Sunday, February 22, 2009

Asad, chs 2 and 3

Asad, Formations CH 2 “Thinking about Agency and Pain”

SUMMARY: This chapter looks at 2 genealogies: those of pain and agency. Asad says that in anthropology, both are generally taken for granted. The notion of “resistance” takes for granted that individuals have “agency.” But definitions of agency really depend on the cultural context, and in the modern world, they include the aim of eliminating pain. However, early Christians and some Muslims look at pain as important for their religious experience.

68-there is a “secular idea that ‘history-making’ and ‘self-empowerment’ can progressively replace pain by pleasure—or at any rate, by the search for what pleases one.”

-anthropological literature hasn’t dealt enough with agency and pain

-“when the word ‘body’ is used, it is more often than not a synonym for the individual whose desire and ability to act are taken as unproblematic” (except for Freudians); in Passion and Action, Susan James describes how “’desire’ came to be thought of as the central force governing all actions.”—there was “an increasingly generic conception of desire” and “passions” are increasingly equated with ‘desire,” “Taken generically, desires lack the inflections that would make them explanatory.” [direct quote from James, p292]

69-and when Freudianism is a sophisticated idea of dynamics of the passions, “it holds out the problematic promise that the passions can ultimately be mastered by reason through systematic observation and interpretation, thereby giving rationality primacy in the constitution of modern, secular subject.”

-there’s no agreement about what emotions are (cf The Emotional Brain); some say they are impulses in the brain, some say they are located in social space, sometimes all emotion is equated with desire, and most people know “some emotions (‘passions’) can and do disrupt or disguise intentions. And yet conscious intention is assumed to be central to the concept of agency in most anthropological work.”—note #6 says: “The intimate anecdotal style of ethnographic writing now favored reflects a preoccupation with intentionality that isn’t always carefully though through.”—and even in medical anthropology which (70) translates all the sick body’s “states and movement directly into ‘dissent’” or “resistance”

70-“The anthropological use of the notion of ‘resistance’ has rightly been criticized for underestimating the strength and diversity of power structures.” (cf Abu-Lughod “The Romance of Resistance”) and it presupposes an idea of “agency”; (71) “The tendency to romanticize resistance comes from a metaphysical question to which this notion of ‘agency’ is a response: Given the essential freedom, or the natural sovereignty, of the human subject, and given, too, its own desires and interests, what should human beings do to realize their freedom, empower themselves, and choose pleasure? The assumption here is that power—and so too pain—is external to and representative of the agent, that it ‘subjects’ him or her and that nevertheless the agent as ‘active subject,’ has both the desire to oppose power and the responsibility to become more powerful so that disempowerment—suffering—can be overcome.”; Asad disagrees with this assumption

72-theorists of culture are conflicted about how they look at resistance/agency: are people always autonomous actors or are they conforming to cultural norms? And because the body and mind decay with age and chronic illness, we should not assume that every act is the act of “a competent agent with a clear intention.”; it’s (73) a paradox to think the free self must be subject to a “liberating self already and always free, aware, and in control of its own desires.”—susan wolf offers an alternative: “rather than constant certainties,” we can think of moral agency in the way we think of sanity (in the common sense way), so that agency (and sanity) are judged in relation to the world in which they live; so different historical contexts make different definitions of agency, with the secular definition being only 1 of many

73-“Agency today serves primarily to define a completed personal action (74) from within an indefinite network of causality by attributing to an actor responsibility to power. Pragmatically, this means forcing a person to be accountable, to answer to a judge in a court of law why things were done or left undone. In that sense agency is built on the idea of blame and pain.”

74-“moderns tend to think of responsibility for something as being founded on a relation between an act and the law that defines the penalty attaching its performance or nonperformance.”; Intention doesn’t matter; and agents (75) can be representatives of principles (which can also be other agents), though there is debate over this when it comes to representative government, and the fact that “crimes of passion” and those of the insane are “not considered to be the consequence of the agent’s own intention.” Reinforces the idea “that agency requires the self-ownership of the individual to whom external power [eg “passions”, “insanity”] always signifies a potential threat.”

78-in 18th century England, Christian agency was that people must be passive and let god take care of them

79-generally cultural theory sees agency of having 2 aims: “increasing self-empowerment and decreasing pain”

80-the secular understanding of pain is that it is inscrutable, and (81) Asad believes it “may arise in part form the experience of animal experimentation of the kind I discussed in the previous chapter, in which observable reactions of the flesh that is subjected to constitutes ‘pain.’”

