus, 2000, p. 396). Intimately linked with this tradition, and one with clear relevance for Mark 6:17–29, is the importance of the attractiveness of Esther. In Esther Rabba 6:9 on Esther 2:15 R. Judah bar Ilai, a second century CE rabbi, and his contemporary, and frequent debating partner, R. Nehemiah, comment on the attractiveness of Esther: R. Judah said: She was like a statue which a thousand persons look upon and all equally admire. R. Nehemiah said: They put Median women on one side of her and Persian women on the other, and she was more beautiful than all of them.

The sexual attractiveness of Esther was certainly an ancient tradition pre-dating the gospels. According to the Greek ‘A’ version of Esther 3:14, 17–18 (based on the Hebrew Masoretic Text of Esther 2:16–17) these attributes are emphasized, When evening came, she [Esther] would be taken to him [Ahasuerus], and in the morning she would leave. And when the king had examined all the maidens, Esther proved the most outstanding. She found favour and mercy in his sight, and set the royal crown upon her head.17

Be Careful What You Ask For … The culturally constructed sexual predator clearly has Herod Antipas in the palm of her hand and it hardly helps that we are no doubt to take it that Herod Antipas was well lubricated by drink, as the king was in the Esther story. Salome is now in a position to get whatever she wants; Herod Antipas is completely impressed: Herod [Antipas] said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom (heo¯s he¯misous te¯s basileias mou).’ (Mark 6:22–23)

As noted above, this is not historically accurate: it is another example of the storyteller’s licence. To explain it, as most commentators recognize, we must once again turn to Esther where the half a kingdom promise is emphasized in exactly the same terminology (see also Esther 5:6; 9:2; 1 Targum to Esther 5:3): The king said to her, ‘What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you, even to the half of my kingdom (heo¯s tou he¯misous te¯s basileias mou).’ (Esther 5:3) On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, ‘What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted to you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom (heo¯s tou he¯misous te¯s basileias mou), it shall be fulfilled.’ (Esther 7:2)

Here again, the contrast between Esther and Salome/Herodias is evident. Both are able to use their powers to please men but one uses it positively to save life whereas the others abuse their power to kill. Herod Antipas’ unfortunate mistake was, of course, that he swore (o¯mosen) to do whatever the girl asked of him, and, with Herodias pulling the strings, the girl was


Writing History, Constructing Religion

only going to ask for one thing: ‘The head of John the Baptiser’ (6:24). Jewish traditions were familiar with the power of problematic oaths and vows. In fact the Law said they should always be fulfilled: If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not postpone fulfilling it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you would incur guilt. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not incur guilt. Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform, just as you have freely vowed to the Lord with your own mouth. (Deuteronomy 23:21)

An extreme application of this principle is found in Judges 11:30–40. Here Jephthah makes the following vow to God: If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering. (Judges 11:30)

Jephthah inflicted a massive defeat on the Ammonites and returned home. The first person to greet him was his daughter, his only child. Jephthah is distraught but knows he has to follow up his vow to God. His daughter is surprisingly accepting of all this and, after a two month period of wandering, returned to her father to be sacrificed. It is also worth mentioning that a binding oath is found in Greek ‘A’ version of Esther 8:7 (based on MT Esther 7:5), a tradition which may well have been the direct inspiration for Herod Antipas’ oath: ‘But the king swore (o¯mosen) that she [Esther] should tell him who had behaved so arrogantly as to do this, and with an oath (horkou) he undertook to do for her whatever she wished’ (see Clines, 1984, pp. 238–239). The writer of Mark 6:17–29 now has a perfect way of blaming the women and upholding Herod Antipas’ innocence. Herod Antipas must keep to his word because scripture tells him that it is the honourable thing to do. The nasty woman has duped her king and taken advantage of his better nature. The passage goes out of its way to proclaim Herod Antipas’ innocence: ‘The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her’ (6:26). The regard for the guests is the icing on the cake. It simply would not do to go back on an oath in front of so many important guests. In fact, according to a story in Josephus, this piece of social etiquette applied even to Caligula himself (Josephus, Antiquities 18:289–304). During the time when Caligula ordered his statue to be erected in the Jerusalem Temple (c. 40 CE), the Emperor was banqueting with Agrippa, the political leader of the Jews. Mightily impressed by Agrippa’s ostentation, Caligula, relaxed by wine, tries to equal it. Caligula, thinking Agrippa would ask for further territories and revenues, offers ‘any service that can add its weight in the scale of prosperity shall be performed for you with all my heart and power’. But Agrippa asks Caligula to abandon all the placing of the statue in the Temple. This could have been suicidal, as Josephus points out (Antiquities 18:298). Yet Caligula ‘regarded it as unseemly to break his word before so many witnesses, when he had by his zealous constraint compelled Agrippa to make his request’ (Antiquities 18:298). If Caligula had to uphold such social niceties, then so did Herod Antipas.

History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist


Rebellion, Innocence and Decapitation There is also a significant alteration to both the Esther tradition and what we know about Herod Antipas’ attitude towards John the Baptist which suggests a deliberate downplaying of the potentially rebellious nature of John’s mission. Mark 6:20 is crucial here: ‘for Herod [Antipas] feared (ephobeito) John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him’. We know from Josephus that Herod Antipas feared John because of potential revolt and so imprisoned him (Antiquities 18:118), a very different reason to that given in Mark (cf. Aus, 1988, pp. 57–58, including n. 101). It is also significant that the Markan passage uses Esther 5:3 because traditions surrounding this refer to Jewish rebellion (Aus, 1988, p. 56). The biblical text of Esther 5:3 reads: ‘The king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom”’. An Aramaic tradition adds one exception – the re-building of the Jerusalem Temple: ‘I would not permit it to be rebuilt for I am afraid (dhyl) of the Jews/Jew lest they rebel against me’ (1 Targum Esther 5:3).18 Yet, despite Josephus and the Esther exegetical tradition, the king’s ‘fear’ of rebellion is conspicuously absent from Mark 6:20. Herod Antipas ‘fears’ John for a very different reason: he was a wise and righteous man. It appears, then, that the seditious element is deliberately removed. John was decapitated; his head famously brought on a platter and, the story goes, given to the erotic girl who in turn gave it to her devious mother. There are important and relevant influences, echoes and parallels in Palestinian Judaism.19 One influence is the way in which perceived revolutionaries or criminals could be treated, namely decapitation. One of these figures to find his neck on the wrong end of sharp metal was Theudas, active some fifteen to twenty years after the death of John the Baptist, under the Procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus (44–48 CE). Theudas ‘persuaded the masses’ (400 according to Acts of the Apostles 5:36) to take up their possessions and follow him to the Jordan River. Theudas claimed that, because he was a prophet, the river would part and he would thus provide them with an easy passage. Fadus reacted by sending in soldiers who slew many of them and took many prisoners, including Theudas. They then ‘cut off his head’ (apotemnousi t e¯n kephale¯n) and brought it to Jerusalem (Josephus, Antiquities 20:97–99). The horror of decapitation of someone regarded (at least by Theudas himself) as a prophet, not to say the killing of followers, would not have been lost on the early Christian movement: it was always a very real possibility.20 It is no surprise that Mark 6:17–29 emphasizes that the leader decapitated here is innocent. This is also brought out in the haggadic background. Decapitation sometimes accompanied with the head served on a platter is the same fate of the unfortunate Queen Vashti in some of the Esther traditions. Vashti’s death is not at all clear in the Hebrew text of Esther 1:19, ‘If it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus’ (Aus, 1988, pp. 62–63). The rabbinic traditions make some very significant comments on this, especially in the Midrash. In Esther Rabba 4:9 on Esther 1:19 there is the additional comment: ‘He said to him: “Your majesty, say but the word and I will put her head on a platter’. And so in Esther Rabba 4:11 on 1:21 it says, ‘He gave the order and they brought in her head on a platter’.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

There are Esther traditions which are unsympathetic to Vashti’s plight (Aus, 1988, p. 65, including n. 151). But more importantly for present purposes there are also those which are and in these the King regrets his actions. Josephus provides one example (Antiquities 11:191–195). It should be noted that in this tradition the king decides to cast out Vashti without having her killed. Tragically, the King loved Vashti and ‘could not bear the separation’; at the same time he could not be reconciled with her for legal reasons and he continued to grieve (lypoymenos [Antiquities 11:195]), just as Herod Antipas does for John (Aus, 1988, p. 65).21 There may be a hint of regret in the biblical text of Esther 2:1 which states: ‘After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her’. Esther Rabba, which, remember, also has Vashti’s head on a platter, makes it clear that the king was sorry for what he had done, ‘After he had killed her he began to feel remorse, because he realized that she acted properly’ (5:2 on Esther 2:1). That King Ahasuerus had made the wrong decision and even regretted it is also in other Jewish traditions (e.g. 2 Targum Esther 2:1; Midrash Abba Gorion on Esther 2:1). The story of the death of John the Baptist has therefore utilized the Esther traditions to emphasize innocence. Both Vashti (according to some traditions) and John were decapitated; both Vashti (according to some traditions) and John had done nothing wrong. This point is crucial given the allegation of sedition aimed at John and his movement. The Origins of Mark 6:17–29 This reading of the death of John the Baptist also gives some clues as to when and where the story came about. The content of the story may suggest that it came about before direct Roman rule, at the time of Herod Antipas or Agrippa I, although it must be said that re-application in light of later Roman governors would be perfectly plausible. The main reason why I would suggest that the story arose at the time before direct Roman rule is my work on the date of Mark’s gospel where I argued that the latest possible date for the gospel is around the early-mid forties CE (Crossley, 2004). If I am correct then this would give us a fairly precise date for the emergence of the story of John the Baptist’s beheading. It is, I think, possible to be even more precise. It is difficult to see that a downplaying of Herod Antipas’ involvement in the death of John at the expense of Herodias would be persuasive when Herod Antipas was in power. After all, it does seem that Herodias had some influence over Herod Antipas. In fact such a story would be downright suicidal when Herod Antipas and Herodias were pulling the strings of power. However, when Agrippa I was starting to accumulate power and land in the late thirties CE and when Herod Antipas was exiled in 39 CE, the story would go down a lot better. Josephus says that Herodias ‘begrudged her brother [Agrippa] his rise to power far above the state that her husband enjoyed’ and that Agrippa’s spectacular shows of grandeur ‘made her especially helpless to keep this unfortunate envy to herself’ (Antiquities 18:240). To rival his power she persuaded her husband Herod Antipas into sailing to Rome, as noted earlier. Agrippa learnt of their plans and plotted against them. And it was Agrippa who won the support of Caligula, accusing Herod Antipas of conspiracy, and Caligula had the pair banished to Lyons (Antiquities 18:240–256). There would have been no political

History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist


repercussions for writing the story of the death of John the Baptist in this context. The story cannot paint the ruler in a wholly negative light because of the potential rebellious repercussions under any ruler. But making it clear that someone with the reputation (rightly or wrongly) of being a manipulator was the cause of the death of John the peaceful wise man would have been welcome. For these reasons, then, the earliest possible date for the story would be sometime between the demise of Herodias and Herod Antipas/the rise of Agrippa in 39 CE and the early-mid forties when I have argued that Mark’s gospel was written. By this time in the first century, Christians were living in fear of their very lives. John and Jesus had already run into severe difficulties with Herod Antipas (e.g. Mark 1:14; 3:6; 6:14–16; Matthew 14:5; Luke 13:31–32; Josephus, Antiquities 18:116–119; cf. Luke 9:9; 23:8) and, significantly, Agrippa appears to have persecuted Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 12). Rulers were not necessarily positively inclined towards the first Christians. But would the message that they did not pose a threat travel from the desert, markets, villages and towns to the palaces? Quite probably (cf. Scobie, 1964, p. 180). It appears that there were at least some positive Herodian links to the earliest Christian movement. Jonanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, became associated with Jesus’ mission according to Luke 8:3 (cf. Luke 24:10). In the earliest church in Antioch there were prophets and teachers including ‘Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch’ (Acts 13:1). There is evidence of this passage being a pre-Markan tradition and from some of this evidence a suggestion can be made on its place of origin.22 One major reason why I suspect that Mark 6:17–29 is a pre-Markan tradition is the concern to portray Herod Antipas in a more positive light, something which is not upheld anywhere else in Mark (e.g. Mark 3:6; 8:15; 12:13). There are also Semitisms in the passage, which again points to earlier composition, written in Aramaic.23 This also means that the passage probably originated in or around Palestine (cf. Davies and Allison, 1991, p. 465; Theissen, 1992, pp. 81–89, 96). This is complemented by the emphasis on the Herodian setting. This is also the only place in the gospel where Jesus is not the focus of attention which may suggest that this story was written by the movement associated with John the Baptist.24 For the sake of completeness, it is worth making a few comments on Matthew’s version of this story (Matthew 14:3–12) (see also Meier, 1980, pp. 383–405; Theissen, 1992, 88). Matthew, who had Mark as one of his sources, abbreviates his Markan account.25 The gossipy element is downplayed. For present purposes, the most significant alteration occurs in Matthew 14:5, ‘Though he [Herod Antipas] wanted to put him [John] to death, he feared the crowd because they regarded him as a prophet’. Here Matthew alters his Markan source significantly. In putting blame on Herod Antipas, he directly contradicts Mark. No longer is it the Herod Antipas who respected the righteous and holy John but a rather more sinister tetrarch (cf. Mt. 21:26). The Matthean Herod Antipas was sorry that John had to die (Matthew 14:9) but this is presumably because he feared the crowd’s reaction. What Matthew’s editing shows us is that it was felt that Mark 6:17–29 was giving too much credit to someone who was openly hostile to the Christian movement from its very beginnings. In other words, it further emphasizes how unique and unusual the Markan version would have seemed. Matthew’s editing possibly also shows that the threat of persecution was not as immediate, hence the comment concerning the fear of the crowd.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Conclusion This study, although not in a full blown sense, is an example of what Robert Darnton calls ‘history in the ethnographic grain’. Not only is it possible to provide answers to questions such as dating of texts but we can also see how a group of people made sense of the world (Darnton, 1984, p. 3). Most notably perhaps, a close reading of this brief story sheds some light on the ways in which male and female identities were constructed. In some ways, this study is also reminiscent of an ‘anthropological history’ advocated by Bernard Cohn, and mentioned in my introductory chapter, ‘Defining History’. Although, contrary to Cohn’s emphasis, I have not neglected ‘to sift historical fact from mythical fancy’, I hope I have at least attempted ‘to grasp the meanings of the forms and contents of these texts in their own cultural terms’ (Cohn, 1987, p. 69). In many ways this study is also a ‘history from below’, in the sense that it is a brief insight into a little known but persecuted group in, from a Roman perspective, an obscure part of the Empire. In fact it is also an example of history writing from below, namely an example of how history could be written and rewritten by first century Jews and Christians. Notes 1 For a collection of such material see Ginzberg, 1909–38. 2 The story of Jezebel, Ahab, and Elijah in 1 Kings 17–18 may also have influenced the story of John’s death, not least because of the linking of John the Baptist with Elijah. 3 On various speculations concerning the form of this passage see e.g. Guelich, 1989, pp. 325–328. 4 Herodias was the former wife of Herod, son of Mariamme II and Herod the Great, according to Josephus (Antiquities 18:136–137) which appears to be a different person to ‘Philip’ mentioned in Mark 6:17. Either Mark or Josephus is mistaken. For an attempt to harmonize the two see e.g. Hoehner, 1972, pp. 131–136. The Herod in Mark 6:17–29 is Herod Antipas and will be referred to as ‘Herod Antipas’ from now on. Herodias’ daughter was Salome and will be referred to as such from now on. On Salome as Herodias’ daughter from her previous marriage see Josephus, Antiquities 18:136–137. There are textual problems which also concern the daughter in Mark 6:22. On these various problems see Hoehner, 1972, pp. 151–154. 5 A major defence of the historicity and historical accuracy of Mark 6:17–29 are the learned but sometimes strained interpretations given in Hoehner, 1972, pp. 110–171. 6 These points make it very difficult to accept Hoehner’s attempt at harmonizing the gospels and Josephus (Hoehner, 1972, pp. 158–164). 7 It has been argued that to give away half a kingdom/half of your possessions was proverbial (e.g. Rawlinson, 1925, pp. 81–82; Hoehner, 1972, pp. 150–151; Edwards, 2002, p. 188). Yet there is little evidence to suggest such a proverb was firmly established. Hoehner notes 1 Kings 13:8 and Luke 19:8 but even if these were good parallels they still would not provide strong enough evidence of an established proverb. As with Esther, 1 Kings is set in a situation where the king theoretically has the power to redistribute land. Herod Antipas did not. Moreover, in 1 Kings the context is explicitly hyperbolic. Luke 19:8 refers to a man giving half his possessions to the poor and does not need to be taken as proverbial. Needless to say, there is no mention of ‘kingdom’. As will be discussed in more detail, it should be accepted that Mark 6:22–23 is a direct reference to Esther (5:3; 5:6;

History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist


9 10

11 12 13



16 17 18 19 20 21


7:2), not least due to precise linguistic correspondence and the strong links with the Esther traditions throughout Mark 6:17–29 as established by Aus. Darnton was profoundly influenced by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz with whom he taught at Princeton University for some years (Darnton, 1984, p. xiii). Lawrence Stone noted the increasing use of ‘symbolic and social anthropology’ in historical studies, largely under the influence of Geertz: ‘It has already had, and it is continuing to have, a stunning effect upon historical scholarship’ (Stone, 1992, p. 192). In particular it is the idea of ‘thick description’ which has proven to be most influential, namely using a group of signs and fitting them into a broader social network; or, to use Geertz’s famous example, a Balinese cockfight speaks of social structuring, sexuality, group cohesion and so on in Balinese society (Geertz, 1973, 1993). For an approach to Mark 6:17–29 informed by social sciences see Hanson and Oakman, 1998, pp. 82–86. Jennifer Glancy complains that the role of the women in the death of John the Baptist has been exaggerated in interpretations of Mark 6:17–29 and more should be placed on Herod Antipas as he holds the real power (Glancy, 1994, pp. 34–50). But it is precisely because Herod Antipas is holding the power that the story has to find a way of laying the blame elsewhere. I would suggest that the historically inaccurate emphasis on the women being responsible begins with this story, where at least some of the first century male readers would accept the validity of Herod Antipas’ actions. That said, Glancy has provided an important counter to some unfounded assumptions, e.g. her argument that there is no evidence for Herodias being sexually depraved is surely correct. It should be stressed that this is Josephus’ opinion because this unhistorical judgement has too often influenced modern historical scholarship (cf. Glancy, 1994, p. 46). Theissen notes that women at men’s banquets can only be taken in a sexual sense (Theissen, 1992, pp. 91–93). The Hebrew for dancing in the Babylonian Talmud tractates Baba Qamma 97a and Pesachim 49a is mrqyd (from rqd). This is one of the words translated by the Greek orcheomai (as used in Mark 6:22) in the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX): see Isaiah 13:21; 1 Chronicles 15:29; Ecclesiastes 3:4. On the Hebrew yd (‘hand’) as genitals see for example, 1QS (The Community Rule) 7:13 (cf. for example, Song of Songs 5:4); on the Hebrew kp (‘hand’, ‘palm’, ‘sole’) and genitals see for example, Tosefta Niddah 6:4; Palestinian Talmud, Yebamot 1, 2d and Sanhedrin 8, 26a. See further Delcor, 1967, pp. 230–240. Anderson notes that confusion between good and evil in female sexuality is found in poetic and artistic reconstructions of Salome, Herodias, Esther and Judith (Anderson, 1992, pp. 117, 127, 129). For example, she quotes (p. 117) the German poet Heinrich Heine’s poem ‘Atta Troll’ which says the following about Herodias: ‘Whether she was saint or devil,/I don’t know. With women, never/Can one know where ends the angel/And the devil makes his entrance’. Compare also Judith 16:6, 9 where the beautiful Judith uses her charms to cut off the head of Holofernes and save the day for the Jews. For the Greek text with English translation see Clines, 1984, pp. 222–223. For what it is worth, the Greek word for ‘fear’ (phobeo¯ ) and derivatives, used in Mark 6:20, translates the Aramaic (dhyl) in the Aramaic sections of the Bible (Daniel 5:19; 6:26[27] 2:31; 7:7, 19; cf. 4:2). On the general Hellenistic background see for example, Marcus, 2000, p. 402. Note also that there are no explicitly rebellious self-claims, at least not in the sense of a violent human overthrowing of secular power, in what is known about Theudas from Josephus and Acts. The same can be said for John the Baptist and his movement. Note the Greek word for grieve used in Josephus (lypoymenos) is from the same root (lyp-) used when Herod Antipas grieves in Mark 6:26 (perilypos).


Writing History, Constructing Religion

22 For further indications of a pre-Markan tradition see for example, Marcus, 2000, pp. 397–398. Mark perhaps used this tradition as part of the general tendency to have John as forerunner to Jesus, more specifically used here to parallel their deaths, as a martyrdom to encourage his fellow persecuted Christians, as a complement to the tradition of ‘Elijah’ suffering (Mark 9:11–13), and just possibly to show that even the great John the Baptist was killed in a scandalous way thereby lessening the potentially scandalous death of Jesus (for example, Davies and Allison, 1991, pp. 474–476; Wink, 1968, pp. 8–13). 23 Summarized in Hoehner, 1972, p. 118, n. 3. See also the suggestions in Aus, 1988, pp. 60–62. 24 Theissen notes that the characteristics of John’s preaching as are missing as are more developed details concerning John himself (Theissen, 1992, pp. 84–85). From this Theissen believes that it does not come from Baptist circles. However, if my argument that the story was written to defend against persecution is correct then these criticisms lose weight. The writers/speakers were concerned with other issues. This does not prove that it does come from Baptist circles but it does show that the possibility certainly remains. 25 Luke only mentions that John was arrested (Lk. 3:19–20) and beheaded (Lk. 9:7–9) but does not include the story surrounding the death of the Baptist. It is not entirely clear why Luke did this but it is worth speculating that he did so because of the fact that John and Herod Antipas simply did not get along. Indeed, Luke speaks of ‘all the evil things that Herod had done’ (3:19–20). On Luke omitting tricky details see for example, Crossley, 2004, pp. 181, 202. On different reasons for Luke’s omission of Mark 6:17–29 see Hoehner, 1972, pp. 112–113.

References Allegro, John M. (1964), ‘The wiles of the wicked woman: a sapiental work from Qumran’s fourth cave’, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 96, 53–55. Anderson, Janice Capel (1992), ‘Feminist criticism: the dancing daughter’, in Anderson, Janice Capel and Moore, Stephen D. (eds), Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, pp. 103–134. Aus, R. D. (1988), Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist: Early JewishChristian Interpretation of Esther 1 in John 2:1–11 and Mark 6:17–29, Atlanta: Scholars Press. Aus, R. D. (1992), Barabbas and Esther and Other Studies in the Judaic Illumination of Earliest Christianity, Atlanta: Scholars Press. Aus, R. D. (1994), Samuel, Saul, and Jesus: Three Early Palestinian Jewish Christian Gospel Haggadoth, Atlanta: Scholars Press. Aus, R. D. (1996), The Wicked Tenants and Gethsemane. Isaiah in the Wicked Tenants’ Vineyard, and Moses and the High Priest in Gethsemane: Judaic Traditions in Mark 12:1–9 and 14:32–42, Atlanta: Scholars Press. Aus, R. D. (1998), ‘Caught in the Act,’ Walking on the Sea, and the Release of Barabbas Revisited, Atlanta: Scholars Press. Baumgarten, Joseph M. (1991), ‘On the nature of the seductress in 4Q184’, Revue de Qumrân, 15, 133–143. Broshi, Magen (1983), ‘Beware the wiles of the wicked woman. Dead Sea scroll fragment (4Q184) reflects Essene fear of, and contempt for, women’, Biblical Archaeology Review, 9, 54–56. Camp, Claudia V. (1996), ‘Woman wisdom and the strange woman: where is power to be found?’, in Beal, T. M. and Gunn, D. M. (eds), Reading Bibles, Writing Bodies: Identity and the Book, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 85–112.

History From the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist


Clines, D. J. A. (1984), The Esther Scroll: The Story of a Story, Sheffield: JSOT Press. Cohn, Bernard S. (1987), ‘Anthropology and history in the 1980s: towards a rapprochement’, in An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 50–74. Crossley, J. G. (2004), The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity, London: Continuum/T&T Clark. Darnton, Robert (1984), ‘Workers revolt: the Great Cat Massacre of the Rue Saint-Séverin’, in The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, London: Allen Lane, pp. 75–104. Davies, W. D. and Allison, D. C. (1991), A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew VIII–XVIII, Edinburgh: T&T Clark. Delcor, Mathias (1967), ‘Two special meanings of the word yad in Biblical Hebrew. Notes on Hebrew Lexicography’, Journal of Semitic Studies, 12, 230–240. Edwards, J. R. (2002), The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans. Enslin, Morton S. (1975), ‘John and Jesus’, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 66, 1–18. Geertz, C. (1973), The Interpretation of Cultures, London: Fontana. Ginzberg, L. (1909–38), The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America. Glancy, Jennifer A. (1994), ‘Unveiling masculinity. The construction of gender in Mark 6:17–29’, Biblical Interpretation, 2, 34–50. Guelich, R. A. (1989), Mark 1–8:26, Dallas: Word. Hanson, K. C. and Oakman, D. E. (1998), Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. Herr, Moshe David, Hirschberg, Haïm Z’ew and Gutmann, Joseph (1971), ‘Aggadah’, Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 2, Jerusalem: Keter, 354–366. Hoehner, H. W. (1972), Herod Antipas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Marcus, J. (2000), Mark 1–8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, New York: Doubleday. Meier, John P. (1980), ‘John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 99, 383–405. Muraoka, Takamitsu (1979), ‘Sir. 51:13–30: an erotic hymn to wisdom?’, Journal for the Study of Judaism, 10, 168–178. Rawlinson, A. E. J. (1925), St Mark, London: Methuen. Sanders, J. A. (1965), The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11, Oxford: Clarendon, 1965. Scobie, C. H. H. (1964), John the Baptist, London: SCM Press. Stone, Lawrence (1992), ‘History and post-modernism, III’, Past and Present, 135, 189–194. Taylor, J. E. (1997), The Immerser: John the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism, Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans. Theissen, G. (1992), The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition, Edinburgh: T&T Clark. Wink, W. (1968), John the Baptist in the Gospel Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. van der Woude, Adam S. (1995), ‘Wisdom at Qumran’, in Day, John, Gordon, Robert P. and Williamson, Hugh G. M. (eds), Wisdom in Ancient Israel: Essays in honour of J. A. Emerton, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 244–256. Zur, Yiphtah (1993), ‘Parallels between Acts of Thomas 6–7 and 4Q184’, Revue de Qumrân, 16, 103–107.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 10

‘If Isaac Could Speak …’: Redefining Sacrifice Maria Varsam

Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. 1 Sam. 15:22–23 The Bible, New Revised Standard Version Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart ‘Easter, 1916’ W. B. Yeats

Introduction In Atom Egoyan’s Ararat (2002), the Armenian genocide in Asia Minor (under the Ottoman Empire, present day Turkey) in the early part of the twentieth century becomes the focus not only for questions concerning the representation of history but also for questions concerning the status of historical events in the present, since for some of the characters in the film, what took place was not in fact genocide but simply ‘war’. As a result, the descendents of those who survived must defend their ‘story’ which, of course, is not merely a story but history, retold from generation to generation. Inevitably, a host of experts are recruited, foreign correspondents who are considered neutral and other ‘objective’ witnesses to corroborate the Armenian story of genocide. Yet the historians who argue that no genocidal programme was in place also have to provide their sources. When such a discrepancy amongst historians and eye witnesses occurs, the unavoidable question seems to be: why is not the voice of the survivor sufficient? And if there is a demand for independent corroboration, then how many of these supporting stories are needed to legitimize the experience of thousands? Egoyan – an Armenian-Canadian – is not unaware of the difficulty of representing history, the possible incredulity of viewers and even the complicity of language, as for example, when attention is brought to the use of the word ‘story’. Is a story always fictional, some kind of untruth, or can a story be a truthful representation of an event conveyed in narrative form? Is everything, in the end, subjective interpretation and the only choice one has is that of deciding which story to believe in? By the end of Ararat, there is no doubt: the genocide of the 163


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Armenian, Greek and other minority populations in Asia Minor did take place because what suffices is the stories of the victims, those who lived to tell. If the Armenians of Asia Minor/Turkey were sacrificed as a result of a reorganization of national boundaries, which ideology validated such a sacrifice and what have its consequences been? What emerges as a result of this problematization of history is a series of ethical, political and cultural questions concerning a group’s identity and its relationship to its past. The film foregrounds the interpretative problems that emerge in writing history when undisputed violence takes place in a time and space far removed from our own, as in the case of biblical stories. Similar problems emerge when reading biblical passages referring to sacrifice which span hundreds of years and can be found in several chapters (most prominently in Leviticus). Indeed, the individual sources – the Deuteronomist, the Yahwist, the Elohist and the Priestly author, known as D, J, E and P respectively – of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible exhibit significantly different levels of interest in sacrifice (J being almost entirely uninterested). In particular, Genesis 22:1–19 has been attributed to source E and this alone has important consequences for any modern interpretation.1 At the same time, sixteen passages referring to child sacrifice are categorically against its practice (including, for example, verses from Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah and Chronicles). For the non-scholar, however, reading contradictory reports on sacrificial violence raises the question not only of which ‘version’ to accept as definitive but also, and more importantly, what value to impute to each of these versions. At the same time, there is a crucial ‘generic’ difference amongst these accounts, in that the conventions of inscribing laws will vary vastly from those of narrating a story involving characters just as the reception of each genre will vary for contemporary readers. In the latter case, the reader (and non-scholar) will question and perhaps demand the relevance of the story of Isaac’s near-sacrifice by his father. Having recourse only to the final version of the Hebrew Bible, how would the contemporary reader understand this story of (non)sacrifice? Whether one reads Genesis 22 as history, myth or story, it is difficult not to be emotionally drawn in by the events that take place. Having a son at an advanced age, Abraham is asked to take him away and offer him up as a ‘burnt offering’ (‘olah). He responds dutifully and on a three-day journey whereby Isaac carries the wood for his sacrifice, he does not once question God’s command to give up ‘his only son’ ‘whom he loves’. Isaac himself utters only one sentence: a question as to where the sacrificial animal will be found. Abraham responds that ‘God will provide’ and at the crucial moment before his knife carries through with the act onto the bound Isaac, an angel prevents him from doing so and a lamb appears as a substitute victim. In a short space, this passage describing a near sacrifice of a boy by this father demands an emotional response that is not easily rationalized in ethical terms. By limiting my focus only to those aspects of sacrificial theory and biblical interpretation which consider the victim’s point of view, the following interpretation of Genesis 22 will return to centre onto the title it is commonly known by in the Hebrew Bible: the Akedah (Aqedah), that is, the ‘binding of Isaac’ in order to suggest a reading that does justice to Isaac’s experience and considers the ramifications of focusing on his viewpoint.

