Play and Power in Religion: Collected Essays 3110259508, 9783110259506 - EBIN.PUB (2023)

Andre´ Droogers Play and Power in Religion

Religion and Reason Founded by Jacques Waardenburg Edited by Gustavo Benavides and Michael Stausberg

Volume 50

De Gruyter

Andre´ Droogers

Play and Power in Religion Collected Essays

De Gruyter

ISBN 978-3-11-025950-6 e-ISBN 978-3-11-025951-3 ISSN 0080-0848 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Droogers, A. F. Play and power in religion : collected essays / Andre´ Droogers. p. cm. ⫺ (Religion and reason, ISSN 0080-0848 ; v. 50) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-3-11-025950-6 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Play ⫺ Religious aspects. 2. Power (Social sciences) 3. Anthropology of religion. I. Title. BL65.P6D76 2011 2011.7⫺dc23 2011029144

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at 쑔 2012 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/Boston Printing: Hubert & Co. GmbH & Co. KG, Göttingen ⬁ Printed on acid-free paper Printed in Germany

Contents Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. What Makes a Career? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Early Parameters: Religious Pluralism, Power, and an Ambiguous Position . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. The Congo Experience: Play, Margins, Ritual, and Eclecticism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. The Brazil Experience: Power, Engagement, and a Syncretistic Laboratory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. The Dutch Experience: Pentecostalism, Secularization, and Ludism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Summation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. On the Structure of this Book . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Acknowledgement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1 1 2 5 11 18 26 27 30 30

Part I Marginality, Play and Power Margin Chapter 1 Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies of Religious and Secular Innovators: A comparative study of the lives of Jesus, Waldes, Booth, Kimbangu, Buddha, Mohammed and Marx . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Jesus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Waldes (Hardmeier 1960, Wakefield 1974: 43 – 47) . . . . . . . 4. Booth (Sandall 1947, 1950) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Kimbangu (Martin 1975, Ustorf 1975) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Buddha (Saddhatissa 1976) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Mohammed (Guillaume 1968, Rodinson 1973) . . . . . . . . . . 8. Marx (Banning 1961, Blumenberg 1965, McLellan 1973, 1975) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

35 35 36 37 38 39 40 42 44 46 49 50



Chapter 2 The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity: Mario Quintana on Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Contradiction is the Norm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Poetry and Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Beyond Doubts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Morality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Official Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

51 51 52 53 56 59 60 63 64 66 67

Inversion Chapter 3 Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. The Human Apparel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Simultaneity and Schemas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Play . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Play, Power, Modernity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Religion, Power, Play . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. The Conditions for Play in Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. Paradise Regained? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

69 69 70 72 74 76 80 84 87 89 89

Chapter 4 The Popular Use of Popular Religion: Power and Meaning in Three Brazilian Popular Religions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Umbanda . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Pentecostalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Ecclesial Base Communities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. A Comparison in Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

92 92 93 96 98 100 103 103



Play and Ritual Chapter 5 Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World: Ritual in Its Own Ludic Right . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. The Wagenia Initiation Ritual . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Social Axes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Comic Ritual Stages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Ritual Play . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Schema Repertoires . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Conclusion: A Ludic Ritual Repertoire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

105 105 107 109 112 117 118 123 124

Chapter 6 Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. A Significant Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. A Cultural Event . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Feast and Ritual . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. The Ludic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

125 125 125 129 132 137 140 140

Power and Meaning-making Chapter 7 The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community: An Anthropological Model . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. The Anthropology of Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Culture, Repertoire, Schema . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. The Beliefs-Oriented Dimension . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. The Internal Dimension . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. The External Dimension . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. The Ethnographic Dimension . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

143 143 143 148 154 156 159 160 165 166

Chapter 8 Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil: Umbanda and Pentecostalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169



2. A Framework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Brazilian Religious Pluralism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Umbandists and Pentecostals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Umbanda, Pentecostalism and Religious Pluralism . . . . . . . . 6. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

169 175 178 182 188 190

Part II Two Fields Syncretism Chapter 9 Syncretism: The Problem of Definition, the Definition of the Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. The Changing Meaning of the Term . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. The Options Available . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. The Possible Subjectivity of Objective Definitions . . . . . . . 5. Syncretism and Power . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. The Symbolic Dimension of Syncretism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. Epilogue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Chapter 10 Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Inappropriate Comparisons? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Defining Syncretism and Fundamentalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Syncretism and Fundamentalism Compared . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. The Three-Dimensional Model . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Power Relations in Fundamentalism and Syncretism . . . . . . 7. Positivism and Fundamentalism, Constructivism and Syncretism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

195 195 196 201 203 204 207 209 211 212 215 215 216 218 222 225 227 229 232 232

Chapter 11 Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 234 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 234 2. Joana’s Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 238


3. Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

IX 245 250 251 251

Pentecostalism Chapter 12 Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion: Models for the Explanation of Pentecostal Expansion in Brazil and Chile 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Theoretical Diversity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. An Ambivalent Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Anomie and Pentecostal Growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Class and Pentecostal Expansion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Failed Modernization and Pentecostal Growth . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. Epilogue 1996 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

253 253 256 258 261 267 271 275 276 280 281

Chapter 13 Globalization and Pentecostal Success . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Some Theoretical Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Some Common Characteristics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Pentecostal Diversity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Contextual Factors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Globalization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Globalization and Pentecostal Commonality . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. Globalization and Pentecostal Diversity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

285 285 286 289 291 293 296 298 302 304 305



Part III Methodological Applications Methodological Ludism Chapter 14 Methodological Ludism: Beyond Religionism and Reductionism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. The Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Religionism and Reductionism: The Options . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Experiences and Options Confronted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. The Ludic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Interdisciplinary Views . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. The Ludic, Religion, and the Explanation of Religion . . . . 8. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

311 311 314 316 319 321 322 330 335 335 336

Chapter 15 The Third Bank of the River: Play, Methodological Ludism and the Definition of Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction: Definitions and Dichotomies . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Play and Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Play, Power and Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. A Provisional Definition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Play and the Study of Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Conclusion: A Definition of Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

339 339 345 352 355 356 360 361 362

Religion and Science Chapter 16 Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge: The Cultural Anthropology of Religion and a Religious Anthropology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Academia and the Study of Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Recent Changes and their Consequences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Connectionist Commonality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. The Fragmented Local and the Unified Global . . . . . . . . . . 6. The Gift of Play . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

365 365 367 369 372 375 377



7. Play and Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. How Christian is the Ludic Perspective? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

381 384 385 386

Chapter 17 As Close as a Scholar Can Get: Exploring a One-Field Approach to the Study of Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Ambiguity in the Study of Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Methodological Consequences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Religion Incorporated . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. The Case of Pentecostalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Acknowledgement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

388 388 390 394 398 402 405 408 408

Bibliography André Droogers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 411 Original publication of chapters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 424 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 427

Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity 1. What Makes a Career? If I look back, I cannot claim that my career was a product of conscious planning – there are too many vicissitudes, coincidences, and contingencies. Accordingly, the topics of the essays collected in this volume cover a fairly wide range of issues. And yet, there is a certain amount of consistency present as well, and – I hope – a plausible story to tell. As fieldworkers who use the life history method know well, those who tell the story of their lives usually transform the chaotic into order and sense. And so will I. How did I move from the haphazard to the planned? How did I develop? What, in my case, were the ingredients that allow me to give order to my academic life? And how did I move from the idiosyncratic to what others may also find relevant? Quite specific experiences led to generalizations – but how? What roads between induction and deduction did I travel? Unforeseen circumstances played a major role in my career, but how did I translate them into some form of systematic reflection on a set of themes? Life seems to juggle innumerable alternatives without any apparent order. And yet there was some order as I struggled to give meaning to what happened to me. An introduction to a volume of collected essays should show that order. This is not just my problem. Any scholar in the field of religion will become aware, when looking back, of the arbitrary impact on his or her career of the family in which he or she was raised, the training received, the discipline chosen, the jobs and funding applied for, the interdisciplinary and international contacts made, the religion or religions studied, the regions and groups on which research was done, the teachers, authors, colleagues, and informants who were influential, and the events that were to become exemplary. These will be the ingredients of my tale in this autobiographical introduction, not only to justify the selection I made from what I have written in the last thirty years but also to show the unexpected thread in my personal and academic itinerary. Thus, it will become clear why play and power came to be the two lenses through which I look at religious phenomena and trends.


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

I will start by telling a bit of my personal story. As I moved from one job to another, from one research project to the other, I moved from play to power – and back again. The various sections of this introduction describe my journey through the discipline from one continent to another, each stage of which brought new challenges and stimuli.

2. Early Parameters: Religious Pluralism, Power, and an Ambiguous Position Without being immediately apparent, one’s own religious – or secular – history influences the way one looks at religion. I was raised in the Netherlands, in an environment that was marked by the Protestant Reformed tradition. At that time, Dutch society was still pillarized, divided into self-sufficient sub-societies along religious and ideological lines. Each of these pillars involved strong convictions, claiming the whole person in all sectors of life, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. In my case, the claim was less compelling, since my parents came from two different Reformed churches, which were pillars in themselves. For a long time, these churches were engaged in a structural conflict because my father’s Gereformeerde church had emerged in the 19th century from a schism from my mother’s Hervormde church. Interestingly enough, both Dutch terms, Gereformeerde and Hervormde, mean the same: Reformed. My parents came from a village in the southwest of the Netherlands, part of the orthodox Reformed Bible belt. My mother’s father opposed his daughter’s marriage to a man from the dissenters’ church. As a result, my parents did not have a church ceremony, contrary to the custom among Dutch believers to have a church ceremony immediately after the civil ceremony at the town hall. While my father expected his future wife to follow him to his church, his father-in-law made his daughter promise not to transfer her membership to the other church. After this incomplete rite of transition, my parents left their village and went to live in Rotterdam, where my father had already found a job as a policeman. Although their six children – I was number four – were baptized in my father’s church, at home religion was present primarily in its divided form. There was no common religious subculture and discourse and no strict identification with one sector in the Dutch ‘pillar’ system. From what I remember, the ambiance was in fact rather secular, with the topic of religion being avoided. It was only present as a

2. Early Parameters: Religious Pluralism, Power, and an Ambiguous Position


ritual: my father saying grace before and after meals, and reading from the Bible during supper, between the main course and desert. We received our religious education outside the home: at school and in church. With respect to religion, my parents lived with a permanent bone of contention, and, as children, we were to a certain extent free to find our own path in religious matters. Although we learned the power that churches then exercised over members’ lives, there was still room for our own play with alternatives. When my parents were well on in years, the irony of Dutch church history created a situation in which their two churches began a process of merging. To them, this meant that they could finally con amore attend the same church service together. There was also a personal irony, since two of their children, of which I was one, had found their life companion in my mother’s church. In my case, it meant that I developed an ecumenical attitude already as a student. My future wife and I were very much in favour of efforts, which started in the 1960s, to bring the two churches together. When we married, two pastors were involved in the church service, one from each church. However, our wish to have Holy Communion as part of the service was not granted. My wife’s parents, following her grandfather’s lead, demanded that we join their Hervormde church after we were married. Coincidentally, that church was where both of us felt most at home. Consciously or not, all these family events made me aware of power processes in religious matters. There was one other aspect of my father’s church that influenced me. As a minority church, with a mix of mainly lower and a few upper class members, emancipatory education had been an important goal from the start, also in establishing its own ‘pillar’, including schools and a university, the Vrije Universiteit (VU). Thus, as a child, I attended a primary school run by that denomination and the church’s Sunday School. Later on, I was a member of the boys’ society, where already at the age of twelve we were trained to give short lectures on matters of faith. I was secretary for a year, which taught me to keep the minutes of meetings. This boys’ society acquainted me with a rather rational form of living one’s faith, focused primarily on doctrine, i. e. right doctrine. The discourse was apologetic and polemic. It was meant to convince us of the rightness of our views. The indirect result was that we learned to study and discuss texts. This type of religious education was to contribute to the emancipation of this part of the Dutch population, justifying the schism from which it resulted and indirectly creat-


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

ing upward mobility for those church members who belonged to the lower classes. In our family, this meant that the boys were stimulated to go to high school and on to higher education, while my sisters were trained primarily for their future role as mothers and housewives. And that was why I went to university in 1959 – but not to the VU. Under the influence of my excellent geography teacher, A.C.W. Korevaar, I elected to study human geography, intending to become a secondary school teacher. He directed me to his former public university, Utrecht University, as having the best geography department in the country, better than the one at the VU. Incidentally, my teacher was a member of my mother’s Hervormde church. Coming from a family where there was no academic experience in the preceding generation, I had to learn how to study at the university level. Although I picked up the essentials of human geography, discovering how humans use their living space, I did not yet display the academic habitus I was supposed to have. My first attempt at the final oral exam at the BA level came to an end with the chair, known – to put it mildly – for his unexpected questions. He asked me about the colour of one of the journals in the reading room – where I had, apparently, not spent enough time. Later on, I discovered that when I had to choose a topic for the BA thesis, I made the mistake of opting, since I enjoyed the anthropology courses, for an anthropological subject, thereby disqualifying myself in the eyes of the geography professor. At the resit three months later, he ‘suggested’ that I do my MA in anthropology. I followed his advice, which radically changed the course of my life. In the anthropology department, I learned a great deal from Jan van Baal, who held the first chair in the Netherlands for the anthropology of religion. The lectures he gave when I was a student were published later on in his introductory book on the anthropological study of religion (Van Baal 1971; see also Van Baal 1981). I was so much impressed by his singular erudition that, to make sure I understood what he meant, I took the same course twice. In addition to giving an interdisciplinary overview of the study of religion, Van Baal had developed his own theory of religion. I think his insights are still valuable, also because they later proved to be useful on a regular basis in the analysis of my own fieldwork experiences. Van Baal defines human beings as symbolizers: in his view, the human being is both the symbolizing subject on the one hand and part of the symbolized reality on the other. This puts human beings in a traumatically ambiguous position. They wish to feel part of their reality and their group, but, because of their symbolizing

3. The Congo Experience: Play, Margins, Ritual, and Eclecticism


activity, they also stand apart. Symbols, however, are not only the cause; they are also the solution. ‘Symbolizing is not merely an act of objectifying, it is also one of communication’ (Van Baal 1971: 222). One way in which symbols are used is to evoke a sacred world with which human beings can communicate. Religions explore the possibilities of a sacred or divine world as a reality in itself yet one that interferes with human reality. Another application of the symbolizing capacity is play, which allows people to deal simultaneously with two versions of reality, each with its own ways of using symbols to classify that particular life world. The obvious examples are sports and games, but in this definition religion can be seen as a form of play as well. Art is another way of using symbols to create a different reality. It is also a form of playing with possible realities. In a small book in Dutch, Van Baal compared religion, play, and art, showing that all three create another, respectively, divine, pleasurable, or beautiful reality (Van Baal 1972). Much later, at the end of his life, after having spent most of his academic life approaching religion in a reductive manner, explaining it from human characteristics, he made a surprising plea for the possibility that the sacred manifests itself in people’s lives (Van Baal 1991). He confessed that, when he was interned during the Second World War as a Dutch colonial civil administrator in a Japanese camp in what was later to become Indonesia, he himself had had a crucial mystical experience. Having repressed this event for decades, he accepted its consequences as an old man when writing his memoirs. That caused some stir in Dutch religious studies circles, since not all found this an attractive idea, as became clear during a symposium that resulted in a small volume of which I was the editor (Droogers 1996a). The central question in that book was how to deal with one’s religious beliefs when studying religion and religions. I will return to that shortly.

3. The Congo Experience: Play, Margins, Ritual, and Eclecticism When I did my MA in anthropology the curriculum, regrettably, did not include a period for doing fieldwork. That opportunity came with my first job abroad, as a lecturer at the Université Libre du Congo (ULC) in Kisangani, East Province of the Congo. This university had recently been founded by the Congolese Council of Protestant


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

Churches. When I finished my studies in 1967, my wife and I decided that we would give a few years of our life – which is how we thought about it then – by working in a developing country (the term used in the 1960s was ‘underdeveloped’). We did not understand that what we saw as ‘giving’ meant that we received access to a wealth of experiences that enriched and determined the course of our lives – academically, but also personally. Here, too, some arbitrary decisions were involved. We had offered our services to a Dutch inter-church organization that served as an agency for teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. who wanted to work for a few years in some developing country. We had offers to go to Thailand and Sudan, and at a certain stage Professor Van Baal suggested that we go to Madura, Indonesia. But in the end we opted for the Congo. Since there was an uprising by white mercenaries in Kisangani when we were planning to leave, we decided to wait for a while until all was quiet again. To make use of the suddenly available time, I was allowed to spend three months at the anthropology department of the VU, to prepare myself for my future job. There was an agreement between that university and the ULC in Kisangani, since both had a Protestant background and, moreover, bore the same name: Free University. It was in this period that another arbitrary choice occurred. The head of the department, Professor Herman Schulte Nordholt, suggested that I start fieldwork while I was in the Congo. This proposal was not only motivated by scientific interests, but there was a practical concern behind it as well: the possibility of keeping me in the university pension fund. I was to be paid by the Congolese government, a modest salary, and therefore could not afford to be part of a pension scheme. Schulte Nordholt had discovered that I could remain in the pension scheme, even when employed in the Congo, on the condition that my work there be relevant to my former employer, i.e the VU. Accordingly, he invented a PhD project for me, with himself as the supervisor, that was to be part of the department’s research programme at the time. This programme focused on Christian groups in several parts of the world. But what did we know about Christian groups in or near Kisangani? Virtually nothing. Then I happened to come across a travel book by a Belgian novelist, Karel Jonckheere ( Jonckheere n.d.), who had travelled to the Congo in the 1950s when it was still a Belgian colony. Writing on Kisangani (then Stanleyville), he mentioned the Wagenia, a small tribe of fishermen, living near the city around the falls in the Congo River that, at the time of his visit, were called Stanley

3. The Congo Experience: Play, Margins, Ritual, and Eclecticism


Falls. At the end of the 19th century, Henry Morton Stanley had visited and claimed Wagenia territory on behalf of the Belgian king. As a consequence, a colonial stronghold and later on a city were built nearby, and the city was called Stanleyville. Shortly after I read Jonckheere, I met a Dutch Salvation Army officer working in the Congo who told me that there was a Salvation Army chapel close to the falls. So, while still in the Netherlands, to convince the pension fund of the relevance of my work for my former employer, I wrote a research plan to study the Wagenia branch of the Salvation Army, focusing on religious change under missionary influence. My membership in the pension fund was accepted and the VU was kind enough to pay my contribution. And that is why I knew, even before leaving, that I would be doing fieldwork among the Wagenia, despite – or thanks to – the fact that I knew hardly anything about them. When we finally arrived in Kisangani, in January 1968, a first exploration of the Wagenia area revealed the presence of at least three other churches, a Roman Catholic one, a Baptist one, and a Kimbanguist one, the latter being an African independent church in origin. I changed my research plan so as to include these churches as well. I began to make regular visits to the Wagenia villages and churches. After some time, a house in the traditional style (mud walls, a roof of large leaves) was constructed in one of the villages. There my wife and I spent weekends and holidays. I usually went there in the afternoon, after I had taught my classes at the university. After some time I found a small number of regular informants, as well as two boys at the secondary school level to act as translators. After a more general orientation, I started to do research on religious change. In the process I acquired a working knowledge of the language, enough to check my assistants’ translations. While doing fieldwork, I heard persistent rumours that there was to be a boys’ initiation for the whole Wagenia tribe. However, the clan living the farthest upstream on the right bank of the Congo River, which traditionally took the initiative, kept postponing the decision. After the rebellion of 1964 and the mercenary uprising of 1968, they feared the occurrence of more military action. The problem they faced was that once the boys were isolated in the initiation camp, they could not leave before the ritual was over. So peaceful times were needed. Then, on Easter 1970, the clan living most upstream on the left bank decided to start the initiation, and on the same day or the day after other clans followed suit, including the one that should have begun the process. Over a period of five months, almost 1300


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

boys were initiated in 14 camps. At first, I thought I would observe what happened during initiation, intending to write an article about it, after which I would return to the PhD topic of religious change. But it soon became clear that too much was happening to be compressed into one article. So, after consulting my supervisor, I changed the topic of my PhD thesis to the boys’ initiation. An early result of doing fieldwork was that I came to detest theory for a time. When writing my research plan I succumbed to the pressure to provide a theoretical framework. Writing such a plan for the first time, I had struggled with theory, and my proposal was in fact severely criticized by my colleagues at the department for being weak on theory. In the field, however, I found myself doing the real thing, far away from the theoretical fashions of the university department, and I discovered the absolute uniqueness of an African culture. Cultural creativity was greater than theoretical models could ever be! Idiosyncrasy was what counted. Although I would accept later on that theory could be helpful and would, moreover, even be there when ignored, since it was, in fact, indispensable, I always remained convinced of the relative nature of theoretical frameworks and concepts. This led me to adopt an eclectic position as far as theory is concerned (Droogers 1985c), also in times when colleagues were enchanted by structuralist, neo-Marxist, poststructuralist, or postmodern theory. Admittedly, I have undeniably developed my own theoretical leanings, as will become clear below, but I still prefer to deconstruct seemingly exclusive approaches. One target was functionalist theory. From the boys’ initiation I learned that the functionalist approach, which explained institutions like religion and initiation in terms of their contribution to the maintenance of order in society, was overly serious in its appraisal. The playful aspect was much closer to the people than the type of functionalist explanations that presupposed reflection on the institutional level, which, moreover, explains origins on the basis of effects. The functionalist authors ignored the fact that people can be motivated to spend time and energy on religion or on an initiation ritual primarily for the fun of it. Of course, my informants explained to me, almost as amateur functionalists, that the initiation ritual was meant to turn the boys into men and to integrate them permanently into the father’s kinship group. But it was clear that the pleasure of the ritual was very important to them as well. Emphasizing ritual fun is not to say that being initiated was all joy and loaded with communitas experiences. Power was exercised in a sometimes nasty and cruel manner by the men over the boys and by

3. The Congo Experience: Play, Margins, Ritual, and Eclecticism


the older boys over the younger ones. But playfulness was the initiation’s most striking characteristic. One other result of the initiation fieldwork experience was that I came to reject a few ideas on African religion that were prominent at the time. African cultures were commonly viewed as incurably religious (e. g. Thomas 1969: 5). This was also a popular position among theologians developing an African theology (cf. Droogers 1977a). I had, in fact, entered the field with this image in mind. Since I intended to study religious change, I was keen to discover how religion had changed in a society where everything was supposed to be influenced by religion. However, the initiation ritual, where all these religious traditions were supposed to be transmitted from one generation to another, proved to be not that religious at all. It was, in fact, quite difficult to discover religious references in what went on. The only indication was that the boys in the camp had to cover their bodies with chalk water twice a day, so as to become white, the colour of the ancestor spirits, who would not then recognize them as living human beings and therefore not pester them. So, what I learned was that instead of presupposing that everything is religious, we should ask: To what degree is religion a factor in an African tribal society? In this respect, the staging of a kind of mock religion by the Wagenia men, with the women as their flock, was a spirited aspect of the boys’ initiation. The initiation tradition included specific spirit animals, such as a huge bird and an enormous elephant. The men ‘produced’ these animals at certain transitional moments, principally by using instruments that produced the sounds belonging to these animals. The women, who were confined to their houses or kept at a safe distance, were supposed to believe in the presence of these spirit animals. In reality they joined in the men’s game, duly playing their role, formally showing fear but informally having fun among themselves. When I saw this happen, I came to consider the possibility that religion could have originated in a game of male make-believe, exploring the possibilities that the idea of a sacred world provides for dominance over the other gender. The learning experience brought by the initiation fieldwork and subsequently in preparing the thesis led me to fundamental choices regarding anthropological issues and the study of religion. While writing the thesis (Droogers 1974, 1980c) I rediscovered theory through Victor Turner’s work, especially The Ritual Process (1969). This work nicely complemented Van Baal’s views on religion and play and on the


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

human dilemma of being part and yet feeling apart. It was also connected with Lévi-Strauss’ structuralism, with which both Van Baal and Schulte Nordholt sympathized. Taken together, these sources of inspiration formed an eclectic framework that helped me make sense of what I had seen during the Wagenia boys’ initiation. Turner’s emphasis on liminality and communitas served as an eye-opener to the peculiar social conditions prevailing at the time of the initiation ritual and to the tension between power and play. It also showed the abundant presence of the symbolic structure in the transitional context, as further illuminated by Lévi-Strauss’ work. Despite the interest in communitas, I also included the power dimension in the ritual process, thereby making the contrast with social structural hierarchy less strict. I was, moreover, fascinated by the dynamics of the initiation ritual over the course of time: the Wagenia maintained a basic symbolic structure that was repeated in their other transition rituals, and at the same time adapted it to changing colonial and post-colonial times. Van Baal’s symbolizer was given a great deal of space during initiation. From then on, power, play, and symbolism were regular ingredients of my work. Looking back, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we had gone to Sudan, Thailand, or Madura, or if the Wagenia had never again held their boys’ initiation ritual. Although acquired under arbitrary circumstances, I had obtained an academic worldview that seemed to survive beyond the conditions under which I had acquired it. After returning from the Congo in 1971 I was hired at the VU as a researcher in the newly founded institute for the interdisciplinary study of religion. At the same university, in 1974, I defended my PhD thesis, with Herman Schulte Nordholt as my supervisor and Jan van Baal as one of the committee members. To my surprise, I obtained the degree cum laude, the highest classification possible in the Dutch system. This seemed to push me in the direction of an academic career. In 1976 we returned to Wagenia as a family of four for a year’s fieldwork on the project with which I began: religious change, and in the years following I published the results of that research (Droogers 1977a, 1980a, 1980b, 1981b). One of the findings was that, instead of speaking of the Christianization of the Wagenia, it was better to speak of the ‘Wagenianization’ of Christianity. They had made their own versions of the Christian input, which differed per church as well as per individual. Here too symbolizers were at work.

4. The Brazil Experience: Power, Engagement, and a Syncretistic Laboratory


4. The Brazil Experience: Power, Engagement, and a Syncretistic Laboratory Another coincidence put me on the track to Brazil. The director of my institute, Professor Dick Mulder, was also the chair of the missions board of one of the Reformed churches. As part of the increasing trend towards cooperation, the two Reformed churches had several joint missions projects. Ecumenical initiatives are often preceded by joint efforts in the field of missions. Moreover, missions had moved from a focus on conversion to supporting Third World churches. Thus, a Dutch church historian had worked for a few years in the theological school of the Lutheran church in Brazil (IECLB [Igreja Evangélica de Confissão Luterana no Brasil, Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil]) in São Leopoldo, in the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul. The church had about 700,000 members, most of them of German descent. When the church historian returned to the Netherlands, the school showed interest in having another Dutch lecturer, this time for the study of religion. Thus, one day in 1978, as we happened to meet in the university elevator, my director told me in passing that the missions board was looking for a candidate for this job. He added that it probably would not be anything for me, since I was focusing on Africa, but maybe I could give it some thought. That is what my wife and I did. Although colleagues argued that this would entail a waste of my burgeoning career as an Africanist, we decided, after ample reflection, to apply for the job – which we got. The African influence in Brazil was a good excuse for an also otherwise attractive opportunity. The Congo experience had made power, play, the marginal, and symbolism regular ingredients of my work. My period in Brazil reinforced the relevance of these themes. The Brazilian manifestations of play widened my experience with the concept. In addition, syncretism became a permanent interest. Brazil also added Pentecostalism as a theme to my list of research topics. The power dimension was emphasized more than before. Power was an inevitable element, since at that time Brazil was still under military dictatorship. Moreover, the IECLB was critical of the regime; a number of its pastors had been arrested and interrogated because of their critique. The Brazilian authorities delayed our visa procedure, and we had to wait six months before we were finally granted visas


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

and a work permit in 1980. It gave us sufficient time to learn Portuguese, and I could read up on Brazilian religions. At the theological school, the majority of the staff and the student population had been inspired by liberation theology since the end of the 1960s. The accompanying leftist view of society had led inevitably to a confrontation with the military. With regard to religion, the liberationist perspective meant that the Marxist critique of religion was taken seriously, yet without abandoning religion as such. Class consciousness and the awareness of power relations determined the analysis of religion and society. The poor were rehabilitated for their wisdom. Because of their way of reading the Bible, supposedly marked by their class experience, they were viewed as teachers of the exegetes. Once in Brazil, it soon became clear to me that, based on their praxis of liberation theology, my theological colleagues not only expected me to teach the courses in religion but also wanted support from the social sciences for their type of analysis. More specifically, I was to focus on power as a factor in religion. This perspective meant that there was genuine interest in the Brazilian religious market, especially those religious forms that attracted the poor: popular Catholicism, Afro-Brazilian religions, and Pentecostal churches. Also, the religious and prophetic movements that had been part of Brazil’s history were discussed in the classes and seminars, including one that had emerged in the Lutheran context, that of the Mucker (1872 – 74). Popular religion was viewed as an example from which we could learn a lesson in the struggle for liberation. This was not stated primarily from a Marxist perspective, criticizing religion, nor from an exclusive Lutheran interest, but in an authentic manner, viewing popular religion as a form of folk wisdom. This perspective changed the exegesis of Bible texts fundamentally. The issues of power and class were constantly on the agenda. This had consequences for my own research. Looking for an interesting location, I elected to do fieldwork in a rural area in the state of Espírito Santo. Although far from São Leopoldo, it had the advantage that another Dutch couple, employed by the same missions board, was working in that region and could introduce me. They were part of a regional Lutheran pastoral team, working under the inspiration of liberation theology. Most members of the team were graduates of the school in São Leopoldo. To organize their flock, they used the Catholic model of the Church Base Communities (Comunidades Eclesiais de Base, also known as CEBs). The team applied the ‘conscientization’ didactics as elaborated by the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire in his Pedagogy of

4. The Brazil Experience: Power, Engagement, and a Syncretistic Laboratory


the Oppressed (Freire 1970). Their pastoral approach was to stimulate the reading of the Bible from the perspective of the poor. They paid special attention in their parish to those who were marginalized. Besides, the team did not limit their activities to the church but consciously sought to influence local politics and elections by teaching and preaching against the local power brokers, including some wealthy Lutheran families. This placed the class struggle in the parish itself. Land rights and tenant conditions were important issues in the pastors’ discourse and praxis. In my research in Espírito Santo I first studied popular Lutheranism. Much had been written on popular Catholicism, but hardly anything was known about popular forms of Protestantism. In that fieldwork I was soon confronted with the traditional power of the pastors, especially the German pastors who had worked in the region. Ironically, some of them had used their power in chronic conflict with the power of the rich Lutheran families that were structurally present in the church councils. Through this project I also discovered the laity’s creativity in producing their own version of the Lutheran faith, despite clerical power (Droogers 1984c). In a follow-up project, I took a local Lutheran parish in a small agrarian town, Santa Maria de Jetibá, as a case. I looked at the long-term involvement of the church in local politics (Droogers 2001g, 2010a). Eventually, the regional pastoral team broke up because of ideological conflicts. After a decade, the wealthy families were back in power in both the church and local politics. In the school, working as an anthropologist offering a social sciences framework for the understanding of phenomena and events in Brazilian society, I emphasized how culture works. This coincided with an interesting development in liberation theology. Liberation theologians gradually discovered that culture was a blind spot in their models. For a long time, the focus on class analysis was so strong that it was thought that all problems would be solved once a classless society was established. This was, in fact, a denial of important cultural and religious differences in the country. In part, these differences were ethnic in origin: Afro-Brazilians and Amerindians each had their own cultural and religious identity, which would persist even after the equalizing social liberation had occurred. The new attention given to cultural and religious aspects made my input in the school’s curriculum even more relevant. Part of the growing interest in culture and religion involved syncretism, another topic that gained my interest. On my arrival at the school in São Leopoldo, I was invited to present an inaugural lecture. I chose to


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

discuss syncretism (Droogers 1981c). Later on, I was to define syncretism as ‘religious interpenetration, either taken for granted or subject to debate’ (Droogers 1989d: 21), which placed syncretism within a power context. Usually, the clergy oppose forms of popular religion that mix elements from different sources. In Brazil, the Afro-Brazilian religions are known best, at least in scholarly circles, as syncretistic by nature (e. g. Bastide 1978; see also Droogers 1985b). The distinction between popular and official religion that was at the basis of my interest in popular Lutheranism also pointed to the role of power and contestation in the emergence of religious beliefs and practices. The framework of liberation theology, with its inversion of the roles of theologians and laity, made the role of power in the production of religion explicit. But syncretism also pointed to play, since people easily and in a playful manner combined elements from a variety of origins, despite the clergy’s objections. Power, syncretism, and play were connected phenomena. In addition to doing research on Lutheran popular religion, I started a fieldwork project that led me to syncretism. This focused on a rather idiosyncratic form of spiritism – or Kardecism – in the healing group Casa do Jardim (Garden House) in Porto Alegre, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Kardecists easily combine Christian ideas with beliefs in karma and reincarnation and thus can be classified as syncretists. Yet syncretism could have its own orthodoxy. Within the local official Kardecist organization, the Casa do Jardim group was considered heterodox because, among other things, it used elements and benign spirits from Umbanda, itself a syncretistic Afro-Brazilian religion. The leader of the group, a medical doctor, José Lacerda de Azevedo, himself developed much of the healing approach that was used in the group (Lacerda de Azevedo 1997). The method not only mixed religious elements in a syncretistic way; it also sought to combine religious and scientific elements. It worked with the energy frequencies of spirits and human beings, raising their level by systematically counting and giving an impulse at each count or, conversely, taking the energy from evil entities by counting backwards. Lacerda presented this as the medical science of the 21st century, being a synthesis of religious and scientific ideas, thereby practically dissolving the distinction between the two fields. The group claimed impressive results, drawing many people to its Saturday morning sessions. One interesting application was that Brazil as a whole could be treated, in addition to individual patients (Droogers 1991 f). The spiritists of Casa do Jardim saw their activities as part of

4. The Brazil Experience: Power, Engagement, and a Syncretistic Laboratory


a major spiritual war, in which not only persons but also countries and huge spirit armies, both malignant and benign, were involved. I interpreted this type of syncretistic spiritism as a form of play, since it invoked a dramatic spirit reality to solve problems in human reality. In observing the spirit reality that Dr. Lacerda’s group dealt with, I was reminded of the Wagenia men and their quasi-religious huge bird and elephant, even though the Brazilian spiritists were much less playful, contrary to the general impression of their culture and society. To them, the spirits they received were real. Every treatment a healing team gave was a small drama in which the spirit reality was invoked by the mediums to help find an explanation for the patient’s problems. Each time this was done in a different and personal way but always according to a basic procedure. Thus, a vindictive spirit manifested itself through one of the mediums, confessing that it was the cause of the patient’s trouble because it was seeking revenge for an act committed by that patient’s spirit against him or her in a previous incarnation. Although different mediums could come with contrary information on and from the spirit reality, some consensus always emerged, especially through the team coordinator’s interpretations. After having found a diagnosis, the coordinator sought to convert the revengeful spirit, sometimes in Jesus’ name, so that it accepted a new incarnation on a higher moral level. Superior spirits from advanced hospitals in the spirit world, as well as benign Umbanda spirits, could be asked to help solve the case. In a few cases, ‘black magic’ (magia negra) was said to be the cause, instead of a revengeful spirit. This included a racist element, reinforced by the fact that negra means both black and negro. It was supposed to come from Afro-Brazilian religions and always led to a counter-witchcraft treatment. The experience in the Casa do Jardim was also important because it put me in contact with the anthropologist Sidney M. Greenfield (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), with whom I was to develop a strong relationship of academic cooperation in the study of syncretism, as well as a personal friendship. A male patient walked in during the Saturday morning healing session of one of the teams of the group. As was usual, he was invited to lie down on a bed, the team members sitting around him. In fluent Portuguese but with an American accent, he explained what his problem was. The team then followed the usual procedure. Afterwards, the patient was introduced to me as an anthropologist who was doing research on spiritist healing in Brazil. As a consequence of that first meeting, Sid Greenfield and I remained in contact,


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

and in 1989 he invited me to take part in a session on healing that he organized during the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). That was the start of years of cooperation, resulting in, among other things, a joint AAA seminar in 1995 that, in turn, produced a jointly edited volume on syncretism (Greenfield and Droogers 2001, see Droogers 2001a, b, c, d). Again, coincidence provided continuity. My Brazilian experience meant a strong impetus for my interest in play, also in connection with power. Play seems to be a trade mark of Brazilian culture and society. It also is a theme in the work of Brazilian anthropologists, such as Roberto DaMatta (DaMatta 1991). Carnival is the most obvious expression of this of course, but the Brazilian soccer style is as well. Play was not only explicit in transitional or liminal moments but also in a more permanent way. A joking relationship is quite frequent and easily established in contacts among and with Brazilians. Play serves a horizontal and equalizing tendency that is an important ingredient of Brazilian behaviour codes. However, this playful side is accompanied by its counterpoint: an emphasis on power. Brazilian history and society show a vertical line as well, expressing hierarchy and a dominant social structure. Thus, the long period of military dictatorship was clearly an expression of the vertical axis, just as the hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church, to which the majority of the Brazilians belong, is characterized by a permanent vertical emphasis. Power and play co-occur and compete for dominance. Liberation theology was a factor in seeking to reinforce the horizontal axis, both in society and in the church. Another example of play here was the democratization movement that led to the end of the military dictatorship, which sometimes used playful elements in its campaign. As DaMatta has shown (1991: 198 – 266), the work of Brazilian novelists and poets is a source of illustrations of these two souls in the Brazilian breast. One of my own contributions to the study of Brazilian playfulness is the article on the work of the Brazilian poet Mario Quintana, reading it from the perspective of the playful seriousness of Brazilian religiosity (Droogers 1990f, ch. 2 of this book). My best teacher on Brazil and its way of combining play and power was an excellent student I had in the São Leopoldo school, João Guilherme Biehl. He was very helpful in acquainting me with this inner tension in Brazilian society, culture, and religion. He also helped me find my way in Brazilian music, cinema, and theatre as portraying the national dilemma. In his writing he shows himself to be gifted with a

4. The Brazil Experience: Power, Engagement, and a Syncretistic Laboratory


very playful and creative personality. After studying theology, journalism, and history in Brazil, he was able to continue his studies at Berkeley, earning doctorates in religion and anthropology. I am proud to have contributed to his conversion from theology to anthropology. After having worked at Harvard, Biehl is currently professor of anthropology at Princeton. He is known for his prize-winning works in medical anthropology on marginalized people in Brazil (Biehl 2005, 2007). In addition to the topics of power, syncretism, and play, inevitably Pentecostalism also presented itself to me as an important theme. At the time of my stay in Brazil, two-thirds of the Brazilian Protestants were Pentecostals. Their churches were in a process of strong expansion. This was new to me. I had not come across Pentecostal churches in the Congolese situation of the early 1970s, whereas now they can be found all over the country. The Kimbanguist church with which I became acquainted in the Congo is now sometimes classified as a Pentecostal church because of its emphasis on the Holy Spirit. At the time of my research, lay members began to refer to the church’s indigenous founder, Simon Kimbangu, as the incarnated Holy Spirit (Droogers 1980b), a view that later on became part of the official doctrine of the church. Brazilian Pentecostalism took a rather different form, being initially a missionary product established from 1910 onwards. But a second wave of expansion, in the 1950s, was mainly of native Brazilian origin, as was a third wave that started in the 1970s. In addition, charismatic movements had been emerging since the 1960s, first in the Catholic Church, sometimes stimulated by the clergy as a countermovement against liberation theology. Later on, charismatic movements emerged in the mainline Protestant churches as well, including the IECLB. In terms of play, the belief in the Holy Spirit worked as a rehabilitation of the lay believer’s initiatives, yet sought to value lay people in a different way from how liberation theology did. Here it was not class consciousness that was the inspiration but the idea of the availability of the Holy Spirit to all. Accordingly, access to the sacred became direct, and believers could thereby avoid clerical power. Everyone was free to play with the possibilities that the gifts of the Spirit offered. The horizontal axis was predominant especially in the early stages of church development. However, if this initial movement was successful, organization became necessary, and then the vertical axis was reinforced, reducing the believers’ freedom. In all variants of Pentecostalism, therefore, power was an element that required watching, either because, as in the first-generation


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

churches, it did not yet occupy a conspicuous role or because it grew in importance, as in second- and third-generation churches. The freedom to experiment with the gifts of the Holy Spirit was curtailed once power processes started to play a role. The horizontal axis gradually lost importance to the vertical means of organizing the faithful. Usually, this also meant that women were subjected to male authority. It often happened that a third or fourth generation of believers rediscovered the origins of the church, caused a split and began the cycle anew. Such a division was, in fact, a multiplication, contributing to Pentecostal expansion. After a five-year stay, it was difficult to leave Brazil. All four family members had become infected by its lively and attractive culture and society. All four had sunk roots. It was difficult to make the decision to return to the Netherlands. I sometimes compare it to a basketball game between Brazil and the Netherlands that the Dutch won narrowly by 90 to 89. Again, my career depended on an almost arbitrary decision.

5. The Dutch Experience: Pentecostalism, Secularization, and Ludism When returning from Brazil in 1985, the institute for the interdisciplinary study of religion at the VU, where I had worked in the years between my periods in the Congo and Brazil, was in trouble because it had not met the high expectations placed upon it. In the end it was closed down by the university board. I was transferred to the anthropology department where I became a lecturer. In 1989, when the occupant of the department chair for the cultural anthropology of religion, the Africanist Matthew Schoffeleers, retired, I applied for the job and was appointed. Back to basis was also back to basics. Occupying the chair of the cultural anthropology of religion meant that in lecturing and research I could and should set my own agenda. It was an invitation to define ‘my’ anthropology of religion. As a consequence, new insights on old and basic questions presented themselves. Several lines of research merged, as if the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were falling into place. After the time spent in the Congo and Brazil, the accumulated experience could be integrated into my reflection on the fundamentals of my kind of anthropology of religion. At the time, an important source of inspiration was Sherry Ortner’s article on ‘Theory in Anthropology

5. The Dutch Experience: Pentecostalism, Secularization, and Ludism


since the Sixties’ (Ortner 1984) because she offered a framework for understanding cultural praxis within a context of power and meaningmaking. I felt both confirmed and inspired to continue working on the themes that had by then become items on my academic agenda. The anthropology of religion chair offered a platform from which I could elaborate on ideas accumulated in the previous two decades. As a first product, my inaugural lecture (Droogers 1990b) presented a pilot version of the three-dimensional model of religious groups that I refined later on (see also Droogers 1995b and 2003d, both included here as chs. 8 and 7 respectively). I distinguished between an internal, an external, and a transcendental dimension, each with its own pattern of power relations, yet contributing to a particular constellation of the relation between meaning-making and the exercise of power. Gradually, I began to use the chair to stimulate research on changing worldviews in the Netherlands and on Pentecostalism. I also sought to explore the implications of the concept of play, e. g. for the delicate relationship between religion and science, also in the scientific study of religion. This led me to propose ‘methodological ludism’. Moreover, I wanted to show how playful religion can be. I will summarily discuss these issues, beginning with the Dutch worldview situation. The dynamics of worldviews in the Netherlands became a topic that I and the PhD students I had the pleasure to supervise studied. This theme had not been very popular for quite some time in committees deciding on applications for research funding. I made several attempts in the 1990s, all in vain. Apparently, these committee members lived under the impression that religion had succumbed to secularization and that therefore research on religion should not be subsidized. Nonetheless, around the turn of the century, the secularization thesis, which had predicted the end of religion, proved to be false. Religion had been transformed and individualized, but it was still very much present. Around that time, I designed and coordinated the research programme Between Secularization and Sacralization (BSS) (see Droogers 2007b; Droogers and Van Harskamp forthcoming). The VU University was willing to finance it. The Netherlands had been considered one of the most secularized countries, statistically speaking, in the world – depending, of course, on one’s definition of secularization. In terms of dechurchification, this seemed to be a correct conclusion. The puzzling fact was that the percentage of atheists had not grown as a consequence of the exodus from the churches. These de-churched and yet not atheist people now form about two thirds of the Dutch population. These


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

trends had been more or less documented by quantitative research, but scarcely anything was known regarding what exactly had happened to people who had left the churches. The BSS programme was organized to study five aspects of this process, applying qualitative methods: identity, ritual, experience, language and morals. It had a twofold task: to study what could not be expressed in numbers and to develop methods that succeeded in uncovering the transformations that took place. In the course of time, projects on Islamic religious education and on neo-paganism were added. A few years later the Dutch Science Research Council launched a well-funded programme, The Future of the Religious Past, as a sign that religion had, in fact, recovered as a topic of interest – even though it still needed an ambiguous reference to the secularization thesis. Although the secularization theme had inspired the Council, I used the opportunity to enhance my chair’s role in the study of the second theme mentioned above, Pentecostalism. I became the principal applicant and coordinator of a programme on Conversion Careers and Culture Politics in Pentecostalism: A Comparative Study on Four Continents. With projects in Nicaragua, Mozambique, Japan, and the Netherlands, our programme focused on the theme of power and meaningmaking in the context of Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism is an interesting and relevant subject for several reasons. First of all, its worldwide multiplication in numbers by a factor of seven within 30 years, leading to an estimation of 500 million adherents in 2005, is sufficient reason to pay attention to it. Churches may vary in size from a living room community of a dozen people to a multinational megachurch with millions of members. Pentecostalism also serves as a laboratory for the observation of a constellation of interconnected aspects and tensions (Droogers 2005 f). In this regard, the dynamics of its horizontal and vertical axes was important, as was its gender dimension. In its first-generation groups, the genesis of a religious movement can be studied closeup. A striking aspect is the presence of a number of paradoxes (Droogers 1998b, included in this volume as ch. 12), such as the simultaneous emphasis on body and soul, horizontal and vertical tendencies, liberty of expression and strict control, avoiding the ‘world’ and yet being model citizens, a focus on the afterlife and the apocalypse as well as on the here and now. The transnational and global framework of Pentecostal expansion has drawn scholarly attention (see Droogers 2001e, included in this volume as ch. 13). For me, a challenge in the study of Pentecostal growth is the question of how to combine

5. The Dutch Experience: Pentecostalism, Secularization, and Ludism


the role of external factors – such as modernization, urbanization and feelings of anomie – and that of internal characteristics, including a range of specific beliefs and practices. The latter were often neglected in the study of Pentecostal expansion, as if external social reasons provided sufficient explanation (Droogers 2005 f). The initial interest in explaining Pentecostal expansion has been followed recently by more specific studies, e. g. focusing on health or on Pentecostals’ presence in public space. Pentecostal migrant churches also are receiving attention, especially in their reverse mission of re-Christianizing secular Western Europe. When I started my work in the anthropology department of the VU, I had already been made responsible for the theme of Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism had been part of the research programme on Christian groups in the department, which had been a reason for my study of Christianity among the Wagenia. My colleague Hans Tennekes (Tennekes 1978, 1985) had dealt with the topic so far. I started coordinating a study group, which had regular meetings for more than a decade, with a shifting composition, mainly stemming from students at the MA and PhD levels who had done fieldwork somewhere in the world on a Pentecostal topic. In 1988 a symposium was organized, leading to two volumes: a smaller one in Spanish (Boudewijnse 1991) and, later on, an extended version in English (Boudewijnse 1998). My article in the latter volume (Droogers 1998b) is included in the present collection of essays (ch. 12). At a later stage, I took the initiative to found a study centre and begin an e-journal. These are now known, respectively, as the Hollenweger Center and PentecoStudies. At the start of the new century, my university collaborated with the universities of Birmingham (UK) and Heidelberg (Germany) to found GloPent, the European Research Network on Global Pentecostalism, now joined by the University of Uppsala as its fourth member. PentecoStudies is currently published under the auspices of GloPent, and also appears in print form. GloPent has proved to be an important platform for research initiatives, including applications for research funding. It also produced a handbook for the study of Pentecostalism (Anderson 2010). The GloPent infrastructure was helpful when applying for funding for the programme on The Future of the Religious Past and also when the European Funding agency NORFACE launched a programme with the central question: The Re-emergence of Religion as a Social Force in Europe? Our NORFACE project was a comparative study of a successful Nigerian church in Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. I thus became the principal


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

applicant for two major research programmes on Pentecostalism, with several post-doctoral researchers and PhD candidates working in different countries and on different continents. These colleagues contributed significantly to my understanding of Pentecostalism. I felt challenged, moreover, by interdisciplinary contacts, as had been the case in the Congo and Brazil. Although I was working in the Faculty of Social Sciences, part of my research was done in the programme of the Religious Studies department of the Faculty of Theology. As in Brazil, my social sciences approach was welcomed as a complement to the research interests of my colleagues. My role was to emphasize the real and popular versions as soon as their discourse referred only to the ideal and official religion. Thus, the uncovering of the power mechanisms in syncretism (Droogers 1989d, ch. 9 of this book) I discussed above was my contribution to a volume on syncretism (Gort et al. 1989). The Hollenweger Center and the GloPent participation were a joint venture with other colleagues from the theological faculty. I also visited international interdisciplinary conferences, such as that of the UK Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS). A seminar I led together with Susanna Rostas during such a conference resulted in a volume based on the idea that people could make popular use of even popular religion (Rostas and Droogers 1993). My contribution to that volume is included here (ch. 4). The British Sociology of Religion Study Group was another inspiring environment for presenting and testing the results of the BSS programme (Droogers 2007b). My interest in play helped me to reflect on the basic problem of how to study religion in a scientific way, while taking into consideration that science was also a secularizing factor. How can one give religious views and practices a fair appraisal? In the social sciences Peter Berger (Berger 1967) had suggested distinguishing between methodological atheism, theism, and agnosticism as possible scholarly positions – refusal, acceptance, or abstaining from an opinion – with regard to religious truth claims. In their private lives, scholars are free to choose another position, but in academic work they should pick one of these three positions. I felt that these options did not exhaust the possibilities, particularly because they represent researchers’ perspectives instead of acknowledging the believers’ perspective. Methodological theism still has to resolve the question of many truth claims, of which there are as many as there are religions. Moreover, it seems this position was only added to make the set of three complete, as the counterpoint of methodological atheism. In my view, methodological atheism is a facile

5. The Dutch Experience: Pentecostalism, Secularization, and Ludism


and uncritical acceptance of the worldview that came with modernization and positivism. And methodological agnosticism may express uncertainty on religions’ truth claims but does not in practice differ from the position of methodological atheism, maintaining the same distance from religious beliefs and practices. Inspired by what I had learned about play, I proposed a different position: methodological ludism (Droogers 1996e, included in this volume as ch. 14). Ludism refers, of course, to homo ludens, and methodological ludism invites scholars to use play as a tool for understanding believers’ truth claims. My starting-point for the notion of methodological ludism was to define play as ‘the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality’ (Droogers, 1996: 53). The reference to the subjunctive stems from Victor Turner, who distinguishes it from the indicative (Turner 1988: 25, 169). Religion is a field in which the human capacity for play is applied. But so is participant observation, the anthropologist’s methodological trade mark. Methodological ludism is a variation on participant observation, applied to the study of religious truth claims. Doing anthropological fieldwork on religion has at least two layers of playfulness: first, when believers play with the possibilities of a sacred reality, and, second, because the anthropological fieldworker combines her or his own reality with that of the people being researched, including their reference to the sacred reality. The fieldworker shares the gift of play with the people being researched. In combining participation and observation, the fieldworker moves through these realities, trying to understand the codes and experiences that are part of them. Judged by objectivist (neo-)positivist criteria, participant observation is a dubious method. Instead of maintaining a safe distance, so as not to change the situation that is studied, as exemplified by the laboratory model, the fieldworker acts as a participant. However, ethnographic literature shows abundantly that this approach produces interesting results. In methodological ludism this position, using the fieldworker as a research tool, is taken a bit further as a way to enter new territory in the study of religion. But then the question is how the objective and subjective elements relate to each other. An important aspect in seeking an answer is that a secular view of religion easily matches an objective, distanced attitude. The study of religion, insofar as it had to emancipate itself as a new discipline from Christian theology, often the field from which it emerged, readily included this objectivity in its identity as the Science of Religion. Yet, was this distance beneficial for the understanding of religion?


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

Methodological ludism challenges the researcher to adopt the believers’ modus of viewing reality. If only for twenty seconds, the fieldworker could try to experience what the people who are the subjects of his or her study find in their religion and its truths. Instead of focusing on the researcher’s position, methodological ludism includes that of the researched. It is therefore of greater help in understanding truth claims than the triad that Berger introduced. The inside view of the believer tells us more about religion than the scholars’ way of dealing with a problem that they have allowed modernization – defined here as the application of science and technology in society – to put on their agenda. It might be helpful if scholars would acknowledge the time-bound character of their presuppositions, even if they are adorned with the prestigious label ‘modern’ or ‘scientific’. Methodological ludism, and more generally the interest in play, could be justified in other ways as well. Constructivism, as a view of social science that integrated much of the critique against (neo-)positivist influences, emphasized the interaction between the researcher and the researched in finding relevant knowledge (Guba 1990:27). This also made ‘hard’ scientific findings a lot softer. With regard to the relation between science and religion, common elements can then be detected, instead of the usual contrast, since in both forms of knowledge the human capacity of play is applied. This is most obvious in the use of metaphors, since this type of symbol always works with two domains that exist independently of each other, one domain clarified by the obvious and generally accepted characteristics of the other. Whether one suggests that God is father or mother or that society is an organism or a pyramid, a play with two domains is being staged. The current ‘God debate’ then becomes a rearguard action caused by modernization, based too much on a (neo-)positivist mind frame. Even staunch atheists enjoy the pleasurable applications of the play capacity, as in novels, theatre, opera, movies etc., even though these invoked realities are on principle as illusory as the condemned religious realities. The other side of the coin is, of course, that believers, as well as methodological theists, might be invited to become aware of the playfulness in religious beliefs and practices, and therefore of the relative nature of religious knowledge. Here play can be contrasted with power, another human capacity but not as generally distributed, since it is reserved for some who are able to influence other people’s behaviour. In my view, religions are subjected from the start to power processes that impose demands derived from the needs of the powers that be.

5. The Dutch Experience: Pentecostalism, Secularization, and Ludism


What emerges in the margins of society – a fruitful zone for creative religion – is thus soon brought under the control of powers that tend to occupy the centre of society. Any religious movement that becomes successful suffers this tragic fate. Religious beliefs and practices are then transformed from the very start, mirroring the features of the powerful, more than the characteristics initially attributed to the sacred. Atheists commonly address precisely the problematic power dimension in religion, either in its divine or human form, and rightly so. If believers and especially their leaders understood how power works, they would be in a position to improve the human quality of their religion and to stimulate free meaning-making. My quest for play made me aware of a fundamental tension in the place of human beings between free meaning-making, as visible in play, and the need for a restraining social structure, as continuity-making. I am not suggesting that the choice is between either meaning or continuity, play or power, but one might strive for situations where power is subservient to meaning-making, allowing for a minimum of social structural continuity. Power then returns to its role as a means, no longer being a self-maintaining goal. Hard power then becomes soft power. Neither do I want to imply that play is ‘only’ a game. On the contrary: seriousness is an integral part of play. The spoilsport sins against this principle. Religious play should also be done in a serious manner, but it should include humor as well: ultimately, this is play with the potential of the sacred, a serious play – but play. Truth can then no longer be written with capital T. It serves religious purposes for as long as the religious game is on, but in the globalized world it is clear that other games are available as well, each with their own merits. Syncretists have known this for a long time already, and were accordingly criticized by their clergy. Power mechanisms appear to have given so much room to seriousness that playfulness has often disappeared from view. In the religious field, my approach represents a plea for low-profile powers that merely facilitate the original play with ideas and practices that help human beings make sense of their dynamic life. The exclusivist tone – not to speak of the fundamentalist attitude – that accompanies strong powers may then be softened, allowing for an open mind to the commonness between religions. This puts the question of truth claims in another light while simultaneously making the application of methodological ludism much easier. Moreover, interreligious dialogue may then be practised with a broader scope and participation than is


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

done at present. The role of religions in causing but also solving the problems that humanity is currently facing – poverty, violence, pollution, and ethnic-religious conflicts – can then fruitfully be discussed. If these views on play, power, methodological ludism, and religion are combined, religion can be redefined for academic purposes. The constructivist perspective makes believers and researchers part of one and the same field. Interestingly, the play in both categories regards similar dual options that structure their respective mind frames. The recognition that both believers and scholars are symbolizers, playing especially with metaphors and the realities these invoke, doing so within a powerladen context, justifies this bringing together of what, under the impact of modernization, was considered to be separate in our trade (Droogers 2010h). That makes the field of religion the terrain where believers and researchers meet. Thus I arrive at this definition of religion (Droogers 2008b:463): Religion is the field of experiencing the sacred in the body – a field in which both believers and scholars act, each category applying the human capacity for play, within the constraints of power mechanisms, to articulate basic human dichotomies, thus adding an extra dimension to their view of reality.

6. Summation At the beginning of this introduction I asked myself how I had developed and how I had moved from the haphazard to the planned, from contingency to continuity. What did the coincidences mean for the consistency of this volume of collected essays? Was there any unity in the diversity of topics? A provisional answer can now be formulated. In hindsight, I appear to have played with the disparate possibilities – autobiographical, ethnographic, thematic, theoretical, academic – that I came across in my working life. This idiosyncratic constellation made my itinerary more specific, excluding other possibilities. Along the road there were important persons who served as signposts, showing me how to continue. The initial encounter with play, in the classroom with Jan van Baal, in the Wagenia boys’ initiation, and in reading Victor Turner’s work, was decisive. The Brazilian experience reinforced this interest in play, adding the power dimension. The Dutch experience helped to synthesize the diverse strands, bringing play and power into one framework as

7. On the Structure of this Book


far as the study of religion was concerned. The Dutch situation also demanded exploring the boundaries between the secular and the religious in people’s beliefs and praxis as well as in the study of religion. Since the field I studied could be characterized as subject to the tension between freedom and structure, between play and power, my rather diverse experiences could lead to plausible generalizations and a common denominator. I also learned to be critical of exclusive views and to deconstruct them wherever possible. I gradually moved from a more or less objectivist distant position to a subjectivist and engaged stance. I now advocate a concerned type of scholarship, using the study of religion, in conjunction with believers, to contribute to religious freedom and to a major role for religions in solving the world’s problems (Droogers 2010h). Power, once it becomes a goal in itself, appears to contaminate whatever it comes to dominate. This circumstance should be an invitation to scholars studying religions to go beyond the mere documentation of religions’ role in world society, and to recommend ways in which dominant and exclusive religious power can be changed into subservient and inclusive power. The playful side of religion, which is present from the very start, can then be rehabilitated. Its creativity can be harnessed to serve the quality of human life. Humanity can then move from contingency to continuity. The condition is that power and play are put in a sound symmetrical relationship.

7. On the Structure of this Book The contents of this volume reflect the author’s itinerary as described in this introduction. In organizing the book, I tried to work more from the pole of consistency rather than that of contingency. In view of the heterogeneous material, it was, in fact, not easy to produce a coherent table of contents. First of all, I had great difficulty in deciding what to include and to exclude and how to organize the material that survived the selection. I had to discard several points that were dear to me. Of course, each text I wrote had its own context of fieldwork, of writing, and of publication. Nevertheless, I made an effort to remain as faithful as possible to the idea that I was organizing the book as one argument. This was, of course, an illusory goal, since the only chapter I wrote specifically for this volume was this introduction. All the other chapters have been recycled from


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

other debates and other intentions. The book, therefore, does not aim at the consistency of a monograph. The articles I finally brought together have been written over a period of thirty years, in which I have refreshed my mind on several occasions. Each of these texts represents a particular stage in my development and career. To limit myself to religion, power, and play was, therefore, an important choice with respect to organizing the shortlist and discovering some order in the chaos of texts that emerged from the selection process. I also discovered that I repeated myself more often than I was aware. Apparently, the same idea can be used in different contexts and debates. Thus, there is some inevitable redundancy. Yet, the bonus is that each chapter can be read independently of the others. That is why each chapter includes its own bibliography and there is no general bibliography at the end. It is my hope that the reader may experience the repetition to some extent as didactically useful. In a number of cases slight editorial changes were made in case the text referred directly to the context in which it was originally published. I was tempted to update my texts, integrating recent literature and insights. In the field of cognitive studies, for example, from which I took connectionism as a useful approach, much has happened. Yet I resisted the temptation, mainly because the volume would then no longer contain my collected essays but would be an entirely new book that I might still write in the future. So, I accept that some of the insights collected here are dated, perhaps even outdated. Even so, the chapters illustrate the path my thought has followed over three decades. Turning now to the way I decided to organize the book, the three parts reflect the distinction between the general theoretical approach (I), the study of two specific fields (II), and methodological applications (III). Part I, called ‘Marginality, Play, and Power’, comprising eight of the seventeen chapters, covers half the book. The four sections of Part I are meant to present the main theoretical themes and concepts that have gradually moved to central stage in my work: ‘Margin’, ‘Inversion’, ‘Play and Ritual’, and ‘Power and Meaning-Making’. The approach I adopted is illustrated by two chapters per theme. The first section, on ‘Margin’, opens with a chapter (first published 1980) that searches for symbols of marginality in the biographies of religious founders. The second chapter (1990) is a study of religious elements in the work of a very playful and witty Brazilian poet, Mario Quintana, who observed his society from its margins.