81-“Whether one can be certain of another’s pain depends surely on who is expressing it to whom, how…and for what purpose ‘certainty’ is sought.”—pain is private and in a social relationship; (83) and “All feelings of pain involve physical changes that are not only internal to the body (muscular, biochemical) but also externally visible (voice, demeanor) and culturally readable. This fact alone complicates the too-neat distinction between physical pain and mental pain.”—distressing emotions cause chemical imbalances, which “are as ‘physical’ as torn ligaments.”—and though maybe “physical pain is typically located by the sufferer in particular parts of his or her body and that this is what distinguishes it form mental distress. But mental states—themselves closely connected to social circumstances—are central in the experience of pain.” As proven by the fact that tolerance to pain is culturally variable

83-and phantom-limb pain shows that “pain is not merely experienced in the mind…but generated by it.”; (84) and in some cultures, “distressing emotions are experienced as being located in particular organs of the body (liver, belly, heart, and so forth).” (cf The Origins of European Thought About the Body); and even in modern society people can feel “sick with anger” and have physical experiences with emotions

84-so pain is a cultural relationship, and “the idea that an agent always seeks to overcome pain diverts attention away from our trying to understand how this is done in different traditions”; (85) pain “is part of what creates the conditions of action and experience”

85-early Christian martyrologies did not see their broken bodies as defeated, but as victorious over society’s power; (86) and generally the Christians, unlike the rest of the ancient world, were “positively oriented…to sickness and human suffering. Where sickness could not be healed, Christians insisted that pain could be understood as valuable.” While Stoics denied suffering and Galenic medicine saw “pain as a bodily condition subject to appropriate technical intervention.”

86-in The Suffering Self, Perkins says stoicism was ruling ideology, though Asad disagrees

87-a study showed that some Native American women often give birth with no drugs to give them a sense of empowerment, knowing that men can’t experience it; (88) and pain is also part of birth

90-some Islamic practices look at pain from fear and other suffering as important in development of virtue

95-McKeon notes (in Freedom and History) that the word “responsibility” appears in England and France in 1787 in the context of the American and French revolutions, and since then its primary use has been political, and so “responsible government”—meaning constitutionalism, the rule of law, and self-determination—has come to be the model not only for political behavior that is imbued with a certain moral quality, but for morality itself.”

96-habitus [(95) “an embodied capacity that…includes cultivated sensibilities and senses…”], in contrast, is not something one can reject, it is essential to what you are and must do—though people often conflate this with “responsibility” (eg conflate morality with criminal law)

98-pain is part of reform; and the (99) Abrahamic traditions of obligations; and secular tradition of individual responsibility

CH 3 “Reflections on Cruelty and Torture”

SUMMARY: The modern idea of ending cruelty conflicts with other values. Legal torture declined in 17th through 19th centuries with rise of circumstantial evidence, and philosophical ideas that criticized its effectiveness and raised the value of imprisonment (107-109). This ideas were imposed on colonized countries where “torture” was a label only given to the colonized and not the colonizers. Also S&M sex is a contradiction in modern society of the idea that people don’t want pain.

100-the simple association of religion with violence, a tactic of some secularists, “will not do” because there have been many atrocities done in the 19th and 20th century without the support of religion; (101) “the modern dedication to eliminating pain and suffering [as articulated in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] often conflicts with other commitments and values: the rights of individuals to choose, and the duty of the state to maintain its security.”; cruelty has an unstable character in modern secular society

101-G. R. Scott’s History of Torture shows “physical cruelty as a feature of barbaric societies”, and (102) “remains a latent possibility (sometimes realized) in civilized society.”, but Scott “is not entirely clear whether he thinks that human cruelty is merely an instance of bestial cruelty…or whether human cruelty is unique…”; (103) and “savage races” inflict “torture” on modern European Americans, not the other way around (eg pain inflicted on native Americans is not considered “torture”), though he believes modern police use torture

103-in Torture and Modernity, Drius Rejali says, unlike Scott, that torture is integral to the modern state, Rejali says he refutes Foucault’s idea in Discipline and Punishment (and thus also Page DuBois’ Torture and Truth), that torture in modern society is replaced by discipline, Rejali believes torture persists, (104) though Asad this is a misreading of Foucault by Rejali—who Asad says ignores that Foucault says torture persists in secret by police

105-liberal societies no longer approve of torture used in the law, that’s why it’s often denied

107-and today even the “secular Christian must now abjure passion [reveling in pain] and choose action” (early Christian ideas of goodness of pain aren’t used)

-Torture declined with the decline of “Roman canon law of proof—which required either confession or the testimony of two eyewitnesses to convict” in the 17th century with the rise of circumstantial evidence, and that philosophers pointed out that it could not achieve accurate results with confession; (108) plus the rise of the philosophical doctrine in the 19th century that freedom was the “natural human condition”—(109) so imprisonment was equal punishment for all, while fines hurt the rich less and pain hurt the stronger people less