‘If Isaac Could Speak …’: Redefining Sacrifice


Theories of Sacrifice or Sacrificial Theories? Unfortunately, recourse to a common understanding of the term sacrifice itself is fraught with difficulties. Despite – and indeed because of – its universal appearance in cultures separated in time and space, theorists continue to seek a universally accepted explanation of sacrifice. As Victor Turner points out, these tend to emphasize one aspect (object, relationship or concept) to the exclusion of others: gift exchange, tribute, propitiation, penitence, atonement, submission, purification, communion, symbolic parricide or filicide (1977, p. 214). Faced with the impossibility of a common definition based on a particular component, Turner concludes that sacrifice is best seen as a process rather than an act, a single event or a rule based structure (p. 189). Even the attempt to limit a definition to a particular culture fails, as witnessed by the effort consumed in explaining the function of Hebrew sacrificial practises by Hubert and Mauss (1964).2 Apart from the necessity of a victim who/which will act as mediator between the human and the divine by being partly or entirely destroyed there is little agreement on the nature, purpose or function of sacrifice. It is ironic then that the one necessary element, the victim, should be undertheorized. Perhaps Jill Robbins’ (1998) work correctly identifies one cause for this inability to articulate a satisfactory definition. If there is something ‘enigmatic’ about sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible it is because ‘the old sacrifice is no longer practised’ (p. 286), that is, after 70 CE. Thus, it becomes a ‘sign of something, the explanation of which has been lost’ (p. 286).3 However, it is not the purpose of this chapter to provide a new, original definition but to shift the focus of existing definitions by examining this particular type of ritualized violence from a perspective, which has been assumed to be of little (functional) value. I will do so by focusing on the story of Isaac’s near-sacrifice in Genesis 22 – a story with significant cultural value in the historical contexts of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds. The dialogue between method (violence), perspective (victim) and ethical value will form the parameters within which my inquiry will proceed. Finally, my emphasis is literary and text based, that is, I will focus on character, speech, point of view and plot as it is presented to the reader in its final form. My assumption is that the Bible as a whole is product of patriarchal culture and, as such, seeks to describe and support the interests of a male elite whose authors’ agenda is essentially different from my own.4 Although the literature on sacrifice is vast, it is possible to discern those interpretations, which have exerted the most influence in academic discourse. In relation to the Bible alone, sacrifice has attracted the attention of fictional and non-fictional writers. It encompasses past as well as present manifestations from pre-historic to modern societies. Moreover, it has constituted an object of empirical enquiry and theoretical reflection for anthropologists, theologians, historians, philosophers, critical theorists, poets and novelists alike. In the twentieth century alone, the most prominent non-fictional writings begin with Smith, Fraser, Freud and Lévi-Strauss on the one hand and include, on the other Hubert and Mauss, Turner, Girard, Levinas, Bataille and Derrida. As far as Abraham and Isaac are concerned, probably the most famous analysis has been that of Kierkegaard, in his Fear and Trembling, written in 1843 but still an important reference point for many. The overwhelming majority, until recently, have been male and their contributions have only recently been subjected to feminist critiques. Most notably, the philosopher Luce Irigaray


Writing History, Constructing Religion

and the social anthropologist Nancy Jay have brought to the foreground the role of women in the sacrificial ritual and the crucial role of the (female) symbolism of shedding blood in relation to the logic of sacrifice. In terms of assessing the ethical value of sacrifice by foregrounding the viewpoint of the victim, in other words, of bringing into dialogue ethics with poetics, academic discourse prefers to focus on the latter, without serious regard for the former unless it concerns the ethical viewpoint of the ‘sacrificer’/benefactor.5 This is not to say that the emphasis on interpreting the function of sacrifice on the macro level is not important in cultural history or should not be further investigated. Readings by Kierkegaard, Mauss and Girard as well as ancient and modern theologians have much to say about the nature of the relationship between Abraham and God in Genesis 22 and have been influential in a variety of disciplines. Kierkegaard’s reading of Genesis 22 focuses almost entirely on the relationship between Abraham and God and goes so far as to support a ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’ (1985, p. 85) in his desire to crown Abraham a ‘knight of faith’. In fact, his reading constitutes a defence and exaltation of Abraham’s resolve to carry out God’s command. This conclusion, however, could only be reached if Isaac’s point of view is devalued since it presumes an opposition between a relationship of the human to the divine and the relationship between humans only where the former is valued over the latter. Mauss (1954) discusses the role of the victim at length, but not in relation to the underlying ethical questions. Finally, Girard (1995, p. 306) attributes an almost ‘utopian’ function to sacrifice because of his belief that ‘all man’s religious, familial, economic and social institutions’ grow out of the body of an original victim. The macro level of interpretation, in the name of rational objectivity often legitimizes that which it seeks to explain by neglecting to take into account voices from the ‘margins’ of history. But if religious history is to move beyond the story of the victors or those dominant voices that have emerged most clearly across space and time, then it will be necessary to listen to those few phrases uttered by the victims of violence and, in particular, of sacrificial violence. Similarly, the mainly male fictional writers inspired by the ethical import of Abraham’s trial in Genesis 22 include Thomas Hardy, Wilfred Owen and D. H. Lawrence (Jasper and Prickett, 1997, pp. 110–123).6 However, novelists and poets who have been inspired by this biblical story and their interpretations often shed light on or reveal latent aspects of the plight of Isaac. Jenny Diski is a British writer whose novel After These Things (2004) presents, finally, one noticeable counter-point to the perpetrator-bias in much of the existing (fictional and non-fictional) literature. In her novel, Isaac is given the discursive space to interpret events from his viewpoint. By giving voice to what has been hitherto neglected, other nuances in the relationship between the human and the divine may be detected and this not only contributes to the ongoing interpretative history but also has important influences on the cultural value of previous interpretations. In other words, focusing on the micro level of sacrifice can aid the re-interpretation of the macro level by questioning its assumptions and the cultural values from which it proceeds. Furthermore, the task of historical scholarship becomes even more challenging since the voice of the sacrificial victim is either silent or silenced. What is well documented is the voice of the sacrificer, or the community which benefits from the sacrificial act. In the case of Abraham and Isaac, it is not the experience of the receptor of

‘If Isaac Could Speak …’: Redefining Sacrifice


violence that has concerned historians and theologians alike, but the nature of God’s command or Abraham’s trial.7 The victim’s voice remains, in the event of its survival, not only silent but also irrelevant.8 Academic discourse mimics the emphasis in the text by concerning itself with the dominant voice in the narrative, that of the priest or sacrificer while at the same time insisting on the illusion of rational objectivity. Sacrifice then, is initially a story told by the ‘victors’ – those who stand to gain from the violence they themselves inflict on others. Retold by historians/anthropologists/ theologians with an emphasis on the benefactors of sacrifice, the victim’s voice becomes doubly silenced. This complicity of academic discourse in reproducing and prescribing the value judgements of these dominant voices has implications not only for a political order based on ‘inclusion and exclusion’ (see Karner, this volume) but also, for the ethics of the interpretative process itself. The main purpose for the inclusion of a voice that for the main part of its interpretative history has been neglected is to induce a reinterpretation of this much read biblical story with regard to its ethical import. This change in point of view inevitably has some consequences for the history of writing on sacrifice as well as the history of the patriarchs in the Bible. By shifting the emphasis from Abraham to Isaac in Genesis 22:1–19, the focus will transfer to the micro level of human relations and, as a result, a different value of the sacrificial process from the dominant one may emerge altogether. This chapter, then, revolves around a thought experiment and alternative questioning: if Isaac could speak, what would he say? And what would his words mean to the contemporary reader? My purpose is to elicit the ethical questions that arise by virtue of the reader’s empathy with the victim’s plight. Although far removed in time and space, by engaging in such an exercise, readers will be made to ask themselves what parallels could be drawn from such an identification. As James Crossley suggests in his introductory chapter on ‘Defining History’, ‘the use of historical parallels … can be used as a means of defying power and constructing identities or more generally as a way of living out/with the present, not least in religious traditions’. My purpose is less to understand Abraham’s ordeal, and more to focus on Isaac’s trial as the defining moment in the text. Finally, as a result of the reader’s identification with victim rather than victor, a different valuation of the sacrificial process will be put forward in order to destabilize the entrenched status of existing interpretative traditions based on the victim’s exclusion. Reading Genesis 22 from the Centre It is noteworthy that despite the story being known as the ‘binding’ or ‘sacrifice of Isaac’, most commentators have struggled with the character of Abraham’s decision and with the character of a God that would make such a demand on a father. Shalom Spiegel’s The Last Trial presents a survey of talmudic, halakic, haggadic, liturgical, exegetical and modern statements from Jewish and Christian sources in order to reveal ‘the uninterrupted continuity of a literary and intellectual tradition form biblical days to our own’ (1967, p. xxiii). Beginning with Philo, what he finds is a general concern over Abraham’s relationship with God. However, his survey includes interpretations which go beyond the confines of the text to speculate on whether Isaac was in fact spared (p. 44) or whether this story is a remnant of Israel’s idolatrous past


Writing History, Constructing Religion

(p. 59). Like the rabbinical exegesis in Genesis Rabbah, there is much speculation of extra-textual nature, even when it concerns Isaac himself.9 In fact, the question of the moral status of Abraham’s decision can also be approached from Isaac’s perspective in terms of his own trial in the text itself. What Genesis Rabbah introduces in relation to the ethical import of the story is the contentious and fundamental factor of Isaac’s willingness to sacrifice himself. This commentary constitutes one of the few instances where Isaac’s acquiescence is questioned. In A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (Alexander, 1990), the entry for ‘Aqedah’ (pp. 44–47) accepts as part of the interpretative tradition Isaac’s knowing acceptance of his death, in contradiction to the implication of ignorance – and therefore rejection – Isaac’s question further supports. In other words, either Isaac knows of his impending sacrifice and his willingness exonerates Abraham from any wrongdoing or Isaac is truly ignorant – and therefore trusting of his father’s intentions – but implicates Abraham in the sin of deceit, at the very least. Levenson (1993) is one commentator who regards Isaac as part of the same test of faith Abraham is subjected to on the basis of Isaac’s age. If Isaac were a child, then his question simply betrayed his ignorance of what is to ensue and Abraham was acting mercifully. But if Isaac is a grown man then he knows and accepts his sacrifice and it is this knowledge that places him on a par, morally, with his father. Levenson prefers Isaac as a knowledgeable adult but such an interpretation of Isaac’s question seems to benefit Abraham once again since it absolves him of the crime of concealing the truth from his son. Abraham’s answer ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son’ (Genesis 22:8) is both equivocal with regards to his own intentions towards Isaac as well as his faith in God’s intentions. To read acquiescence in Isaac’s question seems to betray as much a desire on the part of commentators to exonerate Abraham of any wrongdoing as a desire to exalt Isaac with equal heroic status.10 One of the earliest commentators to raise the issue of Isaac’s acquiescence in relation to Abraham is an interesting early reading from the first/second century targumic themes developed by Palestinian Jews that emphasizes the character of Isaac (Vermes, 1961, pp. 194–195). These commentaries have also interpreted the nature of the few words Isaac utters to his father in order to reinforce Abraham’s moral character. For them, Isaac takes an active part in the drama by willingly and knowingly offering himself up as a sacrificial victim, thus elevating himself to the status of one worthy of ‘God in His choice of mankind as heir to the created world’ (p. 201). In his acquiescence, Isaac achieves a virtuous atonement just as worthy as his father’s obedience. In this sense, father and son’s actions mirror each other and reinforce a reading that, in fact, evades the essence of Isaac’s question. Thus, any difficulties that would arise from a lack of acceptance of his death are skilfully avoided and, most importantly, the ethical value of Abraham’s decision and God’s demand remain unquestioned. By focusing on Isaac’s only speech, these commentators have nonetheless and perhaps inadvertently emphasized an aspect of sacrifice which modern commentators accept and tend not to question. For the sacrificial ritual to be complete, indeed successful, the victim must acquiesce and this is one aspect that all theorists agree on. Hubert and Mauss emphasize the importance of victims’ willing participation because the (religious) forces unleashed must be placated in order to be propitiously directed towards the sacrificer. This is effected via language, that is, the ritualistic language used during the ceremony:

‘If Isaac Could Speak …’: Redefining Sacrifice


Above all it must be persuaded to allow itself to be sacrificed peaceably, for the welfare of men, and not to take vengeance once it is dead … there is in the victim a spirit which it is the very aim of the sacrifice to liberate. This spirit must therefore be conciliated, for otherwise it might become dangerous when freed; hence the flattery and preliminary apologies. (Hubert and Mauss, 1964, p. 30)11

What the victim needs to be persuaded of is not only to give up its body but to do so without later causing retribution from another of its kind. Since the spirit must be ‘liberated’ as part of the ‘gift’ the sacrificer offers to the gods, the victim undergoes a process in which it is ‘progressively made divine’ and eventually persuaded of the necessity of its death. As a representative of the sacrificer’s sin, its death enables the latter’s regeneration and newly found ‘pure’ state. The victim then is the means by which the sacrificer redeems himself (p. 98).12 As aforementioned, the benefit again is attributed to the sacrificer in keeping with the unequal terms of the sacrificial contract. Since all the participants partake in the sacrifice ‘willingly’, the violence to the victim is not murder but part of the ‘contract’ (p. 100).13 If everyone has their place in the sacrificial ritual, then who is the victim? René Girard mentions in passing that the victim is chosen from ‘beings who are either outside or on the fringes of society, e.g. prisoners of war, slaves, small children, unmarried adolescents, and the handicapped’ (1988, p. 12). These individuals: Are incapable of establishing or sharing the social bonds that link the rest of the inhabitants. They are exterior or marginal, and because of their outsider status, a crucial link is missing, so they can be exposed to violence without reprisal. It is clearly then legitimate to define the difference between sacrificable and nonsacrificable individuals in terms of their degree of integration. (Girard, 1988, p. 12)14

In other words, the vast majority of victims are not only silent but also nameless and thus, undocumented in history. Rather than a means to an end, the victim of the sacrificial ritual is revealed as a tragic victim of circumstances beyond their control. Were the victim to doubt the positive effect of its death or to refuse to acquiesce, the whole system of sacrifice – and its beneficiaries – would be thrown into disorder. The victim then is crucial in the maintenance of the hierarchy of a given society and the meaning of sacrifice is therefore incomplete without the victim’s willing ‘contribution’. A means of convincing the victim of the necessity of his co-operation must be found and put into place. This may be the promise of a reward in the afterlife, the belief in the effect on the greater good or simply for the purpose of ending violence. The fact that Isaac’s words remain documented testifies to his special place in the biblical canon, that is, as Abraham’s son and upholder of the covenant established between his father and God. This covenant between Abraham and God is what must be upheld at all costs, even if by upholding it, one dissolves it. When God promises to provide a ‘multitude’ of descendants (Gen. 17:4), it is via Isaac specifically and not Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael: ‘I will establish my covenant with him and an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him … But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you … (Gen. 17:19, 21). As both Abraham and Isaac know that theirs is the chosen line of descent a sacrifice of the chosen son would sever the genealogical line irreparably.15 Yet, given the choice, Abraham decides to obey God and thus invalidate


Writing History, Constructing Religion

the covenant and Isaac must follow him in obedience. In other words, the choice between sacrifice and obedience dissolves into the obedience to (self-) sacrifice. Reading Genesis 22 from the Margins Isaac, however, neither accepts nor objects, he merely questions and this creates the suspicion that he is not aware of what his father has planned. What then can be made of Isaac’s question: ‘Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ (Gen. 22:7). As a direct question, grammatically, there are several possibilities raised in relation to its meaning in the context of biblical poetics. But there is also the semantic value of the question to consider and finally, the relationship between the two. Beginning with an analysis of the poetics of the biblical text and continuing with a modern, fictional re-writing of the story, what will be revealed is the fundamental undecidability of Isaac’s utterance and the ethical dilemma it communicates to the reader. Following Bar-Efrat’s (1984) and Berlin’s (1994) poetics of the biblical narrative a text-based reading of Isaac’s question yields a psychological interpretation and some insight into his possible motivation in uttering it. According to Bar-Efrat, speech can be used to describe characters both directly and indirectly. With the use of direct speech in the narrative, it is the point of view of the speaker that is being expressed as an indication of his inner life. This effects a temporary – though illusory – silencing of the narrator so that the process of reading becomes in fact more taxing without the guiding voice of a present narrator (1984, p. 45). It is the narrator who is able to present events or characters in a positive or negative light, thereby imbuing the narrative with certain values and attitudes. The reader is thus influenced – often imperceptively – by what the narrator focuses on or retreats from (Bar-Efrat, 1984, pp. 16–17). In Isaac’s case, Bar-Efrat reads insecurity on the basis of the repetition of the word ‘said’ (Gen. 22:7): [T]he first ‘said’ is not followed by any speech whatsoever. For example ‘And Isaac said to his father Abraham, and he said, “My father”…’. In this instance, the repetition represents irresolution, perhaps nervousness. Isaac wants to ask the question which is bothering him (‘Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’), but he is unsure, begins speaking, then hesitates. (Bar-Efrat, 1984, p. 70)

Since speech expressing inner emotions without the benefit of an audience is rare (unless it is an inner thought) it is often intended to convey a certain emotion or attitude to the one it is addressed to. For Bar-Efrat it seems Isaac’s valid question expresses an ignorance of what is about to ensue, while at the same time betraying a certain fear, by virtue of the fact that there is no sacrificial victim in sight. It appears as a simple request for information motivated by a fear of the unknown. Furthermore, speech is also capable of indirect characterization by illuminating aspects of the person addressed (Bar-Efrat, 1984, p. 65). So, when Abraham answers ‘The Lord will provide the lamb for burnt offering’ (Gen. 22:8) he is responding to the uncertainty in his son’s question. It is possible that Isaac understood that he was meant to be the ‘burnt offering’ because his ensuing silence indicates that he has

‘If Isaac Could Speak …’: Redefining Sacrifice


received all the information he had asked for. But it may equally mean that, knowing his father’s love for his son, the wood he has carried cannot be meant for himself. And as Abraham has not informed him accurately, Isaac’s passivity cannot be taken as unproblematic acquiescence. This makes the story of Isaac’s near sacrifice both typical and atypical, revealing and yet ‘mysterious’ as Auerbach has noted (Jasper and Prikett, 1999, p. 121). In fact, Isaac’s speechlessness may be equally due to ignorance of his father’s plan, or knowledge of his fate. In the latter case, he would only be able to express disbelief – in the form of silence – that his father would rather obey God’s demands than save the life of his son. To have Isaac speak again rather than express wonder would mean that he questions his father’s ethical stand and that of God. As a result, this potential sacrifice would be merely murder, since the acquiescence of the victim is the cornerstone of the sacrificial ritual. For Berlin, direct speech is the ‘most dramatic way of conveying the characters’ psychological and ideological points of view’ (1994, p. 64). If Isaac is seeking reassurance from his father that a sacrificial victim other than himself will be provided, then his father’s answer is at best ironic: [A]lthough Abraham speaks from his point of view and means one thing, the reader interprets it from a different point of view … the irony is double: Abraham himself is being ironic, because he means the phrase one way but knows that Isaac will understand it another way. And the reader … knows that Abraham himself did not properly understand the full meaning of what he said. (Berlin, 1994, p. 52)

If the reader ‘knows’ Abraham is being ironic, what can he ‘know’ about Isaac? The answer must be sought on the affective level, where one reserves as much sympathy – if not more – for Isaac as for Abraham. For if Abraham’s response confirms Isaac’s fear then his subsequent silence is merely an effect of his terror and disbelief irrespective of age. For Berlin, biblical characters are described in order to enable the reader to situate them in terms of their place in society or their particular situation or some outstanding traits (1994, p. 36). It is pointless then to speculate on Isaac’s age – what is important is that he is Abraham’s son (though not his only son). Significantly, Isaac repeats the word ‘father’ to emphasize the familial tie that binds them. The repetition of both ‘son’ and ‘father’ indicates that theirs is a close relationship and one which will be tried by God’s command. Rather than focus merely on Abraham’s trial as a personal one, that is, on the tension between his conflicting desires or on the tension between his desires and God’s commands, the reader could place the emotional centre of the story on the relationship between father and son. By identifying with Isaac’s fear as a son and the effect this violence would have on their familial relationship, the reader comes to an understanding of sacrificial violence which stands in contrast to the accepted utilitarian ideology, that is, that the (sacrificial) ends justify the means. What remains unanswered is an unequivocal resolution of Isaac’s perceived willingness in relation to his self-sacrifice which hinges on his knowledge or ignorance of imminent death. It seems that part of the undecidability of the meaning of Isaac’s question is due to a potential discrepancy between the question’s ‘grammar’ (structure) and ‘purpose’ (intention). Because of this discrepancy, the question may have both a ‘literal’ and ‘figurative’ meaning at odds with each other and the context may or may not clarify


Writing History, Constructing Religion

which of the two is intended.16 On the grammatical level, asking ‘Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ appears as a request for information. This would signal that his ‘willing’ behaviour simply belies passivity based on ignorance. In this case, the grammatical and rhetorical aspects of the question coincide and there is no doubt that Isaac is being ‘mislead’ to his death deliberately. But in terms of intention, if Isaac suspects that he is the intended victim he could be asking for reassurance, or pleading for mercy or even signalling his unwillingness (and thus informing his father of his rejection of self-sacrifice). All these assume a level of knowledge, which would place the grammatical meaning of his question at odds with its intended purpose. At this extreme, Isaac’s question may even be rhetorical in that he is expressing his despair at his fate and does not expect a ‘real’ answer from his father. According to Paul de Man, the inability of deciding which meaning prevails in a question – grammatical or figural – results in ‘the grammatical model of the question’ becoming ‘rhetorical’ (1986, p. 473). Indeed, Abraham does not provide one and it is here that readers must resist allying themselves with Abraham’s viewpoint. Only by remaining in a state of identification with Isaac can the reader share the frustration of not knowing with certainty Abraham’s intentions and as a result develop empathy with the victim of violence rather than the perpetrator. In an effort to fill in the gaps/silences of the text, the reader inevitably supplements the grammatical meaning of the question with knowledge that only Isaac has access to and as a result, ends up in a state of ‘suspended uncertainty’ (De Man, 1986, p. 477) which mirrors the figural meaning of the question. In short, what Isaac’s question says is different from what it ‘does’: the effect on the reader is one of confusion, frustration, uncertainty and fear. In not knowing what Isaac knows, the reader must interpret events as they unfold, in the same disposition of passivity Isaac displays. It is this fear and terror, which are given expression in Diski’s After These Things. The story in this novel starts off where the previous one, Only Human (2000), ended – Isaac’s near sacrifice. Whereas Only Human depicts Genesis 22 mainly from God’s point of view, it nevertheless indicates a reason for Isaac’s passivity: He knew the weight he had in their lives, had been told all his years how he was a child of promise, the son who had come along after all hope had gone. If a certain passivity resulted from his wish to live up to his promise, not to disappoint, it was understandable. (Diski, 2000, p. 211)

The rationalization of passivity, made in retrospect, points to an Isaac who defines himself primarily as Abraham’s son and as such, his desire to obey takes precedence over all other desires. Nevertheless, the focus in Only Human is on Abraham and on God as narrator of biblical stories. In After These Things, the viewpoint is entirely Isaac’s and we learn that his near death experience continues to haunt him as a traumatic memory: ‘Once he had discovered … that death was just an instant away, he was unable to learn anything else’ (Diski, 2004, p. 7). As a result, he becomes focused on physical experiences in order to obliterate the image of what was intended by his father. Although the novel does not reveal whether Isaac believed his father’s response, it does provide a psychological explanation for his own passivity:

‘If Isaac Could Speak …’: Redefining Sacrifice


Once, in that first encounter with death, he might have run for it, but he didn’t. He walked on, step by step toward death without protest. A stupefied boy. A stupid boy. Not to protest at going to his own execution. Obedient, paralysed, disbelieving, suicidal. Whatever his state, it was unforgivable, he now saw, to volunteer himself for death. And death had been with him ever since. (Diski, 2004, p. 16)