7. On the Structure of this Book


The next section, called ‘Inversion’, starts with a chapter (2001) on the domestication of the religious imagination. The inversion that is meant here concerns primarily the rehabilitation of playfulness in religion, implying a concomitant inversion of power relations, expressed by symbolic inversions. The other chapter in this section (1993) discusses Brazilian popular religion. Here the inversion refers to the contrast with official religion as well as to the tendency by ordinary believers to make their own version of popular religion in turn. In the third section of Part I, on ‘Play and Ritual’, chapter 5 (2005) presents ritual as the temporary emergence and playful enactment of a shadow reality. It is my way of salvaging a much discussed and criticized concept. The other chapter in this section (2001) takes as its startingpoint a church festival in a small Brazilian town, using this case to discuss a number of issues with regard to play, power, and ritual. The final section of Part I has ‘Power and Meaning-Making’ as its topic. Chapter 7 (2003) introduces a three-dimensional model for the study of this topic in religious groups and illustrates this for Christian communities. The dimensions refer to internal and external power relations, the third dimension being the relationship with the divine or transcendental power. The other chapter in this section (1995) applies the same model to two Brazilian religions, Umbanda and Pentecostalism. It shows how the three dimensions of this model influence religious identity, an important characteristic in a pluralistic society like Brazil. Part II, ‘Two Fields’, applies the insights presented in Part I to two specific fields: syncretism, treated in three chapters, and Pentecostalism, elaborated in two. Chapter 9 (1989) offers a definition of syncretism that explicitly integrates the power dimension. In chapter 10 (2008) a comparison is made between syncretism and fundamentalism. The third chapter in this section (2001) shows how syncretism works at the individual level. A Brazilian woman tells the story of her journey through a number of religions. The other section in Part II is dedicated to Pentecostalism, currently the fastest growing sector of Christianity. It is estimated that there are now half a billion Pentecostals in the world, mainly in the southern hemisphere. Pentecostals are strong at playing with their values when adapting to the contexts in which they operate. Their praxis includes idiosyncratic power processes. Chapter 12 (1998) discusses theories that intend to explain Pentecostalism’s expansion in the Latin American context. This chapter is also meant to be a reflection on the non-reduc-


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

tionist explanation of religious growth. In chapter 13 (2001) the connection between the growing number of Pentecostals and the process of globalization, in which people experience the world as one place, is explored. Part III brings together ‘Methodological Applications’. The first section presents my views on ‘methodological ludism’, whereas the second section explores the relationship between religion and science. Chapter 14 (1996) reprints one of the first texts in which I coined the term ‘methodological ludism’. The basic idea is that play is not only a crucial ingredient of the religious attitude, but can also be part of the scholar’s toolkit when trying to understand religion and its concrete expressions. The second chapter in this section (1999) discusses the consequences of this approach for the definition of religion. The final section, on ‘Religion and Science’, seeks to disentangle their problematic relationship that is part of the scientific study of religion, taking into account, moreover, that science has been a secularizing factor. Chapter 16 (2005) is the result of a rather personal reflection on this problem and on its implicit dualism. Again, an appeal is made here to play as the simultaneous presence of two ways of knowing. The last chapter of this section and of the book (2008) could have been included in the section on ‘Inversion’ since I experiment with the idea that as far as the study of religion is concerned, the scholar and the believer operate in the same field, thereby inverting the usual distance between the two. This essay addresses almost all the themes of this volume in an effort to come to a more effective way of studying religion and religions. The book closes with my bibliography. This bibliography is intended as an invitation to read the texts that did not make it into this volume.

Acknowledgement I gratefully acknowledge editorial advice by Henry Jansen.

References For all references in this chapter to publications by André Droogers, see the separate bibliography at the end of this volume.



Anderson, Allan, Michael Bergunder, André Droogers, and Cornelis van der Laan (eds.) (2010). Studying global pentecostalism: Theories and methods. Berkeley etc.: University of California Press. Bastide, Roger (1978). The African religions of Brazil: Toward a sociology of the interpenetration of civilizations. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Berger, Peter (1967). The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Biehl, João (2005). Vita: Life in a zone of social abandonment. Berkeley etc.: University of California Press. Biehl, João (2007). Will to live: Aids therapies and the politics of survival. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. Boudewijnse, Barbara, André Droogers and Frans Kamsteeg (eds.) (1991), Algo mas que opio, Una lectura antropolgica del pentecostalismo latinoamericano y caribeÇo. San José, Costa Rica: DEI. Boudewijnse, Barbara, André Droogers and Frans Kamsteeg (eds.) (1999). More than opium: An anthropological approach to Latin American and Caribbean pentecostal praxis. Lanham: Scarecrow. DaMatta, Roberto (1991). Carnivals, rogues, and heroes: An interpretation of the Brazilian dilemma. Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press. Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum. Gort, Jerald, et al. (eds.) 1989. Dialogue and syncretism: An interdisciplinary approach. Amsterdam/Grand Rapids: Rodopi/Eerdmans. Greenfield, Sidney M., and André Droogers (eds.) (2001), Reinventing religions: Syncretism and transformation in Africa and the Americas. Lanham etc.: Rowman and Littlefield. Guba, Egon C. (1990). The alternative paradigm dialog. In: Egon C. Guba (ed.), The paradigm dialog. Newbury Park etc.: SAGE, pp. 17 – 27. Jonckheere, Karel, (n.d.). Kongo met het blote oog. Amsterdam and Antwerp: Meulenhoff and Diogenes. Lacerda de Azevedo, José (1997). Spirit & matter: New horizons for medicine. Tempe, Arizona: New Falcon Publications. Ortner, Sherry B. (1984). Theory in anthropology since the sixties. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26(1), 126 – 166. Rostas, Susanna, and André Droogers (eds.) (1993). The popular use of popular religion in Latin America. Amsterdam: CEDLA Tennekes, J. (1978). Le mouvement pentecôtiste Chilien et la politique. Social Compass, 25(1), 55 – 80. Tennekes, J. (1985). El movimiento pentecostal en la sociedad chilena. Iquique: CIREN. Thomas, Louis-Vincent, René Luneau et J.-L. Doneux (1969). Les religions d’Afrique Noire: Textes et traditions sacrs. Paris: Fayard Denoël. Turner, Victor W. (1969). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Turner, Victor W. (1988). The anthropology of performance. New York: PAJ Publications.


Introduction: From Contingency to Continuity

Van Baal, J. (1971). Symbols for communication: An introduction to the anthropological study of religion. Assen: Van Gorcum. Van Baal, J. (1972). De boodschap der drie illusies: Overdenkingen over religie, kunst en spel. Assen: Van Gorcum. Van Baal, J. (1981). Man’s quest for partnership: The anthropological foundations of ethics and religion. Assen: Van Gorcum. Van Baal, J. (1991). Boodschap uit de stilte / Mysterie als openbaring. Baarn: Ten Have.

Part I Marginality, Play and Power

Margin Chapter 1 Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies of Religious and Secular Innovators: A comparative study of the lives of Jesus, Waldes, Booth, Kimbangu, Buddha, Mohammed and Marx 1. Introduction With his books ‘The Ritual Process’ (1969) and ‘Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors’ (1974), Victor Turner has immensely stimulated the study of marginal or liminal situations. His fieldwork among the Ndembu of Zambia led him to search for the general characteristics of these situations. Many of his examples were drawn from the field of religion. In this article, I will follow the path paved by Turner and elaborate on the quasi-universal presence of marginal symbols in the biographies of religious leaders. My inspiration comes from Turner as well as from my own fieldwork, also in an African context. While studying the boys’ initiation ritual and other rites of passage among the Wagenia (Congo), I discovered the recurring presence of a number of symbols which indicated the temporal marginal position of persons undergoing the ritual (Droogers 1980). I was surprised to find that some of these symbols were also used in the biographies of religious leaders. Despite their diversity, cultures apparently turn to the same type of symbol to indicate the marginal position of people. These symbols may be present in the facts, but may also be of an artificial, constructed nature. The biographers may have based their writings on facts, but they also sometimes introduced marginal symbols in order to standardize the style of the report. However, for our purpose, this distinction does not seem to be of importance. This chapter studies marginal symbols, whether taken from historical reality or not. The marginal symbols studied here, as I first encountered them in the Wagenia rites of transition, are: nature (versus culture), travelling


Chapter 1. Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies

and provisional lodging (versus sedentary life), non-violence (versus violence), solidarity or Turner’s core concept communitas (versus hierarchy), anonymity and humility (versus name and fame), isolation and seclusion (versus life in the heart of society), hardship and ordeal (versus comforts), dirt (versus purity), poverty and begging (versus wealth), fasting (versus eating). Each of these marginal symbols is an inversion of the normal, the generally accepted. Moreover, boundaries in time and space are suitable transitional symbols (e. g. night versus day, water versus land). In summarizing the biographies of some religious innovators, I will focus on the presence of these marginal symbols. Ironically it is the marginality of the leader which often has made him popular, despite his deviating way of life. Sometimes the leader remains in the margin, in other cases he moves to the center, which his marginal position was a negation and an inversion of. The religious innovators studied and compared here are: Jesus, Waldes, Booth, Kimbangu, Buddha and Mohammed. The comparison is extended to the biography of a secular innovator: Marx.

2. Jesus Nearly all the marginal symbols mentioned above are present in the life of Jesus, as it is rendered by the evangelists. His birth is surrounded by inversions. He is born to a virgin. This does not happen at his parents’ home, but while they are travelling, and even then not in an inn but among the animals in a stable. His presence is observed by marginal people only: shepherds, and travelling sages from the East. When he is brought to the temple for circumcision, only Anna and Simeon, two people at the margin between life and death, understand his importance. He has to flee abroad, to Egypt. During his life he remains a marginal person. He is not married, he does not belong to any faction within the theological elite. He wanders through the country with fishermen as followers. His first public appearance is a visit to another marginal person: John the Baptist, who baptizes him in the Jordan. His first miracle is worked during a marriage feast, a rite of transition. He has a weakness for people in the margin of society: children, whores, publicans. He does not seem to like rich people. He is tempted when fasting in the desert, and on that occasion rejects absolute power. Every now and then, he brings about inversions: he picks ears during Sabbath, he heals the sick, and he brings dead per-

3. Waldes (Hardmeier 1960, Wakefield 1974: 43 – 47)


sons back to life. In the beatitudes, suffering minorities are declared blessed. He tells stories about God, who is depicted as absent, a lord gone abroad. Even the universal law of reciprocity is subjected to inversion: ‘an eye for an eye’ is replaced by ‘turn the other cheek’. Hating the enemy is transformed into loving him. Power becomes subservient to solidarity. The master himself serves as a slave, washing the feet of his disciples. He states that he has not even a stone to put his head on. He makes his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, for a king an unbecoming animal. After a last supper he visits a garden. He dies on a cross, under the authority of a foreign ruler, between two criminals, marginal people. Though the sign above his head says that he is the king of the Jews, he wears a thorny crown. The last element in the chain of inversions is his resurrection. He will live on eternally. The first witnesses of his resurrection are women, not men.

3. Waldes (Hardmeier 1960, Wakefield 1974: 43 – 47) On a nice day in the spring of 1173, Waldes, a wealthy French merchant from the city of Lyons, experiences how a friend suddenly dies during a pleasant conversation. This fixes his thoughts on the question: ‘what would happen to me, if I were to appear so unexpectedly before God?’. He consults a theologian, who quotes Jesus: ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; and come, follow me’. Waldes decides to follow this advice. He takes measures to ensure that his family will not suffer because of his behaviour. He returns the interest his debtors have paid him. Three times a week, he distributes food to the poor, who welcome this as there is a famine at the time. Waldes becomes a preacher, appealing to people to follow his example. ‘I served the creation instead of serving the creator’. In his view, the ideal of the monks should be followed by laymen too. He orders a translation of the psalms and the gospels into the language of the people. When Waldes has nothing left of his former wealth, he starts begging, much to the irritation of his wife, who appeals to the archbishop to have her husband ask food from his wife only. In 1182, Waldes has to go into exile, as his preaching has upset the church authorities. Waldes is viewed as a competitor of the clergy, and not even an educated or ordained one. Moreover, he keeps criticizing the richness of the church. As a result, Waldes and his followers have


Chapter 1. Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies

to travel around the country. They preach wherever they come. In 1184, they are excommunicated as heretics. Thus persecuted and obliged to go underground, they withdraw to remote areas such as the valleys of the Italian Alps. Their way of life is a very simple one. It is their habit to sleep in cellars on simple beds. They refuse to go into the army. Women are allowed to serve as preachers. The Waldenses reject the priestly monopoly on the distribution of salvation.

4. Booth (Sandall 1947, 1950) On an evening in June 1865, in the streets of London’s East End, William Booth, then 36 years old, an unaffiliated evangelist of Methodist origin, hears a group of other evangelists preaching. They are standing on the waste land in front of a pub called ‘The Blind Beggar’. His interest in converting people makes Booth listen with special attention. These evangelists are of Huguenot origin, refugees from France. When they are almost finished with their program, the audience is requested to give a testimony. Booth does not let the occasion go by and addresses the public. As a result, the Huguenot group invites him to join them in their campaign. The group has a tent in a former Quaker cemetery. Booth, who had once been a pawnbroker, knows the kind of people who live in the East End, and has a special gift for drawing their attention. During this campaign, he makes converts. He finally decides to stay with this team. Like Waldes, Booth is critical of the church. He is convinced that the working class cannot be reached by or through the churches. Therefore, he uses all kind of secular halls for his work: theatres, dancing halls, even a stable. And of course there are meetings in the open air. He and his friends often meet with scorn and hatred. Almost from the beginning, women play an important role in the movement. Booth sees himself as an apostle to the heathens of East London. His group also distributes food and clothes. As a consequence of the Civil War in the United States, an economic depression aggravates the misery of the people. In 1866 a cholera epidemic causes many deaths. At first, converts are referred to the churches, but it becomes clear that they seldom go there, and if they go, they often are not welcome. Besides, Booth needs collaborators. Thus, the intermediary movement becomes an institution in itself: from 1878 on, it is known as the Salva-

5. Kimbangu (Martin 1975, Ustorf 1975)


tion Army. Booth, once the ‘general superintendent’, becomes the general of a non-violent army. As this era is full of war and rumours of war, the symbolism was obvious. About this time, the hymn ‘Onwards Christian soldiers’ is composed. Moreover, Booth’s authority is strong and fits the hierarchical position he takes. Uniforms had been worn for some time already, and now became the standard garb.

5. Kimbangu (Martin 1975, Ustorf 1975) Marginality also dominates the life of Simon Kimbangu, a Congolese prophet who, in 1921, at the age of about 32, brings about a religious movement which nowadays exists under the name of the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth through the Prophet Simon Kimbangu. As a young man, Kimbangu had worked for some time as a teacher in a Baptist mission school. In 1918 he repeatedly hears a voice, telling him ‘I am Christ, my servants are unfaithful. I have chosen you to bear witness before your brethren and to convert them. Tend my flock’. Kimbangu flees from this call by moving to the capital. But the calls continue. After some time, he has to return to his native village. Times are difficult, the flu is rampant and in the aftermath of World War I there is an economic depression. In April 1921, Kimbangu accepts his mission and succeeds in healing a sick woman. Several other healings follow. Kimbangu preaches in order to start a religious and moral revival among the Christians. Moreover, his behaviour reflects his concern with the misery of the people. His biographers disagree as to whether he took an explicit anti-white stance. At any rate, his success as a preacher and healer is enormous, and this certainly has political consequences. The message is understood by the people as having political implications. In an eschatological way, liberation from colonial oppression is expected. When people do not show up at work in order to go to the new prophet, their white employers complain to the authorities. An administrator comes to Kimbangu’s village. Kimbangu now presents himself as a leader, wearing a staff as a sign of his authority, a symbol proper to his own culture in which prophetic leaders were not unknown. As part of the reception, Kimbangu reads the story of David and Goliath to the white administrator. A few weeks later, an attempt is made to arrest Kimbangu. During the skirmishes, he succeeds in escaping. For three months he hides himself, part of the time in the bush. He sometimes


Chapter 1. Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies

has to sleep in the open air. After hearing God’s voice again, he returns to his village, where he surrenders voluntarily and without violence. He is condemned to death but the death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. He lives in exile up till his death in 1951, without ever having seen his family again. During his exile, the movement he started keeps resurging every now and then, often with a distinctly anti-white attitude. In the fifties, Kimbangu’s sons organise the various groups claiming to stand in the tradition of their father into a church. After the independence of the country in 1960, this church loses its political flavour and becomes an independent church. In 1972, a revival is brought about within the Kimbanguist church by retreats into the forest lasting for several days.

6. Buddha (Saddhatissa 1976) Leaving the religious innovators in the Christian tradition, we now turn to a religious leader from another cultural tradition and epoch. Marginality is not restricted to Christianity. In 560 B.C. the Buddha is born, prematurely, while his royal mother is on her way to give birth to her child at her parents’ palace. She is attracted to a garden where she intends to rest for a while, and her son is born there. The name given to the baby is Siddharta. He is supposed to become a king, but some wise men predict that the prince may become a buddha instead. This will only happen if the prince witnesses subsequently four special signs represented by four (clearly marginal) people: an old man, a sick man, a dead man and an ascetic. His father, the king, does everything he can to prevent these meetings. Meanwhile, Siddharta leads a happy life. He marries and his wife becomes pregnant. At about that time of his life Siddharta, almost 29 years old, meets the four persons mentioned above in spite of his father’s precautions. The first three make him wonder whether suffering is inevitable, and the fourth provides an answer to this question. He decides to follow the example of the ascetic. The very moment Siddharta decides to leave the palace, he becomes the father of a son, and is thus subject to a double, contrary transition. During the feast given on the occasion of the birth of his son, he falls asleep. He wakes up to find everybody sleeping, and at midnight (a boundary in time) he leaves the palace. When he comes to the border of his father’s kingdom, a river (a boundary in space), he shaves his head and puts on orange clothes. His name is changed into

6. Buddha (Saddhatissa 1976)


Gautama, after the name of his family. Thus he goes searching for a possibility to escape from the eternal return of suffering, wandering around the country, living as a beggar, and striving to be released from misery through meditation. Yet he is not satisfied with his ascetic teachers. He searches on independently. His life is full of inversions: he eats raw food, he fasts, he holds his breath for long periods. In summer he exposes himself to the sun, in the winter he takes ice-cold baths. He is clad in ragged clothes. When the moon is new or full, he sits all alone in mortuary grounds, without fear of spirits or wild animals. Gautama leads this kind of life for six years, then collapses. A shepherd finds him, gives him milk and takes care of him. Then comes the day of enlightenment. Gautama is sitting under a tree in order to meditate. As she thinks he is a god, a woman who has just given birth makes a thanksgiving offering to him in a golden bowl. Gautama takes this bowl to the river, takes a bath and eats. He puts the bowl on the water, saying ‘If today I am to attain full enlightenment, may this golden bowl swim upstream’. This happens. Gautama spends the rest of that day in the forest along the river bank. In the evening he sits down under a ficus tree, later to be known as the tree of enlightenment. The day is his birthday and so, like then, the moon is full. Till his death, forty-five years after that day, the Buddha, as he is called now by his biographers, proclaims his message. Suffering will end if one ends one’s attachment to the world. The ideal is to be free from desire and to have no fixed home. One of the rules given by the Buddha is a prohibition of killing. The trade in arms, living beings, flesh, drinks and poison is also forbidden. It is striking that the Buddha and his disciples often prefer to stay in gardens, parks and forests. During the rainy season they go into retreat. Among his adepts are also untouchables, marginals in their own society who had to earn a living by disposing of filth, excrements and animal carcasses. The Buddha rejects the caste system, and is therefore disliked by the Brahmins of the time, who view him as dangerous and subversive. Seven years after Siddharta has become Gautama, he returns to his father’s city and goes begging on the streets. His father is irritated, and the son gives in. However, the father becomes a follower of the son. The Buddha’s seven-year-old son is ordained a monk. The Buddha’s step-brother, who is to be proclaimed successor to their father, also becomes a monk, a decision he takes on the day of his wedding.


Chapter 1. Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies

Once again two contrasting transitions take place. At the exact age of 80, the Buddha dies. The moon is full.

7. Mohammed (Guillaume 1968, Rodinson 1973) The accounts of Mohammed’s life do not lack symbols of inversion and transition. The moment Mohammed is conceived, a white light shining between his father’s eyes disappears. Around the time he is born, in approximately the year 571, his father dies. Therefore it is more difficult to find a nurse for the child, as the absence of the father implies that the salary is not guaranteed. Halima, a member of a nomadic group suffering from a famine, who at that moment has not even milk for her own son, decides nevertheless to become a nurse to Mohammed. As soon as she lets Mohammed drink from her, her breasts overflow with milk, and she has enough for her own son too. Moreover, her aged she-camel gives milk again, and her she-ass, who was extremely slow, now runs so fast the others cannot keep up. The famine is over for Halima’s group. She suckles Mohammed during the first two years of his life. He stays with her till the age of six, a city child among nomads. When Mohammed is six, his mother dies and he goes to live with his father’s relatives. He grows up, becomes a merchant, remains a bachelor for some time, and finally marries his employer, a rich widow. In these days, wars are raging and some prophets announce the end of times. Mohammed, now in his thirties, is concerned about these developments. He adopts the habit of holding nocturnal retreats in a cave outside Mecca, in an inhospitable region. After some time he experiences God’s presence in visions. He hears a voice: ‘You are God’s messenger’. There are more messages and visions. At the age of about 39, Mohammed starts reciting inspired texts. This is a physically painful experience, even more so as Mohammed is not certain of the value of his experiences. Visions are normal in those days, but Mohammed’s visions distinguish themselves from those of other prophets by their criticism of the current religious and social situation. Monotheism is favoured by him, whereas polytheism was normal at that time. Mohammed’s messages pity those who are the victims of the rich and of the leaders. The overpowering almightiness of Allah is stressed over and against the vain human power. Man is subject to the last judgment. Then his wealth will not be of much use to him, and he might regret not having

7. Mohammed (Guillaume 1968, Rodinson 1973)


given more to the poor. One of the messages is a reproach to Mohammed himself for having been unkind to a blind beggar when he himself was speaking to a rich man. According to the tradition, Mohammed once makes a miraculous nocturnal trip to Jerusalem, while his body stays in Mecca. The archangel Gabriel is his guide on a visit to heaven. The message of the prophet is accepted and more and more people believe his words. Most of his followers seem to have been young and socially weak. The messages imply that God is interested in man without taking into account wealth, kinship or tribal affiliation. The leaders of Meccan society do not appreciate Mohammed’s message, especially his monotheism. His followers are persecuted. Mohammed himself is protected by his clan. The messages continue to come. A ritual is developed. The attitude during prayer is one of total humility. Prayers at that time are said during the night, at sunrise and at sunset. Mohammed’s message also has moral sides. The Arab ideal of the arrogant, careless, stout and violent man does not fit into the new faith. The value of a human life increases. Endless hospitality is changed into organised charity. Those who are afraid of no one must fear Allah. In 619 Mohammed’s wife dies, as well as his foster father. He loses the protection of his clan. The Meccans are stubbornly against this man, who proclaims himself to be Allah’s Messenger. In the meantime new converts have been made in the oasis of Medina. More and more followers take hide there and finally in 622 the prophet himself goes there too. On their way to Medina, the prophet and his two companions have to hide in a cave for three days. Then they travel on to Medina, taking a detour. Mohammed’s presence in Medina puts an end to the internal conflicts among the local tribes inhabiting this oasis. The new faith brings a new solidarity. From now on, Mohammed is to lead a less marginal life. The conflict with Mecca is consciously sought. When it comes to a battle, Mohammed and his followers win. This is seen as a sign that Allah is with them. Medinan society increasingly turns into a state with a rather absolute ruler. Military activity becomes normal, laws are made, taxes have to be paid and the police maintain law and order. The movement slows down into institutionalization. The prophet becomes a politician. Islam fills the vacuum brought about by the defeat of Byzantium by the Persians. Finally, in 630, Mohammed is also honoured in his city of origin. But when he stays in Mecca, the prophet always lives in a tent, thus retaining marginal traits. During this part of his life, messages keep being revealed, but they are more prosaic and practical, in contrast to the ear-


Chapter 1. Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies

lier more poetic and spiritual texts. In 632 Mohammed dies, at the heat of noon.

8. Marx (Banning 1961, Blumenberg 1965, McLellan 1973, 1975) If religion is defined (Yinger 1970: 3 – 16) in a substantial way, taking into account what it is, and making use of notions like the supernatural, Marx should not be included in this list of religious innovators. Yet a functional definition focusing on what religion does, e. g. solve ‘ultimate’ problems, would allow for his biography to be discussed here. But even if we leave this problem aside, the very presence of marginal symbols in Marx’s biography justifies its inclusion here. Karl Marx is born in Trier in 1818 to Jewish parents. Marx’s father has just tried to escape anti-Jewish discrimination by becoming a member of the Evangelical Church. Marx grows up as a gifted but problematic son. A secret engagement at the age of 18 causes a conflict with his father, a conflict which is still not settled when his father dies two years later. For a long time, relations with his family suffer from this row. As a student, Marx is heavily influenced by Hegel’s philosophy, though he ends up in polemics with young Hegelians. Because of his radical criticism of religion and the church and of the Prussian government, Marx spoils his chances for a successful academic career. He works for some time as a journalist for a Rhineland paper, but leaves for Paris when the paper comes under Prussian censorship. He marries after having been engaged for seven years. In Paris he lives for some time in a commune, but this experiment fails. He begins to combine his philosophical interests with the study of economics. He gets acquainted with French socialists and meets Friedrich Engels. After a year, Marx is expelled from France at the request of the Prussian government. He moves to Brussels. In the meantime, he has given up the Prussian nationality. Later on he will try in vain to become a naturalized British subject. Till the end of his life, he has to live as a stateless political refugee. As Shaw remarked, Marx stands outside the normal German and English societies of his days. He belongs nowhere. As a consequence of the revolution of 1848 in France, Marx is allowed to return to France. In Germany too the revolutionary times make Marx welcome. For almost a year he lives in Cologne where he runs a news-

8. Marx (Banning 1961, Blumenberg 1965, McLellan 1973, 1975)


paper. Then, with the argument that he is stateless, he is sent into exile once again. He returns to Paris but travels on to London where he is to stay till his death in 1883. All these voluntary and involuntary travels teach him what deprivation and poverty is. To him it is ‘a long sleepless night of exile’. The unstable financial position of his family is caused not only by unbalanced spending but also by careless generosity. Engels is a lifelong friend and financial help. For a long time Marx patronizes the pawnbroker, even to the point where he sometimes cannot leave his house for lack of decent clothes. The family goes through several crises. Three young children die. When the maid becomes pregnant, Marx is supposed to be the biological father, but Engels serves as the father at the registrar’s office. By the end of the sixties the financial difficulties have more or less been overcome. But then illness is a new cause of misery. During the last year of his life, Marx travels a lot in search of a cure for his ailments. Himself in a marginal position within European society, he also writes about permanently marginal people. The worker is estranged from his product, from his human nature, from his fellowmen and from himself. The lowest class in society is the Lumpenproletariat: ‘people without a definite trade, vagabonds, people without a hearth or a home’. This involuntary marginal existence will be replaced by a voluntary marginality: ‘to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic’. Hegel’s dialectics have influenced Marx even in his style. Inversions are a favorite way of expressing himself. After a transitional period of proletarian dictatorship, capitalist society will have been transformed into a classless society of solidarity. It is ‘a categorical imperative to overthrow any constellation in which man is a humiliated, enslaved, abandoned, despised being’. ‘It is not the consciousness of men which determines their being, but the other way around their social being which determines their consciousness’. ‘Just as religion does not make man, but man makes his religion, so the constitution does not make the people, but the people make the constitution’.

Typically enough, Marx does not live to see his oeuvre as he planned it completed. The system is so enormous that he can only put the beginning into writing. His manner of working is restless. Sometimes after a month he already disagrees with what he has written.


Chapter 1. Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies

Marx never founds a party, and when French socialists make free use of his ideas, his comment is ‘as far as I am concerned, I am not a Marxist’. During a certain period of his life, Marx is active in all kinds of, mostly clandestine, organisations. But there are also periods when he and Engels are totally isolated from what is going on in socialist circles. His favorite motto is ‘de omnibus dubitandum’ – ‘doubt everything’. In 1871 he writes to a friend: ‘I have the honour to be at this moment the most abused and threatened man in London’. He continues to proclaim his ideas, without being bothered by the fact that nobody is listening any more. It is only after his death that Marx’s ideas are popularised.

9. Conclusion Most of the marginal symbols that were found in the boys’ initiation ritual of the Wagenia also occur in the biographies of the six religious innovators and one secular innovator as summarized above. The results of the comparison are included in an annexed table. It is clear that not all the Wagenia symbols are found in the lives of the persons discussed here. Human meaning-makers may draw from a common fund, but they certainly are free to make their own selection. To formulate laws for culture seems to lead to flaws. The universal and the unique go together. We met with several kinds of inversions. Most of the men discussed here did not follow the predictable course their life seemed to take. Some of them started their religious leadership with a period of seclusion, others had to pay afterwards with isolation and exile for their public activities. All of them met with disapproval from the established leadership. They all had people from the margins of society among their followers. In all cases, solidarity was part of the message. As far as we know, these innovators often lived in an era of crisis, in the political, economic or medical sense. In a way this supports Musgrove’s thesis that ‘Counter cultures arise with steep population growth and intensive migration associated with great economic transformations. In these circumstances traditional social bonds are disrupted and old statuses brought into question’ (1974: 196). Turner writes in a similar vein when he remarks that ‘millenarian and revivalistic movements … orginate in periods when societies are in liminal transition between major orderings of social structural relations’ (1974: 53).

9. Conclusion


Poverty played a role at some moment in the lives of all these men. In five cases out of seven, travelling and wandering was characteristic at some time during the life of the leader. Not all of them remained in the marginal position they occupied at a decisive moment in their life. Mohammed’s success drew him from the margin into the centre of his society, the others remained marginal in some way, though sometimes in an institutionalized manner. Almost all of them had their decisive experience when they were in their thirties: perhaps a period of transition in a man’s life. For our purpose, the content and style of the biographies were most important, not their truth. It is the image people have of the lives of their leaders which counts, not the lives themselves. Yet one observation should be made. From the lives of the innovators who have lived relatively recently, we can see that marginality is not just a literary artificial type of symbolism. It is in some form a real presence in their lives, sometimes even in an accidental way. It is significant that these sometimes seemingly unimportant details have been remembered and have found their way into the chronicles. This is especially clear from the biographies of Booth and Marx. The experience of reality is a source of inspiration for ritual and myth. The local manner of narrating reinforces the transformation of historical events into stylized legends and myths. Innovations prosper in the margin of society. It is clear from the life of Marx that this does not necessarily lead to religious innovation. Yet religion often flourishes in the margin, for one thing because it itself deals with the rim of existence. It is often couched in negative terms and concepts, which express an alternative to the ‘normal’ way of life. These religious innovators not only lived in the margin of their society, but also in the margin between man and divinity. Durkheim (1912: 65) identified the sacred as forbidden and separate. According to a functional definition of religion, Marx is not a total stranger in the company of religious innovators, even though he arrived at an anti-religious conclusion. Like the others, he was concerned with the ultimate problems of human life. If Van Baal (1971: 219 ff.) is right in maintaining that religion offers a solution to the fundamental contradiction of the human condition, namely that man is at the same time subject and object, it follows that marginality is almost a definitional characteristic of man. Man is a lonely observer, standing at a distance from the observed, and at the same time part of the universe, even its product. Not only anthropologists are par-


Chapter 1. Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies

ticipants and observers: this position is fundamental of man. He may feel at home in society and even in nature, but may also experience his universe as outside him, over and against him. At some stage in their lives, the innovators whose biographies we have been discussing have felt this fundamental human loneliness. According to Van Baal, religion offers a possibility to re-establish communication. In a personal relation to his God, man belongs in a unique way, and as a creature he belongs to creation, together with his fellow creatures. By giving names and meanings to his universe, man feels at home. By using symbols, he builds a bridge between himself and his universe. Symbols make for communication. Communication establishes participation. Yet this bridge is vulnerable. Disagreement on accepted meanings destroys consensus. New bridges have to be constructed. Man’s capacity to attach meaning through symbols may offer him a spiritual home, but it also makes him restless when new symbols and meanings present themselves. The more a person stands outside the mainstream of his time, the more he is apt to be confronted with innovations. If these innovations become accepted in his society, an end is put to the innovator’s loneliness, but the risk involved is that the innovator may not live to see his ideas accepted. Yet even accepted ideas may someday be subject to criticism when a new cycle announces itself. New innovators refuse the accepted. Repetition is replaced by creativity, routine by new lan. If religious innovation prospers because of man’s fundamental marginality, it no longer comes as a surprise that persons in ritual transition and innovators are surrounded by the same type of symbols. Religious innovators have to go through their private rite of transition in order to be initiated into their new role. Cultures make an economical use of the means by which they express marginality. As life itself offers the raw material for cultural expression, the stock of symbolic means is not unlimited. Despite cultural differences, a relatively small number of symbols keeps recurring, even though the margin of society is the optimal setting for creative man.



Note I would like to thank Matthew Schoffeleers and my colleagues in the Institute for the Study of Religion for their assistance and insights. Appreciation is also expressed to Ms. Maartje Bonda for secretarial assistance and to Ms. Sheila Vuysje for editorial advice.

Mohammed +

















nature, the open air, gardens, parks





wandering, travelling

















anonymity, humility





isolation, seclusion




hardship, ordeal






special clothes


poverty, begging






shaving head hair


boundaries/margins in time



boundaries/margins in space





contact with marginal people




marginals among followers



era of crisis


strained relations with establishment




Buddha +









Table. The occurrence of marginal symbols in Wagenia ritual and in the lives of religious and secular innovators

+ +










+ +

























Chapter 1. Symbols of Marginality in the Biographies

References Banning, W. (1961). Karl Marx: Leven, leer en betekenis. Utrecht: Aula. Blumenberg, Werner (1965). Het leven van Karl Marx. Utrecht: Aula. Droogers, André (1980). The dangerous journey: Symbolic aspects of boys’ initiation among the Wagenia of Kisangani, Zaire. The Hague: Mouton. Durkheim, Émile (1912). Les formes lmentaires de la vie religieuse: Le systme totmique en Australie. Paris: Alcan. Guillaume, A. (1968). The life of Muhammad: A translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by A. Guillaume. Lahore etc.: Oxford University Press. Hardmeier, Rud. (1960). Kleine Waldensergeschichte. Der Wanderer von Land zu Land, 34(1), 1 – 24. Martin, Marie-Louise (1975). Kimbangu: An African prophet and his church. Oxford: Blackwell. McLellan, David (1973). Karl Marx: His life and thought. London: Macmillan. McLellan, David (1975). Marx. London: Fontana. Musgrove, Frank (1974). Ecstasy and holiness: Counter culture and the open society. London: Methuen. Rodinson, Maxime (1973). Mohammed. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Saddhatissa, H. (1976). The life of the Buddha. London: Mandala. Sandall, Robert (1947, 1950). The history of the Salvation Army, vol. 1, 2. London etc.: Nelson. Turner, Victor (1969). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Turner, Victor (1974). Dramas, fields, and metaphors: Symbolic action in human society. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. Ustorf, Werner (1975). Afrikanische Initiative: Das aktive Leiden des Propheten Simon Kimbangu. Bern/Frankfurt: Lang. Van Baal, J. (1971). Symbols for communication: An introduction to the anthropological study of religion. Assen: Van Gorcum. Wakefield, L. (1974). Heresy, crusade and inquisition in Southern France 1100 – 1250. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Yinger, Milton (1970). The scientific study of religion. New York and London: Macmillan and Collier Macmillan.

Chapter 2 The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity: Mario Quintana on Religion ‘I have always been metaphysical. I only think about death, about God and about how to pass a comfortable old age’ (Quintana 1980: 54). ‘We must hear the voice of religion, even if it is closer to poetry than to science’ (Alves 1984: 82).

1. Introduction Mario Quintana, a Brazilian poet, was born in 1906 in Alegrete, a town in the interior of the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul. He lived in this state all his life. He worked as an editor and translator for a publishing firm and as a journalist. From 1940 on, he published several collections of poems and aphorisms. He also wrote children’s books. Various anthologies of his work have been published. He is known as the poet of Rio Grande do Sul, but since the sixties he has also won national renown. He died in the state capital, Porto Alegre, in 1994. In the course of the decades, his style has become ever more simple. Of his own poetry he says that it is ‘natural and simple as water drunk from the hollow of the hand’ (1989: 26).

He is a master of the pun, saying a lot in a few words. He always succeeds, in a witty way, to show the other side of the coin. His favourite themes are: time, love, death, religion, daily life, poetry, and his own youth. In this article, I will discuss Quintana’s views on religion. Religion is very much present in his work, even if other themes are seemingly being discussed. Some of the titles of his works bear religious connotations, like ‘Magic Mirror’ (1948), ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (1950), ‘Notes of Supernatural History’ (1976) or ‘The Colour of the Invisible’ (1989). It is not easy to offer a systematic overview of the ideas of an author who has said that


Chapter 2. The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity

‘a poet is an essentially dramatic creature, which means contradictory, which means true… Yes, an author who never contradicts himself must be lying’ (1983: 21).

Yet, as I will show, it is precisely in this paradoxical, ironic attitude to serious religious affairs that Quintana is a representative of Brazilian religiosity. That he does not solely speak for himself is suggested by this statement in an interview: ‘Expressing my feelings in the most sincere manner possible, I am expressing the feelings of all people’ (Turiba 1987: 116).

In the first section Quintana’s views on contradiction and paradox will be illustrated. Then I will look at how he links poetry and religion. In a separate section, I will discuss how Quintana plays with alternative opinions. Special sections will be devoted to Quintana’s views on morality and to the concept of God he uses. It is interesting to see what Quintana has to say about official religion. In the Conclusion, the link with Brazilian religiosity will be discussed. I will also examine the relevance of poetry for the anthropological study of religion. Throughout the text I will allow Quintana to speak for himself as much as possible, thus illustrating his characteristic style.

2. Contradiction is the Norm Playfulness is very evident in the way Quintana mocks overserious rationality and logic. Straight thinking is no priority for an author who, under the heading ‘A bit of geometry’, says that ‘a curve is the most pleasant way between two points’ (1983: 105). The small poem (or aphorism?) ‘On Contradiction’ (1985: 85) puts it this way: ‘If you contradicted yourself and they accuse you… smile. Because in reality nothing happened. It was your thought that, all by itself, Found the other pole of the Truth.’

As noted above, the poet is not just allowed to contradict himself, he defines himself by the contradictory nature of his opinions. ‘Simultaneity’ is the title of this dialogue (1989: 67): ‘- I love the world! I detest the world! I believe in God! God is an absurdity! I am going to kill myself! I want to live!

3. Poetry and Religion


- Are you mad? - No, I am a poet.’

In a similar vein he remarks that ‘A lie is a truth that forgot to happen’ (1986: 65).

And again (1983: 94): ‘I am not one of those who one day think one thing and another day think another very different thing. I think the two things at the same time.’

Contrary to established scientific methodology he comments that: ‘A fact is a secondary aspect of reality’ (1983: 124)

and that ‘The right answer has no importance whatsoever: essential is that the questions be right’ (1983: 54).

On the difference between poetry and prose he remarks: ‘if poetry has made some progress it was that of avoiding the logical explanations, the expository style, characteristic of prose’ (1983: 161). ‘The function of the poet is not to explain himself. The function of the poet is to express himself’ (1988: Dec. 7).

Therefore, ‘if somebody asks an author what he wanted to say, one of the two must be an ass’ (1980a: 57).

Besides, opinions must be distinguished from poetry: ‘If you give an opinion, never forget to write the date… But why date a poem?’ (1983: 167).

3. Poetry and Religion Quintana is of the opinion that poetry and religion have a great deal in common. When he speaks of religion, one should keep in mind that the reference is usually to Christianity. Yet, the purport of the observations is often wider. Poets are familiar with creativity and with the eternal. According to Quintana, one verse was mistakenly not included in Genesis, the Biblical story of creation: ‘And lo, when God was resting on the seventh day, the poets continued the work of the Creation’ (1983: 6).


Chapter 2. The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity

Poetry is ‘a kind of chronicle of eternity’ (1986: 110).

Singing the beauty of the poet, Quintana affirms : ‘The poet is beautiful because his rags are of the tissue of eternity.’ (1980b: 115)

In Quintana’s view poetry and Christian ritual have something in common. He uses the image of the Eucharist for the communion between the poet and his readers, the poem being his bread and wine (1989: 125). In the poem ‘If I were a priest’ Quintana says that in that case he would not speak of God or sin, nor quote saints or prophets, he would quote the poets (1984b: 39). Poetry has been there from the beginning (1983: 148): ‘In the beginning there was poetry. In the brains of the human being there were only images… Then came the thoughts… And finally Philosophy, which is, in the ultimate analysis, the sad art of staying at the outside of things.’

Poets were instrumental in the rise of religion. Quintana touched upon the notions that ‘the poets created the gods and semi-gods to personify the things, visible and invisible…’ (1983: 154). ‘…the poet humanizes things: he gives hesitations to the leaves, yearning to the wind. Perhaps it is in this way that God gives a soul to the human beings…’ (1988: Aug. 20). ‘For something to exist really – a god, a beast, a universe, an angel – it is necessary that somebody be conscious of it. Or that he simply has invented it’ (1983: 15).

This even leads to the question: ‘If the human being were to disappear, what would become of things, what would become of God?’ (1983: 31).

To the question ‘Do angels exist?’ Quintana has this to say: ‘They must exist, certainly, in view of the pertinacity with which they appear in my poems’ (1983: 69).

If poetry has this role to play, as a consequence ‘outside poetry there is no salvation’ (1985: 9).

The poet, though, is not alone in his sensitivity for the divine.

3. Poetry and Religion


‘Heaven and little children understand me.’ (1984b: 18).

Under the title ‘Meditation for Christmas Day’ Quintana writes (1983: 37): ‘Ah! The confidence a praying child has… Innocent confidence. Joy. Who of us prays with joy? It seems that really only the God of the children exists… God is inappropriate for adults.’

And elsewhere (1984b: 16), other marginal categories are mentioned as well: ‘Between Fools, Dead and Children, That’s where I sing, in an eternal round dance, our common wishes and hopes!…’

According to the poem ‘Communication’, a prophet can be a fool (1985: 120): ‘…but the Great Message - who would tell? It was really from that prophet everyone took for a fool Only because he went out to walk naked down the streets, With an enormous poster all white…’

A consequence of the role poetry plays in religious experience is that one need not look for another world in order to discover the mysterious: ‘Please, leave the Other World alone! The mystery is here.’ (1986: 119).

In a poem ‘Sunday’s song’ (1986: 34) Quintana asks: ‘Was heaven in the street? Was the street in heaven?’

In another text he refers to these lines and says (1980a: 113): ‘Because the kingdom of the poet… all right, don’t tell me it is not of this world. This and the other world, the poet does not limit them: he unites them. The kingdom of the poet is a kind of United Kingdom of Heaven and Earth.’

Poetry, and therefore the religious interest, distinguishes the human being from other creatures. In the following statement (1983: 162) Quintana uses the word ‘bicho’ for animal, which in Brazilian Portuguese can also be used colloquially among friends: ‘There exists a world for every animal species. But for every animal of the human species there exists a different world.’


Chapter 2. The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity

This should be read in conjunction with the poem ‘As covas’, ‘The holes’ (1985: 156), ‘covas’ also meaning ‘graves’. The word ‘cu’ used here for firmament can also mean ‘heaven’. ‘The animal, when it wants to flee from the others, Makes a hole in the earth. The human being, in order to flee from himself, made a hole in the firmament.’

Religion and poetry must be counted among the universals (1983: 156): ‘All the ancient civilisations … always began by way of the discovery of three things: poetry, beverages and religion.’

4. Beyond Doubts One should not think poetry is the ultimate expression of the other reality: ‘…poetry lives between the lines, lives in the pure white of paper’ (1989: 98).

Words frequently fail, precisely because of their contradictory nature. Therefore writing is a sad thing (1984a: 149): ‘Every word is a dead butterfly pricked on a page: therefore the written word is always a sad thing…’

Writing of his death (1986: 22) Quintana says: ‘What I want is to stay with some distorted poems That I have been trying in vain to put straight… How beautiful Eternity is, dead friends, For the slow tortures of Expression…’

Using another image, he affirms (1989: 84): ‘The palette of the painter, Confused, unrestful, multicoloured, Is almost always more beautiful Than what is painted on the canvas.’

Elsewhere (1980a: 63) the problem of expression is thus formulated: ‘One thinks a thing, finally writes down another

4. Beyond Doubts


and the reader understands a third thing… and, while all this happens, the thing properly speaking begins to suspect that it was not properly spoken.’

And again (1983: 80): ‘Once the thing is explained, the mystery is gone!’

The poem ‘Interrogations’ (1984a: 18) shows the link of this open end with religion: ’No question needs an answer. Each verse is a poet’s question. And the stars… the flowers… the world… are God’s questions.’

Therefore (1983: 171) ‘…if they corner you on what you wanted to say with a poem, just ask them what God wanted to say with this world…’

This attitude leads to a permanent lack of understanding. The poem ‘On the eternal mystery’ (1985: 40) refers to the permanent ultimate question: ‘ ‘another world exists… another life…’ But what is the use of you going there? Just like here, your soul perplexed and lost Will understand nothing…’

Under the title ‘Parenthesis’ (1985: 50) just these words appear: ‘(In the midst of the maelstrom of the world The Poet prays without faith)’

A short phrase, entitled ‘Camouflage’ (1980a: 54), suggests: ‘Hope is a vulture painted green’

Proselytism is viewed with scepsis (1983: 71): ‘Why change doubts?’

Yet, this is not an attitude of atheism or even agnosticism, but a play with alternatives, with possibilities, in defence of mystery. Quintana is critical of scholars who are unbelievers:


Chapter 2. The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity

‘The trouble with those studying superstitions is that they don’t believe in them. This makes them just as suspicious in the discussion of the issue as a biologist would be who doesn’t believe in microbes.’

Religion is not the opium of the people: ‘I would say the opium of the people is work’ (1983: 29).

Or again (1983: 158): ‘The poets are the only ones who cannot speak out against the absurdities of religion. Even those who see themselves as materialists must be ingenuously illuded: poetry is a symptom of the supernatural.’

A paradox can also be found in the following statement (1983: 101): ‘The soul is what asks us whether the soul exists.’

In the end, poetry seems to survive religious doubts and even religion itself, as in the poem ‘The road’ (1980a: 96): ‘The King goes by with his retinue. The God goes by on his procession bier. And, millenniums afterwards, on this road, only The wind still blows in the flowering apple trees.’

Or again (1986: 47): ‘The only eternal things are the clouds…’

All these elements and several others can be found in the poem ‘I watch my hands’ (1986: 126, 127): ‘I watch my hands: they are not strange, Only because they are mine. But it is so queer to stretch them Like that, slowly, like those anemones at the bottom of the sea… Close them, suddenly, The fingers as carnivorous petals! Yet, I only catch with them that impalpable food of time, That sustains me, and kills, and goes on secreting the thought Just as the spiders weave the webs. To what world Do I belong? In the world there are stones, baobabs, panthers, Humming waters, the wind blowing And on high the clouds improvising without end. But nothing of all this says: ‘I exist’. In the meantime, Time engenders death, and death engenders the gods And, full of hope and fear, We officiate rituals, we invent

5. Morality


Magical words, We make poems, poor poems That the wind Mingles, confounds and disperses in the air… Not even in the star of the sky nor in the starfish Was this the end of Creation! But then Who plots eternally the intrigue of such old dreams? Who conducts – in me – this interrogation?’

5. Morality Due to the lack of clear and final answers, ambiguity and paradox are also very evident in Quintana’s statements on moral issues. In this short section, a few of them will be presented. In a statement he titles ‘Examination of inconscience’ (1983: 151) the following is said: ‘There are nights when I cannot sleep due to remorse about what I omitted to commit.’

In a poem ‘On good and evil’ (1988: Feb. 17) he puts it this way: ‘All of them have their enchantments, both the saints and the corrupt. Nothing in life is entirely bad. You say that the truth produces fruits… Have you already seen the flowers the lie gives?’

So sin has its attractiveness (1988: Dec. 12): ‘If God, like Satan, seeks To attract souls… why does he leave to the Sin That suave road, that fatal sweetness And make of the Good a bitter and undesired fruit?’

Under these circumstances heaven becomes less attractive, as is suggested in the poem ‘On restless hope’ (1988: Dec. 16): ‘You know very well, Lord, that the major good is the one Which does not exceed, perhaps, an illusory wish. Never give me Heaven… what I want is to dream about it In the happy uneasiness of Purgatory.’


Chapter 2. The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity

A similar message is conveyed by the ‘Poem for Julian the Apostate’ (1984a: 63). Julian the Apostate was one of the last Roman emperors who tried to stop the expansion of Christianity. ‘In the time of the gods everything was simple like them and natural and human and they reigned the world. But there came a god, usurper and unique and he made the world incomprehensible because his kingdom was not of this world. And until today nobody has understood why he then expelled the other gods and was left reigning alone and made all people sin - something they had never done before because to sin in innocence is not to sin… And the people got to know the marvelous terror of sin - and thus the new god brought them a new voluptuousness.’

As a consequence (1988: Dec. 5) Quintana asks: ‘Who knows whether the Devil is not God’s Mr. Hyde?’

But with regard to the poor and the rich he affirms (1988: June 1): ‘It is difficult for a rich man to enter heaven (thus the people say, and they are not mistaken) Yet what is much more difficult Is for a poor man to remain on earth.’

6. God It is interesting to see how many of the verses and phrases in Quintana’s work with religious references speak of God. This is surprising because Brazilian religions, with the exception of Protestantism, rarely speak of God, and refer much more often to Mary, or the saints, or the spirits, or the orixs (West African gods popular in Afro-Brazilian religions). In Quintana’s view, the existence of God is not questioned, as is clear from this fable (1985: 109): ‘The fly, debating: ‘No! God does not exist! Only Chance rules earthly existence!’

6. God


The spider: ‘Glory be to You, Divine Providence, Who to my humble web attracted this fly!’ ’

Under the title ‘Wrong question’ (1983: 168) Quintana writes: ‘Whether I believe in God? But what value could my answer have, affirmative or not? What counts is to know whether God believes in me.’

God exists, but the image of God that Quintana alludes to is rather contradictory, as might be expected. The common image of the old man with the beard is present in one of the poems (1980a: 6), although the beard is special: it resembles the beard of the emperor Dom Pedro II, whose portrait is familiar to most Brazilians. But there are other, more confusing references, like this one, from the poem ’The construction’ (1980a: 114): ‘They erected the tower of Babel in order to climb to Heaven. But God was not there! He was just there, among them, Helping to build the tower.’

In the ‘Poem for Julian the Apostate’, quoted in the preceding section, God is not only depicted as a god who stimulates sin, but also as an usurper who, once one among many, came to dominate the other gods (1984a: 63). Yet, in the same anthology, immediately after that poem, Quintana included one entitled ‘The Living God’ (1984a: 64), in which he adds other elements to his concept of God. ‘God is not in heaven. God is at the bottom of the well they threw him into. - Cain, what did you do to your God?! His nails stained with blood scratch in vain the slippery walls God is in hell… It is necessary that we lend him all our strength all our effort to bring him at least to the surface of the earth. And make him sit afterwards at our table and give him of our bread and of our wine. And not allow him to get lost again. Not even to get lost again in heaven!’

Similarly the poem ‘Worlds’ (1988: Feb. 6) focuses on this world instead of the other world:


Chapter 2. The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity

‘God created this world. The human being, however, Began to distrust, pensively… He certainly did not like what he saw much… And soon was creating an Other World.’

In one of his poems on death (1980b: 73), Quintana also refers to God: ‘- to die is simply to forget the words. And we will know God, perhaps, without the terror of the word GOD!’

It is difficult to understand God (1983: 18): ’A soul without mystery would not be a soul… In the same way an understandable God would not be God.’

His uniqueness excludes comprehension. The same uniqueness implies that only God ‘could say what loneliness is’ (1983: 20).

Though at one stage Quintana uses the expression ‘severe like God’ (1983: 16), God is also depicted as tolerant and understanding. Thus, when he affirms that the church bells in small towns do not toll for mass but for the pretty girls at the church square, he adds that God does not care, because these girls are life itself, and in these small towns He is still called ‘Lord our God’ (1980b: 81). Similarly, when he is an adult the child forgets what he used to pray, but at that stage God is still hearing those early prayers (1989: 33). Yet, ‘To pray is a lack of faith: Our Lord knows very well what he is doing…’ (1983: 168).

The following ‘Dialogue’ (1989: 50) uses other images for God: ‘- What did God do before Creation? - He slept. - And afterwards? - He slept on. - But must He not take care of the World? - He dreams the world: he even dreams the two of us having this conversation… - Heavens! Be silent! - Speak in a lower voice…’

In a similar vein, time is called ‘the insomnia of eternity’ (1983: 179). The mocking tone is far stronger in ‘Sabotage’ (1985: 35):

7. Official Religion


‘They ruined the Great Show of the Final Judgment Because Before the verdict They exploded every H-bomb there was And in the middle of the desert there only remained - mysteriously smiling the false teeth of Jehovah.’

Despite this kind of joke, Quintana cautions us elsewhere (1983: 74): ‘Our Lord has not the least sense of humor: he takes everything seriously… With him you don’t fool around.’

7. Official Religion Quintana does not have a very high opinion of the established religions. The poem ‘Dogma and Ritual’ notes that (1980a: 90): ‘The dogmas frighten like thunderclaps and what fear to err in the sequence of rites! In compensation God is more simple than the religions.’

In a related epigram Quintana links established religion with class (1980a: 112), using the distinction savages/civilized: ‘At first contact with savages, what fear we feel of violating the rituals, infringing on a taboo! It is all a meticulous ceremonial, the infraction of which is not forgiven by them. I was speaking of the savages? But with the civilized it is the same. Or even worse. If ever you get involved with ‘society’ people, you have to be very careful: they are so primitive…’

With regard to religion, Quintana is very critical of the ‘Subtle Doctors’ who will ask of an experience of illumination ‘How is it possible without doctrinizing?’ (1984b: 18).

He wants to refute them, even if they call him the village idiot (1984b: 79). In a note with the title ‘The eternal problem’ (1983: 79) he remarks: ‘Free the people from the demagogues, yes… But how to free God from the theogogues?’

Theology is described as


Chapter 2. The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity

‘the longest way to get to God’ (1983: 89).

On intermediaries, Quintana has this to say (1983: 129): ‘I don’t get accustomed to priests, critics and straws for soft drinks… Nothing replaces the flavour of direct communication.’

Yet, lay believers can be worse than priests. Writing on boring people, Quintana, after mentioning some categories, says (1983: 146, 147): ‘Ah! I almost forgot the proselytizers of all religions. The lay proselytizers are the worst. As to the priests I know, one notes in their favour that they always speak to me of other things. Either they consider me a lost case or a guaranteed case… Well, whatever the case, they leave me alone.’

8. Conclusion What is the significance of this private worldview for the study of Brazilian religiosity? One might say that the views described above are rather idiosyncratic. They represent one man’s religion. However, Quintana is very popular and widely read. Besides, he breathes the air of Brazilian culture. That culture has been described as ambiguous in nature (DaMatta 1979, 1986, 1988, 1991; see also Willemier Westra 1988). It moves between two poles, one rational, logical and hierarchical, the other emotional, improvising and equalizing. The most striking characteristic, according to DaMatta, is the simultaneity of the opposites: ‘Brazilian society lavishly presents combinations and connections that are, at first sight, completely out of place or even impossible’ (1988: 125). Quintana is a good example of this simultaneity. His sympathy is clearly with the more flexible second pole, but this means he has an eternal discussion with representatives of the first pole, and even shares some of their opinions. As far as religion is concerned, official religion is viewed by him as hierarchical and rational. His own views reinforce the ambiguity and pleasant confusion Brazilians seem to have a monopoly on. Interestingly enough, Quintana once compared Russian and Brazilian religiosity, stressing the lack of fanaticism in the latter (1983: 89): ‘It is enough for us to have read Dostoievski and Tolstoi (as all of my generation did) in order not to doubt that the Russian people are deeply religious. We are not. And for precisely that reason, we will never fall, as they did, by transference, into the implacable mysticism of atheism. They are fanatically atheist. We are not fanatically religious. Moral of History: the trump card is ours.’

8. Conclusion


One of the expressions of the second pole is the ‘malandro’, a kind of trickster figure who, by way of his behaviour, makes good use of the first pole, mocking it and at the same time surviving at its expense. This is done in a very playful manner, seemingly taking things seriously but laughing behind their back. Quintana exhibits some kinship with this ‘malandro’, especially in his use of ambiguity and in his criticism of the rational and hierarchical. This ambiguity becomes clear, as we have seen, in his use of themes like the existence of God, the origin of religion, the existence of the ‘Other World’, the direct religious experience through poetry, the discrepancy between expression and explanation, and above all in his views on morality. The fact that God is so central to his ideas suggests that Quintana is a good representative of what I have called Brazilian minimal religiosity (Droogers 1985, 1988). It is a form of religiosity that is not linked to any of the institutionalized religions, but that pervades all of society. Its main vehicles are the mass media. Its spokesmen are not the clergy, but secular public figures. The concepts of God and faith are central to it. A humorous utilization of religious notions is characteristic of Brazilian minimal religiosity. In Quintana’s case, the last feature is in keeping with his literary style. A serious message is conveyed by way of humor and word play. The way he makes fun of religion and religions, even of God, does not necessarily mean he does not take them seriously. His criticism of religion and religions, especially of institutionalized religions, is not a sign of secularization. It is a way of balancing between belief and unbelief. In this way, the dimensions of religion can be better explored than by either the official sacred or the critical secular views. In Quintana’s approach, religion is far more experiential and therefore much more alive, even though he approaches the limits of the religious experience. He is very aware of the human being’s role as a meaning-maker (Crick 1976). To the anthropologist studying religion, Quintana not only provides an example of Brazilian minimal religiosity, his opinions on contradiction and paradox, stylized and exaggerated as they may be, contain a criticism of a purely scientific view of religion. Reality does not lend itself to overschematic representations. Since science and religion are often presented as opposites, a scientific view of religion can be suspicious, especially to the religious person. The strict scientific criteria can narrow the view the social scientist has of religion. It is therefore


Chapter 2. The Playful Seriousness of Brazilian Religiosity

worthwhile to put oneself, if only as an experiment, in the position of the believer. Participant observation is familiar to the anthropologist. One should remain conscious of the vague border between science and religion. In his emphasis on the role of words – in his case, poetry – Quintana makes us aware that both science and religion depend on the use of words, often the same words. This does not mean science and religion no longer need to be distinguished. Yet, we should not forget the relative nature of this distinction. In my experience, this means that even if the student of religion puts his or her personal worldview aside for the moment, religion – especially in the idiosyncratic form it assumes in Quintana’s case – continues to influence personal reflection. At the same time, poetry challenges the student of religion to be conscious of the words used in the social sciences to express and explain religion. Poetry is not the perfect means of expressing religion, but it is able to evoke aspects of religion that otherwise remain unrevealed. Steiner (1989: 3, 4) has gone further when he argued ‘that any coherent account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meaning and feeling is, in the final analysis, underwritten by the assumption of God’s presence … the experience of aesthetic meaning in particular … infers the necessary possibility of this “real presence”. The seeming paradox of a “necessary possibility” is, very precisely, that which the poem, the painting, the musical composition are at liberty to explore and to enact.’

To me, Brazilian simultaneity, as evident in Quintana’s paradoxical work, has clearly brought this to light. This leaves us with the dazzling question of whether, if the mystery is in the words, it can also be in the words students of religion use. If the answer is affirmative, the distance between poetic and scientific language is not as great as one might think, at least not in the study of religion. Moreover, the mystery may prove to be no longer an option, but a necessity (Van Baal 1990: 67).

Acknowledgements Special thanks to Sheila Gogol for her editorial advice and to my son Bart for comments on the first draft of this article. Unless otherwise stated, the references are to Quintana’s works.



References Alves, Rubem (1984). What is religion? Maryknoll, New York: Orbis. Crick, Malcolm (1976). Explorations in language and meaning: Towards a semantic anthropology. London: Malaby Press. DaMatta, Roberto (1979). Carnavais, malandros e heris: Para uma sociologia do dilema brasileiro. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar. DaMatta, Roberto (1986). O que faz o brasil, Brasil? Rio de Janeiro: Rocco. DaMatta, Roberto (1988). Soccer: Opium for the people or drama of social justice? In: DaMatta, Roberto (1991). Carnivals, rogues, and heroes: An interpretation of the Brazilian dilemma. Notre Dame, etc.: University of Notre Dame Press. DaMatta, Roberto (1988). Soccer: Opium for the people or drama of social justice? In: Banck, Geert, and Kees Koonings (eds.) (1988). Social change in contemporary Brazil: Politics, class and culture in a decade of transition. Dordrecht/Amsterdam: FORIS/CEDLA, pp. 125 – 133. DaMatta, Roberto (1991). Carnivals, rogues, and heroes: An interpretation of the Brazilian dilemma. Notre Dame, etc.: University of Notre Dame Press. Droogers, André (1985). De minimale religiositeit van de meerderheid: Een brief uit Brazilië. In: (1985). Religies in nieuw perspectief: Studies over interreligieuze dialoog en religiositeit op het grondvlak, aangeboden aan Prof. dr. D.C. Mulder. Kampen: Kok, pp. 88 – 108. Droogers, André (1988). Brazilian Minimal Religiosity. In: Geert Banck & Kees Koonings (eds.) (1988). Social change in contemporary Brazil: Politics, class and culture in a decade of transition. Dordrecht/Amsterdam: FORIS/ CEDLA, pp. 165 – 175. Quintana, Mario (1980a). Prosa e verso. Porto Alegre: Globo. Quintana, Mario (1980b). Esconderijos do tempo. Porto Alegre: L & PM. Quintana, Mario (1983). Caderno H. Porto Alegre: Globo. Quintana, Mario (1984a). Apontamentos de histria sobrenatural. Porto Alegre: Globo. Quintana, Mario (1984b). Nariz de vidro. Sao Paulo: Editora Moderna. Quintana, Mario (1985). Nova antologia potica. Porto Alegre: Globo. Quintana, Mario (1986). 80 anos de poesia. Porto Alegre: Globo. Quintana, Mario (1988). Diario potico. Porto Alegre: Globo. Quintana, Mario (1989). A cor do invisvel. Porto Alegre: Globo. Steiner, George (1989). Real presences. London, Boston: Faber and Faber. Turiba, Luís (1987). Quintana, o observador zen do cotidiano. Humanidades, 4 (12), 116,117. Van Baal, J. (1990). Mysterie als openbaring. Utrecht: ISOR. Willemier Westra, Allard (1988). Symbolic paradoxes: The internal dynamics of popular Candomblé religion in Alagoinhas, Bahia. In: Geert Banck & Kees Koonings (eds.), Social change in contemporary Brazil: Politics, class and culture in a decade of transition. Dordrecht/Amsterdam: FORIS/CEDLA, pp. 195 – 215.