110-Asad says that the imposition of the European modern justice system on colonies was not done out of concern for sufferers of local punishments, but was “dominated” by a need to “create new human subjects”; (111) and sometimes even the colonizer inflicted pain, but this was justified in the name of civilization; (112) and they even forbid religious practices that had self-torture; and their moral superiority was justified by westernized natives who supported it and whoever else agreed with European views

113-today, some pain is accepted—war, sports, science experimentation, death penalty, and in sex (S&M); (115) and new forms are acceptable (eg mass imprisonment and new types of warfare); (116) and while the Geneva Convention tries to regulate conduct in war, medieval war also had rules, which were, “in one sense…even stricter”, “killing and maiming, even in battle [in early medieval times], was regarded as a sin for which the church demanded penance.” (cd The Just War in the middle Ages); and “paradoxically”, by its proscribing certain ways of suffering, other kinds are legalized, and more painful ones were produced with the development of weapons to take out tanks, large guns, planes, etc.; (117) plus the limits of the geneva convention says human destruction cannot outweigh the “military necessity”—but this can be interpreted for any amount of killing

118-sadomasochism is another contradiction between idea that suffering is simply not good; and (122) the UDHR does not say it makes an exception to cruel punishment if people who do it are consenting adults.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Asad, Formations CH 1

Asad, Formations of the Secular

CHAPTER 1 “What Might an Anthropology of Secularism Look Like?”

SUMMARY: Examines genealogy of “secularism” and “secular.” “Secularism” doesn’t appear in English until the 1850s, and is as opposed to “atheist,” to avoid dividing people over religion when it came to government policies that no longer used God as the referent (23-24). “Secular” is a term that develops in relation to other terms. For example, the term “myth” was not used by the Greeks in the same sense as we use it today (26-29, 52-53), and the terms “sacred” and “inspiration” have also changed over time, and both were influenced by developments in anthropology (30-36, 45-51). “Secular” was also influenced by a new kind of reading of the Bible (37-44). Asad ends by discussing the problems of the secular myths in the modern world (57-61) and the different views of what it is (62-64).

21-the debate on secularism is over two views: “Is ‘secularism’ a colonial imposition, an entire world view that gives precedence to the material over the spiritual, a modern culture of alienation and unrestrained pleasure? Or is it necessary to universal humanism, a rational principle that calls for the suppression—or at any rate, the restraint—of religious passion so that a dangerous source of intolerance and delusion can be controlled, and political unity, peace, and progress secured?”

22-anthropology rarely looks at secularism, though study of religion in anthropology is pervasive; Tussing revealed that secularism is connected to state violence

23-asad wants to “trace practical consequences of its [myth’s] uses in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries in order to investigate some of the ways the secular was constituted. For the world ‘myth’ that moderns ‘have inherited from antiquity feeds into a number of familiar oppositions—belief and knowledge, reason and imagination, history and fiction, symbol and allegory, natural and supernatural, sacred and profane—binaries that pervade modern secular discourse, especially in its polemical mode.”

-“The terms ‘secularism’ and ‘secularist’ were introduced into English by freethinkers in the middle of the nineteenth century in order to avoid the charge of their being ‘atheists’ and ‘infidels,’ terms that carried suggestions of immorality in a still largely Christian society.”

-note #6: “The word ‘secularism’ was coined by George Jacob Holyoake in 1851. ‘Secularism was intended to differentiate Holyoake’s anti-theistic position from Bradlaugh’s atheistic pronouncements, and, although Bradlough, Charles Watts, G. W. Foote, and other atheists were identified with the secular movement, Holyoake always endeavoured to make it possible that the social, political, and ethical aims of secularism should not necessitate subscription to atheistic belief, in the hope that liberal-minded theists might without prejudice to their theism, join in promoting these ends—an attitude to which he persisted in clinging, despite the small success which it achieved.’ Eric S. Waterhouse, ‘Secularism,’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. II, ed. James Hastings, p. 348.”

24-the “freethinkers” wanted to avoid epithets of “atheist” and “infidel” because they wanted to separate all religious connotations from the emerging “social reform in a rapidly industrializing society”—at the same time, “A critical rearticulation was being negotiated between state law and personal morality”—(note #8: there was a “gradual withdrawal of legal jurisdiction over what comes retrospectively to be seen as the domain of private ethics from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century,” cf Stephen A History of the Criminal Law of England 1883, vol. 2, ch. 25 “Offenses Against Religions”)

-“This shift presupposed the new idea of society as a total population of individuals enjoying not only subjective rights and immunities, and endowed with moral agency, but also possessing the capacity to elect their political representatives…” which happened at once in France and slowly in England; “The extension of universal suffrage was in turn linked—as Foucault has pointed out—to new methods of government based on new styles of classification and calculation, and new forms of subjecthood.”