Diski’s narrative suggests that, far from being a willing martyr, Isaac is unable to reconcile himself to his father’s intended action. Sacrifice, it seems, even when it has been evaded, severs the ties between sacrificer and victim, replacing them with selfalienation and horror. For what Genesis does not provide is an adequate explanation of effect this journey has had on the victim. Instead, there is silence again, on Isaac’s behalf. It is the silence of ineffable horror of the effects of sacrificial violence on familial relationships and, by extension, on communal and societal ties. Finally, Isaac realizes that he has been – like all sacrificial victims – a mediator between two forces: He was not his father. How could he be? His father killed him. The Lord had killed him. He was nothing. Just a term between 2 powerful wills. A negotiating point. Between them he had been negated. (Diski, 2004, p. 57)

Though he had conceived himself as a special, chosen son before his binding, Isaac’s sense of identity is now transformed to that of ‘a means to an end’. Those who benefit ultimately may be his father and God and the covenant they have established, but the price exacted for his own obedience is the loss of his own identity and his faith in familial relationships. Interpreting Genesis 22 from the margins necessarily begins with a hermeneutic of rejection. If Isaac had resisted his imminent sacrifice, how would the story have unfolded? Were the victim to reject self-sacrifice, the workings of power would be revealed and Abraham’s ‘faith’ exposed as one part of the contractual agreement. By bringing to light the nature of this contribution, the larger story of sacrifice can be demythologized and exposed as a sanctified form of murder for the benefit of the perpetrator(s). As an initial step in the rejection of sacrificial violence, the marginal voices must be brought to the centre, not in order to supplant the centre but in order to examine those structures, ideologies and hermeneutics which sustain the opposition between the two imparts a privileged position to the centre in relation to the margins. Furthermore, the structure of sacrifice reveals a hierarchy, which must be adhered to in order for ritualized violence/sanctioned murder to function efficiently in society. Both the sacrificer and the party for whose benefit the sacrifice takes place (Abraham and God respectively) agree on the terms of the ‘exchange’ without recourse to the will of the victim. As Isaac’s example illustrates, acquiescence suffices on the part of the victim even at its most superficial manifestation. It is not necessary for the victim to believe in the efficacy of the exchange, as it is powerless in the process and does not benefit directly from the result. It is only necessary that the parties who exercise power have faith in its desired effects. The ‘superficial’ acceptance of self-sacrifice on the part of the victim reveals the ideological construction of sacrifice as legitimized violence only from the viewpoint of the perpetrators. The victims need not have ‘faith’ in the necessity of their death for the greater good, they must merely accept its inevitability. For even as the victim ‘accepts’ its sacrifice, it is only as a result of the


Writing History, Constructing Religion

discursive power of the sacrificers to impose such an acceptance. As Maurice Bloch argues in Prey into Hunter (1992, p. 98), depending on a society’s political-economic circumstances the logic of sacrificial violence can further be used to legitimize expansionist practices. Contrary to the commonplace assumption that the individual victim’s voice can do little to illuminate sacrificial practices, this essay suggests that focusing on the victim’s point of view both questions and deconstructs the official story of sacrifice. It deconstructs it by revealing the workings of power that set it into motion and it questions its validity by refusing to glorify the sanctified violence as a positive or necessary social force. The victim’s viewpoint de-mythologizes sacrifice because it questions the sacrificer’s motives and discloses the real impetus behind the utilitarian logic of violence in the name of the ‘greater good’. Conclusion There are several points to be made on the basis of the scant evidence of the victim’s perspective. First, the story of sacrifice is incomplete without the victim’s contribution; this in itself needs to be rectified by historians. Second, by bringing to light the ‘small’ (or marginalized) story of the sacrificial victim, the ‘large’ (or ‘official’) story of sacrifice is de-mythologized and the power relations it supports are exposed. Finally, as an ideologically condoned murder of the innocent for the benefit of the perpetrator, sacrifice is exposed as the violent basis for the covenant between men. By focusing on the marginal and silenced voice of the victim of sacrifice, the political workings of ‘the centre’ become the object of an ethical critique. Far from being the story of ‘one’ victim in relation to the ‘many’ benefactors, sacrificial logic is supported by a multitude of discourses in which an ideology of exclusion, violence and ultimately, death is sanctified. As the film Ararat reminds us, the sacrifice of many has been supported on a national scale in order to establish political boundaries which are based on a clear exclusion of the ‘other’. Like the Isaac of Genesis 22, Armenians found themselves within the boundaries of a state which, like a father who has turned against his child, instead of protecting its citizens, chooses to sacrifice them to the presumed greater good of the new state. The covenant of the new fatherland with its citizens could only be forged if ‘difference’ was eliminated from within its boundaries. Like many other genocides in the history of humanity, the unchallenged violence against a minority group forms part of a continuum, which begins with the logic of sacrifice and ends with the ideology of a ‘just war’. To doubt the voices of the survivors is to repeat the initial violence by siding with the sacrificers’ point of view. To listen to survivors is to de-stabilize the structure of the official story (and its justification of violence) and to question the power relations that support that view. In the service of present day reparations and future generations, responsibility towards the survivors’ stories is part of an anti-sacrificial logic that aims to avoid repeating past violence and the further entrenching of boundaries. Furthermore, the effects of sacrificial violence – terror, silencing, alienation and severing of relationships – must be admitted before any absolution can begin. As with Abraham and Isaac, this is a process that must begin with the acceptance of the victim’s voice and continue with the relationship between victims and benefactors whereby the latter acknowledge the charges levied against

‘If Isaac Could Speak …’: Redefining Sacrifice


them by the former. Finally, rather than perpetuate the ‘validity’ of the perpetrators’ stories, the admission of guilt is imperative to an anti-sacrificial ethics. If the victors’ stories are to be supplanted by a view of history that assigns responsibility for genocide, this can only take place if the stories of the victims are accepted as valid representations of the past. In short, this inclusive view of history does not posit a greater value on the victors’ sense of identity but values the identity of those voices previously pushed to the margins. In an attempt to redress the balance between dominant and excluded voices in the study of religion, Elisabeth Fiorenza has proposed an approach to biblical studies she calls ‘the Rhetorical-Emancipatory Paradigm’: [T]his … paradigm seeks to redefine the self-understanding of biblical scholarship in ethical, rhetorical, political, cultural, emancipatory terms and to understand the scholar in religion as a public, connected, or integrated intellectual who is able to communicate with … the goal of personal, social, and religious transformation for justice and well-being (1999, pp. 44–45).

According to this model, the role of the scholar is to bring to light the text’s ‘oppressive’ as well as ‘liberative’ values. It is no longer sufficient to understand the history of biblical interpretation but to analyze the power of certain dominant interpretations to persuade readers of their validity. In order to challenge accepted readings, the hermeneutical method of suspicion must be employed in order to ‘demystify structures of domination that are inscribed in the text and in contemporary contexts of interpretation’ (1999, p. 50). This approach must be accompanied by a hermeneutics of both ‘imagination’ and ‘transformation’ in order to ‘generate utopian visions’ (p. 52) of a better world informed by a transformed religious vision. As with all of Fiorenza’s work and particularly her thirteen theses for an ‘Ethics of Interpretation’ (1999, pp. 195–198), this approach to biblical interpretation necessarily enlists the feminist struggle against the silencing of marginal voices and its commitment to challenging androcentric interpretations of biblical texts in order to restore an egalitarian and ultimately, ethical consideration of biblical readings. Biblical text can be read in order to identify the ‘languages of hate and death-dealing’ on the one hand, and ‘values and visions’ that contribute to a ‘radical understanding of society and religion’ on the other (1999, p. 10). For Genesis 22, both readings are possible and necessary if biblical interpretations are to practise an ‘ethics of accountability’ (1999, p. 28). A first step then towards a new, non-violent covenant is to listen to the voice of the victims and reject the practice of sacrifice and the values it embodies. For the reader who identifies with the victim rather than the perpetrator, complicity with the viewpoint of the latter is no longer possible. Indeed, sharing in the burden of the effects of sacrificial violence aids in the realization of the true workings of a sacrificial logic. A different kind of sociality would then become necessary, one without the shedding of blood. As Irigaray proposes: ‘the meeting (of individuals) itself would constitute a rite, with its greetings and with the joy of seeing each other again’ (1986, p. 7). In this communion without sacrifice there is no need for hierarchies, for the either/or of lifegiving or life-taking, nor for aggression. Instead of the rite of violence there would be speech. Instead of silence and exclusion there would be dialogue and inclusion. Most


Writing History, Constructing Religion

importantly, it would be ‘a communion … which does not depend on exclusion’ (Irigaray, 1986, p. 16, my emphasis). Crucially, it would be a covenant which would not depend on a sacrificial victim for its binding. Notes 1 Nancy Jay (1992, pp. 94–111) examines the four authors’ attitude to sacrifice in relation to their concerns over patrilineal descent as a result of a general anxiety over women’s role in descent. These variations can be attributed to different degrees of anxiety concerning patrilineal descent and female barrenness. 2 For a short summary and critique of the ‘evolution’ sacrificial definitions see Bloch (1992, pp. 28–31) and Jay (1992, pp. 128–146). For an example of a Hebrew Bible-based definition, compare Howard Eilberg-Schwartz (1990) The Savage in Judaism who argues for a connection between the symbolic language of sacrifice, circumcision and descent, and Seth Kunin’s structuralist analysis (Kunin, 1995). 3 Robbins seems to be echoing Auerbach’s argument (Auerbach, 1953, pp. 3–23). 4 See Delaney, 1989, pp. 27–42 whose comparative analysis of foundational religious stories reveals the symbolism of ‘father-right’ in sacrificial ritual and consequently, the establishment of patriarchy itself (p. 38). For Jasper the feminist-literary approach is related to the deconstructive method inherent in the wider field of postmodern and post-structuralist biblical criticism (Jasper, 1999, p. 59) 5 A significant exception is Phyllis Trible’s now classic Texts of Terror (1984), where she critiques the father’s ethics from a reading of his daughter’s reaction to her imminent sacrifice. See chapter four, ‘The Daughter of Jephthah: An Inhuman Sacrifice’, pp. 92–116. Compare Tapp, 1989, pp. 135–156, whose narratological analysis questions the ideology of sacrifice in relation to daughters. For examples of theological and philosophical readings based on the ethics of Abraham’s actions – and by extension, God – see Moltz, 2001, pp. 59–69, and Kretz Mann, 1999, pp. 417–427. 6 Jasper and Prickett’s selection begins with Midrash and St Augustine’s The City of God; continues with a fourteenth century Passion Play by John Gassner; includes short passages from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1981) and a letter by Franz Kafka (1921); and ends with Auerbach’s Mimesis. It is noteworthy that of all their examples, only one, Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’ (1963) demonstrates a degree of critique towards its source of inspiration by linking the sacrifice of Isaac to the death of soldiers in the First World War. Adéle Wiseman is a Canadian writer who has transposed the story of Genesis 22 to a modern setting in her The Sacrifice: A Novel (1956). 7 This includes biblical scholars whose methods and purpose may otherwise vary entirely. Compare J. P. Fokkelman’s close literary reading in The Literary Guide to the Bible (Fokkelman, 1990) where he sees a parallel between linguistic and semantic paradox (pp. 49–50) and Howard Moltz in ‘God and Abraham in the Binding of Isaac’, 2001, pp. 59–69 where he fills in the psychological gaps he sees in the relationship between Abraham and God. 8 David A. Pailin discusses seventeenth and eighteenth century readings from Jewish theologians to Kant (Pailin, 1981, pp. 8–36). Compare also Louis Jacobs’ discussion of the Akedah in Judaism (Jacobs, 1981, pp. 1–7). 9 This includes introducing the character of Samael, who attempts to persuade Isaac to resist (p. 494). The Rabbinic commentaries date from the fourth century CE and provide an important source of information on the concerns of the (Jewish) religious communities at the time. Unlike more modern Christian commentaries (see Kierkegaard) which focus more on Abraham’s relationship to God the rabbinic exegesis is equally concerned with Isaac’s relationship to both Abraham and God.

‘If Isaac Could Speak …’: Redefining Sacrifice


10 Derrida also concerns himself with the nature of Abraham’s response to Isaac’s question (Derrida, 2001, pp. 333–352). 11 Hubert and Mauss include some examples in their endnotes, especially note 172, p. 124 where human sacrifice takes place. 12 p. 98, ‘There is no sacrifice into which some idea of redemption does not enter’. 13 p. 100, ‘Fundamentally, there is perhaps no sacrifice that has not some contractual element’. 14 In subsequent books, Girard (1987) claims that the New Testament is unique in presenting the victim’s point of view. However, this does not prevent him from ascribing an allembracing function for the sacrificial ritual itself. See also, his interview in HamertonKelly (1987). 15 Seth Kunin argues (1994, pp. 57–81; and 1995, pp. 94–111, esp. p. 100) that Isaac was in fact sacrificed – symbolically. See also this volume for his structuralist analysis. 16 This section is inspired by Paul de Man’s essay ‘Semiology and rhetoric’, pp. 468–479 in Con Davis (1986).

References Aichele, George and The Postmodern Bible Collective (eds) (1995), The Postmodern Bible, New York: Yale University Press. Alexander, S. Philip (1990), ‘Aqedah’, in R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden (eds), A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, London: SCM Press, pp. 44–47. Auerbach, E. (1953), Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, New York: Doubleday. Bar-Efrat, Shimon (1984), Narrative Art in the Bible, Sheffield: Academic Press. Berlin, Adele (1994), Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative, Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. Bloch, Maurice (1992), Prey into Hunter: The Politics of Religious Experience, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Derrida, Jacques (2001), ‘Whom to give to (knowing not to know)’, in David Jopling, Tina Peppin and Ronald Schleifer (eds), The Postmodern Bible Reader, Chicago: Chicago University Press, pp. 333–352. Delaney, Carol (1989), ‘The legacy of Abraham’, in Mieke Bal (ed.), Anti-Covenant: CounterReading Women’s Lives in the Hebrew Bible, Sheffield: The Almond Press, pp. 27–41. De Man, Paul (1986) ‘Semiology and rhetoric’, in Robert Con Davis (ed.), Contemporary Literary Criticism: Modernism through Post-Structuralism, New York and London: Longman, pp. 468–479. Diski, Jenny (2000), Only Human, London: Virago. Diski, Jenny (2004), After These Things A Novel, London: Little, Brown. Egoyan, A. (2002), Ararat, Canada: Miramax. Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard (1990), The Savage in Judaism: An Anthropology Israelite Religion and Ancient Judaism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler (1999), Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. Fokkelman, J. P. (1990), ‘Genesis’, in Alter, Robert and Kermode, Frank (eds), The Literary Guide to the Bible, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gabel, John B. and Charles B. Wheeler (1990), The Bible as Literature: An Introduction, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Girard, René (1987), Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, London: The Athlone Press.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Girard, René (1995), Violence and the Sacred, trans. P. Gregory, London: The Athlone Press. Hamerton-Kelly, Robert G. (1987), Violent Origins: Walter Burkett, Rene Girard and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (1989), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hubert, Henri and Marcel Mauss (1964), Sacrifice: Its Nature and Functions, trans. W. D. Halls, Chicago: Chicago University Press. Irigaray, Luce (1986), ‘Women, the sacred and money’, trans. Diana Knight and Margaret Whitford, Paragraph, 8, October, 6–18. Jacobs, Louis (1981), ‘The problem of the Akedah in Jewish thought’, in Perkins, Robert L. (ed.), Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, pp. 1–7. Jasper, David (1999), ‘Literary readings of the Bible: trends in modern criticism’, in David Jasper and Stephen Prickett (eds), The Bible and Literature: A Reader, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 44–64. Jasper, D. and Prickett, S. (1999), The Bible and Literature: A Reader, Oxford: Blackwell. Jay, Nancy (1992), Throughout Your Generations Forever Sacrifice, Religion and Paternity, London and Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Kierkegaard, Søren (1985), Fear and Trembling, trans. Alastair Hannay, Middlesex: Penguin. Kretz Mann, Norman (1999), ‘Abraham, Isaac, and Euthyphro: God and the basis of morality’, in Eleonore Stump and Michael J. Murray (eds), Philosophy of Religion: The Big Questions, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 417–427. Kunin, Seth Daniel (1994), ‘The death of Isaac: structuralist analysis of Genesis 22’, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 64, 57–81. Kunin, Seth Daniel (1995), The Logic of Incest: A Structuralist Analysis of Hebrew Mythology, Sheffield: Academic Press. Levenson, Jon Douglas (1993), The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity, New York: Yale University Press. Mauss, Marcel (1954), The Gift: The Farm and Function of Exchange in Arabic Societies, trans. Ian Cunninson, London: Cohen & West. Midrash Rabbah: Genesis 1 (1983) trans. H. Freedman, London and New York: Soncino Press. Moltz, Howard (2001), ‘God and Abraham in the binding of Isaac’, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 96, 59–69. Pailin, David A. (1981), ‘Abraham and Isaac: a hermeneutical problem before Kierkegaard’, in Robert L. Perkins (ed.), Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, pp. 8–36. Robbins, Jill (1998), ‘Sacrifice’, in M. Taylor (ed.), Critical Terms for Religious Studies, Chicago: Chicago University Press, pp. 285–297. Spiegel, Shalom (1967), The Last Trial On the Legends and Lore of the Command of Abraham to Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice: The Akedah, trans. Judah Goldin, New York: Pantheon. Tapp, Ann Michele (1989), in Mieke Bal (ed.), Anti-Covenant: Counter-Reading Women’s Lives in the Hebrew Bible, Sheffield: The Almond Press, pp. 157–174. Trible, Phyllis (1984), Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives, Philadelphia: The Fortress Press. Turner, Victor (1977), ‘Sacrifice as quintessential process: prophylaxis or abandonment?’, History of Religions, 16 (3), February, 189–215. Vermes, G. (1961), Scripture and Tradition in Judaism: Haggadic Studies, Leiden: Brill. Vermes, G. (1976), Post-Biblical Jewish Studies, Leiden: Brill. Williams, James (1991), The Bible, Violence and the Sacred: Liberation from the Myth of Sanctioned Violence, New York: HarperCollins. Wiseman, Adele (1956), The Sacrifice: A Novel, Toronto: Macmillan.

Chapter 11

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory Seth Kunin

In this chapter we take up several interrelated issues associated with the defining characteristics of myth. The two most substantial points relate to the question of how myths die and that of the relationship between myth and history. The first of these points arises from a dialogue with the discussion of the destructuring process in myth analyzed by Lévi-Strauss in ‘How myths die’ (1976, pp. 256–268).1 The second point also arises from that discussion and moves the argument into a brief dialogue with Michael Fishbane’s Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking. The chapter also touches on the additional area of memory in its relationship to both myth and history. This aspect is examined in relation the ethnographic example of Crypto-Judaism. The Crypto-Jews provide an interesting insight into the interplay between these areas and their construction of identity is closely tied into the negotiation between these three ways of understanding/constructing the past. The most substantial aspect of the discussion moves into a more textual frame of discourse, using a close analysis of the several sections from the Book of Judges as a means for offering a new model for the destructuring of mythological material and thereby also reconfiguring the interrelationship between myth and history. Structuralist Analyses of Myths Diffusing, Transforming and Dying In ‘How myths die’ Lévi-Strauss presents a detailed ethnographic analysis to illustrate the process by which the structure of myths becomes fragmented and ultimately loses any structural coherence, culminating in the death of the narrative as myth and its transformation into another genre, perhaps history or ideology. The analysis traces the movement of a particular mythic construct geographically and thereby culturally. The use of geography as a means of tracing mythic transformation is characteristic of his general form of argumentation, and in some cases, albeit not specifically in ‘How myths die’, is substituted in the place of diachronic transformation. This substitution, however, is not unproblematic. Diachronic transformation suggests a degree of continuity that may not be found in geographic relation, in fact Lévi-Strauss’ work suggests that neighbouring communities may in fact accentuate difference as a means of self-definition. Thus the differences and transformations found in geographic movement may be far more substantial than those found in diachronic movement. Nonetheless, if his model of geographic transformation is applicable then even if the 179


Writing History, Constructing Religion

transformation in diachronic movement is less marked, a similar process of mythic restructuring will occur and the same analytical model should be applicable. Lévi-Strauss suggests that as myths move geographically from one community to the next the underlying structure of the myth will of necessity transform. This is due to the fact that even neighbouring communities may have markedly different cultural forms and more significantly differing underlying structural forms. The transformation to the myths will occur on two interrelated levels: S2 and S3, that is, the level of underlying structural equation and that of the mythemes articulated by the underlying equation. The first of these levels is the most significant. Underlying structure is not an artefact; it transforms in relation to the cultural context in which it is found. Thus as the myth is taken up by a new community it will be retold and restructured to fit the way that the new community structures its world. This process is unconscious and is an essential part in the construction of meaning – the underlying structure allows categories to be meaningfully related one to another. If the narrative was conveyed untransformed (though perhaps the transformation can occur in the reception of the myth as much as in its presentation) then it would be dead as it would not present a meaningful articulation of categories. The second level, while more apparent to the observer, is less structurally significant. This level relates to the transformation of mythological elements through the process of bricolage. Some significant elements of the myth may be replaced due to their cultural incoherence and be replaced by other elements that are more culturally meaningful. While this process is clearly related to transformations in underlying structure and may reflect significant transformations, changes in mythemes may only reflect a surface transformation, with one mytheme replacing another in an identical or almost identical structural configuration. The process of transformation as described, however, is not unlimited. It appears from Lévi-Strauss’ arguments that at some point the structure will become unstable, and in effect the myth will become destructured and no longer function as myth. This process of progressive structural instability is demonstrated through tracing the movement of a myth and its progressive destructuring from the Salish of the Northwest of the United States to its culmination among the Algonkin on the Northeastern coast. Lévi-Strauss suggests that while the ‘exhausted’ myth retains its mythic form (whatever that may be) it is no longer meaningfully structured (1976, p. 268). As suggested above, the once mythic material can then be used for other purposes, for example, ‘fictional elaboration’ or as a tool for legitimizing historical ideology (Lévi-Strauss, 1976, p. 268). The most significant implication of Lévi-Strauss’ argument is that in order to understand the structural integrity of a myth one must be able to place it within its structural set of permutations, that is the set of myths that geographically or diachronically precede the myth in question. This set of permutations will also determine the possible configurations of the myth as it develops in the future. To use a well known analogy, he is suggesting that in order to understand a chess position one must know the moves that came before, rather than the structural position of the pieces on the board – he thus privileges the diachronic process over the synchronic structure. If, however, the process of movement is understood differently then it is clear that this diachronic aspect is not theoretically coherent. If, as structuralist theory suggests, structures transform as a myth moves either diachronically or geographically in

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


relation to the underlying structure of the persons retelling or translating the myth, then it is unclear why the structures found in the retold or transformed version of the myth should be less structurally coherent than those of a myth or narrative specifically created within that particular community. Indeed, it is questionable whether any cultural object can be created purely within a single geographic or synchronic frame. Every object is created over and against previous cultural objects whether those that pre-existed it within the same community or those existing within neighbouring communities. Thus, unless structure is always relatively defective, there is no reason to specifically select myths that move from one culture to the next (if indeed cultural boundaries can be said to exist in this way) as particularly prone to becoming structurally defective. On this basis, returning to the chess analogy, any particular chess position can be understood synchronically without any necessary knowledge of what preceded it.2 Rather than envisioning one chess board transforming over time one could imagine a set of chess boards placed next to each other with the variant positions found progressively on each one. Although each position is set out over and against the one on the preceding board, it is not actually a diachronic movement – it is a structural variant rather than a move. This model of multiple rather than a single chess board is logically applicable to the model of geographic transformation found in Lévi-Strauss’ argument. It should be seen, however, as equally applicable to the process of diachronic transformation. The analysis in ‘How myths die’ also presupposes that there is a clear line of transformation from the Northwest coast to the East coast. It assumes, due to the historic settlement of the continent that myths in the Northwest have diachronic priority over those of the communities found along the eastern sea board. This analogy between geographic and diachronic development while perhaps sustainable in relation to the settlement of the Americas (and even that assumes only one point and period of migration) cannot be supported in relation to the process of cultural diffusion. There is no logical reason to assume that if a myth exists in the Northwest and a related myth or defective version of the myth exists in the Northeast that the process of diffusion began in the West. It is equally possible that the myth moved from any other point on the continuum. The related aspects of the mythic narrative demonstrate the process of diffusion; they do not demonstrate the direction of diffusion. This issue, however, points up one of the significant differences between the diachronic and the geographic models of transformation. Within the diachronic context there is a clear line of transformation from the past to the present – time’s arrow determines the directionality of transformation. In the case of diachronic transformation it would thus be possible to determine the relative starting point of a particular cultural object and its subsequent transformations through time, perhaps culminating in a form in which the mythic structures become defective. In spite of this difference, the argument relating to the nature of underlying structure and how it relates to mythic transformation also hold true for diachronic movement. The diachronic transformations in the myth either at the level of structural equation or at that of mythemes leads logically to the creation of a new myth that is structurally coherent with the time of its telling – thus while it is interesting to note its origin in an earlier form this is not significant in relation to its structural coherence; it should be seen as a new myth that can be analyzed independently of any prior form.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

If Lévi-Strauss’ argument cannot refer to the underlying structure, without significantly undermining the meaning of the term, it is possible that his arguments may refer to the objects out of which the myth is created, that is, the mythemes. In a process of either historical or geographic diffusion it is possible to envision a set of mythemes that are contextualized to a particular time or place. This, in fact, is a significant feature of the mytheme and the process of bricolage or mythmaking. The bricoleur uses materials available to him (unconsciously) in his cultural environment to construct myths or other cultural elements. At different times or places different elements will be available and thus such elements will change with diachronic or geographic movement. On this basis one could imagine a myth constructed of elements that were understandable within one cultural context, which if retained in exactly the same form could progressively lose its meaning (rather than its structure) if it moved into new contexts in which those objects could not be contextualized. There are, however, significant objections to this understanding. The analysis would only work if a myth was recovered from an historically remote context, translated in a perfect sense (a sense which is theoretically impossible) and then told verbatim in its new context. Such a myth would preserve uncontextualizable mythemes and thus be functionally/structurally meaningless. If the myth is seen, however, as moving through a process of geographic or diachronic diffusion, with each move the mythemes will be adjusted to fit into their new cultural context. Some mythemes will be replaced and others transformed. Part of the process of bricolage also relates to interpretation – as contexts change diachronically or geographically, interpretations of mythemes can also significantly change; thus even a myth that appears to be identical may have significant transformations at this level. Lévi-Strauss’ argument concludes with two interrelated trajectories for dead or defective myths: that myths could be fictionally elaborated and placed into an ideological or an historical framework. This aspect of his discussion is both problematic and suggestive. One interpretation of this argument is that myths die or are dead if they are placed within an historical framework. While this view is consonant with his distinction between cold and hot societies, with cold societies being ahistorical and amenable to structuralist analysis while hot societies are conscious of history and not amenable to structuralist analysis, it is not a clear implication of the argument presented in ‘How myths die’. His arguments merely suggest that while dead myths may be recycled within historical constructs, historical constructs are not necessarily antithetical to myth or by definition structurally defective. From a structuralist perspective, that argues for a pervasive model of structural coherence, models of time, that is, models of history are equally structured (and the products of structure) and thus should be seen as part of the mythic system rather than in intrinsic opposition to it. We shall return to the distinction between myth and history below in relation to Michael Fishbane’s discussion. The second aspect of Lévi-Strauss’ argument is the association of dead myth with ideology. This aspect seems more fruitful and forms the basis of the arguments developed below in relation to the Book of Judges. A distinction, however, needs to be made between the unconscious and conscious levels of agency. Ideological transformation is taken here to refer to the conscious manipulation of text/narrative to support a particular political or authoritative structure. It is assumed that the author/editor may take pre-existing material and reshape it to his conscious ideo-