Inversion Chapter 3 Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination 1. Introduction In this article, the focus will be on religion as an institution that, on the one hand, seems to constrain playfulness, and yet simultaneously, as the grain of the playful imagination is lying in its field, bearing fruit from time to time, and with obvious consequences. Religions differ in the degree to which playfulness is either hampered or stimulated. The demands of social order, represented by a class of religious and political specialists, often work against creative imagination. Religious players may become heretics and subversives, and their suppression is at the same time the domestication of the potential for multivocal play. The powerful prefer the univocal verbal logic of straight discourse, because it serves their purposes much better. A theory on the relationship between religion, play, and power is developed in this article along these lines. Though stated in objective terms, this theory has slight normative traits, in the sense that its application may improve the quality of human life and well-being. The admittedly religious metaphor of paradise suggests that something essential has been lost and that it is worthwhile regaining. Taking as a starting-point a cultural anthropological version of what may be viewed as typical of the human apparel, play receives special attention. Even though a human ability does not necessarily have to be identified by the application of that ability, it is worthwhile considering what has happened to a human gift such as play, especially if it seems to have been domesticated, most notably in modern times. Its application in religion is discussed, and due attention given to the role power processes ‘play’ in its domestication. Towards the end of the article, the chances of regaining the paradise of play will also be discussed.


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

2. The Human Apparel In over a century, cultural anthropology has painted several portraits of the human being. Since these portraits are fairly well known, I will summarize only those ideas that are relevant to the understanding of play. One popular view depicts humans as inescapably belonging together, despite the individuality of each person. Culture is socially shared. People want to belong to society and even to nature, to feel part of both, while at the same time maintaining their individual uniqueness and idiosyncrasy (Van Baal 1981). They combine similarity and difference, identification and identity, and play with these according to the circumstances. They share basic social and symbolic structures, and yet manage to translate these into diversity, both personal and social. For that reason, and also because societal processes may take on a life of their own, changes occur in the basic repertory located in social and symbolic structures. The social order may in many societies be viewed as sacred, with power mechanisms guaranteeing its continuity, but it cannot escape transformation. Part of the debate about the human outfit has revolved around the twin concepts of agency and structure, agency representing voluntarism, subjectivism, and a micro-level approach (human beings as puppet-masters, society and culture the marionettes), structure standing for determinism, objectivism, and a macro-approach (society and culture as puppet-masters, human beings as marionettes) (Archer 1988: ix, x). In movie terms, agency is best symbolized by the free and lonely rider in Westerns, whereas structure’s summarizing image is that of Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, being drawn through the machine by the assembly line he was working at. Any emphasis on structure raises the question of how change and rupture could come about, whereas an emphasis on agency creates the problem of how some form of social or cultural order and continuity is possible. For a long time the two approaches were at war with each other or each just ignored the other. In the last two decades, efforts have been made to present agency and structure as two sides of the same coin, the coin being called ‘practice’ or ‘praxis’ (see e.g, Bourdieu 1977, Giddens 1984, Hall 1996, Keesing 1994, Moore 1975, Ortner 1984, Sahlins 1985). Agency and structure are thus presented as bedfellows condemned to each other. Structure needs agency to be reproduced, whilst agency works within the structural framework and depends on it.

2. The Human Apparel


Though the individual cannot survive without a certain degree of order, he or she willingly takes risks when ironically playing with the existing order or more seriously resisting it and suggesting alternatives; the support of others is then essential. In constructing and reproducing his or her own identity, the individual always experiences the tension between continuity and rupture, between ‘this is me’ and ‘let a thousand flowers flourish’. In short, human beings operate between the – not always coinciding – extremes of structure and agency, chaos and order, the individual and the social, continuity and rupture, essence and flow. There is a specific human tool that seems to be working on both sides of the spectrum, acting paradoxically both as a cause of the actor’s loneliness and as a remedy that reunites the actor with the structural whole. I refer to the human gift of making and using symbols. Symbols stand for something else, as a shorthand version of an element in reality. Religion, with its focus on a non-empirical reality, depends very much on symbols. In the case of metaphorical symbols, the symbol and that which it represents belong to different domains (‘God is my father’), whereas in metonymies there is contiguity within the same domain (‘in Bateson you can read about play’). In the first case, I compare a religious entity to the person who is central among my kin, and in the second I take an author’s name to refer to his publications. In both cases parts of reality are given names and a map of reality can be drawn. Communication between people, as well as life with reality, natural or supernatural, is thus made possible through symbols. By using symbols to interpret reality, human beings implicitly put themselves on the observer’s side, and reality is thought of as separate and outside. Symbols, therefore, are fundamental in the construction of the observer’s individual consciousness. Yet, once there, individuality is experienced as incomplete, because it frustrates feelings of belonging and identification. And here it is that symbols operate not only as causes of feelings of separateness, but also as a promise of wholeness, of a united reality. Metaphors do this by bringing together domains that are usually separate (religious experience and kinship), while metonymies represent the part played by contiguity as a reference to the whole (pars pro toto, the published work as representative of the author) (cf. Fernandez 1986). In short: through symbols, human beings can feel both apart and part of (Van Baal 1981). Like anthropologists, they reconcile observation and participation. And in participating they come to share the


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

same, or similar, symbols with other people, which is another way of linking the actor to the structural level.

3. Simultaneity and Schemas There is one other aspect that needs to be emphasized before I discuss the relationship of the human apparel with play. It concerns the simultaneity that seems to characterize the human condition as described in the preceding section. Human beings are able to orient themselves to both the individual and the social level, and to do so at the same time. They can use or observe the symbol, and at the same time have in mind what it stands for. In terms of spatial metaphoric speaking, complementing the time metaphor of simultaneity, a person stands aside of reality, observing it, and yet is part of it and desires to be part of a larger whole. Identity has an individual as well as a cultural dimension. What is more, individuals are good at playing with more than one identity, corresponding to context and strategy. The above-mentioned extremes of structure and agency, chaos and order, the individual and the social, continuity and rupture, essence and flow, all demand a feeling for simultaneity, just as postmodern relativism has drawn attention to the current coexistence of disparate views and interpretations, even in the same person. Insights developed in cognitive research seem to confirm this human capacity for simultaneity, because it is shown that the human brain is amply equipped to focus on more than one thing at a time. I am referring to connectionism, as understood by cognitive anthropologists, who study the way cultural knowledge is constructed and organized (e. g. Bloch 1991, D’Andrade 1995, Strauss and Quinn 1994, 1997; see also Turner 1987: 156 – 78). The new insight brought by connectionism is that knowledge not only obeys a so-called sentential logic, working mainly with the left hemisphere of the brain, representing knowledge as it is verbalized in a phrase, one word after the other; but that there appears to be another type of logic, situated in the right hemisphere, which works according to what is called a ‘parallel distributed processing mode’. In connectionism, knowledge is pictured as a series of networks, each establishing links between processing units that function like neurons. These networks can be activated simultaneously, and connections between them and between neurons can be established in the wink of an eye. New knowledge changes the links and

3. Simultaneity and Schemas


connection weights between the processing units. The concept of schema is used to indicate the networks that are thought to be the locus of a generic concept. For being generic, schemas are minimal models or scripts used for the interpretation and handling of reality. Their central role in connectionist logic must not be understood as a denial of sentential logic, because once a conclusion is reached after the rapid consultation of a number of candidate schemas that might fit the event or phenomenon, this conclusion will be verbalized through sentential logic. Schemas can be compared to bureaucratic forms that must be completed according to the concrete case, but which in themselves are empty and minimal. Often quoted examples of schemas are the restaurant schema or the doctor-patient schema, that summarize the basic elements of a visit to a restaurant – any restaurant – or to the doctor – any doctor – despite differences between the two visits, even to the same restaurant or doctor (D’Andrade 1995: 126). Schemas are most often used in a routine manner, as in writing, reading and in the recognition of these words, and through that, at a more synthetic level, in recognizing the ‘train of thought’ that words seek to transmit. They help to make reality predictable and recognizable. Schemas may compete for priority. What happens if you consult your doctor while lunching with him in a restaurant? Which of the two schemas prevails? Will the meeting conform to the schema of a business lunch? Events and phenomena must be categorized, primarily by means of the available schemas. If they do not fit and routine fails, new schemas must be developed through practice. Since ‘Perestrojka’, the component parts of the former Soviet Union have spent decades trying to find new schemas for their political and economic organization. In the case of science, the most directive schemas are called paradigms. Here too, if schemas fail to offer an interpretation, new schemas will be developed, and a paradigm shift will occur. But schemas usually serve routine behavior. It is the anthropologist’s job to decode the routine schemas of a cultural setting and the changes that take place in them. In the case of a foreign context, the anthropologist must do this without ethnocentrically using his or her own cultural schemas. He or she must, moreover, be aware of the possibility that even anthropology’s own conceptual schemas are products of NorthAtlantic culture and colonial history. Schemas have the advantage of helping to control diversity since disparate events can be reduced to a few categories. Thus schemas,


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

once verbalized, serve the construction of order and continuity. By being minimal and basic, they accommodate, by means of the family resemblance mechanism, the differences between similar cases. On the other hand, because they can be adapted, rupture and transformation can also be given a place. What is important in relation to the aspect of simultaneity in the human condition, is that the connectionist logic confirms the human ability to consult parallel archives or repertories at the same time, until the schemas are found that match the event, or the phenomenon, to be interpreted, as well as the accompanying behavior script that is adequate to the situation. The perspective of simultaneity allows people to distinguish without separating, and to discriminate without overseeing similarity. There is a parallel with the idea of the ‘rhizome’ coined by Deleuze and Guattari (1976), and which is linked to their substitution of psycho-analysis by schizo-analysis. Typical of the rhizome is that it is a regime of pure multiplicities, whereas its opposite, ‘arborescence’, stands for unifiable multiplicities (Guattari 1996: 211). Here again, we touch on the problem of diversity and similarity, the rhizome representing the extreme and permanent state of multiplicity, of endless connections and of heterogeneity, not reducible to simpler structures and not even to the concept of multiplicity (Deleuze and Guattari 1976: 18, 21, 35, 60). In social science theory, connectionist logic allows for an eclectic, multi-paradigmatic view, that makes scholars aware of the limitations and presuppositions of any view, and therefore of the complementary nature of paradigms that present themselves as exclusive. Anthropological methodology contains a century-long experience with such simultaneity through the fieldwork experience of participant observation – even though in concrete terms some fieldworkers end up closer to one of the extremes, and either participate as much as is possible in the society they study, or withdraw to the position of observer.

4. Play So far, the human apparel has been presented as a delicate but effective constellation of dichotomies, facilitating the simultaneity of individual and social, agency and structure, chaos and order, belonging and isolation, continuity and rupture, essence and flow, participation and observation, sentential and connectionist logic. We can now turn to the phe-

4. Play


nomenon of play. Much has been written about it. I will not reiterate what has already been said, but will instead present a definition I have used before and which emphasizes the simultaneity present in play (cf. Handelman 1998: 70). I define play as ‘the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality’ (Droogers 1996: 53). The terms used in this phrase, however, need some explanation. I prefer the term ‘capacity’ to ‘mode of being’, because it points to the dynamic character of play. Of course this may seem like too much ‘agency’ and too little ‘structure’, but by now it should be sufficiently clear that I do not use agency and structure as mutually exclusive opposites. There is another reason why I prefer the reference to capacity: namely, that it puts play among the other universal human capacities, such as symbolism, speech, culture and power. The aspect of simultaneity has been introduced already. Play allows for a plurality of insights into reality. It is a way of distrusting what seems plain and evident. Pruyser (1976: 190) speaks of the player’s ‘double awareness’, whereas Ehrmann (1968: 33) emphasizes the simultaneity of play and seriousness. Lifton speaks of the ‘Protean self’, ‘a self of many possibilities’ (1993: 4, 5), referring to the Greek mythological Proteus, who was capable of changing his appearance. Lifton (1993: 50) also uses the term ‘odd combinations’. Play has to do with what might be called a ‘stereophonic’ perception, combining the elements from two channels simultaneously. Through this double perspective, play is capable of articulation, i. e. the creation of links between distinct and dissimilar elements (Slack 1996: 114). In terms of articulation, play – in accordance with the definition given above – is the capacity to articulate dissimilar ways of classifying reality. The relations between the elements thus articulated need not be of correspondence, but can be of non-correspondence and contradiction (Slack 1996: 117). To a large degree, play fascinates, surprises and is funny because of the unexpected ‘odd combinations’ in its schemas. Thus a new version of a Brazilian Amazon Indian myth may express, through a traditional motive, namely the struggle between sun and moon, what modernity means to these people, articulating what is experienced as contradictory. The traditional mythological figure of the sun, is said to wear Western clothes and a watch, and subsequently is criticized by the moon because of his un-Indian behavior (the example is taken from a BBC video documentary Dreams from the forest on Mehinacu Xingu Indians, 1993).


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

As Handelman (1992; 1998: 69; Handelman and Shulman 1997: 37ff) has observed, there is a strong affinity between play and paradox. Paradoxes also contain a double perspective. A paradox is self-critical in that ‘it spells out alternatives even as it attributes equal value to these alternatives’ (Handelman 1992: 6). In terms of the definition of play presented here, using a paradoxical schema is one way of dealing simultaneously with more ways of classifying reality. ‘One cannot play without changing values, without changing the value of reality, without changing realities’ (Handelman 1992: 6). Connectionist logic facilitates paradoxical thinking because, as we have seen, it allows for the simultaneous consultation of different schemas and for the articulation between these schemas. Handelman (1998: 70) adds that in our dichotomous cultural traditions, play is understood as paradoxical, and is used to overcome uncertainty; in his view, however, play is not inherently paradoxical because, as we will see later, much depends on the type of cosmology. The aspect of subjunctivity is inspired by Victor Turner’s work on liminality and communitas (e. g. Turner 1988: 25, 169) and is related to that of simultaneity. Turner makes a distinction between the indicative mood, represented by the clear and univocal ‘as is’ , and the subjunctive mood, the marginal or liminal domain of the suggestive ‘as if’. The latter is used to express ‘supposition, desire, hypothesis, or possibility’ (Turner 1988: 25). It is the domain of the human imagination. Through play, reality can be classified and interpreted in more than one way, as in Bateson’s wink (Bateson 1973): this may seem like a fight (‘as is’), but the meta-message is that it is not (‘as if ‘). The indicative appears to prevail, but we know better than that, don’t we? It is the subjunctive mood that counts. The significations that are part of the indicative mood are being feigned, as play falsifies experience (Lindquist 2001: 20). The other side of the play coin is uncertainty and precariousness (Handelman 1998: 63), especially if there are no partisans who share the playfulness, or when the original motive for play is abandoned and the form play takes is manipulated to serve particular interests.

5. Play, Power, Modernity The double perspective of play suggests that reality allows for more than one instruction for use. This may have political consequences. The powers that be, in any period of human history and in any cultural context, but most clearly in modern society, are not charmed by the risk

5. Play, Power, Modernity


that play’s uncertainty and precariousness present to their classification of reality. They will seek to canalize play in fixed schemas and use it for their own purposes. Whereas play has no goal and is self-referential (Lindquist 2001: 16), power on the other hand serves a real goal, i. e. it seeks to influence other people’s behavior and in consequence creates a particular social order. If significations are feigned and experience is falsified through play, it may mean that the social order is put at risk, as certainly as if the meanings of traffic lights were to differ. Play is closely related to indeterminacy and liminality (Handelman 1998: 64, 65). Turner has been criticized because pure liminality and communitas were thought to be extremely rare, and because hierarchy and competition always intervened (e. g. Eade and Sallnow 1991, Sallnow 1981). Turner himself had already adopted the term ‘liminoid’ to indicate that in modern society liminality was not apparent in its purest form (Turner 1974: 16). Social life, if only in the form of a two-person dyad, demands a certain degree of predictability; its participants must have some foreknowledge of each other’s actions. This calls for an authority, either religious or political, that makes rules, guarantees their predictability, and introduces sanctions against those who flout the rules. This mechanism for the survival of the social order reduces the possibility to play with meanings. This repression need not be the end of play, however, because play could be useful for the maintenance of the social order. Although the seemingly opposite of power, play (once it is domesticated) can be used as a tool to serve authorities’ goals (Handelman 1998: 70). If play can be subjected to rules – and thus become a game – it will become acceptable and can be given a legitimate place (Handelman 1998: 70). The same process of the falsification of experience can then be used centrally and in a coordinated manner to strengthen society as designed by its leadership, as totalitarian regimes of all times and places have amply illustrated. Thus, in modern contexts, the anniversary of what is usually called ‘the revolution’ is an occasion for such regimes to enact an impressive, symbol-charged, seemingly playful performance that drives the message home that the revolution has indeed brought a better society. Sports have been greatly stimulated by these regimes, in the interests of national glory, and with the subsequent rule of thumb that athletes achieve more when their governments are more totalitarian. But totalitarian regimes do not have the exclusive right to this strategy. Soccer World Cups and Olympic Games represent ‘high tide’ in the use of play for nationalism, despite the globalizing rhetoric of open-


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

ing ceremonies with Ludwig von Beethoven’s ‘Alle Menschen werden Brder’ schema as a central element in the show. The domestication of play has even wider scope and impact. In the West especially, but increasingly in the rest of the world as well, modernity has contributed its share to the feigning of significations and the falsifying of experiences. It has also established the dominance of work over play, exiling the latter to its own sector, just as through secularization it has side-lined religion. Parallel to what the political sector did to play, the economic system applied the same domestication strategy, putting play at the service of its own goals, creating the globally active leisure sector of the mass media and the amusement and tourism industry. It offers ready-made play, thereby making the consumer’s active and creative role in play superfluous. It controls play, using its pleasurable rewards to make gains and create employment. The Disneylands and Hollywoods of the world offer a surrogate playground, just as McDonald’s life-size clown puppets represent a similar schema. Play, at one time segregated from work, has thus re-emerged as work. In the leisure industry sports have been professionalized, meaning that this form of play has become an economic sector in itself, and is therefore work, watched by a modern leisure class of a paying mass audience. This shows that in the present situation, the human capacity for play is drastically constrained. The political and economic authorities’ campaign against the inchoate is of such a force and has been such a success that cultural reality is defined under another aegis. As a result, the univocal order is considered both normal and desirable in today’s human relations. The original and creative ‘Let there be play’ is substituted by the hedonistic command: ‘Amuse yourself (by buying our services and products)’. In this case, contrary to the attitude towards the Judeo-Christian lost paradise of an ideal order, yet in the name of an ideal social order, people are prevented from returning to the playground paradise through social control by publicity, and the reward of immediate pleasure. Because they depend on this order for survival, they usually comply. Although human nature deep in its heart knows better, people dare not risk the uncertainties and sanctions that follow in the wake of opting for more innovative paths. In the late modern situation, only postmodern skeptics give play a privileged place in their vocabulary, a far echo of what has been lost through the modernist domestication of play (Rosenau 1992: 39, 117, 135). Yet repression can never be total, since play in itself is a source of contrary tendencies. The way it is managed in society creates

5. Play, Power, Modernity


in human beings an inward conflict between the slumbering longing for a paradise lost, and the submission to the hegemonic situation, in the Gramscian sense of accepted repression, considered ‘natural’ and normal, despite its cultural and historical origin. Humor has always been a weapon against totalitarian leaders who take themselves too seriously. Modern consumers have their own way of decoding predigested messages and are known not to buy everything the leisure industry offers, sometimes causing it to suffer great financial losses (Fiske 1989). Interestingly, the economic system explores even the potential critique against itself, when, for instance, it sells Dylan and Marley protest songs by the millions, or when it introduces fashion styles that are supposed to be a deviation from the commonplace, such as worn and torn jeans. There seems, in short, to be a framework of dependence and protest that may take the form of a cyclical movement. Play’s subversive potential is experienced as a threat by the political establishment. Economic powers regard play as a source of income. In consequence, play is domesticated and controlled, and put at the service of the establishment and its goals. In response, efforts may be made to recover the original context of play, but always at the risk of the almost immediate institutionalization of leadership and followers. And yet, in modern society the domestication seems to be so radical and the financial interests so massive, that the question may be raised as to whether the cycle can still sustain its momentum. There is thus a fundamental contradiction in the human condition, which adds yet another dimension to the basic dichotomies mentioned earlier, e. g. structure and agency, chaos and order, the individual and the social, continuity and rupture, essence and flow. The expansion of the meaning-making process that comes with the gift of play, clashes with the control that an inevitably necessary social order seeks to impose on its actors, by means of its authority. Power and play do not easily go together. Power, seen as the capacity of authorities to influence the behavior of people in general, even against their will, is exercised in order to establish a workable and ideologically desirable univocal order that is presented as exclusive and unique. Play, seen as the capacity of the individual to imagine various realities simultaneously, when not domesticated, may constitute a threat to vested interests. As a result, play is curtailed so that it cannot become subversive (Handelman 1998: 70; Turner 1988: 169). What could be a model for a new reality, becomes a mir-


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

ror of the currently dominating definition of reality (Handelman 1998: xii). The modem economic system reinforces this tendency. Now, we should not idealize play. Even without pointing to its subsequent domestication by the powers that be, play in itself is able to dominate people to such an extent that fascination becomes obsession. Play already has an inherent power dimension, in that it may influence people’s behavior. It may distort the way of life of individuals and in the end destroy them. In a similar vein, it also has to be said that the social constraint on play is not solely negative. The social framework may keep the potential for play alive, even though it may also crush it. This is perhaps the reason why, just like pure liminality, pure play is a rare phenomenon, certainly as a social phenomenon. Human beings may seek to realize their individuality through play, but cannot live without the social framework and have to accept constraints as necessary evils. And yet, having made this reservation, people can only be what they are, and playfulness is never repressed fully, despite the strategic interest of those same people in a practical and enjoyable social order. In other words: innovative players have to calculate the consequences of their ‘subversive’ behavior. Unless they are able to share their experience with other people, they run the risk of sanctions, of isolation and social exile, of eroding the social order they themselves depend on, and of creating unrest in other people’s lives. Their quest may, however, also lead to a different society. The former ‘underdog’ may become part of a society’s leadership. When we turn now to the relationship between religion, play and power, it will become clear that religious innovators in the course of human history, from the Buddha through Jesus of Nazareth to Mohammed, have taken these risks and have shown that the double perspective of play can indeed lead to dramatic social and cultural changes (Droogers 1980, Chapter 1 in this volume).

6. Religion, Power, Play When we look at the relation between religion, play and power, we must first of all clarify what we mean by religion. Religion has been defined in many ways, but generally speaking there are substantial and functional definitions. Substantial definitions refer to some transcendental reality (e. g. belief in God, gods and spirits), whereas functional definitions emphasize what religion does for people and society (e. g. pro-

6. Religion, Power, Play


vide answers to the ultimate questions on the meaning of life and death). In the case of functional definitions, a particular explanation is usually implicit (e. g. religion is the cult of society disguised as sacred beings, or religion is a projection of human uncertainty and hope onto sacred beings). If play is understood as the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality, it has more in common with a substantial definition than with a functional definition of religion. The transcendental reality that is central to a substantial definition can be traced back to the gift of play, in that two types of reality are distinguished. In some cases these realities are radically separated (e. g. God as the totally ‘other’), just as in metaphors two domains are distinguished and connected. In others they are linked to a degree that the believer, in close and mystical contact with the sacred, experiences only one reality, just as in metonymy the frame of reference is one domain. In the first case, the distinction between the natural and the supernatural makes sense to the believer, whilst in the latter it does not. Yet, a functional definition is also witness to the human capacity for play, when, for instance, explanations of religion implicitly link it to another realm of reality – the social, the existential, or the cognitive – to which it is considered useful. In functional definitions and explanations, on the other hand, the religious domain is often reduced to the needs of one of those other domains. This ignores a characteristic of religion that may not seem very functional at first sight: namely its symbolic abundance. As mentioned above, symbols are used to refer to the absent and the invisible, both of them typifying characteristics of the sacred. Symbolic proficiency is stronger than the need for efficiency. Where one practical core symbol would be sufficient for functional purposes, the essence of a religion’s message is actually expressed in a multitude of ways. It is this multifariousness in religion that shows the player at work. The other reality to which he or she is connected, and to which the substantial definition points, is as varied as playfulness can subjunctively express. Van Baal (1972) has pointed to the similarities between play and religion, and also art. In his view, human beings have to confront the existential tension that exists between individual uniqueness and individual integration into a wider whole. The individual stands apart and yet is part of the total reality. Play, religion, and art, though illusions (a word etymologically connected with the ‘ludens’ of homo ludens), create a feeling of belonging. Play does this by generating a fictitious reality –


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

as Lindquist (2001: 20) would say, through ‘feigned significations’ – with which the player identifies him or herself. Religion offers a possibility of communication with supernatural – empirically unproven – reality. Art is a way of transforming reality into a symbolic reality that can be enjoyed for its aesthetic value. According to Van Baal, play turns uncertainty into excitement (e. g. games); religion transforms it into a solvable problem (e. g. theodicies); while in art, existential uncertainty stimulates creativity and transforms even the most dour reality (e. g. Van Gogh’s) into a thing of beauty. Of course, play may also create uncertainty, and similarly, religion can also be a problem-source, just as art may reflect the ugliness of human reality. The ideas Fernandez (1986) developed with regard to metaphors, seem to corroborate Van Baal’s insights. The two domains brought together in a metaphor, induce a feeling of wholeness, despite their disparity. Interestingly Fernandez subtitled his book ’The play of tropes in culture’. Similar views have also been put forward in the so-called object-relations-theory, by Winnicott especially, in his book, ’Playing and reality’ (1971). The individual is depicted as struggling with the relation between separate inner and outer realities, birth being the emblematic event of this experience. Play is the child’s way of remaining related as a ‘me’ to the ‘not-me’ of the reality it experiences as opposite and separate. Winnicott suggests that in adult life, religion and art share with play the function of maintaining the intermediary zone between inner reality and external life. All three authors – Fernandez, Van Baal and Winnicott – link play to the human constitution and the human predicament. There is more to this, however. The gift of play creates bliss as well as uncertainty (Handelman 1998: 63, Lindquist 2001: 20). The unthought-of can be both satisfactory and frightening. The other reality that the human player fills with beings and events, has both dimensions. The safe harbor of a static view may seduce the tired player when the gale of imagination starts blowing. A religious identity, whether painfully achieved through life’s journey, or easily obtained through early socialization, can be as attractive to the believer as the tried and tested paradigm is to the academic. Even without a power structure and a division of labor that protect the static form and the sentential logic of a religion, people will still tend to opt for the certainty of a well-tried view, over the uncertainty of another thought experiment – unless, as in the case of the academic, the paradigm no longer matches the events of life and the phenomena in reality.

6. Religion, Power, Play


If secularization is not an acceptable way-out, and religion remains attractive, then only one charismatic individual is needed to show the way to a new vision, as once Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed did in the societies of their days. Such a religious innovator has power and is thus able to influence the behavior of others over and against the established order, though often at great personal cost. Religion, then, is more than an ‘opium of the people’. Religious innovators can only succeed if there are sufficient people to share the new view and to attribute authority to the new leader. In this way the world’s heretics and prophet-like figures restore the gift of play for religious purposes, introducing new and different realities, but not bothering with whether the success of the message will bring the believers to the following phase in the cycle: namely, institutionalization, leadership for the sake of leadership, and new orthodoxy, until the next generation of charismatic heretics appears on the horizon. Thus St. Peter was given his successor in the shape of successive Popes – the bishops of Rome – one of whom was ultimately confronted with the innovative thoughts and behavior of one Martin Luther. The religious orders in the Catholic church seem to represent a compromise between faithfulness to the mother church and to their founders’ discovery of new, sometimes heretical dimensions in the religious experience. The demands of the social order make themselves felt within the internal organization of a religion, and not only when the interests of the wider society are at stake. The ebb and flow of religious imagination bring play at low and high tide with them. Models become mirrors which, in time, will produce new models. Domestication never succeeds in extinguishing the flame of playful imagination altogether. The depiction given so far of the relation between religion, power, and play, must be amended to the extent that the occasions for drastic change are rare indeed, whereas the simple reproduction of a religion may quickly appeal to the human imagination and bring slight changes with it (Moore 1975). The process of transmission from one generation to the next confirms this phenomenon. Even religions, considered traditional, undergo changes from generation to generation, simply because a one-to-one copy is difficult to obtain. Personalities and contexts are never the same, and consequently agency and structure always appear as part of a different constellation, particularly when the time span between one generation and the next has to be bridged. Repetition carries difference in her bosom (Deleuze 1994). And human play is also expressed in mere reproduction.


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

7. The Conditions for Play in Religion What are the chances of play occurring in religion? Whether radical or modest, playfulness, as a source of religious change, depends on the complicated constellation of beliefs, internal social structures, and external relations with the wider society, These three dimensions of any religious group or organization together produce a particular profile. Within Christianity, therefore, in terms of the supernatural dimension the sacred can be understood as accessible (e. g. Pentecostal manifestations of the Holy Ghost), or conversely as closed or distant (e. g. right-wing Calvinist traditions), as overwhelming power (e. g. in Medieval mysticism) or as a resourceful power in times of affliction (e. g. popular Catholicism). In terms of the internal dimension, some groups have a somewhat horizontal internal organization (e. g. the Quakers), just as others have a strong hierarchy (e. g. the Catholic Church). At the level of the external dimension, some groups will view the surrounding society as sinful and hostile (e. g. Evangelicals), while others embrace society’s values (e. g. state churches). In all three dimensions power plays a central role. This may be obvious as far as the internal and external dimensions are concerned, but less so in terms of the relationship believers have with the supernatural. With regard to this supernatural dimension, the usual believers’ view is that the sacred influences people’s behavior, although this is hardly ever translated in terms of power. The exercise of power may also work the other way around, in that people seek to influence and manipulate the sacred for their own purposes. In the form of sacrifice and prayer this element often forms part of established religion, but occurs outside official religion as well, and is then labeled as ‘popular religion’ or even as ‘magic’. In both forms, it is part of religious practice and is a way of exercising power within the relationship with the sacred. The weight of the links between the three dimensions may differ, and one of the dimensions may influence the other two. The most obvious candidate for such a role is the supernatural dimension, especially when a strong emphasis is placed on the initiative and manifestation of the sacred. Views on the supernatural may legitimize the position of religious or even secular leaders. On the other hand, both the internal and the external dimensions may be so important that views on the supernatural are influenced by them. Elements of Roman law, for instance, have influenced a number of Christian theological ideas surrounding reconciliation between God and humanity, the emphasis being laid on Jesus’ death as atonement. The Christian reference to the kingdom

7. The Conditions for Play in Religion


of God is another example. The strength of the internal and external dimensions may have guaranteed the continuity of matching ideas about the supernatural. Yet, power is not exclusively conservative. In itself it is neutral: It can work as a brake on change, and it can also be used as a tool with which to implement change, each of the three dimensions possibly being the starting-point for just such a process. Accordingly, playfulness can be both curtailed and stimulated, depending on the constellation of dimensions. Most probably, it is best appreciated when the definition of the supernatural is unelaborated and has a minimally codified doctrine, when internal leadership and control are weak or in crisis, and when the external social conditions are characterized by a minimal, diverse, and loosely-maintained set of values. These conditions seem rare, though. They most likely occur in the first phase of a religious movement, before institutionalization takes hold. Under these conditions, play is not frustrated by strict doctrine, by supervising leadership or by monolithic values. But even in more constraining situations, playfulness can never be totally stifled, not even under the strictest of conditions. Handelman (1992: 7) suggested this, albeit in different terms, when he wrote that ‘the higher, the more abstract, the level of cosmos at which these qualities [movement and change] of play are embedded and legitimated, the greater the influence of these qualities on the organization of that cosmos’. He characterizes play in this sense as a ‘top-down idea’ (Handelman 1992: 12). When play is not embedded at a high, abstract level, as in the case of monotheistic cosmologies, he speaks of ‘bottom-up play’ and affirms that in such a case ‘play often is phrased in opposition to, or as a negation of, the order of things’ (Handelman 1992: 12). In other words: power mechanisms intervene, especially in situations in which play is of the ‘bottom-up’ type. The analysis of the three dimensions of religious groups presupposes that these groups form more or less closed unities. This may facilitate the thought experiment, but as a result of increasing globalization it accords less and less with reality. Boundaries are perforated on a massive scale and the potential for contact and influence increases. Though the global can only take form at the local level, different influences may converge at that level and bring the world ‘home’, in the religious field too. In other words, globalization increases the opportunities for a playful dealing with religions and religious repertories. The constellation of the three dimensions cannot always turn this tide, however. Christianity and Islam, for instance, were brought to African villages, adding to


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

the prevailing local cultural repertoires and schemas. The ensuing process showed how the new was selectively taken in by the old, and led to new forms, including independent African churches and prophetic movements. A current example is New Age. Though diverse in its manifestations, it shows how this globalizing development works in practice. It brings together, for example, shamanism, reincarnation beliefs, spiritualism, astrology, millenarianism and quite often elements from Christianity as well. A particularly striking characteristic is its social diffuseness, which shows that in this particular worldview, play succeeds in remaining outside the grip of the social framework, even though mass media and best-sellers stimulate and consequently influence it. Syncretic or creolized forms also show play at work. They too are the result of globalization (Drummond 1980, Gort et al. 1989, Greenfield and Droogers 2001, Hannerz 1992, Stewart and Shaw 1994). New Age is just one example among many (Hanegraaff 1996), while Japan and Brazil are often mentioned as examples of syncretic nations. Syncretism rarely presents itself as a religious option among numerous others. It is not explicitly institutionalized and often remains submerged in individual reflection and behavior. To such individuals, new technologies bring attractive possibilities. The new media are beyond the control of the powers that be. Neither does the constellation of dimensions always succeed in annihilating undesired influences. The Internet offers new sources of religious meaning-making, although it may only be accessible to the ‘happy few’. Several claims have been made purporting the development of a global religion as the sum total of the best of all religions, such as Bahai and some of the new Japanese religions, including Soka Gakkai. The effect of globalization is also that human suffering seems to be on the increase, on the grounds that humanity is apparently not able to solve the crucial problems surrounding poverty, violence and the environmental pollution. Whereas world leaders prefer the image of an evermore civilized world, growing numbers of people fall victim to widescale genocide or famine. The world-wide scale and interrelatedness of these problems seem to surpass the human capacity to solve them, despite the efforts of international organizations. The increase in religious repertories is thus related to a growing demand for help, partly of a religious nature; which facilitates human playfulness in such serious matters as making sense of misery. At the same time, within the same globalizing framework, and as a reaction to the same increase in contact and in problems, there is the

8. Paradise Regained?


opposite tendency of fundamentalism (Lifton 1993: 10, 11, 160 – 89). It represents the triumph of the univocal and the exclusive, with a clear view of the supernatural and of external society, and is internally organized to such an extent that alternative readings are excluded. Fundamentalism represents a strong integration of the three dimensions and thus a wall of defense. Yet even here, playfulness can be appreciated, such as when Christian Evangelical circles combine a strict doctrinal view with a ritual freedom of expression and a facility to evoke and experience the sacred by all means, in a recent form – the so-called Toronto blessing – including a form of holy laughter (Porter and Richter 1995).

8. Paradise Regained? In the preceding pages I have suggested that human beings experience a kind of double bind – being on the one hand equipped with the gift of play, while depending, on the other, on a minimal degree of social order that restrains play. Although it is possible to have the best of both worlds, play and order appear as opposites that are not easily reconciled. As observed in the ‘Introduction’ to this article, a human capacity does not necessarily carry the obligation to actually use it. In that sense, play is as neutral as power is, It may have positive-desirable as well as negativeundesirable consequences. Lifton (1993: 190 – 212) points to the danger of a pathological schizophrenic fragmentation of the Protean self. However the human predicament may challenge people to appease the equally pathological constraints of the social order by means of playfulness. Many societies have facilities to accommodate the needs of their playful members, offering institutionalized and controlled forms, limited in place and time, such as sports events, initiation rituals, Carnival, New Year rituals and local saints’ festivals. Apart from these specific occasions, everything that deviates from the established norm, even that ruling marginal situations, runs the risk of being sanctioned, possibly in a cruel manner. The double bind also suggests that a plea for playfulness outside the channels the culture offers, is a direct attack on the social order. Thus there is little room in which to restore the lost paradise of play. Yet, a return to the lost paradise of religious play can legitimately be advocated and at this point the theory presented here, though formulated in an objective manner, becomes more normative. The main argument for such a preference lies in the process of globalization. Whereas


Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

contacts between people become more numerous, diversity becomes a threat to the well-being of the world’s citizens. Differences between people, when not carefully managed, create walls and even strife between them. Difference is incomplete without similarity. The ‘cultural flow’ (Hannerz 1992: 4) is intense and strong in our days. All immigration countries move between the poles of assimilation policies (similarity) and multiculturalism (difference). Ethnicity has become an important identity criterion, contributing to the diversity that locality, class and gender already bring with them. For the time being religion, despite secularization, seems to create more diversity than unity, especially in the face of a predominantly fundamentalist discourse. Fundamentalism is experienced as a threat. As Maxwell (1996: 30) puts it, the anthropologist’s mission might well be ‘to make the world safe for diversity’. Anthropologists, once the experts in cultural differences, have nowadays become experts in culture as a universal human capacity applied globally and as foundational for similarity. Although in the end it is a matter of policy-making, anthropologists could very well play a crucial role in preparing the policies for diversity management. One such contribution, in my view, relates to the potential of play. With the help of play, diversity, religious or otherwise, can be less of a problem than it appears to be. Since the gift of play is universally human, it can be drawn on to ask for tolerance, when exclusiveness appears to be the primary reaction. Similarity may be found wanting if diversity leads to political and social fragmentation. Academics have a responsibility to set the example and to point the way to the lost paradise of play. For a start, they can apply this ability to their own work, showing how seemingly exclusive paradigms can be used in combination, by means of what I have called ‘methodological ludism’ (Droogers 1996, Chapter 14 in this volume). The scientific sub-society tends to stimulate competition because of the high premium put on work of distinction. Citation circuits and funding procedures celebrate difference and ignore similarity. The academic homo ludens who adopts the position of methodological ludism is less exclusive in taking sides and makes him or herself ready to understand the other perspective – the other way of classifying reality – from the inside, just as anthropologists do when studying other cultural settings. This could be a way of making a methodological and scholarly use of the human capacity for play, i. e. to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality. It may prove much more fruitful than



the faithful application of one paradigm or perspective. The consequence may be that one no longer holds such an obvious position in academic and research funding circuits, with the accompanying loss of power. But in the end the approach will prove its worth. Perhaps the most demanding consequence is that methodological ludism requires another way of thinking. It appeals more to the right hemisphere of the brain, whereas academics seem more adept at using the left half, and thus in verbalizing clear and correct conclusions. But they also work intuitively, and are subsequently closer to the connectionist logic that offers alternative schemas for interpretation. There is a more specific task awaiting us. Anthropologists of religion should accept that they have a role to play in inter-religious dialogue, at whatever level. Such a dialogue depends on a mind-set and on a type of information in which anthropologists are fully versed. Their gradual shift in focus from difference to similarity can serve as a useful working model. The participant observation method, as a play with positions, could very well serve to facilitate valuable communication between today’s representatives of today’s religions.

Acknowledgements I gratefully acknowledge stimulating comments by Don Handelman and Galina Lindquist, and editorial assistance by Sylvia Dierks-Mallett and Arnold de Boer.

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Chapter 3. Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination

Deleuze, Gilles, et Félix Guattari (1976). Rhizome, introduction. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit. Droogers, André (1980). Symbols of rnarginality in the biographies of religious and secular innovators: A comparative study of the lives of Jesus, Waldes, Booth, Kimbangu, Buddha, Mohammed and Marx. Numen, 27 (1), 105 – 21. (Chapter 1 of this book) Droogers, André (1996). Methodological ludism: beyond religionism and reductionism. In: Anton van Harskamp (ed.) (1996). Conflicts in social science. London: Routledge: pp. 44 – 67. (Chapter 14 of this book) Drummond, Lee (1980). The cultural continuum: a theory of intersystems. Man, 15 (4), 352 – 74. Eade, John, and Michael J. Sallnow (eds.) (1991). Contesting the sacred: The anthropology of Christian pilgrimage. London: Routledge. Ehrmann, Jacques (1968). Homo ludens revisited. Yale French Studies, 41, 31 – 57. Fernandez, James W. (1986). Persuasions and performances: The play of tropes in culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Fiske, John (1989). Understanding popular culture. London and New York: Routledge. Giddens, Anthony (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press. Gort, Jerald, Hendrik Vroom, Rein Fernhout and Anton Wessels (eds.) (1989). Dialogue and syncretism: An interdisciplinary approach. Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Amsterdam: Eerdmans and Rodopi. Greenfield, Sidney M., and André Droogers (eds.) (2001). Reinventing religions: Syncretism and transformation in America and the Americas. Boulder, Colorado: Rowman & Littlefield. Guattari, Pierre-Félix [Gary Genosko (ed.)] (1996). The Guattari reader. Oxford: Blackwell. Hall, Stuart (1996). Introduction: who needs identity? In: Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay (eds.), Questions of cultural identity. London: Sage, pp. 1 – 17. Handelman, Don (1992). Passages to play: Paradox and process. Play & Culture, 5, 1 – 19. Handelman, Don (1998). Models and mirrors: Towards an anthropology of public events. New York: Berghahn Books. Handelman, Don, and David Shulman (1997), God inside out, Siva’s game of dice. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hanegraaff, Wouter (1996). New Age religion and western culture: Esotericism in the mirror of secular thought. Leiden: Brill. Hannerz, Ulf (1992). Cultural complexity: Studies in the social organization of meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Keesing, Roger (1994). Theories of culture revisited. In: Robert Borofsky (ed.), Assessing cultural anthropology. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 301 – 12. Lifton, Robert Jay (1993). The protean self: Human resilience in an age of fragmentation. New York: Basic Books. Lindquist, Galina (2001). Elusive play and its relations to power. Focaal, European Journal of Anthropology, 37, 13 – 23.



Maxwell, Joseph A. (1996). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Moore, Sally Falk (1975). Epilogue: Uncertainties in situations, indeterminacies in culture. In: Sally Falk Moore & Barbara G. Myerhoff (eds.), Symbols and politics in communal ideology. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, pp. 210 – 39. Ortner, Sherry B. (1984). Theory in anthropology since the sixties. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26(1), 126 – 66. Porter, Stanley E., and Philip J. Richter (eds.) (1995). The Toronto blessing – Or is it? London: Darton, Longman and Todd. Pruyser, Paul W. (1976). A dynamic psychology of religion. New York: Harper and Row. Rosenau, Pauline Marie (1992). Post-modernism and the social sciences: Insights, inroads and intrusions. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Sahlins, Marshall (1985). Islands of history. London and New York: Tavistock. Sallnow, M. (1981). Communitas reconsidered: the sociology of Andean pilgrimage. Man, 16, 163 – 82. Slack, Jennifer Daryl (1996). The theory and method of articulation in cultural studies. In: David Morley and Kuan Hsing Chen (eds.), Stuart Hall: Critical dialogues in cultural studies. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 112 – 127. Stewart, C. & R. Shaw (eds.) (1994). Syncretism/anti-syncretism: The politics of religious synthesis. London and New York: Routledge. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1994). A cognitive/cultural anthropology. In: Robert Borofsky (ed.), Assessing cultural anthropology. New York etc.: McGraw-Hill, pp. 284 – 300. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1997). A cognitive theory of cultural meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Turner, Victor (1974). Dramas, fields and metaphors: Symbolic action in human society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Turner, Victor (1988). The anthropology of performance. New York: PAJ Publications. Van Baal, J. (1972). De boodschap der drie illusies: Overdenkingen over religie, kunst en spel. Assen: Van Gorcum. Van Baal, J. (1981). Man’s quest for partnership: The anthropological foundations of ethics and religion. Assen: Van Gorcum. Winnicott, D.W. (1971). Playing and reality. London: Tavistock.

Chapter 4 The Popular Use of Popular Religion: Power and Meaning in Three Brazilian Popular Religions 1. Introduction In studying the popular use of popular religon, power and meaning can be shown to be related dialectically. In the context of religion, power refers essentially to three levels. The first can be called supernatural. Here the power relationship is between God, gods, saints or spirits on the one hand, and believers on the other. The second level is organizational, and the power relationship is mainly between leaders and followers. The third level is societal, and here the power relationship is between believers and non-believers. In most cases the three levels are interrelated. The precise nature of this interrelationship depends on the constellation of power and meaning that is characteristic for a specific case. In studying the popular use of popular religion, the power relationships of the three levels prove to be important, because they determine the space available for such a popular use. This chapter offers a comparison of three Brazilian popular religions: Umbanda, Pentecostalism and Ecclesial Base Communities. These three religions will be discussed separately, after which a comparison will be made. In each the three levels are related in a different manner. The uniqueness of each religion resides in large part in the interpretation of the relationship between human beings and their God, gods, saints or spirits. This very specific interpretation has consequences for power relations on the organizational and the societal levels and therefore for the popular use of popular religion. Obviously a popular interpretation of popular religion – let alone official religion – is only possible to the degree that people have free access to God, gods, saints or spirits. This depends on people’s attitudes to the supernatural level. The freedom of action on the organizational and societal levels will then change accordingly.

2. Umbanda


2. Umbanda Umbanda came about in the twenties of this century and has since accompanied the urbanization of Brazil. It can now also be found in rural towns. Umbanda stands in a long tradition of Afro-Brazilian popular religions that have their roots in African and Amerindian religions, but also in Catholicism. Seemingly Catholic in their outward forms, AfroBrazilian religions began in the slavery period as a reaction against the slaves’ lack of free religious expression. Religious power, sometimes of the magic kind feared by their masters, compensated for the subjugation of these slaves to their masters and their religion. The symbols of that religion, imposed on the slaves, were reinterpreted, to fit the slaves’ cosmology. Saints became identified with West African Yoruba gods. Mary was venerated, and in her Yemanjá, the goddess of the sea, was also adored. Saint George, killing the dragon with his sword, was celebrated, but in him also was Ogum, the god of the smiths and of war. In many areas, the Amerindian religions added to this process of updating religion. Umbanda is a successor to this slave tradition. It is a white middle class reinterpretation of the slave religions, just as those religions were a reformulation of Catholic, African and Amerindian influences. The altars in Umbanda temples are witness to this variety of reinterpreted sources. Images of saints stand next to those of slaves and indians. The latter two categories are part of Umbanda’s spirit world and in ritual have sometimes become more important than the saints, also known as Yoruba gods. Umbandists generally form small autonomous groups of spirit mediums and their helpers. The groups meet in small temples, often part of the house of the group’s leader. In a wider sense, the term umbandist can also refer to the people who come to consult the spirits incorporated in the mediums during the sessions. In most cases these clients only come when they have a problem to be resolved with the spirits’ help – often, but not only, related to health. It is estimated that a third of the Brazilian population has some form of contact, regular or irregular, with Umbanda temples. Among the many types of spirits, four categories can be distinguished that present themselves in almost all temples. These four categories are: spirits of negro slaves, of indians, of children, and of people considered to be from the fringes of society like criminals, crooks, prostitutes and gypsy women. Interestingly all these spirits represent marginalized


Chapter 4. The Popular Use of Popular Religion

social categories (Birman 1983:46,47, Droogers 1985). In the Umbanda temple they are given an inverted social position and are promoted to supernatural power. Ironically they are consulted by representatives of the social classes that were – or sometimes still are – responsible for their marginalization. The relations of dependency and therefore of power have thus been changed around completely. The religious appreciation of marginalized persons alters their position in power relations, but only in a ritual context. As soon as the session is over, life returns to its normal power distribution. This is not the only example Umbanda has to offer with regard to power relations. In terms of the three levels mentioned in the Introduction to this chapter, power and religious meaning are related in a very specific way. On the first, the supernatural level, the emphasis is on spirit possession, mediums being literally overpowered by spirits. Yet, even though in the umbandist view the medium’s behaviour is controlled by the spirits, mediums also manipulate spirit power in order to solve clients’ problems. This means that they use their religious power over spirits in order to reinforce their own power position with regard to their clients and in competition with other mediums too. This occurs on the second, the organizational level. Leaders of Umbanda temples are always strong mediums, who use their religious power over spirits as a basis for their power over the group’s members and the temple’s clients. Their religious power is also extended therefore to secular spheres of society, the third, i. e. societal level. This generates a network of contacts that – in a very secular way – may be put to use for the otherwise religious solution of clients’ problems. In the context of urbanization, Umbanda plays a role on the societal level in as far as it helps people to integrate into city life. Yet, since the other religions I will discuss play a similar role, this explanation of the growth of Umbanda can only be partial. Not only its social function, but also the specific constellation of power and meaning at the three levels must be taken into account. In doing so the popular use of popular religion becomes clearer. We shall first of all focus on the client’s position, and then on that of the medium. Within the constellation of power and meaning, the Umbanda clients are free to a certain degree to come and go as they like. More than the mediums, they are in a position to make their own use of this popular religion. When a problem needs to be solved, the temple is near, generally within the client’s neigbourhood. There is no need or obligation to participate in all the sessions. It is considered normal that a per-

2. Umbanda


son uses the temple’s facilities to serve his or her own interests. People involved in some affliction or conflict will seek the spirits’ assistance in promoting personal interests. In fact, when somebody comes to a session just to observe, as the fieldworker does, people cannot understand that somebody can come without wanting to consult the mediums. Some kind of pressure is therefore usually exerted to talk with the spirit possessing the leader or one of the mediums. For to go to a session means one wants to consult the spirits. Yet, the same constellation of power and meaning can reduce the client’s freedom. It can be part of the treatment that certain obligations have to be fulfilled, and then the client has to come back again and again. In the most extreme case, the client is told that the only way to solve the problem is to become a medium. The symptoms of the affliction are a signal that the spirit wants that person as his or her ‘horse’, i. e. medium. This is the start of an annual series of obligations that have to be observed if the person wants to become a full medium. The spirits’ intervention then limits the client’s freedom to make his or her own use of this popular religion. He or she will move from the category of client to that of medium. In terms of the three levels of power and meaning, the power of spirits over clients enhances the power of the temple group (the leader and the mediums) as soon as the treatment creates obligations, mediumship being the most demanding. The spirits legitimize with their power the authority of the group’s leader and of the other mediums over the newcomer, who from being an outsider becomes an insider. With regard to the mediums, their position should not be understood as one of total submission and integration. The medium’s relationship with spirits can be developed in such a way that gradually his/her position with regard to the group’s leader and the other mediums will change to the medium’s advantage. When a medium has a strong personality, is very convincing in the role of medium, and attracts clients for being successful in the solution of problems, he or she can become especially threatening to the leader’s position. Formally, a medium that has observed the obligations for seven years is in a position to open his or her own temple, and take other mediums with him or her. The opening of a new temple generally does not sever the link with the temple from which the leader and mediums came. Nevertheless there can be a change in the rituals and in the meaning attached to certain spirits. A new temple therefore means another constellation of power and meaning.


Chapter 4. The Popular Use of Popular Religion

3. Pentecostalism In 1910 the first Pentecostal church was founded in Brazil. Like Umbanda, Pentecostal churches have accompanied urbanization and have grown with the cities. In the fifties, especially, Pentecostal churches became prominent. As in the case of Umbanda, Pentecostalism has also expanded into rural areas. Though the first churches were founded by missionaries coming from the United States, autonomous autochthonous initiatives have been responsible for the main growth of these churches. About two-thirds of Brazilian protestants are Pentecostals. There are churches of all sizes and types. Some are national churches, with hundreds of local congregations, others are one-man neighbourhood churches with a few faithful followers. A special type is formed by the so-called salas de cura, healing halls, situated in the city centres, often near state polyclinics. Here there are three church services daily, always culminating in a healing ritual. In all Pentecostal churches, the organization is rather rigid, with a clear division of tasks, involving as many people as possible. The church services are characterized by an equal participation of many people, even though one or two pastors are clearly in control of the whole service. The rigidness of the church often also applies to the doctrine. The motivation for involving as many people as possible is found in the conviction that all people share in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Especially important is the so-called baptism with the Spirit, experienced by people as a power coming over them and taking control of their lives. Through the Spirit, God is thought to act powerfully in people’s lives. The Spirit’s gifts, like healing, prophecy and glossolalia, serve as a basis for the relations with other people, who can be helped through these charismata, especially in being healed. To Pentecostal believers the application of charismatic gifts is a necessity, because the world is understood as the arena of a battle between God and the devil. As many people as possible should support God’s side in this struggle. Conversion of other people is therefore essential. Each Pentecostal believer is thus by definition an evangelist. When interpreting the Pentecostal case in terms of the three levels of power and meaning, the meaning given to God’s action through the Spirit is fundamental. This expression of God’s power serves as the basis for the believer’s exercise of power in the struggle between good and evil. The baptism with the spirit is the ritual by which access is gained to this source of power. Though applied by human beings, the power is

3. Pentecostalism


understood as divine. It helps to determine the believer’s life, and offers a solution to many of his or her problems, as well as to those of others. Ultimately, the goal is to change the world through this power. This change is occurring already whenever people decide to join God’s side. The healing of a person is a victory in this battle. Also in the moral field victories are won, as soon as people break with vices. In all these cases, power at the first level, given by God to believers, determines the believers’ behaviour on the second level and also on the third. On the second level, between believers, the democratic access to charismatic power causes a levelling of hierarchical relationships and widens the space in which believers are free to move. At the third level, in the relationship to non-believers, the believers’ wish and conviction to win the battle with evil determines the nature of all contacts. In practice, power relations may differ from this ideal model. On the organizational level, especially in the one-man churches, but also in third generation churches, the leader’s power can be such that only lip service is paid to the democratic distribution of divine power. In practice, the power at the second level, between believers, is concentrated in the hands of a few who are ’more equal’ than the others. This submission of believers to their pastor’s authority has been interpreted as a continuation of those rural semi-feudal patron-client relationships in which believers lived before migrating to urban areas and converting to Pentecostalism (Lalive d’Épinay 1968, 1969). On the societal level, the power of Pentecostals to change society has been limited, but might grow in the future (Martin 1990, Stoll 1990). With an increase of their number, they become more important as an electorate. In some cases, Pentecostals have entered the political arena, often as fierce anti-communists, but also in more emancipatory actions. State authorities are often – but not always – accepted as God-given (cf. Romans 13). One aspect that has always been studied in Latin American Pentecostalism is the presumed upward mobility of Pentecostal believers. They are depicted as good workers, respecting authority placed above them. As a rule they do not participate in trade unions or strikes. In reality, this upward mobility is limited (Hoffnagel 1978). In this respect, the influence of Pentecostal convictions on the societal level is less striking than has often been supposed. Turning to the question of the popular use of Pentecostalism, some conclusions can now be drawn from the specific constellation of power and meaning that is characteristic for this type of religion. The easy ac-


Chapter 4. The Popular Use of Popular Religion

cess every believer has to the charismatic gifts gives space for individual expressions of belief, not necessarily controlled by the clergy. Pentecostalism is a total religion, making its demands felt twenty-four hours a day. Since God’s gifts of power are free and are available at any time, nobody can claim a priviliged position. Manifestations of the Spirit legitimize themselves. Therefore the chances seem fair for a popular use of this popular religion. Yet, as we have seen, institutionalization and strong personality can make for differentiation. If a church is to be successful, it tends to need organization and codification, and thus leadership. Extremely gifted persons establish a charismatic authority, especially as preachers and healers. Others act as organizers. Such developments may limit the space left for common believers. On the other hand, these restrictions can serve as a reason for schisms and thus indirectly can increase believers’ freedom. In fact, the schism-proneness of Pentecostalism has often been mentioned as one of the reasons for its expansion. Leaders always have to reckon with competition by aspiring members who through their gifts attract followers or have the possibility of starting their own congregations. Such a new congregation might become an autonomous church in its own right. In any case, the constellation of meaning and power will be different from that in the mother church.

4. Ecclesial Base Communities The Ecclesial Base Communities or CEBs (Comunidades Eclesiais de Base) as they are commonly called, form the most recent of the popular religions under discussion here. They were founded in the sixties, in the ecclesial climate of the Second Vatican Council. Their rise was closely linked to that of the so-called theologies of liberation. The estimates with regard to their number differ widely, but it seems probable that in Brazil there are at least 30.000 CEBs, involving a few million people. Generally they are located in neighbourhoods, function as face-to-face groups, and are democratically organized. In most cases under the guidance of a pastoral worker (a priest, a nun or a social worker), their members focus on the relationship between the Christian faith and the transformation of society. This transformation is first of all sought in their direct surroundings, but also in a wider sense, even internationally. There are also consequences for the CEBs’ internal organizational level.

4. Ecclesial Base Communities


The Christian faith as understood in the CEBs basically centers around the notion of God as a liberator, as the God of Exodus and of justice who acts in history. The transformation of society, promoted through participation in neighbourhood organizations, cooperatives, trade unions and political parties, is in itself an exodus from poverty and modern forms of slavery. Through their action, indicated as struggle (luta), the CEBS seek to promote a classless society and a more just relation between the First and the Third World. The CEBs’ members are – or soon become – power-conscious. Words such as ’the powerful’, ’the powerless’ are common in their discourse. The people, o povo, are in the first place the poor masses. The Bible is read through the eyes of the poor. It is interpreted as a commentary on societal problems. In a popularized version, the so-called dependency approach in the sociology of development can be encountered in CEBs discourse. If we translate this into terms of power and meaning, the specific constellation of the CEBs becomes clear. The meaning given at the supernatural level to the notion of a liberating God leads to a consciousness of power relations on the societal level. The concrete form this takes varies a lot. First of all, the way a CEB is structured is meant to set an example of how society can be organized. More than ever before in the Catholic church, lay people assume responsibility, even adopting roles formerly reserved to members of the clerus. Additionally, members of CEBs are active in their urban or rural neighbourhoods. They participate in political parties, generally from the left – though certainly not exclusively so (Hewitt 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991). In rural areas members of CEBs have played an important role in the movement of the landless. As a consequence of the consciousness of hierarchical relations in society, criticism of those in the internal organizational level is also enhanced. This does not occur in all CEBs to the same degree, though. Some are extremely critical of church authorities, others opt for a loyal position, despite evident repression. Recent nominations of bishops have caused a polarization in this respect, with vehement reactions of some CEBs against new conservative bishops. Women especially, excluded from the priesthood, can be critical of male authority and follow an independent course (Hoornaert 1988). At the other extreme, the role of progressive pastoral agents is sometimes felt as a symptom of asymmetric power relations. The often rational theological justifications given by these agents do not always correspond with the existential motives of the CEBs’ members. An interesting case is the agents’ attitude with regard to popular religion. Fol-


Chapter 4. The Popular Use of Popular Religion

lowing neo-marxist inspiration, many of them have for a long time condemned popular catholicism as alienation. Only when it has been seen that popular religion could contain elements of resistance, did it find grace in the eyes of these pastoral agents. Some cases have been reported of the efforts of CEB members to maintain expressions of the spirituality of popular catholicism within their CEB, to the surprise and against the wishes of pastoral agents. Ideally speaking, the popular use of popular religion should be receiving a lot of attention in the CEBs. The emphasis on a liberating God means that the common people’s interests are dear to the CEBs’ leaders and pastoral workers. In large part, the CEBs seek the rehabilitation and emancipation of the poor, whose way of understanding the Bible is a source of inspiration. Moreover, the CEBS have a democratic organization, in which people can take any initiative. And yet, here too institutionalization and personality development make for differentiation. A special circumstance is the presence of the pastoral agent, who does not always succeed in adapting to the subculture of the members. The agent’s role can become a liberal version of traditional clerical control. Recently the actions taken by conservative members of the church’s hierarchy, Brazilian or Roman, emphasizing the traditional role of the clerus, has further limited the space lay people have for making a popular use of this popular religion. What happens in practice, though, is that members cannot help being who they are and therefore continue to make sense of their lives in ways similar to those they have always used. This means that they do so in the context of popular catholicism, with the addition of a consciousness of power relations that they have obtained through the CEB. They will continue to take initiatives, within the church and, if this is no longer allowed, outside it. The CEBs do not represent a completely new popular religion. They continue the tradition of popular catholicism, sometimes despite the role of both progressive and conservative members of the clergy.