-“These principles of government are secular in the sense that they deal solely with a worldly disposition, an arrangement that is quite different from the medieval conception of a social body of Christian souls each of whom is endowed with equal dignity—members at once of the city of God and of divinely created human society. The discursive move in the nineteenth century from thinking of a fixed ‘human nature’ to regarding humans in terms of a constituted ‘normality’ facilitated the secular idea of moral progress defined and directed by autonomous human agency. In short, secularism as a political and governmental doctrine that has its origin in nineteenth century liberal society seems easier to grasp than the secular. And yet the two are interdependent.”

25-this chapter looks at “epistemological assumptions of the secular”; “The secular, I argue, is neither continuous with the religious that supposedly preceded it (that is, it is not the latest phase of a sacred origin) nor a simple break from it (that is, it is not the opposite, an essence that excludes the sacred.) I take the secular to be a concept that brings together certain behaviors, knowledges, and sensibilities in modern life. To appreciate this…It is a matter of showing how contingencies relate to changes in the grammar of practices.” [a la Wittgenstein] “In my view the secular is neither singular in origin nor stable in its historical identity, although it works through a series of particular oppositions.”; “I try to understand the secular, the way it has been constituted, made real, connected to, and detached from particular historical conditions.”

-“…there is nothing essentially religious, nor any universal essence that defines ‘sacred language’ or ‘sacred experience.’ But I also assume that there were breaks between Christian and secular life in which words and practices were rearranged, and new discursive grammars replaced previous ones.”, (26) “…the sacred and secular depend on each other. I dwell briefly on how religious myth contributed to the formation of modern historical knowledge and modern poetic sensibility…but…this did not make history or poetry essentially ‘religious.’”

26-“West European languages acquired the word ‘myth’ from the Greek, and stories about Greek gods were paradigmatic objects of critical reflection when mythology became a discipline in early modernity.”

-refers to Bruce Lincoln’s Theorizing Myth: Hesiod “associates the speech of mythos with truth (alethea) and the speech of logos with lies and dissimulation. Mythos is powerful speech, the speech of heroes accustomed to prevail. In Homer…logos refers to speech that is usually designed to placate someone and aimed at dissuading warriors from combat.
“In the context of political assemblies mythoi are of two kinds—‘straight’ and ‘crooked.’ Mythoi function in the context of law much as in public, with a full attention to every detail.’, It never means a symbolic story that has to be deciphered—or for that matter, a false one. In the Odyssey, Odysseus praises poetry—asserting that it is truthful, that it affects the emotions of its audience, that it is able to reconcile differences—and he concludes his poetic narration by declaring that he has ‘recounted a mythos.’
“At first, poets tended to authorize their speech by calling it mythos—an inspiration from the gods…later, the Sophists taught that all speech originated within humans.’”

27-for Christians, god is separate from the world, but for Greeks, gods were “directly involved in natural and social processes” [direct quote from Bremmer Greek Religion], and the idea of “nature” is also different for Greeks—“For the representation of the Christian God as being sited quite apart in the ‘supernatural’ world signals the construction of a secular space that begins to emerge in early modernity. Such a space permits ‘nature’ to be reconceived as manipulatable material, determinate, homogeneous, and subject to mechanical laws.” And anything beyond that was (28) “peopled by irrational events and imagined beings. This transformation had a significant effect on the meaning of ‘myth.’”

28-The Sophists say the mythoi of poets are lies (in concerning gods), though they can improve people’s morals; then Plato said that “philosophers and not poets were primarily responsible for moral improvement…Plato changed the sense of myth: it now comes to signify a socially useful lie.”

-“Enlightenment founders of mythology, such as Fontelle, took this view of the beliefs of antiquity about its gods.”

-“But in the Enlightenment epoch as a whole myths were never only objects of ‘belief’ and of ‘rational investigation.’ As elements of high culture in early modern Europe they were integral to its characteristic sensibility: a cultivated capacity for delicate feeling—especially for sympathy—and an ability to be moved by the pathetic in art and literature.”, (29) knowledge of greek stories “was a necessary part of an upper-class education.” And “Myths allowed writers and artists to represent contemporary events and feelings in what we moderns call a fictional mode…And this in turn facilitated a form of satire that aimed to unmask or literalize. Ecclesiastical authority could thus be attacked in an indirect fashion, without immediately risking the charge of blasphemy. In general, the literary assault on mythic figures and events demonstrated a preference for a sensible life of happiness as opposed to the heroic ideal that was coming to be regarded as less and less reasonable in a bourgeois society.”; though in seventeenth and eighteenth century tragedies and dramas, “myths provided the material though which the psychology of human passions could be explored.”

29-for them, “Myth was not really a (mis)representation of the real. It was the material for shaping the possibilities and limits of action.” And it did this “by feeding the desire to display the actual”

30-In Rome, “sacer referred to anything that was owned by a deity, having been ‘taken out of the region of the profanum by the action of the State, and passed into that of the sacrum.’ [Direct quote from Fowler in Roman Essays and Interpretations] However, even then there was an intriguing exception: the term homo sacer was used for someone who, as the result of a curse (sacer esto), became an outlaw liable to be killed by anyone with impunity. Thus while the sacredness of property dedicated to a god made it inviolable, the sacredness of homo sacer made him eminently subject to violence.”