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


logical ends. We are not suggesting, however, that he/she is consciously manipulating underlying structure, or that he/she is consciously aware of it. Rather the conscious ideological usage stretches the narrative and mythic material in such a way that the underlying structure may lose its coherence. It may be argued that all texts or objects are the products of authoritative systems and therefore are in some sense ideological constructs; this is clearly the case. There are, however, different levels of ideological manipulation and thus different levels of coherence. This aspect may be part of the internal motor through which agency interacts with structure and by which mythic and cultural transformation are rendered possible. The ideological transformation of myth, as suggested, is in part a conscious process on the part of the author, editor (or recitor). Some aspects of this process have been pointed out by biblical literary scholars in relation to the type scene. Type scenes are conventional literary constructs that have associated with them specific meanings or narrative expectations. Type scenes work on the conscious level of the text and thus are consciously manipulable. As textual/narrative objects they are, however, outcomes of and thus related to the underlying structure. Both the normative and transformative use of the type scene work because of the fixed associations – they work because they either affirm, challenge or undermine those associations (clearly the affirmative aspect must be the strongest or the type scene would lose its literary effectiveness). The conscious transformation of the type scene to create dissonance in the narrative may be used for ideological purposes; thus, for example, the use of the ‘well’ type scene in relation to Saul, without its culmination in an appropriate marriage, may be transformed to create dissonance in relation to Saul and thus serve an ideological purpose in relation to a judgement about Saul and his potential dynastic descendents. The relationship between myth and history which is touched on in ‘How myths die’ forms the basis of much academic debate. A recent contribution is provided by Michael Fishbane in Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking (2003). While this book, as suggested by its title, is largely concerned with myth, it perforce takes up both the definition of myth and its relationship with history. Although Fishbane touches on some of the significant theorist’s discussions of myth (see for example 2003, pp. 16–25), he suggests a focus on ‘content and context’, thereby moving directly into the substantialist camp of definitions (Fishbane, 2003, p. 32). He ultimately relies on a rather problematic definition suggested by James Barr. Following Barr he states that one should view myth from the perspective of the specific cultural ‘ambiance’, an uncontroversial suggestion in itself. This, however, is defined as defining myth by inclusion of specific cultural items. He and Barr view the content of the Enuma Elish as defining the mythic sphere of the Israelites and thus Fishbane’s analysis focuses on similar narrative content, that is, creation and primordial battles (Fishbane, 2003, p. 32). The three main areas of his definition are specifically enumerated as ‘divine combat, ‘divine wrath and sorrow’ and divine ‘sympathetic identification’ (this final point is limited to rabbinic mythmaking) (Fishbane, 2003, pp. 13–15). Each of these realms limits his discussion/analysis to acts of the divine. This limiting of perspective ties his definition directly to the view that limited myth to the acts of the God/s and heroes – a definition which implies as problematic an other as Fishbane argues against in relation to the dichotomy of polytheistic/monotheistic.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

While Fishbane is correct in asserting the presence of these elements in the Biblical text, it is far from clear how this material was viewed in the specific cultural ambiance, nor is it clear that this material was in any sense distinguished from other narrative material found in the text. There thus seems to be little reason to distinguish this material as myth or mythic as opposed to other material that might be placed in alternative categories. Fishbane’s discussion has several useful points. One of the most important of these arises from the definition and its application to biblical material. The definition presents a challenge to a tradition still found in biblical scholarship that suggests that there is no mythic material in the Bible. Although in a form of argumentation not original to Fishbane’s work, he challenges the view that myth marks the distinction between the polytheistic religions that preceded the monotheistic religion of the Bible. He correctly points out that although there are differences in substance between polytheistic and monotheistic religions, the definition of myth used is often precisely defined to fit the narratives or structures found in polytheistic religions and thus by definition not to include biblical monotheistic religion (Fishbane, 2003, pp. 31–32). On the basis of this argument it is ironic that Fishbane retains a substantialist form of definition even if it is relativized in relation to content and context. Fishbane also provides a useful discussion of the process of mythmaking and how it is transformed by its own historical development. This aspect is developed both in respect of the biblical use and reuse of mythic material and the development and transformation of these motifs within the rabbinic sources up to and including the Zohar. In this context his discussions of ‘exegesis and reuse’ and ‘multiplicity of variants’ are particularly useful (Fishbane, 2003, pp. 16–27). Although there is no direct discussion of the term history in Fishbane’s discussion, his section on ‘Personalization and historicization’ is suggestive of his usage. He makes a distinction between his mythological motifs and events or characters that fall outside of these and are related to the Israelites’ apparent construction of past. Thus, he speaks of the ‘historicization of the motif’ as found in Ezek. 29:2–6 in which Pharaoh is compared to the Tannim-Dragon (a character from the supposed mythic primordial battle) (Fishbane, 2003, p. 60). This example suggests that whereas the Tannim-Dragon is clearly mythic due to his substantialist definition, Pharaoh is ‘historical’ (though not necessarily) factual as he falls outside the range of the definition. His work suggests an underlying functionalist aspect to his definition of ‘history’ – history refers to material used to situate self in time rather than any specific content. The difference in the theoretical basis of the two definitions highlights the problem in Fishbane’s approach. His definition of myth falls within the substantialist tradition, based on specific content, while his definition of history apparently falls in the functionalist tradition, emphasizing the role which history plays rather than any particular content or even factuality. This lack of coherence is significant in relation to the basis of his definition in cultural ambiance – if there is no clear reason to assume that the Israelites made a distinction between the content highlighted by Fishbane and other content, then there is no basis for distinguishing the material as mythic, it could equally be part of the historical understanding. If, however, we move the definition of myth as a category to a functionalist definition, one which removes the problematic aspect of defining against based on

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


content, then we need to re-approach the basis and extension of Fishbane’s analysis. From this perspective, myth, like Fishbane’s concept of history, must be understood on the basis of its role in society – the function assigned to myth if it is to be defensible must not be used for defining out a rejected other, it must be intraculturally applicable (bringing elements of our own society into analytical relation with those of other societies). A definition of myth, from a structuralist perspective, would focus on the structuring aspect – not only in the sense of being a highly structured narrative, which is arguably true of all cultural narratives – but also at the higher level of function, that is the role of the text in structuring, or giving order to experience. Myth is therefore a model making/applying process, which takes the material of experience and gives it structure, order and therefore a system in which meaning can be defined. On the basis of this type of functionalist definition it is apparent that Fishbane’s definition of history is clearly a form of myth. If one were to bring in the cultural ambiance, which again arises from the model making process, then while it might be useful to identify how a particular society views its narrative products, whether it privileges one area over another, perhaps as factual over fiction, it is important to see both areas as serving the model making function. It would be, however, problematic to extend this distinction either beyond its intercultural bounds or to the level of theory. As Fishbane indicates this type of extension is often used as a means of defining out the other. Even within a specific cultural context, for example our own, the cultural distinctions can become a means of removing a body of material from a certain form of analysis, that is, analyses used for the non-privileged material or only used by the privileged material. The recognition that all structured/ing material is myth enables the material to be examined, as myth, on the basis of this structuring principle. Identity Juggling in Crypto-Judaism Some recent work on Crypto-Judaism sheds additional light on the relationship between myth, history and memory and the continuous processes of transformation that occur within these overlapping domains.3 The Crypto-Jews of New Mexico claim descent from Jews who were converted to Catholicism in Spain between 1390 and 1492. Individuals and communities throughout the Spanish/Portuguese diasporas are today trying to understand how this ‘Jewish past’ relates to or transforms their understanding of their history, practice and identity. The analysis of CryptoJewish narratives of self is particularly interesting in relation to the types of processes of structuring and transformation that are also found in both myth and history. Memory, or more precisely the use of narratives of memory as a means of depicting and constructing self, is structured in a similar way to other narrative material – thus those narratives usually defined within the community as folklore are structurally identical to narratives understood as memory. This structured aspect suggests that at the very least the constructions of past, memories, are unconsciously mediated by underlying structure, and become meaningful through their articulation of structural categories. The constructed nature of memory as it relates to structure is also illustrated in the transformative processes that are inherent to it – these processes are also clearly


Writing History, Constructing Religion

inherent to myth and history, the difference lies in the time frame, with memory being the most fluid of the three narrative mediums. This fluidity, and the associated rapid degree of transformation has clear theoretical implications for the question of how myths die, which forms the main issue addressed in this chapter, this aspect will be pursued further below. The issue of construction and transformation in memory relates to both the element of privileging and selection. As individuals’ conscious and unconscious construction of self changes either in relation to context or time (and this process of change is constantly undermining any essentialist understanding of identity) the narratives that are mobilized in relation to memory are also transformed – often these transformations are solely via the selection of events or elements to be included in memory. They also often include processes of privileging or deprivileging specific meanings or interpretations. These processes include both a conscious and unconscious aspect. With possibly less frequency (though a frequency that is increasingly related to postmodern constructions of identity) there can also be more substantial transformations in the structuring of the content – this is particularly seen in individuals who move from a mediated form of Crypto-Judaism (one in which aspects of both the Christian and Jewish heritages are mobilized) to a more unmediated form (one in which only the Jewish aspect is privileged). The same transformative processes that are found respecting memory are also found in relation to myth and history – they occur as myth/history moves diachronically and with an even stronger emphasis on the transformation of structure as they move from one cultural context to another. One of the interesting features of this dynamic is that as memory transforms, making use of the same nmememes (elements out of which memories are constructed) in new, differentially emphasized or transformed structures, we do not find a process of progressive structural decomposition – narratives of self that have been taped/transcribed over a twelve-year period, while continuously transforming and sometimes significantly, reflect a high degree of structural coherence – thus it seems likely that the process of transformation (diffusion) alone, as in the case of myth/history, is not a sufficient explanation of structural instability. One suggestive feature, however, that will be significant in relation to the main arguments of this chapter is the relationship of conscious ideological usage of memory in relation to the destructuring process. Some ethnographic material suggests that when memories are consciously (in a reflexive or strong sense) deployed some aspects of structure can be rendered unstable. It is, however, not merely the aspect of consciousness that is significant. Research on Crypto-Judaism indicates the complex process of negotiation that leads to the dynamic construction of identity, this process of negotiation has been identified elsewhere as identity juggling. It is a conscious process that involves an interaction with the unconscious aspect of bricolage. Identity juggling is closely related to the process of transformation found specifically in relation to memory and indirectly with myth/history. It suggests that there is a constant process of privileging and deprivileging that leads to idiosyncratic developments and wider patterns of transformation in relation to structure. The aspect of destructuring, however, seems to be more closely associated with a form of reflexive consciousness and the attempt to almost force a particular construction to be placed upon the narrative. This aspect of conscious force leads to a potential instability within the structural matrix.

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


Ideological usage therefore does not imply necessarily the ‘death’ of myth, it provides the conditions of possibility within which the ‘death’ of myth can occur. Defective Structure in the Book of Judges The textual material examined here is selected to address the related issues of how myths die and the nature of the mythic or historical idiom. The Book of Judges is written in the form of an historical construct, it is also, as argued below substantially structurally defective or incoherent, so the question therefore arises as to whether this historical frame arises from the fact that the myths were ‘dead’ or is in fact irrelevant to the structural defectiveness. The material suggests that the historical form is incidental to the defectiveness and in fact at one level can be shown to be consonant with underlying structure. The material further suggests that the material in Judges must be analyzed on two levels, that of the specific narratives, and that of the formal historical frame of the book as a whole. The analysis suggests that the structural defectiveness on the level of individual narrative arises from the conscious ideological usage of the narrative material rather than the historical structuring. It also argues that the formal frame of the book, which is strongly historical in idiom is structurally coherent, thereby illustrating the formal equivalence of myth as a structuring form and history as a particular idiom of that form. Jephthah The narrative found in Judges 11 relating to the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter raises interesting questions in relation to the parallel sacrifice narrative, that is, Genesis 22, the sacrifice of Isaac. This discussion traces the structural elements and their relations found in Judges 11 as well as examining them in relation to those found in Genesis 22. The comparison of the two narratives (taken also in relation to the wider structuralist analysis of Israelite myth) suggests that the narrative found in Judges is characterized by a defective structural form. The central part of the Jephthah narrative focuses on the sacrifice. It is composed of a number of narrative elements that give narrative order, nuancing and justification to the mythemes. 1 2 3

Before going into battle Jephthah vows that if he is given victory he will sacrifice the first thing that emerges from his house upon his return. After his victory, he returns home, with his daughter being the first to come forth from the house. After a period ‘bewailing her virginity’ she is sacrificed by her father.4

This section of the narrative (which is a variant as a whole on the death/rebirth mytheme) contains three lower order mythemes: the father defined by his role as sacrificer and the daughter (unnamed) who is defined in two ways, that is, sacrifice and virgin. The third mytheme, the Amorites, is not strongly developed, but clearly represents an oppositional element in this part of the narrative. The first of these mythemes is further defined by a number of nuances developed in the earlier sections of Judges 11. He is described as the son of an Israelite leader and a harlot. His father


Writing History, Constructing Religion

is then said to have married, presumably an Israelite women, and produced further sons who eventually expel their elder brother on account of his illegitimate birth (Judges 11:1–2). Ultimately after spending time in the wilderness as a leader of bandits (literally empty men) he is called back by the leaders of the people (symbolically his brothers) who ask him to lead them in war against the Ammonites – the promise to make him their head (using the term r’ ). The nuancing of the mytheme suggests significant aspects of defectiveness. Jephthah differs from the normative variants of the mytheme in significant ways. Unlike the normative variant in which the chosen leader or son is usually the youngest child, Jephthah is described as the oldest. In most biblical myths the genealogical position of the mother is significant, she is normally brought as close to the Israelite line as possible – the description of Jephthah’s mother as a prostitute goes against this normative characterization. Jephthah’s expulsion into the wilderness may also associate him with Esau – Israel is normally associated with civilization and the nations with the wilderness or nature. Jephthah contains other ambiguous valences. On the one hand he contains clearly positive valence as he is invited back (as opposed to the actions of Avimelech) described below. He is clearly seen as a successful man of war, an expectation that is born out by the narrative. Jephthah is also presented as a knowledgeable person, he uses quotations from tradition as a means of attempting to make peace with the Ammonites. He is also described as receiving a prophetic vision. On the more negative side, his attempt to make peace could be seen as challenging the structural opposition between the Israelites and Ammonites, though it is likely that it is a narrative element serving to make the Ammonites more negative. His vow and ultimate sacrifice of his daughter are also negative, both in their result and the fact that they do not receive divine sanction. Jephthah’s daughter contains only one significant deviation from the norm. In most versions of the death/rebirth mytheme the characters who die and are reborn are male – a significant point as the narrative is closely related to the patrilineal genealogical definition of Israel, defining the genealogical line as symbolically divinely reborn. Her characterization as a virgin is in keeping with the normative model as the sacrifice/rebirth mytheme usually precedes the marriage and continuation of the chosen line of descent. The element of virginity, however, as a defining characteristic does go against the aspect of transformed sexuality – from human to divine – the continued emphasis on this status denies both forms of sexuality and both forms of fruitfulness. Although as suggested the Ammonites are not a strongly nuanced mythic element, they do serve a structural role in the myth. As a clearly defined oppositional category, representing the nations and with articulated negative valence, the Ammonites help define or establish the boundaries of the alternative category. On an initial reading of the text it might have been thought that there were two alternative categories, Jephthah and the Giliadites (representing the Israelites). When these elements are taken in relation to the Ammonites it is clear that at the level of nation there is a clearly defined opposition between Jephthah as head of the Israelites and the Ammonites. It should be noted that the text does contain aspects of recapitulated structure. The play of the narrative suggests the following equation: Jephthah:Giliadites::Giliadites:Ammonite (A:B::B:C)

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


It is interesting that it is at the lower level of recapitulated structure, relating to Jephthah as an individual, that the elements of defective structure come into play. The Ammonites also create a possible misplaced allusion to the incest mytheme. The origin of the Ammonites is described in Genesis as arising from the union between Lot and his daughter. This father daughter incest mirrors the main relation in the narrative between Jephthah and his daughter. By placing the incest in relation to the Ammonites rather than between Jephthah and his daughter in relation to the Ammonites emphasizes that this narrative is structurally fruitless – Jephthah’s daughter dies a virgin. The narrative of the sacrifice (11:30–40) contains a vertical and a horizontal axis. The vertical axis relates the two main mythemes of the text, the father/sacrificer mytheme with the daughter/sacrifice mytheme. The vertical aspect of this relation is developed on several levels. The most significant of these is the main action of the text, that is, the sacrifice. The term used for sacrifice specifically emphasizes the vertical, upward aspect: wh‘lythw ‘wlh, that is, ‘I will raise it up as a sacrifice’. The phrase doubles the upward movement by including it both in the verb ‘I will raise it up’ and in the term sacrifice, which comes from the same root. The upward association is also suggested by the narrative and verbal allusion to Genesis 22 (more on this issue below). The qualitative valence of the vertical, upward relation is generally positive. This is specifically indicated in 11:36–37, in which the daughter actively accepts her fate. Her acquiescence minimizes the possible negative valence of the sacrifice. The valence, however, remains to some degree ambiguous – the narratively similar text, Genesis 22, includes three significant differences: God commands the sacrifice; the sacrifice is not actually carried out; and Isaac continues on to become the chosen ancestor of Israel. This last, and perhaps most significant difference is particularly emphasized by the focus on her virginity and thus the end of Jephthah’s line. The horizontal aspect of the narrative relates to the opposition between Jephthah and the Ammonites. Prospect of battle with the Ammonites is the justification for Jephthah’s vow. The description of the battle is introduced between the vow and the completion of it thereby bringing the Ammonites into structural relation with the elements in the sacrifice narrative. The qualitative valence of this category, as examined above is negative, they are the enemies of Israel, they reject the peace overtures that are based on divine injunction and they are ultimately defeated – defeat in war is usually a sign of negative valence or divine rejection. The horizontal and vertical relations are diagrammed in Figure 11.1. The structural relations found in the two axes can be specified by the initial equation (A+B)–C. As indicated the oppositional character of C is clearly indicated Daughter (B)

+ Father (A)

Figure 11.1

– Ammonites (C)

The horizontal and vertical relations in Judges 11


Writing History, Constructing Religion

by the valences found in the text – this oppositional aspect is equal in relation to both A and B. The role of C, thus, suggests the structural equivalence of A and B. This equivalence, however, is not unproblematic. It is especially undermined by the difference in gender between the two elements. It is also unclear how the act of sacrifice relates to the nature of B. In order to highlight these issues it is useful to touch briefly on the related narrative found in Genesis 22. The structure of Genesis 22 is diagrammed in Figure 11.2. In Genesis 22 we find three main structural roles. These roles, however, are tripled with God, the Angel and Abraham being in the role of sacrificer, narratively transformed in the form of the angel to non-sacrificer; Isaac (prior to sacrifice), ram, and Isaac (after the sacrifice) as the sacrificial victim; and the two young men and ass in the oppositional position. The text also includes a vertical and horizontal axis indicated in the narrative action. Analysis of the underlying structural relations suggests the following equation identical to that of Judges 11: (A+B)–C. The C category is distinguished by its remaining on the horizontal axis while both A and B move onto the vertical axis. The significant feature of the structure, however, is the structural relation between A and B. If the elements are examined in terms of their genealogical positions (Figure 11.3) the relationship between A and B is clarified. A is in the parental generation while B and C are in the subordinate generation; B and C are structurally siblings. A, on the genealogical table is defined as chosen ancestor. B is defined as chosen son; with C as symbolically rejected children. The structural role of the narrative at S3 is clarified in the following section in Genesis, which gives the genealogy of Isaac’s wife, thus looking forward to his role as chosen ancestor. This role is strengthened by Abraham’s movement from that role; the same section lists Abraham’s non-chosen descendants. Thus the structural relation between A and B is one of identity. The text of Genesis 22 identifies B as the divinely reborn (symbolically) chosen ancestor ready to take his place in the patrilineally defined line of descent. The structures identified in Genesis 22 highlight some aspects of structural defectiveness developed in Judges 11. We have already highlighted the problem found respecting the structural relationship between A and B in the Jephthah narrative; unlike Genesis 22 it is not structurally possible to find an equivalence between A and B. The B element in the Jephthah narrative is inverted in relation to gender; no other element in the text, however, is similarly inverted. This partial inversion makes the structure defective as it does not conform to the structural rule that inversion of one B +

– +



A represents vertical genealogical relation (in respect of B) B represents ego, an actor with some relation to other actors in vertical genealogical relation to A and horizontal to B C represents horizontal genealogical relation/s (in respect of B)

Figure 11.2

The structural relations in Genesis 22

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory






Figure 11.3


Structure and genealogy in Genesis 22

structural element necessitates an equal level of inversion in the other structural elements. This rule is illustrated in the equation: A:B::Ai:Bi. The structure is also defective in a related way at the S3 level. The role of the Genesis text at that level was the definition of the Israelite line, and the transference of both chosenness and divine fertility to the chosen descendant. This text does not conform to this structural expectation. As suggested the narrative brings Jephthah’s line doubly to an end. The virginal status of the daughter is emphasized, and is the status which defines her before and after the sacrifice, thus denying the possibility of fertility either divine or otherwise. Her actual as opposed to symbolic death is also a clear denial of the principle of genealogy. Her status as a woman also challenges the model of descent, which although considering the female line significant, is strongly patrilineal. Thus the inversion works on two interrelated levels; it denies the possibility of assimilated B into A and it creates a clear denial of patrilineal descent. If we look, however, at the horizontal opposition, between Jephthah/Israel and the Ammonites there is a coherent development of structure relative to that found in Genesis 22, the opposition between A:C, or Israel:Nations. This aspect of the Jephthah narrative is closely related to the general narrative form of Judges as an edited whole – at its simplest, the form is Israel strays from God, God sends an enemy to punish Israel, a Judge arises who God enables to defeat the enemy and lead Israel to act properly in relation to God. The narrative form creates a clear opposition between Israel and her enemies – Israel is defined as being properly God’s people and a clearly bound entity (she is punished for taking on behaviour of the nations); the nations are defined as God’s tool but ultimately rejected both in terms of their cultural forms and by their eventual defeat by God’s chosen judge. This aspect of Judges, therefore, unlike the narrative segments is structurally coherent strongly emphasizing the A – B oppositional form. Abimelech The narrative found in Judges 9 contains an inversion of the material found in Judges 11 that includes similar aspects of structural defectiveness. The analysis of the


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Abimelech material focuses on the final part of the narrative, that is, his death; it will, however, use the remaining elements to flesh out the operative mythemes. The narrative includes four significant mythemes. 1

Abimelech besieges a city, with the majority of the population taking refuge in a tower. 2 A woman throws a mill-stone from the top of the tower, which breaks Abimelech’s skull.5 3 Abimelech asks his armour bearer to kill him – he does so. 4 The text concludes with a criticism of Abimelech for the murder of his brothers. These mythemes suggests three main categories: Abimelech, the woman and Abimelech’s brothers. The qualitative valence of Abimelech is strongly developed throughout the narrative. The main feature that defines him as negative is the murder of his brothers, a fact that brackets his narrative; it is the first main narrative element and is the final statement about him in the narrative. This concluding statement declares in regards to Abimelech’s death: ‘Thus God requited the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brothers’. The statement is interesting in several respects. It highlights the negative aspect of the act as relating to his father – denying patrilineage. The narrative also includes an ironic allusion to the symbolic murder of Joseph – with the son murdering his brothers rather than the other way around. The statement is also ironic within the context of the Abimelech narrative, much of which centres around the concept of dynasty – an element found in Abimelech’s name, which literally means ‘my father is king’. The narrative context of the mytheme also includes elements that relate in an inverted sense to those of Judges 11. While the status of both their respective mothers is anomalous, it is developed in different and inverted directions. On the one hand both women are not official wives. Abimelech’s mother, however, is described as pylgw literally ‘his concubine’. While a concubine was not an official wife, the term suggests that she did have official status – a status that seems to be reflected in Abimelech’s status, who unlike Jephthah was not sent from his father’s house. The origin of the mother, however, undermines this status and textual expectation – she is described as a Shechemite, and thus forbidden as an appropriate wife/mother. Jephthah’s mother, as discussed above, is described as a prostitute – a woman unattached to any specific man. She had no specific status within Gilead’s household, a fact reflected in Jephthah’s expulsion. The origin of Jephthah’s mother is unstated leaving open the possibility that she is of Israelite origin. The structural tension in these elements is apparent when they are brought together: uncontrolled sexuality is paired with unknown origin (hence the possibility of Israelite origin) and controlled sexuality (relatively) is paired with birth from outside Israel. Comparison of the familial positions of Abimelech and Jephthah also further exacerbates this structural dissonance or defectiveness. As indicated Abimelech’s familial status might be of a lower order than his brothers who were born of an Israelite wife, none the less he would be recognized as a son, a fact indicated in the narrative. In Jephthah’s case, as son of a prostitute his birth and possibly paternity would not be recognized as legitimate. This lack of status is recognized in Judges 11:2, in which his brothers say to him: ‘You shall not inherit in our father’s house’. This difference in status is at odds with the narrative development of the two texts:

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


Abimelech only gains his power/inheritance through the denial of genealogical relation and the murder of his brothers. Jephthah, however, is brought back into the genealogy through the invitation by his ‘brothers’ to become their leader. The specific position of birth in relation to brothers is also inverted in the two cases, and goes against narrative expectation. Whereas Abimelech, who is negatively valenced by the structure of the verses in Judges 8:29–31, suggests the possibility that he was born after the births of his brothers (even possibly that of Jotham, the youngest of his other brothers and the only one to escape the assassinations). Abimelech’s birth is mentioned after that of his brothers. Although this may be due to his difference in status, it suggests the narrative and structural possibility that he filled the role of the youngest son. The text relating to Jephthah’s birth is inverted (Judges 11:1–2). In Judges 11 his birth is described prior to that of his brothers. These respective birth narratives are inverted from the usual narrative expectations; the youngest son is usually positively valenced while the eldest son is negatively valenced. The second structural element in the narrative, the woman who kills Abimelech, is less easily defined. Its valence, however, can be clearly established in relation to the first structural element Abimelech. The woman is defined by two elements in relation to Abimelech, her actional role, that is, killing him in war; and her vertical positioning – she is in a raised vertical position relative to Abimelech. The first of these elements suggests that her valence would be opposite to that of Abimelech. Whereas in the sacrifice version of the mytheme, sacrifice equates the victim with the sacrificer in the murder or war version the act creates or emphasizes the structural opposition between the two elements; in the murder version the murderer is defined as negative and in the war version the victor (killer) is defined as positive. The vertical positioning also supports this characterization – raised vertical space is usually positive space. The women’s generational status is not clearly defined in the text; the term ’hh, however, suggests that she might be a mature woman and thus structurally in the parental generation. Her generational position is significant in relation to the inverted structure of this text relative to that found in Judges 11. If the diagram of the mythemes, Figure 11.4, is examined the inverted nature of the narrative in relation to Judges 11 is apparent. The action in the text, like that of Judges 11 is vertical. In this text, however, the movement (that is the death) is downwards. Rather than being killed on a stone, as one would be in a sacrifice – a stone comes from above as an inverted altar. The gendering of the actors is also clearly inverted as is their symbolic generational position. In Judges 11 the father kills the



Figure 11.4

The death of Abimelech


Writing History, Constructing Religion

daughter through an act of sacrifice; in Judges 9 the symbolic mother kills the son in an act of war. There is, however, an additional element in the Abimelech narrative that adds additional nuancing to the mythemes, that is, the armour bearer who is described as a n‘r or a youth – the same term as used for the two young men in Genesis 22. The youth’s role in the narrative is structurally equated with that of Abimelech. As his armour bearer he is part of the same fighting unit and by carrying Abimelech’s armour is structurally indistinguishable from him. The young man’s action in the narrative is also inseparable from Abimelech’s, he is merely an extension of his will – thus when he kills Abimelech it should be seen as an act of suicide, thereby making Abimelech’s death doubly negative, that is, both death in war and suicide. The introduction of the n‘r also adds an additional aspect to the Abimelech mytheme; the structural identity places Abimelech in the category of youth and thus in a generation junior to that of the woman who kills him. If the woman is in the structural role of mother (inverted father) and Abimelech in that of son (inverted daughter) then this text, like Judges 11, can be seen as structurally defective at the S3 level in denying genealogy. The structural denial of genealogy and particularly patrilineage is found in a number of different levels in the narrative. As indicated it is found in the first section of the text with the murder of all his brothers (with the exception of Jotham). That narrative, like the death of Abimelech, includes a significant inversion, with the rejected son killing the chosen sons. The denial is also developed in at least two respects in the narrative examined here, the ‘mother’ killing the son is a denial of genealogy, and the inversion of roles – from father as sacrificer to mother as killer – prevents the assimilation of the two and thus denies the identification of the chosen line as being equivalent to the patrilineage. The text also concludes with the death of Abimelech and thus the end of his line. It should be noted, however, that Jotham’s survival provides an alternative line of descent – a fact emphasized by his name being mentioned at the conclusion of the chapter. Nonetheless, in the following chapter Jotham is not mentioned as one of the Judges, the role is said to move from Abimelech to Tola. The denial of patrilineage developed throughout Judges 8 and 9, which is a significant aspect of the structural defectiveness, is further highlighted in an ironic sense by Abimelech’s name, which as suggested above literally means ‘my father is king’. His name ironically challenges his very acts and its irony is further enhanced by his death without issue. We will come back to this aspect in the discussion of the ideological use of dynasty in the book as a whole. One of the significant features of the normative biblical structural model is the assimilation of the two non-rejected categories (though it would be equally structurally coherent for the two assimilated elements to represent the rejected category). In this text two distinct elements are set in opposition to Abimelech – the woman and by implication her city, and Abimelech’s brothers represented by Jotham. It would thus be structurally logical for these two categories to be structurally equivalent. There are, however, two aspects that obstruct this equivalence and render the structure defective. On the one hand, the gendered aspect of the woman as in the case of Judges 11 prevents the assimilation of the two elements. On the other hand, the identity of the city as Canaanite, and therefore by definition rejected, also prevents the two from being structurally equated. The defectiveness of the structure is further emphasized by the fact that the woman and city cannot be seen as mediators and thus serve no clear structural role.