5. A Comparison in Conclusion If popular religion is the laity’s space for religious production, the popular use of popular religion is a further extension of this form of religious interpretation. Those who in other sectors of society or even in official religion have little opportunity for initiatives, compensate for this in the field of popular religion. In that way, people are continually construct-

5. A Comparison in Conclusion


ing their own cosmos, including their views on power relations. Even if this cosmology is not respected in society or known about in official religion, it is worthwhile for the persons who share it. In each of the three cases discussed here, a specific cosmology, with a unique interpretation of the relation between meaning and power, was shown to exist. In all three religions, though, the starting-point is to be found in their views on the supernatural level. Yet, in each the particular understanding of the relationship between the supernatural and human beings has different consequences for the possibilities of a popular use of popular religion. The contact with spirits in Umbanda is different from that with the Holy Spirit in Pentecostalism. The God of the Pentecostals liberates in a completely different way than the God of the CEBs’ members. Because they are influenced by a specific understanding of the supernatural level, the power relations on the organizational and the societal levels are differently organized. Therewith the way in which a popular use of a popular religion occurs will differ. Let us in a comparative way look at some examples of this interrelationship between the levels. In Umbanda and in the Pentecostal churches the relation with the supernatural agency is put to use in and influenced by individual problem-solving. Many of the relationships at the organizational level are subservient to people’s efforts to solve their problems. In the CEBs the solution is not primarily individual but societal. It is at the societal level, and not so much at the organizational level, that the consequences of this attitude to the supernatural can be found. Correspondingly, the possibilities for a popular use of religion are to be found at a different level. If the question is not so much how people, in making use of popular religion, solve their problems, but more how they realize themselves in the religious organization, the starting-point still is the supernatural level. In each of the three religions described in this contribution the nature of the relationship with the supernatural has consequences for the chances a person has on the organizational level. The clearest example is the Pentecostal view on the free access of all believers to baptism with the Spirit. This opens possibilities for all in the activities of the organization, even though there may be a tendency towards strict leadership. In the case of Umbanda the experience of spirit possession is the key to a role in the temple’s organization and ultimately to a career as a temple’s leader, which is available to all. In the case of the CEBs the liberator God not only wants a just and equal society, but as a fore-


Chapter 4. The Popular Use of Popular Religion

runner a different community of believers, equal among themselves. Ideally at least this creates opportunities for the popular use of the organization of popular religion. Of course, in all three cases reality deviates from the ideal. When we now look at the societal level, the chances for a popular use of popular religion depend on the importance society, including non-believers, has for a religion. Again, the views held of the humandivine/spiritual relationships (the supernatural level) determine the attitudes at the societal level. In this case, the clearest example is that of the CEBs’ members inspired by a liberating God to engage in a struggle for a transformed society. Individual initiatives are welcomed and integrated in the group’s activities. Pentecostals have a different interest in society. They feel a vocation with regard to non-believers, who are seen as potential converts. In the Pentecostal view the ideal society will not be brought about by human political action, but only by the conversion, with God’s help, of non-believers. Even without being sent by church leaders, Pentecostals are devoted to this task. In the case of Umbanda, neither society in general nor the non-believer seems to be relevant, except as a field from which mediums can draw clients, and as an opportunity for charity work. Yet, the importance of the four marginalized social categories, mentioned in the section on Umbanda, can be understood as an implicit critique of society. Of course, this meaning is not explicit in Umbanda discourse, but it could become so some day in the process of meaning-making. In discussing three popular religions, the central role was given to the specifically religious: the views held of the supernatural. These views are certainly not as static as the codified version of official religions would suggest. The process of signification goes on and produces new insights, other emphases and different chances for the popular use of popular religion. What happens with regard to the supernatural level almost always has consequences for the organizational and societal levels. The attitude to the supernatural is not just a reflection of social relations, in the religious group or in society. It is also a reflection on these relations. The power between people cannot be understood without regard to the power between supernatural and human beings. Religion is not just about the symbolism of power but also the power of symbolism. Popular religion shows this even more clearly than official religion, because it reaffirms lay people’s capacity for meaning-making. The popular use of popular religion is but the actualization of this capacity.



Note Certain sections in this article are revised parts of the Dutch text of the author’s inaugural lecture for the chair of the Anthropology of Religion, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam (Droogers 1990).

References Birman, Patricia (1983). O que Umbanda. Sao Paulo: Brasiliense. Droogers, André (1985). E a Umbanda? São Leopoldo: Sinodal. Droogers, André (1990). Macht in zin: Een drieluik van Braziliaanse religieuze verbeelding. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit (Inaugural lecture). Hewitt, W.E. (1986). Strategies for social change employed by Comunidades Eclesiais de Base (CEBS) in the archdiocese of São Paulo. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 25(1), 16 – 30. Hewitt, W.E. (1987). The influence of social class on activity preferences of comunidades eclesiais de base (CEBS) in the archdiocese of São Paulo. Journal of Latin American Studies, 19(1), 141 – 156. Hewitt, W.E. (1990). Religion and the consolidation of democracy in Brazil: The role of the comunidades eclesiais de base (CEBS). Sociological Analysis, 50(2), 139 – 152. Hewitt, W.E. (1991). Base christian communities and social change in Brazil. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. Hoffnagel, Judith (1978). The believers: Pentecostalism in a Brazilian city. Ann Arbor: Xerox. Hoornaert, Eduardo (1988). As comunidades eclesiais de base no Brasil: Entre a ortodoxia e a heresia. Paper International Congress of Americanists, Amsterdam. Lalive d’Épinay, Christian (1968). El refugio de las massas: Estudio sociolgico del protestantismo chileno. Santiago: Editorial del Pacifico. Lalive d’Épinay, Christian (1969). Haven of the masses: A study of the Pentecostal movement in Chile. London: Lutterworth Press. Martin, David (1990). Tongues of fire: The explosion of protestantism in Latin America. Oxford: Blackwell. Stoll, David (1990). Is Latin America turning Protestant? The politics of evangelical growth. Berkeley etc.: University of California Press.

Play and Ritual Chapter 5 Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World: Ritual in Its Own Ludic Right 1. Introduction As a concept, the term ‘ritual’ is one whose content is disputed. This is so because it has acquired so many different connotations and uses over the years. However, if in analyzing ritual-like phenomena, one focuses on ritual as the temporary emergence and playful enactment, in its own right, of a shadow reality, the concept may stand a better chance of surviving in scholarly vocabulary. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the nature of the emergence of this ritual counterreality. I suggest that, contrary to the usual connotation of ritual as a solemn and serious occasion, the evocation of an alternative reality might bring enjoyment and fun in its creation and performance – an aspect that should receive more attention. ‘Playful’ and ‘serious’ are not necessarily opposites. Although it might be performed in a serious manner, ritual represents a playful activity, just as play is an activity that is taken seriously as long as it lasts. Rituals can serve all kinds of functions, as perceived by either participants or scholars or both, but people also repeat rituals because they offer diversion and satisfaction through the playful creation of a relevant alternative reality. This other reality has its own parameters and invites cultural experiments. It opens up ample opportunities for homo ludens to show his or her ludic capacities and to play with this potential. I have elsewhere defined play as ‘the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality’ (Droogers 1996: 53). In experimenting with the idea of another emergent reality, ritual actors play seriously with variations, inversions, contradictions, double play, irony, incongruity, and counter realities. The alternative reality is the result of people’s and generations’ playing with different ways of viewing reality. It serves as a counterpoint to the given conditions of everyday life. Once it has emerged, this reality be-


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

gins to lead its own life, with its own characteristics, even though it remains subject to the agency of the actors. In generating its own emergent phenomena – through the basic and common modus that a different reality can be opened up in a ludic way – ritual establishes itself as a separate and idiosyncratic form of dynamic cultural behavior. Simultaneity is an important aspect of the ludic emergence of a ritual reality alongside normal reality. The reference in my definition of play to simultaneity is comparable to Pruyser’s ‘double awareness’ (1976: 190) as a characteristic of the player. Lifton (1993: 4,5) speaks of the ‘Protean self,’ ‘a self of many possibilities,’ as a typically human characteristic. When I use the word ‘subjunctively,’ this is a reference to the subjunctive mood indicated by Turner to ‘express supposition, desire, hypothesis, or possibility’ (1988: 25). It is the domain of the ‘as if,’ to be distinguished from the indicative ‘as is’ (1988: 169). Turner referred to the human ludic capacity as a modus ‘to catch symbols in their movement, so to speak, and to play with their possibilities of form and meaning’ (1982: 23). In this essay I will show this capacity at work in a particular ritual. In the first part of the chapter, I will illustrate this approach to ritual from my ethnography of the Wagenia (Congo), describing the initiation ritual for boys (cf. Droogers 1980). In the second part of the essay, I will show that insights from cognitive anthropology – more particularly, connectionism – are helpful in mapping the properties of a ritual, such as the Wagenia initiation, in its own ludic right. The idea of the parallel processing of schemas and repertoires lends itself especially to such a clarification. I define schemas as culturally accepted minimal scripts for and of thought, action, and emotion. I understand these schemas as together forming a repertoire. The term ‘schema’ should not be taken in too much of a static way. Although ritual, being temporary but repeatable, has the connotation of schematization and codification, a new performance is open to change and innovation. The basic connectionist suggestion is that the human mind allows for a rapid and routine comparison by the parallel – and not serial or sequential – processing of alternative schemas and the repertoires of which they are part. In the process, schemas and repertoires are changed and adapted. Connectionism thus shows how play works as a means of dealing simultaneously with two or more ways of classifying reality. Accordingly, the ritual shadow world can be understood as the result of the application of the human aptitude for the parallel processing of schemas and repertoires. It will be shown that the ludic in a concrete

2. The Wagenia Initiation Ritual


ritual such as Wagenia initiation can be understood as a specific schema repertoire that helps ritual to establish itself in its own right. The ludic repertoire can be said to have its own parameters that guide the course of ritual performance. I will argue in addition that this parallel processing of different schemas is a source of enjoyment. In viewing ritual in this way, it becomes possible to go beyond one of the choices that serve to confuse the debate on ritual, that is, whether it is only religious or can also be secular. The other reality of ritual might mirror the supernatural reality on which religion focuses, but it might be fully secular as well. The decisive criterion is that in both religion and ritual an extra dimension is added to ordinary reality. This extra dimension can even be presented playfully as sacred-like, despite being profane, as happens in the case of the Wagenia boys’ initiation.

2. The Wagenia Initiation Ritual The Wagenia form a small patrilineal and patrilocal ethnic group of an estimated 7,000 people (at the time of research, from 1968 to 1971). They live in six large villages on the banks of the Congo River, next to a series of falls and rapids, in what is now a district of the city of Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville), the provincial capital of the Eastern Province of Congo. Traditionally, they lived by fishing in the river and the falls, but when the city was built, almost on their doorstep, and also because of population growth, men gradually sought work in the city, and a number of women started to trade in the city’s central market. Children attended secondary schools in town. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Christian missions, both Catholic and Protestant, have worked among the Wagenia. On more than one occasion, Kisangani has been the tragic scene of military revolts and rebellions that affected the civic population. All of these profound changes in Wagenia society have in some way become reflected in their initiation ritual, quite often in a playful manner. I had the opportunity to observe the Wagenia boys’ initiation ritual in 1970. Living in Kisangani since 1968 and lecturing at its university, I had been doing fieldwork among the Wagenia on the subject of religious change. In one of the villages, a mud house had been built for myself and my family. Once initiation had suddenly started, life in the villages was dominated for five months by the initiation ritual. The eldest men had been initiated at the turn of the century. The initiation in


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

1970, named after the president at the time, Mobutu, was the tenth since about 1888. The last ritual had been held in 1956 and had been named after the Belgian king Baudouin, who had visited Kisangani that year. Initiation names reflected significant events or circumstances at the time of the ritual. In the remainder of the twentieth century, two more initiation performances followed. Congo had become independent in 1960, accompanied by years of conflicts that took place also in Kisangani. Out of fear of more trouble, the men kept postponing the initiation, because once secluded in the initiation camp, boys were not allowed to leave it until the end of the initiation. Finally, in 1970, conditions were deemed sufficiently peaceful to risk the initiation. I will not repeat the analysis that I have made elsewhere of this ritual in terms of the Wagenia symbolic system and social structure (see Droogers 1980). What concerns me here is the following question: What is ludic in this ritual, and how does the ludic – both within and in reaction to a changing context – generate its own emergent ritual phenomena? In view of my definition of play (i. e., the actors’ capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of viewing reality), it is obvious – most noticeably in the initiation camps – that the ritual established a shadow society of its own and a new way of viewing reality. For more than five months, an alternative code of behavior with its own social and symbolic grammar was introduced. People had to think in different terms. Moreover, they were challenged to be creative and innovative in their way of living this other reality. While having to follow what had been imposed as initiation custom and tradition, they at the same time had every opportunity to play their own variations on this theme. Wagenia initiation allowed people to make changes, in accordance with their changing contexts, in what seemed to be a ritual that had been transmitted from generation to generation. Thus, the novices had to go through the ritual phases of the rite de passage – familiar to anthropology since Van Gennep (1960) – of separation from the village, seclusion in an initiation camp, and reintegration into the village, with, in the Wagenia case, short intermediary stages between the first and the second phases (circumcision at the riverside) and between the second and the third phases (a nocturnal bath in the river). But every generation creates its own version, guaranteeing some form of continuity but also introducing some kind of change, usually in response to the changing times. Using the opportunities set by the ritual parameters, in a ludic alternative world of its own, people take the opportunity to mark their

3. Social Axes


cultural and time-bound presence. The initiation ritual could therefore also be read as a comment on changing times. Thus, the Wagenia could be subjected subjects, passive actors, and active ‘passants’ in this rite de passage. The ludic in ritual helped people adapt to changes, such as those of the colonial and postcolonial eras, and at the same time was a guarantee of some form of continued identity, based on a supra-individual repertoire. People were thereby able to change with the times and yet remain who they were. The ritual set the rules and boundaries for their identity construction as a society (and not only as boys and men), and simultaneously left them a certain margin for free innovation. How did this work in practice? Between 29 March and 19 August 1970, in more than forty feasts held mostly on weekends, around 1,300 boys between the age of 5 and 20 were circumcised at one of the five circumcision areas on the riverbank, and subsequently brought to one of the fourteen initiation camps. In 1970 the majority of these camps were named after the Congolese army’s military camps. Fifty years ago, four feasts per village or group of villages were held, but when many of the Wagenia children started to go to school, more periods for circumcision were required. Those boys who did not attend school spent much more time in the camps than their colleagues who had to wait until the summer vacation in July before they could enter the camp. Some of the Protestant churches forbade their members to send their boys to initiation, but sometimes boys went on their own initiative. Once in the camp, they were not allowed to leave, not even when their parents commanded them to do so. Dancing, drumming, singing, and general rejoicing were common during the circumcision period and also, though with smaller crowds, during the vigils that usually preceded such days. The feasts were a welcome diversion in the rather dull village life. In the last days of August, when the boys left the camp and the reintegration phase began, the villages were again the scene of excitement and merrymaking.

3. Social Axes The shadow society was organized with reference to a few relevant and basic types of social relationships: gender, mother’s and father’s relatives, men and boys. The first two are closely related. The way in which these social axes were expressed ritually was marked by the ludic potential of having a temporary alternative reality. Attention was paid as well to the


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

need to adapt to changing external circumstances, also through the possibilities offered by the ludic framework. In fact, these axes represent sets of schemas for thinking, acting, and experiencing social relationships that contained an inner tension. The boys’ initiation served as a crossroads where all these axes and schemas from the social and cultural repertoire came together and were treated in a ludic manner. The built-in tension was used for ludic purposes, accentuating it but also softening it. At the same time, these schemas were adapted to the changing circumstances of the colonial and postcolonial situation. Even without modernizing influences, this ludic treatment of the social axes sometimes led to a well-humored application of these schemas, making them adaptable and malleable, even – as when making a caricature of them on circumcision days – to the point of blurring what was normally distinguished, putting the exactness of the usual classifications into question. This was a way in which the ludic contributed to the emergence of an alternative world and even to an ironical comment about this alternative reality, as when the women made jokes about the men’s initiation. Let us look more closely at each of these axes. Gender is an obvious aspect of initiation. In the initiation camp itself, an exclusive masculine society was created that contrasted with the village and emphasized gender differences, not inappropriate during a ritual that marked a boy’s transition from his dependence as a child on the women to integration into the men’s group, even though for the youngest this was not put into effect until much later, whereas for the oldest boys it came ex post facto. This could lead to comic situations, as when the smallest five-year-old boys were theoretically treated as men or, inversely, when the oldest boys, some of whom were already married, were no longer treated as men but as boys still to be initiated. The women were excluded from entering this male world, yet they were indispensable as an audience, sometimes literally so in that they were supposed to hear the sounds that came from the camp. A closely connected axis was that between paternal and maternal relatives. Like the women, the male maternal relatives could still be present at the first stages of the ritual, held in the village, which separated the boy from his former status. The day before he was to be circumcised, a female maternal relative shaved the boy’s hair. The women could also watch and rejoice when the boys, shortly before their circumcision, danced with their male paternal relatives on the roofs of their parents’ homes and were then carried to the circumcision ground on the should-

3. Social Axes


ers of male maternal relatives. But when the men and the boys reached the riverbank, all of the women had to stay behind and could watch the circumcision only from a distance. When the newly circumcised boys were carried from the circumcision ground at the riverbank to the camp in the direct neighborhood of the village, the women were supposed to be inside their houses. Yet they often crossed this categorical boundary and peeped through cracks in the wooden windows and doors; in some cases, despite male threats that they would remain barren, the women even stayed outside to shake hands with the boys. In the seclusion period, there were several secrets that surrounded camp life. None of the women was allowed to know them, and yet they all knew them, thus blurring a male categorical distinction. If they could – indirectly and with a wink of understanding – show this, without spoiling the men’s game, they would not fail to grasp the opportunity. Several of these camp secrets were in fact rather artificial and existed only for the purpose of having a secret that excluded the women. In short, the presence of a rare event in village reality provoked a festive climate in which experimenting with the symbolic expression of gender differences and boundaries became possible. The basic schemas were available in the traditional initiation repertoire, but in this climate their minimal nature allowed for new ways of elaborating them or even deviating from them. In the course of the seclusion period, the male maternal relatives played a less important role, though they could come and visit their sisters’ sons. The paternal relatives were primarily responsible for the initiation camp of their village, just as the maternal relatives had that same role to play in their own villages. Another axis of relationships that played a role was that between the novices and the initiated men, who were ritually in charge. The boys were to become members of the men’s group but were in no man’s land – no longer a child, not yet a man. This indeterminacy, as well as the men being their connection with the world outside the camp, made the novices dependent on the men. The men brought food and took care of the boys in their confinement. These three axes played an important role in boys’ initiation. In the alternative minisociety that the initiation ritual created, these axes were the raw material with which the people played. Their treatment of these social relationships was marked by the transition that was at stake – that from childhood to manhood. In other Wagenia rites of passage, other


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

transitions referred to different axes (unborn/born, bride-givers/bridetakers, living/dead, healthy/ill) that led to differences among the rituals. Yet all of the Wagenia rituals of transition shared a symbolic repertoire, even though some symbols were specific to one ritual (e. g., circumcision). Thus, in several rituals, heads were shaved, bodies were painted and adorned, people abstained from washing themselves in the river until they took their first ceremonial bath as a sign of reintegration, they had to fast, they had to stay in seclusion for some time, or they did things emphatically three times whereas one time would have sufficed. In other words, there was a symbolic vocabulary that people could use and with which they could experiment. On the one hand, they had to employ this supra-ritual code but, on the other, could also add to and subtract from it. The ludic context led to the rise of new symbols but with a familiar message.

4. Comic Ritual Stages Throughout the initiation, the men were simultaneously involved in a double opposition, with the women and with the novices, who, for their part, did not remain passive. In both types of relationships, play was present, and the emerging ritual practice was marked by it. Through inversion, imitation, deviation, distortion, or exaggeration, fun was made of the other category in the relationship. The extraordinary moment of a whole group of boys going through a social transition opened up a temporary possibility for playing with old and new notions and symbols. Several examples of this can be given. Once, during a night wake that preceded the circumcision feast, women sang an improvised song alluding to the fact that the men, who were to take the food for the boys to the camp, ate part of it, actually one of the men’s secrets. During the circumcision feasts, there were women sporting phalluses and men who acted as transvestites, thus playing with and inverting gender roles. On several occasions, the men dancing with the boys on the roofs grotesquely mimed coition, referring to the conception of the boy and thus to his parents and to gender relations. Other dancers indicated in an exaggerated way the size of the boy, as if he were a giant. Hashish was officially prohibited by the authorities, but sometimes the men on the roofs openly and ostentatiously smoked it. All of these

4. Comic Ritual Stages


small pieces of ironic theater were performed to the amusement of the audience. For the initiation period, men adopted invented animal names and announced these at the top of their voice when they took the path to the camp entrance. The boys responded by imitating the sound of that animal. The alternative reality that the camp represented was thus concretized through a reference to the animal world as mirroring the human world. Sometimes the name was simply unpronounceable nonsense, such as Nkpenkpenikpokpo. I myself was called Pitolo (ptrole, kerosene), because the boys begged me to buy kerosene for their lamps. In the camp, the boys were submitted to trials and curses in a teasing way. As they entered the camp, some of the men conversed with the boys, wishing them well and making them repeat words that expressed well-being. But such a conversation could just as easily change suddenly into a series of curses, the fun being that the boys were repeating the words automatically, thus cursing themselves, to the general joy of all present. Or a man started to play the clown and made the boys imitate him. One young man made the boys repeat after him the words of the poem ‘Femme nue, femme noire’, by the Senegalese poet L. S. Senghor. This was an occasion for fun because many of the boys did not understand the words and just imitated the sounds, but also because of the erotic connotations of the poem that some understood and others did not. The men also invented nicknames for the boys. They teased them about their girlfriends. Men could utter imprecations against one boy or all of them, asking favors, such as repairing nets, to revoke the curse. Some of these imprecations were so absurd that they were clearly meant for diversion, for example, shoes that do not fit, interestingly including a modern element in a traditional practice. The cohort of men initiated in the previous initiation ritual (1956) was especially active in uttering the curses, while older men were authorized to overrule these imprecations and undo them. The novices felt free to react to these youngest men, calling them ‘baby initiates’ or trying to pull off their loincloths. At night, the men and boys regularly engaged in communitas-like dancing that blurred the distinction between them. They danced to the accompaniment of an instrument that was supposed to imitate the sound of a parrot-like bird. The women were to think that the boys in the camp slept in the open air, although there was a hut in the Ushaped form of a bird, with breast and wings. To them, the bird whose sound they heard, and with whom the men danced and sang,


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

was supposed to be huge. It was said to cover the boys with its wings during the night or when it rained. All of the women knew that there was a hut in the camp, but they nevertheless played along, even to the extent that when the camp hut was burned after initiation and the flames were visible over the fence of the camp, the women continued their work and acted as if they did not see the fire, simply because to them, formally speaking, there was no hut. The initiation was an opportunity for men and women to engage in erotic word games that were normally taboo. On several occasions, especially when it rained and the women were supposed to think that the boys in the camp were suffering, groups of women came to the path leading to the camp and began to dance and sing lewd songs. The men in the camp responded in a similar way. When the women’s song referred to the penis, the men shouted words that indicated the vagina. As soon as the men started to play the instrument of the big bird, the women would run away. Gender differences were accentuated and at the same time mocked. On other occasions, some of the men made the novices sing songs that insulted their mothers or sisters and praised male virility. Also, when boys were recovering from their circumcision, they slept on their bellies and let their penis hang through an opening in the bed made of cane strips in the camp hut. The men then told the women in the village that the boys had already slept with a woman in the camp. This was doubly funny because these boys were generally known to be still recovering from their painful operation. And, of course, some were far too young for sexual maturity. Sometimes the enjoyment came from the combination of traditional internal and modern external elements. When there were sufficient boys already in the camp, on the arrival of new novices, those who were already there staged a military parade that imitated what they had observed in town on colonial and national holidays. Traditionally – but what can be called traditional? – they would have appeared from behind the hut in a long line, but this had been transformed into a parade since the 1930s. Drums were made from tins, quasi-military uniforms were put together, and lyrics were written to marching tunes. Each camp did its very best to produce a beautiful parade. Usually, the songs referred to events or persons characteristic of that camp. In the camp where I spent most of my time, the presence of a fieldworker was mentioned in one of the parade songs. A friend of mine who visited the Wagenia villages in 2002 heard the women sing this song spontaneously when he

4. Comic Ritual Stages


was recognized as my friend. The oldest boys played the role of authorities, with the camp chief being, at least in 1970, Mobutu ( just as in 1956 it had been Baudouin, after the Belgian king) and the other boys being ministers and generals. In all of the camps, a boy played the part of the archbishop and was always prominently featured at the real parades. The smallest novice was invariably chosen for this role since, at the time, the archbishop of Kisangani was short. The ‘archbishop’ took part in the parade, making the sign of the cross and blessing those present. This absurd minibishop contributed to the general joy of the parade. In fact, the parade was a way of situating the Wagenia in an expanding world – in this case, in a new political, military, and religious system. On the day they left the camp to return to their families, the boys in the 1970 initiation staged the parade outside of the camp for the first time, thus allowing the women to see what the men and boys had been doing in their camp parade. In that way, an element was added to the traditional sequence of events, which at this stage of the ritual usually consisted only of a welcoming ceremony for the boys in which their mothers saw them again, sometimes after months of seclusion. With the intention of showing the women how much fun the parade was, from then on the gender boundary was ignored at this particular point. The night before the novices were to return to their families, they left the camp for a long-awaited first bath in the river. In the camp, they had washed themselves only with lime water that painted them white, a protection against the wandering spirits of their ancestors, who were also supposed to be white. During the night of the exodus from the camps, the women had to stay inside their houses. They were supposed to think that the novices were chased to the river by an elephant, making a tremendous racket as it passed. The men wielded bullroarers to accompany the passing of the animal. Sand and gravel were thrown on corrugated tin roofs of houses. The women were not the least impressed but played along. The next morning, one of the older women gave my wife an account of what had happened, imitating the elephant’s sound, amid gusts of laughter. Both the big bird and the elephant were called animals, but they were sometimes also called spirits, as if the men were enacting a religion of their own making, in which the women had to play the role of believers. Thus, they not only created a male ritual world but also arranged for a quasi-supernatural extension.


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

In the aftermath of the initiation, after the boys had returned to the villages, several activities occurred, such as a begging tour through the villages and even the city center (where people were shocked by these boys painted black with the oiled ashes of the burnt camp hut and clothed in skirts of ripped banana leaves). At one stage, the boys sat, painted red, in front of their parents’ house, simply to show themselves to passersby. There was also one evening dance about which nobody remembered what exactly to do. As a consequence, each village interpreted that part of the ritual in its own way, reinventing it, as it were. The atmosphere was invariably that of giggling, dancing boys and men. After the initiation, the novices held wrestling matches for which they had been training in the camps. These matches were usually between villages from opposite riverbanks. This added another social axis to the motivation for play, since during these matches songs were sung that satirically insulted the other village and celebrated the glory of the wrestlers of one’s own village. The girls and women especially were active in singing these songs while dancing in the direction of the other party, but the men could also be active in mocking the other team. By now it may be clear why a frequent answer to my question of why the initiation was held was: ‘Because it is fun’. Of course, one of the other answers was: ‘To make men out of boys’, but those respondents also acknowledged the pleasure that the initiation gave. For five months, life in the villages escaped routine. The fact that there could be several years between celebrations of the ritual contributed to the general excitement. There was a festive climate and a joyful atmosphere, and a great deal of creativity was generated. Besides, there were joking relationships that expressed and softened some of the social oppositions that played a role in the ritual and were part of people’s experience: those regarding gender, the relationship between novices and the initiated, and the opposition between villages on either side of the riverbank. The creation of a male shadow society opened many opportunities for enjoyment and diversion. Let us move now from the ethnographic to the theorizing level and discuss the possibilities of viewing ritual as a ludic way of creating an alternative world in its own right, with its own mechanisms and internal drives, colored by the playfulness of the occasion.

5. Ritual Play


5. Ritual Play As I want to show in this essay, and as may have become clear from the preceding ethnographic sections, enjoyment through the emergence of an alternative reality is an important dimension of ritual and presents itself as a significant reason why participants like their rituals, repeat them, and perform them in a particular way. Huizinga, in his now classic book Homo ludens (1971), suggested that play creates its own order. He cited myth and ritual as areas in which the ludic is very much present and in which this order is expressed. Whether in child’s play, in that of adults, in religion, or in art, another reality is evoked. The ritual creation of another reality offers the possibility to live a different life – to engage in it, to enjoy it, and to derive sense and satisfaction from it. It is constructed as a counter world, as a – sometimes critical, sometimes reaffirming – comment on ordinary life. The ritual reality often complements and contrasts with normal, everyday reality – as is the case with Wagenia initiation – but can also redress it after a crisis, as happens in rituals of crisis and affliction. Ritual has its own occasions. It is activated when people living a day-to-day reality pass through some crisis or transition or when they change their social positions in it, like the Wagenia boys passing into manhood. In short, these are moments in time when people become aware of that regular reality and of its shortcomings and strengths. Homo ludens then wakes up and uses his or her capacity to evoke a different reality, certainly not from scratch, and admittedly for all kinds of purposes but also – and not least – for diversion. Considering ritual in its own right draws attention to the possibility that on these occasions the practice of ritual generates or creates its own emergent phenomena, as in the Wagenia counter society of the initiation camp and the whole sequence of events that accompanies it. The ritual actor works within a setting that facilitates but also directs his or her ritual performances. It appears that the human gift for play, in creating the possibility of an alternative reality and another way of classifying realities, both facilitates and limits the ritual actor’s behavior. Human beings everywhere use this aptitude to invoke and construct another reality, yet at the same time they reify that emerged reality, make it part of ‘tradition’, and thus frame the imagination of future generations. The various generations of men influenced the way the Wagenia initiation was enacted and together represented and guarded an ideal form of the initiation ritual. In that sense, ritual plays a role in its own right, presupposing another reality that obliges people to work within it and


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

within its specific characteristics. At the same time, contrary to that ordinary usage, ritual language allows for varying use and an outburst of new ideas and actions, though not everything is feasible. As is clear from the Wagenia initiation ritual, inversions, deviations, and variations are all possible, and the impression may be given that anything goes. This produces the sensation of enjoyment. Moreover, very often new elements are introduced – with a wink, as it were – such as the painful shoes as well as the military parade in the Wagenia case. So not only is there an alternative reality, but it is constructed with a certain degree of pleasure. The ritual occasion creates the opportunity for enjoyment. It sets the ritual grammar and obliges people to speak its language, but people do so with their own accents.

6. Schema Repertoires In order to get a firmer grasp on the way that the ludic nourishes ritual in its own right, I will introduce a metaphor other than that of language or grammar, namely, repertoire. In speaking of culture as a set of repertoires or even as the human capacity to use that set, the dynamics of culture as a process are made explicit. Repertoires pertain to sectors of culture, including ritual, and facilitate people’s processing and monitoring of culture. Thus, the social axes mentioned above for the Wagenia case form a distinct repertoire of schemas for social behavior as it is thought, performed, and experienced. Cultures and repertoires share at least three characteristics: they change, they may contain rather contradictory elements, and they are only partially activated. These aspects – change, contradiction, and latency – make repertoire a useful metaphor when speaking of and reflecting on current culture or, mutatis mutandis, emergent ritual. The ludic gives the ritual repertoire its idiosyncratic character, reinforcing its three characteristics due to the playfulness that these three invite and stimulate. Taken together, change, contradiction, and latency are ludic tools and opportunities. The concept of repertoire is even more effective when the notion of schema, taken from cognitive anthropology, and especially connectionism (see, for example, Strauss and Quinn 1994), is added. Schemas can be defined as culturally accepted minimal scripts (or scenarios or prototypes or models) for and of a certain thought, emotion, or act. They are representational but also serve as processors (D’Andrade 1995, 136). In other words, they are models of and models for thoughts, emotions, and

6. Schema Repertoires


actions. Strauss and Quinn (1997: 6) define schemas as ‘networks of strongly connected cognitive elements that represent the generic concepts stored in memory’. It is exactly this generic nature of schemas that allows for the ludic emergence of alternative realities. A schema contains a minimum number of elements, usually not more than can be remembered, that are elaborated when applied in a concrete context. Being minimal, they fit easily and efficiently into a repertoire, waiting to be activated and executed in a concrete situation. Being part of a repertoire, they do not stand alone but are mutually connected: they might be part of a hierarchical tree-like or linear causal structure, or part of a set of major and minor schemas. The Wagenia ritual performance is based on a linear schema that contains a basic number of elements in a fixed order, corresponding roughly to Van Gennep’s three phases in rites of transition. For each of these elements – separation, seclusion, reintegration – sub-schemas exist, elaborating each phase in separate ritual elements, such as (in the case of the separation phase) vigil, circumcision, or entry into the camp. And for each of these sub-schemas, there are other, more detailed sub-sub-schemas, including, for example, the correct method of circumcision. Schemas can be generic because they are minimal constructs that are filled in, strategically maximized, adjusted, and amended to fit the concrete situation in which they are activated and to engage the interest of the actors. No Wagenia initiation is identical to the preceding or the following one; besides, each village had its own version. But each performance is based on the accumulated knowledge as summarized in the initiation’s schema repertoire and, in a broader sense, in the repertoires for all rites of transition. Schemas, because of their minimal nature, are widely applicable. A schema is like an empty form in bureaucracy that has to be filled out for each particular case. There are schemas belonging to the macro level, for example, of Wagenia society, such as the three axes, and others that operate on the intermediary or micro levels, for example, of the villages or the families. Schemas support the system of categories that a person uses. The three characteristics of a repertoire that were discussed above, that is, change, contradiction, and latency, become visible in the practical use that people make of the schemas in that repertoire – adapting themselves, living with and using contradictions, and making strategic selections. Not all schemas are simultaneously used, and they can therefore be mutually contradictory. In using schemas, people continuously change their repertoires, for example, their ritual repertoire.


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

Schemas differ in their durability, their flexibility, and their resistance to new influences. They can become rigid when their application is subjected to strict rules, as may happen in orthodox doctrines but also in rituals that have to be performed correctly and in minute detail. Ritual has thus gained a reputation as being characterized by formality and schematic, standardized behavior. And indeed, though ritual schemas may be subjected to conscious reflection, many are used in a routine manner, without reflection. Those schemas that have been transmitted through effective socialization will have entered routine practice and will not be easily substituted. The dramatic and bodily nature of Wagenia initiation helps the men to remember routinely the order of events from their own initiation (except in the case of that evening dance, but then, amidst much laughter, new schemas can be invented on the spot). This is also a welcome characteristic when the ritual is held after such long intervals as in the Wagenia case. According to connectionists, the tenacity of schemas is grounded in the connections in the brain between billions of neurons or processors (Strauss and Quinn 1997, 51). These neurons form networks that can become very persistent, to the point that they support routine reflexes more than reflected reactions. Socialization and learning – by initiation or otherwise – are processes that enable the formation of long-lasting connections between neurons. This reminds one of a hot issue in the debate on ritual: the question as to whether a ritual is by definition never subject to reflection or, on the contrary, needs explicit and conscious justification. Schema theory suggests that, indeed, large parts of ritual behavior can be automatic, whereas at the same time schemas can still be dealt with in a conscious manner. Another insight from connectionism, also based on ideas from cognitive studies on the working of the human brain, is that when people are faced with a context that demands some form of action, thought, or emotion, different parts of the repertoire of schemas may be activated simultaneously. As suggested above, simultaneity is an important characteristic of play. The human brain allows for an extremely rapid comparison of alternatives, simultaneously considering a multitude of schemas. The linearity of verbalization is therefore deceiving. Before any conclusion is formulated, a parallel consultation of archives of schemas in the repertoire is effected with the speed of light. This parallel process is much more typical of what happens in the brain than the serial procedure of verbalization (D’Andrade 1995, 139 – 141). People do not think in the same way as they speak or write. The verbalization of a cultural or ritual element, as when informants speak to fieldworkers, is the mere

6. Schema Repertoires


outcome of a complicated process that is much more difficult to catch but is more revealing in terms of how culture works (Bloch 1998). The view of culture as a system of customs or rules or symbols is useful as a summary, but does not reflect or determine what people actually experience (D’Andrade 1995, 149). Experience is both inductive and deductive with regard to the production and reproduction of schemas. Ritual may seem fixed, but it can generate change, either through the experience it brings as an alternative reality or as a consequence of what ritual participants have experienced in everyday reality. Nonetheless, linear, serially processed schemas do occur, and they are quickly learned and changed, as in discursive education. In comparison, parallel distributed schemas take repeated experience and much more time to be mastered, but then go to work much more efficiently and rapidly. One of the typical aspects of Wagenia initiation was that, contrary to stereotypical views on initiation, there was hardly any explicit education. Yet the dramatic events taught a great deal about the relevance of the social axes. The fact that all of the Wagenia men had undergone initiation and had experienced its dramatic, phased, and social nature contributed to the more or less correct performance, despite the long interval since the preceding occurrence. The Wagenia initiation ritual was a world of its own that conditioned the novices. The boys kept rehearsing their wrestling techniques, developing reflexes that are quicker than reflected acts. Wagenia ritual schemas appear to belong in majority to the parallel routine type but can just as well be subjected to serial reformulation. Asking why this is so would cause informants to be puzzled and showed how much routine there was in Wagenia initiation, even though raising the question stimulated informants to think of reasons. What are the implications for the ludic, especially with respect to ritual? Routine schemas serve as the basis for ritual in its own right, including the reality that is played out. Moreover, the parallel process allows for simultaneity when people are dealing with several ways of classifying reality. Whereas Wagenia village life had to continue as normally as possible, there was at the same time the reality played out in the initiation camp. Parallel processing facilitates change, which demands comparison of alternatives. It is also at the basis of irony and double talk; the wink is a metaphor for the double perspective that is proper to play, just as the other reality of ritual must be understood in its double perspective with normal reality. The innovation and creativity that are typical of the ludic capacity depend very much on the parallel process. As soon as peo-


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

ple start playing with schemas, developing another reality, as happens in ritual, the aptitude for simultaneity is indispensable. Methodologically speaking, the problem is that this side of the ludic role in ritual is difficult to catch in its movement. What my Wagenia informants told me was a serial verbalization, whereas what really happened was as difficult to see as a drop of water running through the Congo River. Observing as a participant could offer compensation to a certain degree. The hidden undertow in the cultural movement also means that the contribution of the ludic to ritual itself remains largely invisible. On the other hand, ritual can exist because it is not fully manageable in the serial, discursive, inductive way. What has been suggested so far refers to the internal workings of a culture or a ritual. But ethnic boundaries have been perforated, and people, including the Wagenia, are challenged to find a place for themselves in this ever-expanding world. The impact of globalization – with a continuous stream of information made available to people in cultures that, correctly or incorrectly, were formerly viewed as closed – is a constant incentive. People nowadays are incessantly challenged and obliged to adapt their schema repertoires in all sectors of life, and this challenge emerges in different ways. The Wagenia initiation contains several examples of this process of widening horizons. In the parallel consultation of potentially useful schemas, such as when the Wagenia saw fit to imitate the colonial military parade and let the smallest boy play the role of archbishop, people are juggling a rather complex set of alternatives. Some of these can be ignored and left latent, while others are prominent and inevitable, and some new elements cannot be overlooked but must be adopted. Ritual, although being in itself tenacious and inflexible, is no exception to this tendency. With these ideas in mind, one might reformulate what was said earlier and suggest that ritual represents a repertoire of schemas that is used to invoke an alternative reality, usually at times when the normal reality undergoes some crisis or transition that is not served by the usual repertoires. The occasion brings an invitation to play with schemas and thereby with reality. The minimal nature of schemas facilitates their application to concrete occasions, such as the five-month Wagenia initiation ritual, and their ludic use. Schemas and repertoires may be adapted accordingly. The ritual schemas are usually applied in a routine manner, which might give the impression that nobody is aware of the meaning of the symbols used and that they are reduced to their schematic minimal skeleton. But there may also be conscious reflection on changes in

7. Conclusion: A Ludic Ritual Repertoire


schemas and on new schemas. In both cases, the human neurological tool is used. The hidden working of the routine parallel processing of schemas gives the ludic a movement of its own that is difficult to catch but nevertheless serves as a source for emerging practices. The ritual schema repertoire carries the inner obliging qualities of the ludic in ritual and helps to understand how ritual works.

7. Conclusion: A Ludic Ritual Repertoire This approach to culture and ritual, as ways of managing and monitoring schema repertoires, can easily be combined with the view of the human being as homo ludens. In simultaneously combining two or more ways of classifying reality, people play with the available repertoires and, in doing so, also change them. The minimal nature of schemas allows for their creative application. Since schemas are generic, actors are challenged to apply them in their own way. Moreover, in the case of ritual, the temporary creation and enactment of an alternative reality, and the counterpoint that is posed by it, suggest that people temporarily turn the established repertoires of normal reality upside down or inside out, or exaggerate them. These changes to normal reality give the ludic aspect of ritual its proper role. Through the substitution of the elements that compose them, schemas lend themselves to experimentation with contradictions, puns, unexpected inversions, and variations. Just as my informants normally do not think in social science terms of social order or functions or symbolic systems nor in terms of communication with the sacred borrowed from religious studies, they do not consciously stage ritual as entertainment. Some participants will not even see all of the pleasure that there is in a ritual. Emphasizing the ludic is not a way of denying the social. It is present, not only through some function or other but as the pleasure of doing something together. My exercise in reconsidering Wagenia ritual after more than thirty years has shown that ritual can be studied in its own right and is not exhaustively represented when it is reduced to societal or cultural causes or functions. The ludic side of ritual may well help to rehabilitate this contested term, because the ludic represents a way in which ritual acts in its own right.


Chapter 5. Enjoying an Emerging Alternative World

References Bloch, Maurice E. F. (1998). How we think they think: Anthropological approaches to cognition, memory and literacy. Boulder: Westview Press. D’Andrade, Roy (1995). The development of cognitive anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Droogers, André (1980). The dangerous journey: Symbolic aspects of boys’ initiation among the Wagenia of Kisangani, Zaire. The Hague and New York: Mouton. Droogers, André (1996). Methodological ludism: Beyond religionism and reductionism. In: Anton van Harskamp (ed.). Conflicts in social science. London: Routledge, pp. 44 – 67. (Chapter 14 of this book) Huizinga, Johan (1971 [1938]). Homo ludens: A study of the play-element in culture. Boston: Beacon Press. Lifton, Robert Jay (1993). The protean self: Human resilience in an age of fragmentation. New York: Basic Books. Pruyser, Paul W. (1976). A dynamic psychology of religion. New York: Harper and Row. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1994). A cognitive/cultural anthropology. In: Robert Borofsky (ed.). Assessing cultural anthropology. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 284 – 300. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1997). A cognitive theory of cultural meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Turner, Victor W. (1982). From ritual to theatre: The human seriousness of play. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. Turner, Victor W. (1988). The anthropology of performance. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. Van Gennep, Arnold (1960 [1909]). The rites of passage. Trans. Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Cafee. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Chapter 6 Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology 1. Introduction If one wishes to discuss feasts from the perspective of cultural anthropology, one must first state that a feast is a cultural event. This starting point allows several aspects to come into view. Thus the relevance of culture for the understanding of celebrations must be taken into account (section 3). In addition, the concept of ritual, which is what anthropologists would think of first in connection with feasts, must be reviewed (section 4). Also, some reference must be made to the ludic or playful aspect, which is by no means reserved for the exclusive attention of anthropologists but about which they, from the perspective of their discipline, can say something (section 5). But first I would like to present a significant case (section 2), or, as Fernandez would put it, ‘a revelatory incident’ (Fernandez 1989: xi), which can serve to illustrate and test the more abstract generalizations. This carries with it the risk of making easy generalizations on the basis of only one case, but it may also enliven the discussion. In any event, it will be helpful in developing the cultural anthropological issues.

2. A Significant Case While doing fieldwork in the small town of São Martinho (not its real name) in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, one Sunday I witnessed the 66th annual church feast of the local Lutheran parish. The feast was held around or on the date on which the parish church had been inaugurated. Although Brazil has the largest number of Catholics in the world, the majority of the local population of São Martinho is Lutheran. This is a result of massive emigration to this region in the 1860’s by Pomeranians from what is now Northwest Poland. Even today the Pomeranian dialect is still used, next to high German and of course Portuguese, Brazil’s national language. These languages can be heard not only in everyday conversation but also, for example, in church life and during the annual church feast. Some church services are still


Chapter 6. Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology

held in Pomeranian, including the sermon, which is delivered in that language by pastors who are of Pomeranian descent. The ancestors of today’s Lutheran population of São Martinho and the surrounding rural area came to Brazil with the dream of farming land that they themselves owned. Many of them had worked as tenants in Pomerania but were evicted when the landowners decided to mechanize agriculture and to employ Polish day labourers. Other Pomeranians had gone to the United States and to other parts of Brazil. For many the dream became a nightmare. They did not succeed in the new environment and had to sell their land to local businessmen, also of German descent, who in time became the large landowners of the region. In many cases the former owners continued as tenants on the land. Recently the large landowners have started to evict their tenants, hiring cheap day labourers from the neighbouring state of Minas Gerais. History is repeating itself. Although at the present virtually all São Martinenses of Pomeranian descent have Brazilian citizenship, many still think of themselves as Pomeranians, and view outsiders as Brazilians. This way of positioning themselves is reinforced by a self-imposed isolation that has marked the region for decades. Contacts with the Brazilian economy and politics were mediated by the local businessmen. Only recently, with improved transportation facilities and education, has the population become more mobile. More outsiders are coming in and tourism is a fledgling business, interestingly exploiting the Pomeranian folklore of the region. As often happens in the case of immigrants, not only their language but also their religion helped the Pomeranians to maintain their cultural identity amidst the radical changes they have had to undergo. Yet the Lutheran church remained at a distance from large parts of the population for a long time, partly because, as in economics and politics, the local business elite dominated the church council. Moreover, until the seventies the pastors who served the parish were German and used high German as the language of the church, a language that the local elite families knew but in which the majority of the church members could not express themselves well. An illustration of the influence of the elite families is that their adult members were often asked to be godparents to the new-born children of the people who were dependent on them. When a child was to be baptized the parents would often be accompanied to the parsonage by the godparents who served as translators. Through this practice the elite organized and reproduced its network of dependence.

2. A Significant Case


But not all German pastors lived in harmony with the elite members of the church council, as both contested ownership of the parish. Brazilian pastors who worked in the parish of São Martinho and neighbouring towns during the last decades have introduced a more nationally oriented type of Lutheranism. Moreover, many of them were adepts of the theology of liberation that became typical of large parts of the Latin American Catholic church as well as some of the traditional Protestant churches. This entailed that they opposed the local economic elite, the same people who had traditionally served as mediators between laity and clergy. From the pulpit they condemned the excessive interest rates the businessmen imposed on customers who were not able to pay directly. The same businessmen’s selfish role in the transfer of local agricultural products to state markets was also criticized. The double dependence of people on merchants who sold consumer products on credit at high interest rates and at the same time bought agricultural products from their debtors at self-determined low prices was condemned. The new pastors defended the rights of tenants and helped small landowners in legal disputes over land rights. Their sermons were intended to make the flock conscious of the class struggle of which their church members were a part and they used paradigmatic stories from the Bible, such as the exodus from Egypt to the promised land, to make their point. Soon there were only a few members of the elite families left in the church council. One of the unintended consequences of the pastors’ discourse was that middle-class church members started to worry about whether they belonged to the rich or to the poor. Yet, a significant portion of the membership assimilated the new religious views and changed their view of social, economic and political life. With this support, the pastors organized a successful campaign for the election of a progressive mayor of São Martinho, thus producing a situation in which for the first time in the town’s history the economic elite was no longer politically dominant. Interestingly, the pastors’ candidate was the grandson of one of the last German pastors who had had a long history of conflicts with the most dominant of elite families. His father, though employed as a civil servant, came from one of the other elite families. The church feast is held in this setting. The Sunday begins with a church service in which the three languages, Portuguese, German and Pomeranian, are used. It is not as well attended as the usual Sunday services, since many parishioners are already preparing the activities that take place after the church service, a large bazaar with a bingo game as the


Chapter 6. Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology

main attraction, intended to raise funds for the maintenance of parish life, including the pastor’s salary, house and car. Interestingly, one of the most influential members of the elite – and one of the few remaining upper-class members of the church council – is in charge of the central cashier’s desk. The games on which one can spend money are varied. One, shuffleboard, is known as the Dutch game, ’jogo hollandÞs’, apparently introduced by Dutch immigrants in the region. Food and drinks are sold and at noon a full meal is served. During the day snacks are sold, among them ’churrasquinho’, a modest version of the ’churrasco’, the barbecue for which the gaucho south of Brazil is known. Pastors from the south who have worked in São Martinho are said to have introduced this part of the feast. Among the beverages is the locally distilled rum. A sound system is installed and used intensively for announcements but also for playing records. Virtually the whole population of the town, whether Lutheran or not, is present. Busses bring people from parishes from all over the state of Espírito Santo. São Martinho is one of the oldest centers of the Pomeranian immigration and from here many people have populated other parts of the state. Parish feasts are good opportunities to meet relatives and several such church feasts are announced via the sound system. About two thousand people are present at the bingo game. A special feature in the day’s program is the uniformed brass band of church members. As on other Sundays the band accompanies the hymn singing during the church service. Later on, on the bandstand outside the church building, the band plays sacred music for a time but then switches to secular tunes of German origin but performed with a slight Brazilian accent. Brazilians from outside the region consider this brass band to be one of the typical aspects of the Pomeranian character and the band is presented as a tourist attraction. It also performs at other feasts in São Martinho. The sermon in the church service is in Pomeranian, with a summary in Portuguese and its message is different from that of the bazaar and the bingo game. Its theme is mercy, both divine and human. Parish life should be characterized by mercy and members have to be merciful towards each other. Oppression and exploitation are condemned. The activities after the service are not based on mercy but on chance and greed. In order to win and leave the feast richer than when one came, chance is needed. For the poor, the bingo game offers an opportunity to obtain a consumer product that is beyond their reach. A small amount of money may lead to an expensive product. The poor have little to spend and the rich have a greater chance statistically, because they

3. A Cultural Event


can buy more tickets. Whereas the sermon represents the utopia of an alternative society, the bazaar and the bingo game mirror reality. To many lay people chance and not the class struggle explains the difference between poor and rich. The typical elite member would add that, in addition to chance, hard work is also important, suggesting that poor people do not work sufficiently hard. Moreover, the prizes at the bazaar and the bingo game have in part been donated by the local shop owners, who thus generate publicity and reinforce their position in local and church life. In general, the ambience during the bazaar is one of reproducing the existing social reality. People meet relatives and friends. Patrons from the elite families meet their clients. Godfathers meet their godchildren. The local politicians, including the progressive mayor, are emphatically present and walk around, entertaining their network participants with drinks or buying them chances at attractions. As if to please the champions of social justice, chance has it that the bingo’s first prize, a motorcycle, is won by a lower-class woman from a village near São Martinho. She and her husband are Catholics of non-Pomeranian descent and are neither white nor black. It is announced on the public sound system that they are tenants and the name of their landowner is mentioned, suggesting that he is part of their identity. At the end of the day the help of ‘the friends from the Catholic religion’ is publicly acknowledged. In a few months’ time the small Catholic parish will have its annual feast and then the Lutheran majority will certainly come to participate. At sunset the feast is over, leaving a dozen men drunk. Some start a fight which is readily stopped by more sober bystanders.

3. A Cultural Event The Lutheran church feast described above is not just a church event. It is a religious feast but it takes place in a specific societal context and has a particular form that can in part be traced back to church feasts in nineteenth-century Germany. The feast has Pomeranian elements, at least as preserved by the descendants of nineteenth-century’s immigrants. But there is also a strong similarity to the feasts for the patron saint, celebrated annually in Brazilian Catholic parishes. The public reflects the region’s history of migration streams. The use of high German, Pomeranian and Portuguese mirrors the multicultural situation in which the feast takes place. Moreover, it is a showcase of social relations such as


Chapter 6. Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology

those between godparents and godchildren as well as those between rich and poor. The contrast between the church service on the one hand and the bazaar and the bingo game on the other expresses the tension between the pastors and the elite. The emphasis on chance corresponds to the elite’s ideology. The strong resilience of tradition obliges the pastors to comply with a feast that is in fact contrary to their message. Moreover, the feast is essential to the financial situation of the parish, including that of its pastors. In the feast we observe a rather complex constellation of religious, social, ethnic, political, economic and also artistic and ludic aspects. Almost all dimensions of culture are present but each to their own degree and with differentiated connections between them. The constellation is even more complex because of the different (sub)cultural influences. Despite the complexity, people are very efficient in dealing with such a situation. They easily find their way through such a festive day. One may ask what enables them for such a task. The answer from cultural anthropology might be that culture is an exclusively human characteristic and that it exists due to the human gift of producing meaning. In the case described above people are able to decipher meaning in the feast because of their cultural capacity. They know at least why they go and what to expect. But the concept of culture is two-sided. First, as in the concrete example given above, ‘culture’ stands for the localized customs and habits that are typical of a population group, in this case, people of Pomeranian descent. Reality is more complex, since there are elements from cultures other than that of the Pomeranians that play a role: several ‘cultures’ are involved, such as the Brazilian culture or, to be more specific, that of the non-Pomeranian Catholic inhabitants of São Martinho, and even Dutch and gaucho cultural elements are present. Because the local cultures operate in a wider context, they can be called subcultures. In any case, culture has a localized meaning. There are many such cultures. In this first sense culture has both a plural and a singular meaning. In the second sense ‘culture’ has only a singular meaning. It refers to something all human beings have in common, a capacity that leads to different results (many cultures) but is basic to human nature. Culture then refers to the human capacity to give meaning to objects, persons, events, space, and time. In this sense culture always operates in a context that is cultural in the first sense mentioned above. Nobody starts from scratch in building a culture. All people are socialized in some way so that they can function with some degree of efficiency and success. So

3. A Cultural Event


the capacity to produce meaning operates within an already existing framework. Many meanings and traditions are established and to avoid them demands effort on someone’s part. Thus the pastors, even though they do not like the role that chance and greed play in the bazaar and the bingo game, are unable to abolish this part of the church anniversary feast. Pastors can be considered professional meaning-producers and yet they are not able to change the feast, nor are they capable of producing another type of local society. What they were developing with some degree of success was a new type of faith, a new interpretation of the Christian message. There is usually a margin of freedom for those who find reason to change the current appreciation of objects, persons, events, space or time. The act of emigrating from Pomerania to Brazil is an example of such a change in the appreciation of space, of land, of dependence. In a situation where more cultural influences make themselves felt and people of different ethnicity and religion live together, the human gift of meaning-making and understanding is used to make one ‘fluent’ in more than one context. Catholics know how to behave at a Lutheran feast and vice versa. Non-Pomeranians do not feel that they are prohibited from participating in a typical Pomeranian activity All persons have a whole repertoire of behavioural types that they activate when necessary. The double characteristic of identity – whether religious, ethnic or political – on the one hand supports a more or less permanent profile, whereas on the other hand it is flexible and can be adapted as it becomes visible. It reflects the double meaning of culture, as a set of specific characteristics, typical of a category of people but also as a gift for understanding different cultural expressions, for changing accepted meanings and developing new ones. A participant in the Lutheran feast described in section 2 has, consciously or unconsciously, a set of meanings regarding the constellation of aspects and elements that is this particular feast. Participation in a cultural setting is not at all homogeneous. Each category has its own identity and acts accordingly. Thus the pastors are active during the church service but do not play a significant role in the program of the rest of the day. They more or less tolerate the program after the church service. To many members the church service that opens the day is not the most essential element. This is also because they may be busy preparing the program for the rest of the day. The brass band changes roles when the service ends. The poor have another view of the feast than the rich. The local businessmen and politicians


Chapter 6. Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology

have their own interests when they support the feast and participate in it. To young people the feast may serve as a marriage market. The possibilities go on. And next year people may come with sets that are different from those of this year. This case also shows that feasts cannot be understood without taking into account the power relations between the people present. Power can be described as the capacity to influence other people’s behaviour, even against their will. During the church service the pastors’ power is exercised, especially in the field of the production of meaning, whereas it almost disappears after the service. Then the lay organisers make their power felt with the objective of making the feast a financial success. Through their public appearance members of the local economic and political elite reproduce their power relations with their clients. The tenant woman who wins the motorcycle is publicly introduced as dependent on a landowner.

4. Feast and Ritual It is interesting that the term feast is rarely used by anthropologists, with the possible exception of studies on Latin America where no fieldworker can escape the fiesta. In contrast to folklore studies, indexes of books in the anthropology of religion, whether textbooks or monographs, rarely feature the term. What is very much part of the anthropological vocabulary is the term ‘ritual’. The terms feast and ritual do not coincide completely. The particularity of their discipline’s vocabulary linked with a field of study that for a long time was limited to ‘exotic’, non-literate, tribal cultures, led anthropologists to treat feast and ritual as almost synonymous, as if every ritual in tribal cultures is a feast and every feast a ritual. It seems useful to research the differences. In some definitions of feast the term ritual appears as an essential element: a feast is ’the moment in which, or the occasion on which people, in the structuring of time and the course of an individual’s life cycle, give special (that is to say, in a way which breaks through the everyday) ritual form to occurrences that mark personal and social existence, doing so from faith, a religious, philosophical or ideological orientation which makes sense of life’ (Post 2001: 37). The key elements in this definition refer to the connection of a feast with time, the individual or social context of the feast, the extraordinary, ritual form of the feast, and faith as a frame of reference for attribut-

4. Feast and Ritual


ing meaning to it. A feast is a time-related, social and ritual event that takes place in connection with beliefs of some sort. With regard to the term ritual, it is clear that an emphasis is put on the exceptionality of the event. It goes beyond everyday life. It seems that the special character of the feast also refers to the fact that it is a celebration, an occasion for joy. Therefore burial rituals and Good Friday rituals are excluded from the category ‘feast’: Not all rituals are feasts. The implicit question when reference is made to ritual is, of course, how ritual is defined. There has been much debate on this question. One issue is whether the concept of ritual refers only to religious events or also includes secular ceremonies. Admittedly, this point has been a matter of a long debate in anthropology and religious studies, in which there was a growing consciousness of the cultural constraints on the art of defining. In a few words: Ritual exists because scholars from the western academic subculture use the term, which is no guarantee that it exists in reality (if there is such a thing as reality…). This has even led some authors to abandon the term ritual altogether (for an overview see Boudewijnse 1995; see also Asad 1995, Bell 1992, Grimes 1990, Humphrey and Laidlaw 1994, and Rappaport 1999). Others simply distinguish between religious and secular rituals. To the degree of academic self-consciousness, there is almost a consensus that ritual should not be restricted to religious events. The reference to ‘worldview’ in the above-mentioned definition of feast is of course a very ample one, but should the focus in the discussion on what is a feast be limited to religion, it can again be stated that not all rituals are feasts. What else can be called typical of ritual? One recurring defining characteristic of the term ‘ritual’ is that it is behaviour of a standardized, formal and therefore repetitive type. This characteristic suggests that it has its own exclusive time and place. Its formality is a consequence of another supposed feature of ritual: the use of symbols with a more or less fixed meaning and which are part of a supposedly all-encompassing symbol system, even though each performance can be shown to include minimal or more important changes, as I discovered in my Ph.D. research on male initiation rites of a Congolese tribe (Droogers 1980). Some authors, however, prefer not to include the symbolic dimension, since they wish to include types of animal behaviour as ritual (e. g. Rappaport 1999: 25). A special feature of the use of symbols in ritual that is often mentioned is the use of inversion and reversal, an aspect that was emphasized by Victor Turner (Turner 1969). The issue is the alleged functionality of


Chapter 6. Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology

ritual that is sometimes considered sufficiently essential to include it in definitions of the concept. Although ritual’s instrumentality is then often viewed as non-technical and based on symbolism (there is a difference between a ritual for a good harvest and the normal activities of the agricultural calendar), rituals are supposed to serve some goal, whether set by the performers or unknown to them, such as healing, controlling nature, reducing anxiety, solving a conflict, promoting social integration or guaranteeing the legitimization of power relations. The idea of a goal implies that a ritual is behaviour that is meant to communicate something, either to the participants themselves, to outsiders, or (in religious rituals) to spiritual beings of some kind: God, gods, spirits, saints etc. With regard to instrumentality a distinction must be made between the emic goals that the performer and his or her audience formulate from within, and the researcher’s etic goals as formulated from the outsider’s point of view. Both perspectives on instrumentality have given rise to typologies of ritual, such as rites of passage, of affliction, of healing, of reconciliation, life cycle rituals, year cycle rituals, purification rituals, political rituals, and several more. In the above-mentioned doctoral thesis, I criticized the over-serious quest for social functions and defended the idea that a ritual can also be performed for the fun it brings (Droogers 1980: 359 – 367). Scholars seem to suffer from the temptation to turn that which is celebrated into something serious. In the next section I will return to the ludic aspect of feasts and rituals. As to the comparison between feast and ritual, we may now ask what can be learned from this definitional exercise. If ritual is such a characteristic element of the definition of feast, as Post (2001: 37) wants us to believe, what does the debate on the definition of ritual contribute to the understanding of feasts? The exceptionality that was presented as typical of the feast was also noted in the discussion on ritual. Though not mentioned explicitly in the above definition of feast, the role of symbols has been acclaimed in studies of feasts (Taborda 1988: 60 – 88). The use of the word meaning in that definition also points in that direction. The reference to time and the life cycle is similar to the attention given in ritual studies to rites of passage, especially as linked to the human biography. In other respects, the definition is not overly instrumental, which does not exclude the possibility that a feast may have one of the functions mentioned in the preceding paragraph. It seems that ritual and feast are terms that above all reflect different disciplinary and other parochial preferences, even though there is certainly some interdisciplinary contact and an overlap of citation. The field

4. Feast and Ritual


that is chosen for research will influence the terminology used and the typologies that are developed. Therefore, it seems wise not to try to attempt any kind of uniformity but to explore the complementarity of the two approaches. This might be combined with a family resemblance use of definitions, accepting that exemplars differ and need not have all the characteristics that are succinctly put into a definition. It seems preferable to use definitions primarily in a heuristic manner, as a means of drawing attention to significant aspects and characteristics. Concepts should not become goals in themselves but remain subservient to actual research efforts. Therefore, I will not add to the amount of definitions that has already been produced. It appears to be more fruitful to draw the map of the options in this landscape full of pitfalls. In the light of this general discussion of feast and ritual we might test the ideas developed so far through a reflection on the case of the Lutheran church feast. I have called it a feast, but is it a feast? Is it a ritual? What characteristics of feast and ritual that have been discussed above can be recognized in this case? Would a family resemblance approach work? Following the characteristics of feast as defined above, it is clear that the anniversary of a church building’s inauguration represents an occasion in time. It is also evident that it is a social event, not only for the members of the parish but also for the Catholics in the region, and for relatives from all over the state of Espírito Santo. The festivity of the occasion is very much present, though the joy is not so much caused by the fact that the church building has survived sixty-six turbulent years, nor, as the pastor would have it in his sermon, that God’s mercy has been with the church members. The church feast is much more a fixed point on the calendar just as there are other festivities in São Martinho during the year, all justified by their exceptionality. The routine of everyday life is interrupted. It is an occasion to have fun, to spend some money and perhaps have the pleasure of winning something, whether it be some worthless gadget or the first prize of the bingo game. Ritual was among the terms mentioned in Post’s definition (2001: 37), but I will discuss that aspect in a moment. A form of faith, the last key word mentioned, is also present in this case of Lutheran modality. Yet the role Lutheran beliefs played during the day varied. They were emphatically present in the church service in the liturgy, in the hymns and prayers, and in the pastor’s sermon. Yet the change in the role of the brass band, when it switched from hymns during the church service to secular music at the band stand,


Chapter 6. Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology

was representative of the rest of the feast. The church provided the occasion for the feast and reaped the financial benefits. But for the rest it was much more representative of the local society, including its ideology of success and chance. The feast also served as a platform for all the social, economic and political categories of actors that populate São Martinho and surroundings. The church thus served not only its own financial survival by organizing the feast, but also helped to reproduce the predominant social structure. In sum, in an idiosyncratic way the church feast was a feast that obeyed the definitional parameters of Post’s definition. What about ritual? The feast is repeated annually following a more or less fixed scenario, starting with a church service, and afterwards continuing with a program of attractions, including bingo and its prizes. Space is used in a prescribed way: inside the sacred space of the church the service is held, outside and in the rooms and halls around the church the more secular part of the program takes place. This seems to indicate that in this case the ritual is religious as well as secular. The fact that the brass band starts playing sacred music after the church service but then moves on to secular tunes is an interesting example of a gradual transition between the religious and the secular parts of the program. The use of symbols with a more or less fixed meaning, carrying a reference to something other than the symbol itself can also be observed in the case of the São Martinho church feast, not only in the liturgy of the church service, a place so obviously symbolic that it needs no elaboration, but also, though less evidently, during the secular part of the feast. The brass band’s uniform was an indication of the musicians’ special status, and both in the church and outside they had a reserved place. The type of music they played was adapted to the phase of the day. The people who came to the feast were generally wearing their best clothes, indicating the festive character of the day. Even so these clothes functioned as indicators of differences in status and wealth. Money was spent in a different way i. e. in the interest of the church’s finances, and was therefore a token of the nature of the feast. Yet although money was easily spent, there was still the hope of winning more than what was spent. Money represented a strange mixture of charity and self-interest. The way drinks were offered was symbolic of the type of social relation. Despite a certain ambience of equality and brotherhood, dependence was present and reciprocity certainly not general. ‘Can I offer you a beer?’ may be an invitation to reproduce a relation of dependence. The gift carries obligations. The bingo game can be

5. The Ludic


seen as an explicit symbol of consumerism. The Lutheran ownership of the feast is indirectly symbolized by the polite way in which at the end of the feast the non-Lutherans, especially Catholics, are thanked for their presence. Another aspect of ritual concerns its non-technical functionality. The church feast corresponds to this non-technicality. The primary purpose is the celebration of an anniversary and in a more general sense an occasion to relax, to break from daily economic work. The church service is one way to celebrate and, for example, the hymns are chosen to emphasize this festive side. Although during the rest of the day a great deal of money is spent, nothing is produced or bought, even though economic values make themselves felt, as in the consumer’s desire to win a prize, and also in the explicit purpose to reinforce the parish’s finances. But most of the participants, even the poorest, are ready to spend money without expecting to gain something in return. The instrumentality of the feast takes on other forms, as we observed already, depending on the category the participant belongs to. But several serve their own social, political or economic purposes. Nonetheless, for all an important motivation for participating is to have fun, and this can hardly be called instrumental. In sum, it seems that feast and ritual go hand in hand, though each term draws attention to different aspects. When looking at the church feast, the two main stages of the feast differ, but as such they contain elements that are proper to either feast or ritual. The family resemblance approach and a corresponding heuristic use of concepts seem valid.