31-the Oxford English Dictionary says “’sacred’ in early modern English usage generally referred to individual things, persons, and occasions that were set and entitled to veneration.”, but for all things that are called sacred (eg a ‘sacred memory,’ sacred rights, sacred fruit), “it is virtually impossible to identify the setting apart or the venerating as being the same act in all cases.”, “It was late nineteenth century anthropological and theological thought that rendered a variety of overlapping social usages rooted in changing and heterogeneous forms of life into a single immutable essence, and claimed it to be the object of a universal human experience called ‘religious.’ The supposedly universal opposition between (32) ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ finds no place in premodern writing. In medieval theology, the overriding antinomy was between ‘the divine’ and ‘the satanic’ (both of them transcendent powers) or ‘the spiritual’ and ‘the temporal’ (both of them worldly institutions), not between a supernatural sacred and a natural profane.”

32-sacre wasn’t used by ordinary people in France even in early modern times, they used saintete, “a beneficent quality of certain persons and their relics, closely connected to the common people and their ordinary world.”, sacre started being used at time of the French Revolution and is connected with “secular power”’ eg “The Preamble to the Declaration des Droits de l’homme (1789) speaks of ‘droits naturels, inalienable et sacres.’ The right to property is qualified sacre in article 17. ‘L’amour sacre de la partie’ is a common nineteenth century expression.”; sacre “was now part of the discourse integral to functions and aspirations of the modern, secular state, in which the sacralization of individual citizen and collective people expresses a form of naturalized power.”

33-Isambert, in Le sens du sacre, shows that the Durkheimian school, using Robertson Smith’s idea of “taboo” , came up with “the scholarly concept of ‘the sacred’ as a universal essence. The sacred came to refer to everything of social interest—collective states, traditions, sentiments…The sacred, constituted first by anthropologists and then taken over by theologians, became a universal quality hidden in things and an objective limit to mundane action. The sacred was at once a transcendent force that imposed itself on the subject and a space that must never, under threat of dire consequence, be violated—that is profaned. In brief, ‘the sacred’ came to be constituted as a mysterious, mythic thing, the focus of moral and administrative disciplines.
“It was in the context of an emerging discipline of comparative religion that anthropology developed a transcendent notion of the sacred.”, eg it’s used that way by R. R. Marret

-Marret said all religions have sacraments and sacraments are sacred and have “spiritual authority”, (34) “But it stands in marked contrast, for example, to the medieval Christian concept of the sacrament.”; Asad gives example of 12th century Hugo of St. Victor who defined sacrament as “a sign of a sacred thing” that has “by sanctification some invisible and spiritual grace”—so sacrality depends on a network of signifiers, and so is not naturally endowed with supernatural authority

35-Asad believes this essentialization of “the sacred” was “connected with European encounters with the non-European world, in the enlightened space and time that witnessed the construction of ‘religion’ and ‘nature’ as universal categories.”, first non-Christians were seen to have fetishes/taboos/survivals/superstitions—“objects and relations falsely given truth status, wrongly endowed with virtuous power”—“It may therefore be suggested that ‘profanation’ is a kind of forcible emancipation from error and despotism. Reason requires that false things be proscribed and eliminated, or transcribed and re-sited as objects to be seen, heard and touched by the properly educated senses. By successfully unmasking pretended power (profaning it) universal reason displays (36) its own status as legitimate power…So the ‘sacred right to property’ was made universal after church estates and common lands were freed. And the ‘sanctity of conscience’ was constituted a universal principle in opposition to ecclesiastical authority and the rules of casuistry authorized. At the very moment of becoming secular, these claims were transcendentalized, and they set in motion legal and moral disciplines to protect themselves (with violence where necessary) as universal.”

36-note #41: “It is of some interest that attempts to introduce a unified concept of ‘the sacred’ into non-European languages have met with revealing problems of translation.” Eg Arabic has several different words, each conveying ‘sacredness’ in different senses

37-prior to German Higher Criticism, the bible—written and spoken—was seen as the result of divine experiences and that’s what the body discipline (eg for monks reading it) shaped, (38) but Higher Criticism “rendered the materiality of scriptural sounds and marks into a spiritual poem whose effect was generated inside the subject as believer independent of the senses.”

