Wednesday, May 22, 2019


What I think about and research might be called "religion", which is a junk category of value and superstition, but it cannot be called "theology" because there is no "theos" (god) in this schema.  In fact, one of the difficulties is a lack of vocabulary and the concepts on which it stands.  I'm considering this an extension of something formally begun in 1994 when Mark DeWolfe preached at a conference at Aurora '87.  His keynote address was called "Listening to the Language of the Land."  It was much admired, but no one had much of an idea about what to do about it.

The following long and hard-to-read passage addresses a way towards "doing."  Conventionally, academic conferences are organized by members who have a topic in mind and look for a couple of others with related ideas by composing "Panel Abstracts."  This one is for a panel at "The Society for the Anthropology of Religion (SAR), a section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). We seek to facilitate the research and teaching of the anthropology of religion."

I'm coming at this two ways.  The first is the Ursula LeGuin schema of two civilizations, often portrayed as two planets, one ascetic and bare (think the opening of the original "Star Wars," and the other lush, possibly immoral, and rich.  We have this contrast in our own world, maybe as city/country, maybe as prairie/coast.  

The second is the political issue of indigenous sovereignty.  In order to make this more than simple greed, the tribes must describe and feel deeply the motives that come from the land that created them. This doesn't work for tribes who were thrown off their land, but it does for the Blackft on the east slope of the Rockies (both US and Canada, which I why I leave the vowels out) or the Makah tribes north of Seattle.

I'll use a different font and color to explicate (explain) this scholar's language in the following Panel Extract.

Entangled Agencies: Ethical and Legal Perspectives on Indigenous Religious Knowledge of Territory Organizers/Chairs: Raphael Preux (Université de Montréal) and Émile Duchesne (Université de Montréal)

Panel abstract
In an age where, all around the globe, a considerable number of indigenous territories are subject to intrusive natural resources exploitation politics, governments are justifying such politics by an erroneous vision according to which indigenous people are not exploiting or truly using their territories.  [People here in Montana have said to me, "The Indians weren't using their land anyway.  There were no buildings or roads."  A culture that wasn't like the one they knew was invisible.]  Anthropologists and other academics have long been investigating indigenous people’s relationships with their territories as a non-intensive economy based on the respect for the environment.  [Going to the other extreme of respect and love in a kind of mystical relationship can also be misleading.  An ecology is a practical way of surviving, not some kind of dream movie.]

What we question is the economic reductionism of this position: by sticking to the economic practices of indigenous peoples, religious practices were sometimes assimilated to simple techniques of environmental control and management (e.g. dreams as omens for hunters).  [Some want to escape from the taboo on religious -- "sacred" thought by emphasizing the ways of making a living.] But it is an individualistic conception of agency that results from Western philosophy and consists of an asymmetric parallelism between a free will and a passively extended world.  [It's a way to force the issue into the secular European categories of predatory capitalism, at the expense of the land.]  Our point is that economic and religious practices must be jointly understood when indigenous societies are studied, because both are so practically imbricated [interrelated] that they are almost ethnographically undifferentiated. In the study of indigenous religious knowledge of territory, anthropologists have not sufficiently stressed that the territory is less a given environment than a value and the source of a primary causality and juridicity, which are based on mythological narratives, norms and rules of conduct.  [The land justifies the way of life, even the law.]  We argue that territory is a source of agency, knowledge, and power for indigenous societies. Knowledge of the territory can be translated into a pragmatic and technical form of power but can also contribute to the acquisition of shamanic/magical power, whether it is in a mana-like form or another.  [Mana, in Austronesian languages, means "power", "effectiveness", and "prestige".  In terms of "Star Wars", it is "The Force."] In this light, relations to animal masters, ancestors, spirits and other non-human beings through dreams, rituals, singing and so on, concern the knowledge of an exteriorized territory [what is often called "liminal space"] and condition the possibility to act individually and collectively on and with this territory. Such a view questions and invites us to reconsider the complex modalities of agency in indigenous societies.


The point here is that what we call "religion" is really an economic and poetic way of surviving in the world, and when we accept that, we find that local "indigenous religions" are far more complex and justified than we had realized.

What's even more interesting, because it is so relevant to the people who are probably reading this (I'm not well-known in Samoa.), is regarding contemporary Christian religion in our familiar churches.  Unless one is autochthonous (close to the land) there are built-in assumptions that we don't quite realize.  One is safety and another is prosperity.  Both often come from systems of relationship, connections once provided by family.  (The same is true of indigenous people.).  Also, relationship to the land provides a mental topography that helps explain who you are.  This is what gets lost to urban people, or rather it becomes a matter of work and school, while the "mana" goes to the national parks, which are then shrines of "The Force."

In my family I am the only "religious" person.  All my relatives are so guarded that they don't think about such things. It is not their homes but their minds that are walled. They are threatened by my line of thought, so I stay away from them.  Maybe this happens in a lot of situations.  As a country, we have lost "Mana."  "The Force" is not with us.

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