5. The Ludic A few words must be said about the ludic, an aspect that feast and ritual share and that also seems to play an important role in the Lutheran church feast (cf. Droogers 1994, 1996). I have defined the ludic as ‘the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality’ (Droogers 1996: 53). The participants in the church feast share the ambience of the feast but know that there is another reality outside and after the feast. ‘Simultaneously’ refers to the player’s ‘double awareness’ (Pruyser 1976: 190), combining different or even opposite perspectives and contexts. ‘Subjunctively’ is a term taken from Victor Turner (Turner 1988: 25, 169), who distinguishes between the indicative (the ‘as is’) and the subjunctive mood


Chapter 6. Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology

(the ‘as if’), thus characterizing the human gift of play to evoke another reality. In the last decades, a number of scholars have drawn attention to this aspect. Homo ludens was depicted by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga as a cultural being (Huizinga 1952). Myth and ritual are areas in which the ludic is very much present. Huizinga emphasized that playfulness has its own time and place and stands outside normal life yet fully occupies the player. Play does not serve a material interest and is not economic in nature. The non-technicality of ritual instrumentality was already mentioned earlier. According to Huizinga, play creates its own perfect order, even though it has an inbuilt uncertainty because of the element of chance. It has an important social function, uniting people in the same activity (Huizinga 1952: 5 – 14). Through the evocation of another reality, the child’s play, adult’s play and religion are closely related (Huizinga 1952: 25). It is clear that Huizinga was one of the first to emphasize the elements of exceptionality and non-technicality in play as well as their relationship with feast and ritual. In the church feast we have shown the elements of chance, uncertainty and sociality. In addition, the feast had its own order, its own rules. The cultural anthropologist Victor Turner showed how the marginal phase in rites of passage, between the separation and integration phases, is characterized by playfulness and inversion and therefore by innovation. This is possible because of the human ‘ludic capacity to catch symbols in their movement, so to speak, and to play with their possibilities of form and meaning’ (Turner 1982: 23). It is remarkable that Turner does not make a strict separation between work and play. Whereas play allows for all combinations of variables, work limits itself to the rational combinations that adapt means to goals. But to Turner ritual is a combination of work and play (Turner 1982: 34 – 35). In his view the marginal phase is characterized by communitas, an absence of hierarchical social-structural relationships. As we saw, the church feast’s communitas was not sufficiently strong to make the social hierarchy invisible. On the contrary, the feast contributed to the reinforcement of dependence: communitas seems to be a matter of degree (cf. Eade and Sallnow 1991). The ritual combination of work and play was visible in the secular part of the church feast. The Dutch anthropologist of religion Jan van Baal has pointed to the similarity between play, religion and art (Van Baal 1972). All three bring a solution to the basic human problem of belonging and yet being separated, from reality, from fellow human beings, from nature (cf. Winnicott 1971). Through play people create a separate but consciously ficti-

5. The Ludic


tious world with which they can identify themselves; religion offers the possibility of communicating with another reality, taken to be real even though it can not be proven to exist; in art reality is presented as beautiful and therefore as enjoyable. Of these three the Lutheran church feast contained the elements of play and religion. The unproven sacred reality that is central in the church service is matched by the fictitious consumer reality that the attractions of the bazaar evoked. The complex constellation of different frames of reference that was characteristic of the church feast forced the visitors to use their human gift to orient themselves simultaneously toward several orders for classifying the world. This capacity has been highlighted by scholars from cognitive anthropology, especially those who in the last decade have applied connectionist ideas to the field of culture (cf. D’Andrade 1995: 122 – 149, Strauss and Quinn 1997). Connectionism is an approach in cognitive studies that presents the thinking process as the simultaneous consultation of different generic archives in the human brain. These archives are connected by the person who is thinking. Verbalization seems to point to so-called sentential logic with just one frame of reference and with people thinking the way they speak. Connectionism suggests that different trails of thought can be followed simultaneously. Above I spoke about playfulness as a simultaneous combination of different ways of classifying reality. It is clear that the connectionist model shows that such a human capacity exists. People participating in a feast play with several archives, even though the feast can be so absorbing that the merrymakers forget their lives before or after the party. In any event, connectionism reinforces the idea of the important role of playfulness in a feast or, mutatis mutandis, in a ritual. In this light it can be understood why symbols are essential to feast and ritual. The connectionist model of human thought corresponds with the basic idea that a symbol stands for something else. In other words: a person using a symbol refers simultaneously to the thing that serves as a symbol, and to the meaning or meanings it has (Fernandez 1986). Thus the cross on the church’s bell tower is a construction of two metal bars but it refers to a whole christology, either sophisticated and with a plethora of meanings as in theological discourse or simple as in a believer’s statement that the cross saves one from death. Two realities, with their corresponding archives, are connected. Symbols are a typical human propriety and the connectionist way of understanding human thinking clarifies how symbols work and why they are important in settings where playfulness is present as well. All three sectors that Van


Chapter 6. Feasts: A View from Cultural Anthropology

Baal mentioned – play, religion and art – depend for their functioning on symbols. Although the visitors to the church feast might have been as surprised to hear that they are constantly decoding symbols as Molière’s protagonist was when he heard that he had been speaking prose during his whole life, it is clear that their behaviour had this background. To end this section on a somewhat lighter note: It may be that multidisciplinary work on feast, festival and ritual demands a scholarly playfullness, switching from one concept to the other, from one disciplinary paradigm to another. Scholars, being as human as the people they study, share the gift for play and for a connectionist use of classifications of reality with the people who are the objects-subjects of their research. Here is another reason to follow not too unilateral a course and to be a member of the family that works along lines of family resemblance.

6. Conclusion The concrete example of a Lutheran church feast in a small Brazilian town has helped us to make a summary inventory of the aspects that may be activated when using terms like feast and ritual. Feast and ritual were presented primarily as cultural phenomena. A plea was made for a certain degree of tolerant and multidisciplinary use, viewing terms more as means than as goals in themselves. In following this approach it was shown that contributions from different disciplines can be combined to reach a more encompassing understanding of feast and ritual. The dimension of play was given separate attention in order to clarify its role in both feast and ritual.

References Asad, Talal (1995). Toward a genealogy of the concept of ritual. In: Talal Asad, Genealogies of religion: Discipline and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 55 – 79. Bell, Catherine (1992). Ritual theory, ritual practice. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bell, Catherine (1997). Ritual: Perspectives and dimensions. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Boudewijnse, Barbara (1995). The conceptualization of ritual: A history of its problematic aspects. Jaarboek voor liturgie-onderzoek, 11, 31 – 56. D’ Andrade, Roy (1995). The development of cognitive anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Droogers, André (1980). The dangerous journey: Symbolic aspects of boys’ initiation among the Wagenia of Kisangani, Zaire. The Hague, Paris and New York: Mouton. Droogers, André (1992). De kerk viert feest… Een leerzame zondag in een Braziliaans stadje. In: Peter Kloos (ed.): Antropologie: Een juweel van een vak. Assen and Maastricht: Van Gorcum, pp. 25 – 32 Droogers, André (1994). Turner, spel, en de verklaring van religie. Antropologische verkenningen, 13(4), 31 – 45 Droogers, André (1996). Methodological ludism: Beyond religionism and reductionism. In: Anton van Harskamp (ed.) (1996). Conflicts in social science. London: Routledge, pp. 44 – 67. (Chapter 14 of this book) Fernandez, James W. (1986). Persuasions and performances: The play of tropes in culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Eade, John, and Michael J. Sallnow (eds.) (1991). Contesting the sacred: The anthropology of Christian pilgrimage. London: Routledge. Ronald Grimes (1990). Ritual criticism: Case studies in its practice, essays on its theory. Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press. Huizinga, J. (1952). Homo ludens: Proeve eener bepaling van het spel-element der cultuur. Haarlem: Tjeenk Willink. Humphrey, Caroline, and James Laidlaw (1994). The archetypal actions of ritual: The theory of ritual illustrated by the Jain rite of worship. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Post, Paul (2001). Liturgical movements and feast culture: A Dutch research program. In: P. Post, G. Rouwenhorst, L. van Tongeren and A. Scheer (eds.) (2001). Christian feast and festival: The dynamics of Western liturgy and culture. Leuven, Paris and Sterling: Peeters, pp. 3 – 43. Pruyser, Paul W. (1976). A dynamic psychology of religion. New York: Harper and Row. Rappaport, Roy A. (1999). Ritual and religion in the making of humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1997). A cognitive theory of cultural meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Taborda, Francisco (1988). Sakrament: Praxis und Fest. Düsseldorf: Patmos. Turner, Victor W. (1969). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Turner, Victor W. (1982). From ritual to theatre: The human seriousness of play. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. Turner, Victor W. (1988). The anthropology of performance. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. Van Baal, J. (1972). De boodschap der drie illusies: Overdenkingen over religie, kunst en spel. Assen: Van Gorcum. Winnicott, D.W. (1971). Playing and reality. London: Tavistock.

Power and Meaning-making Chapter 7 The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community: An Anthropological Model 1. Introduction In this article, a three-dimensional model is proposed for the study of power relations in a Christian community. Not only internal and external power relations are discussed, but also those with the sacred. A fourth dimension could be added – of special interest for the anthropology of Christianity – that focuses on the power relation between believers and the ethnographer. In order to get a grip on what happens in each of these dimensions and in the constellation of the four, use is made of notions from cognitive anthropology, connectionist insights in particular. It is suggested that with regard to each of the four dimensions, actors use certain schemas from a repertoire that appears in both social and individual versions. A proposal is made for a more effective way of studying religion, in this case Christianity, anthropologically. It is recommended going beyond a historically grown and strained relationship between science and Christianity, a tension typical of the West, and one that has favored the reduction of religion to non-religious factors. Phenomenology and methodological ludism are presented as ways of doing justice to the most typifying characteristic of religion, namely the experience of the sacred.

2. The Anthropology of Religion What distinguishes the anthropology of Christianity from other sciences that study this religion? The identity of a discipline is marked mainly by its history, its theoretical framework, and its methodology. What, then, is typical of anthropology, and more specifically of the anthropology of religion, in each of these respects?


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

Anthropology has a history that for a long time focused on separate, autonomous cultures, especially those first described as savage, then as primitive or tribal, and more recently as illiterate. Yet under the impact of globalization – with its predecessors: acculturation, westernization and modernization – this focus on a particular type of culture has become problematic, and the discipline is consequently facing a serious identity crisis. Separate, autonomous cultures are virtually non-existent. Although some would propose abandoning the term ‘culture’ altogether (Brightman 1995, Fox and King 2002), one of the ways out of the dilemma is to present culture, in the exclusive singular, as anthropology’s main topic. Theoretically speaking, therefore, the concept of culture is understood more and more as relating primarily to the universal human capacity of meaning-making. Culture is thus studied as a process, rather than as content (D’Andrade 1995: 146). Human beings are characterized by their innate gift of culture. The result of applying this gift can still, to a large degree, be characterized as cultural diversity, often even now along cultural and social boundaries that separate different cultures and societies from one another. Yet these boundaries become daily more perforated, and people consequently undergo the influence of other cultures (in the old autonomous sense) as well as of some free-floating hybrid global knowledge, through mass media, but also through forced or voluntary migration. Increasingly, humanity moves in a free space of new meaning-making, which comprises much diversity and a striking complexity of levels, layers and loyalties. People must learn how to behave in such an environment. With regard to method, the anthropologist has always been a fieldworker, with qualitative methods such as participant observation and indepth interviews as the mainstays, the village – ‘my village’ – being the mini-model of the illiterate and bounded culture under study. However, the worldwide erosion of cultural boundaries and the move to urban settings has called for other methods and other tools. The adoption of anthropological methods by non-anthropologists, such as in Cultural Studies (Grossberg et al. 1992: 21), has also challenged this methodological monopoly. At the same time, anthropologists have added surveys and other quantifying methods to their tool box. Thus both the defining theoretical concept of the discipline and the methodological trade mark, have undergone radical change. As a consequence, anthropology’s identity is no longer so clear cut as it was, and a neat answer to the question of what is typical of anthropology is therefore more difficult to formulate.

2. The Anthropology of Religion


How about the anthropology of religion? Compared with its neighboring disciplines, the sociology of religion especially (often church sociology or sociology of secularization) and religious studies (not rarely the study of sacred texts, or of the history of a religion, or the comparison of religious phenomena considered similar despite their different origins and cultural contexts), anthropologists of religion still distinguish themselves by studying religion as a localized cultural phenomenon. More recently, usually in edited volumes that reflect the position between the global and the local, comparative studies have been made of common trends (e. g. Corten and Marshall-Fratani 2001, Greenfield and Droogers 2001). The above-mentioned theoretical focus on meaning-making suggests a rather vague and open functional definition of religion, including phenomena that other disciplines will not touch. When religion is observed in the local context, this approach still echoes the traditional small-scale village framework for fieldwork but now includes or even focuses on the new open horizon. In doing so, anthropologists have moved from the actual setting of illiterate cultures and their tribal religions, to a global context, which includes world religions and their translation to local cultural contexts. The global is studied in the local context, also because it is only there that it can be made visible – as the neologism ‘glocalization’ suggests (Robertson 1992: 173). In any case, the anthropologist usually seeks to situate the religious, as a glocalized cultural phenomenon, in its relation to the non-religious. One way of doing this is by looking at the power element, i. e., the capacity to influence other people’s behavior, even against their will. Power is present in any religious organization, but it also makes itself felt in its contacts with the surrounding society, in either its political or economical forms. In the earlier model of the autonomous culture and society, the relation to the non-religious was mainly studied within that society, but nowadays the focus is on global aspects. On the methodological front, ethnography continues to be a strong asset. What has remained from an earlier phase is the preference for small-scale, in-depth studies, primarily of popular religion. These studies are valuable for their qualitative plausibility, and can thus be contrasted to quantitative studies that serve as a basis for generalization, as in mainstream sociology of religion. They show the qualitative processes behind the quantitative trends. Anthropologists are storytellers; they deal in cases and thereby provide data that cannot be expressed in figures. Though aware of the historical dimension of religions, anthropologists work primarily with their contemporaries. Having moved beyond the


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

former illiterate framework, they now also study religions that are based on sacred texts, whilst the use of these texts is studied within the wider context. If this is the portrait of the anthropologist of religion within the anthropologist’s disciplinary context, then we can now turn to consider his or her specific role in the event the subject being studied is Christianity. That anthropologist would probably do small-scale contextualized qualitative studies among groups of Christian believers, with a preference for the study of popular religion, as well as the ’glocal’ dimension. Converts seem to form a prototypical and small-scale category that appeals to the researcher, in terms of the convert’s move from a non-Christian religion to Christianity, or from one form of Christianity to another, as from Catholicism to Pentecostalism. The contextualized focus implies that due attention is given to power mechanisms. These may be part of the internal social organization between on the one hand religious leaders and specialists, such as pastors and priests, and on the other hand lay believers. Much that has been written on the church-sect typology deals with this issue. Gender studies are another example. But power is also an issue in the case of external relationships, of believers in general, with the secular powers that be. Examples include studies of church-state relations, the Christian missionary movement, colonial religious resistance movements, and ecclesial base communities and theologies of liberation. External contacts may, of course, also be negative in the sense of avoidance, when the ‘world’ is considered sinful. Beliefs play a crucial role in religion and form a third dimension. The anthropological emphasis on the cultural dimension, in the sense of the human capacity for meaning-making, suggests that the anthropologist is particularly concerned with the way believers deal with their beliefs, how they are influenced by them, and how they are able to change them. Again there is a power aspect present, since believers feel dependent on and submit themselves to the power of God, or to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Beliefs justify the management of power relations in the external and internal dimensions. The connection between beliefs and the way the internal and external dimensions are given form is, therefore, a point of special interest. The increasing global influence of world religions represents an extra perspective that has recently received much attention. The above-mentioned power mechanisms in the internal, external, and be-

2. The Anthropology of Religion


lief domains took on a form of their own right from the time Christianity started as a religion. The contents of the Bible, for example, had to be established. The Nicene Creed was formulated and the first doctrinal conflicts arose. Christianity from the start, has been an expanding religion, claiming universal validity and presence, even when the oikumene was still limited to the Mediterranean region. Correspondingly, the question has ever been present as to how this validity was implemented in local cultural contexts that were not Christian in origin. Paul’s translation of the Christian message to the Greek world has been followed by large numbers of translations to other cultural contexts. The most interesting aspect, from the point of view of cultural contextualization, has been that the most active translators have not been the missionaries or other propagators of faith, or the theologians, but rather the new converts themselves who could not avoid understanding what they had heard in terms of their own cultural idiom. They made their own selections and adaptations, often without conscious reflection, and believed themselves to be excellent Christians. What I propose to do in this article is to explore the dimensions just mentioned – internal, external and beliefs-oriented – and consider their usefulness for the anthropological study of local Christian groups in their own contexts. This three-dimensional model is an instrument with theoretical and methodological aspects. As far as the theory is concerned, I will seek to expand the view on the cultural dimension by looking for inspiration in cognitive anthropology, i. e., that branch of anthropology that studies how people organize their cultural knowledge, more specifically in the connectionist approach (Bloch 1991, D’Andrade 1995, Strauss and Quinn 1994, 1997). These connectionist notions will be presented in the next section. Then, in the following sections, they will be applied to each of the three dimensions, individually as well as in terms of their interconnectedness. As suggested, I will emphasize that in each of these dimensions power relationships are very much at play, even though they may be most pronounced in one of the dimensions and from there influence the other two. A church may, for example, be so busy with its internal hierarchy that those interests, to a large degree, rule the external and beliefs-oriented dimensions: church leaders may seek support from secular leaders and impose their own set of beliefs as correct, perhaps compromising with secular interests. If a community finds mystical beliefs very important, this may have consequences for the internal and external dimensions. In developing this three-dimensional model, I will illustrate and test it, using examples from my


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

fieldwork in Congo and Brazil and from studies of Pentecostalism. Finally, I will contend that the relationship between fieldworker and believers represents a fourth, ethnographic, power dimension. In that connection, I will suggest that the anthropologist can, and should, go beyond a position that reduces the religious to the non-religious.

3. Culture, Repertoire, Schema When culture in the exclusive singular, as a universal human capacity, gradually substitutes for the autonomous plural culture concept, the question is how that human gift for constructing meaning actually works. To know this is relevant for the anthropology of Christianity because religion is the primary forum for meaning-making. Moreover, from the beginning this religion has been cross-cultural and has thus appealed to this capacity for signification, on a supra-cultural level. Even the so-called Christian West was once non-Christian. Besides, the majority of Christians now live in the Third World, where Christianity was confronted with tribal or world religions that were already dominant long before the first missionaries arrived. In any case, a religion with universal claims and applicability, depends on the universal human gift of meaning-making. One approach that for me has been helpful in getting a grip on the human gift for signification is the connectionist view. A key concept is ‘schema’, and I use it in combination with the concept of ‘repertoire’. The latter metaphor, to start with, perfectly fits the current appeal that is made to culture as a universal human capacity in a global context, since it is clear that communities and peoples are constantly challenged to construct and reconstruct their repertoires of knowledge, behavior and emotions. Repertoires exist at the macro-level of a religion such as Christianity, but more specifically also at the intermediate level of particular modalities of Christianity, and with more variety at the micro-level of local communities and individual actors. The dynamics of the Christian context mean that, at these three levels, people and churches tend to rearrange their repertoires in terms of the internal and external dimensions and the central Christian beliefs. At least three reasons can be given for the use of the concept of repertoire in the analysis of meaning construction. First, as in a repertoire, people’s knowledge of how to behave correctly in a particular context is not always activated, if only because that piece of knowledge is useful in

3. Culture, Repertoire, Schema


that context and not in others. Second, as in a repertoire, the contents of human cultural knowledge change by adding or reshaping. And third, like a repertoire, human cultural knowledge usually contains inconsistencies and contradictions, given its use in varied contexts. According to these three characteristics, a Christian group or an individual believer may leave large parts of the Christian doctrine or ritual latent, until needed. That group or person will, in the course of time, change views and convictions, e. g., through life’s experience, through consistent reflection, because of other people’s influence, or through conflicts. There may be inconsistencies in a group’s or person’s faith repertoire that go unobserved as long as the diverse demands of different contexts are met. A group may at times enjoy a harmonious unity, at other times be threatened by conflicts; believers may be staunch defenders of their faith or may sometimes also be torn by doubts. Repertoires may be viewed as being composed of schemas in the connectionist sense. Schemas can be viewed as culturally accepted minimal scripts (or scenarios or prototypes or models) for and of a certain thought, emotion or act. They are representational but also serve as processors (D’Andrade 1995: 136). Strauss and Quinn (1997: 6) define schemas as ‘networks of strongly connected cognitive elements that represent the generic concepts stored in memory’. Thus, there is a schema for a church service, or for any part of it. Such generic schemas direct the thoughts, emotions and acts of the faithful during that service. They are transmitted through catechesis or theological education. A schema contains a minimum number of characteristics depending, in the case of church liturgy, on the type of church, e. g., an opening formula invoking the sacred, followed by hymns, prayers and scripture readings at prescribed moments and places, and at the end a blessing. For each of these elements, separate sub-schemas exist, each functioning as an ideal type, composed of a limited number of items. Schemas are minimal constructs that are maximized, adjusted and amended to fit the concrete situation in which they are activated. Schemas, because of their minimal nature, are widely applicable. A schema is like an empty bureaucratic form that has to be filled out for each particular case. Thus no church service is the same, not even in the same parish. Where a liturgical calendar is obeyed, the services can never be the same, although the minimal nature of the schema guarantees some form of continuity and security, and also of comparability. At the same time, though they represent the ideal case, in their application


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

they become concrete and may facilitate deviations and innovations when slight, or even radical, changes are made. Schemas mediate in experiencing reality and in attributing meaning to those experiences. The minimal nature of schemas contributes to their applicability in pattern recognition. They support the system of categories that a person uses. A Catholic, being present at an Anglican church service, will have little difficulty in recognizing familiar schemas. When attending a Pentecostal church, the Catholic will have more problems in identifying what is happening but will still recognize certain parts. This Catholic will be reminded of parts of Catholic religious repertoire. After the church service, the Catholic may discuss doctrinal differences with the Anglican or Pentecostal counterpart, comparing schemas on church leadership, on the role of the Virgin, or the Holy Spirit and discover common elements but deep gaps as well. The three characteristics of a repertoire thus discussed become visible. It will, for example, become clear that, depending on the theological education one has had, certain schemas from the repertoire are so implicit, and accepted as routine, that they have never been reflected upon. Besides, a large part of faith’s repertoire remains inactivated, almost like a software program. Yet the encounter with members of other churches may lead the Catholic visitor to reflect on some of the hidden articles of faith, or see the advantage of some ritual usage in the other church, and the repertoire may change accordingly. Having experienced a Pentecostal church service, a Catholic may even be moved to join the Charismatic Catholics. It is also possible that some inconsistencies in that Catholic’s repertoire become visible through the dialogue with other Christians. Theology and theological education may be interpreted as the transmission and expansion of Christianity’s repertoires. Churches usually have an official doctrine that is composed of a large number of schemas. Some of these are old, others more recent. Some are so fundamental that they have consequences for all the other items in the doctrine. Some refer to minor almost incidental aspects. Churches differ in the degree to which local communities and individual believers are free to develop their own repertoire of schemas. There are schemas that can only be appreciated by those with a theological education, whereas others are shared by all believers, even the youngest among them. In their personal faith praxis, individual members may develop their own highly individual schemas, having been brought up in a certain way, by following the preferences of their own personality, through reflection, or as a consequence of some dramatic experience. These individual schemas may es-

3. Culture, Repertoire, Schema


cape control by the leadership if they are never expressed, or only in passing. Believers may be very good at maintaining their own repertoire, while visibly conforming to the officially correct schemas. Some individual schemas, as in the case of Martin Luther, may lead to significant changes in the repertoire of a church and to the rise of a new church. Schemas allow for shared praxis as well as for difference. Churches and people may work with similar schemas and differ in the adoption or refusal of others. They may even develop schemas about how to handle differences, internally and externally, embracing inclusive ecumenical, or more exclusive fundamentalist, schemas. Especially in the encounter with people with different repertoires, one becomes aware of one’s own repertoire. The primal tendency is to discover the familiar that fits one’s own social context, so that the unfamiliar becomes acceptable. But differences in power may prevent such an open exchange, and the most powerful position is then imposed. In its defense, the weaker party will try to protect its repertoire but may have to face forced adaptations none the less. Some form of syncretism could result (Greenfield and Droogers 2001). The slaves brought to Brazil from West Africa took their pantheon with them. In being baptized as Catholics, they did not lose that part of their religious schemas but masked it by identifying their divinities with Catholic saints, thus forming the Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblè. Ogum, the West African divinity of the blacksmiths and of war, became – at least in some cases – identified with St George, the link being the sword that kills the dragon (Bastide 1978: 264, 265). Another example is taken from my fieldwork among the Wagenia of Kisangani (Congo) (Droogers 1980b: 317 – 324). There was traditionally a concept of a creator God, known as Mokonga na Mbali. The name is composed of two names, each used among neighboring tribes as their name for God. Having obtained knowledge of the Christian God, some people insisted that this God was already known before the missionaries came: Mokonga was God the Father, and Mbali God the Son. The new was identified with a familiar traditional schema, yet at the same time its meaning was changed. In some of the churches, the traditional name of God is still used today. A similar example is the case of a Baptist elder with whom I talked about prayer. In a very natural way, he told me that he also prayed to his ancestor spirits, asking for help to be a good Christian. Schemas differ in their durability, their flexibility, their resistance to new influences. Some have been used for ages, being transmitted from


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

generation to generation. Others are more recent innovations, such as the Catholic priest after Vatican II facing the congregation during Mass, or no longer using Latin. There are schemas belonging to the macro level, others that operate on the intermediary or micro levels. Some rule large gatherings, like Papal visits. Others are private as in silent prayer. Together they may form interconnected branches of main schemas and sub-schemas, such as an article of faith from the credo being elaborated to form a four volume theological study. Those schemas that have been transmitted through effective socialization will have entered routine practice and will not be easily substituted. A Catholic turned Pentecostal may have difficulty in suppressing the tendency to make the Sign of the Cross after prayer. Even secularized people may, in a natural way, return to abandoned Christian schemas when confronted with suffering. The universal gift for meaning-making has a physical basis in the equally universal human brain. According to connectionists, the tenacity of schemas is grounded in the connections in the brain between billions of neurons or processors (Bloch 1991: 191; Strauss and Quinn 1997: 51). These neurons form networks that may become very persistent, to the point that they support routine reflexes, more than reflected reactions. Socialization and learning are processes by which these longlasting connections are formed. Conversion, for example, constitutes a dramatic process of changing one’s schemas and thus of introducing new connections into the neuron network. Yet the change need not be that drastic. The persistence among converts of ideas from an earlier religious tradition can be explained on the basis of the tenacity of these old networks. Even the secularized Dutch show some Calvinist traits to this day. This continuity may, at the same time, facilitate a transition to a new religion because the new ideas sound familiar or are made familiar, as in the Afro-Brazilian and Wagenia examples. Another insight from connectionism, also based on ideas from cognitive studies on the working of the human brain, is that when people are faced with a context that demands some form of action, thought or emotion, different parts of the repertoire of schemas may be activated simultaneously. The human brain allows for an extremely rapid comparison of alternatives, simultaneously considering a multitude of schemas. The linearity of verbalization therefore is deceiving. Before any conclusion is formulated, a parallel consultation of archives of schemas in the repertoire is effected with the speed of light. This parallel process is much more typical of the brain than the serial procedure (D’Andrade

3. Culture, Repertoire, Schema


1995: 139 – 141). Serially processed schemas are quickly learned and changed, whereas parallel distributed schemas take time and repeated experience to master, but then go on to work much more efficiently and rapidly. In catechesis, children may learn the essentials of faith, but it is only having lived through situations in which these essentials are put to the test that these children develop a sense of conviction. The parallel constellation of schemas often helps to recognize a situation, and act accordingly, especially when the information is incomplete and has to be extrapolated and guessed, such as when a difficult Bible text is read, especially one in which incomprehensible words are used, or when the cultural setting of the reader is totally different from that of the Bible. The huge neuronal network of connections facilitates the operation of the repertoire in each of the three aspects mentioned above: i. e. its latency, its changes, and its inconsistency. In theoretical terms there are some important implications. Both continuity and change appear to be made possible by the combined tenacity and flexibility of the repertoire of schemas. Culture is, at the same time, shared and diverse (D’Andrade 1995: 147; Strauss and Quinn 1994). So is religion, and so too is Christianity. Besides, the one to one ‘reflection’ model of the relationship between a person and his or her culture – or religion – is questioned (D’Andrade 1995: 146 – 148). No two Christians are the same. In the parallel consultation of potentially useful schemas, people juggle with a rather complex set of alternatives. Some of these can be ignored and left latent, whilst others are prominent and inevitable, and newcomers apply for adoption. The verbalization of the conviction is the mere outcome of a complicated process that is much more difficult to catch but is more revealing in terms of how religious convictions work. The view of culture or religion as a set of customs or rules, or as a symbolic system, is useful as a summary, but is not ‘faithfully’ reproduced by the faithful and does not determine what people actually experience (D’Andrade 1995: 149). Experience is both inductive and deductive with regard to the production and reproduction of schemas. The difference between official and popular religion illustrates this, just as does the plurality in popular religion, because lay people constantly rework what is presented as ‘correct’ religious belief and praxis (Rostas and Droogers 1993). Each Christian represents Christianity through the inclusion of some basic schemas – regarding God, Jesus, a church community, or perhaps only in the acceptance of being labeled ‘a Christian’. At the same time, when asked for more details about one’s beliefs, difference and variation will appear,


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

even among people belonging to the same church, and even when this church views itself as orthodox. The notion of schema repertoire helps in understanding that agreement and difference come together, because schemas are minimal and thereby permit detailed elaboration in tree-like structures – although well within the predominant power parameters. Viewed from within anthropology, the search for the anthropology of Christianity might be described as a quest for an efficient repertoire of disciplinary schemas that may helpfully mediate in experiencing Christian reality in research and in attributing meaning to those fieldwork experiences. The history, theory and method of anthropology represent a huge repository of insights and hints as to how cultural – and religious – reality is organized. Each anthropologist makes a selection from that repertoire, as I have done in the introduction to this article, and in applying connectionist insights. Colleagues and sister disciplines add to that personal repertoire. The researcher is as human as the research subjects.

4. The Beliefs-Oriented Dimension Of the three dimensions – the internal, the external and the beliefs-oriented – the last seems basic at first sight, since we are discussing the anthropology of a religion. Beliefs influence what happens in the other two dimensions. If, for example, one of the core beliefs is that the world is sinful, this will inevitably influence external contacts and internal organization. Yet at the same time beliefs reflect the internal and external dimensions. If, for example, the external dimension is characterized by an open attitude towards the surrounding culture and society, this in turn, will influence the nature of the beliefs, as has been suggested by some of the criteria for making a distinction between church and sect, such as the extent of alienation from societal values (Yinger 1970: 259 – 260). The connectionist perspective suggests that people will make their own selection from the official church repertoire of beliefs and from what else reaches them on the global market, and will do so very often in a routine manner and in concordance with the demands of the situation. This also means that each Christian has a personal way of using the repertoire of beliefs transmitted through education, even though members of the same church share similar attitudes in this respect and even look similar to outside observers. Besides, through re-

4. The Beliefs-Oriented Dimension


peated experiences, some beliefs will be strongly inculcated, whereas others will be less solid and easily abandoned or substituted in favor of others. There will also be a hierarchy of beliefs, with some more fundamental, and others of a derived nature. The beliefs-oriented dimension is important because it is here that a substantial part of the meaning-making activity takes place. The nature of the relationship with the sacred is defined. Within Christianity, the relationship with God is subject to quite different schemas. Of course, the father metaphor is a basic schema, taken from kinship experience, implying several characteristics that are often contradictory such as care and punishment. In some recent versions, God is also mother. God as king is another metaphor, taken from nation-state politics, and carrying its own connotations. God can be powerful but can also become weak, in extremis in the person of Jesus on the cross. God and Jesus are not always clearly distinguished and can, e. g., both be addressed as Lord. Trinity is a special schema in Christian beliefs, and again it is subject to variation and debate. Theologians of different times and confessions have developed their own Christology. Salvation is considered essential and leads to particular schemas that sometimes reflect judicial schemas in the Mediterranean world of the New Testament, such as the do ut des principle, or views on blood revenge. In the Catholic and Anglican traditions, although in different ways, saints are important in defining the relationship with the sacred and in mediating salvation. Mary is very prominent in the Catholic tradition, supposedly continuing a mother goddess schema from earlier times (Ruether 1977). In Pentecostalism, the interpretation of Trinity is such that the Holy Spirit and his – or her? – charismata are given considerable focus. In terms of power, the relationship with God – or any of the persons of the Trinity – contains schemas for attitudes that center on respect and awe, or even on total dependency, as well as others that suggest a modus to utilize the sacred power for one’s own purposes (some would call it magic). Both attitudes may be nourished by the believer’s experiences with the sacred. Mystics surrender to the overwhelming power of God. In other religions, founders and leaders may legitimate their positions of power (the internal dimension) by visions or dreams that they interpret as divine intervention and calling. Prayer can serve both approaches to the sacred – submission and manipulation – but other means are available as well, such as fasting and vows. The examples of God as father and king already indicate that secular forms of power from the external dimension might have served as the model for the


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

power relationship between the believer and God – and in both cases, respect and favor are combined.

5. The Internal Dimension Whereas the dimension of beliefs is closer to culture, viewed as the gift of meaning-making, the other two dimensions are more social in nature. The nature of power in these dimensions is more akin to the usual understanding of power in the social sciences, than when discussing the believer’s relation with the sacred. Some scholars would not even include the latter in their perspective, if only because research on the sacred presents some methodological problems. One of my colleagues once observed: ‘God cannot be interviewed’. Yet the model proposed here has the advantage of pointing to similarities between the three dimensions in the way they organize power relationships. The three dimensions can be considered as one constellation, and the way they influence each other can be put explicitly on the research agenda, including the possibility that one dimension determines the other two. And, of course, primarily social dimensions also depend on meaning-making. In the internal dimension, believers find ways in which to organize themselves. There is a view on the distribution of power within the organization. Again, as in the case of the beliefs-oriented dimension, a connectionist approach points to the flexible attitude of Christian believers in dealing with the social structural schemas typical of their group. In terms of the agency-structure debate, it can be suggested that actors to a certain degree – as is evident in ethnographic research – submit to the structural schemas, especially those well established as neuronal networks, but at the same time make strategic use of these schemas, conforming to the demands of the situation they find themselves in but also, if need be, seeking to change schemas. Adoption and adaptation go together. A primary characteristic of the internal dimension is the fact that the degree of hierarchy – or equality – may differ, just as does the complexity of the organization. The Catholic, Presbyterian and Quaker traditions, for example, represent very different church models, based on very diverse schemas regarding power distribution. Leadership, if accepted, is legitimated in a variety of manners, which appeal to different sets of beliefs and doctrines. Celibacy may be part of that set of convic-

5. The Internal Dimension


tions, setting religious specialists apart and introducing a special view of gender. Leadership may follow secular models, such as the Pope’s being both church leader and head of state. The more vertical the organization, the closer the control on the production and reproduction of religious beliefs and praxis. Religious specialists may form a separate class or church elite, some of them having the full-time task of safeguarding the doctrinal purity. Disciplinary measures can be taken. Conflict schemas are normal in such a situation, sometimes allowing space for resistance within the organization, as happened in the founding of some of the Catholic monastic orders. Fission is sometimes a sure schema for spreading the message, as when dissidents successfully establish a new church. A more horizontal organization distributes more power in a more equal way, allowing more people access to more jobs. Sometimes this distribution is justified on the grounds of the equality of believers before God, or as a consequence of the equal distribution of the gifts of the Spirit. As has been suggested, a special aspect of the internal organization concerns gender, i. e. the cultural definition of male and female. This too involves a power relationship, not just in the sense of women and men occupying different positions in the church organization but also because the church itself may prescribe a particular view on gender relations in marriage. Secular gender schemas may be adopted or, conversely, may be strongly criticized and rejected, much depending on the attitude taken towards ‘the world’. In the course of the history of a specific group the position of women may change. In Pentecostal groups, it sometimes happens that women initially play a central, albeit informal, role, but once such a group has success and grows, it is obliged to get organized. At this point, men usually take the lead and develop a more formal structure in which women are relegated to non-leadership positions. Informally, for example, through their charismatic gifts, women may nevertheless be allowed to maintain a position of some authority. In the case of a more literal reading of Holy Scripture, the male leadership can easily advance the texts that would justify such a procedure. Women then have to act within male gender schemas. This is also true of the Catholic Church, in which the view on gender is combined with a view on celibacy. Central beliefs may create role models, as in the case of marianismo in the Latin American context, with Our Lady as the role model. Sometimes women appear to hold a different view of power, not in the male sense of influencing other people’s behavior but more in the sense of the capacity to promote life through informal


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

networks – in short, survival – as Jacobs (2002: 84 – 85,120) has argued for Brazilian ecclesial base communities. One other gender aspect rests on the question of whether women are more religious than men, an issue relevant to the Latin American context in particular, where religion is sometimes considered – as it is said in Brazil – to be coisa de mulher, a woman’s affair. As a consequence, Catholic priests and nuns may not then be seen as representatives of the male or female gender but rather as a kind of separate third gender ( Jacobs 2002: 139 – 141). Generally speaking, it seems that in religious groups operating a more horizontal organization, women have a better chance of gaining access to power, even though they often have to move in informal ways. In view of the role that power has played in the internal dimension, in the heart, as it were, of the Christian community, and considering the dimension of typical Christian beliefs, a paradox presents itself. Where the love of one’s neighbor is crucial to the Christian worldview, power, as the capacity to influence other people’s behavior, seems problematic by definition. The previously mentioned Brazilian female view of power, i. e. the capacity to promote life, seems closer to the Christian worldview. Christians, and perhaps even more so their leaders, often avoid the word ’power’ and do not use it to describe relationships among believers. From a social scientific point of view, however, power is inherent in any social context. As soon as two people do something together, power becomes an aspect of the relationship and in most cases asymmetry is unavoidable, even when the participants openly subscribe to the principle of equality. In comparing Christian groups, the question of how power is viewed and whether there is any awareness of its problematic nature, automatically become issues deserving attention. The equality before God may be difficult to maintain under the impact of social inequality characteristic of the surrounding society, especially when the church itself reflects societal values and norms. At the same time, a Christian group may serve as a safe haven of relations in equality, in exact opposition to the accepted worldly view. The early Christian community was based on the principle that ‘they had all things in common’ (Acts 4: 32). Following Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), many other Christians have also had their doubts about this schema. An example is the question of how in a capitalist system Christian entrepreneurs can serve both their neighbor and their need to make profits.

6. The External Dimension


6. The External Dimension With regard to the external dimension, much depends on the belief schemas dear to any particular Christian group. When, as in evangelical and Pentecostal circles, the conversion schema involves a drastic separation from a previous phase in an individual’s life, testimonies express the contrast between the community of believers on the one hand and the sinful world on the other. This divide may be linked to eschatological expectations as well as to a notion of salvation bearing traits of exclusiveness. Usually, however, the relationship with the sinful world also implies an effort to save more people – or ‘souls’ – from sin, and thus one has to venture into that same wicked world. The responsibility taken for the world may ultimately develop into a theocratic program expressing critique of the society around it. An example from my fieldwork (Droogers 1980a) is the Kimbanguist church (Congo), in which, historically speaking, there has been a consciousness of persecution, born of the Belgian colonial prohibition of the movement. This consciousness contributed to the sense of being part of an exclusive flock that had endured suppression for faith’s sake. The African origin of the prophet Simon Kimbangu reinforced this view, even more so since he came to be seen as the second coming of the Holy Spirit, as promised in John 16: 7 – 11. At the time of my fieldwork, this was the popular version, albeit not yet officially established, although it is nowadays the church’s official doctrine (see also Salvation thus comes from Africa and must, from there, be taken to the world. This is also expressed by the announcement on the church’s website that the cross on which Jesus died was found planted in African soil, in Mbata Kuluzu, a village near Kinshasa, now a center of pilgrimage. At the time of my fieldwork among members of a local Kimbanguist church (1976 – 77), their sense of exclusiveness was accompanied by a strong eschatological awareness, with sustained overtones of persecution, bearing in mind that Christians from the local mainstream churches considered Kimbanguists weird and sectarian. In comparison with other local churches, and despite the African focus of their message, Kimbanguists were the ones who most distanced themselves from the local traditional culture, more so, in fact, than any of the churches that had resulted from missionary efforts. In other cases, the boundary between the saved and the lost may not be of such a radical nature. The clearest example is, of course, the state


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

church, in which the theocratic ideal may come close to realization. But even in that case, the relationship between church and state may show variation through time. Conflicts between secular and religious leadership are certainly not excluded, let alone differences of opinion among factions within the Christian community itself, including those that condemn state influence. When church and state are in close relationship, there may be similarities in the way both are organized, using the same type of schema. Part of the external relationships of Christian groups centers on the recruitment of new followers. This schema is, of course, based on Jesus’ commanding his disciples to preach the message of repentance and remission ‘among all nations’ (Luke 24: 47). It is inherent in the Christian view of salvation. Traditionally, anthropologists have some experience with Christian missionary efforts. In many cases, missionaries were the nearest foreigners in the field and a source of material help as well. But there has also been strong criticism by anthropologists of missionary intervention in the cultures that anthropologists were studying, the debate on the Summer Institute of Linguistics and Wycliffe being a case in point (see Stoll 1982, 1990; see also Droogers 1990). In terms of power, the missionary situation could often be described as asymmetrical. Not only were missionaries given legitimate authority – at least in the eyes of the colonial authorities – to bring Christianity, but they were also mediators in accessing Western material wealth. This was sometimes done in a direct manner by the distribution of material goods, but also in the long term by offering education and medical care. In other words, in the propagation of the gospel, power relations played an inevitable role.

7. The Ethnographic Dimension In an article proposing an anthropological model for the study of power relations in Christian communities, the methodological nature of such an enterprise suggests that there is a fourth power dimension, in which believers and fieldworker are involved. In a way, this dimension can also be seen as a sub-dimension of the external dimension. Or, if the emphasis is on participation, as in the favorite anthropological method of participant observation, it can be viewed as part of the internal dimension. What is important is the presence of a power relationship, expressed in particular schemas belonging to both anthropological and Christian praxis.

7. The Ethnographic Dimension


One aspect of this relationship is simply that the fieldworker needs, at least, the permission of the group under study in order to start the research. In several countries, extensive ethical codes apply which, as legal schemas, protect the rights of the researched. In that sense members of Christian communities influence the researcher’s behavior and thus have power. Several Pentecostal churches in Brazil, for instance, closed their doors to researchers, after journalists wrote negative reports in the newspapers about the leaders of some of them, especially their way of managing the church’s finances. When working at a church seminary in Brazil, I myself was subjected to criticism by some church leaders when I published members’ critical views of Lutheran pastors of German origin who had worked in Brazil, or when I popularized social scientific views of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion for the church’s lay readership. The presence of the researcher may also influence the behavior of the people studied, and in the technical sense this also is a way of exercising power, even though the researcher would rather not see behavior change – that is, except in the case of action research. Another aspect of the power dimension is that the researcher, through publications, will contribute to the public image of the group concerned and, in that sense, can also gain a position of power. The researcher may use that power to the advantage of the group, but the result may also be that the group, or its membership, feels damaged in their reputation. In that respect, almost any researcher will face dilemmas on what to publish and what not. Inside knowledge of the kind anthropologists prefer to collect may be regarded as classified information by the group’s leaders. Even though subscribing to the schema of the sinfulness of human beings, these leaders usually prefer not to enter the anthropologist’s confessional. A particular example of findings that the leadership sometimes would rather not see printed concerns gender practices. There is another way in which anthropologists are in a position that some, at least, would consider powerful, i. e. the interpretation of religion in scientific terms. For the anthropology of Christianity this is an issue because, perhaps more than any other religion, Christianity has suffered the consequences of modernization, understood here as the application in society of science and technology. Science has contributed to the secularization process, especially in Western Europe. Moreover, Christianity is for Western anthropologists the religion they know best (to a lesser degree Judaism has also served as a token example). Sometimes the view of religion and of Christianity is colored by


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

the person’s own, outdated experiences. Some of these anthropologists have gone through a secularizing experience. Others have continued as religious people or have converted to some (other) form of Christianity, but even they will have been affected by the secularizing debates. A social scientific view of religion has, since its origins, applied some basic schemas. It tends to explain religion on the basis of its secular functions, for example, to mention two influential classic cases, as the opium of the people (Marx), or as the celebration of the social (Durkheim). This is an approach that, as in these classic examples but also in more recent elaborations, reduces the religious to the non-religious, and thus may be considered a direct argument for secularization. It promotes a distant view. Yet any researcher in this field is committed to understanding religion as profoundly and effectively as possible. Anthropologists also cherish their method of participant observation, and participation suggests – at least to a certain degree – a form of identification. Theoretical and methodological schemas seem not to combine harmoniously. Anthropologists of Christianity have to consider how they position themselves, especially so if they have their own personal histories with that religion. The usual answer has been one of methodological agnosticism: for methodological purposes, the anthropologist as a professional – distinct from the private person or even the believer – abstains from opinions on the nature of the sacred, especially as far as its presumed reality is concerned. This is a vulnerable position, because it is circular in the sense that first the sacred is excluded from the field of research, and subsequently the religious is inevitably reduced to the non-religious. In that sense methodological agnosticism in the end does not differ much from methodological atheism, though it is more polite and in its abstention appears politically correct. But it is also problematic for another reason: participation is in fact excluded once the experience of the sacred, essential to believers, is considered anathema as a topic for research. I know, of course, that participation can have its negative sides too, especially when the fieldwork is done in Pentecostal or evangelical churches, in which fieldworkers are often confronted, to the point of harassment, with efforts to convert them. That is not exactly the kind of participation the fieldworker has in mind. When the cooptation is not so assertive, conditions for participation are less adverse. In any case, participation should not be too readily excluded. In my view, in following some form of methodological agnosticism, the goal is set too low. Two efforts can be mentioned that go beyond

7. The Ethnographic Dimension


the common position, and neither of them demands conversion. One is the phenomenological proposal, as developed recently ( Jackson 1995, 1998, Csordas 1994, Versteeg 2001, 2010). The basic attitude is also one of abstention, but in this case, in terms of scientific presuppositions and categories, starting from the notion that ‘lived experience always overflows and confounds the words with which we try to capture or analyze it’ ( Jackson 1998: 21). In anthropology, as the current crisis of identity makes clear, the words we use are marked by the colonial past of our trade and by the reification of ‘figments of our own intellectual imagination’ ( Jackson, 1995: 6). Researchers must be as open as possible to the way in which people under research intersubjectively experience reality, embodiment being one of the entries into that experience. ‘Phenomenology is a descriptive science of existential beginnings, not of already-constituted cultural products’ (Csordas 1994: 8). It is ‘the scientific study of experience … an attempt to describe human consciousness in its lived immediacy, before it is subject to theoretical elaboration or conceptual systematizing’ ( Jackson 1995: 2). It is a matter of getting back to the basics of ‘verstehen’, and of taking participation seriously. The researcher occupies a position within the life world of the researched. In terms of their repertoire of schemas, the question is: How precisely do people experience these schemas in their day-today living, how do they live and embody them, and how do they work themselves through the network of alternatives? What is intelligible in the symbolic order is made efficacious ’in the existential order of being in the world’ (Csordas 1994: 81). In these approaches Lebenswelt is given priority over Weltanschauung ( Jackson 1995: 6, 13; 1998: 5). If the symbolic order were the only focus, methodological agnosticism could easily be practiced, just as a reductionist position matches such a position. But once the existentially experienced worldview is taken into consideration, it becomes more difficult to practice real methodological agnosticism. A phenomenological approach opens a perspective that comes closer to the believers’ experience of the sacred. Power can correspondingly be understood as ‘existential mastery’ and empowerment ( Jackson 1998: 21), a view that is similar to Jacobs’ suggestions regarding the Brazilian women referred to above. In the light of existential intersubjectivity, the ethnographer’s power and role could be subjected to reconsideration and rehabilitation as well. The second effort I would like to mention is my proposal for what I have called methodological ludism (Droogers 1996, 2001). This alternative to methodological agnosticism does not use phenomenology as its


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

primary vehicle, but explores instead the potential of the concept of play. Yet, the intention is similar. Though developed as a generally applicable approach, the case of Christianity seems the example most in need of such a research attitude. For the purpose of methodological ludism, play is understood as ‘the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality’ (Droogers 1996: 53). Though primarily playful, this capacity can be used in a very serious manner too: play is not ‘just a game’. The reference to simultaneity reflects connectionist ideas about the parallel processing of schemas. The reference to subjunctivity (‘as if’), as the opposite of the indicative ‘as is’, is taken from Victor Turner’s work on play (e. g. Turner 1988: 25, 169). Play is a human gift, of which simultaneity is an important element. The best metaphor for this human capacity is a metaphor itself, because it is a way of dealing simultaneously with two separate and totally different domains, one puzzling and the other clear, both connected through some common characteristic, in order to make the puzzling domain understandable. Thereby some feeling, idea or action is expressed, e. g. ‘I carry my cross with patience’. As Huizinga had suggested already in his Homo ludens (Huizinga 1952), play, therefore, is closely linked to culture, viewed here as the human gift for meaning-making. Methodological ludism is a way of exploring the ambiguity of participant observation as a research attitude in which the fieldworker goes beyond subjectivity and objectivity, is both here and there – or perhaps neither here nor there! The ethnographer plays with two realities, is existentially involved, but at the same time is constructing an image of what is actually being experienced. If the research is on religion, this same simultaneity is present in another way, since in the believer the visible and invisible worlds come together and may even merge into one experienced reality. Moreover, in religious studies that use some form of participation the relationship between the researcher’s worldview and that of the people being studied may become an issue. As suggested, the study of Christianity implies this undercurrent of meaning-making. As a consequence, for researchers of Christian groups, despite their intent to participate, this same experience can be problematic, especially for the non-Christian or secularized exChristian among them. Even if the fieldworker is sympathetic to Christianity, she or he may be doing research in a group that seems odd or deviant in some way. Lack of sympathy, on the other hand, may hamper participation and thereby empathy. When assertive efforts are made to convert the researcher, this approach usually complicates the research

8. Conclusion


and blocks easy communication. From the point of view of the researched, however, people may sense the researcher’s negative feelings and resistance, and may therefore decide to bar access. In general, the praxis of the anthropology of religion is hampered by the fact that science and religion have, for a long time, been viewed as opposites, rather than as forms of knowledge that have in common that reality is brought under some form of control ( Jackson 1998: 22). One need not be a postmodernist to accept the relative nature of even scientific knowledge. Methodological ludism is a way of bridging the gap between science and religion. It simply requires that the researcher, if only for ten seconds, be put intersubjectively into the position of the believer. It is an appeal to try to understand that person’s experience of a reality that, admittedly, is not scientifically verifiable but real nonetheless for that believer. If anthropologists have some training in putting themselves into a participating position, why abandon this tool when the topic is religion? Using this method should not be too difficult, in view of the human talent for parallel processing, which connectionists regard as an innate capacity of the human brain. Ludism is a way of using this innate capacity for simultaneity. It may be that play is just another metaphor for the phenomenological program, but it can perhaps also serve as a metaphor that points to new connotations and fieldwork practices. It would be particularly helpful in transcending the rather artificial contrast and tension that has developed between secular science on the one hand and Christianity on the other. A posture of methodological ludism not only would make research more productive but also could facilitate inter-religious dialogue.

8. Conclusion When anthropologists wish to study Christianity, they face the task of having to reflect on some general issues pertaining to the identity of anthropology, and to the anthropology of religion in particular. One theoretical debate that invites positioning concerns the singular human gift of culture beyond the plurality of cultures, and more precisely the relationship between power and meaning-making. Another has to do with continuity and change, common elements and diversity. One methodological problem relates to the researcher’s own attitude towards the experience of the sacred which believers accord a central position. The scientific study of Christianity presents this problem in optimum form


Chapter 7. The Power Dimensions of the Christian Community

because it concerns the religion that, more than any other, has had to face the secularizing influence of science. Scientists cannot gain full understanding of the religious nature of Christianity as long as Christianity and science are regarded as parties in conflict. As a consequence, there is a tendency to limit the scientific explanation of Christianity – but mutatis mutandis any religion – to non-religious aspects and needs. In this article these problems have been discussed in terms of their relatedness. In looking for the way schema repertoires, understood in a connectionist sense, are used and managed in organizing the internal and external dimensions of concrete forms of Christianity and in codifying beliefs, culture as meaning-making in a context in which power matters can be made visible. Diversity in time as well as within Christian modalities can then be made explicit and open to research. The global is shown in its local manifestation. The concrete relationship among the three dimensions can be studied, including the possible dominance of one over the others. In a similar awareness of the relation between meaning-making and power, the methodological quality of anthropological research on Christianity can be improved, once the pitfall of secular reductionism is avoided and the religious nature of Christianity is taken seriously. In terms of power, the religious experience can then be rehabilitated and be made visible, after having been previously avoided under the impact of the secularizing, scientific, hegemonic schema repertoire. In studying Christianity, anthropologists should take advantage of their expertise as students of contextualized local expressions. In doing so, their way of participating could receive a new impetus from an attitude drawn from phenomenology and methodological ludism. Christianity could then be studied purely for its religious nature, rather than as an institution which, like any other, is relevant to its society. The translation of a global religion such as Christianity should be done with an open eye to the power mechanisms that characterize local practice. Attention should be given to the dynamics of the schema repertoire that Christian groups and individual believers hold dear.

References Bastide, Roger (1978). The African religions of Brazil: Towards a sociology of the interpenetration of civilizations. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.



Bloch, Maurice (1991). Language, anthropology and cognitive science. Man, 26(2), 183 – 198. Brightman, R., 1995. Forget culture: replacement, transcendence, relexification. Cultural Anthropology, 10, 509 – 546. Corten, André, and Ruth Marshall-Fratani (eds.) (2001). Between Babel and Pentecost: Transnational Pentecostalism in Africa and Latin America. London: Hurst. Csordas, Thomas J. (1994). The sacred self: A cultural phenomenology of charismatic healing. Berkeley: University of California Press. D’Andrade, Roy, (1995). The development of cognitive anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Droogers, André (1980a). Kimbanguism at the grass roots: Beliefs in a local Kimbanguist church. Journal of Religion in Africa, 11, 188 – 211. Droogers, André (1980b). An African translation of the Christian message: Changes in the concepts of spirit, heart and God among the Wagenia of Kisangani, Zaire. In: R. Schefold, J.W. Schoorl and J. Tennekes (eds.), Man, meaning and history: Essays in honour of H.G. Schulte Nordholt. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, pp. 300 – 331. Droogers, André (1990). From antagonism to partnership: Social scientists and missionary workers in a Latin American perspective. In: Roland Bonsen, Hans Marks and Jelle Miedema (eds.), The ambiguity of rapprochement: Reflections of anthropologists on their controversial relationship with missionaries. Nijmegen: Focaal, pp. 14 – 31. Droogers, André (1996). Methodological ludism: Beyond religionism and reductionism. In: Anton van Harskamp (ed.), Conflicts in social science. London: Routledge, pp. 44 – 67. (Chapter 14 of this book) Droogers, André (2001). Paradise lost: The domestication of religious imagination. Focaal, European Journal of Anthropology, 37, 105 – 119. (Chapter 3 of this book) Fox, Richard G. and Barbara J. King (eds.) (2002). Anthropology beyond culture. Oxford: Berg. Greenfield, Sidney M., and André Droogers (eds.) (2001). Reinventing religions: Syncretism and transformation in Africa and the Americas. Boulder, CO.: Rowman & Littlefield. Grossberg, Lawrence, Cary Nelson and Paula Treichler (eds.) (1992). Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge. Huizinga, J. (1952). Homo ludens: Proeve eener bepaling van het spel-element der cultuur. Haarlem: Tjeenk Willink en Zoon. Jackson, Michael (ed.) (1995). Things as they are: New directions in phenomenological anthropology. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Jackson, Michael (1998). Minima ethnographica: Intersubjectivity and the anthropological project. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Jacobs, Els (2002). The feminine way / ‘O jeito feminino’: Religion, power and identity in South Brazilian base communities. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit. Robertson, Roland (1992). Globalization: Social theory and global culture. London etc.: SAGE.


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Rostas, Susanna, and André Droogers (eds.) (1993). The popular use of popular religion in Latin America. Amsterdam: CEDLA. Ruether, Rosemary Radford (1977). Mary – The feminine face of the church. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. Stoll, David (1982). Fishers of men or founders of empire? The Wycliffe Bible Translators in Latin America. London: Zed Press. Stoll, David (1990). Is Latin America turning protestant? The politics of evangelical growth. Berkeley: University of California Press. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1994). A cognitive/cultural anthropology. In: Robert Borofsky (ed.), Assessing cultural anthropology. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 284 – 300. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1997). A cognitive theory of cultural meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Turner, Victor W. (1988). The anthropology of performance. New York: PAJ Publications. Versteeg, Peter G.A. (2001). Draw me close: An ethnography of experience in a Dutch charismatic church. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit. Versteeg, Peter (2010). The ethnography of a Dutch Pentecostal church: Vineyard Utrecht and the international charismatic movement. New York: Mellen Press. Yinger, J. Milton (1970). The scientific study of religion. New York: MacMillan.