42-during Enlightenment, “Christian doubt and anxiety” over historical accuracy of bible—not, as others may think, “an already constituted discipline of secular history”—“drove biblical scholars to develop textual techniques that have since become part of the foundation of modern, secular historiography.”, though note #53 says there were some earlier movements; (43) there was a growing split between ecclesiastical and “secular history,” and this split “shaped the modern understanding of ‘myth,’ ‘sacred discourse,’ and ‘symbolism.’…The rereading of the scriptures through the grid of myth has not only separated the sacred from the secular, it has helped to constitute the secular as the epistemological domain which history exists as history—and as anthropology.”

43-“In the mythic rereading of the scriptures, Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection could still be represented as foundational. But in the course of this reconstruction, Christian faith sought a reconsideration of the question of inspiration. God might not have literally dictated to the Old Testament prophets and to the apostles of the New, but the faithful Christian sought some sense in which they would still be said to be ‘inspired’—that is, literally breathed into by the Holy Spirit, but it was his follower Eichhorn who applied this thought systematically…Prophets, Eichhorn proposed disarmingly, were inspired artists. But what appears to have gone largely unnoticed was that while prophets were called, artists were not.”

-“Given that inspiration was no longer to be thought of as direct divine communication romantic poets identified it in a way that could be accepted by skeptics and believers alike…(44) “fragmented states” could be accessed by “radically different kinds of experience”, [eg (43) “Coleridge used sleep, waking dream, and opium”]—(44) “According to Coleridge’s theory of imagination, poetic vision presupposed the alteration of ordinary perception, regardless of how it might be attained…’imagination’ now acquired some of reason’s functions, and stood in contrast to ‘fancy.’”, Coleridge thought prophets were “creative poets who expressed a vision of their community’s past”

45-“An accumulating ethnography of shamans in the eighteenth century contributed to the recrafting of the idea of ‘inspiration’ in secular terms. (46) This involved not only the shifting of all causation from outside the world of material bodies entirely into the world, but also an ‘inside’ that had to be progressively redefined. That shift also served to separate healthy from unhealthy states of mind and behavior, and led—in the thought of Enlightenment rationalism—to the doctrine that morality be based on medical science rather than the other way around, as the older Christian view had it.”

46-from beginning of European encounters with aboriginal peoples, Christians and skeptics usually described shamans as charlatans, quacks, and the shamanic séance as “grotesque attempts at deception” like the priests and soothsayers of antiquity

-people were also skeptical of shamans’ curative abilities, (47) because pain was less and less connected with punishment from god and the (48) growth f experimentation meant the view of physician was less of healer and comforter to more of investigator; (49) “the concept of ‘experience’ that had from early on had the sense of putting something to the test was now being used to identify and internal state through an external manipulation (‘experiment’).” Eg Haller did early experiments (pain in animals; cf Dear Discipline and Experience for more on idea of “experiment”)

50-in 18th century, shaman was seen as a “poet, myth-recounter, and performing artist”—they use “flowery and unclear language”—verbal arts were connected with healing art and inspiration (like poets)—so “If shamanic rhetoric and behavior were to be viewed as art, some artists could be viewed as shamans.”

-also idea of genius evolved in 18th century drawing on classical of Orpheus and ethnographic descriptions of shamans—ecstasy was a sign now of artistic genius, Mozart was seen as having healing and “civilizing” powers acquired through inspiration, though (51) some said genius was a physical trait, kant said it was the faculty to exercise cognitive ability without being taught: those with more of these faculties (52) are smarter than those with few

52-myth was seen by romantics “as the original way of apprehending spiritual truth”—ancient prophets used to get it and now modern geniuses can—faith is not necessary, just sincerity in representing one’s feelings, and poets like Browning tried to harmonize science with religious feelings—and (53) Browning first outlined the dominant 20th century view of poetry, that it does this, and people recognize it, and James Joyce, TS Eliot and others also did it, “myth is invoked explicitly as a fictional grounding for secular values that are sensed to be ultimately without foundation.”

57-Margaret Canovan says that “The central principles of liberalism…rest on assumptions about the nature of mankind and the nature of society that are frequently questioned: ‘all men are created equal,’ ‘everyone possesses human rights,’ and so on. But no dispassionate observer of the human condition would find these descriptive propositions unproblematic, says Canovan.”

-she says when liberal ideas were formed in 18th century they “were attached to a distinctive conception of nature as deep reality.”—natural rights—and they did this “simply because in their though the idea of ‘nature’ served to explain and justify things.”, but saying that social inequality was “unnatural” was “in effect to invoke an alternative world—a mythical world…But over time their assumptions about the nature of ‘man’ exposed liberals to uncomfortable criticism” especially with early 19th century rise of sociological realism and a new view that nature was essentially violent, but liberal ideals were resurrected by the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism, (38) and it is now again subject to criticism. “For when nature is interpreted positivistically in terms of statistical norms, then different norms of behavior and sentiment can claim to be equally natural. The result, we are informed, is a crippling relativism”, so you can’t defend it by just making more abstract arguments that are based on Plato’s view in the Republic: that the person and city-state have 3 parts/social class—“in a just person’s soul the upper part, reason, ensures harmony and stability, and in a just city the upper class, philosophers trained in mathematics, will impose order in a well-ordered society” and the emotions of the low class should be kept out of business of self control

