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- On the True, the Real, and Critique in the Study of Religions
Smith, that religion is primarily about thought or thinking. However, this belief can be contested in two complementary ways. First, as already suggested, it has become increasingly difficult to argue that other animals do not have the capacity to think.
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It could, of course, still be argued that other animals do not think the right way , or that animals do not really think, at least not in the way that we do. After all, how could they think, since thinking, as many have argued, requires language. Yet, have we not grown skeptical of definitions of religion that prioritize thought, belief, language, etc. A bias that exhibits itself in the tendency to prioritize action over passivity, interiority over exteriority, reason over emotion, mind over body, and, of course, human over animal?
The modern concept of religion was, and continues to be, shaped by political and economic forces — forces which are themselves always driven by certain powers. I realize that such a claim may, to many, appear extravagant. Yet, if it is true, how can we, as scholars of religion, respond? How can we begin to include other animals in the study of religion — not merely as religious objects, but as religious subjects, or better, agents? How is religion defined by the depths of our bodies? But perhaps, as Schaefer suggests, religion has more to do with dancing, or with, as theorist of religion Kimerer L.
However, as Schaefer recognizes, even if we conceive of religion as a dance, we are only part of the way to an explanation of the chimpanzee waterfall display. We also need an explanation for why chimpanzees are drawn to waterfalls, and for that Schaefer turns to E.
Animals, Schaeffer argues, are drawn to features of their natural environment, such as trees, mountains, waterfalls, other animals, etc. If we as scholars of religion are to take seriously the critiques of religion levelled by Asad, et al.
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This would mean taking a cue from Smith and beginning to map the as yet invisible religions of other animals and nonhuman beings. Other animals have a tendency to appear on the outskirts of perimeters of discussions surrounding religion, especially those surrounding the origins of religion, as well as its end s. In , the questions surrounding the origins of religion erupted once again with discovery of the Chauvet cave in southwestern France. While we cannot know for certain what significance these animals held for the Aurignacians who painted them, they certainly have held and continue to hold a religious significance for many who have visited the cave; at the very least, they evoke from many who have visited the cave a religious response.
They challenge us, as scholars of religion, to take them seriously as religious agents, not merely as food, clothing, or decoration. Yet, we now know that, at least in the case of Chauvet, the majority of animals that appear upon the walls of the cave were never hunted Clottes.
Indeed, they appear to escape such functionalist or utilitarian attempts at understanding. Such animals force us to turn in their direction, to face them, and respond. In particular, Bataille based his reflections on research by A. Between the human species and the animal species, domination would have been unfathomable: they were essentially indistinguishable from each other. The hunter sees the animal, at the very minimum, as his equal…. The bear could speak if it wanted…. Perhaps, to return once again to Jonathan Z. As the Ainu see it, during the time of the bear ceremony the bear is not a bear, but rather a divine or spiritual being, known as a kamuy.
In the end, he rationalizes away the religious significance of the bear as a religious subject or agent and forces the bear — and, for that matter, the Bororo parrot — to conform to the strictures of critical reason.
The lesson to be drawn from this, it seems to me, is that we must learn to include other animals in the study of religion, to take them seriously, if we wish to chart an accurate map of the dimensions of religion. Indeed, such a turn has already begun to take place. But why has it come about only now? Concluding Thoughts. The animals which we encounter in caves such as Chauvet demand that we take them seriously, in part because they have been painted with such care. Yet, if we have begun to recognize that these animals demand to be taken seriously, it is perhaps also because—as Bataille suggests—they portend something grave.
Or, we might say, that the recent turn toward animals, especially animals and religion, portends something grave, or even solemn or sacred. Or, that is, by the fact that we have only just now to turn our attention to other animals now that other animals have begun to vanish into extinction in mass? While nuclear war remains an ever present possibility, we know now with certainty that our activities on this planet our causing it to warm, threatening to wipe out vast populations of animal species, including our own, and causing an immense amount of suffering.
The radical nature of this question, I would wager, has yet to be felt. And, I do not mean, necessarily, a theological response; although perhaps that as well. The events which took place at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa — which, if you have the time and the stomach , I would encourage you to look up — demand a religious response, not merely because they occurred within the confines of a kosher slaughterhouse.
Following Hegel, Hinrichs argued that the religion of feeling could not be divorced from the religion of faith and thinking. Unless otherwise noted, translations from German sources are my own.
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Nonetheless, Smith demonstrates, in and through his thinking about religion, that religion ultimately depends upon human thought or thinking. Of course, this presents a chicken and the egg problem as Gross points out. Hegel criticizes Schleiermacher, as well as Kant, Fichte, and Jacobi, because of their tendency to privatize , or subjectivize religion.
From early on, we find Hegel arguing for a Volksreligion , or public religion. For more, see Thomas A.
Kimberly Patton notes that when speleologists Eliette-Brunnel, Christian Hillaire, and Jean Marie Chauvet entered the cave for the first time they fell on their knees Patton As both Benjamin C. Significant differences exist, for example, between the rites of the Ainu and the Koyukon, to which both Ray and Kimura attest. Asad, Talal.
On the True, the Real, and Critique in the Study of Religions
Genealogies of Religion. The Johns Hopkins UP, Bataille, Georges. The Cradle of Humanity. Stuart Kendall, Trans. Michelle Kendall and Stuart Kendall. Zone Books, Bentham, Jeremy. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Clarendon Press, Clottes, Jean. Crouter, Richard. Granta, A Thousand Plateaus. Brian Massumi. U of Minnesota P, Derrida, Jacques. David Wills. Fordham UP, Dubuisson, Daniel.
The Western Construction of Religion. Johns Hopkins UP, Primitive Classification. Rodney Needham. Cohen and West Limited, Frazer, Sir James George. Totemism and Exogamy. Cosimo Classics, Goodall, Jane, and Phillip Berman.
Reason for Hope. Warner Books, Gross, Aaron S. The Question of the Animal and Religion.
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