Chapter 8 Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil: Umbanda and Pentecostalism 1. Introduction The aim of this contribution is, first of all, to present a model for the study of religions in a plural society such as Brazil. It is suggested that religions can be compared in terms of three main dimensions: external, internal and supernatural. A religious group’s identity, as well as the way it deals with religious pluralism, depends on the composition of these three dimensions. In the section 3 I will comment on the Brazilian religious situation in general. In the course of time, Brazilian social and economic conditions have produced an idiosyncratic form of religious pluralism, and at the same time religiously motivated convictions and behaviour have contributed to this situation. In section 4 I will take a closer look at two important Brazilian religions: Umbanda and Pentecostalism, their individual identities being defined on the basis of the model developed in section 2. Section 5 will be devoted to an analysis of these two religions in terms of how their religious identities have affected their attitudes toward religious pluralism, special attention being given their ritual behaviour as an expression of these attitudes. In the final section, I will summarize the comparative results, on the basis of the conceptual framework, focusing on the relationship between power and meaning-making. It will also be suggested that the social science explanation of religion and religious pluralism should concentrate more on the religious beliefs and rituals.

2. A Framework In order to facilitate the discussion of religious pluralism, an heuristic instrument would seem to be the most appropriate, and to that end I would like to present a model for the study of a single religious group (Droogers 1989, 1994; Droogers and Siebers 1991). This


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

model focuses on the relation between power and the processes of meaning-making (Crick 1976: 3) or signification. Religious pluralism derives from a situation in which two or more religions exist in the same society, and in which they are either complementary and inclusive, or competitive and exclusive. In both cases, religious differences are of paramount importance, and may provoke either the inclusion or exclusion of outsiders. It is necessary in the first place, therefore, to ascertain how a particular religious group positions itself in relation to other groups and to the wider society in which it operates. I will call this the external dimension of the group. In a situation of religious pluralism, this is the most apparent of the three dimensions I mentioned earlier. It is, however, strongly linked to the two other dimensions of any religious group, which combine to form a three-dimensional model; the first of these two related dimensions I will call internal and the second supernatural. The internal dimension denotes the relationships among the believers themselves, including their religious specialists, if any. When I speak of the supernatural dimension, however, I refer to the relationship the group membership maintains with God, gods, spirits, saints, or other, less personal forces, including the beliefs which have a bearing on this relationship. The nature of the core relationships in each of these three dimensions is, in my view, inherent in the group’s own conceptions of power and meaning. I define power as the capacity to influence a person’s behaviour, and meaning as the conception of what reality is in all its various manifestations. An important aspect of a religion’s exercise of power is its licence to control, or dictate, that meaning. In each of the three dimensions, power and meaning are connected in a specific manner, and I will try to illustrate this for each of them individually. Externally, the core relationship is one which exists between believers and non-believers. The understanding of who is a believer and who is not, depends in large part on a corpus of shared meaning, whilst, for a number of reasons, any distinction ultimately becomes a power issue. Believers differ from non-believers in that they consider themselves to be subject to the power exercised by supernatural entities and forces (the supernatural dimension), as well as by religious specialists (the internal dimension). By submitting themselves in this way, believers accept – often with great conviction – that others are empowered to exert influence over their behaviour. Non-believers do not submit themselves to such dictates and power, and are therefore ‘outsiders’, although they are,

2. A Framework


nonetheless, potential ‘insiders’. If non-believers form a minority in society, the religion’s power is likely to be spread to some degree over them as well. In any case, religious pluralism demands some form of boundary definition and corresponding behaviour codes, either explicit or implicit. The nature of the two other dimensions will inevitably influence the discourse on external relationships, and vice versa. The way in which power and meaning are viewed within each of the two dimensions has consequences for external relationships and thus for religious pluralism. External characteristics may, in turn, influence the form the internal and supernatural dimensions take. The internal dimension refers to the way believers maintain relationships among themselves and this entails a certain exercise of power, depending on the extent to which the religious tasks are divided. Religious specialists of varying types are able to create and maintain a hierarchical social structure, at each level of which some members are subordinate to those above them, just as they themselves can exert power over those lower down the hierarchical ladder. The manner in which these power relationships are justified and legitimated, depends on the meaning construction processes. The link between meaning and power is thus established. The same process of signification may, of course, lead to subversion of the power structure prevailing at any given moment. The way power is organized internally, and the process by which it is justified or criticized, will have consequences for the religious group’s own attitude towards religious pluralism. A group’s identity may depend very much on its leaders, who act as the exclusive ‘face’ of the group. Internal religious pluralism may even be such that external pluralism is considered to be both normal and not problematical, an extension, as it were, of what is actually taking place within the religious group itself. Much the same can be said with regard to the supernatural dimension. Power can be present in the individual believer’s relationship with the supernatural, expressed both in his attitude of submissiveness towards it and in his efforts (often referred to as ‘magic’) to control it. The connection between power and the signification process, is again illustrated by the fact that the significance believers are expected to afford to supernatural forces, actually determines their attitudes towards them. What happens, here, therefore, has obvious consequences for religious pluralism. A strong emphasis on the absolute and unique power


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

of the supernatural may, for example, create a sense of exclusiveness in the external dimension. It should be clearly understood at this point, that attitudes towards religious pluralism are not only influenced by a summation of the views of believers on the question of power and meaning in the three dimensions. Rather than a juxtaposition, it is the three dimensions as a combined whole, which determines the group attitude, thereby putting the stamp on the group’s total identity within the society around it. Religious identity is thus formed by external, internal, and supernatural dimensions. This is not to suggest that there is a perfect integration and cohesion of the three dimensions. In fact, much of the dynamism in any religious group is nourished by the internal contradictions within and between the three dimensions. Believers simply do not behave in a consistent manner, despite the official, more or less homogeneous and integrated version of their religion, as represented by its religious figureheads. Time brings its own changes in the way people live their lives, and these changes cause them to modify their convictions, and to make strategical use of their beliefs. Nor should we assume that what happens within one dimension, is necessarily a reflection of what is going on within the others. Although consistency might be considered to be the ideal, exceptions do occur, despite official statements to the contrary. The Pentecostal and Umbanda religions, which will be discussed below in more detail, will serve as our illustration. The central idea in Pentecostalism, essential to the supernatural dimension, is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available to all and should ideally, in terms of the internal dimension, create a fundamental equality between believers. It is obvious, however, that some people are more gifted than others, and that a group’s expansion inevitably entails a certain degree of institutionalization and hierarchy – the result being inequality between leaders and followers. This often leads to conflicts and schisms, because adepts feel that the original source of inspiration is being neglected. A new church is founded on the basis of a return to the pure and authentic message of equality in the Spirit, until a generation or two later the same process begins all over again. Contradictions occur among the Pentecostals; on the one hand, they derive sufficient inspiration within the supernatural dimension to condemn the world (the external dimension) as evil and ‘dirty’ and to avoid it, whilst on the

2. A Framework


other hand, it is in that same world that new believers are to be recruited and that they all have to work and make their livings. Umbanda focuses on spirit mediumship with the accompanying possibility of consulting the spirits through their mediums. The properties of each spirit and its medium are ideally viewed as being complementary to those of all the others. The whole spectrum of afflictions can thus be covered by the totality of the spirits, through the mediums. This central idea of the supernatural dimension should, ideally, create a sense of harmony and community at the internal level. Tensions between mediums or rival groups of mediums, however, are translated as conflicts between their spirits (Velho 1975). If the mediums themselves are in conflict, so too are their spirits. This means that what is normal in the supernatural dimension does not necessarily find its parallel in the internal dimension and, conversely, conflicts in the internal dimension may temporarily produce a parallel in the supernatural dimension. Another example is the contradiction between the ideal of working externally, with the help of the spirits, for charity, and the practice of calling on the power of the spirits to harm other people. In studying religious pluralism, the delicate interconnection between the three dimensions, as evident in Pentecostalism and Umbanda, is an important aspect. All the partners in a context of religious pluralism introduce and defend their views, based on the relative identity of their own religious groups. A situation of religious pluralism, therefore, comprises a plurality of constellations and in studying each religious group’s attitude towards religious pluralism, our three-dimensional model can be helpful, its application revealing different ways of viewing power and meaning. The dynamism of the three dimension constellation will also differ from group to group and adds to the complexity of religious pluralism. The resulting picture is not just one of what makes them different. Indeed a surprising degree of similarity and overlap can exist between them, even though they are seemingly opposed and polarized. Much will depend on the members’ conception of power and meaning, not only at the official level of the religious specialists but also, and particularly, at the popular level. At this point, it is important to remember that power as a concept does not refer to personal property, but to a relationship, indicating a give and take, a process of negotiation. The influence one person may have over the behaviour of another is never total, even though the margins might be so small that the person over


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

whom that power is exercised, is only able to think disagreement, rather than express it in words or deeds. If overlap and similarities between religions do exist, however surprisingly, and at the popular level especially, then syncretism becomes an essential part of religious pluralism (Droogers 1989), and in this case we find another illustration of the connection between meaning and power. The term syncretism has been used disparagingly by religious specialists, in the Christian context in particular, as a means of condemning religious intermingling by believers under their supervision; an unwelcome practice, in their view, if boundaries are to be maintained. It is, after all, incumbent upon them to protect the group’s boundaries against would-be trespassers. Syncretism has also been stimulated by religious specialists, such as Umbanda priests, in the belief that their religion does not essentially differ from all the others represented in the plural context. In both cases, although the consequences may be totally different, these attitudes depend on the constellation of the three dimensions. Some observations must still be made in this regard, before we apply the framework developed in this section to the Brazilian situation. The manner in which the dimensions are related in a single constellation depends on certain alternatives in each of the three dimensions. One way of understanding these alternatives is to determine which side of a power relationship is stressed by the people involved in it. In each of the three dimensions, power is negotiated in a certain manner and the group’s religious identity differs accordingly and can vary greatly. It should be borne in mind, once again, that there need be no consistency between the dimensions, in fact there is almost always some degree of contradiction and inconsistency. It is even possible that a clear choice is avoided in any one dimension and that traces of both consistency and inconsistency are evident: there is thus an overriding need to steer clear of extremes. As far as the supernatural dimension is concerned, we might see the emphasis being laid on how God, gods and spirits etc. manifest themselves, and we might call this a revelatory mode of religious identity construction. On the other hand, it might be the believer’s ritual activity in seeking supernatural support which is given the greater emphasis. As we have observed already, this was referred to as ‘magic’ for quite a long period of time, but because of its ‘second-rate’ or even ‘illegitimate’ connotations, I would prefer instead to speak of an explorative mode of religious identity construction.

3. Brazilian Religious Pluralism


The internal dimension presents the alternatives of a dominant leadership and a dominant laity, as opposites. If power is invested primarily in the hands of the religious specialists, we have what we call a hierarchical mode of religious identity construction, whilst its opposite, namely greater power in the hands of the laity, can be described as inclusivist. One of the criteria embodied in the external dimension, is the group’s attitude towards the wider society. The hostile mode of religious identity construction, for instance, is characterized by a strong sense of dualism, whilst at the other extreme we see a far greater tendency towards tolerance.

3. Brazilian Religious Pluralism One might call Brazil a laboratory for religious studies, in the light of the fact that almost all the world’s religions are represented there in one form or another. Christianity arrived with the Portuguese colonizers, Jewish immigrants imported Judaism, and African slaves took their tribal religions across the ocean and, in the course of time, their descendants transformed them into Afro-Brazilian religions. Other groups imported Islam into Brazil and were later reinforced by immigrants from the Middle East. Old and new Japanese religions came with the Japanese immigrant influx and spread among the Brazilian population as a whole. Spiritist Kardecism as well as Umbanda are the centres of karma and reincarnation thinking. And countless smaller religions have also found their way onto Brazilian soil. What gives Brazil its own particular brand of religious pluralism, however, is the combination of various factors and ingredients that has led in a specific historical context to a typically Brazilian religious practice, best represented in the Afro-Brazilian religions. I would now like to show the historical background of these religions. The pre-colonial Amerindian population has been literally decimated. Some elements of their religions live on, however, not only in the few Amerindian villages that still survive, but also more indirectly and in varying degrees, in the various forms of today’s syncretic Afro-Brazilian religions. We must also not forget that Amerindians have become christianized on a wide scale. It was, of course, the Roman Catholic church which made the greatest religious impact during the period of colonialisation. The Christian mission was the Portuguese king’s responsibility and he had


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

the right to appoint bishops. The end of the last century saw a period of ‘Romanization’ which brought the church province under Vatican rule once again. Brazil is known today as the country with the largest number of Catholics in the world; more than 80 % of the population declares itself to be Catholic, although only a minority of them, estimated at no more than 10 %, actually attends mass. For the majority, popular Catholicism is what matters: practical, festive and non-sacramental in nature, centred on the Virgin Mary and the saints. Within the Catholic church itself, small groups are engaged in progressive ‘base’, or ‘grass root’ communities, taking their inspiration from various elements of liberation theology. Other small groups represent a Catholic version of the Pentecostal tradition within the charismatic renewal movement, and many Catholics participate in Afro-Brazilian groups without seeing any need to relinquish their Catholic baptism. During the colonial period, the slaves brought from Africa were baptized, but their religious education was minimal. They continued the customs of their own religions, if for no other reason than that such practices helped them to cope with the terrible deprivations of slavery. A consequence of this was the emergence of syncretic forms of religion, comprising Amerindian, African and Catholic elements and patterns, to varying degrees. This, in due time, led to the rise of the Afro-Brazilian religions (Bastide 1978). This was not a voluntary religious pluralism, but rather a response to historic pressures, the prevailing relations between social and economic power in particular. The white elite imposed Catholicism for the soul, while at the same time creating conditions in which all religious resources – primarily African and Amerindian – were called in to deal with afflictions of the body. Although present for some time, it is not until approximately 1800 that the first institutionalized urban forms of Afro-Brazilian religions were established. Yoruba cosmology played a particularly important role in this, with its integration of Catholic elements, such as the identification of Catholic saints with Yoruba divinities, orixs, the use of statues and candles, and the altar as the central axis around which the rituals were performed. As we have seen already, Amerindian elements were also added. There are local differences in the names given to these Afro-Brazilian religions, the best known being the Candomblé of Bahia, which is at once both very African and very Catholic. The Macumba of Rio de Janeiro version appeared later, making greater use of the Portuguese language rather than an African one. Spirit mediumship is central to all these different variations, with female mediums often occupying

3. Brazilian Religious Pluralism


leadership positions, especially in the more African forms. Problemsolving is the main purpose; spiritual entities can, after all, be used for good and for evil. And, besides, who decides what is good and what is bad? What is advantageous to one can be just as harmful to another. These older forms of Afro-Brazilian religion persisted for some time, but the most successful to emerge in the 20th century is the Umbanda (Droogers 1985). It is estimated that about a third of the Brazilian population has some regular or irregular contact with one or other of the small Umbanda temples – to be found in practically all the poor and middle-class areas – particularly in times of need. Despite its African, Amerindian and Catholic roots, Umbanda has also been influenced by spiritism in the form of French 19th century Kardecism, and its success is probably best explained by its adaptation to the tastes of the white middle-class of the population (Ortiz 1978). This has meant that its most striking African elements, including animal sacrifice and prolonged initiation periods, have been abandoned. Its pantheon is characterized by a similar adaptation, i. e. spirits of Brazilian origin have been added to the Yoruba orixs. I will return to Umbanda later in order to illustrate religious pluralism in Brazil on the basis of the framework developed in the first section. In bringing this short review of the Brazilian religious situation to an appropriate end, we have for a moment to consider the Protestant influences. Despite early, but abortive, efforts, the effects of Protestantism were not actually felt until the 19th century, following the influx of German Lutheran immigrants, and the work of Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries from the United States and Great Britain. The churches which have emerged as a result of this process of immigration and missionary endeavour, differ enormously in theology, style and membership. Nowadays, however, being Protestant means, in two thirds of the cases, being Pentecostal. The first Pentecostal churches had already been founded by missionaries from the United States as early as 1910 and 1911, but it was not until the 1950s that Pentecostalism, as such, became a force to be reckoned with. Several churches were founded and mass evangelization and healing campaigns were held; Pentecostalism grew in line with the growth, in size and numbers, of Brazil’s largescale urban centres. Some of these churches are now working nationwide and internationally, whilst others are one-pastor-temples with only a very small number of faithful followers. Some specialize in healing, and can be found near state clinics and hospitals, where they hold


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

three healing services a day. Pentecostal churches differ in their styles and congregations, although all emphasize the dramatic role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of their converts. They work hard to attract new adepts – mostly from society’s lower strata – and their church services are designed primarily to address these newcomers to the congregation. I will continue my discussion of the Pentecostal impact in the next section of this paper. The concrete form which religious diversity takes in Brazil reflects something of the general nature of the society in which it stands. Religious participation is partly the result of a combination of non-religious factors such as class, ethnicity, gender, migration and education. This is not to suggest that the explanation for religious plurality should be sought in non-religious factors, although they do sometimes make for striking differences. The scope must be widened, however, through the study of the dialectical interplay between non-religious and religious factors, in the growth of religious pluralism. The outline developed in the second section, allows for this double perspective, especially when it includes the supernatural dimension. We will use it now in comparing two religious groups in Brazil in particular: Umbandists and Pentecostals. I focus on the way in which these two groups, by means of their behaviour, beliefs and ritual, and thus their identity, define their attitudes towards other religious groups within their society.

4. Umbandists and Pentecostals The supernatural dimension The experience of, and belief in, supernatural power is present in both religions, although the contents of that experience and belief differ greatly. Both regard the onset of religious awareness as a very dramatic event in an individual’s life. Only the Pentecostals, however, speak of conversion, although the Umbandists do recognize the importance of similar events in personal histories, especially a person’s first experience as a spirit medium. The supernatural power is thus experienced, very often in the context of problem-solving and healing, either through the Spirit (Pentecostals) or through the spirits (Umbanda). In the Pentecostal act of conversion, the transition is expressed in the baptism by the Holy Spirit through the manifestation of charismatic

4. Umbandists and Pentecostals


gifts of healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy, these gifts being a sign of God’s power. This power is also available to believers in terms of mutual help. Conversion also means that God’s power is exerted over the convert’s moral life as well. Pentecostalism is a total religion, demanding complete dedication twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In Umbanda, a god or spirit reveals itself directly through the medium, using his or her body, speaking through his or her mouth, and often healing that person through mediumship. The medium is considered to be god’s, or the spirit’s, ‘horse’, and sometimes a medium can literally be overpowered by the supernatural, entering a trance that is difficult to control. The art of mediumship lies in the ability to direct a trance, which although it may seem spontaneous, is in fact, in part, a form of learned behaviour. Experienced mediums are thus expected at all times to be fully in control of the situation. In the context of apprenticeship one often hears the term ‘baptism’, although it is used in a different sense from that used in the Pentecostal churches, namely as the ritual washing, through which a person is formally invested as a medium. What is particularly characteristic of Umbanda, is the syncretistic nature of its beliefs and rituals. As we have seen already in the history of Afro-Brazilian religions, African gods and Catholic saints have been fused into a double or even a single personality. Power relationships in society have played a central role in the development of these beliefs, as a result of African slaves having to adapt to the religious demands of their Catholic masters; they also defied them by calling on the malignant powers of their African gods and rituals, particularly those connected with the West African trickster god Exu (Lapassade and Luz 1972). Meaning-making thus resulted in specific views on supernatural power. In the course of the 20th century, social influences have resulted in yet another shift of meaning, with people from the lower-middle white classes adapting traditional African beliefs to their own. This process led to the rise of Umbanda from the 1920s onwards and Ortiz called it ‘the white death of the black magician’ (Ortiz 1978). Throughout the history of Afro-Brazilian religions, there has always been a close relationship between power and meaning-making. Interestingly enough, the most common categories of the Umbanda spirits correspond to marginalized social categories, such as negro slaves, Amerindians, children, crooks and tricksters (called Exus, as a multiplication of the single West African trickster god), prostitutes and gipsy women. In contrast to how the


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

wider society views them, these categories of people now find themselves promoted to the status of supernatural powers, and the dominant classes demoted to the needy client status. Since the mediums often come from the lower social strata, they obviously share in this inversion. Rolim suggests that a similar situation has arisen within the Pentecostal movement, where again power and meaning are interconnected (Rolim 1980). The lower strata, disappropriated economically and religiously, became ‘owners’ of religions, producing their own lay religion, outside the sphere of influence of the religious specialists of the traditional churches. A loss in economic power is thus compensated by a gain in religious power. The other side of divine power, namely the human effort to influence and use it, is also present in the two religions, although not always to the same extent. Pentecostals use their charismatic gifts to solve their own problems and those of other people, whereby supernatural power is not only experienced but also used. Long prayer sessions beseeching God’s help are common. In Umbanda almost all experiences of spirit possession are used by mediums and believers in gaining supernatural help for the solution of their problems. Among its opponents, Umbanda has gained the reputation of perpetrating magic rather than anything else. Mediums consciously seek possession and the aid of the spirits in order to help their clients. In some cases, this supernatural power is considered ambiguous, to say the least: it is seen as both harmful and destructive, as the defiant slaves of centuries past had already discovered.

The internal dimension In both religions, internal power relationships cannot be understood without reference to the supernatural. They also contrast sharply to the hierarchical structures operating in society and the Catholic Church. In Pentecostalism, in the early stages at least of a Pentecostal church’s history, hierarchical tendencies diminish in the face of all its people having potential access to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every Pentecostal church service is proof of the active role all its members play in giving and sustaining meaning. In a way, each Pentecostal believer becomes a religious specialist in his or her own right. The division of labour is highly diversified and all members share the gifts of the Spirit encompassed in healing, prophecy and glossolalia.

4. Umbandists and Pentecostals


A church’s success, however, can sometimes lead to emphasis being placed on organization and a hierarchical division of labour, their leaders often appealing to divine revelation in justifying their high status and their power. It goes without saying that charismatic authority helps to advance the careers of these leaders, although less charismatic leaders also come to the fore: every prophet, after all, needs an organizer. The result may be competition and schism, elements which in themselves have contributed greatly to the spectacular growth of the Pentecostal churches. New dissidents establish their own churches and attract a new following. Hierarchy and fission, therefore, are normal aspects of second and third generation churches. As has already been suggested, this process is not without its contradictions, a case in point being that between the supernatural and the internal dimensions. In Umbanda, mediumship colours the structure of internal power relations. Mediums, by virtue of their capacity to intercede between gods or spirits and people, inevitably have the authority to exert power over their ‘clients’, and they do. Some mediums do better than others and attain positions of power above other mediums, success being measured by the size of the clientele network. Leaders of new temples are sought among the most experienced and successful of them, i. e. those who are able to ‘reach’ a wide range of spirits, have gone through all the stages of initiation in mediumship, and have fulfilled all the necessary obligations. They are also often very charismatic figures. Here too, just as in the Pentecostal movement, conflicts result in expansion, for instance, when a successful medium becomes a seeming threat to the current leader of a temple and breaks away to found another group. Again, the world of the spirits is believed to play a decisive role in such conflicts and schisms.

The external dimension This dimension is clearly very closely associated with the other power relationship dimensions we have been discussing. The Pentecostals, for instance, use every means available to spread their message, their experienced belief in the power of the Holy Spirit, the solver of all problems. It is the vocation of each member of the Pentecostal church to combat the devil, characterized as the master of the – evil – world and of the sinner, and they can regularly be seen preaching this message on the main squares of most Brazilian cities. An extreme example of


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

Pentecostal evangelization are the commuter train preachers, who deliver fervent testimonies on the radical rewards of conversion; they are their own models and they exhort their commuting audience to embrace a similar personal transformation. Social scientists differ in their opinions as to the role Pentecostal churches actually play in society and in the process of modernization (Droogers 1991a, 1991b, Hoffnagel 1978, Lalive d’Épinay 1968, 1969, Martin 1990, Willems 1967). Some view Pentecostalism as a modern version of feudalism, the pastor being the new feudal master, and in that sense, we would expect to find a continuity between the rural setting the migrants have left behind them and the urban religious context in which they now find themselves. Others praise the enterprising spirit of the Pentecostals and see them as the Weberian Calvinists of our day, the vanguards of modernization. In any case, their respect for authority has given Pentecostas the reputation of being model citizens and obedient workers. Pentecostal representatives have been elected to the national and state parliaments. They are usually staunch defenders of strict moral codes and often take an anti-Catholic stance in their defence of policies designed to make Brazil a theocracy. Umbandists do not consciously seek to influence society, even though some have opted for political careers. The mediums’ societal role is normally limited to the help they offer their clients; they seek solutions, through their networks – and not only through their spiritual resources – and thereby intervene in the society around them. By the same token, as we have seen already, Brazilian society has influenced Umbanda, a religion offering an interesting mixture of adaptation and resistance. The latter aspect is implicit – and therefore more symbolic – in the common categories of spirits, all belonging to marginal groups in society. In a sense, these spiritual outcasts return to society through the backdoor of the Umbanda temples.

5. Umbanda, Pentecostalism and Religious Pluralism Having described the two religions, we are now in a position to take a look at their attitudes towards religious pluralism. As has been suggested earlier, the constellation of the three dimensions has a direct influence on these attitudes. We will now look at this relationship in greater detail.

5. Umbanda, Pentecostalism and Religious Pluralism


The external dimension As far as their external relations are concerned, the two religions under discussion here both operate on the same market, with similar target groups in the lower strata of society, and both offer religious solutions to practical problems. This makes for a certain atmosphere of competition between the two, revealing striking differences. Whereas Pentecostals generally use public areas for their recruitment campaigns, and attract new adepts through private informal networks, Umbandists follow the latter approach only. Pentecostals generally seem to be more assertive and there have been recent signs that some groups are becoming aggressive in their attitudes towards Umbandists and Afro-Brazilian religion followers in general. A recent article on this subject (Soares 1993) even refers to it in its title as ‘The war of the Pentecostals against the Afro-Brazilian’. A few Pentecostal churches have taken the offensive against Afro-Brazilian religions to the extent of actually intervening in their ceremonies, especially the midnight rituals performed by AfroBrazilian groups in cemeteries. These rituals are organized in honour of Exu, the trickster god, who non-Afro-Brazilian religions regard as the devil. The same ritual can also be dedicated to Exu’s female counterpart, Pomba-Gira, the spirit of a prostitute or a gipsy woman. Exu and Pomba-Gira are morally ambiguous, sympathetic to the person who has commissioned the ritual, and at the same time unsympathetic to those purported to be his or her enemies. To Pentecostals these spirits are downright demonic. Pentecostals generally speak quite openly against all Afro-Brazilian religions, without distinction, qualifying all divinities and spirits, even the unambiguously benign, as demons, forbidding contact with them and condemning spirit mediumship as idolatry. And yet, these same divinities and spirits are taken very seriously indeed, and criticism of them is based not, as in the Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches, on the assumption that spirits do not exist, are man-made idols or can be explained away psychologically, but on the belief that they do exist and are extremely dangerous (Soares 1993: 43, 44). Whereas the Catholic church for a long time regarded the Afro-Brazilian religions as backward and primitive, and even as pre-scientific, the Pentecostals take a very serious view of Afro-Brazilian spirit worship. Umbandists will, in general, ignore such criticism and give no response to it. When pressed for an answer, however, they will usually say that all religions are true, and that all should have the liberty to man-


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

ifest themselves. Having suffered decades of persecution as a consequence of Catholic clerical pressure on police authorities, Umbandists have become sensitive to any sign of aggression against them. Police action has led them in the past to organize themselves into regional federations of temples, whereby each temple had to surrender part of its fundamental autonomy. Their past unhappy and threatening confrontations with the authorities have undoubtedly contributed to their strong defense of religious freedom. This same kind of tolerance is hardly evident at all in the Pentecostal churches; witness the assertive and even aggressive role they play on the religious agora. People who have been converted from Umbanda to Pentecostalism are the ones most ready to give witness to their move from the kingdom of the devil to that of Jesus. Several booklets are available which describe the religious careers of former Afro-Brazilian leaders and mediums, now Pentecostal pastors (e. g. Stevão 1975). In terms of power and meaning, Pentecostals are very conscious of the contribution they have made to the meaning-making process, and are eager to expand their share in this market. They are deeply convinced that they are right and cannot understand, therefore, that other people refuse to share their views. Their firm belief in the workings of the Holy Spirit stimulates them even more in their efforts to proclaim the message and draw others into the flock. In the war against the Afro-Brazilian religions, the Pentecostal churches have made use of exorcism as their ritual weapon, exorcism in their view being closely related to the dramatic changes brought about by conversion. The conversion experience is ritualized in the Pentecostal church service or evangelization meeting, by stimulating one final trance whereby the ‘demon’ is incorporated for the very last time, and finally driven out by the power of the Holy Spirit (Soares 1993: 43). The drama of the event is heightened by the responses of the congregation, singing short thundering songs against the devil, making arm gestures and shouting, for example, ‘Sai, sai, sai!’ (Be gone!) or ‘Queima! Queima!’ (Burn!). The irony is that in Umbanda, spirit mediumship is recommended as a means of healing, while in the Pentecostal churches it is exorcism, the final blow to mediumship, that is claimed to heal the person. When speaking of the external dimension, we must of necessity take a look at Brazilian culture in general. DaMatta sees a fundamental ambiguity in Brazilian history and culture, i. e. the dichotomy between hierarchy and equality, order and improvisation, authority and trickster

5. Umbanda, Pentecostalism and Religious Pluralism


god, rationality and irrationality (DaMatta 1979, 1991). Fry and Howe also encountered this in their study of Pentecostal and Umbandist groups (Fry and Howe 1975). Pentecostalism exhibits a clear preference for the first (hierarchy, order etc.), whilst Umbanda tends to opt for the second (equality, improvisation etc.). The Pentecostal war being waged against the Afro-Brazilian religions could perhaps be seen as part of a tidal movement in Brazilian society, between the two series of poles, leading sometimes to hierarchical structures and even dictatorship, and sometimes to greater equality and some form of democratization. It should not be forgotten, however, that Pentecostals have a very clear idea of what society should be – a sort of theocracy – and they are prepared to struggle and suffer for this ideal. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Pentecostal representatives in the regional and national parliaments we mentioned earlier, use their positions to propagate this view as far and wide as possible. Umbandists and other Afro-Brazilians, however, do not have such an ideological view, even though their cosmology does have the potential of being translated into political action, particularly in respect of ecological and environmental issues, bearing in mind that the gods and spirits of nature are of fundamental importance to their religions. Despite the existence of regional federations of Umbanda temples, their fragmented organizational structure makes it almost impossible for them to manifest themselves at the national level. There are a few politicians, however, who are known to be Umbandists and to recruit their voters from Umbanda circles, but there is no doubt that the national Pentecostal churches have been much more effective at the political level.

The supernatural dimension These external dimension differences cannot be understood fully, however, without relating them to the two other dimensions; we will examine the supernatural dimension first. The Umbandist pantheon is everexpanding, incorporating more and more spirits as history goes on, to add to its already extensive record of famous popular heroes. It is also inclusivist in nature, the spirits of the past returning to life as they manifest themselves through the mediums. The various categories of Amerindians and negro slaves have, therefore, become marginalized heroes of Brazilian history; names like Lampião and Maria Bonita, for instance, famous popular rebels in North-East Brazil in the 1930s, killed by gov-


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

ernment troops, are still present both in altar statues and spirit mediumship in some of the Umbanda temples. In fact, all the religious influences that merge in modern Brazil leave their traces on the altars. It will come as no surprise to find that even the Buddha is represented on the shelves of an altar in an Umbanda temple somewhere in the heartland of Brazil. As far as the supernatural dimension is concerned, there are no clearcut good and evil ethics in Umbanda. Exu and Pomba-Gira, for example, present a very ambiguous image in this regard. Umbanda temple leaders will always deny that they use these spirits against other people, but they will often point to others who do. It is a public secret that many Umbandist leaders and mediums execute rituals to harm individual people, and indeed it is a common fact that this kind of ritual is the most lucrative. If the pantheon is in continuous expansion and there are no strict views on what constitutes good and evil, religious pluralism will be more readily accepted as a normal phenomenon, with ritual serving as an expression of this pluralism. Spirit mediumship rather than exorcism is the ritual instrument for the appreciation of religious pluralism, a fact which became quite clear when the Yoruba orixs joined the realm of the Catholic saints. In contrast, the Pentecostals’ supernatural dimension is characterized by strict monotheism, despite their separation of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, and their preference for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostal cosmology is fixed, exclusive, and based on a more or less literal reading of the Bible. History, they say, is predestined until the end of time, when the devil will be slain by Christ – indeed, the chalked slogan ’Jesus is nigh’ is a common sight on public buildings in Brazil. There is also a strong Pentecostal emphasis on the contrast between good and evil – life is a constant war against the devil. Midnight rituals in honour of Exu are condemned, and actively opposed, as idolatry. All people, including Umbandists, should be saved, they must be the objects of evangelization and they must be preached to, even at cemeteries in the midnight darkness. Once the Holy Spirit has manifested itself the spirits must disappear. The life of the convert changes and a total claim is put on his or her behaviour. For once and for all, literally for eternity, the convert has passed to the side of the good and is now a soldier engaged in the war against evil, a war which viewed from a particular perspective, can also be seen as a war against religious pluralism.

5. Umbanda, Pentecostalism and Religious Pluralism


The internal dimension In the internal dimension, these religious pluralism options are both reflected and nourished. Umbandists will always welcome representatives from other religions and will, if necessary, try to solve their problems. The irregular visitor is a normal phenomenon in Umbanda temples, because so many only attend when they have problems. No claim is put on them, unless they show signs of a beginning mediumship, and Umbandists readily endorse personal freedom in attending both a church and an Umbanda temple. They even assert that their own activities are not religious at all: their religion is Catholicism. The fact that Umbanda is referred to as a ‘non-religion’ could be interpreted as representing a strategy to turn it into a national religion, in the sense that posing as something of a different order avoids having to compete with the other religions. Umbanda is viewed more as a kind of primary health care system, available at the nearest street corner, rather than a religion. National censuses have shown that few people actually call themselves Umbandist, a fact which might paradoxically indicate that many Brazilians do in fact consider themselves to be Umbandists. In any event, the boundaries between the internal and external dimensions are rather vague, for clients especially, although less so for mediums. Pentecostals sometimes also see themselves as a kind of first aid post, albeit in a much more exclusive sense. The internal dimension bonds the believers into a community of persons touched by the Holy Spirit and available, therefore, to help a neighbour in need, never forgetting that that neighbour is always a potential candidate for conversion. Healing and other problem-solving methods are manifestations of God’s will for his people and his divine intervention is available to all, on request. The person thus healed is then presented with a commitment – and the commitment is total. Even in a more hierarchically structured Pentecostal church, where some would seem to have greater access to the gifts of the Spirit than others, there is still ample room for the new convert to honour this commitment. Once the glory of the Lord has been fully recognized, religious pluralism becomes superfluous and syncretism an anachronism. The church is organized for the purpose of guiding as many people as possible onto the right path, to the safety of its confines. Those outside are lost unless they convert. The boundaries which separate the internal from the external dimension are clearly defined and strictly maintained, and they will only lose their relevance when all have joined the flock.


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

6. Conclusion The framework developed in the first section of this article has helped us to make a comparison between two Brazilian popular religions and their attitudes towards religious pluralism. We have seen that it is the constellation of the external, internal and supernatural dimensions that produces a religion’s identity and orients its followers in their attitudes towards religious pluralism. More particularly, the ritual expression of this attitude is a logical consequence of the convictions that characterize the supernatural dimension. A religion’s approach towards religious pluralism results from a mixture of secular and religious factors, in dialectical interplay throughout history. The relationship between power and meaning-making is complex. In terms of the various modes of religious identity construction set out at the end of the first section of this paper, both Umbanda and Pentecostalism seem to represent the revelatory type, employing both spiritual mediumship and the charismatic gifts as channels for the manifestation of the sacred. At the same time, however, believers also develop an active ritual attitude, typical of the explorative mode of religious production, in the sense that both religions see the sacred as a problemsolving instrument. There are similarities too in terms of the internal dimension. In both religions the starting point is inclusivist, whereby roles are allocated to all believers, and in both groups part of every congregation is there to seek relief from some kind of affliction or problem. In Pentecostalism those who become convinced that their problem has been solved, will often stay on as new converts. Newcomers will only be integrated into Umbanda temples if they have shown signs of possessing mediumship capacities. In both religions, some members are considered more successful and therefore become more influential. If a group’s success leads to a change in scale, as happens in the case of expansionist Pentecostalism, institutionalization can follow, with traces of a hierarchical structure. Under the firm leadership of its leader, bishop Macedo, one of Brazil’s newer Pentecostal churches, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, succeeded in opening more than 700 churches within a period of fifteen years. Umbanda, with rare exceptions, is much more directed towards small-scale face-to-face contacts, developing its patronclient relationships between mediums and visitors, the latter occupying a temporary and marginal position within the internal dimension – unless they prove to be instruments of spiritual mediumship.

6. Conclusion


The external dimension, the most important when the focus is on religious pluralism, shows definite differences between the two religions. Whereas Pentecostalism adopts a hostile and critical attitude towards society, Umbanda is much more tolerant and reflective toward the various processes in society, despite the fact that its main spirit categories imply an indirect criticism of society. As has been shown above, this difference can only be understood if the religious beliefs prevalent in the supernatural dimension are also taken into consideration. The active anti-syncretic exclusiveness typical of the Pentecostals contrasts strongly with the passive, taken-for-granted, syncretism of the Umbandists. The ritual expression of these attitudes is accordingly reflected in the contrast between exorcism and spirit possession. Even though both religions extend practical services to the external dimension, and despite the fact that both have encountered resistance at that level, their main difference lies in their attitude towards society in general, and to religious pluralism in particular. The application of the religious power relationships model as developed in the second section of this chapter to two Brazilian examples of popular religion, has shown us that power and meaning are intricately interwoven and mutually influential. Power depends, in part, on the meaning-making process in which gods, spirits and people are viewed or experienced as powerful beings. Moreover, people who hardly play any role in society’s power processes can, through meaning-making, find a way of creating their own world, real to them at least, and in which secular and religious power relationships, including religious pluralism, can be inverted and criticized. It has proved useful, therefore, not to have limited ourselves to the internal and external levels normally studied by social scientists, but to include the supernatural level of power relations in our treatment of Brazilian religious pluralism. This should be a standard approach when studying religions, because it enables us to go beyond the functional questions and explain certain characteristics of the internal and external levels. It was for this reason, therefore, that the contents of beliefs and rituals have been included in our exploration of the relations between power and meaning in a situation of religious pluralism. The attributes of the supernatural have been shown to have an impact on the form and relevance of power relations in the internal and external dimensions. This does not, on the other hand, exclude the influence these relations may have on the form of power in the supernatural dimension; this is an aspect that has already been subjected to comprehensive analysis. The time has come to reha-


Chapter 8. Identity, Religious Pluralism and Ritual in Brazil

bilitate the explanatory role of the content of religious convictions and rituals – in the study of religious pluralism too.

References Bastide, Roger (1978). The African religions of Brazil: Toward a sociology of the interpenetration of civilizations. Baltimore, etc.: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Crick, Malcolm (1976). Explorations in language and meaning: Towards a semantic anthropology. London: Malaby Press. DaMatta, Roberto (1979). Carnavais, malandros e herois: Para uma sociologia do dilema Brasileiro. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar. DaMatta, Roberto (1991). Carnivals, rogues, and heroes: An interpretation of the Brazilian dilemma. Notre Dame, etc.: University of Notre Dame Press. Droogers, André (1985). E a Umbanda? São Leopoldo: Sinodal. Droogers, André (1989). Macht in zin: Een drieluik van Braziliaanse religieuze verbeelding. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit, Inaugural lecture. Droogers, André (1991a). Visiones paradojicas sobre une religion paradojica: Modelos explicativos del crecimiento del pentecostalismo en Brasil y Chile. In: Barbara Boudewijnse, André Droogers and Frans Kamsteeg (eds.) (1991). Algo ms que pio: una lectura antropolgica del pentecostalismo latinoamericano y caribeÇo. San José (Costa Rica): DEI, pp. 17 – 42. (For a translation see Chapter 12 of this book) Droogers, André (1991b). Bibliografia sobre pentecostalismo y movimientos carismaticos en Latinoamérica y el Caribe. In: Barbara Boudewijnse, André Droogers and Frans Kamsteeg (eds.) (1991). Algo ms que pio: Una lectura antropolgica del pentecostalismo latinoamericano y caribeÇo. San José (Costa Rica): DEI, pp. 137 – 176. Droogers, André (1994). The normalization of religious experience: Healing, prophecy, dreams and visions. In: Karla Poewe (ed.) (1994). Charismatic Christianity as a global culture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, pp. 33 – 49. Droogers, André, and Hans Siebers (1991). Popular religion and power in Latin America: An introduction. In: André Droogers, Gerrit Huizer and Hans Siebers (eds.) (1991). Popular power in Latin American religions. Saarbrucken & Fort Lauderdale: Breitenbach, pp. 1 – 25. Fry, Peter H., and Gary N. Howe (1975). Duas respostas à aflição: Umbanda e Pentecostalismo. Debate e Crtica, 6, 75 – 94. Hoffnagel, Judith C. (1978). The believers: Pentecostalism in a Brazilian city. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International. Lalive d’Épinay, Christian (1968). El refugio de las massas: Estudio sociolgico del protestantismo chileno. Santiago: Editorial del Pacifico. Lalive d’Épinay, Christian (1969). Haven of the masses: A study of the Pentecostal movement in Chile. London: Lutterworth Press.



Lapassade, Georges, and Marcos Aurélio Luz (1972). O segredo da macumba. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra. Martin, David (1990). Tongues of fire: The explosion of Protestantism in Latin America. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Ortiz, Renato (1978). A morte branca do feiticeiro negro: Umbanda, integrażo de uma religi¼o numa sociedade de classes. Petrópolis: Vozes. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1980). Religi¼o e classes populares. Petrópolis: Vozes. Soares, Luiz Eduardo (1993). A guerra dos Pentecostais contra o Afro-Brasileiro; Dimensões democraticas do conflito religioso no Brasil. ComunicaÅes do ISER, 12(44), 42 – 50. Stevão, Gilberto (1975), Chefe de Umbanda acha Christo (depoimento). Curitiba: Luz na Escuridão. Velho, Yvonne Maggie Alves (1975). Guerra de Orix: Um estudo de ritual e conflito. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar. Willems, Emílio (1967). Followers of the new faith: Culture change and the rise of Protestantism in Brazil and Chile. Nashville (Tennessee): Vanderbilt University Press.

Part II Two Fields

Syncretism Chapter 9 Syncretism: The Problem of Definition, the Definition of the Problem 1. Introduction Syncretism is a tricky term. Its main difficulty is that it is used with both an objective and a subjective meaning. The basic objective meaning refers neutrally and descriptively to the mixing of religions. The subjective meaning includes an evaluation of such intermingling from the point of view of one of the religions involved. As a rule, the mixing of religions is condemned in this evaluation as violating the essence of the belief system. Yet, as we will see, a positive subjective definition also belongs to the possibilities. This confusion of meanings has motivated scholars to propose the abolition of the term. Yet, the term is so widely used that even a scholarly consensus to do away with it would not lead to a general moratorium on its use. Its abandonment is the more improbable when one considers that the number of contacts between believers of different religions increases daily, and with that, the phenomenon referred to by the term ‘syncretism’, in all senses of the word. In the discussion on interreligious dialogue the term would continue to be used in any case, particularly by those who are opposed to such an endeavour and who constantly warn against the danger of syncretism (in the negative subjective sense). Moreover, those seeking religious contextualization may use it in a positive and sometimes almost proud and defiant sense, especially in concrete situations in the Third World. In this chapter, I will therefore suggest that it would be unwise to try to discard the term in spite of the pitfalls involved in working with the concept. Since the term is not likely to disappear, it is better to confront these problems head on. Besides, the debate on the meaning of syncretism is too interesting and promising to be tabled merely because of terminological confusion. In the second section of the chapter, this debate


Chapter 9. Syncretism

will be summarized as it has developed to date. Next (section 3), an inventory of available options for defining syncretism will be given. In the remainder of the chapter, four suggestions will be made with a view to providing fresh impulses to the debate on syncretism. First, it will be maintained that the distinction between the objective and subjective definitions of this concept is not that absolute. Definitions that are apparently objective will be shown to contain subjective echoes (section 4). In the second place, emphasis is put on the importance of relations of power to the production of religion, including syncretism and the struggle against it. In connection with this issue, an interdisciplinary approach will be followed, integrating contributions from the sociology and the anthropology of religion (section 5). The third suggestion points to a further contribution the social scientific approach could make to the debate on syncretism. Within anthropology, recent work has concentrated on symbolic systems. These new insights might well be applied to the matter of syncretism. Syncretism will then be viewed as a means of transforming religious symbolic systems. It would be worthwhile to examine the link between changes in symbolic systems on the one hand, and relations of power in the production of religion on the other (section 6). Finally, it will be argued that ‘syncretism’ cannot be defined in either exclusively objective (‘religious intermingling’) or purely subjective (‘illegitimate mixing’ or – less frequently – ‘legitimate mixing’) terms. The concept refers rather to both unquestioned and controversial interpenetration of religions. On the one hand, much syncretism goes unnoticed, specifically when the intermingling takes place in such a way that the basic insights of the religions involved are left untouched. On the other hand, the controversy within a religion on the acceptability of syncretism should not be left out of the definition of the concept (section 7). In an epilogue, the author’s subjectivity will be discussed (section 8).

2. The Changing Meaning of the Term In the course of history, even before students of religion started to use the term, the concept of syncretism went through various changes in meaning (Colpe 1987: 218,219, Kamstra 1970: 8 – 10, 1985: 210 – 212, Kraemer 1938: 200 – 211, 1956: 392 – 394, Rudolph 1979: 194 –

2. The Changing Meaning of the Term


196). The oldest known use of the term is found in Plutarch, and refers to the inhabitants of Crete, who, in facing a common enemy, overcame their differences of opinion and temporarily joined forces. Much later Erasmus spoke of syncretism as a positive union of seemingly disparate points of view. In the 17th century, the notion took on a negative character and came to refer to the illegitimate reconciliation of opposing theological views. Syncretism, thus, became a polemical term employed to defend true religion against heresy. The distinction between an objective and a subjective definition of the concept has obvious roots in history. From the second half of the 19th century on, there was a tendency within the History of Religions approach to objectify the term by applying it to early Christianity as well. Syncretism was shown to be present in the earliest forms of Christianity. Nevertheless, as Rudolph (1979: 196 – 97) has pointed out, it retained its negative meaning, denoting a deviation from original purity, and often being used to designate sect-like groups. The first scholar to have dealt at length with the concept of syncretism is G. van der Leeuw (1956). At one point in his book, he confined the term syncretism to the movement from anonymous polydemonism to personal polytheism (1956: 186,636). At another point, however, he broadened this definition, considering all religions syncretic on the grounds that they all combine various forms, or Gestalten (1956: 692, quoting J. Wach). Van der Leeuw introduced the concept of Verschiebung, or transposition, as basic to syncretism (1956: 693). This refers to changes in meaning where the form remains constant. He explicitly maintained that missions almost inevitably lead to syncretism (1956: 694 ff.). Another Dutch author who has had wide influence on the development of the debate in question is H. Kraemer (1937, 1938, 1956, 1962). Though recognizing that all religions are syncretistic (1937: 7), he located the roots of syncretism in the monistic – and therefore relativizing – religions, as opposed to the prophetic religions (1937: 18 – 23). Monistic belief systems – such as ‘primitive’ religions – are naturalistic. They are auto-soteriological in character. Kraemer allowed for a type of inevitable, unconscious syncretism, which occurs in intercultural contact. But this kind of syncretism, to which Christianity has also been subject, and which includes the naive syncretism of popular religion, is different from the conscious syncretism of religious elites. The latter is grounded in monism and is not permitted by prophetic religion.


Chapter 9. Syncretism

In the introductory chapter to a collection of studies by Scandinavian scholars on syncretism (Hartman 1969), H. Ringgren defined syncretism simply as ‘any mixture of two or more religions’ (Ringgren 1969: 7), suggesting that ‘elements from several religions are merged and influence each other mutually’ (1969: 7). He also presented a number of general observations on the conditions under which syncretism occurs, on interreligious encounter, on the nature of the result of syncretism, and on the psychological factors which may influence the process of syncretism. The third Dutch scholar who has contributed significantly to the debate is J. H. Kamstra (1970, 1975, 1984, 1985). He pointed to the theological bias in Kraemer’s view (1970: 16 – 25), and suggested an objective approach, stressing that syncretism must be seen as a general human trait, and that it is consequently present in all religions, including Christianity (1970: 23). Religious knowledge is always partial; language and situation limit people’s understanding. This leads to syncretism, which Kamstra defined as ‘the coexistence of elements foreign to each other within a specific religion, whether or not these elements originate in other religions or for example in social structures’ (1970: 9 – 10; Pye’s translation, Pye 1971: 83). Interestingly, Kamstra mentioned the possibility of syncretism within a religion and not just in contact between religions (1970: 27). According to him, the criterion in both cases is alienation (1970: 27). In later publications (1975; 1985), Kamstra offered a typology of syncretistic religions, and adopted the distinction between conscious and unconscious syncretism. He spoke of amalgamation and identification as extreme forms of syncretism, with assimilation and symbiosis as intermediate forms of transition between these extremes (1985: 217). In an article on the religions of Japan (1989), Kamstra rejects the use of the term for the Japanese situation. The ideas put forward in his 1970 lecture (Kamstra 1970) have been summarized by M. Pye, thus making them available to readers outside the Netherlands. At the same time, he criticized Kamstra. In Pye’s view, the fact that Kamstra takes Kraemer as his starting point, even though criticizing him, held him within the constraints of the theological view (Pye 1971: 85). Kamstra, as we saw, had emphasized man’s inability to know totally. Pye qualified this as a theological statement, pointing to Kamstra’s citation of the apostle Paul as additional grounds. Furthermore, Pye took Kamstra to task for using alienation as a key concept. To Pye the word is reminiscent of prophetic religions. It also implicitly confirms the view that religions are threatened by syncretism, ei-

2. The Changing Meaning of the Term


ther from within or without. To Pye, however, it would also be possible to speak of syncretism ‘towards without’ (Pye 1971: 87, his italics), which excludes alienation. Another criticism Pye addresses to Kamstra is his neglect of the role of meaning in syncretism. At this point Pye suggests ambiguity, instead of alienation as a criterion for syncretism. The same element may bear two different meanings at the same time. Syncretism is defined as ‘the temporary ambiguous coexistence of elements from diverse religious and other contexts within a coherent religious pattern’ (1971: 93). To overcome this ambiguity, there are at least three possibilities (1971: 92), viz. one meaning is eliminated (assimilation), a new coherent pattern of meaning is attained (a new religion), or the two meanings drift apart (dissolution). Like Kamstra, R. D. Baird took Kraemer as his starting point, whom he criticizes for both implying and excluding that Christianity is syncretistic (1970: 142 – 52). In Baird’s view, the concept is too confused and lacks precise definition. According to him, it is of no use to distinguish between conscious and unconscious syncretism, because what really counts is the resulting synthesis. It is a universal phenomenon; the term is not specific enough to be used for historical research. Borrowing and blending are a normal part of history. In this context, therefore, the term syncretism is superfluous and should be dropped. Having excluded the use of the term syncretism in the sense of a new harmony, Baird nevertheless considered reserving the term for ‘cases where two conflicting ideas or practices are brought together and are retained without the benefit of consistency’ (1970: 147). In that sense, he thought the term might be used to indicate a theological phenomenon. But even that solution is problematical because the category was not coined by believers: nobody describes his own religion as syncretistic. Believers only use the word in the encounter with other religions, describing the other’s religion as inconsistent. C. Colpe (1975, 1979, 1987) has no qualms about using the term. To him there are three ‘structural laws’ governing syncretism (1975: 17 ff.): the previous autonomy of components brought together in syncretism; a balance between autonomy and integration; and a certain guarantee of historical continuity. Colpe distinguished between three kinds of links between elements thus related: symbiosis, acculturation, and identification (1975: 21 – 23). He also pointed to the kind of relation obtaining between the religions which are in contact. This relation may be either symmetrical or asymmetrical. Furthermore, he stressed that cultural contact does not necessarily imply syncretism, and that syn-


Chapter 9. Syncretism

cretism is possible without cultural contact (1975: 25 – 28). Colpe saw syncretism as an initially critical concept, which is now being transformed into a category of ‘historico-genetic explanation’ for the antecedents of a religious situation (1987: 219). Another German contribution to the debate comes from U. Berner (1978), who, like Ringgren, discussed the term in the first chapter of a collection of case studies on syncretistic phenomena (Wiessner 1978). His goal was to offer a heuristic model. He based this model on the concept of system, as used by N. Luhmann. Religions are systems, with a certain function, composed of elements also serving specific functions. These systems, when in contact, may threaten each other’s functioning. Syncretism is one of the possible reactions to such a confrontation. It strives to diminish the insecurity by dissolving the boundaries between the systems, thus ending competition. Defined in this way, syncretism is a process. The word is not meant to be applied to only one religion, but always to religions in contact. Berner suggested that this approach allows for a study of syncretism at the level of systems as well as on that of elements. Emphasizing that he was not using religious terms, he then developed a complex terminology for each of three levels: that of systems, that of elements, and that of meta-language (the researcher’s terms, as distinguished from the terms of those being researched). With this model, Berner wanted to avoid metaphorical language. According to him, the phenomenology of religion is in great need of an independent, generally applicable terminology. To him, the answer is to be found in the concept of system. Thus, he intimated, the danger of ideological bias would be avoided. K. Rudolph (1979) has summarized – in more detail than could be done here – what previous authors have contributed to the debate on syncretism. In addition, he has presented his own view on the problem. His conclusion (1979: 206 – 210) from a survey of the literature is that syncretism is becoming a relatively value-free concept which, however, is still in need of a clear typology, and which has not yet been defined satisfactorily, except in terms of dynamic nature. Syncretism is generally seen as mixing of religions, and it is widely accepted that no religion, except the most isolated, is free of syncretism, both in respect to its origin and to its subsequent history. Syncretism presupposes encounter and confrontation. As a first distinction, still to be refined, Rudolph accepts the contrast between unconscious and conscious syncretism. He stresses the relation between syncretism and social stratification, especially between ‘priests, theologians, mythologians’ (1979: 208) on the one

3. The Options Available


hand, and the mass of believers on the other. In this context he refers to Redfield’s concepts of great and little traditions. The little tradition coincides with the popular and unconscious form of syncretism. Colpe’s terms are adopted by Rudolph and expanded. This leads to a series of terms: symbiosis, amalgamation, identification, metamorphosis, dissolution. The outcome of syncretism will also depend on the political constellation and on possible resistance to domination. Rudolph suggests that, instead of transposition, alienation or ambiguity, ‘Verschr nkung’ (crossing) is essential to syncretism (1979: 210). All the authors discussed so far had the intention of presenting an objective definition of syncretism, even though some, as we have seen, were criticized for being too theological and subjective in their approach. Christian theologians have approached syncretism in various ways, depending on their theological evaluation of other religions. I cannot do justice to all the views expressed, but want to mention three authors who have been widely read. W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft (1963; see also Mulder 1986) has emphatically warned against syncretism as a constructed fusion of religions. To him this was a threat to Christianity. Similar warnings have been expressed by G. Thils on the part of Catholics (1967). W. Pannenberg (1970: 85 – 88, esp. note 37) has shown that syncretism is present within Christianity and has suggested that it might even be seen as a positive characteristic, because it is the way in which the universal Christian message incarnates within other cultures (see also Thomas 1985). Christian faith may be enriched in contact with other cultures by the influence and the challenging questions which come from them. Pannenberg shows that a subjective definition of syncretism need not always be negative.

3. The Options Available The preceding summary of interpretations of the term syncretism may be complemented by a thematic list of those aspects which may be included in a definition. This serves not only to foster awareness of the options one faces in defining syncretism but also to make more explicit the ambiguity of the concept. The first option has already been mentioned. Should syncretism be an objective, neutral, merely descriptive term, or is it a subjective concept, normative in its negative or – less often so – positive evaluation of re-


Chapter 9. Syncretism

ligious mixing? As was clear from Kamstra’s and Baird’s criticism of Kraemer, and also from Pye’s comments on Kamstra, it is not easy to be objective. In the next section, I will return to this issue. On the other hand, a normative definition also has its problems, since the criterion as to what is objectionable (or acceptable) is not easily formulated. Another option regards the question as to what it is that is being mixed. The simplest answer is: two religions. But other ingredients may be included in what an author calls syncretism. Thus syncretism may occur between currents of one religion, between a religion and an ideology, between religion and science, and between religion and culture. One must also choose between syncretism as the process of religious interpenetration, or as the result of such a process, or a combination of both. When one speaks of a ‘syncretistic religion’, this may mean a religion which is the result of a period of religious encounter. But the term may also refer to an extremely tolerant and permanently absorbent religion, ready to adopt and adapt whatever may present itself. One could therefore ask whether syncretism is a temporary or a permanent phenomenon. There is accordingly some confusion with regard to elements considered to be contradictory or ambiguous: are they to be called syncretic only as long as the contradiction remains, or also if a new synthesis occurs through a change in meaning? As we have seen, various authors have proposed a typology of syncretic phenomena, including amalgamation, symbiosis, assimilation, identification, coherence, dissolution, etc. Rudolph lists sixteen such terms (1979: 207). These may refer not only to types of syncretism, but also to phases in the course of the process, as well as to the final result. Since syncretism has often been seen as a deviation from the original purity of a religion, one option arises from the question of whether syncretism may occur at the origin or foundation of a religion, or whether it must be used only to indicate a later threat to the initial pure version. A negative subjective definition tends to stress the original purity, whereas an objective definition may show how a religion was already a merging of elements from other religions at the outset. A topic discussed by various authors referred to above, is the question of the symmetry or asymmetry present in the relationships between religions. Are the two (or more) religions in contact being mutually influenced, or is one religion dominant? Is one to adopt the perspective of the receiving religion or of the giving religion, or both? Or are both

4. The Possible Subjectivity of Objective Definitions


giving and receiving? A subjective definition is obviously formulated from the standpoint of the religion which is subject to the impact of another religion. Objective definitions may be broader in perspective, but, as we shall see shortly, not necessarily so. Finally, the distinction between conscious and unconscious syncretism should be recalled. In other words, the option is between explicit, constructed, reflected, and often intellectual syncretism on the one hand, and implicit, spontaneous, relatively unreflective, popular syncretism on the other. I will conclude this section by pointing to a similarity between the definitions of syncretism and religion. Both objective and normative definitions of religion exist. Some definitions of religion allow for ideological, philosophical, and cultural elements to be included. Religion has been defined both as a process and as a result. It may emerge as a newly founded, explicitly constructed institution, just as it may appear in a gradual, spontaneous, anonymous, popular way. Moreover, the distinction between functional and substantial definitions of religion, stressing either what religion does or what it is, might also be applied to definitions of syncretism. What is, for example, the use of ambivalence in syncretism? Or what is characteristic of the elements brought together in a syncretic pattern?

4. The Possible Subjectivity of Objective Definitions There are three points at which the concepts employed by students of religion when defining syncretism may be correlated with the stumbling blocks at issue in theological definitions. The first correlation is based on the conception among students of religion that cohesion and integration are normal, and consequently that any deviation or contradiction is abnormal and even inferior. This view is comparable to that of orthodox clergy. Syncretism is then a temporal phenomenon, an ambiguity which sooner or later will lead to a new synthesis – or to dissolution. This may mean that the initial stage of the history of that religion is seen as one of purity and homogeneity, setting the norm which is afterwards threatened by syncretism. In this way the possible role of syncretism in the founding phase of that same religion is ignored. Second, the context in which syncretism takes place may be narrowed to one religion only, even though two or more religions are in-


Chapter 9. Syncretism

volved. This also happens to coincide with clerical interest and perspective. There seems to be less interest in looking at syncretism from the point of view of the influencing religion. Syncretism ‘towards without’ (Pye 1971: 87) is often overlooked. Even less attention is paid to the believers positioned between religions, who, unlike the clergy, perhaps no longer identify themselves with one particular religion. The third aspect is the emphasis on the doctrinal and the official, a point also made by Kamstra (1984). Students of religion, especially when they work with texts written by the theological elite of a religion, may develop a blind spot for the practical and the popular in a religion. Their main interest then is to systematize the cerebral side of religion, often presented as the only side or the representative side. The popular side – though majoritarian – is viewed as a less interesting deviation from it. Consequently, syncretism has often been seen as doctrinal contradiction. Here again we touch on a coincidence of clerical and academic foci. Yet, from the popular point of view the doctrinaire worries of the clergy might be seen with equal right as a deviation from the ‘normal’, i. e. the practical. If these observations are valid, one wonders if students of religion might ever have spoken of syncretism without the clergy being worried about the phenomenon, just as one may wonder whether syncretism would exist if there were no clergy. In pointing out the subjective side to objectively intended definitions, I do not wish to criticize subjectivism. My only intention is to show that perfect objectivity is impossible. In order to make my own subjectivity more explicit, I will return to this problem in the epilogue.

