Monday, March 30, 2009

Heinrich Von Stietencron, “Charisma and Canon: The Dynamics of Legitimization and Innovation in Indian Religions,”

Heinrich Von Stietencron, “Charisma and Canon: The Dynamics of Legitimization and Innovation in Indian Religions,” in Charisma and Canon: Essays on the Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent, ed. Vasudha Dalmia, Angelika Malinar, and Martin Christof. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), 14-38.

SUMMARY: Believes Indian religions have “charisma” and “canon” in the sense that it they are used in Christianity and by Weber. Gives history of “charisma” and “canon” (14-15), and offers a theory for the pattern in which the 2 interact (16). Looks at “charisma” of Kings in early Vedic religions (17-21), then how its use changed for Brahmins (21-24), and finally how it has been used for images of gods (26-27).

14-note # 1 (p 32): gives history of word “charisma”: “Derived from the Greek charis, meaning grace, favour; the charismata (pl. of charisma) mentioned in the Greek Bible were ‘gifts of grace’ or special power attributed to the agency of the Holy Spirit but operating in exceptional human beings. They included the gift of healing, prophecy, exorcism of evil spirits, working miracles, unusual knowledge, wisdom, faith or love, as well as glossalalia…the ability to interpret these utterances and unusual oratorical capacities in general (see, e.g., Paul in I. Cor. 12.1-14.40; Acts 2:1-12). These examples were derived from the life of Christ and his immediate disciples and were later expanded to include unbending heroism, fearless testimony in martyrdom, visions, and communication with superhuman beings. For important works on charisma prior to Max Weber, see Sohm (1892-1923) and Holl (1898) [Weber cites both]. Other cultures have basically similar notions, with additional emphasis on the special powers of the hero, the shaman, the yogi or the magician, etc. These are extensively listed in Parrinder (1987: 218-22).”
“Max Weber…defined it as ‘a certain quality of individual personal personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.’ (Weber 1964: 358).”

-note #2 (p 33) describes “canon”: “The Greek term kanon is a loan word derived from Semitic languages, signifying originally a reed, used as a straight measuring rod or standard of length. In its application in Greek, the term acquired the two basic meanings of ‘norm’, ‘formal basis for distinguishing truth from falsehood,’ and ‘complete enumeration’, ‘scientific list’. In early Christianity it was used for the binding norms of true Christian faith (the Latin counterpart being regula) and for authorized collections of sayings, decisions, or laws.”

14-canon is a “deliberate” collection of religious messages, “It transforms haphazard individual recollection into authoritative tradition or sacred scripture. As such, it itself becomes endowed with an aura of sacredness which derives both from the original seers, rsis, prophets or teachers who formulate the message, and from the eternal truth which is that to be encapsulated in the text of canonical scripture.”, note #3 adds that: “in ritual performance, [canons can] induce charismatic experience in a perceptive audience. Instances of this kind are the unveiling and unrolling of the Torah, and the unwrapping of the Qur’an or the Guru Granth Sahib.”; “Such a canon is one of the strongest possible forms of defining and securing a specific religious identity. [PROB: this is unselfconsciously (and to some, innocuously) Orientalist because it implies only text-based religions can have the ‘strongest’ form of identity making; even though he says canon could be orally-based, it only is “strongest” for him when there is a set standard of tradition—and this is more difficult to determine when it’s orally based; and his bias towards text is reinforced by him using texts for the vast majority of his examples] In its contrast with the doctrines of other creeds, the canon is a continuous source of self-awareness and self-definition. It provides meaning and direction to the community as a whole and to each individual member by representing both the ultimate truth and the means of attaining it.”; a (15) canon can “arrest time” by picking out essentials “eternally valid” [PROB: not really a prob—its similar to B. Anderson’s ideas about time]

15-charisma “takes precedence over the canon by bringing into convincing shape those innovative ideas, concepts, models of behavior and approaches to the divine that create a new religious movement.”



-“Thus, while canon stands for permanence, charisma stands for innovation. This leads us directly into the dialectics of timelessness versus time-governed life, of transcendence versus worldly existence, of permanence versus change. They are opposing yet interacting principles that are constitutive for all religions and, indeed, for all human effort at creating and implementing order in a cosmos that is materially and biologically constituted and, therefore, equally liable to chaotic growth and decay.” [PROB: implies that there is a distinction between supernatural/charisma from the worldly/material/biological things—this distinction is Orientalist; he is too reliant on Weber, what if charisma is not so rare (the ‘exception’’) in all religions? This dichotomy makes it easy to rewrite religions in a secular-sacred way]

16-says the “one major defect in every canon” is that it preserves the social and cultural context of its redactors; it’s a “defect” because as cultures and languages change people can’t understand as well “the original message”; it “inevitably leads to a continually growing gap between the canon and its addressees” [PROB: goes against many “religious” peoples’ ideas]; “As can be seen, this is a dilemma that all religions have to face, whether their sacred tradition is remembered or written down—most notably the so-called ‘high’ religion that refer to a transcendent reality and claim universal truth.” And that’s why commentary is so important and even sometimes becomes “scripture in its own right”