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


The text does in a wider sense, however, contain a coherent structural form. If, aside from the particular narrative element (the story of Abimelech and his death) the overall elements are examined there is a clearly articulated oppositional A not B structure. The structure juxtaposes two structural elements, Abimelech in the rejected category (representing the nations due to his mother’s Canaanite origins) and his brothers (reborn as Jotham) representing the chosen Israelite category. The structural conclusion of the text is that the two categories are mutually distinct, a fact emphasized by Abimelech’s eventual death. This aspect of the narrative receives some additional textual support in the origins of Abimelech’s mother, she is from Shechem. This may make a textual allusion to the ‘Rape of Tamar’, a narrative that deals with substantially the same question – can Israel and Shechem become one people? Both the text in Genesis and that in Judges answer the question with an emphatic no. It is interesting to note that this structurally coherent aspect, like that of Judges 11 stands on a different narrative level from the main events narrated in the book. Thus far we have examined two texts in Judges in which women are used in relation to defective structure. While the defective structures were found in the narrative material used to construct the book, at a wider redactorial framing level the two texts were structurally coherent. In order to understand the dual nature of structural defectiveness and coherence it is necessary to briefly contextualize the material in relation to Judges as a whole. This contextualization will also facilitate a broader ethnographic perspective from which it will be possible to address the question of the source of the structural incoherence and the broader theoretical question of how myths die. If we examine Judges as a whole, particularly, though not exclusively, respecting texts including women it is apparent that there is a pervasive element of structural defectiveness. We will briefly touch on several of the most significant of these texts, that is, Judges 4–5, 13–17 and 19–21. The narratives relating to Deborah and Barak, Judges 4–5 explore a range of permutations relating to gender roles – the most significant of which focuses on Deborah who functions in the role of Judge. Although the term that introduces her is prophetess the term judge is also used (both are found in Judges 4:4). Both of these roles were usually assigned to men. The role of Judge, other than the case of Deborah is exclusively a male role, and that of prophetess, with two main exceptions is also generally a function attributed to men. The narrative contains two aspects of defectiveness, both associated with women: the role of judge and the death of Sisera. The role or function of judge, within the context of the book, in respect of Deborah is defective due to its problematization of one of the major functions of the role, that is, military leadership. The defectiveness is illustrated in the division of the role into two, that is, the initial association of the military aspect with Barak rather than Deborah. The possibility that he is a Judge alongside Deborah is suggested in the beginning of the Song of Deborah, Judges 5:1, which lists Deborah and Barak together as the leaders. The narrative, however, undermines (emphasizes the defective character of the text) this division when Barak insists that Deborah accompany the Israelites in the battle (Judges 4:8). The structurally defective aspect of this part of the narrative arises from the fact that neither Deborah nor Barak is in their correct role (in terms of gender). The two might almost be viewed as in inverted positions in this respect.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

The inversion of gender and an associated denial of genealogy is developed in relation to the death of Sisera. At the narrative level, it would have been appropriate for Sisera to either die in battle or be killed by Barak – this expectation is created in 4:22, in which Barak is depicted as pursuing Sisera with the intent of killing him. This failure is part of the general defectiveness in Barak’s role in the narrative, and also leads into and prepares for the inverted aspect of the death narrative. Sisera’s death is briefly described in 4:22 and more fully, in poetic form, in 5:24–27. Sisera is killed by Yael the wife of a Kenite. This inverts expectation as he is killed by both a woman and a non-Israelite (or at the very least the wife of a non-Israelite). The narrative is also clearly associated with genealogy or the sexual aspect of women – both the short version in Chapter 4 and the longer in Chapter 5 are sexually charged or suggestive. The sexual aspect, however, is also inverted and thereby made defective; Sisera is killed by reverse penetration – she hammers a tent peg into his brain, reversing both the normal act of penetration and its effect.6 The text, like that of Abimelech and Jephthah concludes with defective death and in this case defective sexuality that results in death (denial of descent) rather than new life and dynastic transmission. The narratives associated with Samson are found in Judges 13–17. Samson, like the narratives thus far, is defective, with many aspects of its structural incoherence being highlighted by women. The first hints of the structural incoherence are found on the narrative level respecting Samson’s mother. The narrative opens with a version of the barren mother mytheme, with God assisting or announcing the birth of a significant figure – usually in the context of Genesis the significant or chosen ancestor of Israel. The defectiveness is found in regard to her report of the angel’s statement in 13:7 – she misquotes the statement and perhaps foreshadows Samson’s ultimate death and failure. The defective aspect is also found on the structural S3 level in the description of Samson and thus his structural categorization. Although as suggested Samson’s birth gives the impression that he is in the chosen category, as his character develops it is more clearly associated with Esau and the rejected category rather than that of Jacob (Israel) and the chosen category. This aspect is initially found in respect of his hair. Long hair (or being hairy) is specifically associated with Esau. Hair had a specific set of associations in the biblical context. It was associated with animals and nature – as in the use of an animal skin in Genesis 27 to disguise Jacob as Esau. The word for hairy was also the term for a wild goat. Hair was also associated with uncontrolled sexuality, particularly, though not exclusively, in regard to Samson. The third aspect of hair, particularly long hair, was being outside of social control or outside of society (again being associated with nature); this aspect is particularly developed regarding the Nazirites. Samson is also connected to nature rather than culture in other ways, particularly in relation to his actions. This is specifically developed in Judges 16:15. In that text Samson uses the jaw of an ass, a product of nature rather than culture, to kill his enemies. He also engages in other ways, especially those connected to his appetites that associate him with nature, or uncontrolled action – this is clearly indicated in Judges 14:8–10, in which he eats honey out of the corpse of a lion (a doubly forbidden act). The aspect of structural defectiveness is further, and most importantly, found regarding the women Samson chooses to relate to both in terms of marriage and sexual relations and also in terms of Samson’s ultimate death. Both Samson’s wife

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


and Delilah are structurally problematic relations, both come from outside the chosen category, and both are ultimately infertile relations. Unlike the other chosen ancestors, who marry within the boundaries of the chosen line and whose children are the product of divine fruitfulness, Samson consistently has sexual relations with women from the rejected category, and ultimately dies without issue. The defectiveness of the narrative is emphasized by both the improper sexual relations and the suicide, or defective death that concludes the text. Judges 19–21 also develops defective structure in relation to the role of women and the issue of descent or genealogy. The key mythemes developed in the narrative are: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

the introduction of the Levite and his concubine – who, through her action, is defined as faithless; the journey from the concubine’s father’s house to Gibeah7 in Benjamin (the journey is significant as it develops the opposition between Israel and the nations – the Levite refuses to stay in Jebus as it was a non-Israelite city [Judges 19:12]); in Gibeah their lodging is surrounded by the Benjaminites who demand that the Levite be given to them – this has clear sexual connotations; the owner of the house offers his daughter, described as a virgin, in place of the Levite; the concubine is given and dies after being raped; the other tribes of Israel destroy the Benjaminites; the text concludes with a narrative describing how the remnant of Benjamin is preserved.

This text, which forms the final section of the book, develops a highly complex narrative that concludes with the almost (symbolically actual) destruction of the tribe of Benjamin – the particular tribe is significant as it was descended from the youngest son of Jacob (and the doubled chosen ancestor). This tribe, according to usual narrative expectations, would form the chosen tribe, and the chosen line of descent. Thus the destruction of this tribe is structurally deviant, challenging both the normative aspects of narrative and structure. At this level, the opposition of Benjamin to the remaining tribes, the expected structure is overturned. It is also overturned in respect of number; within the process of recapitulation it would normally be expected that the sub category (underneath Israel/nations) would place one tribe, as the positively valenced unit, in opposition to the remaining tribes, who would be negatively valenced. In this narrative the expected valences are inverted. This narrative also contains material that is closely related to a text found in Genesis (Genesis 19). Leach pointed out the parallel aspects of these two texts (1983: 11–12). The text in Judges makes a direct allusion to the Genesis text – compare Judges 19:22 with Genesis 19:5. The interesting aspect of this parallelism is the association of the Benjaminites with the Sodomites as the clearly rejected category – both the Benjaminites and the Sodomites are ultimately destroyed, which gives a clear indication of their shared negative valence. Coherent patterns of structural opposition, however, are found on two other levels. On the broadest level, described in mytheme (2) the opposition between Israel and the nations is clearly and coherently developed. The text is also working on an additional level – developing the opposition between the Levites and the Benjaminites (with at this level the Benjaminites representing Israel as a whole). On this recapitulated level


Writing History, Constructing Religion

the structure is partially coherent, with the opposition being between the Levites in the chosen category and the Benjaminites (Israel) in the rejected category. This opposition, however, is also undermined by the death of the concubine (and indeed the nature of the concubine, see mytheme (1)) – she, and therefore the Levite, die without issue thus denying the genealogical aspect of the structure at S3. It is interesting, however, that the main aspect of deviance is found in respect of the opposition between Benjamin and the remaining tribes. Benjamin, as the youngest son of Jacob, and therefore the ‘youngest’ tribe would normally be the proper conduit of chosen descent, so this narrative undermines this structural and narrative expectation – and with the association to Sodom, Benjamin is doubly negatively valenced. It might be argued that this text should be seen as parallel to the sacrifice of the Isaac narrative and thus serves to validate Benjamin as the chosen line of descent. This reading of the text is based on a specific ideological reading of the book as a whole, that is, preparing for the kingship of Saul, and therefore seeing this text as establishing Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, as the chosen ancestor and therefore the proper dynast for Israel. At this point we will touch on the structural and narrative reasons for rejecting this reading, the ideological issues will be discussed further below. As discussed, the valence of Benjamin throughout the text is clearly negative – both by structural position and textual allusion. This valencing is in clear distinction from that of the chosen ancestors in all of the death–rebirth narratives – in each case they are in the positive category clearly opposed to a negatively valenced category which structurally represents the nations. The aspect of war rather than sacrifice also challenges this reading as death in war represents a negative death and rejection. This characterization is further emphasized by God’s role in the narrative; in 20:27–29 God validates the destruction of Benjamin and therefore their negative valencing (in a similar way as found in respect of Abimelech). The comparison with the death–rebirth mytheme is thus unsustainable unless this is viewed as a defective version of that mytheme. The Structural Effects of Ideology The defective structural elements of many of the narratives in Judges raises an important theoretical issue relating to the nature of myth and more particularly how myths lose their structural coherence, and can thus be seen as dead. The lack of structural coherence at the level of specific text also raises issues relating to structural pervasiveness – and indeed to the structuralist analysis of biblical material as a whole. Three alternative hypotheses are suggested: 1 2 3

the structural analysis at either S3 or S2 is incorrect and needs to be adjusted to include the forms found in Judges which would then be seen as coherent examples of underlying structure; that structure is not as pervasive as structuralist theory suggests, and that the material found in Judges represents alternative structural forms; that the structures examined here are indeed defective and structuralist theory needs to provide a model for explaining this lack of structural coherence.

The first of these possibilities suggests the possible need to reassess the underlying equations and the analysis of mythemes. This possibility, however, is challenged by the

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


pervasiveness of the underlying structures suggested both in the mythic material and in material found in other cultural domains in the Bible. The pervasiveness of the structure in the narrative and non-narrative mythic material is demonstrated in the Logic of Incest (Kunin, 1995) and in the relation to geography in ritual (particularly pilgrimage) in God’s Place in the World (Kunin, 1998). This pervasiveness will also be further supported by analysis of the Israelite food rules and sacrifice in a book, We Think What We Eat (Kunin, 2004). Judges itself also supports the understanding of underlying structure as its small units framed within a narrative form that is structurally coherent. The material examined here, therefore, does not support the need for a significant rethinking of the underlying structural equations at either the S3 or S2 levels. The second hypothesis is more arguable. The understanding of culture that underlay traditional structuralism was more bounded and monolithic than supportable today. Anthropologists are increasingly aware of the multivocal nature of communities and the related fact that the notion of culture is an ideological artefact (either one developed internally, as is the case in much of the biblical material, or one imposed on communities by those interacting with them, often for political reasons). Analysis of biblical material also supports the existence of minority voices within the text. These minority voices, however, do not have significantly different structural equations; they often present different nuances or forms of emphasis on substantially similar structural forms. The defective structures found in Judges, however, do not exhibit this type of structural differentiation. They appear to use the same mythemes with the same aspects of structuring; the issues are often of incompleteness or inversion of some elements without structural resolution. These elements should not be seen as merely a form of static or structural clouding – the incompleteness or inversion renders the structure defective because the absent elements often make the structure unworkable. The third hypothesis, that which is the central argument of this chapter is that the myths are structurally defective – the main issue is therefore not the status of the mythic material but rather the question of why these particular myths are defective and the process by which myths become destructured. In the opening section of this chapter we addressed some of the theoretical aspects of Lévi-Strauss’ analysis of how myths die; it was argued that the process does not occur through the geographic, cultural or historical transformation or movement of the myths. It was also suggested, however, that LéviStrauss’ closing argument that dead myths move towards ideology or historical ideology was indicative of a constructive analysis of this question. The basic element of the ideological usage of mythic material is the conscious element of the process – it is not suggested that the individuals using the myth are conscious of the underlying structure, rather they are conscious of the specific purpose for which they wish to use the myth. This conscious process, while not able to impose an alternative structure, may be sufficient to transform the emphasis or in certain circumstances, as perhaps in Judges, to cause the structure to become unstable or defective. The limitations of this process of destructuring are illustrated by the fact that Judges is only destructured in relation to the sub-narratives; its narrative frame, however, retains structural coherence.8 The narrative material found in the sub-narratives in Judges may have pre-existed the book as a whole – mirroring the composite and compiled nature of the biblical text as a whole. If the narratives did exist in some earlier form then it is possible that some aspects of their lack of structural coherence may be due to diachronic decomposition – as well as possible geographic decomposition if some of the material, like the Samson


Writing History, Constructing Religion

narrative, was taken from neighbouring communities. The narratives concerning the fate of the Benjaminites and Abimelech may also have existed in earlier diachronic forms, and in those contexts been structurally coherent. Although the nature of the narrative material found in Judges is suggestive of this type of process, it is not directly addressable or relevant to the discussion developed here. The original sources, if such there were, are not available for comparison, thus any statements concerning them can only be hypothetical. The editorial and redaction process on both the structural and ideological levels renders the only analyzable material that of the editorial present. Thus far we have touched on the structural issues, the remainder of this chapter will focus on the possible ideological usage of the mythic narrative material. Two aspects of Judges, one structural and the other narrative, are suggestive of possible ideological readings of Judges. On the structural level it seems significant that the major aspect of structural defectiveness follows a common pattern; it is usually associated with sexuality and the related issue of fruitfulness. In both Judges 11 and 13–16 the element of divine fruitfulness, the expected structural culmination, is absent – this is also the case in an inverted sense in Judges 9. In Judges 11 the sacrifice occurs with no rebirth and the character sacrificed is specifically identified as a virgin – this is both a denial of fruitfulness and genealogy. The insertion of women is significant, structural locations may also serve as a denial of the element of genealogy. In Judges 13–16 Samson is indeed a sexual being (though apparently one without issue). Nonetheless, his sexuality is clearly defined as natural rather than divine fruitfulness, which indeed may account for its sterility. These and other texts in Judges therefore suggest, on the level of underlying structure, that the issue being worked with on an ideological level is related to fruitfulness and genealogy. Several narrative elements found throughout the book also suggest a similar understanding. On the narrative level, however, the rejection of genealogy and the associated denial of a chosen line is found in respect of dynasty or the concept of monarchy. This theme is particularly apparent in Judges 9 with Abimelech representing the rejected category of king. This aspect is developed in 9:8–15 in which Jotham (Abimelech’s brother) presents a parable that is very negative about kingship. This issue of dynasty and its rejection is also found in Abimelech’s name, which, as translated above, means ‘my father is king’; Abimelech thus specifically embodies the concept of both kingship and dynasty. His negative characterization and eventual death are clear rejections of the lineage or dynastic model of monarchy. These elements taken together suggest that the narrative’s ideological purpose is related to and challenging both the concept of monarchy and that of dynasty. Before further exploring the implications and nature of this ideological usage, it is necessary to touch on its implications for the underlying structure and the possible reasons for the structural instability found in Judges. The specific rejection of dynasty has significant implications on the structural level. One of the features of underlying structure is that of recapitulation, that is, the same structural equation will be found on different structural levels – depending on the specific categories being used. The dynastic model can clearly be fitted into the Israelite structural pattern, and in some senses can be seen as the logical conclusion of the structure. Thus, for example, the dynastic model works in the same way as the priestly model. Just as Israel is opposed to the nations at the widest structural level, the priestly families are opposed to the remaining Israelite tribes at a lower recapitulated level; logically and structurally a

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


particular monarchical dynasty could be placed in the same structural category. With the rejection of dynasty found throughout Judges, the ideological usage is challenging this structural logic (Judges should structurally be the ancestors of chosen lines of descent). It is likely that the paradoxical juxtaposition of the ideology and the structure facilitates the structural instability. This broad ideological attack on dynasty has been recognized by scholars – and is associated with other similar ideological presentations found in the biblical text.9 This broad reading, however, can be narrowed down to a more specific ideological focus, that is, rejecting a particular dynasty rather than the concept of dynasty as a whole. This alternative reading is suggested by an examination of the narrative structure of the book as a whole. There is a suggestive pattern of narratives that frame the book. The first section of the book, particularly Judges 1:8–15 deal with the tribe of Judah while the concluding sections, Judges 19–21, with that of Benjamin. As we have discussed earlier in this chapter the concluding sections place Benjamin in a category that has a strong negative valence. This negative valence is developed on both the structural and narrative levels of the text – the text suggests a clear rejection of the tribe as a whole, a feature not found regarding any other Israelite tribe in the rest of the book. In other cases individuals are placed in the negative category, their tribe, however, is ultimately placed in the positive chosen category. The rejection of Benjamin as a whole may be associated with the fact that Saul, the first king and dynast came from this tribe. This association is further strengthened by the location of the narrative, Gibeah, a city that is specifically associated with Saul. Thus, the clear rejection of the tribe may be a rejection of Saul and his dynasty. The rejection of Saul and his (potential) dynasty, however, leaves open the possibility that there will be a similar rejection of the other main dynasty, that of David. Judges 1:8–15 (as well as the other narratives relating to Celeb) are the main sources in Judges that relate to the tribe of Judah (David’s ancestral tribe). The narrative relates the conquest by Judah of its part of the promised-land. The narrative is distinctive in two respects, one narrative and the other structural. Unlike the other sub-narratives in Judges this text does not have the usual frame – Judah is not described as sinning and thus, unlike the other tribes, is not even temporarily placed in the negative category. The text is also perhaps the only sub-narrative in the book that is structurally coherent. The significant part of the narrative for our discussion is 1:12–15. It contains several mythic elements: 1 2 3

Celeb, the leader of Judah, announces that he will give his daughter Achsah to whomever captures a particular town; Othniel, a close kinsman of Celeb, captures the town; he is given both Achsah and a fruitful field as his reward.

One of the structurally interesting features of the element 2 is Othniel’s relationship with Celeb and therefore Achsah. The kin relation is described in an ambiguous verse, 1:13. The verse states: ‘tny’l bn qnz ’hy clb hqtn mmnw A literal translation of the genealogical relation described in the verse reads: ‘Othniel son of Kenaz, the younger brother of Celeb’. This translation allows two alternative readings. The first would see the second phrase, ‘the younger brother of Celeb’ as


Writing History, Constructing Religion

referring to Othniel (with Kenaz being the father of both). The second reading would see the phrase as referring to Kenaz, who therefore would be the brother of Celeb (and Othniel would be his nephew). This ambiguity is not directly resolvable in the book of Judges as it now exists. If, however, it is taken in relation to genealogical material found elsewhere then the second reading is clearly supported. Although the current division into books is not intrinsic to the biblical text, there is no reason to suppose that the author of this genealogy was aware of the other genealogical sources. This ambiguity makes a possible structural association of this text and those texts in Genesis dealing with the marriages and therefore the line of descent of Israel. If Othniel were Celeb’s brother he would be Achsah’s close male relative and one in the senior generation. The closeness of the marriage is as near to incest as possible without actually transgressing that boundary. The ambiguity in the text also allows Othniel to fall into the category of youngest son – who in the context of most biblical narratives is the chosen son and the divinely selected ancestor. Even if the ambiguity is resolved on the basis of the second reading, the marriage presents one of the few in the book that falls within the boundaries of the Israelite model of endogamy. The narrative’s structural coherence is emphasized by the concluding element of mytheme (3) – the inclusion in the reward of the field of springs. The field and its springs symbolize fruitfulness, and therefore the fruitfulness of the union between Othniel and Achsah. This fruitfulness is in stark opposition to the barrenness of the other narratives examined here. The structurally and ideologically significant aspect of the narrative, like that of the concluding section of Judges, is its tribal referent, that is, the tribe of Judah. Judah was the tribe of the dynasty that replaced that of Saul, that is, the Davidic dynasty. The text makes a potential allusion to David in verse 1:8 – stating that as part of its conquest Judah conquered Jerusalem – a city also conquered by David and established as his capital. Thus Judah is immediately connected with its famous son and the city chosen to be both the capital and the site of the Temple. Based on this structure, opening with a positive and structurally coherent text referring to Judah and alluding to David and concluding with a rejection of the tribe of Benjamin and therefore Saul, it is possible that rather than having a simple antimonarchical ideological basis; the ideological burden may be the rejection of Benjamin (and perhaps other Dynasties associated with the Northern Kingdom) and support of the Davidic line. Although, based on the material at hand this second ideological alternative is plausible, there is not sufficient data to move beyond plausibility. Nonetheless, we can defend the proposition that the material found in Judges is being used for ideological purposes; this argument does not stand or fall on the determination of which ideological position the text is taking. Thus, the analysis presented here illustrates that the texts have been consciously reshaped based on a particular ideological agenda – with the agency being exercised at the narrative level – but due to that conscious usage have a destructuring effect on the underlying structural levels. The analysis suggests that it is this conscious attempt at using the narratives for an ideological agenda rather than the historical form that leads to the destructuring or ‘death’ of the mythic material. As suggested above, the form or content of the myth, for example, including historical form or factual material, does not challenge its structured nature – these elements are part of the conscious narrative level of the text, based on the self perception and understanding of the society creating and using the narrative. Neither of these elements is a

Ideological ‘Destructuring’ in Myth, History and Memory


conscious attempt to move the narrative in a specific direction such that underlying structure would be implicated or made less coherent. The ideological usage, however, whether in historical form or not, due to its attempt to force the material to support a specific position has more significant implication for underlying structure. It does not, however, lead to either the creation of a new structure or the loss of all structural coherence. The material analyzed here suggests that the destructured narratives will contain remnants of structure, and will be incoherent rather than creating new meaningful or coherent structures. The overall structural coherence of the text also suggests that even texts used for an ideological purpose and therefore structurally incoherent will be placed in some type of framework that allows them to be meaningfully and therefore structurally coherently deployed. The analysis of Judges supports some of the suggestions raised in the first part of the chapter. Judges deploys narrative material within an ‘historic’ frame – while the material included within the frame is destructured, this is not true of the frame itself, which remains structurally coherent. Thus there seems no necessary support for the view that historical material, or material in an historical register is necessarily destructured – it also suggests that in functional/structural terms there is no useful distinction between myth and history. The material in Judges is particularly relevant to the processes discussed in relation to memory and Crypto-Judaism. It illustrates many of the same patterns of transformation, and perhaps most significantly provides strong support for the association between conscious/reflexive ideological usage and structural decomposition. The modern ethnographic material allows us, however, to differentiate between conscious usage and conscious/reflexive ideological usage. It is not merely the aspects of consciousness that leads to the destructuring process, all culture and individual identity is the result of a complex and dynamic interrelationship between conscious and unconscious processes, it is also the reflexive attempt to use the narrative material, whether constructed in the medium of myth, history or memory, to convey a specific and narrow ideological meaning. Myths die when they are consciously and purposefully used rather than when they are transformed. Notes 1 As this introduction suggests this chapter takes as its theoretical starting point the form of structuralist analysis developed by Lévi-Strauss. The approach, however, is modified in specific ways outlined in Kunin (2003, pp. 107–115). The fundamental aspect of structuralism necessary for the understanding of this discussion is the concept of underlying structure. Underlying structure is the unconscious basis for all cultural (human) recreations. It is the abstract basis upon which meaningful constructs can be built – it can best be seen as an algebraic equation in which different information can replace the abstract variables – the equation in each particular context or sub-context is the invariable aspect. From the perspective of this analysis each culture or subculture has a variation of underlying structure out of which individuals and groups build (or tell) meaningful constructs. 2 I owe the use of this analogy to Professor Jonathan Webber. He points out that in chess there are particular chess moves that are strictly determined by past moves, and thus require prior knowledge. Nonetheless, for the argument here, we are envisioning a game in which all possible moves are possible independent of any previous move.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

3 See, for example, Kunin (2001), which presents a detailed discussion of the Crypto-Jewish community and the processes of negotiation and privileging that occur in relationship to the construction of identity. 4 Jobling suggests that the death of Jephthah’s daughter is related to the structural problem created by ‘Transjordanian women’ (1986, p. 131). He suggests that her death as a virgin allows for the symbolic rejection of these women and thus strengthens the A-B oppositional model. While his arguments may be supportable on one level, they do not address the defectiveness within the text and the fact that similar defectiveness is found respecting women and men who are with the A category. 5 Mieke Bal discusses three of the texts referred to here – focusing on the depiction of women as betrayers or killers (the other two women are Yael and Delilah) (1999, p. 318). She suggests that the women’s acts stigmatize the men. This argument is in keeping with that developed here as the women serve to place the man into the rejected category. 6 Aspects of the sexual imagery in the text have been pointed out by scholars, particularly by Susan Niditch (1999, pp. 305–315). 7 The specific city, Gibeah, mentioned in the text may also be relevant to our discussion below. In First Samuel 11:4 it is specifically associated with Saul. Thus the negative depiction in the text may support an ideological rejection of Saul and his dynasty. 8 Discussions of the development of the book and the frame and sub-narratives can be found in Bowling (1975, pp. 29–38). 9 See, for example, Rentdorff (1985, p. 169). Dumbrell has also addressed this question (1983, pp. 23–33). He argues that the book was written during the exilic period and had as one of its specific ideological purposes an attack on the concept of monarchy and the dynastic model. He suggests that the text was supporting the rule of God alone rather than a human king or dynasty. He further suggests that the concept of judge favours divine election over other forms of leadership (Dumbrell, 1983, p. 33).