5. Syncretism and Power An almost decisive factor determining the reaction of a religion to syncretism (in the objective sense), is the concept of truth prevailing in that religion. In situations of contact, exclusivist claims will give rise to accusations of syncretism (in the negative subjective sense) as their necessary complement. The exclusive claims are often maintained by a class of religious specialists who monopolize, with more or less success, the definition of truth, and spend a lot of time eliminating possible contradictions and oppositions (Bourdieu 1971). If, as normally happens, a popular religion succeeds in maintaining itself next to the official religion, this is a symp-

5. Syncretism and Power


tom of the clergy’s power being less effective in maintaining exclusive access to the production of religion. Of course there are also situations in which the reverse occurs: a conservative laity may frustrate any effort of progressive clergy to facilitate lay access to religious production. The attitude of the clergy will almost always be justified ‘in the name of the truth’, out of love and respect for it, treating it as a separate court of appeal, as though it were a revealed ultimate meaning. Yet this disinterested attitude of the clergy does not exclude the existence of power relations. If power is defined as the capacity to influence other people’s behaviour, syncretism has a power dimension to it. In its negative subjective form, it presupposes an asymmetrical relationship. The clergy may legitimate its own power in religious terms. In addition, it is possible that the power of secular authorities is also justified religiously. In return, the religious elite may receive secular help in the struggle against all those who produce religion in their own way, without the consent of the clergy and in contradiction to official religion. As Baird observed, syncretists rarely call themselves by that name. Syncretists are always the others. They may be lay people but can also be members of the lower clergy. When the social context involves cultural plurality, the power struggle may be not just between clergy and laity, or higher and lower clergy, but between different cultures. Official religion, whether imported or indigenous, almost always acts as a dominant cultural factor. Situations of contact frequently produce conflicts. In that case too, the religious debate on syncretism is not just of a religious nature. The symbols used in syncretism may represent the affliction people experience at that very moment. Syncretism, then, may be viewed as an expression of protest, against clerical and secular authorities for example. It is interesting that the difficulty inherent in the concept of syncretism, viz. that it has a pejorative connotation, is also present in two other terms used by religious elites to oppose unauthorized religious production: magic and sect. Thus relations of power indirectly influence the vocabulary adopted in the study of religion. It is therefore all the more surprising that in the study of religion this power dimension often remains unnoticed. Yet labels like syncretism, magic, and sect are used in describing popular, i. e., lower class religion. It is ironic that the Old Testament struggle against syncretism, which coincided with the propagation of a central cult and political


Chapter 9. Syncretism

unity, has indirectly, through Christian theology, nourished academic interest in the phenomenon of syncretism. It is even more ironic that phenomenologists of religion basically think like syncretists: comparing religions and emphasizing the common characteristics over and against the differences. In that sense, these students of religion are much closer to the popular masses of religious traditions than to the religious elites most of them have preferred to research. On the other extreme, when considering the attitude of religious traditions towards truth and syncretism, we run across religions which accept that there are numerous ways to knowledge of the truth. This kind of religion will perhaps not even have a term comparable to syncretism. It may instead employ a term, absent in religions with a negative view of syncretism, whose meaning is the opposite of the negative subjective definition. Contradictions may be hailed and cultivated as paradoxes. Other religions will not be seen as competitors, but as welcome and legitimate routes to the sacred and to salvation. The opposition is not between true and false, but between good, better, and best. The lack of rigid, exclusive, doctrinaire orthodoxy may be accompanied by a practical interest, closely related to that of popular religion. Syncretism – in the negative sense – is simply not an issue. To argue that power is a dimension of syncretism is one thing; interpreting relations of power is another. Within the social sciences various models have been presented. Two categories of model will be discussed in this section. Without going into much detail, we might say that a first category, consisting of functionalist models, interprets power processes as tending ultimately towards a situation of relative equilibrium. Cohesion is normal, since society cannot survive without order. If tensions arise, a complicated process of give and take will lead to a new phase of order. A functionalist interpretation of syncretism will stress its function as a manner of overcoming ethnic or cultural contradictions, and as a new synthesis which will serve as a basis for cohesion. It should be recalled that one of the options in defining syncretism was an emphasis on cohesion as being normal. The functionalist preference is clearly for that pole. Thus, the role of syncretism as a new synthesis will be emphasized in nation-building. It guarantees a new national identity for a new social context. In the second category, which consists of (neo-)Marxist models, the story is told in a different way. Not cohesion, but conflict is viewed as

6. The Symbolic Dimension of Syncretism


normal. Syncretism is then not a useful functional mechanism in the transition to a new order, representing a new compromise between opposing powers. Instead, being a contradiction, it is an expression of conflicting interests, including protest against dominant religious and secular power. As a synthesis, syncretism is interpreted as an instrument of oppression, creating a false unity and hiding social conflicts.

6. The Symbolic Dimension of Syncretism Though not commenting directly on the issue of power, a third category of social scientific models is relevant to the debate on syncretism. In these models, the human being as a meaning-maker occupies a central place (Crick 1976). Especially within the field of symbolic anthropology, ideas have been developed which are applicable to the study of syncretism. Syncretism may be viewed as a way in which people play, though in a serious way, with symbols and meanings, and with the patterns in which these symbols are arranged. Of course, an interest in meanings is not new in the study of syncretism, as we have seen in Van der Leeuw’s concept of ‘Verschiebung’ (transposition), as well as in Pye’s use of the word ambiguity. Much work inspired by this third category of models can still be done. A first application concerns speaking of syncretism as a borrowing of elements. This suggests that elements are the basic units in a process of syncretism, and that the only change which occurs is that of displacement to another religious context. Yet, one should question what people do with elements, what these elements mean to them, and whether these elements are in fact autonomous and unrelated units. The borrowed elements in question are symbols or clusters of symbols. People may change these symbols or give other meanings to them. They may integrate them in a new context, within another pattern. Merely the new position within that pattern may already alter the meaning of the symbol and of the pattern, as happens when one changes a mosaic. Sometimes the similarity in symbols, meanings, or patterns between two religions invites changes which might be called syncretic. So in general, there is more at stake than just the borrowing of elements (Ortiz 1975). Research on symbols may shed light on the dynamics of syncretic religious change (Droogers 1981). Since symbols, meanings, and pat-


Chapter 9. Syncretism

terns do not all need to change at the same time, an almost infinite series of possible transformations may occur. The ‘multivocality’ (Turner 1969a: 8) of symbols contributes to this variety. The terms several authors use when indicating phases in the syncretic process or the results of that process – the whole range from amalgamation to dissolution – may be viewed as characterizations of the symbolic patterns which emerge. The change of meaning is almost by definition prominent in situations of contact. The recipient of a message does not necessarily understand that message in the same way as the person sending it meant to be understood. This alone can mark the start of syncretism. Since communication between cultures and religions takes place in the context of doubled sets of symbols, patterns and meanings, reinterpretation, misunderstanding, and distortion will be the more probable. Symbolic changes may be better understood when studied within the social context. As we have argued above, this includes relations of power. Of special interest for the study of syncretism is the approach proposed by Turner (1969b). He has shown how important the margins of society may be for its renewal, particularly because hierarchical relations are experienced less prominently there. The same happens when society goes through a marginal phase. It can be shown that founders of world religions started out from such marginal situations (Droogers 1980). Because of the temporal or structural relativizing of centralized hierarchy, the founding of religions may show syncretic traits. Other contributions have been made with regard to the relation between symbol systems and relations of power. Bourdieu (1971), amending Weber, shows how the adoption of a division of labour in the production of religion, and changes in that division, influence the nature of that religion. Bax has coined the term ‘religious regime’ to indicate relations of dependency legitimated by a class of religious specialists (1987). In studying the syncretic candomblé religion of Brazil, Willemier Westra has shown how priests manipulate symbolic paradoxes in order to maintain relationships of power (1987). Furthermore, we should be aware that situations of contact have their own dynamics. As we saw, they may be characterized by crises. Syncretism may then be created as a function of the needs of the people in that situation. This may lead to something completely new, which will not resemble any aspect of the religions involved. Borrowing of elements is again an insufficient appraisal of what happens. In the light of symbolic anthropology, the distinction between conscious and uncon-

7. Conclusion


scious syncretism does not seem correct. If all men are meaning-makers, the enquiry must pursue to what degree this capacity is used, when, and how. Even in reproducing traditional symbolic systems, people may alter meanings. The binary distinction conscious-unconscious is too simple to represent the whole gamut of possibilities. Accordingly, the distinction between great and little tradition is not helpful. It may obtain a pejorative connotation, and it reinforces the clerical perspective.

7. Conclusion In this paper I have summarized the contributions students of religion have made to the debate on syncretism. I have explicitly listed the main options to be confronted when defining syncretism. Several of these options have returned in subsequent sections of this paper. The influence of a negative subjective approach on presumedly objective definitions has been traced. I have put syncretism in a wider social and cultural context and have argued that asymmetrical relations of power are essential to the understanding of syncretism. The advantages of a symbolic approach have been presented. I have advocated that students of religion avoid a unilateral clerical perspective. Whether the key concept for the analysis of syncretism be transposition, alienation, ambiguity, contradiction, or crossing, there is always the possibility of coinciding with clerical foci and interests. Only rarely is syncretism looked at from the point of view of the ‘syncretists’ themselves. Moreover, and more importantly, it has often passed unnoticed that deviation, contradiction, etc., are not the essence of syncretism, but rather the contesting of that deviation by an orthodox clergy, without whom syncretism would not even exist as a term. Only if relations of power are included in the analysis is this basic characteristic of syncretism uncovered. With the possible exception of Pye (1971: 92 – 93) and Rudolph (1979: 208), no definition of syncretism mentions this aspect. Yet, both in the origin of the term and in its present content, this is the real issue. The fact that many students of religion have not seen this is a consequence of the clerical perspective they – often implicitly – have adopted. A switch in definition from negative subjective syncretism (an illegitimate mixture of religions) to objective syncretism (e. g. the coexistence of elements foreign to each other) has not been sufficient to grasp the essence of syncretism. Throughout, the clergy’s role in the phenomenon has remained invisible. Yet theological and clerical


Chapter 9. Syncretism

views are part of the field under study. Only when the power dimension is included in the approach followed, can a more complete view of syncretism be obtained. All this shows us that the study of religions is more likely to be influenced by the religions it studies than one would wish or expect. We therefore suggest that the definition of syncretism ought to include the element of contesting. The seemingly irreconcilable objective and subjective options are not the only alternatives. Syncretism is in the first place contested religious interpenetration. Yet such a definition still remains closer to the subjective than to the objective definition. The latter is much broader and includes religious mixing which need not be the subject of controversy, and which may even go unnoticed. Such is the case when the result does not interfere with established clerical religion. Syncretism, then, can be defined as religious interpenetration, either taken for granted or subject to debate. This also implies that what is contested by some may be taken for granted by others, who may be opposed by the former, though not necessarily so. Though not elegant as a definition, because of the inclusion of opposite characteristics, it has the advantage of bringing together – and going beyond – the objective and subjective types of definition, stressing the controversial nature of much syncretism. The phrase reflects the ambiguity caused by the trickiness of the term. In that sense, reviewing the problem of delinition has helped us to define the problem. The definition and approach we have suggested, have consequences for our research. In studying concrete cases of syncretism, we should ask ourselves to what extent the religious interpenetration under study is contested and by whom. The symbolic mechanisms must be analyzed. Changes in symbols, meanings, and patterns must be studied within the wider cultural and social context, including power structures. The position the authors of these changes and their critics occupy in society must be included in the research. Special attention should be paid to the relation between the symbolic and the social structures. How do they influence each other? What role does (the struggle against) syncretism play in the maintenance or undermining of social boundaries? Are there spontaneous, undiscussed forms of syncretism, acceptable to all? In the study of the place of syncretism in dialogue the more general questions formulated in the preceding paragraph must return. The fear of syncretism must receive more attention since it may hamper interreligious contacts. The unnoticed nature of some forms of syncretism may, on the other hand, facilitate dialogue. Dialogue may be viewed

8. Epilogue


as a process involving the meaning-makers of two or more symbolic systems. Another question which must be posed is: To what extent do relations of power within religious traditions influence the dialogue and possible accusations of syncretism? Who represents a religion in the dialogue? Is there participation by the laity? Is syncretism an issue in the discussion, and do so-called syncretists have any participation in the dialogue?

8. Epilogue Finally, I must ask myself how objective or subjective I have been in discussing objective and subjective definitions of syncretism, and in pointing a way out of this dilemma. I have been able to uncover subjective elements in the objective approach. But have I myself escaped subjectivism? It is better to be consciously subjective than seemingly objective. In my opinion, some phases in the course of an enquiry tend to be more open to subjectiveness than others. While the choice of a theme and opting to write for a certain public is a matter open to individual motives, the collection of data should be more objective, and open to verification by others. The choice of a theoretical model, however, is more subjective than objective. One might therefore expect an option for one of the three types of social scientific models – functionalist, Marxist, symbolic – which I dealt with in preceding sections. I suggest, however, that the three be used as what they primarily are: heuristic instruments which may open our eyes to otherwise hidden aspects of syncretism (cf. Droogers 1985). The models may sometimes contradict one another, as is clearly the case with the functionalist and the Marxist model, each representing opposing ideologies. Yet social reality combines cohesion and conflict in a dialectical way. It is within this context, including the relations of power, that man acts as a meaning-maker, trying to make sense of both order and contradiction, at the social as well as at the symbolic level. The right to meaning-making may be at stake, as in the conflict between the clergy and the popular masses. The three models therefore belong together, even though their proponents would condemn this approach as eclecticism or even as scientific syncretism. Yet even in defending this eclectic position, I have opted for a rehabilitation of lay people in religious matters. Their religion is as impor-


Chapter 9. Syncretism

tant a field for the study of religion as is erudite religion (Kamstra 1984). Lay people are active meaning-makers, despite the official clerical dominance, documented by students of religion. The participation of the laity in a possible interreligious dialogue should be advocated, as they may represent the hidden face of a religion. The clergy of a religion should not monopolize the dialogue. This also means that the interclerical dialogue is only part of the possible encounter between religions. At the level of the common believers, a different dialogue should be stimulated. Since syncretism creates commonness, more than diversion, this dialogue may even be more promising than the ‘official’ one. If Christian organizations, like the World Council of Churches, defend the interests of the voiceless, then this should also be put into effect in questions of dialogue, transforming the voiceless into spokespersons. I have taken some distance from a negative subjective definition. I have tried to rehabilitate popular religion and syncretism. I have also advocated dialogue. Yet as a Christian I must admit that the problem of the boundaries of syncretism is a real one. It was also for this reason that the controversial element has been maintained in the definition. I would not, however, put unilateral emphasis on doctrinaire boundaries. In face of the current world problems, the practical questions seem more important in dialogue. Here again the so-called syncretists are often on more familiar ground than their clergy.

References Baird, Robert D. (1971). Category formation and the history of religion. The Hague and Paris: Mouton. Bax, Mart (1987). Religious regimes and state formation: Towards a research perspective. Anthropological Quarterly, 60, 1 – 11. Berner, U. Heuristisches Modell der Synkretismus-Forschung (Stand August 1977). In: Gernot Wiessner (ed.) (1978). Synkretismusforschung: Theorie und Praxis. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp. 11 – 26. Berner U. (1978). Das ‘Synkretismus-Modell’ als Instrument einer historischen Religionsphänomenologie. In: Gernot Wiessner (ed.) (1978). Synkretismusforschung: Theorie und Praxis. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp. 27 – 37. Bourdieu, Pierre (1971). Genèse et structure du champ religieux. Revue FranÅaise de Sociologie, 12, 295 – 334. Colpe, Carsten (1975a). Synkretismus, Renaissance: Säkularisation und Neubildung von Religionen in der Gegenwart. In: Jens Peter Asmussen, Jørgen



Lassøe and Carsten Colpe (eds.) (1975). Handbuch der Religionsgeschichte. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 441 – 523. Colpe, Carsten (1975b). Die Vereinbarkeit historischer und struktureller Bestimmungen des Synkretismus. In: Albert Dietrich (ed.) (1975). Synkretismus im Syrisch-Persischen Kulturgebiet: Bericht ber ein Symposium in Reinhausen bei Gçttingen in der Zeit von 4 bis 8 Oktober 1971. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 17 – 30. Colpe, Carsten (1977). Syncretism and secularisation: Complementary and antithetical trends in New Religious Movements. Numen, 17, 158 – 176. Colpe, Carsten (1979). Synkretismus. In: Der kleine Pauly, V, pp. 1648 – 1652. Colpe, Carsten (1987). Syncretism. In: Mircea Eliade (ed.) (1987). The encyclopedia of religion, XIV. New York and London: MacMillan, pp. 218 – 227. Crick, Malcolm (1976). Explorations in language and meaning: Towards a semantic anthropology. London: Malaby. Droogers, André (1980). Symbols of marginality in the biographies of religious and secular innovators: A comparative study of the lives of Jesus, Waldes, Booth, Kimbangu, Buddha, Mohammed, and Marx. Numen, 27(1), 105 – 121. (Chapter 1 of this book) Droogers, André (1981). Sincretismo. Estudos Teolgicos, 21, 139 – 150. Droogers, André (1985). From waste-making to recycling: A plea for an eclectic use of models in the study of religious change. In: Wim van Binsbergen and Matthew Schoffeleers (eds.) (1985). Theoretical explorations in African religion. London: KPI, pp. 101 – 137. Hartman, Sven S. (ed.) (1969). Syncretism: Based on papers read at the symposium on cultural contact, meeting of religions, syncretism; held at Abo on the 8th-10th of September, 1966. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell. Kamstra, Jacques H. (1970). Synkretisme: Op de grens tussen theologie en godsdienstfenomenologie. Leiden: Brill. Kamstra, Jacques H. (1975). Het spinneweb. In: J. Sperna Weiland (ed.) (1975) Antwoord: Gestalten van geloof in de wereld van nu. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, pp. 175 – 196. Kamstra, Jacques H. (1984). Een moeilijke keuze: De godsdienst van de gewone man. Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschschrift, 38, 253 – 279. Kamstra, Jacques H. (1985). Religie en Syncretisme. In: D. J. Hoens, J. H. Kamstra, and D. C. Mulder (eds.) (1985). Inleiding tot de studie van de godsdiensten. Kampen: Kok, pp. 210 – 223. Kamstra, Jacques H. (1989). The religion of Japan: Syncretism or religious phenomenalism? In: Jerald Gort, Hendrik Vroom, Rein Fernhout and Anton Wessels (eds.) (1989). Dialogue and syncretism: An interdisciplinary approach. Grand Rapids and Amsterdam: Eerdmans and Rodopi, pp. 134 – 145. Kraemer, Hendrik (1937). De wortelen van het syncretisme. ‘s-Gravenhage: Boekencentrum. Kraemer, Hendrik (1938). The Christian message in the non-Christian world. London: Edinburgh House Press. Kraemer, Hendrik (1956). Religion and the Christian faith. London: Lutterworth Press.


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Kraemer, Hendrik (1962). Synkretismus, II: Im Wirkungsbereich der Mission. Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Handwçrterbuch fr Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, VI. Tübingen: Mohr, pp. 567 – 568. Leeuw, G. van der (1956). Ph nomenologie der Religion. Tübingen: Mohr. Mulder, D. C. (1986). ‘None other Gods’ – ‘No other names’. The Ecumenical Review, 38, 209 – 215. Pannenberg, Wolfhart (1970). Basic questions in theology, II. London: SCM. Pye, Michael (1971). Syncretism and ambiguity. Numen, 18, 83 – 93. Ortiz, Renato (1975). Du syncrétisme à la synthese: Umbanda, une religion Brésilienne. Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions, 40, 89 – 97. Ringgren, Helmer (1969). The Problems of Syncretism. In: Sven S. Hartman (ed.) (1969). Syncretism: Based on papers read at the symposium on cultural contact, meeting of religions, syncretism; held at Abo on the 8th-10th of September, 1966. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell , pp. 7 – 14. Rudolph, Kurt (1979). Synkretismus vom Theologischen Scheltwort zum religions-wissenschaftlichen Begriff. In: Humanitas Religiosa: Festschrift fur Haralds Biezais zu seinem 70 Geburtstag. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, pp. 193 – 212. Sperna Weiland, J. (ed.) (1975). Antwoord: Gestalten van geloof in de wereld van nu. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff. Thils, Gustave (1967). Syncretisme o Catholicit. Tournai: Casterman. Thomas, M. M. (1985). The absoluteness of Jesus Christ and Christ-centered syncretism. The Ecumenical Review, 37, 387 – 97. Turner, Victor W. (1969a). Forms of Symbolic Action: Introduction. In: Robert F. Spencer (ed.) (1969). Forms of symbolic action: Proceedings of the 1969 annual Spring meeting of the American Ethnological Society. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, pp. 3 – 25. Turner, Victor W. (1969b). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Visser ‘t Hooft, W. A. (1963). No other name: The choice between syncretism and Christian universalism. London: SCM. Wiessner, Gernot (ed.) (1978). Synkretismusforschung: Theorie und Praxis. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. Willemier Westra, Allard Dirk (1987). Axe, kracht om te leven: Het gebruik van symbolen bij de hulpverlening in de Candombl-religie in Alagoinhas (Bahia, Brazili). Amsterdam: CEDLA.

Chapter 10 Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared 1. Introduction Sometimes a definition of syncretism is used that widens the field from the usual religious interpenetration to forms of cultural mixing in a broad and general way (e. g. Adogame et al. 2008). The concept thus takes on meanings that are similar to those that define creolization (e. g. Hannerz 1992: 264 ff.) or hybridization (e. g. Canclini 1995). The advantage of such a broadened approach to syncretism is that it can be shown that processes in the religious field, through which elements from different sources are mixed, may also be encountered in other domains. Mixing is not the privilege of religions alone. Broad concepts make similarities visible. The disadvantage is that a broader concept always is less precise when it is used for descriptive, classificatory or analytical purposes: the specifics of a particular field, such as religion, become less relevant. Consolation can be found in the relativism that is inherent in the art of defining phenomena. As long as the map of the different options is readable to all, any definition of syncretism, narrow or broad, contributes to the appraisal of the field that is covered. In this article, I will focus on a particular field of cultural syncretism, namely religious syncretism. Yet, my treatment of religious syncretism includes a broadening in three respects. First, I will include a comparison between syncretism and fundamentalism, looking especially for differences. Secondly, I will compare believers and academics, focusing on similarities in mind frames. Thirdly, in passing I will examine the relevance of my approach to religious syncretism for the study of cultural syncretism. The article starts with a justification of the comparisons I make. I then give a brief review of the concepts of syncretism and fundamentalism, which I will use subsequently as the basis for the comparison of the two phenomena. In order to elaborate on the power mechanisms in syncretism and fundamentalism, a three-dimensional model will be presented. In the section that follows, I then apply the model to syncretism


Chapter 10. Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared

and fundamentalism. In the last section I make comparisons of the frames of mind behind syncretism and constructivism, and fundamentalism and positivism, respectively.

2. Inappropriate Comparisons? With regard to the first comparison, that between syncretism and fundamentalism, a preliminary observation must be made. Making a comparison between syncretism and fundamentalism might seem inappropriate or even impossible, because syncretism and fundamentalism are not really commensurate. Though both concepts are part of the vocabulary of the student of religion, they are rarely discussed in connection with each other. Am I comparing apples and pears? Much depends on the characteristics that are steering the comparison. Though syncretism and fundamentalism are much older than the processes of modernization and globalization, in the current world situation they can both be viewed as opposite reactions to these processes, which is my main reason for drawing fundamentalism into the syncretism debate. When I focus on syncretism and fundamentalism as distinct modes of religious reflection on globalization, there is sufficient ground for comparison. By contrasting the positions taken, such a comparison may sharpen our understanding of each of the two phenomena. These two modes of religious construction and reproduction make very different use of the same religious repertoires. If religions with many centuries of history and tradition are exposed to such recent processes as modernization and globalization, one may ask what happens to them and how tradition and innovation are related. What happens if these processes put believers and their religions on to a worldwide information and media market, growing with migration, where competition and expansion are organizing principles? Syncretists and fundamentalists make opposite choices when confronted with alternatives and with challenges to the accepted beliefs and practices of daily life: the former appear to embrace the new with enthusiasm, whereas the latter seem to question it. As I will show, in both cases the dimension of power and control is an important aspect of the comparison between syncretism and fundamentalism. The framework for the comparison of these two modes of being religious is therefore found in a three-dimensional model of the power relations that occur in any religious context and that are used

2. Inappropriate Comparisons?


strategically by the participants in that religious setting. The three-dimensional model allows me to take stock of internal and external factors that may play a role in the rise of fundamentalism or syncretism, without losing sight of the specific nature of religious praxis. Syncretism and fundamentalism, as contrasting ways of using religious repertoires, express power relations and do have implications for them. The three-dimensional model may also help us understand the conditions under which each of the two phenomena flourishes or may change. An appraisal of the role of fundamentalism and syncretism in the current cultural context of globalization points to a perhaps unexpected and seemingly inappropriate parallel with the scholarly paradigmatic debate between positivist and constructivist approaches. This relates to the second way of widening my scope, drawing into my argument the comparison of competing scientific paradigms. I will argue that there are striking similarities between fundamentalists and positivists on the one hand, and between syncretists and constructivists at the other. Obviously both positivism and constructivism can be applied to the scholarly study of fundamentalism and syncretism, but what is more important here is that, as specific forms of reflection, they show remarkable similarities with the worldviews under study. This may seem far-fetched: where syncretism and fundamentalism could already be viewed as incommensurate and too different to be compared, this would even more be the case for a comparison – with more emphasis on the commonness than on the obvious differences – between syncretism and constructivism on the one hand, and fundamentalism and positivism on the other. Religion and science are commonly considered opposite institutions, and sometimes they appear to combat each other. Especially secular scholars will frown upon any comparison between science and religion, at least if common elements are detected – the differences are quite obvious to them. Common elements have usually been overlooked, a blind spot that is explored in this article. In short, I will suggest that, although with opposite results, both syncretism and fundamentalism are creative ways of being religious under changing conditions. More specifically, I hope to contribute to the discussion on the question of the power constellations under which these phenomena come about. In addition, I expect to contribute to the debate on the relationship between science and religion by exploring a side that has been underexposed so far: the commonness in ways of thinking between believers and scholars. Another spin-off of


Chapter 10. Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared

this discussion is to show the relevance of this argument for the study of cultural syncretism.

3. Defining Syncretism and Fundamentalism Various efforts have been made to define syncretism and fundamentalism. Depending on the discipline, the theoretical preference and the selected illustrative example, the two phenomena have been defined in a variety of ways. The usual difficulties that accompany any effort at defining a concept have led to predictable suggestions, such as to distinguish between various types of syncretism or fundamentalism, sometimes in the plural (Lawrence 1998, Marty and Appleby 1991), or to abandon the term altogether (Baird 1971: 142 – 52). Another recommendation has been to stress the dynamic nature of these phenomena and to avoid any definition that merely represents a state of affairs. With regard to syncretism, my own contribution to the debate has been influenced by my view as an anthropologist with a special interest in religion as a way of producing meaning in a cultural context that is marked by power mechanisms. In a collective interdisciplinary volume produced in 1989 under the auspices of the religious studies department of my university (Gort, 1989), I defined syncretism as ‘religious interpenetration, either taken for granted or subject to debate’ (Droogers 1989: 20, 21) and suggested that the power aspect should be prominent in the study of syncretism (Droogers 1989: 16 – 18; see also Greenfield and Droogers 2001). Other anthropologists have also stressed the importance of the political dimension (e. g. Stewart and Shaw 1994). In preparation of my effort to compare syncretism and fundamentalism, I will summarily discuss, using family resemblances, the defining characteristics that might be included when describing the two phenomena.

Fundamentalism I start with fundamentalism. Though finding its origin, as an emic term, in American Protestantism, it has been recognized in other world religions. One common characteristic often mentioned is that it is a critical reaction to the process of modernization. I treat modernization as the process by which the results of science and technology influence the set-up of societies. Fundamentalists often take an antimodernist stance,

3. Defining Syncretism and Fundamentalism


which does not prevent them from using the technological means of communication and transport that modernization has made abundantly available in the remotest corners of the world. In fundamentalism’s antimodernism, social and moral aspects predominate. In general the new is interpreted from the perspective of the old. This happens in such ways that, forgetting the modern challenge to which it is an answer, people are unaware of the innovation and modernity involved in the fundamentalist position. Through globalization – the process by which the world is experienced as one place – both modernity and fundamentalism have become part of the world as we know it today. The mass media have played a decisive role in this, especially after 9/11. One might even say that the media and politics have hijacked the definition of fundamentalism from academia and produced their own definition, with a strong emphasis on Islam, terrorism and the use of violence – to the point that the Christian origin of the term sometimes seems to have been forgotten. Another defining characteristic of fundamentalists that should be mentioned is their activist, exclusive and assertive position. Their antimodernist programme reflects a dualist way of thinking, dividing the world in two camps. Military metaphors are sometimes turned into real military, or at least militant activity. In terms of power, charismatic leaders may play a leading role in fundamentalist circles, reinforcing the attractiveness of the message by their own personalities. In the public appearance of fundamentalists, markers can be used regarding the body, such as beards, or the clothes that cover the body, making the adherents’ identity recognizable and reinforcing their visibility. When sacred texts are available, these are often read in a literal manner as undisputable truth and as historical reports. Religion is taken in what anthropologists would call an essentialist way. Similarly there is a rather legalistic way of handling ethical matters. Finally, male dominance must be mentioned as a frequent characteristic, often connected with the literal reading of sacred texts that privilege men in taking power positions. In sum, the following ‘family resemblances’ of fundamentalism can be mentioned: • Antimodernist • Assertive, activist • Dualist, ‘enemy’-thinking • Led by charismatic leaders • Sacred text taken literally and as history


Chapter 10. Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared

• Moral consciousness, laws • Identity reinforced by external characteristics • Male dominance One final question can now be raised. Can the concept of fundamentalism be given a much wider connotation, just as happened with regard to syncretism? lf the term syncretism lends itself to such an amplified use, could the concept of fundamentalism be submitted to a parallel extension? If syncretism in the ample sense, applicable to the whole of culture, corresponds to notions such as hybridization and creolization, fundamentalism would then refer to the opposite process, i. e. as a return to essentialist cultural patterns in reaction to modernist influences, perhaps for political reasons. Giving such a new meaning to the concept would remind one of the metaphorical use of the term ‘fundamentalism’ by selecting one or more characteristics, possibly corresponding to some that have been listed above. Thus regional separatist movements could be labelled ‘cultural fundamentalism’. This broadening of the term ‘fundamentalism’ may appear less convincing than the extension of the concept of syncretism, but it follows similar lines of reasoning.

Syncretism Turning now to an equally brief and incomplete characterization of syncretism, a first aspect that presents itself, of course, is that elements from different religious sources are in some way brought together in a new constellation. The degree to which elements are mixed can be observed to vary, and accordingly types of syncretism have been distinguished, with e. g. forms of symbiosis at one end of the spectrum and complete fusion at the other. The two or more religious sources that provide elements for the syncretistic process do not necessarily occupy an equal position. One may be dominant, thus coloring and redefining the elements taken from the other religion. Depending on the focus a scholar prefers – and this would fit the definition of cultural syncretism – nonreligious elements are viewed as part of the process, especially where the religious sphere, in a holistic manner, influences other areas of life or is influenced by them. Much syncretism seems to occur in a non-reflected manner, as a natural or more accurately a cultural routine process. As a consequence, and in contrast to fundamentalists, people who mix varied religious el-

3. Defining Syncretism and Fundamentalism


ements need not do so in a self-conscious manner and would not defend or propagate their behaviour, let alone raise the banner of syncretism or any other term. This is reinforced by the practical drive for syncretism as a way of solving existential problems. If one religion disappoints as a problem-solver, another may offer compensation. This also means that situations of affliction, abundantly present when modernization processes fail to bring wealth and health, may stimulate people to appeal to forms of syncretization. Another aspect that can be mentioned here is that phenomenological or other similarities between religions may promote syncretism. Similarity may facilitate mingling, as when pantheons are structured in the same way, or when extra-sensory experiences are common to both religions. But not only do similarities stimulate syncretism, complementarities may also create an ambiance for syncretization, e. g. when one religion helps out where the other fails, or when one religion has a strong concept of a high god that is lacking in the other. A further characteristic to be mentioned is that the actors in syncretization often are lay believers, predominantly women, who withdrew themselves from the control of the (usually male) religious specialists. Here the power dimension of syncretism and anti-syncretism becomes visible in terms of both gender and religious organization. The term ‘syncretism’, whether used by religious leaders or by scholars, is a product of the surprising event that seemingly separate elements from different orders are brought together. In that sense, scholars and religious leaders react surprised because both think in similar rather essentialist ways, presupposing as the normal situation that more or less closed, autonomous systems exist that syncretists perforate and perturb. Whereas religious leaders condemn this as heresy, scholars jump to the opportunity to study this unexpected matter out of order. In sum, syncretism may have all or most of the following characteristics: • Syncretism occurs as a reaction to contact between religions • Modernization and globalization create opportunities for mingling • Syncretists rarely act in a self-conscious manner • Syncretists are focused on everyday life and view religions as problem-solvers • Affliction, e. g. because of modernization, stimulates mingling • Common characteristics facilitate mingling • Complementary differences facilitate mingling


Chapter 10. Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared

• Laity is active, especially women • Religious leadership is critical As in the case of fundamentalism, reference can now be made to the broad definition of syncretism. Which of the defining characteristics just mentioned can be transferred, either metaphorically or literally, from the religious to the broader cultural domain? It seems that there are in fact similarities that make the comparison between religious and cultural syncretism instructive, just as my own – perhaps equally unexpected – comparison between the concepts of syncretism and fundamentalism brings new insights. Yet, some characteristics cannot be included in the extension from the religious to the general cultural field. In cultural syncretism contact is not primarily between religions, and a society’s leaders do not necessarily opinionate. A further difference may affect the gender dimension, since cultural syncretists are not predominantly women. But the other items on my list do apply to cultural syncretism as well and may help increase our understanding of processes of hybridization.

4. Syncretism and Fundamentalism Compared Turning now to a comparison of the two processes, not all the characteristics just mentioned can be retaken. The two lists of characteristics cannot simply be arranged in a parallel way, with a clear correspondence between individual items. In a similar vein, I do not want to suggest that fundamentalism and syncretism necessarily go together in all religious situations, as two sides of the same coin. Moreover, my comparison will stress the contrasts, leaving aside the common characteristics. Distinguishing between the emic and the etic uses of the terms, both terms can be said to have been used originally at the emic level, long before becoming part of the scholarly vocabulary (Droogers 2001). In its more ancient emic meanings, syncretism did not have the negative connotation that later religious leaders came to give it in condemning it. One example is Erasmus of Rotterdam, who recommended syncretism as a positive and productive way of reconciling differences in Christian theology. The more recent emic use of syncretism concerns the vocabulary leaders use in condemning the mingling of Christian with non-Christian elements that takes place among ordinary believers. The leaders usually view this practice as impure and offensive, even as

4. Syncretism and Fundamentalism Compared


heretical, partly because, in terms of the religion’s power structure, it threatens the monopoly of the clergy over the production of religion. Accordingly those same leaders may identify with fundamentalism. Yet, when tolerance towards other religions is a basic value in their religion, leaders may be more lenient. This tolerance may change, as when leaders in Hinduism, for a long time considered a very tolerant religion, adopt fundamentalist attitudes in the course of competition with other world religions. Furthering the comparison, it can be observed that whereas fundamentalists, especially certain Christian Americans, may proudly label themselves as such, syncretists hardly ever adopt that particular banner and often do not even know the term. Another difference at the emic level is that fundamentalists see the whole world as their setting, whereas syncretists usually have a local perspective. Including the etic level, it has already been observed that both the emic and the academic applications of these terms start from a rather essentialist presupposition. This is the deeper reason why syncretism commands our attention. Similarly, though at the other extreme, the exclusiveness of fundamentalism has drawn attention because it represented the most outspoken defence of essentialism in religion. Apart from the emic and etic uses of the terms, the phenomena themselves show some striking differences. An obvious and basic contrast between the two processes is that fundamentalists opt for one exclusive religious source, with one version and interpretation, whereas syncretists see no problem in using more sources and feel free to interpret them as they like, notwithstanding orthodox intentions or safeguards. In using one source only, fundamentalists make use of a limited number of metaphors, or even just one key metaphor that becomes codified and sacrosanct, whereas syncretists explore the usefulness of many metaphors, especially when they consider them complementary to each other and effective in practical use. Another contrast is that fundamentalists seek institutionalization, whereas syncretists operate in a much more informal sphere. Religious (and sometimes political) authorities officially stimulate fundamentalism and commonly condemn syncretism. Fundamentalists and syncretists, though both popular in their expressions and success, thus differ in their appraisal of religious authority. In the long run, syncretists may adopt some form of fundamentalism. When syncretism attains the status of an official religion, as in some Japanese and Brazilian religions, it may develop into a single-perspective religion and even adopt fundamentalist characteristics in some


Chapter 10. Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared

of its manifestations. Similarly, fundamentalism may in the long run be eroded through syncretistic tendencies. In terms of gender, and corresponding to the distinction between official and popular religion, fundamentalists – including women – accept male dominance, whereas active syncretists are often women. The latter’s way of producing religion may serve as a form of unconscious and unreflected resistance against male dominance. Women may use the exclusive informality of their own religious sector, separate from male dominance, to develop syncretistic ideas and practices. Syncretism and fundamentalism can also be compared in terms of repertoire use. In using the repertoire metaphor for the way culture, society and religion are managed and lived, a number of the characteristics of cultural, social and religious processes can be clarified. Just like cultures, societies and religions, a repertoire will show change, almost by definition, while maintaining continuity to a certain degree. Elements are added and discarded. Innovation, revival and reform may occur. Repertoires contain many latent elements that are only activated when the situation or the context demands it. In their history, the cultures, societies and religions of the world bear the traces of this process. In the case of the world religions, for example, different schools and movements make their own selection from the general repertoire. Power relations, in the case of religions legitimated by an appeal to the sacred, regulate access to repertoires and the right to change or maintain them. The control of repertoires is part of the power play that takes place in any culture, society or religion. Since repertoires are used contextually, they may contain inconsistencies, especially in their popular use, despite efforts by the leadership to maintain a particular logic or system, and despite their possible emphasis on orthodoxy and orthopraxis. The processes of syncretism and fundamentalism can be understood as contrasting ways of dealing with cultural and more specifically religious repertoires, within the context of modernization and globalization. Whereas fundamentalists centripetally focus on one exclusive repertoire that is defended against threats to basic, i. e. fundamental principles, syncretists make a centrifugal use of as many repertoires as are needed to solve their existential or practical questions and problems. Both modernization and globalization represent processes that expand the range of available repertoires, while at the same time creating situations in which the need for repertoires is stimulated. This leads to either centripetal or centrifugal reactions. In sum, and more schematically:

5. The Three-Dimensional Model



Etic term, more than emic Tolerant More sources, more versions Experiment with metaphors and metonymies Condemned by religious leaders Hardly institutionalized Experimenting with many repertoires

Etic and emic term Intolerant One source, one version Codification of one central metaphor Applauded by religious leaders Institutionalized Loyal to one repertoire


5. The Three-Dimensional Model The three-dimensional model presented here focuses on power and may therefore be helpful in making sense of the power mechanisms at work in both syncretism and fundamentalism. The three dimensions that are distinguished are the external, internal and supernatural dimensions. In each of these dimensions, categories of actors who are involved in some power relationship can be distinguished. Depending on their relationship, the modes of religious construction differ. In schematic form, the model is as follows: DIMENSION


Mode of religious construction


Believers / Believers Lay believers / Religious specialists

Horizontal vs. Vertical


Hostile vs. Tolerant Believers / Non-believers Believers / Believers of other worldviews

SUPERNATURAL Believers / God, gods, spirits, saints

Manipulative vs. Submissive

In this model, I bring together the power relations that prevail at the three levels of the religious group: the internal, external and supernatural or transcendental levels. The units to which the model can be applied could be as small as an African clan or a cell group in a local Pentecostal church, or as large as the Muslim Brotherhood or the worldwide Catholic Church. While the external and internal levels refer primarily to the


Chapter 10. Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared

social structural aspects, the supernatural dimension is more cultural in nature, or reflects, more specifically, the religious worldview. I take power to mean the capacity to influence other people’s behaviour. At the internal level power relations exist between believers, but also, and more visibly, between religious leaders and the laity. At the external level there is a power relationship between believers on the one hand and non-believers on the other, or, perhaps more importantly, believers of other religious preferences. At the supernatural level, there is a power relationship between believers and their god, gods, spirits and whatever other forms the sacred might take. Usually the repertoires for behaviour, reflection and perception that are constructed and activated at each of the three levels are interconnected and influence each other. Having defined the three levels, I would now like to suggest that the power relationships at each of the three levels move along a spectrum between extremes and may change in the course of time and depending on the case. Thus at the internal level, when there is a clear leader, his or her position may be strong, influencing the thinking and behaviour of the ordinary believers. In other cases, at the other end of the spectrum, there may be a preference for rather horizontal relations between members, but also between leaders and members. In the course of time changes may take place, as occurs in reformations. Within the internal dimension, one might thus distinguish between the poles of a vertical, hierarchical, and a horizontal, inclusive mode of power relations and religious construction, with many variations in between. Moving on to the external dimension, power relations may take the form of an effort to influence outsiders in their behaviour, for example by converting them or by imposing ethical rules. In the course of history, for example, Christianity and Islam became known for their proselytism and for their influence on legislation. At the other end of the spectrum, this tendency may be fully absent. On the contrary, the believers may easily adopt values and behavioural models that are normal in the surrounding society, the direction of the power mechanisms being in fact inverted. Liberal Protestants and Reform Jews, for example, have sought ways to reconcile religion and science. Consequently, at this level we may distinguish between an exclusive or even hostile pole and an inclusive, tolerant pole. Religious groups may, in the course of their history, move from tolerance to intolerance, through all positions in between (see e. g. Yinger 1970: 256 ff).

6. Power Relations in Fundamentalism and Syncretism


At the transcendental or supernatural level, power relations are equally given expression, even though believers may not like to think of their religious experience as involving power, or prefer to think of power in a unilateral way, as when praising the power of their God. In terms of influence on the other’s behaviour, believers accept the influence of the sacred in their lives and may submit to it. On the other hand, believers may seek to take part in the power of the sacred and to influence the sacred to their advantage. Religions know all forms of sacrifice and prayer. One of the possible meanings of the term ‘magic’ points to the manipulation of sacred power for the believer’s purposes. We may label the poles of the spectrum of power relations at this level as respectively submissive and manipulative. Here too believers may in the course of time, and depending on the context they find themselves in, change their views on the sacred and move along the spectrum.

6. Power Relations in Fundamentalism and Syncretism The three-dimensional model can now be applied to the phenomena under comparison, namely fundamentalism and syncretism. The model proves helpful when the question is under what power relations the conditions are propitious for either syncretism or fundamentalism. Though the model does not include all the factors that may be relevant, it may show under which mode of religious construction fundamentalism or syncretism respectively may occur. When we thus consider fundamentalism, it seems to me that, in terms of its characteristics as summarized above, it usually comes with an emphasis in the internal dimension on vertical and hierarchical power relations, with a clergy that is there to guard the fundamentalist heritage. Because of the emphasis on the purity of its doctrine and praxis, a vertical structure that guarantees discipline is implied and even necessary. If we then look at the external dimension, it becomes clear that, as a consequence of their exclusive view of the truth, fundamentalists protect their group boundaries and adopt a rather hostile attitude towards non-believers and believers in other religious expressions. Though the methods may vary, the rest of the world is meant to adopt the basic fundamentalist position. On the supernatural level, the fundamentalist position seems to tend towards a submissive rather than manipulative position. The strictness of the position matches a view of the sacred as dominant, demanding full surrender in all areas


Chapter 10. Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared

of life. It should be noted that the modes of religious production adopted at the three levels reinforce each other, thus forming in this case a triangle, with vertical, hostile and submissive modes of religious construction as its corners. As far as syncretism is concerned, on the internal dimension it works best when believers are able to avoid control by religious leaders or when such control is simply absent because of the rather horizontal power relations. One might even think of the rare case of leaders stimulating a mingling of elements from a variety of religions. At the external level, syncretism, by its very nature, is open to external influences and thus adopts an open and tolerant attitude towards other believers and their religions. Turning to the supernatural level, the practical approach of syncretists points to a more manipulative than submissive attitude. Though the power of the sacred is acknowledged, precisely for that reason it is a potential resource for the solution of problems. As soon as other religious sources are adopted, the number of sacred powers available for such use increases. Again, the constellation of positions and attitudes at the three levels may serve to reinforce the net result. The triangle in this case is composed of the corners of horizontal, tolerant and manipulative modes of religious construction. Thinking of the wider view of syncretism, one may ask what the three-dimensional model has to offer to those interested in the broader definition of syncretism, more specifically to the understanding of cultural hybridization. The model was developed for the study of religious groups (e. g. Droogers 2003), but some of its ingredients may stimulate understanding of cultural syncretism (or for that matter cultural fundamentalism, if that term is to be included in the vocabulary). The supernatural dimension that is proper to the religious field could be reformulated as a cultural dimension, including repertoires of more general values and convictions, the other two dimensions containing repertoires of a social nature, ruling the internal and external relationships of a group or society. The degree of cultural syncretism – or resistance to such syncretism – could be studied as the constellation of the three dimensions and the interaction between the repertoires that are characteristic of each. Even though this may not lead to such neat triangles as suggested above, the mixing of cultural elements may then prove to obey mechanisms that are similar to those that predict either religious syncretism or religious fundamentalism.

7. Positivism and Fundamentalism, Constructivism and Syncretism


7. Positivism and Fundamentalism, Constructivism and Syncretism In order to complete this exercise, let us now explore possible resemblances between fundamentalism and positivism on the one hand, and syncretism and constructivism on the other. First of all, the two modes of doing science must be discussed. Following Guba (1990), a distinction can be made between paradigms – paradigm defined as ‘a basic set of beliefs that guides action’ (Guba 1990: 17) – that rule scientific activity. Though Guba mentions four, for the purpose of this paper I restrict myself to the two extreme types, the positivist and the constructivist paradigms, leaving what he calls the post-positivist approach and critical theory out of this discussion. The positivist position, as summarized by Guba (1990: 20), presupposes a reality out there that is driven by natural laws. The scientist’s task is to discover these laws and to produce generalizations. Many of these laws refer to relations of cause and effect. There is only one reality and only one main story involved. Also, the researcher should not intervene in the reality studied: his or her preferences or values should not influence the outcome. The positivist methodology requires hypotheses that can be subjected to empirical tests, to be held under carefully controlled conditions. The natural sciences are the preferred example of this paradigm. At the other end of the spectrum, the constructivist position adopts an ontology that presupposes the existence of more realities, as multiple mental constructions that are thought of by scholars of different leanings. There are fragments of stories to be told about an unlimited number of realities. These realities are socially and experientially based, local and specific in nature, and depend for their form and content on the person who holds them. Findings emerge in the interaction between the inquirer and the inquired, and also in the debate between inquirers. Accordingly the method adopted is dialectic and hermeneutic. In this model of science, the ambition to reach ‘the’ scientific truth is absent or at the least made relative. Constructivists emphasise that the study of human beings demands its own model of science. Adopting the manner of the positivist tradition, fundamentalism and syncretism will be studied for their objective general characteristics, the type of aspects that would help to define the phenomenon. In view of the rule-driven nature of social reality, it will be considered possible to


Chapter 10. Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared

make general predictions about the conditions under which fundamentalism and syncretism emerge. For example, whether the fundamentalism is Christian or Muslim or Jewish, common traits and mechanisms will be looked for. Causes and consequences can be identified, and general structures will become visible. In fact, my three-dimensional model serves just such a purpose: my affirmations can be tested as a hypothesis for research. What I have tried to do is to isolate a limited number of factors, especially related to the power constellation. On the other hand, if we followed a constructivist interaction approach, the focus would switch from the conditions as defined by a positivist approach to what the syncretistic or fundamentalist actors do with these conditions and how each of them constructs his or her religious reality and identity. Through interaction with the people studied, the researcher will try to come as close as possible to this process of constructing a meaningful world. But at the same time the researcher is constructing a meaningful world as well. In both cases, the social and experiential basis for the construction of these identities and worlds depends on the consensus that can be reached on a particular view. The suggestion that we speak of fundamentalisms, in the plural, is an example of recognizing the variety of forms, and ultimately the plurality of realities, as experienced and constructed. In using the three-dimensional model to draw attention to the power mechanisms at work in syncretism and fundamentalism, I have brought the actors and their strategies into the discussion, not only those of the religious leaders, but also of the ordinary believers. Depending on the science paradigm that is adopted, a different image is given of the phenomena under study, and different aspects are selected as typical. In addition, the two models differ markedly in the degree of generalization. They also differ in their handling of variables, the positivist model seeking to control them, the constructivist approach treating them as the raw material for the ongoing process of identity and reality construction. The positivist paradigm will help to make the structural givens of power mechanisms visible, whereas the constructivist approach will show the processes in which actors do something with these structures. Positivists will emphasise rules and generalities, constructivists exceptions and the particularities. Having compared the two perspectives and their application to the study of syncretism and fundamentalism, it appears to me that somewhat more can be said on the science models and the two religious phenomena that interest us here. Guba’s definition of a paradigm, quoted above,

7. Positivism and Fundamentalism, Constructivism and Syncretism


with its explicit reference to beliefs that guide action, appears to facilitate such a comparison. There seems to be a certain kinship in the type of reflection or frame of mind, on the one hand between positivism and fundamentalism, and on the other between syncretism and constructivism. If we take as an important difference between positivists and constructivists that the term ’reality’ is used in either the singular or the plural as well, then there is a parallel with the fundamentalist focus on one exclusive form of the sacred reality, whereas syncretists have no qualms in working with various forms of that reality, even if the official versions condemn or deny ideas about this. Of course, syncretists may take this religious plurality as one holistic cosmos, in which they have learned to move skillfully. But holistic view or not, the least one can say is that syncretists reject an exclusive view of the sacred reality. They thus resist the power structure that accompanies such a singular view, whether it is fundamentalist or not. The positivist belief system presupposes a reality ‘out there’, as given, just as, in the fundamentalist belief system, the one sacred reality is presupposed, with only one ‘grand’ story to be told about it. Incidentally, in the positivist view, one is not allowed to intervene in that reality while researching it. In the case of both fundamentalist believers and positivist scholars, laws and rules drive the reality they focus on. The constructivist paradigm opts for realities, in the plural, and is even hesitant whether these realities are really ‘out there’. Many stories in a variety of versions can be told about these realities. There is a difference, though: syncretists have a stauncher belief in their realities than constructivists in theirs. They believe in the realities that other religions suggest, at least as long as they work in solving problems. Syncretists play with different realities in forming their religious identities. An improvising flexible and practical use is made of whatever regularity or causality presents itself. Finally, just as fundamentalists and syncretists have different backgrounds as far as power processes and mechanisms are concerned, scholars may be said to play different power games in the way they practice science. Fundamentalists and positivists seek to impose a rather monopolistic, centripetal, law-based and strict view of the world. Both are, in their own ways, modernist. Syncretists and constructivists seem to resist this view. They adopt a mode of reflection that is tuned to the human capacity to think an unlimited number of realities with a centrifugally expanding number of identities that are open to improvisation when the conditions demand this. They are much more postmodernist.


Chapter 10. Syncretists, Fundamentalists and Scholars Compared

8. Conclusion In this chapter, I have shown how believers and scholars of diverse orientations opt for a different use of the repertoires that are available in their worlds, whether religious or academic. It was suggested that, within a framework that focuses on the relation between meaning-making and power, fundamentalists and syncretists occupy contrasting positions, among each other, in dealing with outsiders, as well as in approaching the sacred. In addition, unexpected similarities were identified between fundamentalists and positivists on the one hand, and between syncretists and constructivists on the other. An exclusive and centripetal use of one single repertoire was contrasted with an inclusive and centrifugal use of a series of repertoires. Scholars and believers thus have more in common than the usual separation of religion and science appears to suggest.

References Adogame, Afe, Magnus Echtler and Ulf Vierke (2008). Introduction: Unpacking the new: Critical perspectives on cultural syncretization in Africa and beyond. In: Adogame, Afe, Magnus Echtler and Ulf Vierke (2008). Unpacking the new: Critical perspectives on cultural syncretization in Africa and beyond. Zürich and Berlin: Lit, pp. 1 – 23. Baird, Robert D. (1971). Category formation and the History of Religion. Mouton: The Hague. Canclini, Nestor Garcia (1995). Hybrid cultures: Strategies for entering and leaving modernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Droogers, André (1989). Syncretism: The problem of definition, the definition of the problem In: Jerald Gort et al. (eds.) (1989). Dialogue and syncretism: An interdisciplinary approach. Grand Rapids and Amsterdam: Eerdmans and Rodopi, pp. 7 – 24. (Chapter 9 of this book) Droogers, André (2001). Syncretism. In: International encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. London: Elsevier, pp. 15386 – 15388. Droogers, André (2003). The power dimensions of the Christian community: An anthropological model. Religion: A journal of religion and religions, 33(3), 263 – 80. (Chapter 7 of this book) Droogers, André (2005). Syncretism and fundamentalism: A comparison. Social Compass, 52(4), 463 – 471. Gort, Jerald et al. (eds.) (1989). Dialogue and syncretism: An interdisciplinary approach. Grand Rapids and Amsterdam: Eerdmans and Rodopi. Greenfield, Sidney M., and André Droogers (eds.) (2001). Reinventing religions: Syncretism and transformation in Africa and the Americas. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. Guba, Egon G. (1990). The paradigm dialog. Newbury Park: Sage.



Hannerz, Ulf (1992). Cultural complexity: Studies in the social organization of meaning. New York: Columbia University Press. Lawrence, Bruce B. (1998). From fundamentalism to fundamentalisms: A religious ideology in multiple forms. In: Paul Heelas (ed.) (1998). Religion, modernity and postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 88 – 101. Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby (eds.) (1991). Fundamentalisms observed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Stewart, Charles, and Rosalind Shaw (eds.) (1994). Syncretism/anti-syncretism: The politics of religious synthesis. London: Routledge. Yinger, J. Milton (1970). The scientific study of religion. New York: Macmillan.

Chapter 11 Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level 1. Introduction Syncretism usually is looked at from the supra-individual level. Either the religions from which elements are selected or the religion that is the result of such a syncretic process is at the center of analysis. Even though anthropologists are in the habit of giving due attention to ‘real people doing real things’, rarely do informants speak directly to the reader. The discourse remains almost always on the structural level. Yet, it would seem useful to pay attention to the way actors deal with structures and how their way of interpreting events and positioning themselves is related to this process. Such a micro-anthropological approach might make visible how an individual engaged in the syncretic process constructs his or her identity, making an effective and strategic use of the repertoires or religious beliefs and other schemas that are available in his or her social environment. In this chapter such an effort is undertaken. The main character is Joana (not her real name), a Brazilian woman, at the time of the fieldwork in her forties and living in the greater Porto Alegre metropolitan region, South Brazil. Part of her life history is described and analyzed. Taped conversations with her in Portuguese took place in 1990 and 1995, as part of my research on the religiosity of people who do not consider themselves members of a religious institution. I present her story as she told it. No effort was made to verify the events with other people. To Joana, the years between 1990 and 1995 had been particularly turbulent. As I will show, her religious beliefs helped her to survive the consequences of a failed marriage with a violent man and the tragic end of a harmonious but impossible relationship with another man. In marshalling all the resources available to her, she showed herself to be doing what anthropologists think of as ‘syncretizing’, without knowing the term. Her case also shows how religion and its mixing may empower a woman when she is confronted by the disadvantages of gender dif-

1. Introduction


ferences. This is not a form of power that necessarily enables her to influence other people’s behavior. The prime beneficiary of the syncretic empowerment seems to be Joana herself, because she found a way to manage her life and to survive a deep crisis. Though her problem was partly that there was a difference of power between genders, and her husband exercised his power over her in a violent manner, her form of empowerment did not lead him to change his behavior but gave her the power to live her own life. What use did Joana make of the religious resources she has come into contact with in the course of her life? What are her views on what it is to be a woman, a man? How did Joana manage to survive and to (re)organize her life? And what role did her religious experience play in this syncretic process of empowerment? An interesting characteristic of Joana’s story is that she belongs to the category of persons who do not participate in institutionalized forms of religion. Yet her repertoire of religious models comes to a large degree from institutionalized religion. To facilitate our understanding of the contrast between an actor’s free use of repertoires and the institutional aspect of religion, a distinction might be made among three dimensions of institutionalized religion: (a) the internal, (b) the external (both predominantly social structural, but always with a signification aspect) and (c) the supernatural (predominantly cultural or symbolic, but often with a social structural aspect). The social relations existing in the internal and external dimensions are subject to cultural meaning-making. The beliefs concerning God, gods, spirits and saints, on the other hand, imply relations – modeled after the social structure – between them and believers: God is the Father/Mother, etc. The relations between the opposite categories in each dimension are in fact power relations. Internally, religious specialists and lay people dispute their spheres of influence. Often gender is an essential part of this dimension, as for example when religious specialists are exclusively or predominantly male. Externally all the believers are related in some way to society where a certain religious view may be dominant, perhaps theirs, just as a particular gender definition may predominate. Alternative views and definitions may occur. Supernaturally speaking, power is also present in the relationship between believers and sacred entities, and here too gender notions may be of influence as when God, gods or spirits are explicitly viewed as male or female. The three dimensions should be viewed in connection with each other. In each concrete case, one should expect idiosyncrasies as a con-


Chapter 11. Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level

sequence of the particular link or absence of linkage among dimensions. This may include contradictions among dimensions, since it is improbable that the three dimensions will ever be in total harmony and consistency. What is affirmed at one point can be contradicted in another situation. Thus the supernatural dimension has much weight, especially in official ideal versions of religions. Yet, in practice the supernatural dimension may at times be ignored as in the internal dimension – principles being amended under the influence of practice. An advantage of this inter-dimensional approach is that the usual debate between mechanistic and subjectivist approaches may be avoided. Structure and agency both receive due attention, because the relationships between actors, including supernatural ones, are taken into account. Besides, a focus on the supernatural dimension will help to avoid a one-sided reductionist view on religion, as if the social structural mechanisms explain everything. Important as these latter may be, they cannot be taken as the only factor in the process of religious production, and it seems worthwhile to consider cultural structural processes as well. Since the focus in this chapter is on one actor, a few remarks should be made with regard to the relationship between agency and structure. Actors can be shown to interpret events and phenomena, appealing to a repertoire of meanings available in structures, both symbolic and social in nature. Signification praxis can be represented within a ’triangle of signification’, connecting events, structures and actors respectively. When events or phenomena cannot be interpreted by an appeal to the available social and symbolic structures, structural changes will occur and new meanings will be added to these structures. On the other hand, events and phenomena are partly formed under the influence of social and symbolic structures. It is within this triangle that actors construct their identity with regard to gender as well as religion. This may be stated in a different way in terms of the connectionist approach developed recently within cognitive anthropology (Bloch 1991, D’Andrade 1995, Quinn and Strauss 1994, Strauss and Quinn 1997). The central question in cognitive anthropology is how knowledge is organized culturally. Connectionism takes its name from the connections that are assumed to exist between parallel archives of knowledge in the human mind. Thanks to these connections, these archives can be consulted simultaneously, as it were paradigmatically, just as the conductor of an orchestra, within a split second, in one summarizing view, consults the scores of the different instruments. This approach contrasts with the usual view that people organize their knowl-

1. Introduction


edge in the same manner as when they speak or write: i. e., according to so-called sentential logic. One might also call this a syntagmatic approach, just as when a listener to a CD with orchestral music selectively hears the main theme only and is able to sing or whistle along. Now, if people, as was suggested above through the triangle of signification, consult social and symbolic structures in their meaning-making process, they are appealing, in a simultaneous manner, to different but connected archives. Once they reach a conclusion in this paradigmatic manner, they will formulate it in the easier observable syntagmatic manner of sentential logic. The term ‘schema’ often is used instead of archive. D’Andrade defines schema as ‘the organization of cognitive elements into an abstract mental object capable of being held in working memory with default values or open slots which can be variously filled in with appropriate specifics’ (D’Andrade 1995: 179). The open slots remind one not only of a computer, but also of an empty bureaucratic form that must be filled in in terms of a concrete case. Religion is packed with schemas that help people to organize and interpret their experience. Again, these schemas are not as eternal as the gods that populate them are said to be: people adapt schemas to their experience, just as their schemas act as constraints on their behavior. Each new situation obliges a person to make a rapid and simultaneous consultation of the available schemas that fit the situation – usually a routine procedure; but if the schemas do not fit the situation or simply have been forgotten, new schemas will be developed, perhaps after some degree of confusion and chaos. Power, in its aspect of influence on behavior, has the tendency to slow down this process, because it depends in its exercise on the constancy of certain schemas, imposed on the actors that are being influenced. Those in power therefore prefer the verbalized sentential logic over the – to them, risky – connectionist ‘let a thousand flowers flourish’ practice. The politicians do not like subversives. The clergy generally do not like the heretics. Similarly, concrete gender situations can be interpreted and managed with the help of a number of more abstract schemas with regard to maleness and femaleness. Schemas are subject to change, according to changes in the signification process. Changing views on gender refer to alterations in current schemas. There is one more characteristic of the concept of schema that is worth mentioning. D’Andrade (1995: 232) distinguishes among three classes of schemas, organized hierarchically. The first class of schemas is that of the master motives, containing a person’s most general


Chapter 11. Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level

goals, acting rather autonomously in instigating behavior (e. g., love, security, play, providing for oneself). Below this is the class of more intermediate goals that help in the realization of the master motives. D’Andrade gives the examples of a job and marriage. The lowest class is that of the schemas that depend on the preceding classes for their motivation. These schemas are often part of daily routine. Thus, if the master motive of marriage is love, marriage in turn motivates the writing of a love letter or the purchase of a bouquet. Behavior is understood by D’Andrade (1995: 233) to be the result of hierarchically organized sets of goal-schemas. The motivational force of schemas diminishes according to the hierarchy of the three classes. Each person defines his or her own hierarchy. Armed conceptually, I turn now to Joana’s story.