58-Canovan thinks for liberalism to work you need to be open about its myth status, (59) and try to build that ideal world—everyone agrees on a myth (therefore everyone believes in a modernized myth of redemption, as opposed to a Christian version) and (59) violence is necessary to do this

61-liberal democracy has 2 conflicting secular myths: “the Enlightenment myth of politics as a discourse of public reason whose bond with knowledge enables the elite to direct the education of mankind, and the revolutionary myth of universal suffrage, a politics of large numbers in which the representation of ‘collective will’ is sought by quantifying the opinion and fantasy of individual citizen-electors…on the one hand elite liberal clarity seeks to contain religious passion, on the other hand democratic numbers allow majorities to dominate minorities even if both are religiously formed.”

62-“Secular views of the secular aren’t all the same”, eg (63) de Mans thinks secular is the “real” as exposed by science, while (64) Walter Benjamin sees the world now as “secular” because the world “must be lived in uncertainty, without the fixed moorings even for the believer…”

Asad, Formations INTRO

Asad, Talad. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 2003


SUMMARY: Asad begins by criticizing the view, as stated by Charles Taylor, that secularism and the “free society” of which secularism is a central principle, function effectively because small groups are self-motivated to reach with all the other groups of a nation a consensus that transcends the identities of each small group. However, Asad says, in reality, citizens’ self-motivation is not truly necessary for the functioning of a “secular”/”free” society; what is needed is a “sense of prosperity.” In addition, there is a weakening link between the electorate and the government which is the result of 1) small pressure groups that have disproportionate influence and 2) the mass media, controlled by small groups and the government, which shapes how people think about society—the result is: “There is no space in which all citizens can negotiate freely and equally with one another.” Therefore, the definitions of “the secular” and “the religious” are mediated and biased, not static absolutes or the result of national consensus. In fact, these mediated ideas of secularism contain various degrees of “religious” viewpoints (gives examples of US and India). Goal for book is to look at the politics/anthropology of secularism, which includes looking at how the body is represented and the other assumptions about human reality.

1-The “resurgence of religion” has shown us “that a straightforward narrative of progress from the religious to the secular is no longer acceptable. But does it follow that secularism is not universally valid?”

-“Secularism as political doctrine arose in modern Euro-America”, it’s not just separating religious from secular institutions; “What is distinctive about (2) ‘secularism’ is that it presupposes new concepts of ‘religion,’ ‘ethics,’ and ‘politics’ and new imperatives associated with them.”

2-“…many people have sense this novelty and reacted to it in a variety of ways”: opponents “have rejected it as specific to the West” though advocates say it still has global relevance; Charles Taylor is in the latter camp, he “takes it for granted that the emergence of secularism is closely connected to the rise of the modern nation-state” and secularism legitimized it in 2 ways: 1) with an attempt to find a lowest common denominator among doctrines of different religious sects and 2) “the attempt to define a political ethic independent of religious convictions altogether”—“It is this latter model that is applicable throughout the world today, but only after we have adapted to it the Rawlsian idea of an overlapping consensus, which proceeds on the assumption that there can be no universally agreed basis, whether secular or religious, for the political principles accepted in a modern, heterogeneous society.”, (3) and therefore a democratic/free society is one in which people must have “a certain degree of self-enforcement”

3-But, Asad says, “The distinctive feature of modern liberal governance…is neither compulsion (force) nor negotiation (consent) but the statecraft that uses ‘self-discipline’ and ‘participation,’ ‘law’ and ‘economy’ as elements of political strategy,” and the system isn’t in danger when there’s lack of self-enforcement by citizens, it’s only in danger “when the general population ceases to enjoy any sense of prosperity”—(4) good policing and an economy that doesn’t treat certain groups too bad are more important than self-discipline

4-plus there is an increasing weakening of a “direct link between the electorate and its parliamentary representatives” and this loss is not compensated in “extra-parliamentary institutions connected to governance”; in fact the opposite is true—pressure groups’ influence on government is usually far greater than “the proportion of the electorate whose interests they directly promote”

-also the ”mass media, increasingly owned by conglomerates and often cooperating with the state, mediate the political reactions of the public and its sense of guarantee and threat”, “Thus in crucial ways this is not a direct-access society. There is no space in which all citizens can negotiate freely and equally with one another. The existence of negotiation in public life is confined to such elites as party bosses, bureaucratic administrators, parliamentary legislators, and business leader. The ordinary citizen does not participate in the process of formulating policy options as these elites do—his or her participation in periodic elections does not even guarantee that the policies voted for will be adhered to.”