References Bal, Mieke (1999), ‘Dealing/with/women: daughters in the Book of Judges’, in Alice Bach (ed.), Women in the Hebrew Bible, New York: Routledge, pp. 317–333. Bowling, R. G. (1975), Judges [Anchor Bible], Garden City: Doubleday. Dumbrell, William J. (1983), ‘No king in Israel’, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 25, 23–33. Fishbane, M. (2003), Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jobling, D. (1986), The Sense of Biblical Narrative: Structural Analyses in the Hebrew Bible II, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. Kunin, S. (1995), The Logic of Incest, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. Kunin, S. (1998), God’s Place in the World, London: Cassell. Kunin, Seth (2001), ‘Juggling identities among the Crypto-Jews of the American Southwest’, Religion, 31, 41–61. Kunin, Seth (2003), ‘The allegory of the Olive Tree: a case study for (neo)structuralist analysis’, Religion, 33, 105–125. Kunin, S. (2004), We Think What We Eat, London: T&T Clark. Leach, E. and Aycock, A. (1983), Structuralist Interpretations of Biblical Myth, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1976), Structural Anthropology 2, Chicago: Chicago University Press. Niditch, Susan (1999), ‘Eroticism and death in the tale of Jael’, in Alice Bach (ed.), Women in the Hebrew Bible, New York: Routledge, pp. 305–315. Rendtorff, R. (1985), The Old Testament: An Introduction, London: SPCK.

Chapter 12

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion1 Christian Karner

Introduction This chapter applies some of the conceptual themes and theoretical strategies widely associated with postmodernism2 to a meta-analysis of recent empirical scholarship concerning religion and politics or, more accurately, a particular discourse of politicized religion prominent in South Asia as well as among some South Asian diaspora communities. While I will include some of my own data, the bulk of this chapter reexamines seminal contributions to studies of Hindu nationalism in an attempt to highlight the extent to which – consciously or inadvertently – they have asked postmodern questions and/or provided postmodern answers. Building on and adding to existing analyses, it will be my aim to underline how pervasive, though not always acknowledged, the postmodern legacy has been in recent studies of South Asian religions, ethnicity and nationalism. I will begin with a brief discussion of some of the events and historical developments over the last twenty years that have caught the attention of politicians, journalists and academics alike. I will then isolate and analyze the three issues of ‘history’, ‘violence’, and the very concept of ‘religion’ as well as their frequent discursive ‘treatment’. In each case, I aim to extrapolate ‘postmodernism’ from beneath the texts and narratives discussed, returning to some of the arguments reviewed in my introduction. A Foucauldian focus on power, its workings and effects will run throughout this chapter, as will a pre-occupation with micro-contexts. I will also underline the need for intellectual self-reflection and ask what a postmodern political agenda may look like and what, if anything, it may hope to achieve in a context rife with religious intolerance and antagonism. Hindutva and (Trans-)national Communities The geographical vastness and the historical as well as demographic complexities of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (see Embree, 1990) make any attempt to provide a brief yet comprehensive overview of South Asian politics an inevitably futile and flawed exercise. In this first section, I thus confine myself to some relatively recent events and issues commonly discussed under the rubric of religious conflict and often associated or identified with Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) and its rise – in the shape of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) – to political prominence over the last twenty years. 205


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Turning my postmodern agenda against myself, this delineation of an analytical focus is of course anything but innocent. As a sociologist interested in (South Asian) religions, I am complicit in the reproduction of an intellectual discourse and interpretative matrix, which (among other things) helps to reproduce and legitimate my own position within existing academic institutions. Recent South Asian history has been described as characterized by the ‘politicization of ethnicity’ (Tambiah, 1996) and the rise to political prominence of religious revivalism and nationalism (e.g. van der Veer, 1994; Jaffrelot, 1996; Hansen, 1999; Rajagopal, 2001). The following comments will partly corroborate the validity of these depictions. Yet, communal violence and religious tension continue to be contextually/regionally variable in ideological salience and diffusion, India’s northwestern states being the traditional ‘hotspot’ of Hindu nationalism and Hindu–Muslim violence. At the same time, cultural syncretism (see, for example, Sikand, 2000) and multiple, often overlapping religious identities (Gottschalk, 2000) continue to shape the everyday lives of many millions of people in India today. A postmodern sensitivity to context thus warns us against the perils of generalization and simplification inherent in the application of a historical masternarrative of communal polarization to contemporary South Asia. In other words, the last twenty years have seen more than the rise of Hindu nationalism and its infamous climax in December 1992, when a mob of kar sevaks – or ‘volunteers’ for the proclaimed (re-) construction of a temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Ram – stormed and demolished a controversial and contested mosque (Babri Masjid) in Ayodhya. This event and the subsequent riots leading to thousands of casualties in many parts of India constitute a dark and deeply disconcerting chapter in India’s recent history. Pakistani and Indian nuclear armament, the histories of conflict in Kashmir as well as between Tamil Hindus and Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka (Kapferer, 1988), the political significance of Islamic ‘fundamentalism’ in Pakistan (Nasr, 1994), and the recent legacy of Hindu–Sikh violence in Punjab (Das, 1990) all testify to the rallying potential of religious beliefs, practices, histories and identities on the sub-continent. Yet, the same period between 1980 and the turn of the twenty-first century also witnessed a ‘regionalization’ of Indian politics as well as the increasingly confident and successful mobilization of low-caste groups (Hansen and Jaffrelot, 1998). As a result, the BJP’s seizure of power in the late 1990s3 had to rely on a complex coalition built on a series of alliances with regional and caste-based political parties. Such strategies and their ideological ‘compromises’ in turn alienated Hindu nationalist hardliners within the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the BJP’s ‘mother organization’ founded in 1925 and a staunch advocate of cultural revivalism through organizational discipline and the reawakening of ‘the Hindu nation’ (Hindu rashtra). The existing literature on the much-proclaimed end of Indian secularism highlights several ‘conditions of possibility’ for the rise of Hindutva. They range from an increasingly pervasive crisis of legitimacy for the previously hegemonic Congress party in the last quarter of the twentieth century to the successful mobilization – by the RSS family of organizations (sangh parivar) – of predominantly urban, uppercaste, middle class, Hindi-speaking sections of the population around newly invented or emphasized religious symbols and rituals of a (pan-) Hindu nationalist ‘character’ (Jaffrelot, 1996). Other factors contributing to the successful diffusion of Hindu nationalism have included the complex ‘postcolonial trajectories of democracy’ (Hansen, 1999, pp. 5–10) and the socio-economic insecurities generated by neo-

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


liberal policies during the 1980s (Haynes, 1998), as well as the popularity and impact of the TV broadcasting of the Hindu Ramayana and Mahabharata epics (Rajagopal, 2001). The sum total of existing analyses therefore amounts to a compelling reminder that single-causal explanations for the so-called ‘saffron wave’ (Hansen, 1999) will not do. Hindu nationalism is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon, an understanding of which eludes simplistic accounts of it as merely a symptom of urban anomie, of cultural resistance against globalization, or of identity politics against the historical backdrop of communal antagonism. Although none of the scholars referenced thus far propose this, a form of reductionism resonates in some of the very categories widely used including ‘communalism’, ‘religious nationalism’ and ‘ethnic revival’. Hardly penetrating our discursive consciousness (Giddens, 1984), essentialist notions of primordial/ethnic belonging and reifying (if implicit) definitions of religious identities as singular and static inform such terminology.4 To what extent can Hindutva be legitimately defined as ‘religious’ (van der Veer, 1994) and does such a concept inadvertently ignore the degree to which questions of political economy have made many Hindus susceptible to the rise and appeal of Hindu nationalism? Given its historical and institutional underpinnings, how well does the notion of religion – deeply embedded in Western scholarship and consciousness – ‘travel’? The impact of Herder and Fichte’s romanticism as well as of Mazzini’s later fascism and other European currents of thought on the thinking and initiatives of Hindutva’s founding fathers has been compellingly traced and well-documented (Jaffrelot, 1996; Hansen, 1999; Bhatt, 2001). Yet, the appropriation of ideas of national belonging and exclusion by those founding fathers – most notably V. D. Savarkar (1942) and M. S. Golwalkar (1947, 1966) – was never a straightforward application of Western models to their own life-world and historical situation. The key-texts of Hindu nationalism, most of them written in the first half of the twentieth century, envisaged a national/ cultural revival through distinctly Hindu idioms that do not readily yield themselves to the conceptual translation implicit in the label ‘religion’. The speeches and texts of Golwalkar (1947; 1966), the second ‘supreme guide’ of the RSS, were replete with references to the arguably untranslatable Hindu concept dharma connoting a cosmic order as much as a sense of social duty. As such, dharma transgresses many of the defining conceptual boundaries of secular scholarship and its valorization of the process of social differentiation associated with modernity. Given the continuing pervasiveness of South Asian notions of an all-encompassing dharmic way of life – in contrast to Western ideas of religion as a ‘compartmentalized’ and largely private matter – we may indeed wonder if the very notion of religious Hindu revivalism unhelpfully projects the master-narrative of Enlightenment secularism and its contemporary subversion by ‘anti-secular’ fundamentalisms (Westerlund, 1996) onto an unsuitable context (Madan, 1987; van der Veer, 1994, pp. 12–13). A first postmodern corrective therefore consists of a strategy that questions, historicizes and thus de-naturalizes widely circulating terminology, and the dominant assumptions and theories implicit in it, by emphasizing ‘local’ understandings. Theories of postmodernism and (in this case more directly) postmodernity offer a second contribution to our understanding of Hindu nationalism and its place in recent and contemporary history by locating Hindutva in socio-economic and political contexts. Reiterating parts of my introductory summary, postmodernism has been


Writing History, Constructing Religion

described as the ‘cultural logic’ of commodification typical of ‘late’ (multinational) capitalism (Jameson, 1984). Postmodernity, as a periodicizing concept commonly applied to the contemporary era, has variously been defined by ‘space–time compressions’ (Harvey, 1990), the cultural ‘centrality’ of consumerism (Bocock, 1993), increasingly effective technologies and mechanisms of surveillance (Bauman, 1988; Lyon, 1994), and the emergence of a ‘network society’ powered by communication technologies and structured around globally interconnected ‘nodes’ characteristic of the ‘information age’ (Castells, 1996; 1997; 1998). The impact of several of these (postmodern) social characteristics on the Hindu nationalist mobilization of the Ayodhya issue has recently been analyzed by Arvind Rajagopal in his book Politics After Television (2001). The intensified transnational traffic of people, money and ideas as another arguably defining characteristic of postmodernity has been similarly crucial to the recent success of Hindu nationalism. Clearly, the existence of Hindu diaspora communities pre-dated the historical period commonly identified as postmodern.5 However, the BJP’s rise to power only began in the 1980s and was significantly aided by the financial and ideational support provided by Hindus living in the diaspora. We may justifiably wonder what makes such transnational connections and the cross-border diffusion of an exclusionary discourse possible and appealing in times of economic, political and cultural globalization. Condensing existing analyses of this seeming paradox, postmodernity has also been described as a Janus-faced phenomenon defined by a fundamental tension between globalizing forces of homogeneity on one hand, and localized counter-reactions of heterogeneity on the other. Writing about ‘five dimensions of global cultural flow’ that he terms ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes and ideoscapes respectively, Arjun Appadurai’s has described the contemporary condition as follows: [B]oth sides of the coin of global cultural process today are products of the infinitely varied mutual contest of sameness and difference on a stage characterized by radical disjunctures between different sorts of global flows and the uncertain landscapes created in and through these disjunctures. (Appadurai, 1990, p. 308)

Appadurai also stresses that migration and ‘deterritorialization … [are] now at the core of a variety of global fundamentalisms, including Islamic and Hindu fundamentalism’ (1990, p. 301). As an ‘internally homogenizing [and] externally antagonistic’ discourse (van der Veer, 1994, p. 105), Hindutva fits Appadurai’s description on both accounts – defined by the tension between ‘sameness and difference’ and a ‘fundamentalism’ that ties the deterritorialized to the ‘homeland’. This leads to two further questions concerning the form of these transnational ties and the motivating factors, among Hindus in the diaspora and in India respectively, underpinning them. The ideological enthusiasm for, and susceptibility to, the discourse of Hindutva displayed by many diaspora Hindus has been explained as a symptom of ‘expatriate nostalgia’ (Rajagopal, 2001). In a detailed study of Hindu diaspora communities, Steven Vertovec makes a similar argument that draws on Pierre Bourdieu’s notions of habitus and doxa (1977). Bourdieu argued that the taken-for-granted dispositions and categories – or the ‘structuring structures’ that make up the habitus – furnish a cultural ‘universe of the undiscussed’ and largely unnoticed (doxa). He famously went on to argue that ‘objective crises’ can transform this ‘universe of the undiscussed’ into a

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


‘universe of discourse’, discussion and opinion. Vertovec applies this model to account for the effects of migration experienced by many diaspora Hindus, which – he argues – amount to a transformation of previously taken-for-granted ‘culture’ into a now consciously held ‘ethnic ideology’ (2000, pp. 63–67). In the postmodern climate of politicized ethnicity (Tambiah, 1996), Hindu nationalism has come to constitute a readily available symbolic and interpretative repertoire, into which diaspora nostalgia and consciousness tap. At the same time and given their relative status of affluence and influence, diaspora Hindus are seen as role models by many middle-class, urban, north-Indian Hindus who constitute the traditional power-base of Hindutva. Moreover, diaspora experiences of political and social vulnerability fit rather neatly into the dominant discursive template of ‘Hindu hurt’ that informs the thinking of Hindutva ideologues in India (Thapar, 2000). This brief overview thus locates the transnational exchange of ideas, information and finances that has been a defining element of Hindu nationalism in the context of the flux and disjunctures described by Appadurai as characteristics of the contemporary world and hence of postmodernity. The best-documented instance of transnational financial as well as symbolic support for Hindu nationalism consisted of diaspora communities sending money and consecrated stones to India intended to aid the anticipated reconstruction of Ram’s temple in Ayodhya during 1989 and 1990 (Jaffrelot, 1996; Bhatt, 1997; Bhatt and Mukta, 2000, p. 436; Vertovec, 2000, p. 145; Rajagopal, 2001, pp. 240–244). ‘History’ Hindu nationalism may be somewhat crudely summarized as a set of discourses and practices that envisage a reconfiguration of existing power structures, in its most radical manifestations the reconstruction of India as a Hindu state, a positive change of Hindus’ standing in the world and what is portrayed as an imminent revival of an allegedly primordial, formerly unified but now subjugated Hindu nation. Adopting Augoustinos’s notion of ideology as ‘language and behavioural practices’ that either reproduce or subvert relations of power (1998, pp. 166–169), Hindu nationalism indisputably qualifies as an ideology. This is perhaps most clearly reflected in Savarkar’s and Golwalkar’s respective writings, the Ayodhya campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, the BJP’s politics, the sangh parivar’s vibrant publishing activities, and the RSS methodology of local branches (shakhas) congregating daily for the purposes of a series of rituals centred on the organization’s saffron flag, physical exercises and ‘debate’ or ‘indoctrination’ (depending on the observer’s views and/or generosity). Constructions and interpretations of history play a crucial role in this ideological field that is Hindutva. Nowhere was this preoccupation with questions of ‘history’ more in evidence than in the Ayodhya controversy. The sangh parivar’s elaborate (pan-Indian and transnational) political and ritual mobilization concerning this place of pilgrimage in the state of Uttar Pradesh articulated a version of Indian ‘history’ based on three successive stages: a ‘golden age of an ancient Hindu civilization’ followed by a thousand years of foreign (initially Muslim and later British/Western) invasions, and a now eagerly awaited period of Hindu national rejuvenation (also see Bhatt, 2001; Karner, forthcoming). The euphemistically called campaign for the ‘liberation of


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Ram’s birthplace (Ramjanmabhoomi)’ in Ayodhya came to metonymically stand for this allegedly imminent cultural revival of the Hindu nation. A particular version of local history was thus constructed as symbolic of the ‘fate’ – past, present and future – of the Hindu nation at large. According to the Hindutva version of ‘historical events’ then, Babar (the founder of the Mughal dynasty) had destroyed Ram’s temple in Ayodhya, the latter’s mythological birthplace, in 1528 and built a mosque (Babri Masjid) on its ruins. The following account illustrates how the sangh parivar’s campaign combined – or blurred – a territorially and ethnically ‘imagined [Hindu] community’ (Anderson, 1991), political mobilization and a particular ideological construction of history supported by the widely assumed factuality of a mythological narrative: At the heart of the imaginative geography of Hindu nationalism is the city of Ayodhya. … The destruction of the Babri Masjid can be seen … as the culmination of a long campaign to define – or imagine – Hindudom as the territory of a race of Hindus which stretches from the Indus to the Seas. Ayodhya stands at the centre of the west–east axis of this sacred territory. More importantly, Ayodhya is the capital city of Ram [and his mythical kingdom], an incarnation of Vishnu which has been made to appear martial by the ideologues of the sangh parivar. … [B]y centring its political campaigns on the site of the Babri Masjid – Ramjanmabhoomi …, the forces of Hindutva [claimed to] reclaim India from ‘the two imperialisms’ – Muslim and British … . (Corbridge and Harriss, 2000, p. 189)

A postmodern awareness of the politics inherent in the production of (historical) knowledge sheds analytical light on the intense polemical battles fought between the vanguard of Hindu revivalism on one hand, and supporters of the ‘Muslim case’ for freedom of religious belief and practice and defenders of Indian secularism on the other. History and archaeology came to constitute the ground on which some of the ideological battles around Ayodhya and the future of Indian society and politics have been fought. The forces of Hindu nationalism enlisted, and saw themselves legitimated by, the archaeological ‘evidence’ produced by scholars including M. Prasad and B. B. Lal. Their findings have subsequently been interpreted by Konrad Elst, a Belgian Hindutva enthusiast, as an important reminder ‘not to underestimate the accuracy of tradition’ – meaning a very particular Hindu tradition – and as ‘conclusive proof’ that the Babri Masjid had been built on ‘an existing Hindu place of worship’ and ‘on a spot which had been a sacred place to a large number of Hindus for centuries’ (Elst, 1990, pp. 30, 91). These conclusions have been compellingly contested by a group of historians, including Romila Thapar, from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Their counter-claims include the assertion that ‘the identification of present-day Ayodhya with [Ram’s birthplace] is a matter of faith not of evidence’ (Gopal, 1991, p. 11) and that ‘the known history of Ayodhya does not indicate … that a temple existed at the site of the Babri Mosque’ (Panikkar, 1991, p. 33). Historical and archaeological ‘evidence’ thus emerge as a matter of fierce contestation rather than straightforward and unambiguously verified fact. As recently shown by Chetan Bhatt, many of the historical claims made by Hindutva enthusiasts fit the ideological template of Hindu nationalism, but clearly fail by the methodological and epistemological standards of professional historiography (2001, p. 205). That being said, recent conflicts, and their ferociousness, over ‘history’ provide examples of the ideological ‘embeddedness’ of knowledge that support both Rorty’s

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


standpoint theory of knowledge (1994) and Foucault’s argument that institutional power and its discourses shape the production of knowledge (1991). Yet, we may wonder where to go from here and whether postmodernism may have led us into an analytically premature cul-de-sac. After all, we may object, either Babar destroyed a Hindu temple in 1528 or he did not. Similarly, Ram’s kingdom must surely be either an archaeologically verifiable ‘historical reality’ or merely a piece of legend? Certain strands of postmodernism avoid this binary (positivist) logic by investigating the ideological motivation and uses of historical narratives and the power structures they aim to uphold or subvert. In this context, (post-Marxists) Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe make a highly germane argument: The fact that every object is constituted as an object of discourse has nothing to do with whether there is a world external to thought … . An earthquake or the falling of a brick is an event that certainly exists, in the sense that it occurs here and now, independent of my will. But whether their specificity as objects is constructed in terms of ‘natural phenomena’ or ‘expressions of the wrath of God’, depends upon the structuring of a discursive field. What is denied is not that such objects exist externally to thought, but the rather different assertion that they constitute themselves as objects outside any discursive condition of emergence [italics in the original]. (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985, p. 108)

Returning to Hindu nationalism and Ayodhya, let us assume – for the sake of argument – that future archaeology may succeed in producing irrevocable evidence that Ram’s ancient kingdom indeed existed in the very location of present-day Ayodhya or that Babar undeniably built his mosque on the ruins of a Hindu temple. Two crucial components in the Hindutva narrative of history would then have been proven. However, the discursive field of Hindu nationalism would – in all likelihood – not content itself with merely establishing such ‘historical facts’ but would continue to form a political agenda on their basis. An ancient Ram Rajya or the destruction of a temple in the sixteenth century do not have to automatically lead to claims for the establishment of a Hindu state or the destruction of a mosque. Any number of alternative political claims and programmes could potentially ensue from such hypothetical evidence. While this possible scenario arguably returns us to the intellectual orbit of critical realism and its insistence on the ontological reality of structures and events independent of the observer’s biases (see introductory chapter by Karner, this volume), it also resonates with the postmodernist focus on the politics inherent in the production, dissemination and utilization of knowledge. Michel de Certeau outlines another related avenue for theorizing the ‘writing of history’ and its social/ideological underpinnings: History is probably our myth. It combines what can be thought, the ‘thinkable’, and the origin, in conformity with the way in which a society can understand its own working. (de Certeau, 1988, p. 21)

The structuralist idea of myth as ‘good to think with’ (about society) and Eliade’s definition of myth as ‘a source of ontology’ (Kunin, 1995) both echo in this claim. De Certeau takes these arguments further by blurring the conceptual categories of myth and history, with the latter taking on the social and cognitive functions and properties frequently attributed to myth in pre-modern societies. This assessment is strikingly


Writing History, Constructing Religion

similar to Bhattacharya’s verdict that the Ayodhya controversy witnessed a ‘close linking’ of myth and history insofar as ‘popular conceptions of the past [became] informed and structured by myths’. The latter, Bhattacharya argues, ‘provide[d] the frame through which people [began] to perceive other communities and conceive of the world’ and constituted ‘an effort to legitimate’ Hindu nationalist politics (1991, pp. 122, 137). We encounter an even more striking example of the postmodern deconstruction of the conceptual boundaries separating ‘myth’, ‘history’ and ‘memory’ in Peter Gottschalk’s recent ethnography of (religious) identities in the village of Arampur in western Bihar. Focused on the micro-narratives of social actors’ contextdependent experience and articulation of multiple, often conflicting, identifications, Gottschalk’s study challenges ideological straitjackets – including the Hindu nationalist variety – that define identities in unambiguously antagonistic and exclusively communal terms. Gottschalk demonstrates that individuals have several co-existing symbolic repertoires of identity formation at their disposal (including those of kinship, region, caste, religion, language and nationality), on which they draw according to context and in a self-interested manner. He investigates this active and ongoing construction of identities using ‘the notion of group memory [that] offers the ability to bracket issues of veracity, sidestepping the multiple and contentious understandings of history and myth while allowing analysis of the social role of narratives regarding the past’ (2000, p. 72). This focus on ‘the social role’ of different narratives of the past locates Gottschalk within the postmodern project and its preoccupation with questions of power, institutions and their legitimating discourses and practices. Moreover, Gottschalk’s notion of group memory subsumes and radically redefines what we may refer to as conventional scholarly historiography: [H]istoriography does not stand as an isolated intellectual endeavour located outside a group … but acts as one more system and expression of group memory. The ideal of the supposedly external [and objective] perspective of historians represents yet one system among many used in the recollection of past events by a group. Because groups create their identities, in part, through recollections of the past, the more important of these recollections become regulated; that is to say, groups authorize, verify, and transmit recollections according to certain rules and habits. Historiography differs from most expressions of group memories only in the degree to which these rules have become explicitly formalized and the focus of intense methodological discussion. (2000, p. 85)

Traditional/positivist historians may feel a profound sense of unease upon reading these lines, as Gottschalk appears – if not to dismantle – to at least bypass notions of factuality and scientific objectivity. He argues instead that all narratives of the past play a part in the ongoing delineation of group boundaries and the construction of identities, a project that is in turn a manifestation of self-interest and an engagement with power. Scholars, Gottschalk reminds us, are themselves social beings who are not outsiders to, but are closely involved in the politics of narrating the past. Gottschalk’s demonstration of the contingency inherent in all identities and the continuing significance of cultural syncretism in rural India challenges the binary communal logic the ideologues of Hindutva have sought to impose on all concerned. As such, his ethnographic insights into the complex and ambiguous details of people’s lived identities constitute a welcome antidote to the simplifying and polarizing ‘orderliness’ of dominant (and widely circulating) discourses. However, we