-and says that the changing of religions’ laws follows the pattern of charisma—law/canon—gap between it and public—new charisma—change in law/canon; his evidence that this happens in all religions is in note #9: “The formation of canonical scripture is fairly well documented in” all the major religions, including Indian Vedanta schools, and adds “The typology derivable from those as well as from Roman canonization of law render the myth of Vedavyasa’s one-man-achievement of collecting and arranging all the Vedic hymns rather unlikely.” [PROB: I don’t take it for granted that this is true for all “religions”—especially because “religion” is such a broad term, I don’t necessarily think everyone has a strict canon. So without citation, I can’t believe this is anything but an Orientalist imposition; good scholars, (imo Asad, Anderson, Gay, eg) meticulously cite everything—no doing so not only suggests intellectual laziness but that you are taking your ideas for granted, as if they are “truths” that all people (should) accept, which thereby creates stereotypes and generalizations which have potential to be harmful for the very reason that they have embodied in the certain assumptions that might be wrong and can have political implications, especially when printed by scholars whose words have an aura of legitimacy. That was Said’s whole point in Orientalism!]



17-looks at how “hindu religions provide their devotees with sufficiently frequent charismatic experiences to keep both their emotional engagement and their intellectual interest in religion alive”, looking primarily at religious texts [PROB: text-based]

18-points out a difference between Hindu religions and Abrahamic ones, especially Christianity, is that those people with charisma in Hinduism “appear only as recurrent sparks of light in and endless sequence of time cycles.”

-hindu religions use guruparampara, lines of authorized transmission of scripture and exegesis from fully trained teachers, as their exegesis charisma/legitimacy



-“In the Indian literary tradition, the notion of charisma is first and primarily linked to the king. It is a kind of radiation, power and unfailing fortune that distinguishes its bearer from other persons or entities. It can be directly experienced in the encounter with a charismatic person. Both in ancient Iranian and Indian tradition, charisma was conceived of as a kind of subtle, luminous substance that could be conferred on a deserving person by a God (19) or by ritual action. This concept goes back to the second millennium BC, when the Indian and Iranian Aryans had not yet separated.”
“The ancient Persians called this substance x’arenah [“related to Persan farnah: glory”], (the corresponding Sanskrit word is svarna or suvarna, with sri or tejas as alternative designations), and it described the faculty to know and achieve what others were unable to know and doi, as well as that golden radiance which can be perceived in a victor or in a powerful, successful king.”, and inVedic times there were tests for this (eg saying poetry, throwing dice, chariot races—all for which Indra was responsible for the outcome)—so this “directly corresponded to the fits of grace of the charisma of the Greek” [PROB: was this the view of religious practitioners?], sometimes other gods are seen as present in people with charisma too

19-the Sri did not belong to the sing, but to the position, and “could leave him abruptly if he failed to protect the dharma or misused his power for selfish ends.” And this brought disaster to the country; an idea also in ancient Iranian myths; this charismatic kingship is much less stable than in “institutionalized hereditary kingship” in which charisma and the rituals to prove it are very regulated and able to be passed on; (21) plus the Aryan version allowed for charismatic authority to come from the outside (ie outsiders could legitimately come in)



21-in Vedic times, Brahmins were also seen as having charisma—“divine inspiration”—and it was institutionalized, but due to social changes, in the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE , there were religious reform movements against the Brahmins which took some Brahmins’ patrons and adopted image-worship instead of Vedic rituals, plus vedic religion had already been separating from popular religious practices

22-plus the Kusana empire (ruled early first millennium AD) brought the notion of divine kingship which they inherited from the Maurya Empire; Brahmins lost power with rise of bhakti (personal relation to a god), then kept their status by proving useful to rulers with their literacy and learning, then their “Dominance in religious affairs was regained only when they condescended to earn their living with temple worship, when they started appropriating the leadership of popular religious movements…and when they gave a theological form to the growing monotheistic religions.” [cf Stietencron “orthodox Attitudes Towards Temple Service…” Central Asiatic Journal v 21 n 2: 126-37; and note #20 says the monotheistic development was at least partially influenced by Hellenistic Seleucids (via Mauryans) and Zoroastrians], “It was at this stage that a new priesthood in a changed society could again claim to be entitled to the charisma of office.”—then they needed to theologically justify a transfer of charisma from king to priest, which was done with the myth of Parasuram [cf Gail 1977]

-this change began with identifying “Lakulisa, the famous Saiva teacher of the second century, with Siva himself” during the 4th century CE; and (23) an initiation ceremony for it, diksa, was started; (24) and the priest becomes for devotees “almost a substitute for God himself”



26-says images of gods receive charisma through rituals like charisma in people; there are 2 kinds of images (murti): household shrine and temple; in the house, god is cred for as a member of the family; in the temple, god is to be submitted to as a king who protects his people [image is seen as a “focus of identification” of the deity who is known to be , really, omnipresent], (27) and there are rituals to renew their charisma too

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