5-“…the media are not simply the means through with individuals simultaneously imagine their national community; they mediate that imagination, construct the sensibilities that underpin it.”

*-and the idea that a national mediated identity must transcend conflicting perspectives (eg class, gender, religion) is, “In an important sense,” what secularism is; beyond being an intellectual way of dealing with the world, secularism “is an enactment by which a political medium (representation of citizenship) redefines and transcends particular and differentiating practices of the self that are articulated through class, gender, and religion. In contrast, the process of mediation enacted in ‘premodern’ societies includes ways in which the state mediates local identities without aiming at transcendence.”

-the forms of mediation in medieval Christianity and Islam were indeed different than those used today, but it’s not simply that they were “religious” and modern governments aren’t. eg British government’s connection to the Established Church and the US’s largely religious population (each modern country has different mediation and imaginary)

6-Asad criticizes Taylor’s theory on consensus—that different groups work out short term solutions for each issue—because it ends up being that the weaker groups has no choice, plus the state regulates its views through violence, so (7) violence in the modern West is “closely connected with the rise of a system of capitalist nation-states,” with groups and states “grossly unequal in power and personality” and therefore the mediation in each state is different

7-eg in the US after 9/11 “spokespersons” tried to define the US “as ‘good’ in opposition to its ‘evil’ enemies at home and abroad.” Which works b/c the US has religious roots and a continues high level of religious faith as well as the belief that “America is the world’s last best hope of liberty” and this has also led to oppression and intolerance of “foreign” elements (something which has been going on in the US since the late 18th c); “the repeated explosions of intolerance in American history—however understandable they may be—they are entirely compatible (indeed intertwined) with secularism in a highly modern society”

8-another example is India which has a secular constitution and “an outstanding record as a functioning liberal democracy”, yet there are frequent “communal riots” (between religious groups); notes P. Chatterjee and others who agree that “the publicly recognizable personality of the nation is strongly mediated by representations of a reconstructed high-caste Hinduism” putting “religious minorities” in a defensive position

-“A secular state does not guarantee toleration; it puts into play different structures of ambition and fear. The law never seeks to eliminate violence since its object is always to regulate violence.”

-it is difficult to differentiate between private reason and public principle (“the secular”). Gives several examples: (9) “literature”, which has a secular connotation, can be applied to the bible and still read in a “religious way; the popular idea of “Islamic roots of violence” is taken as a given, though (10) violence does not need to be justified by the Qur’an”—there is also an idea that the Qur’an (11) forces Muslims to use violence while “Christians and Jews are free to interpret the Bible as they please”; determining if something has a “religious motive”, does it have to be a sincere expression? Or, as Freud assumes, is there always an unconscious motive for religious motives, rendering all motives secular? And this means that there must be an authority that determines what is secular and what is religious, and this is done through mediating agencies (12) like law courts, the national media, parliamentary forums; another example: Are actors “secular” when they work with “religious” actors (eg CIA helping Muslim fighters)?

13-the idea that modernity has given reality “new experiences of space and time, or cruelty and health, of consumption and knowledge” and that “these experiences constitute ‘disenchantment’—implying a direct access to reality, a stripping away of myth, magic, and the sacred—is a salient feature of the modern epoch. It is, arguably, a product of nineteenth-century romanticism, partly linked to (14) the growing habit of reading imaginative literature—being enclosed within and by it—so that images of a ‘pre-modern’ past acquire in retrospect a quality of enchantment.”

14-his interest is in looking at “the attempt to construct categories of the secular and the religious in terms of which modern living is required to take place, and nonmodern peoples are invited to assess their adequacy” because representations of “the secular” and “the religious” “mediate people’s identities, help shape their sensibilities, and guarantee their experiences.”

-Asad Does not agree with the idea of the end of (Hegelian) History with the end of communism, he believes the US’ values have now become dominant (15) spread with the OECD, IMF, World Bank and other institutions; and the American model is not just economic, but moral and political too—and includes secularism

-we should therefore look at the politics of how views are spread of the American (and other binary-style, “good” v. “evil”) ideal as well those of the ideal of multiplicity

16-Asad is influenced by Foucault and Nietzsche, but does not rigidly follow them

17-“What is distinctive about modern anthropology is the comparison of embedded concepts (representations) between societies differently located in time and space” and an anthropology of secularism asks “How do attitudes to the human body (to pain, physical damage, decay, and death, to physical integrity, bodily growth, and sexual enjoyment) differ in various forms of life? What structures of the senses…do these attitudes depend on? In what ways does the law define and regulate practices and doctrines on the grounds that they are ‘truly human’? What discursive space does this work of definition and regulation open up for grammars of ‘the secular’ and ‘the religious’? How do these sensibilities, attitudes, assumptions, and behaviors come together to support or undermine the doctrine of secularism?”