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


may wonder whether some of the other issues widely associated with Hindu nationalism call for a less ambiguous differentiation between accurate and distorted accounts, between ‘verifiable facts’ and ideological misrecognition. Put another way, does the epistemological scepticism typical of postmodernism have anything at all to contribute to the analysis and understanding of violence as well as to its future prevention? It is to such issues that I now turn. Micro-narratives of Violence Incidents, episodes, narratives and memories of violence form a central part of South Asian history. The carnage surrounding independence and the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947 continues to scar the South Asian psyche and to feed communal stereotypes and religious antagonism. To this most talked about and traumatizing of periods, we may add the histories of conflict in Sri Lanka and Kashmir, Hindu–Sikh violence during the 1980s, high – though geographically and historically fluctuating – incidences of inter-religious as well as inter-caste (urban) riots, widespread fears of (Islamic) terrorist attacks and, of course, the violence triggered by the events in Ayodhya in December 1992. As was mentioned earlier, the sangh parivar’s mobilization of the Ayodhya issue intensified during the 1980s and was articulated most forcefully in a series of ritual campaigns with panIndian and transnational participation. These campaigns for the ‘reconstruction of Ram’s temple’ reached their violent climax on 6 December 1992, when a mob stormed and demolished the Babri Masjid. In the aftermath of the demolition waves of communal riots swept across India inflicting arguably irrevocable damage to Hindu–Muslim relations in large parts of the country (Corbridge and Harris, 2000, p. 131). According to moderate/official estimates, at least 1200 people were killed in these riots (Jaffrelot, 1996, p. 463) while other sources have quoted a death toll exceeding 3000 (Channel 4 News, 27/2/02). The controversy around the temple/ mosque is far from resolved and continues to evoke violent passions among some radical Hindus and Muslims alike. After fifty-eight people (many of them sangh parivar members/activists) had died in a fire – according to the RSS a Muslim arson attack – on a train returning from Ayodhya, a further series of communal (antiMuslim) pogroms took place in the north-western state of Gujarat in February 2002. Again according to moderate/official estimates, 2000 Muslims were killed in these riots whilst Hindu nationalist politicians and the police failed to intervene (Eckert, 2002; Bhatt, 2004). At around the same time another chapter in the history of South Asian violence was being written on a larger international scale, with escalating tensions in Kashmir and a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 bringing India and Pakistan – yet again – to the brink of war. While recent political initiatives have created dialogue between the governments of India and Pakistan, both countries’ nuclear capabilities and a history of distrust and violence continue to furnish a volatile climate of mutual suspicion. We may argue that the pain, suffering and loss to human life inflicted and experienced during each of the above-mentioned events call for a collection of ‘facts’ and ‘figures’, for the unambiguous identification of culprits and perpetrators and, if still possible, for some attempt – however inadequate – at compensating brutalized


Writing History, Constructing Religion

survivors. Postmodernism, in its pre-occupation with texts and discourses and its characteristic epistemic doubt or relativism, may strike us as highly inadequate for such tasks, especially if we accept Stanley Cohen’s recent criticism of what he describes as the postmodernists’ intellectual complicity in ‘states of denial’. Accusing them of ‘mechanistic[ally] repeating the stupid idea that there must always be another point of view’, Cohen asserts that certain things are ‘simply facts’ and that ‘somewhere there is an elusive vantage point that is not on the side of either side’ (2001, pp. 244, 283). We may have even less sympathy for Derrida’s broadening of the very concept of violence, according to which any act of naming – and thus the construction of identities – constitutes the originary- or ‘arche-violence’ (Johnson, 1997, p. 32). Though Derrida does not deny the differences between murder and naming, we are surely justified in questioning whether such a typology could be of any relevance or meaning at all to a victim of ethnic violence as opposed to the literary theorist or Parisian philosopher. In other words, would the argument that identity-constructing acts of naming constitute another form of violence add insult to injury to survivors of tangibly violent riots involving rape, disfigurement, humiliation and destruction? Are ‘names’ and the group identities they bestow and uphold not among the very coping mechanisms for such survivors (see Das, 1990)? However, other studies – some of them self-consciously postmodern – have shown that Cohen’s call for the collection of ‘simple facts’ constitutes a simplification also in relation to violence. It appears that the scholarly analysis of ethno-religious conflicts escalating into riots asks for more than the mere attribution of guilt (undeniably crucial though this is). Stanley Tambiah (1996) has contributed enormously to our understanding of what occurs in situations of violence and pogroms by analyzing their macro- as well as micro-contexts, in which not only ideologically delineated in- and out-groups but also (self-) interested outsiders, observers, and bystanders are implicated in complex ways. In terms of wider macro-contexts, Tambiah underlines the significance of historicity and the availability of pre-existing discursive frameworks, such as the widespread contemporary politicization of religion, which constitute necessary – though not on their own sufficient – conditions for conflicts over resources and/or power to escalate. On the basis of data on communal riots in South Asia, Tambiah also draws attention to the complex dynamics resulting in local conflicts being nationalized (i.e. particular, local incidents triggering conflict on a pan-national level) or, vice versa, in national issues being localized. Concerning their more immediate contexts, Tambiah underlines the significance of sacred space, religious festivals and the circulation of rumours as frequent triggers of riots. Finally, he offers an illuminating detour into crowd-psychology by describing ‘spirals’ of fluctuating ‘fear and anger’ projected onto the ‘threatening ethnic other’ as a widely recurring structural characteristic of communal violence. In an arguably characteristically postmodern analysis of ethnographic microstudies, Paul Brass (1997) goes one step further in deconstructing the very definition of specific acts of violence as religious or communal. Brass demonstrates how collective violence can arise from local incidents such as the theft of an idol, a drunken brawl or the rape of a girl. Drawing on and appropriating parts of Michel Foucault’s work, he goes on to show that the widely ascribed and readily accepted ethnic ‘nature’ and religiously inspired ‘character’ of the ensuing violence is by no means self-evident but the outcome of an inherently contested interpretative process.

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


Pre-existing frameworks of meaning, which construct violence as religious, are imposed by agenda setting politicians hoping to benefit from a polarized population and religiously constituted ‘vote banks’ and are readily reproduced by the media as ‘secondary definers’ (Hall et al., 1978). The resulting descriptions of violence as ‘religious’ are thus shown to be less a reflection of the perpetrators’ motivations than a symptom of discursive hegemony: [T]he publicized version of many so-called caste and communal riots in India … are constructions upon events that are usually open to a multiplicity of interpretations. … It is often the case that the precipitating incidents arise out of situations that are either not inherently ethnic/communal in nature or are ambiguous in character, that their transformation into caste or communal incidents depends upon the attitudes towards them taken by local politicians and local representatives of state authority, and that their ultimate elevation into grand communal confrontations depends upon their further reinterpretation by the press and extralocal politicians and authorities. The ‘official’ interpretation that finally becomes universally accepted is often, if not usually, very far removed, often unrecognizable, from the original events. This is particularly the case with those riots that are labelled as ‘communal’ or ‘Hindu–Muslim’ riots. (Brass, 1997, p. 6)

Brass’s analysis of how institutions, discourses and political strategies shape the construction of violence as religious is given an additional postmodern slant by his assertion that ‘the claim of objectivity is unsustainable’ (1997, p. 8). Brass thereby challenges the idea that academics operate from an epistemologically privileged and ideologically uncontaminated ‘vantage point’ and subsumes his own work among the narratives he analyzes as yet another representation of violence superimposed on a given incident. None of this denies the reality of the precipitating events and the human suffering involved. However, it forces us to rethink and question Cohen’s assertion that the mere collection of the ‘facts’ about atrocities will prevent their future repetition through a consciousness raising process. Following Brass, we may counter Cohen’s account by drawing attention to the political stakes and interpretative work involved in collating and narrating so-called ‘facts’. I will argue in my last section that ‘affirmative postmodern politics’ (Rosenau, 1992) can begin when we reflect upon and clarify our own positions and biases, when identities widely assumed to be static and fixed are de-naturalized, and when explanatory frameworks believed to be self-evident and unproblematically factual are located in context and questioned. However, I first turn again to a key-component in the essentializing discourses discussed and criticized in this chapter – the very concept of ‘religion’. ‘Religion’ I suggested earlier that the analytical use of the concept of religion – steeped as it is in Western history and thinking (also see King, 1999) – for the purpose of making sense of Hindu nationalism threatens to cause a degree of simplification and distortion. In this section, I examine some of the discursive and self-consciously political uses, to which the concept has been put within and around Hindutva circles. V. D. Savarkar, in a founding and defining text of Hindu nationalism entitled Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?, argued that the Hindu nation included all those who


Writing History, Constructing Religion

regarded the territory ‘between the Indus and the Seas’ as both their ‘fatherland’ and their ‘holyland, that is the cradle of [their] religion’ (1942 [1923], p. i). For Hindus, Savarkar argued, India (Bharat) constituted not only the geographical/biographical focus of patriotic-nationalist sentiment but also sacred space. National belonging was thus constructed as defined by religious criteria, erecting an ideological barrier between religions that had originated on Indian soil – including the broad and tremendously heterogeneous Hindu tradition (Sanatana dharma), Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism – and those that had arrived, ‘invaded’ or been ‘imported’ from abroad, most significantly Islam and Christianity. In a later text, M. S. Golwalkar reproduces and refines this notion by arguing that the (Hindu) nation is defined by ‘the famous five “Unities” – geographical, racial, religious, cultural and linguistic’ (1947, p. 35). These models have subsequently set the tone for Hindutva’s exclusivist nationalism and its valorization and politicization of ethnic identity markers. Alternative ‘territorial’ or ‘civic’ ideas of nationality (McCrone, 1998) have thus been marginalized, subverted and de-legitimized. Importantly, however, the Hindu nationalist insistence on religion as one of the defining elements of Hindu-ness presupposes a broad concept of dharma as inclusive of a variety of specific groups, practices and beliefs. The result is a discourse of ‘the Hindu fold’ that aims to include many who resist such ideological incorporation and excludes ‘others’ on the basis of their assumed ‘foreignness’ and the ‘threat’ associated with it. The following statement by Golwalkar epitomizes the ideological inclusion of – among others – Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs in the discursively constructed and ‘imagined’ (Anderson, 1991) Hindu national community: The first special characteristic that strikes the … outsider is the bewildering variety of sects and sub-sects like Shaiva, Vaishnava, Sha¯ kta, Vaidik, Bouddha [sic], Jain, Sikh, … Arysamaj etc., obtaining in the elastic framework of our dharma. The great masters … founded these various forms of worship to suit the various mental aptitudes of our people, but in the last analysis referred them all to the same goal of realizing the Ultimate Truth … . (Golwalkar, 1966, p. 101)

Dharma may be ‘elastic’, yet there are ‘outsiders’ who are excluded from any of its numerous variants of ‘realizing Ultimate Truth’. Although some other articulations of Hindu nationalism postulate a less absolute/more permeable external boundary (see Karner, forthcoming), this logic of exclusion is undoubtedly dominant within the discourse of Hindutva. Concerning the assumed ‘internal diversity’ of the Hindu nation on the other hand, the discursive strategy of subsuming Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs as well as the many devotional, regional and caste-baste varieties of Hinduism fulfils a significant political purpose as an attempt to neutralize potential or actual centrifugal forces. Such ‘internal differences’ are portrayed as mere differences in degree rather than kind and thus stand in stark contrast to the radical ‘otherness’ attributed to Indian Christians and Muslims.6 The following extract from an interview I conducted with a full-time RSS activist should therefore be read against the recent historical background of Sikh separatism, against which the discourse of Hindu nationalist ‘unity in diversity’ is articulated: Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists – their religious practices are different, but their dharma is the same. Dharma is a code of conduct, a value-system for every aspect of life. Hindu [sic] is not just

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


a religion, it’s sanatana dharma. Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs are particular religious panths, but they’re part of the same dharma. … In Bharat [India], the head of the Punjabi shakhas [RSS branches] is a Sikh. It is a common misunderstanding in the West not to distinguish between a religious path and dharma. But we have to make this distinction. (Interview conducted in Leicester, 29/11/00)

Phenomenologically, this extract adds to my earlier reservations concerning descriptions of Hindu dharma as a religion. This informant inadvertently confirmed that there is a conceptual mismatch between ‘religion’ as a frequently compartmentalized set of beliefs and practices on one hand, and dharma as a ‘cosmic principle’ and an all-encompassing way of life on the other. This seems to support my earlier argument in favour of the postmodern sensitivity concerning the history and politics of ideas and concepts. The ideological ‘orderliness’ inherent in the Hindutva juxtaposition of the allegedly unified Hindu ‘self’ (including Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs) to the perennially excluded (Muslim and Christian) ‘other’ calls for a further analytical ‘manoeuvre’ widely associated with post-structuralism/postmodernism: the critical questioning or deconstruction of such essentializing discourses of identity. Repeating parts of the summary provided in my introductory chapter, Stuart Hall has made a seminal contribution to the study and theorizing of identities. The latter, he argues, are on-going and never-completed projects of ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’, which consist of the ‘delineation of routes’ rather than the discovery of routes. In opposition to reified notions of identity, Hall argues that the subject is only ever temporarily ‘hailed into place’: I use identity to refer to the meeting point, the point of suture, between on the one hand the discourses and practices which attempt to ‘interpellate’, speak to us or hail us into place as the social subjects of particular discourses, and on the other hand, the processes which produce subjectivities … [and] can be ‘spoken’. Identities are thus points of temporary attachment to the subject positions which discursive practices construct for us. (Hall, 1996, pp. 5–6)

Stuart Hall thus challenges static notions of identity and reified concepts of the subject through a process-centred emphasis on identifications and complex (lived or ‘spoken’) subjectivities. Returning to Peter Gottschalk’s ethnography of Arampur, we encounter ample empirical evidence in support of Hall’s post-structuralist thesis of the indeterminacy and contingency of continually produced and contested identities. Illustrating the complexities of ‘lived’ – as opposed to ideologically fixed – identifications, Gottschalk demonstrates (as we saw earlier) that individuals have multiple repertoires of identity construction at their disposal, from which they select in a self-interested and context-specific manner. This is arguably most vividly demonstrated by an RSS activist who, his Hindu nationalist convictions notwithstanding, regularly takes part in syncretistic rituals at the tomb of a Sufi7 saint (2000, p. 49). While this social actor’s daily organizing activities at the local RSS branch reveal the degree to which he is ‘interpellated’ or ‘hailed into place’ by Hindu nationalist ideology, some of his other ritual practices reveal a dynamic subjectivity that inadvertently contradicts the classificatory orderliness simultaneously advocated and assumed in the discourse of Hindutva. Stuart Hall’s emphasis on the construction of subject positions also underlines that identities are produced, maintained and contested within or against existing relations


Writing History, Constructing Religion

of power, their legitimating discourses and the conceptual categories, with which they operate. In this vein, mention must be made of a recent article by Mary SearleChatterjee who demonstrates that ‘the assumptions underlying much academic usage of the terms “Hindu” and “Hinduism” in Britain are consonant with the radical claims of right-wing Hindu nationalists’ (2000, p. 497). She argues that the two ‘paradigms’ presupposing the existence of ‘world religions’ and ‘ethnic groups’ respectively – and their historical/institutional ‘grounding’ in the religious classification of the Indian population imposed by British colonialism as well as in religious classifications in contemporary Britain – have played into the hands of Hindu nationalist ideologues through ‘the reification of religion and culture’ (2000, p. 497). In making this argument, Searle-Chatterjee embarks on a (postmodern) strategy of deconstruction directed against some of our most taken-for-granted discourses and categories (both academic and political), their ideological implications and (mis-)uses. Moreover, her longue durée perspective and emphasis on the lasting legacy of colonialism remind us that the transnational flow, diffusion imposition and appropriation of such discourses pre-dated postmodernity. However, its historical roots in the nineteenth century notwithstanding, the fact remains that the rise of Hindutva to political prominence and success coincided with the period commonly designated as postmodern. Appadurai’s thesis of the intensified contemporary ‘global flow’ of people, technology, finances, media images and ideology thus continues to be of interest and relevance to the analysis of the relatively recent mobilization of the Hindu diaspora for Hindu nationalist purposes (see above). Beyond that, Searle-Chatterjee’s argument adds significantly to this analysis by drawing attention to the discursive reification inherent in the concepts of ‘world religions’ and ‘ethnic groups’ and the politics they readily yield themselves to. Stuart Hall’s definition of identities as not more than ‘points of temporary attachment to the subject positions which discursive practices construct for us’ (1996, p. 6) also opens the possibility for social actors to actively resist such discourses of identity. Significantly, the rejection of an imposed ‘identity slot’ (Hansen, 1999) will often utilize alternative discourses and their counter-hegemonic subject positions. By way of providing an ethnographic snapshot of such identity negotiation and contestation, the discursive manoeuvres revealed by one of my long-term informants are worth mentioning (also see Karner, 2004). Born into a Punjabi family settled in the north of England, his main (and self-declared) source of identification has been a traditional understanding of Sikhism, reflected in his keeping uncut hair, the wearing of a turban, weekly visits to a gurdwara8 and his unquestioning adherence to an ideal of endogamy (i.e. his [future] marriage to a Sikh of similar socio-economic standing and with similar levels of religiosity and educational achievement). Over many hours of conversation and interviews conducted over a three-year period, he repeatedly asserted the difference between ‘Asian culture’ and ‘the Sikh religion’. As such, his explicitly articulated discourse of Sikh identity reflected an ongoing delineation and reproduction of group boundaries. Simultaneously rejecting his inclusion in the abovementioned category ‘Asian’ and the Hindutva construction of Sikhism as part of ‘the Hindu fold’, my informant repeatedly and consistently asserted Sikh distinctiveness. In doing so, he frequently drew on an alternative discourse that emphasizes an idea of Sikh uniqueness and unity and thereby conceals (or denies) internal conflicts and ‘disjunctures’ – in this case within the discursively reified Sikh community (Ballard,

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


1994, pp. 88–93). The following extract from an interview epitomizes my informant’s strategic employment of the category ‘religion’ – in opposition to a broader notion of everyday South Asian culture – to contest identity discourses that blur the boundary between the Sikh ‘self’ and the Hindu ‘other’: [On my last trip to India], what was really strange was going to shops and seeing pictures of [the Sikh] Gurus next to pictures of Shiva or Vishnu. Even though there are some shared cultural roots, religiously Hinduism and Sikhism are entirely separate … Religiously, we’re entirely different, [Sikhism] is monotheistic, [Hinduism] is polytheistic. (4/12/00)

This emphatic declaration of difference, frequently repeated before and since, provides a telling instance of a social actor’s refusal to be ‘hailed into place’, to be fixed, defined and allocated a place in the world by dominant and/or encroaching institutions and their definitions and classifications.9 Opposed to a core component of Hindu nationalism as much as to the British umbrella-concept of ‘the Asian community’, such contestation draws not only on the above-mentioned alternative discourse of Sikh unity and distinctiveness (Ballard, 1994) but provides another instance of the ‘paradigm of religions’ enabling reification (Searle-Chatterjee, 2000). On the level of everyday life, however, the ideological rigidity of this alternative identity discourse did little to change the real complexities of my informant’s cultural practices and various sources of identification. Inadvertently supporting the poststructuralist notion that lived identities are contingent, multi-faceted and only ever temporarily articulated or ‘fixed’, he once described his several dimensions of identification variously and situation-specifically mobilized as follows: religious (Sikh), cultural (Punjabi), pan-Asian in some contexts, and decidedly ‘northern English’ in others (5/8/00). My informant’s ongoing identity negotiations therefore conformed very closely to Hall’s account of identity as the temporary attachment to a discursively constructed subject position. As we have seen, social actors can – and frequently do – contest such subject positions by drawing on other competing discourses and their alternative definitions and ‘maps’ of the social world. Moreover, Searle-Chatterjee’s above-quoted argument draws attention to the essentializing role played by the categories of ‘(world) religion’ and ‘ethnicity’ in such political battles over identity. Affirmative Postmodern Politics Having thus challenged – if not deconstructed – some of the concepts and explanatory frameworks frequently applied to contemporary South Asia in general and Hindu nationalism in particular, we may legitimately question the usefulness of the resulting postmodern account. After all, are we not in danger of depriving ourselves of the necessary vocabulary for addressing some very important issues, their impact on the lives of many millions of people and their sense of who they are and what the world is all about? Perhaps we applaud postmodernists for critically engaging with terms such as history, violence, religion and identity, for de-naturalizing dominant discourses and their part in the reproduction of power relations. Yet, an at least equally common reaction to the ‘postmodern turn’ considers its challenge of the Enlightenment narratives of science, truth and progress to constitute a slippery slope towards textual


Writing History, Constructing Religion

reductionism and political apathy (see introductory chapters by Crossley and Karner, this volume). According to the sceptics, postmodernism leads to an ‘anything-goesattitude’, in which all narratives are as good and valid as each other. On one level, such critical reactions may be interpreted as the anxiety of intellectuals fearing that their privileged status and historical role are in danger of being subverted by a theory that asserts the elusiveness or non-existence of ‘truth’.10 On another level, however, what is to guard postmodernism from being hijacked by groups or individuals, for whom its radical cultural and epistemological relativism constitute a welcome political/ideological tool? May the argument that all knowledge is grounded in, and reflexive of, power structures, not play into the hands of the sangh parivar and its call for the (re-)construction of Ram’s temple in Ayodhya? After all, what is to stop Hindu nationalists from challenging, in somewhat postmodernist fashion, critics of their version of history by asserting the non-existence of apolitical, disinterested and epistemologically privileged vantage points? In this case, would the argument that all truth is socially constructed readily yield itself to the right-wing ‘majoritarianism’ (Bhatt, 2001) that defines Hindutva? Another way of addressing these questions would be to ponder what conclusions we may draw from Roland Barthes’s argument that research is but another form of ‘writing’: ‘Research’ is then the name which prudently, under the constraint of certain social conditions, we give to the activity of writing: research here moves on the side of writing, is an adventure of the signifier … . Such is the historical role of research: teach the scientist or scholar that he speaks … and the whole idea of science, the whole of scientificity would be changed thereby. [italics in the original] (Barthes, 1977, p. 198)

If research is, as Barthes argues, only a form of writing under ‘certain social conditions’, what may its political consequences be? Or, alternatively, what should they be? Returning to an argument quoted in my introductory chapter (Karner, this volume), Rosenau has observed that no monolithic political preferences or consequences follow automatically from the heterogeneous phenomenon of postmodernism. She distinguishes between the much-criticized cynicism and political nihilism of the ‘sceptical postmodernists’ (the term ‘radicals’ may be even more illuminating) on one hand, and the political engagement of ‘affirmative postmodernists’ on the other. She describes the latter as follows: The affirmative post-modernists encompass a more optimistic spirit than the sceptics and they support a range of new political movements organized around … peace, ecology/environment, feminism, nationalism, populism, and anarchism, … parapsychology and New Age Movements. They encompass ‘communities of resistance’, poor people’s movements, and therapy groups. They bring together the oppressed, the mentally ill, citizens with disabilities, the homeless and the generally disadvantaged … Some would add animal rights, anti-abortion and gay and lesbian groups. They are found … in the Third World as well. (Rosenau, 1992, pp. 144–145)

Clearly, the sub-group Rosenau defines as ‘affirmatives’ is itself tremendously diverse, spanning groups as varied as anarchists and nationalists, gay and lesbian groups and anti-abortion ‘activists’. Thus confirming that postmodernism does indeed not translate automatically into any one set of ideological convictions, these

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


various groups share little beyond an awareness of the multiple axes of power in society and some affirmation of the ‘right to difference’ within its complex, multidimensional matrix of relations of ownership and dispossession, decision-making and subjugation. Within this ideologically broad church of ‘affirmative postmodernists’, several people stand out for their innovative syntheses of postmodern theory with an ethos of political emancipation. In his work on The New Cultural Politics of Difference, Cornel West advocates a ‘political vision of greater democracy and individual freedom’ and calls on us ‘to trash the monolithic and homogeneous in the name of diversity, multiplicity and heterogeneity; to reject the abstract, general and universal in light of the concrete, specific and particular; and to historicize, contextualize and pluralize by highlighting the contingent, provisional, variable, tentative, shifting and changing’ (1994, pp. 77, 65). In a similar vein, Steven Seidman renounces the scientism of traditional sociological theory. In its place, he argues for a new, politically committed ‘social theory as a social narrative with a moral intent [articulated] from the standpoint of postmodernism’. Seidman underlines that – unlike the ‘millennial social hopes’ of modernity – ‘postmodernism carries no promise of [universal] liberation’; instead, it pursues ‘the more modest aspiration of a relentless defence of immediate, local pleasures and struggles for justice’ (Seidman, 1994, pp. 119–120). This is echoed by Renato Rosaldo who argues that ‘dismantling objectivism creates a space for ethical concerns in a territory once regarded to be value-free. It enables the social analyst to become a social critic’ (1994, p. 178). I would like to close this chapter by returning to the impact of Hindu nationalism on South Asian communities discussed earlier. More specifically, I would like to ask what relevance such ‘affirmative’ postmodern politics might have, and what form they may take, in contexts of ideologically polarized ethnic/religious communities. Given my earlier line of argument and its emphasis on the contingency of identities, post-structuralism/postmodernism offers at least one avenue for the previously detached observer to metamorphosize into a politically engaged social critic. In a recent discussion with an Indian sociologist from Orissa and his friend from Maharashtra, I was once again reminded of the pervasiveness of essentialist discourses of identity in contemporary India. Talking about the conflict in Kashmir and contrasting it to the Sikh struggle for an independent Khalistan during the 1980s, my colleague’s friend declared that ‘Sikhs have always been part of the Hindu nation, they’re part of our family’, and that Hindu–Sikh conflict had thus been no more than a historical anomaly. He went on to argue that (Kashmiri) Muslims, on the other hand, had always been and would always remain ‘foreigners’ and ‘invaders’, making a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Kashmir not only unlikely but impossible. He then repeated the Hindu nationalist stereotype of Indian Muslims as harbouring ‘extraterritorial loyalties’ towards Pakistan, quoting their alleged support for Pakistan at cricket test matches as ‘evidence’ (25/3/03). Clearly, my colleague’s friend was articulating a view of history that converged with the Hindutva model discussed earlier and was based on the notion of static religious identities acting as permanent and non-negotiable ‘walls’ between the communities thus delineated. Engaging in a postmodern critique of such discourses of ascription and antagonism would mean that the scholar is transformed from a detached observer into an actor taking a political initiative in the field. Disillusioned with the grand utopias of modernity, postmodern critics would limit themselves to ‘local struggles for justice’ (Seidman,


Writing History, Constructing Religion

1994, p. 120). In this particular instance, the analyst cum critic would challenge communal stereotypes by arguing the post-structuralist case: that discourses of identity are artificial reifications and self-interested political constructs imposed on the infinitely more open and fluid subjectivities of social actors (Hall, 1996). Citing the above-mentioned ethnographic evidence for people’s multiple identities (Gottschalk, 2000) and their religious syncretism (Sikand, 2000), the social critic may thus engage in a project aimed at re-imagining (Indian) citizenship in broad and inclusive terms, at de-naturalizing the essentialist common sense widespread in South Asia as elsewhere, and at underlining that relations of power underlie all ideas, language and practices. For such a postmodern critique to be theoretically consistent, it would have to readily portray itself as another ‘construct’ – rather than a new version of self-declared ‘truth’ – with a definitive political agenda. Being honest about its own discursive intentions and social ‘conditions of possibility’, this postmodernism is inevitably very far removed from the positivist ideal of value-free (social) science. It would, of course, be too simplistic to suggest that the transformation of the modernist belief in scientific truth into a localized and politically relevant postmodern critique could be straightforward, complete or unproblematic. Turning postmodernism against itself, we surely need to ponder the political implications of its insistence on the contingency and openness of the individual’s many identities. Following Jameson (1984) or Wicker (1997), we may then wonder if postmodernism in turn plays into the hands of ‘late capitalism’ and its ‘ideology of the free market’. Such challenges and conundra are of more than theoretical relevance, they concern us all in a postmodern world polarized by the forces of (economic) globalization on one hand, and local/national counter-assertions of difference on the other. All signs suggest that debates concerning the nature of ‘identities’ and ‘subjectivities’ – as well as the role of ideas and practices commonly labelled ‘religious’ in their construction, reproduction and/or transformation – will continue well into the twenty-first century, in South Asia as elsewhere. Notes 1 I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Leverhulme Trust for a Special Research Fellowship, which made much of the research and the writing of this chapter possible. 2 As in my previous introductory chapter, I here adopt a working definition of postmodernism as an intellectual and cultural movement and of postmodernity as a periodicizing concept. 3 The most recent Indian elections in May 2004 resulted in a defeat for the BJP, the disintegration of its previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition government, and in the Congress returning to power. 4 Also see Chetan Bhatt’s recent analyses (2001, 2004) of the Western influences on the emerging ideology of Hindu nationalism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Particularly relevant is Bhatt’s criticism (2004, p. 202) of the ‘intellectually unwarranted reification … of slippery concepts like ethnicity and nationalism’, which – as employed ‘in some academic characterizations’ – resembles the ‘communitarian reasoning’ in and beyond Hindutva circles. 5 For a history of Hindu migration, see – for example – Knott (1998) or Vertovec (2000).

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


6 7 8 9

Also see Bhatt (2001). Islamic mysticism. Sikh place of worship and communal interaction. For a relevant and complementary conceptual framework, see Richard Jenkins on Rethinking Ethnicity (1997). Jenkins defines ethnic identities as involving two separate, though dialectically inter-related, processes: first, ‘social classification’ or the imposition of a group label by powerful outsiders; second, ‘group identification’ or the experience of meaning and solidarity by self-identifying group members. The ethnographic snapshot presented here provides a telling example of a clear mismatch between official-/external classification and self-definition. 10 Also see Zygmunt Bauman’s discussion (1992) of postmodernity bringing about a change in the social/political role of intellectuals from that of legislators to interpreters.

References Anderson, B. (1991), Imagined Communities, New York: Verso. Appadurai, Arjun (1990), ‘Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy’, in Mike Featherstone (ed.), Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalisation, Modernity, London: Sage, pp. 295–310. Augoustinos, Martha (1998), ‘Social representations and ideology’, in Uwe Flick (ed.), The Psychology of the Social, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 156–169. Ballard, Roger (1994), ‘Differentiation and disjunction among the Sikhs’, in Roger Ballard (ed.), Desh Pardesh: The South Asian Presence in Britain, London: Hurst, pp. 88–116. Barthes, R. (1977), Image, Music, Text, London: Fontana Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1988), ‘Is there a postmodern sociology?’, Theory, Culture & Society, 5 (2–3), June, 217–237. Bauman, Z. (1992), Intimations of Postmodernity, London: Routledge. Bhatt, C. (1997), Liberation and Purity: Race, New Religious Movements and the Ethics of Postmodernity, London: UCL Press. Bhatt, C. (2001), Hindu Nationalism, Oxford: Berg. Bhatt, Chetan (2004), ‘“Majority ethnic” claims and authoritarian nationalism: The case of Hindutva’, in Eric P. Kaufmann (ed.), Rethinking Ethnicity: Majority Groups and Dominant Minorities, London: Routledge, pp. 198–220. Bhatt, Chetan and Mukta, Parita (2000), ‘Hindutva in the West: mapping the antinomies of diaspora nationalism’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 23 (3), 407–441. Bhattacharya, Neeladri (1991), ‘Myth, history and the politics of Ramjanmabhumi’, in Sarvepalli Gopal (ed.), Anatomy of a Confrontation, Delhi: Viking Penguin India, pp. 122–140. Bocock, R. (1993), Consumption, London: Routledge. Bourdieu, P. (1977), Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brass, P. (1997), Theft of an Idol: Text and the Context in the Representation of Collective Violence, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Castells, M. (1996), The Rise of the Network Society, Oxford: Blackwell. Castells, M. (1997), The Power of Identity, Oxford: Blackwell. Castells, M. (1998), End of Millennium, Oxford: Blackwell. Channel 4 News, 27/2/02. Cohen, S. (2001), States of Denial, Cambridge: Polity. Corbridge, S. and Harriss, J. (2000), Reinventing India, Cambridge: Polity. Das, Veena (ed.) (1990), Mirrors of Violence, Delhi: Oxford University Press. De Certeau, M. (1988), The Writing of History, New York: Columbia University Press.


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Eckert, Julia (2002), ‘Der Hindu Nationalismus und die Politik der Unverhandelbarkeit’, www.bpb.de/publikationen. Elst, K. (1990), Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid: A Case Study in Hindu-Muslim Conflict, Delhi: Voice of India. Embree, A. T. (1990), Utopias in Conflict: Religion and Nationalism in Modern India, Berkeley: University of California Press. Foucault, M. (1991 [1975]), Discipline and Punish, London: Penguin. Giddens, A. (1984), The Constitution of Society, Cambridge: Polity. Golwalkar, M. S. (1947), We, or Our Nationhood Defined, Nagpur: M. N. Kale. Golwalkar, M. S. (1966), Bunch of Thoughts, Bangalore: Jagarana Prakashana. Gopal, Sarvepalli (1991), ‘Introduction’, in Sarvepalli Gopal (ed.), Anatomy of a Confrontation, Delhi: Viking Penguin India, pp. 11–21. Gottschalk, P. (2000), Beyond Hindu and Muslim, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J. and Roberts, R. (1978), Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order, London: Macmillan. Hall, Stuart (1996), ‘Introduction: who needs identity?’, in Stuart Hall and Paul duGay (eds), Questions of Cultural Identity, London: Sage, pp. 1–17. Hansen, T. B. (1999), The Saffron Wave: Hindu Nationalism and Democracy in Modern India, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Hansen, Thomas B. and Jaffrelot, Christophe (eds) (1998), The BJP and the Compulsions of Politics in India, Delhi: Oxford University Press. Harvey, D. (1990), The Condition of Postmodernity, Oxford: Blackwell. Haynes, J. (1998), Religion in Global Politics, London: Longman. Jaffrelot, C. (1996), The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics, London: Hurst. Jameson, Fredric (1984), ‘Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism’, New Left Review 146, 53–92. Jenkins, R. (1997), Rethinking Ethnicity, London: Sage. Johnson, C. (1997), Derrida: The Scene of Writing, London: Phoenix. Kapferer, B. (1988), Legends of People, Myths of State, Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute Press. Karner, Christian (2004), ‘Between structures and agency: From the langue of Hindutva identity construction to the parole of lived experience’, in Gerd Baumann and André Gingrich (eds), Grammars of Identity: A Structural Approach, New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 157–172. Karner, C. (forthcoming), The Categories of Hindu Nationalism: A Neo-Structuralist Analysis of the Discourse of Hindutva, Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press. King, R. (1999), Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and the ‘Mythic East’, London: Routledge. Knott, K. (1998), Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kunin, S. (1995), The Logic of Incest, Sheffield: Academic Press. Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985), Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, London: Verso. Lyon, D. (1994), Postmodernity, Buckingham: Oxford University Press. Madan, T. N. (1987), ‘Secularism in its place’, Journal of Asian Studies, 46 (4), 747–759. McCrone, D. (1998), The Sociology of Nationalism, London: Routledge. Nasr, S. V. R. (1994), The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution, Berkeley: University of California Press. Panikkar, K. N. (1991), ‘A historical overview’, in Sarvepalli Gopal (ed.), Anatomy of a Confrontation, Delhi: Viking Penguin India, pp. 22–34. Rajagopal, A. (2001), Politics after Television: Religious Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Indian Public, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rorty, Richard (1994), ‘Method, social science, and social hope’, in Steven Seidman (ed.), The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 46–64.

Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion


Rosaldo, Renato (1994), ‘Subjectivity in social analysis’, in Steven Seidman (ed.), The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 171–183. Rosenau, P. M. (1992), Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Savarkar, V. D. (1942), Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?, Poona City: S. R. Date. Searle-Chatterjee, Mary (2000), ‘“World religions” and “ethnic groups”: do these paradigms lend themselves to the cause of Hindu nationalism?’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 23 (3), 497–515. Seidman, Steven (1994), ‘The end of sociological theory’, in Steven Seidman (ed.) The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 119–139. Sikand, Yoginder (2000), ‘Popular beliefs and the dialogue of everyday life’, Studies in Interreligious Dialogue, 10 (2), 135–147. Tambiah, S. (1996), Levelling Crowds, Berkeley: University of California Press. Thapar, Romila (2000), ‘On historical scholarship and uses of the past (interview with Parita Mukta)’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 23 (3), 594–616. Van der Veer, P. (1994), Religious Nationalism, Berkeley: University of California Press. Vertovec, S. (2000), The Hindu Diaspora, London: Routledge. West, Cornel (1994), ‘The new cultural politics of difference’, in Steven Seidman (ed.), The Postmodern Turn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 65–81. Westerlund, David (ed.) (1996), Questioning the Secular State, London: Hurst. Wicker, Hans-Rudolf (1997), ‘Introduction: theorizing ethnicity and nationalism’, in HansRudolf Wicker (ed.), Rethinking Nationalism & Ethnicity, Oxford: Berg, pp. 1–42.

This page intentionally left blank


n/ns indicates end note/s. Abimelech 191–5, 196, 200 Abraham 147 and Isaac see sacrifice, Genesis affirmative postmodernism 219–22 sceptical and 41–2 al-Qaradawi, Y. 88–9, 91 Alexandria Declaration 89–90 Allegro, J.M. 151 American Jesus Seminar 140–41 Ammonites and Israelites 188–90 Anderson, B. 210, 216 Anderson, J. 152 Anderson, P. 11 ‘anthropological history’ 17–18, 20–21, 36, 37 anthropological notion of culture 52, 54 anti-semitism 18–19, 130–31, 132–4, 137, 143 Antiquities 148, 149–50, 154, 155, 156–7 Appadurai, A. 208 Appleby, J. et al. 12, 19, 21 Ararat (film) 163–4, 174 Armenia/Armenians 110, 113, 123, 163–4 Asad, T. 49 Ashcroft, J. 92 Asia 50, 51 see also South Asian diaspora; specific countries and religions Aus, R.D. 147–8, 149, 150, 152–3, 155–6 ‘Axis of Appeasement’ (US) 15, 26n Ayatollah Khomeini 87–8, 91 Ayodhya, and Hindu nationalism 209–10, 211, 213, 220 Badiou, A. 53 Bar-Efrat, S. 170 Barthes, R. 220 Baudrillard, J. 10, 11, 35 Bauman, Z. 35, 38, 39, 40, 75, 77, 208

Beck, U. 40, 77 beliefs 34 Benjaminites (Israelites) 197–8, 201 Berger, P. 76, 78–9 Berlin, A. 170, 171 Best, S. and Kellner, D. 32–3, 35, 38 Bhatt, C. 207, 209, 210, 213, 220 Bhattacharya, N. 211–12 Bible 4 Hebrew 164, 165 literary criticism 18 New Standard Version 163 rhetorical-emancipatory paradigm 175 texts and myths 183–5 see also New Testament; specific books/gospels Bin-Laden, U. 85–7, 91 BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), India 205, 206, 208, 209 Blair, Tony 15–16 Bloch, M. 109, 124, 174 BNP (British National Party), UK 102 Bourdieu, P. 69–70, 208–9 Boykin, Lieutenant-General W. 93 brainwashing by ‘cults’ 77–8 Brass, P. 214, 215 Browning, C.R. 24 Buddhism 3 and Hinduism 216–17 and Shintoism 39 Bultmann, R.K. 132–4, 136, 138–9 Bury, J.B. 13, 14 Bush, George W. 94 Butler, J. 38 Cantwell Smith, W. 50, 96–7 capitalism see capitalization; ‘cultural logic of late capitalism’; globalization capitalization 58–60, 61


Writing History, Constructing Religion

Caporale, R. and Grumelli, A. 81 Carey, G. 89–90 Carr, D. 12 Carr, E.H. 14 Carrette, J.R. 35, 42–3 Casey, M. 131, 142, 144 Castells, M. 39, 40, 77, 208 Chamberlain, H.S. 130 charisma, decline of 80–81 Chechnya 108 Christian evangelists 140–41 Christian–Muslim relations 96–103 Christianity 3, 4, 13 concept of religion 50, 51 Deutsche Christen movement and ‘Confessing Church’ 130–31, 134 early 157 ethnography 20–21, 26n and sociological analysis of religion 67–8 see also New Testament; specific books/ gospels Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 80 citizenship rights/entitlements, Meskhetian Turks 115–18, 122–3 classification, sociological analysis of religion 67–8, 79–80 Clifford, J. and Marcus, G. 36 Clooney, F. 99, 103–4n Cohen, S. 214, 215 Cohn, B.S. 17, 158 Communism 107–8, 113–16 community/ies 81–3 control and independent scholarship 144 decline of 73 and sects 75 South Asian diaspora 79, 205–9, 208–9, 213–15 ‘Confessing Church’ and Deutsche Christen movement 130–31, 134 consumerism 39–40 and counterculture 76 and Protestant ethic 75 and world-affirming movements 82 Corbridge, S. and Harriss, J. 210, 213 Couldry, N. 38 Coulter, A. 93 counterculture and consumerism 76 ‘turn to the East’ 79 Criterion of Dissimilarity, New Testament 134–5

critical realism 42–3 Crossan, J.D. 13, 139–40 Crossley, J. 156, 167 Crypto-Judaism 185–7, 204n ‘cults’ 75–6, 77–8 ‘cultural logic of late capitalism’ 40, 41, 44n ‘cultural turn’ 50–53, 59, 60–61 critique of 54–8 culture and language 51–2, 54–5, 57–8 Western 39–40, 54 Cummins, W. 100, 102 cynic philosopher, Jesus as 139, 140 Damascus Document 151 Daniel, E.V. 109, 112, 122 Darnton, R. 149, 158, 159n de Certeau, M. 35, 36, 211–12 de Man, P. 172 Dead Sea Scrolls 151–2 Deborah and Barak (Book of Judges) 195–6 ‘decentred subjects’ 37–41 definition(s) centrality of 67 of history 9–25 of myth 184–5 of postmodernism 32–3 of ‘religion’ 49–51, 67 of secularization 67 Derrida, J. 32, 36, 62, 214 Deutsche Christen movement and ‘Confessing Church’ 130–31, 134 Dhanjal, B. 3 dharma 207, 216–17 discourses Christian–Muslim relations 100 and critical realism 42–3 and postmodernism 37–41 see also language Diski, J. 166, 172–3 divorce 133–4, 150–51 Donnan, H. and Stokes, M. 109 Douglass, D. 23 Durkheim, E. 71, 73, 80–81, 82 Eagleton, T. 52, 53, 54 Economist, The 91, 93 Eden, A. 16–17 Egoyan, A. 163–4 Elst, K. 210 Elton, G.R. 12, 15, 20

Index epistemes 34–5 Ernst, C. 95–6 Esack, F. 97–9 Esler, P. 20, 26n Eslin, M. 148–9 Esther, Book of 152–3, 155–6 ethnography definitions of ‘religion’ 50 ‘history in the ethnographic grain’ 149, 158 see also entries beginning anthropological Evans, R. 10, 12, 14, 18 Exodus–Conquest themes 17 Falwell, J. 93 feminist perspectives on history 21 on sacrifice 165–6 see also women Figes, O. 12 Fiorenza, E. 175 Fishbane, M. 179, 183–5 Fitzgerald, T. 50, 51, 54 Flood, G. 52, 62 fluidity of identity 79 Form Criticism 131–4 Foucault, M. 32, 33, 34–6, 42–3, 210–11, 214 Fowler, R. 37, 38 Frankfurt School 32 French/Anglo-Saxon perspectives 134 Friedlander, S. 11 functionalist definition of myth 184–5 ‘fundamentalism’ 40, 51 Christian evangelists 140–41 Funk, R.W. 140–41 Gachechiladze, R. 110, 111 Galilee/Galileans 130, 131, 135, 137 gender see feminist perspectives; women Genesis, Book of 147, 164, 165, 167–74, 176–7ns Georgia/Georgians 107, 108, 110, 111, 112–13, 123 Germany Radical Form Criticism 131–4 see also Nazi regime Gesellschaft 81–3 Girard, R. 166, 169 globalization 40, 41, 51, 57, 62, 208, 222 Golwalkar, M.S. 207, 209, 216


Gopal, S. 210 Gottschalk, P. 206, 212, 217, 222 Graham, F. 92 Grant, B. 113, 115 Gretchell, M. 123 Griffin, N. 102 Grundmann, W. 19, 130–31, 133 Gulf wars/Iraq 10–11, 15–16, 37–8 haggadic practice, New Testament studies 147–8, 149, 155 Hall, S. 38, 79, 215, 217–18, 219, 222 Hansen, T.B. 206, 207, 218 and Jaffrelot, C. 206 Haskell, T.L. 19 healings 138 Hebrew Bible 164, 165 Heffer, S. 21 Herbert, D. 100 Herbert, Lord 55–6, 57, 58 heritage and history 109–10, 122 Herod Antipas 148–50, 151, 152, 153–4, 155, 156, 157 Herodias 149–50, 156 Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) 205–22, 222–3ns Hinduism 3 Vaishnava 79 Hinn, B. 93 historical parallels 15–17 ‘history from below’ 22–4, 158 marginalized groups 21, 22, 33–4 Hobsbawm, E. 18, 19–20, 21 Holocaust 11–12 denial 11, 18 see also Nazi regime Hooker, M. 134–5 Hubert, H. and Mauss, M. 165, 168–9 humanistic science, sociology as 71–3 Humphrey, C. 115, 116, 117 hyper-reality 10–11 Ibbett, J. 10 identity 38–40 Crypto-Judaism 185–7 Hindu 212, 217–18 Meskhetian Turks, Southern Russia 110–22 in sects/cults 77–9 Sikh 218–19 ideology


Writing History, Constructing Religion

structural effects of 198–203 and theoretical perspectives 19–22 Independent, The 88 India see Hindu nationalism insider/outsider perspectives, Qur’an studies 97–100 interdisciplinary knowledge 43 interdisciplinary model of history 20 International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) 79 Iran 90–91, 110–11 Iraq/Gulf wars 10–11, 15–16, 37–8 Irigaray, L. 165–6, 175–6 Irvine, D. 11, 18 Islam 3, 4, 16 who speaks for 85–91 who speaks about 91–6 how they speak 96–100 implications 100–103 see also entries beginning Muslim IslamOnline 88–9 Israel/Israelites 140 and Ammonites 188–90 Benjaminites 197–8, 201 and Canaanites 194–5 Israel–Palestine conflict 89–90, 102–3 Jaffrelot, C. 206, 207, 213 Jainism 216–17 James, W. 59–60 Jameson, F. 39, 40, 41, 207–8, 222 Jehovah’s Witnesses 68, 69–70, 80 Jenkins, K. 10 Jephthah 154, 187–91, 192–3, 196 Jesus Christ, life of 129–44 Jewish law decapitation 155, 159n divorce 150–51 oaths/vows 153–4 Jewish perspective on Jesus 135–7 Jews see anti-semitism; Holocaust; Israel/ Israelites; Israel–Palestine conflict; Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders; Judaism; Nazi regime Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders 85–7 John the Baptist, death of 147–58, 158–60ns John’s Gospel 141, 142–3 Johnson, C. 35, 214 Joseph and Aseneth 147 Jubilees 147 Judaism 3, 4, 17–18, 134–5, 136, 147

Crypto-Judaism 185–7 first century CE 151–2 Second Temple 137, 138 Talmud 150 Judges, Book of 182–3, 187–98 Kazakhstan 107 Kettani, A. 100 Khatami, M. 90–91 Khazanov, A. 107, 111 Kierkegaard, S. 165, 166 King, R. 36, 50, 51 Kittel, G. 19, 131 knowledge acquisition, progressive nature of 73 capitalization 59–60 interdisciplinary 43 and power 33–4, 35–6, 210–11 ‘standpoint theory’ 37 see also science Kunin, S. 199 Kurban Bayram customs, Meskhetian Turks 120–22 Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. 41, 211 LaHaye, T. and Jenkins, B.B. 93–4 language and culture 51–2, 54–5, 57–8 New Testament 132–3, 139 Old Testament 152–3, 170–72, 175 see also discourses Lash, N. 50, 51 Lemert, C.C. 37 Letter of Aristeas 20–21 Lévi-Strauss, C. 179–80, 181–3, 199, 203n Lipstadt, D. 18 literary criticism, Bible studies 18 Locke, J. 56, 57 L¢pez, J. and Potter, G. 41, 42, 73, 76–7 Luke’s Gospel 133, 135, 137 Luther, M. 143 Lyon, D. 65, 66 Lyotard, J.-F. 33, 38, 42, 66 Mark’s Gospel death of John the Baptist 147–9, 150, 151, 152–4, 155, 156–7 life of Jesus 132–3, 135, 136, 138–9, 139–40, 141, 142 Matthew’s Gospel 133, 135, 137, 157 Maududi, A.A. 97–8

Index Meeks, W. 10, 11 Melton, J.G. 79 memory, constructed nature of 185–7, 212 Meskhetian Turks, Southern Russia 107–24, 124–6ns meta-narrative(s) and postmodernism 33 secularization as 65–6, 74 Michot, Dr Y. 92 micro-narratives of violence 213–15 miner’s strike, UK (1984–85) 22–3 minority religious movements 78–9 miracles 138 modernity foundations of 56–7 and postmodernity 40, 66–7, 76 sociology as modernist practice 66–73 see also secularization morality and history 4, 24 and postmodernism 10–11 and secularization 75 Munslow, A. 9 Muslim identity, Meskhetian Turks 118–22 Muslim–Christian relations 96–103 Muslim–Hindu relations 213 mythemes 182, 187–98 mythmaking (bricolage) 182, 186 myths diffusing, transforming and dying 179–85 and history 4, 109–10, 122, 183–5, 209–13

Christian–Muslim relations 100 objects of inquiry 68–70 Ottoman Empire 110–11, 112, 163–4

narrative history 12–13, 25n Nazi regime 18–19 Deutsche Christen movement and ‘Confessing Church’ 130–31, 134 historical parallels 15–17 Reserve Police Battalion 101 (German army) 24, 26n network society 39, 40 new religious movements (NRMs) 77, 78–9 New Testament 18–19 Book of Revelation 93–4 haggadic practice 147–8, 149, 155 life of Jesus 131–6 Protestant bias 129–30 see also specific Gospels Nodia, G. 123

Quakers 68 Qur’an 94–5, 96, 97–100, 121–2

oaths/vows, Jewish law 153–4 ‘other’/otherness 36, 37, 49


Paerregard, K. 37 Pakistan 88, 206, 213 Panikkar, K.N. 210 Patton, P. 11 Perry, M. 13 Peuch, J.-C. 123 Pilkington, H. 122 Poland, Reserve Police Battalion 101 (German army) 24, 26n politicized religion and culture 40 postmodernism 4, 32–41, 52 beyond 41–3 definitional problem 32–3 and Hindu nationalism 206, 207–9, 210–15, 217–18, 219–22 and history 9–13 and religious studies 61–2 secularization after 76–83 see also ‘cultural turn’ power and knowledge 33–4, 35–6, 210–11 see also ‘history from below’ Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami 79 Protestant bias, New Testament studies 129–30 Protestant ethic and consumerism 75 Proverbs, Book of 151, 152

Radical Form Criticism 131–4 Rajagopal, A. 208 Ramazan customs, Meskhetian Turks 118–20 Reader, I. 39 reflexivity, lack of 70–71 relativism cultural 54 of postmodernism 10–11, 76 ‘religion’ critical history of term 55–6 defending 60–62 defining 49–51, 67 ‘religious experience’ 59–60 religious identities see identity representation 35–6


Writing History, Constructing Religion

see also Islam; Meskhetian Turks, Southern Russia Reserve Police Battalion 101 (German army) 24, 26n retelling history 17–19 haggadic practice, New Testament studies 147–8, 149, 155 rhetorical-emancipatory paradigm 175 Ries, N. 113 Robbins, J. 165 Robertson, P. 93 Robinson, J.M. 134 Rorty, R. 37, 210–11 Rosen, R. 110 Rosenau, P.M. 32, 33, 35, 41, 215, 220–21 Rowlands, M. 122 Rushdie, S.: Satanic Verses 87 Ruthven, M. 87 sabbath customs, Mark’s Gospel 132–3, 138–9, 139–40 sacrifice Genesis 164, 165, 167–74, 176–7ns Judges 154, 187, 187–91, 190–91, 192–3, 194 theories 165–7, 176ns Said, E. 34, 36, 52, 92 Salome 150, 151, 152, 153–4 Samson 196–7 Sanders, E.P. 19, 135, 137–9 Savarkar, V.D. 119, 209, 215–16 Scargill, A. 22–3 Scharma, S. 12, 13 science and charisma 81 definitions of ‘religion’ 50 and ideology 19–20 knowledge/disciplines 34, 42 vs art/literature, history as 13–17 Searle-Chatterjee, M. 218, 219 sects 68–71, 74, 75, 79–80 and church 68, 78 and ‘cults’ 75–6 and world-affirming movements 82–3 secularization 49, 56–7, 74–6 after postmodernism 76–83 capitalization 58–60, 61 and decline of community 73 definition of 67 as meta-narrative 65–6, 74 Seidman, S. 37, 40, 43, 221, 222

Sells, M.: Approaching the Qur’an 94–5, 96 semantic issues see discourses; language September 11 2001 87, 90–91, 93, 94–5 sexuality see women Sharpe, J. 22 Shii and Sunni Muslims 87–8, 88–91 Shintoism and Buddhism 39 Sikh–Hindu relations 219, 221–2 Sikhism 3, 216–17, 218–19 Sim, S. 32 Sisera, death of (Book of Judges) 196 Smart, N. 69 social science approaches 13 sociology as humanistic science 71–3 as modernist practice 66–73 of religion 66 and theology 72 South Asian diaspora 79, 205–9, 208–9, 213–15 Soviet identity, Meskhetian Turks 113–18 Sperber, D. 34 Spiegel, S. 167–8 Sri Lanka 206, 213 structural analysis of myths 179–85 structural effects of ideology 198–203 structuralism/poststructuralism 32, 38 Suez Crisis 16–17 Sunday Telegraph, The 100, 102 Sunni and Shii Muslims 87–8, 88–91 Tablet, The 88–9, 93 Talmud 150 Tambiah, S. 206, 209, 214 Tanner, K. 52 Tantawi, M.S. 89–90, 91 Thatcher, M. 21, 22 theology and sociology 72 theoretical and ideological perspectives 19–22 Thomas, H. 17 Thompson, E.P. 9, 22 Tishkov, V. 118 Tönnies, F. 73 transcendental definitions of ‘religion’ 49–50 transcending/universalizing strategies 54–5, 60 Trevelyan, G.M. 13–14, 15, 16 truth postmodernism and 33 secular and religious 55–6, 60–62

Index Turkey 107, 110 Turkish identity, Meskhetian Turks 110–13 Turner, V. 165 United Kingdom (UK) BNP (British National Party) 102 Christian–Muslim relations 100–103 miner’s strike (1984–85) 22–3 United States (US) American Jesus Seminar 140–41 and Islam 85–7, 92–6 Meskhetian Turkish immigrants 107, 123–4 universalizing/transcending strategies 54–5, 60 Uzbekistan 107, 108, 111, 115 van der Veer, P. 207, 208 Vermes, G. 18–19, 135–7, 139, 168 Vertovec, S. 208–9 Vincent, J. 21 Vines, J. 92–3 violence micro-narratives of 213–15 see also John the Baptist, death of; sacrifice Ward, G. 55–6, 57 Weber, M. 65, 72–3, 82


West, C. 41, 221 Western converts to Islam 92 Western culture 39–40, 54 Western ‘turn to the East’ 79 White, H. 10, 11, 12 Wicker, H.-R. 41, 222 Wilkins, J. and Moreland, P. 141 Williams, Dr. R. 100 Wilson, B. 65–6, 67–9, 70–3, 74–6, 79–80, 81, 82 Winter, T./Abdul Hakim Murad 92 Wixman, R. 111 women Book of Judges 187–8, 189, 192, 193–4, 195–7 death of John the Baptist 149–53, 159n see also feminist perspectives work identity, labouring vs professional 116–17 World Islamic Front 85–7 ‘world theology’ 50 world-affirming movements 82–3 Wright, N.T. 13 Wright, T. 134–5, 139 Young, M. and Willmott, P. 70 Yunusov, A. 110, 111