2. Joana’s Story Joana’s case illustrates how religion can be a source of power for a woman. When I first met her, in 1990, Joana gave me the impression of being a happy and balanced person. She had been married for almost twenty years. Her husband was employed as a salesman in an international technical firm and spent much of his free time, especially on weekends, performing regional folk music on local stages. The couple had two daughters, then aged seventeen and nine. Joana was a successful professional. With two years of higher education – interrupted by her marriage – she had worked as a secretary and was now teaching a foreign language to children in a commercial language school. After being introduced to her in 1990 by her brother-in-law, I queried Joana as to what religion meant to her. Perhaps because it was our first contact, she did not tell me at the time about the trouble she already was having with her husband. She also did not speak about the relationship she had with another man. When we met again in 1995, her situation was radically different. She had gone through years of deep trouble and in the course of our conversation it became clear that in 1990 life had not been as happy and equilibrated as she had presented it. In what follows I will quote mainly from the 1995 interview. Reference will be made to the earlier interview, however, to show the ongoing process of meaning-making. Between 1990 and 1995 Joana’s marriage had ended. The facts are rapidly told. While working as a musician at places where drinks

2. Joana’s Story


were on the house, her husband had gradually come to drink too much. As a consequence he lost his regular job as a salesman. The family lost friends. At home he became violent to the point of once, shortly before the 1995 interview, trying to kill Joana with a butcher’s knife while she was ill in bed. She escaped, as she puts it, by a miracle. She then left him and moved with her daughters to another apartment. Her husband then went to Argentina to work as a musician. In telling me what happened, Joana refers constantly to her religious convictions. Many things happened, including a break-up of the family … because my husband is a very difficult person. And thanks to my faith, my conviction that God exists, that someone exists who protects us, I am talking with you today… His latest attack was meant to kill me. It was really very difficult. He is an alcoholic. He is someone who doesn’t have faith in anything. He believes only in himself. He doesn’t understand that he needs treatment, that he must have faith in something, that he has to salvage the good things and channel them in a productive manner… For me this was very difficult because I am a very objective person. I have a strong will. I have an ideal in life which is my mission: to obtain security for my daughters … to make a harmonious home for them. And all this was falling apart. My daughters also have much faith. None of us regularly attends an institutional religion … but we never lose contact with God, from where we get our strength, from where strength really comes… You can see that from their and my faith. I always succeed in winding up on my feet… I felt as if I were in a deep dark hole from which I was unable to get out… I was unable to rest, I couldn’t eat … because he always was making trouble, breaking things, threatening us verbally and sometimes physically.

Joana explained that she always confided in her husband, took care of him, devoted her life to him. She was shocked when he started to behave aggressively. She said that she had always believed that when one married it was for life. As she explained, she felt that she had only one card to play because at the time she thought marriage is for eternity. Therefore she was desperate when things began to go wrong. She concluded, ‘in a very cold manner’, that life is a game in which one may win or lose. She emphasized, however, that one need not idly accept things when they start to go wrong. One must have faith. Only somebody who has a very great faith is able to live through such a situation. So thanks to my faith, I knew that God would never leave me alone, that he was waiting for an opportunity, that he would give me a chance to get out of this, to breathe anew as a human being deserves to.


Chapter 11. Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level

Yet at the height of the crisis her daughters had suggested that God did not exist, because if he did he would not permit these things to happen. Why, they asked, do good people have to suffer so? Joana answered them: Only God can answer this for us. We do not have the right to judge what he does. He knows why he is doing these things. One day, [however, we will realize that] all we are going through will enable us to grow and have a marvelous future. Then we will understand why these things happen. Everything in life is a lesson… One should be a warrior and fight the adversities of life. So I think my faith, and my desire to understand what happened, to want to be part of a whole, helped me to be able to talk with you today.

Joana recognizes the role her husband’s free will played in destroying him, even though God is the source of this free will. ‘He [her husband] likes this [the life he leads], so you have to let him live it, isn’t that so? It is the free will that God has given him, the right to choose what he wants’. Joana is proud, however, to have reacted in time to save herself, after a period in which she took him to a psychotherapist and to Alcoholics Anonymous. When nothing changed she decided that it was time to save herself and her daughters. She believes that she did enough for him and that her conscience is clear. Joana went on to discuss her belief in guardian angels. She told me about her religious experience as a child, when she was a member of the Assembly of God, the Pentecostal church in which her father, a former Kardecist-Spiritist, was a pastor for some time. She spoke lovingly about her father, telling me, for example, how he always welcomed guests at his table and made hospitality a central value in his house, even though the family scarcely had enough for itself. Her mother was from a Lutheran family. Joana’s interest in angels came from neither Pentecostalism nor Lutheranism. ‘They believed that only God exists and nothing else, no mentor, no guide, it was always God’. In 1995, angels had become popular commercially in Brazil and elsewhere. Shops carried statues of them in their windows and sold books about them. With one exception, however, all the books were translations of North American publications. …a year ago, I got one of those angels as a present. I still keep it in my bedroom. … It is not the image that gives me strength. But it makes me feel good when I come into the room, I see the little face of that little angel,… and it gives me a kind of strength.

Joana then spoke about God:

2. Joana’s Story


I always talked with God. It was not that I used ‘ready-made’ prayers… I open my heart to him, beause I know that he sees everything. I know that better than anyone else. God sees everything, he knows all that happens, and why one exists, because I think nothing happens by chance. With me it is like this: I am not an adept of any religion. However, I believe very much in the supreme being, who knows why things happen.

In 1990 Joana did not talk about angels, but the statements she then made about the Catholic saints were similar to what she would say five years later about angels. The reason why she wanted to be baptized in the Catholic church at the age of eighteen, despite her Pentecostal upbringing, was that she was fascinated by the saints whom she found to be beautiful. As a former Protestant she added that she was aware that the saints in the church were only images before whom she refused to kneel and ask for things. ‘You don’t bargain with God’, she insisted. ‘You may make a request, but then you will have to wait. If you deserve what you ask for, you will get it. I asked a lot from God, and he has helped me and has given me strength’. Yet she has her favorite saints, such as St. George and St. Theresa, both of whom, she said, have helped her. Nevertheless, she does not consider herself to be a typical Catholic and has her difficulties with the institution, its dogmas and especially with its claim to having the absolute truth. ‘All religions are true, not only the Roman one’. Yet she now considers herself to be a Catholic, but of her own making. She refers to Christ and St. Peter as the bringers of the Catholic faith. Yet her view is that faith is much more general and in the end a matter of conscience. A person’s heart is the church of God. God first came into my heart and then I went to the religion. God always was my friend, the best friend I have… I think the best judgment, the best God we have, is our conscience. We all have faith.

In the 1990 interview Joana was very critical of what she considered to be the commercial activities in the Catholic church, such as baptism and burial being given only after payment. She compares the richness of the church with one of her earliest experiences with religion, when a priest teaching religious education in her class at a public school said that all the rich children would burn in hell. Joana says she then decided not to take part in church life. Joana referred to a very un-Catholic element in her religious beliefs in our 1995 conversation: reincarnation. ‘I believe in other lives, and in lives already lived’. She linked this to the idea that what a person expe-


Chapter 11. Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level

riences and suffers from in this life is a consequence of what she or he has done in a previous life. By suffering now you pay, as it were, for what you have done in the past. She used this notion to explain her husband’s violence and believes that by now she has fully paid her debt from a former life because ‘not even Christ would accept what he did to me’. The fact that she escaped from his attempt to kill her as by a miracle gives a special meaning to the idea that her life has been saved and that a new phase definitely has begun. She compared herself to a Phoenix risen from the ashes. Yet she still lives with the trauma of her past and almost every night she dreams that she is fleeing from her husband. She says that her prayers are her therapy and when her daughters have nightmares in which their father appears she advises them to pray and to ask God for protection and to take these traumas away. In 1990 Joana referred to the Kardecist-Spiritist belief in reincarnation when she told me that early in her marriage she had given birth to two still-born babies. She still was grieving for them at the time. Her eldest sister, though not a Kardecist, had told her that she in fact was privileged because God used her womb so that ‘these spirits of light’ could come into her body and move on again. This helped her overcome the loss of the two children. Treatment by a Kardecist therapist later on helped her with a problem of persistent headaches. Joana also told me about her eldest daughter who suffered from a pain in the leg and who in a dream saw herself being operated on by the spirit of a young doctor who had recently died in a traffic accident in the town where they live. The girl identified herself increasingly with Kardecism. She has intuition, Joana observed, but is afraid to become a medium herself. In 1993 Joana participated in a Bahai group for about six months, but withdrew because she did not wish to assume the leadership role she was offered. Also, she did not agree with some of the central ideas of Bahai belief, despite finding that faith in general and its prayers in particular beautiful. She had trouble, for example, accepting the belief that Christ, like many other enlightened persons, was merely a ‘sun ray’ from God and that Bahaullah was ‘almost more divine than God himself’. To her Christ is a marvelous figure. Even if he is not the son of God, to her he should be ‘because he fought, he sacrificed himself for the ideal he had, for the appreciation he had of human beings, for his simplicity and his abnegation’. Talking about these experiences Joana concluded that organized religion always exaggerates and distorts. Its obligations deny free will:

2. Joana’s Story


‘One should see God as a good thing, not as a being that is going to punish us’. She prefers to pray by herself, which does not preclude the possibility that now and then she may attend a religious session and enjoy it, be it Bahai or Kardecist-Spiritist or other. ‘Sometimes I enter a Catholic church when there is nobody there and I pray. It does me good, and it gives me a delicious peace. I feel really better’. Her youngest daughter remained within the Bahai group and even went to international meetings. Eventually, however, she also left, although she did not abandon the faith itself. Joana tells how, at the time she herself was involved with the Bahais, she first attempted to live apart from her husband. The members of the group helped her. The way her youngest daughter, who still identifies as a Bahai, lived through the events, also had religious overtones. The girl had promised to pray a certain number of prayers to Bahaullah in whom she ‘has very great faith’. Though she has distanced herself from the Bahais, Joana says that she supports her daughter’s participation: ‘It is good to have such faith’. After Joana escaped the assault by her husband, her daughter pledged to pray to Bahaullah for nine consecutive days in payment of the promessa (vow) she had made. Making a vow, usually to a saint, and fulfilling it when one has received what one has asked for are very common in popular Catholicism. This practice had been adopted and incorporataed by her daughter as part of her Bahai faith. Joana has discovered other sources of strength. She saw a movie about the life of Tina Turner and learned to her surprise that the famous singer had lived through situations similar to what she experienced. One of her daughters then gave her the book the movie was based on. She identified with Turner even more as she read it. She learned from it, she said, not to hold on too long to things that bother you, be it work, or a marriage. ‘I think this is what I am doing, allowing myself to have a bit of happiness in my way’, she added. ‘Thanks to the good God’, Joana sees her relationship with her daughters as being harmonious and even a form of Sisterhood (the Portuguese word for sisterhood, irmandade, also is used to refer to a religious order). Towards the end of the 1995 interview, when she was talking about her belief in reincarnation and in memories from previous lives, Joana offered an example. She spoke about a platonic relationship she had had for eight years with an older man who was not married. It ended with his death in 1993. The relationship according to Joana was characterized by great affection. ‘I had a very good friend. He was somebody


Chapter 11. Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level

like … if I were not married at the time, he would have been the ideal person that I always wanted in my life’. It was a case of love on both sides. Yet, they did not get involved sexually because ‘he understood my situation … that I would never want to do something I believed was wrong. I would not feel good about it’. Joana told her husband about the relationship and he did not object to it. She would not leave him for this man. Although they continued to see each other socially, Joana would never visit him at his apartment. They first met when Joana took a job as a secretary in an office where he was employed. No one else seemed to like him, which made her wonder why she did. ‘To me he was the sweetest person you can imagine’. She was almost certain that she had met him previously somewhere and had been fond of him. Thinking about it, she remembered having dreamt about him when she was a girl. The dream took place in a castle with beautiful lawns surrounding it. The two were together, a couple obviously in love. ‘It was something very real to me, I even felt his body at my side. He cared for me and liked me’. The conclusion she reached was that they had been lovers in a former life who had met again in this one. Shortly before his death he had telephoned her asking her to come to his apartment. Joana still remembers the exact date. She refused, however, telling him: ‘You know I will always love you, but I cannot visit you’. He countered that some day when she would decide to visit him, it would be too late. Her reaction was to ask whether this was a threat, ‘that on the day that I would be free, you would not want me anymore?’ Two weeks later when she called him at his office, the secretary said that she could not speak with him. Joana felt guilty, believing that it was because she had refused to come to his place. She then was transferred to the secretary’s boss who told her that her friend had died on the day she had last spoken with him. The official cause of his death was an aneurysm. Joana felt that she had been robbed. My God, why this? I live with a very difficult person who tortures me. I am not ashamed of what I thought then: Why did he die and not my husband? Why does somebody die who is good and productive in life. But today I understand that I can’t control life. It just happens. It is fate that one has to accept and that happens. It passes, it passed. No other way. Because of what happened, I believe in my previous lives. This immense causality…

Joana’s presentation of this episode in her life emphasized the contradiction that whereas her friend always was kind and caring with her, to

3. Discussion


others he was thought of as being nasty and imposing and was not liked because of it. The only explanation she could come up with came from a dream that, she said, may have been a brief rememberance of a former life. ‘I really expect, and I say this sincerely, that we will have another life together … [although] an enormous emptiness remained here. It has marked me’. Joana added that one day she read the phrase, ‘God who made the shoulders also made crosses’. She concluded that God knows the size of a person’s shoulders and thus also that of the cross the person is able to carry. ‘And also till when you have to carry it. I think the most difficult part I have finished carrying. I put it down already. It’s over’. At times she thinks that he is not dead, that one day he will call her and tell her it was all a joke. On the day of our interview, Joana reported having seen someone on a passing bus who could have been his twin. The man had lifted his sunglasses and looked at her. ‘But of course, it was not him. If it had been, he would have gotten off the bus at the next stop. So it wasn’t him. But I was really upset’.

3. Discussion Joana’s story enables us to examine how one Brazilian woman creatively mobilized pieces from several of the religious belief systems in her culture to find meaning and understanding in a time of personal crisis. It shows syncretism in the making and reveals the process of syncretizing. It also offers us insight into some of the power processes that occur in the construction of gender identities in a religious context. The case is not necessarily representative at the societal level, although it represents a process that may be occurring on a much wider scale. It may be that the Brazilian cultural context is optimal for the combination of ideas and practices that would seem incompatible in other settings (see Greenfield 2001). The events in Joana’s married life forced her to find meaning in what had happened to her. With every new event she was obliged to construct her own triangle of signification, drawing on a score of schemas in her repertoire, as it was accumulated and adapted in the course of her life. Strikingly, the schemas she used, including her views on gender, are basically, though not exclusively (Tina Turner!), religious in nature. In maneuvering her triangles of signification she managed to survive, defending herself and her two daughters. The vocabulary she used expressed her struggle and directly referred to power and strength (forÅa).


Chapter 11. Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level

In the course of her life, Joana has become acquainted with a number of religious worldviews. Some of these she knew from her own experience, whereas others were known to her through discussions with friends and relatives. Thus she had learned about Kardecist-Spiritism indirectly and assimilated it through discussions with her sister. Direct participation does not seem to be a precondition for the adoption of ideas. Seen from the perspective of institutionalized religion, some of these views are considered mutually exclusive, but this did not impede Joana from picking and choosing and using them as she liked. Her decision not to actively participate in a religious group put her in what might be thought of as the informal sector of religion. One might say that she did not have a religion, but was very religious. The experiences she has had with a variety of religions in the course of her life have led her to avoid participation. Yet she understands and knows these religions, in their internal and external dimensions, and especially in their supernatural dimension. The way in which she constructs her religious identity is an indirect criticism of rule-directed formal institutionalized religion, which she considers bitolada: narrow, limited, short-sighted. The use she made during our conversations of parallel schemas (in connectionist terms) from different religions put her nearer to the paradigmatic comparative pole (the conductor’s view of the scores) than to that of syntagmatic sentential logic (the single theme whistled by the listener), which she in fact condemned as dogmatic and too narrow. Her independent position has made it possible for her to apply such a syncretic approach. Thus, indirectly, the elements she took from different religious sources made her case in a certain way representative of more than one institutionalized religion, though mainly at the symbolic level, more than at the social structural level, which she generally avoided. What she experienced was relevant only to her, yet it was clearly grounded in the repertories of the Brazilian social and cultural context, even though she made her own selection. The Afro-Brazilian religions were virtually absent from her discourse. In 1990 she had talked about Umbanda, saying that she liked ‘the vivid colors, the music that is theirs’, but that she thought of it as a pagan religion. She was not attracted to it, ‘not even a little bit’. It is the syncretic climate of Brazilian society, it appears, that enabled Joana to construct her religious and gender identity in the way she did (cf. Droogers 1995a and 1995b). The Brazilian minimal credo seems to be: A person should have faith, it does not matter which one (Droogers

3. Discussion


1987). Joana showed us how in a creative manner the relative freedom of agency (the subjectivist pole) can be combined with structural constraints (the mechanistic pole) in the construction of identity in the course of life’s events. She consciously used her freedom to be religious without having to join a religious group, and thus distanced herself from institutionalized settings. When the Bahai group wanted her to take a leadership role, she refused and in the end dissociated herself from the group. On the other hand, she very much depended for her repertoire of religious ideas and meanings on the institutionalized religions she had been in contact with throughout her life. In this process of cultural praxis not only her religious but also her gender identity – and that of her husband! – is very much at stake, primarily because of the failure of their marriage. When we take a closer look at the cultural repertories of meanings she used, a striking diversity of schemas presents itself (Ewing 1990). It is striking in comparison with the efforts by most of the institutionalized religions to protect their boundaries and thereby their identities. It is less striking when understood from the viewpoint of the individual actor, as a way of being religious. At the top of the hierarchy of schemas, a dynamic and heterogeneous concept of God is present as a source of help but also of trial. To Joana he is very much a master motive. The idea is even that he kills her friend and lets her husband live on. Therefore there is also some doubt about the existence of God as a moral and just being as he is conceived of in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is not clear whether God is outside or inside the person (in the form of moral conscience), or both. God is also the source of the human free will, which Joana mentions as one of the explanations for her suffering. Simultaneously she refers to an inevitable destiny in life. Christ plays a different role, at the intermediate level of the hierarchy of schemas, because he is a means to a goal of the highest level. To Joana he is an example of perfection, uma pessoa maravilhosa (a marvelous person), representing struggle, sacrifice, an ideal, valorizing human beings, simplicity, abnegation, all master motives that to her make him the Son of God, despite what the Bahai faith maintains. Though the difference of opinion led her to leave the Bahai group, Christ is not important to her in her struggle for life. Nor is his mother, the Virgin, who, although she was mentioned in the 1990 interview, was not included in the 1995 conversation.


Chapter 11. Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level

In a more abstract way faith (f) is an important ingredient, representing optimism and confidence and as such is another master motive. Joana referred to her ex-husband as somebody without faith. Faith is important, as she told her daughter, and it is more important to have faith than to have a specific faith. In this way elements from a variety of religions could be combined in her own faith. Whereas God seemed to occupy a central place when interpretation of events was needed, this did not exclude an appeal to other schemas for the explanation of affliction. A prominent role was given to the Kardecist belief in reincarnation, which also appeared high in Joana’s hierarchy of schemas. To her it explained the death of her still-born babies and also suggested to her that the suffering she endured in her marriage was seen as a form of debt payment carried over from a former life. On the other hand, her belief in reincarnation justified and legitimated her love for her friend and the hope or even certainty that they would be together in the future. Another source that provided Joana with strength, though more on the intermediate level of schemas, was that of the guardian angels. The image not only made her think of the protection they give, but of their childlike innocence which represented a master motive to her. Next to the angels, also at this intermediate level, certain Catholic saints were a help. Though the details are not clear from the interview, the Bahai group aided Joana when she first attempted to leave her husband. In offering assistance they also were part of the intermediate level, contributing to a higher goal schema (happiness) through practical third level schemas such as direct counseling. Clairvoyance, also as an accepted intermediate level schema, provided a way of legitimating and explaining events such as her friend’s allusion to his early death. Though not quoted in the fragments above, Joana told me that both she and her daughter have predicted certain events. In the days before her husband attacked her, for example, her daughter had complained that she felt something terrible was going to happen. Besides these religious schemas, there are secular ones that Joana refers to. At the intermediate level her job provided a source of strength and self-respect. Also at the intermediate level, when trying to explain her husband’s alcoholism, she relied on psychotherapy to emphasize his limitation of affect (a master motive) as a reason. Yet when asked

3. Discussion


whether she herself received treatment, her answer was that her therapy is prayer, thus returning to the intermediate level of the religious field. It is also striking that certain metaphors were helpful as intermediate schemas. Struggle was a meaningful concept to her and to her daughters. Joana also compared life to a game of cards, in which we have to play the hand we are dealt. When speaking of her relationship with her daughters, sisterhood was mentioned as a source of strength. Phoenix raising from the ashes was the metaphor she used to describe – what she called – her resurrection, again a religious image. There are certain Portuguese words that Joana used to point to situations of bliss: maravilhoso (marvelous), harmonia (harmony), lindo (beautiful), gostoso (delicious). Indirectly, and occasionally directly, Joana presented gender roles in an ideal marriage as parts of a master motive. Her fondness for her father suggests that his behavior was the model of masculinity to her. When she described her critical attitude towards marriage candidates, it is clear that she had certain criteria, and when speaking of her ideal view of a home she mentioned some of these master motives: love, dedication, fidelity, respect. Marriage, for her, comes from God and must be eternal. In a negative sense, her husband’s behavior also defined a gender role. In her friend Joana found what was lacking in her husband. In times of crisis, she had to choose between alternative schemas of the intermediate and low level that competed for preference: must she stay with her husband or seek a divorce? Is she to help her husband and believe his promises, or should she leave him? Is she to be faithful to him, or will she opt for a life with her friend? Should she have sex with him or should she abstain, even from visiting him? Joana claimed to take strength from religion and therefore obtained from it the power to survive. As she put it, ‘I am now strong enough to put this to an end’. Though in a male-dominated society it can be considered as normal for women to accept the alcoholism of their husbands – a common low-level schema in Brazil – Joana refused. As she told her story her moral and personal power, nourished by the master motives of the highest level, was in strong contrast with the physical force of the intermediate and low levels that her faithless ex-husband used against her. Her relationship with her friend is described as sweet (doce) and therefore corresponding to a high level gender schema. Yet people did not like him, which suggested that in his relationships with them he applied his own intermediate and low level power schemas. To Joana, the superiority of the sweetness schema was a convincing argu-


Chapter 11. Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level

ment for her love, despite or even because of the fact that he was not amiable to others. We may ask: Is Joana’s power of the kind that is capable of influencing other people’s behavior? This is not clear from her story. Since her participation in formal bureaucratic structures was minimal – she would not even join religious groups – with the possible exception of her work, she lacked frameworks within which to influence other people. With regard to her personal relationships, she was not able to modify her husband’s attitude or behavior, even though she tried. It seems probable that the training she gave to her daughters, together with the ‘sisterhood’ they shared when the family was in trouble, was a way of influencing them. Her friend respected her, even though in the end he invited her to come to his apartment. Apart from these examples Joana did not seem to have power as a behavior-influencing factor. Is the power she has then more an illustration of the second aspect of power, survival in life? Her discourse puts a much stronger emphasis on the way she used her relationships with God, angels and saints to obtain power to survive, than on efforts to influence people. The power that Joana has, then, is her strength to survive, as when she escaped from death at the hands of her husband.

4. Conclusion Joana’s story was presented for the purpose of examining the syncretic process at the level of the actor. The analytical focus was on relationships among gender, power and religion. Questions were asked with regard to Joana’s use of religious resources, her views on gender issues and her ways of exercising power, both as a capacity to influence people and to survive. From Joana’s story a case can be made for defining power not only as the capacity to influence other people’s behavior, but also to organize one’s life. Though she expresses herself more in terms of strength (forÅa) than of power (poder), the way she endured the events of her life certainly may be considered empowerment. The most important source of this empowerment, although she did not participate in organized religion and therefore lacked the support of a group, was her ‘religiosity’, which she constructed from a wide variety of religious ideas and practices available in her culture. Since religion, more than any other aspect



of – in this case Brazilian – culture, offers answers to questions about life and death, it may come as no surprise that the survival aspect of power has a strong religious component. To a woman, gender is often the primal area where power processes take place. Joana’s life phase between interviews was marked by the failure of her marriage. The way she talked about this experience clearly shows her way of living her religiosity and also her views on gender. The analysis of Joana’s story also shows the relevance of a praxis approach and of schema theory. Her account of the events and her interpretation of her life made clear that cultural and social structures, agency and structure, formal and informal behavior, public and private domains should be studied together in a dialectical manner, in an effort to understand how the extremes touch each other and are linked. Schema theory proved to be a useful tool in this regard because it helped us to understand how Joana, as an actor, had her own way of managing the schemas available to her, as she found them in Brazilian cultural and social structures. She did this by defining their importance, rejecting some (Assemblies of God, Umbanda), selecting others (God, reincarnation) and by applying them in her own way in the process of interpreting the events that characterized her life. Though this personal hierarchy of schemas was not consistent nor fully formulated at all times, it helped her to make sense of her life and – to a lesser extent – to influence the people nearest to her.

Note I am grateful to Els Jacobs and Marjo de Theije for their insights with regard to power and gender. The first draft of this chapter was read as a paper during a symposium they organized during the BRASA meeting in Cambridge in September 1996. Sidney M. Greenfield was kind enough to help me polish that paper to a publishable article.

References Bloch, Maurice (1991). Language, anthropology and cognitive science. Man 26 (2),183 – 198; D’Andrade, Roy (1995). The development of cognitive anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Chapter 11. Joana’s Story: Syncretism and Gender at the Actor’s Level

Droogers, André (1987). A religiosidade minima brasileira. Religi¼o e sociedade 14(2), 62 – 86. Droogers, André (1995a). Syncretism, power, play. In: Goran Aijmer (ed.) (1995). Syncretism and the commerce of symbols. Gothenburg: IASSA, pp. 38 – 59. Droogers, André (1995b). Identity, religious pluralism and ritual in Brazil: Umbanda and Pentecostalism. In: Jan Platvoet and Karel van der Toorn (eds.) (1995). Pluralism and identity: Studies in ritual behaviour. Leiden: Brill, pp. 91 – 113. (Chapter 8 of this book) Ewing, Katherine (1990). The illusion of wholeness: Culture, self, and the experience of inconsistency. Ethos, 18(3), 251 – 279. Greenfield, Sidney M. (2001). Population growth, industrialization and the proliferation of syncretized religions in Brazil. In: Sidney M. Greenfield and André Droogers (eds.) (2001). Reinventing religions: Syncretism and transformation in Africa and the Americas. Lanham etc.: Rowman and Littlefield, pp. 55 – 70. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1994). A cognitive/cultural anthropology. In: Robert Borofsky (ed.) (1994). Assessing cultural anthropology. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 284 – 300. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1997). A cognitive theory of cultural meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pentecostalism Chapter 12 Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion: Models for the Explanation of Pentecostal Expansion in Brazil and Chile ’The only way to an accurate view and confident knowledge of the world is through a sophisticated epistemology that takes full account of intractable contradiction, paradox, irony, and uncertainty in the explanation of human activities’ (Marcus and Fischer 1986: 14 – 15).

1. Introduction Pentecostal churches and Charismatic movements, brought together here in the concept of Pentecostalism, are expanding spectacularly in various parts of the world, including Latin America and the Caribbean. Social scientists studying Pentecostalism have mainly paid attention to the striking growth of this form of Protestantism and to its position in the religious market, rather than to Pentecostalism itself. In this article, I will discuss some of the explanations that have been given for its surprising growth. I will limit myself to the Brazilian and Chilean cases, because various authors have written about these particular situations, and their work can be seen as an illustration of a debate that has repercussions beyond these two countries. This does not mean that an exhaustive summary will be given of what has been written so far about Pentecostalism in these countries: my primary purpose is to reflect on the explanatory process. Pentecostalism came to Brazil for the first time in 1910 when through the efforts of two Swedish-American lay missionaries the foundation was laid of what was later to become the Assembly of God in Brazil. In 1911, Italian-American Pentecostals working among Italian immigrants founded the Christian Congregation. In the fifties a new


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

wave of expansion occurred, partly inspired from the United States, with several churches emerging that are now in action nationwide. A significant addition has been the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), founded in 1977 from a purely Brazilian initiative, nowadays seeking expansion in several countries of the World. Today around 10 percent of the Brazilian population is estimated to be Pentecostal. Brazil also has a strong charismatic movement. In Chile, Pentecostalism had a different origin, much more – but not exclusively – from within the country. Though there were some previous manifestations, it really started in 1909, as a consequence of a revival in the Methodist church, in which an American missionary, Hoover, played a central role. He and his followers founded the Pentecostal Methodist Church, today still the largest of the Chilean Pentecostal churches. In 1932 this church went through a phase of schism, leading to the birth of another Pentecostal church, still active and thriving today. In the course of time several other churches were founded, bringing the number of Pentecostals to a 1992 census percentage of 13.2 percent (Kamsteeg 1995: 63, 1998: 72). Usually social scientists look primarily for external social conditions that can be identified as causes for a form of religious change such as the expansion of a religion. Yet this does not exclude keeping an eye open to the relative autonomy of factors that belong to the internal characteristics of a religion. In fact, the question regarding the relation between religious and societal processes is one of the most fascinating in the debate about the Pentecostal growth. As we will see shortly, the question has given rise to a variety of answers. Generally speaking, the authors of the explanatory models have paid little attention to the Charismatic movements. The Pentecostal churches have been the main object of investigation. Yet implicitly much of what has been said about Pentecostal churches makes sense when applied to Charismatic movements. This justifies the use of Pentecostalism as a general term. Many authors pay attention to certain contradictory characteristics of Pentecostalism. Interestingly the models advanced for the explanation of Pentecostal growth, when compared, themselves contain contradictory elements. Scientific logic would demand that contradictions should be avoided. If inconsistencies are persistent they are experienced as problematic. I will suggest that when we take our point of departure in an eclectic position (Droogers 1985; cf. Marcus and Fischer 1986:

1. Introduction


x, 7 – 16; Tennekes 1985: 61 – 62, 64, 86), combining a variety of explanatory models, contradiction need not be treated as problematic, but as an enrichment of the discussion. Independently of our models, reality contains more contradiction and is more complex than we usually dare to admit. Most of the persistent contradictions in Pentecostalism can also be identified as paradoxes, as seemingly contradictory, because related to different moments and places. Pentecostal believers would not worry about them. Similarly some of the contradictions between explanatory models can positively be understood by reference to the rather onesided choices authors, at a certain moment and a particular place, make from a spectrum of possibilities. Once this is understood, the contradictions become less problematic. Accordingly, this chapter is double focused. Not only will the Pentecostal expansion be discussed, but also the social science craft of explaining. This contribution is an English version of a text that was first published in Spanish (Boudewijnse et al. 1991: 17 – 42). I considered fundamentally rewriting the text, but decided to reproduce the argument of the Spanish version, albeit with minor modifications, and to add an epilogue on recent insights. I am aware of the fact that some of the debates described in the original version have lost their edge to anthropologists, and that a poly-paradigmatic approach has become more normal since I wrote the previous version. Yet it is my impression that many of the ideas that were discussed then are still current in other circles, for example in some missiological studies of Pentecostalism. Besides, it seems useful to have an overview of the history of at least some debates regarding the growth of Pentecostalism, especially in view of its current global growth. It is a fascinating question how far the interpretations developed over time in Latin America can be applied elsewhere (cf. Poewe 1994). Much of the Spanish version has therefore been retained in the current text. The epilogue is added, as a programmatic statement on directions that might presently be followed and are in fact already being followed. Interestingly they represent approaches that, more than their predecessors, do justice to the paradoxical nature of the phenomenon of Pentecostalism. Social science theorizing seems to have left behind the phase of the production of exclusive paradigms. The article opens with a discussion of the variety in theoretical approaches. The contradictions – real or supposed – in Pentecostalism are discussed. In the following sections, different modes of explanation,


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

based on anomie, class, and failed modernization respectively, will be summarized. Each time it will be asked what the model clarifies, but also what remains problematic in its application. In the conclusion the double focus, on both Pentecostal expansion and social science explanation, will be discussed again. In the epilogue I suggest what contribution recent theoretical perspectives in the social sciences might make to the study of Pentecostal growth.

2. Theoretical Diversity Though the theme of Pentecostal expansion in two Latin American countries is a relatively limited issue, a series of approaches and models exists, nourished by the theoretical diversity in the social sciences and by the variety of the phenomenon studied. An inventory of the basic options in social science explanation will help us to get a grip on the often contradictory suggestions that the literature contains. Such an inventory may include each author’s formulation of the central problem, because it will be based on a particular selection from the characteristics of the phenomenon of Pentecostal differentiation and growth. A number of examples of conflicting trends may be given: • The selection of characteristics may, for example, be influenced by the option for either consensus or conflict as basic to social processes. The issue almost always has ideological connotations, ideology understood in the sense of a constellation of ideas that legitimate a certain type of society, either realized or wished for. • Another option refers to the choice of either a mechanistic or a subjectivistic approach, the first emphasizing, roughly stated, what structures do to actors, the other what actors do to structures (cf. Alexander 1990). • Authors differ in their appreciation of the role of religion: as a response to social change, or as a cause of social change. • Similarly there may be much attention given to factors external to religion, or to internal religious factors with external results. • To some the essential quality of religion is what it does, what it brings about in society and in the lives of its adherents, whereas to others the crucial question is what religion is, and they then ask primarily what it means when it is said that religion refers to an invisible dimension in reality.

2. Theoretical Diversity


It also makes a difference whether the focus is on the rise of a religious phenomenon, or on its persistence. Similarly either the rupture with the past is emphasized, or the continuity, or both. It follows that if the point of departure in the search for explanation shows such different positions, the construction of a theory, indicating causal connections, is an arbitrary enterprise. I take it then that the models currently on the market, if taken alone, are of a limited value. They show their usefulness much more when the map of the field under study – including its particular causal relations – is to be drawn, than as conclusive and exclusive explanations. In the eclectic view adopted here, models do not exclude one another in advance, but stand a good chance of being complementary. Their purpose is to open the researcher’s eyes to possible causal relationships. Exclusivism would reduce the scope of one’s observations. Understood in this manner, the contradictions in models mentioned above are much more a blessing in disguise than a curse. They enrich the heuristic instrumentation at one’s disposal and draw attention to the most diverse characteristics and relationships. To give an example, when I discuss below the role of Pentecostalism in a situation of rapid societal change, some models will draw my attention to tendencies in society towards a new consensus, others will point to continuous conflict. Consequently in studying the role of Pentecostal churches and Charismatic movements, I will look at their role in promoting consensus as well as in provoking conflict. Thus the contributions different authors have made are to be fitted together like stones in a mosaic. Only together will they produce a faithful though never complete image of Pentecostal reality (cf. Lalive d’Épinay 1977: 9). This does not mean that ideological disputes must be ignored. On the contrary, ideological options may prove instrumental in the formulation of the central research question, or in the choice of research methods, or in the selection of a form for the final report. As long as the goal is to understand social reality, every hint, whether onesided and biased or not, is useful. It will be difficult indeed to find models that are free from ideological influence. This does not mean that all that has appeared in print is by definition of importance. It is also good to warn against exaggerated expectations concerning the social science contribution to the understanding of Pentecostalism. Even though an eclectic approach seems to guarantee better results than a mono-paradigmatic method, modesty remains advisable.


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

3. An Ambivalent Religion So even before the theme of Pentecostal growth is discussed, a theoretical diversity that is both confusing and enriching makes itself felt in the social science study of religion. If we turn to Brazilian and Chilean Pentecostalism, we are confronted with even more contradiction, paradox, and variation. Let us take a closer look at the paradoxes that can be perceived in what has been written about the growth of Pentecostalism in these countries. The following list contains those I came across: • Because of its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, Pentecostal belief rehabilitates the lay person. Nevertheless there are strongly hierarchical churches in which the pastors have much power. As a consequence egalitarian and hierarchical tendencies occur simultaneously. • Liberty of expression, especially of emotions, is a common characteristic. At the same time church services are masterfully controlled and discourse is in certain cases fundamentalistic. Sermons and church discipline can be legalistic. • Pentecostal believers treat the surrounding society with a dualistic, antithetical attitude. The ‘world’ is depicted as lost and corrupt. In this connection terms such as ‘protest’ and ‘social strike’ have been used. Pentecostal believers have taken leave from the world and have started a radically new life (Tennekes 1985). Yet, they have also established a reputation for being exemplary citizens and employees, excellent participants in a world they are supposed to detest. • Many Pentecostal believers avoid politics, but precisely because of this abstention they can be a factor of importance. Moreover, some authors speak of a symbolic protest by Pentecostals, which indirectly criticizes the dominant system. One may also find churches that adopt a political role, either to defend their members’ interests, or to attack the devil identified as communism or immoralism, or both. • Pentecostals emphasize the apocalypse and Jesus’ return, but give equal attention to practical short-term solutions for problems here and now. • Women are often more numerous than in other churches, but in positions of leadership only rarely. With a justifying appeal to the Bible, leadership is often exclusively reserved to male members.

3. An Ambivalent Religion


In the case of Charismatic movements, a paradoxical tendency is that their members remain faithful to their church, but seek to be as autonomous as possible. Another characteristic, closely related, is that clergy play an important role, yet laity have often been able to create their own space, especially in the prayer groups. As a consequence, not all characteristics that authors have mentioned as typical of Pentecostalism are to be found in all churches and movements. Though everywhere the gifts of the Holy Spirit (healing, glossolalia, prophecy) are the center of attention, practice differs in intensity, from strictly controlled emotion to seemingly unlimited ecstasy. Exorcism can be either common practice or exceptional. Healing may have a central as well as a marginal role. Though most Pentecostal churches combat or ignore ideas from the theology of liberation, to some these are a source of inspiration (see e. g. Bonilla 1985; Kamsteeg 1995, 1998). Speaking of variation, one distinction has been alluded to already: that between Charismatic movements, seeking Pentecostal renewal within the established churches, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, and autonomous Pentecostal churches. Between the latter, various types of churches can be distinguished (cf. also Souza 1969; Yinger 1970: 251 – 281). First there is a difference in historical depth. The oldest churches were founded at the beginning of this century and are presenting characteristics of denominations: more hierarchy, more compromising with secular values, sometimes ecumenical relations. More recently, in the forties and fifties, a new wave of church founding occurred, not infrequently initiated by a mass campaign under foreign leadership. In the sixties, mass campaigns more often came to have a political agenda and the call for conversion was meant to influence a decision against leftist ideology. As a consequence new churches, though not always Pentecostal in nature, were founded (Dominguez and Huntington 1984; Valderrey 1985). Pentecostal churches may appear as a one-person initiative and grow to become nationwide or even operate internationally. In Brazil the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God) represents both a recent wave of growth and a very idiosyncratic form of Pentecostalism. Historically speaking the Charismatic movement is a special case: it came about at the end of the sixties and soon spread, to Catholic parishes, but also to the established ‘mainstream’ Protestant churches.


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

Second, a difference in the method and practice of churches, and therewith often in their size, can lead to a distinction between types of churches. One type is formed by the healing halls, with three services a day and often located near hospitals or polyclinics. Another type is that of the neighborhood living room community, brought together at the home of its leader and founder. Then there are the churches that operate nationwide. They often started as urban churches but are now present all over the countryside. These national churches sometimes have a huge church building as a token of their success and as the seat from where their leader(s) operate(s). Some of them use mass media and have been referred to as the electronic church, others abhor electronic media. Several churches have opened international branches. As far as practice is concerned, Charismatic movements must be distinguished again because they seek to renew established churches from within. They operate within existing parishes, often though not exclusively with the local clergy as leaders. Prayer groups are important at the grass roots level. A third distinction can be made according to the social position of believers. Usually the lower-class position of Pentecostal believers is referred to as a generalized characteristic. Yet a more refined typology would include churches that specifically address the poorest people in society, but also churches that have begun in that manner but were gradually more populated by middle-class persons. One explanation often found in the literature is that Pentecostalism promotes upward social mobility. There are, moreover, churches that seek to attract people from middle and upper classes. It goes without saying that for the success of these different churches in each case different explanations can be given. Such a variety of criteria and subsequent typologies indicates that it will be difficult to come to generally applicable explanations and conclusions. If one adds the circumstance that contradictory characteristics may occur within seemingly homogeneous types, it will be clear that generalization is almost impossible. As a matter of fact, the diversity and contradiction encountered have stimulated theorizing work on Pentecostalism. Interestingly, they have hardly been noticed by Pentecostal believers themselves. It is from the side of researchers that attention has been drawn to the variety in characteristics. Sometimes a social science frame of reference, ideologically colored or not, sometimes a more ecclesiastical view, Catholic or Protestant, generated interest in Pentecostalism. Whether from an academic or an ecclesiastical point

4. Anomie and Pentecostal Growth


of view, Pentecostal deviation from models that were familiar to them struck the observers. One more circumstance contributed to the complex picture emerging. If the growth of Pentecostalism must be linked to profound changes in society, then the coexistence of the old and the new will give extra impetus to contradiction and the sensation of paradox. Total rupture is impossible. The transition from the old to the new, even when dramatic, does not happen in a single moment. For some time old and new elements will coexist. Contradictions will abound. As I will now show, these paradoxical characteristics have all represented a challenge to authors who have sought to explain the growth of Pentecostalism. In the following sections anomie, class, and modernization will successively be discussed as explanatory themes.

4. Anomie and Pentecostal Growth The anomie approach can be summarized as follows. In the social science jargon, anomie stands for a situation in which absence of norms is the cause of uncertainty about appropriate behavior. As a consequence relations between people come under pressure. Rights and duties are no longer clearly defined. Within social relationships the sense of security is lost. Words and gestures no longer carry the same meaning to different people. In societies that are subject to rapid and drastic changes and to strong contrasts of interests, anomie seems to be inevitable. Yet, according to the authors who work with this model, mechanisms are set in motion which will lead to a new definition of norms, adapted to new circumstances. A total absence of norms would mean the end of society. From their basic needs people start the quest for a new community. Thus a new consensus gradually emerges – until the cycle repeats itself after some time. Anomie is considered a temporary deviation from consensus, which is thought to be normal. Applying this model to the case of the growth of Pentecostal churches in Latin America, authors have suggested that these churches are successful because they offer new norms in a situation of anomie. Anomie came about because of migration to the urban centers. For a variety of reasons people leave the rural areas. In the cities the system of norms has not been able to keep up with the rapid urbanization and industrialization. Rural norms are no longer applicable, urban norms have not yet been invented. The personal relationship, character-


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

istic of life in the countryside, has lost its meaning in the impersonal city with its anonymous inhabitants. Because in the city survival is problematic, norms run the risk of being eroded. According to some prominent authors, Pentecostalism fills this social and ethical vacuum. Therefore there is a positive functional relationship between socio-cultural change and Pentecostal church growth (Lalive 1970: 60; Willems 1964: 96; 1966: 209, 231). The work by Emílio Willems (e. g. 1964; 1966; 1967) is my first example of the application of the anomie model, primarily to the Brazilian situation, although he has also studied Chilean Pentecostalism. Willems sees anomie not only in the city but also in rural areas, since the feudal structure has increasingly lost its significance. Writing before Vaticanum II and the impact of the theologies of liberation, he saw the Roman Catholic church as the symbol of a backward structure. In Willems’ view the Pentecostal church is so successful because, much more than the other Protestant churches, it is far removed from the ailing traditional social structure. He speaks of a symbolic rebellion (1964: 103; 1966: 226; 1967: 140), not only against tradition but also against Catholicism. Pentecostals are able to organize themselves without the help of an elite and thus show that paternalistic relationships have lost their meaning. The equality of believers denies feudal and class society. The Catholic clergy’s monopoly on the distribution of salvation is replaced by the ministry of all believers who are inspired by the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit transform the powerlessness of the humble into strength. Those who have been ignored by the world, in their turn ignore the world. It is clear that the strictness of Pentecostal morals is very effective in an anomic context. New converts start a new and radically different life because conversion puts an end to the absence of clear norms. The Pentecostal community provides the socially uprooted with a new framework, a ‘personal community’ (Willems 1966: 224 – 225). They find a new home, including new brothers and sisters who replace the relatives left behind in the countryside. From a marginal position, people move to prestige within the community, according to the task given to them and their performance in their roles. From losers they become heroes of faith, blessed with the gifts of the spirit. Anonymous people become ‘sister’ or ‘brother so-and-so’. All the money that was formerly spent on alcohol, lottery, women etc., now considered sins, can be used for upward social mobility. Thus, in Willems’ approach, Pentecostalism is not only a response to an anomic situation, but at the same time it stim-

4. Anomie and Pentecostal Growth


ulates the growth of the middle class and therefore contributes to modernization. Another author using the anomie concept, though sometimes and especially in his later work mixed with Marxian insights, is Christian Lalive d’Épinay (1970: 60, 80). He too links Pentecostal growth in Chile with urbanization (1970: 78 – 79). Yet his interpretation differs from Willems’, even though he claims to follow Willems (1970: 88; see also Fernandes 1977; Tennekes 1985: 61 – 87). The main difference is that Lalive does not emphasize the failure of the rural feudal structure, but sees it continued in the urban Pentecostal church. The role of the landowner, who as a patron determines to a large extent the life of his clients, is taken over by the Pentecostal pastor (1970: 88, 126 – 127). The symbolic protest against modern society is a return to the past. To Willems, the Pentecostal church was a stimulus to democracy and liberalism, to Lalive authoritarian relationships and political conformism abound, even though he admits the possibility, new for Chilean society, for commoners to rise to leadership within the church (1970: 147). Whereas Willems thought highly of the modern rational nature of Pentecostal faith, Lalive is struck by its irrationality. While Willems saw a connection with the values of modern society, Lalive interprets conversion as a breach with those values. As a consequence Lalive does not hail progressive, modernizing, and democratizing tendencies, but discovers conservatism, feudal continuity, and therefore support for the political and economic status quo. Modernization and liberalism are out of the question. The answer to anomie is largely a reconstruction of the past, though not a one-to-one copy but a reinterpretation. The reconquered past is religiously legitimated. Lalive speaks explicitly in terms of paradoxes and dialectics (1970: 14, 88 – 89, 101, 121, 344), e. g. between continuity and rupture, authoritarian relationships and equality. Alienation is combated through integration in a community, while at the same time people are screened off from society (cf. Tennekes 1985: 64 – 69). There is another point of difference, where positions are reversed, with Willems stressing continuity and Lalive pointing to breach. According to Willems Pentecostalism is a continuation of popular Catholicism and of Brazilian millenarianism, whereas Chilean Pentecostalism is pictured by Lalive as a cultural island, even though it serves social adaptation (1970: 344). So it can be seen that similarity in model does not necessarily lead to common conclusions. Admittedly, Willems had Brazil in mind when he


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

wrote, though he was acquainted with the Chilean situation, whereas Lalive restricted his analysis to the Chilean case. The differing results of the studies done by Willems and Lalive inspired Judith Hoffnagel to do fieldwork in a local Pentecostal church, a branch of the Assemblia de Deus (Assembly of God) in Recife, Northeastern Brazil. In her Ph.D. thesis (1978) she reaches the conclusion that Pentecostalism stimulates individual change but is an obstacle to the transformation of society (1978: 5). One striking result of Hoffnagel’s study (1978: 254 – 255) is that in the church she researched, more than half of the migrants among the members had already been Pentecostal believers before leaving their rural home area. Also, the majority of the members who had joined the church while living in Recife had done so after having lived there for a long period. This particular church does not attract the poorest but what Hoffnagel calls ‘the successful poor’ (1978: 256). The members’ upward social mobility is not as striking as Willems had predicted, though still present. What Hoffnagel did in the Brazilian case can be compared to Hans Tennekes’ study (1985) of Chilean Pentecostals. He too studied local churches, this time in Santiago, with the objective of verifying the theories Willems and Lalive had formulated. His approach was inspired by the work of Poblete (1969; O’Dea and Poblete 1970), who had applied the anomie model to the case of Puerto Rican Pentecostals in New York. What is new in Tennekes’ approach is that he does not contrast anomie with community, but with an integrated social structure. A community is only one type of social structure and therefore not the inevitable result of the reduction of anomie. In addition he suggests that one should distinguish between individual anomie and social anomie and that the two do not necessarily occur together. When trying to verify the anomie model, Tennekes found that it was difficult to translate the general hypotheses into research questions. Nevertheless he was able to draw some interesting conclusions. He suggests, for example, that the social characteristics of Pentecostal believers do not really differ from those of the popular classes: the poorest migrants and the recently arrived are not overrepresented in Pentecostal churches. He depicts Pentecostalism as an important asset in people’s quest for meaning and therefore as a form of popular religiosity. He criticizes the interpretation of Pentecostalism as a millenarian movement, directed passively towards the future. Instead he emphasizes the importance of the radically new life, here and now, that a convert actively begins to lead. He warns against underestimating the protest

4. Anomie and Pentecostal Growth


value of Pentecostalism, even though its nature is much more moral than structural, let alone political. With regard to political options, Pentecostals do not differ from other members of the popular classes, even though, mainly for practical reasons, Pentecostals do participate less in political organizations. Compared to progressive political parties, Pentecostal churches are much more attractive: popular culture is valued, the leaders come from popular classes, an alternative community is offered, and short-term solutions are readily available. These advantages, visible to all in democratic times, become obvious under repressive political regimes. Then Pentecostal churches grow even more rapidly. Rubem César Fernandes has also commented on the anomie model (1977). The point he makes is that anomie does not refer to a transition phase in a regular cycle, to be corrected by inbuilt mechanisms of society, but that it is part of a capitalist economy. He suggests that in the application of the anomie model to Pentecostal believers, an evolutionist approach to religion becomes manifest, as if in future, more secularized, conditions the people who have now turned to a Pentecostal church, would become members of a political party or a trade union. Whereas authors like Willems suggested that Pentecostalism contributed to modernization, the same process is supposed to ultimately put an end to religion, and so Pentecostalism seems to be digging its own grave. In the meantime, it is useful as a remedy for temporary afflictions, but in the long run life will become so well off that Pentecostalism will loose its function. Like Hoffnagel, Fernandes points to the fact that both second-generation city dwellers and people in rural areas convert to Pentecostalism. Further, anomie and social vacuum do not occur as dramatically as the models had predicted, even though the city cannot be said to be a smoothly integrated whole (cf. Fry and Howe 1975: 85). Slums do not lack clear moral codes, power networks and social stratification. Those in search of a ‘personal community’ can find it there. So when Pentecostalism is studied, it would be wise to pay attention to networks and the exchange of favors (see also Brown 1974: 300 – 301; 1994: 167 – 169). A final point Fernandes makes is that the boundaries of religious groups and social categories only rarely coincide. Easy and simple explanations are, therefore, excluded. Likewise a reference to class society is not very helpful, since Pentecostal believers belong to a variety of social strata. Besides, people of the same stratum do not necessarily have


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

the same religious preferences. I will return to this point when Howe’s work will be discussed (cf. also Fry and Howe 1975). At the end of this section a provisional conclusion can be formulated. The insights of the authors who worked with the anomie model can be said to be applicable to certain forms of Pentecostalism and to specific categories of believers. That some people find a ‘personal community’ in the Pentecostal church and succeed in moving upwards on the social ladder can be stated without hesitation. There are, however, many cases of ingression in a Pentecostal church that cannot be explained by an appeal to the anomie model. The explanation that model offers is, therefore, partial. Yet even if the anomie model is applicable in a number of cases, critical questions cannot be avoided. One such question inquires after the implicit views and metaphors of society and modernization. Society figures as an organism that recovers from an illness. It is represented as if it were acting like a person, seeking a new equilibrium. Modernization seems to be viewed as an inevitable and natural process. But is it really irreversible? To many people in countries like Brazil and Chile modernization seems like the horizon: the closer you come, the more it retreats. Population growth and unfair distribution of wealth reduce the effects of economic expansion. Another point of the critique refers to the presupposed normality of consensus and order. Do conflicts only occur as a symptom of anomie, and disappear when anomie is over? Are urban areas really lacking in order? Or is it possible that neighborhoods take on village-like characteristics? A question that can also be raised refers to the value of symbolic protest if the actors are not conscious of it. Can the effect of this protest be verified in research? Or is the scholar performing as a ventriloquist? Finally, in this approach explanation is looked for in factors that are external to religion. The specific contents of that religion are hardly taken into account. Religion, in this case Pentecostalism, seems only important for its contribution to the maintenance of order and values in society, not as a phenomenon as such. It is not explained how people choose between religions with similar functions. The same type of explanation as advanced for Pentecostalism can be found in the literature on another urban Brazilian religion, the Afro-Brazilian spirit-medium religion Umbanda. Admittedly, one exception is Willems (1966) who, in a comparison of Pentecostalism, Spiritism, and Umbanda, presents Pentecostal churches as more attractive than other Protestant

5. Class and Pentecostal Expansion


churches. Yet, in this case too the main question is what religion does, not what it is.

5. Class and Pentecostal Expansion Many of the objections just mentioned have also been raised by an author whose work will now be discussed: Francisco Cartaxo Rolim. Taking his point of departure in a Marxist model with Weberian addenda, he inevitably finds different answers to the questions that were raised by the authors working with the anomie model. In all fairness it must be said that the latter were not totally blind to conflicts between interests, these conflicts being viewed as a cause of anomie. But Rolim’s approach leads to an essentially different interpretation of social conflicts, taking the criticisms against the anomie model seriously. Social conflicts are not identified as caused by confusion about norms and values, but as a consequence of class differences. The socalled stable social relationships considered normal in the anomie model are qualified as asymmetrical and pregnant with conflict. As long as access to the means of production is not open to all, conflict is the norm and not cohesion. The lack of consensus is not temporary but permanent and structural. In this type of approach, and faithful to Marx, religion generally appears in two ways: first and foremost as an appeaser – an opiate – and therefore as a cause of alienation; second and less frequently as a channel for protest. As in the anomie approach, religion is understood functionally, and not for its specific contents. Such an approach can, therefore, be as partial as the anomie approach. The choices that oppressed individuals make between religious alternatives cannot be explained. Rolim, though taking class society as his point of departure, goes beyond this partiality by combining Marx with Weber (Rolim 1973a, 1973b, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1991, 1995). Interests open up the path, but religious vision directs human action along that path (1991: 127). Rolim affirms a dialectical relationship between capitalist society and the Pentecostal vision of the world (1991: 128). As a consequence, he is not only interested in what religion does, but also in what it is. Not only external but also internal factors are taken into account. From his first publications onward Rolim is critical of the anomie approach: When it is shown that Pentecostalism reduces anomie, nothing is said about the contents of that religion. Beliefs


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

and rituals should be integrated into the explanation. The essential point is that Pentecostalism is a religious reaction (1977: 13). Like Hoffnagel, Rolim did fieldwork on Pentecostalism. His research was done in the seventies, in Nova Iguaçu, a suburban town near Rio de Janeiro. Two-thirds of his respondents had been Catholics before converting to Pentecostalism. Popular Catholicism is a good preparation for Pentecostalism (Rolim 1973b; 1980: 178 – 180; cf. Tennekes 1985: 77 – 86). In both, salvation is directly accessible, dispensing with clergy. It is obtained through vows (promessas). Free expression is normal in both types of religiosity. In both cases, solutions to practical problems are reached through thaumaturgical means. Faith is a personal affair. Yet there are also differences. According to Rolim, in the Pentecostal church the Bible takes the place of the popular saint. The cult of the saints is even combated with an appeal to the Bible: all the faithful are saints in principle. Those stories in the Bible where God’s power becomes evident are favorites. Conversion stories, especially when based on a miracle, are seen in the same context. The Bible also provides the legitimation for the command to preach the gospel, which is done on individual initiative and at any occasion that may present itself. Every new believer is the start of a group of at least two. This continuing partition of cells (Tennekes 1972: 151; 1985: 21) contributes to the success of Pentecostalism. Rolim, like the anomie authors, seeks a connection between social change and Pentecostal growth, and he too refers to migration and urbanization – yet in a Marxist version (1985: 119). Urban society is characterized by capitalist production relationships that are decisive for the type of communication between classes (Rolim 1977: 14; 1980: 163). Pentecostalism must be viewed within that context, though not in a deterministic manner. To Rolim religion is not a mere reflection of class relations. This does not alter the fact that in his view they influence religion (1977: 15). Thus Rolim, like Tennekes (1985: 114 – 121), sees a close relationship between the growth of Pentecostalism and the limitation of political freedom. In a phase of democracy when dissatisfaction with capitalist society can be expressed through political channels, the growth of Pentecostalism will stagnate (Rolim 1980: 184). In Brazil this happened between 1960 and 1964. When from 1964 onwards for economic and ideological reasons political freedom was restricted, Pentecostal churches resumed their growth (Rolim 1995: 172, 186).

5. Class and Pentecostal Expansion


In his own fieldwork Rolim found that the majority of the Pentecostals he studied were employed in the tertiary sector, the fastest growing in the urban labor structure of Brazil. In terms of class these people belong to what Rolim considers an improper because intermediate class; in Poulantzas’ terms the ’new petty bourgeoisie’ (cited in Rolim 1985: 139n), neither workers nor middle class (Rolim 1977: 15), but in between. In other publications Rolim speaks of lower middle class (1980: 169; 1985: 139 – 140). Why is Pentecostalism so attractive to exactly this category of people? Rolim’s answer is that these people do not occupy a clear position in the class struggle. Therefore, they are susceptible to the prospect of social progress. The ideal and example of the middle-class raise expectations. Yet these are not always fulfilled (Rolim 1980: 159). Pentecostalism offers compensation through its moral reformism and its status-elevating tasks. The same mechanism is active in middle-class circles and consequently here too Pentecostalism recruits members. This explanation with reference to class structure does not prevent Rolim from looking at the question of why the compensation is religious in nature. Maintaining the class perspective, an explanation is sought in terms of the free access to religious production that is characteristic of Pentecostalism. Rolim thus returns to a problem already raised by Weber and reformulated by Bourdieu (1974: 27 – 98, Rolim 1985: 130 – 135). In doing so he avoids and criticizes a simple mirror approach (religion reflects the social situation). Besides, living people of flesh and blood appear from behind the social structures and mechanisms. The question is who has a right to be a religion’s spokesperson. Who is allowed to introduce changes into a religion? Who is actually in control? Bourdieu refers to this problem, borrowing Marxian economic terms, as the problem of the access to the religious means of production. In the case of Pentecostalism the – admittedly ideal – answer is that with the exception of baptism and holy communion, every member enjoys access (Rolim 1977: 17; 1980: 150 – 160), for everybody can be baptized with the Holy Spirit and act from and with that authority. The Pentecostal churches rediscovered the ministry of all believers. Those who in the mainstream Christian churches were objects of evangelization by a monopolizing and remunerated clergy, in the Pentecostal church become themselves autonomous subjects of that evangelization. This inversion – instead of reflection – is, according to Rolim, the essence of the symbolic protest by the Pentecostal believers against society. The division of labor current in society is denied in Pentecostal-


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

ism. In these churches, those who in society are excluded from access to the economic means of production, are transformed into subjects with free access to the religious means of production (1980: 171, 173). The reaction to class society is religious because religion allows for this inversion. Glossolalia illustrates this symbolically, because its nonverbality denies the verbality of the erudite higher class (1977: 20). In this manner, Rolim (1980: 155 – 160) emphasizes that the criticized world is represented symbolically. Other examples are the tone of the sermons, which expresses an ‘outmoded academicism’ (1980: 155), and the bourgeois suits worn by the men in the churches Rolim studied. The outside world thus made present is subsequently subjected to inversion and denial by means of the nonverbal forms of expression and the church/world dualism that are typical of a Pentecostal church service (1980: 157). An already familiar paradox presents itself. On the one hand a basic structure in society is symbolically reversed and thereby repudiated. On the other hand, the Pentecostal church avails itself of values that are at a premium in class society: moral reformism and careerism. Thus, despite all the criticism of a sinful world, Pentecostal believers, led by a particular reading of Romans 13, happen to be good citizens and good workers in that selfsame world. The capitalist relations of production are thereby accepted. Rolim (1977: 20) refers to this as ideological dependency. Despite this there have been examples of protest actions, led by Pentecostal believers, that were more than symbolic (Kamsteeg 1995, 1998; Novaes 1985; Rolim 1985: 85 – 89, 244 – 251; 1987: 70 – 90; 1995: 66ff; Tennekes 1985: 116 – 120; see also Hoekstra 1998). Summarizing Rolim’s contribution, it can be said that his approach meets some of the objections that were raised when the anomie approach was discussed. He makes a serious attempt to integrate the specific contents of Pentecostal belief and practice in his mode of explanation. It is clear that he considers Pentecostalism to be a religious phenomenon and that in doing so he does not restrict himself to what religion does. He offers clarifying analyses of the production of religion in Pentecostalism and of the continuity with the popular Catholic past. Some questions can nevertheless be raised. When Rolim characterizes the Pentecostal believers he studied as belonging to an improper intermediate sort of class, it seems that he sticks to a two-layer model of society. If that is the case, one may raise doubts as to the validity of such a model. Whereas the anomie model was determined by the metaphor of the organism, here social reality is reduced to a metaphor of

6. Failed Modernization and Pentecostal Growth


pyramid layers and to dualism. What is the explanatory value of the fact that one belongs to a certain class? Rolim explicitly says that he wants to avoid determinism. If moreover he labels the tertiary sector workers an improper class, one may ask what the pretense of this approach is. Another question concerns the fact that Rolim’s research and perspective are urban. Of the type of relations his class model identifies, the best examples are urban. If the setting for Pentecostal growth is nonurban, the question about the value of the class model becomes even more pertinent. A further problem is that what Rolim describes in terms of inversion and protest remains difficult to operationalize. Proof is therefore difficult. Respondents’ statements can hardly be used to confirm or falsify these affirmations.

6. Failed Modernization and Pentecostal Growth Another illustration, both of the paradoxical nature of Pentecostalism and of the models used to explain its growth, can be found in two articles by Gary Howe (1977; 1980). Howe was mentioned when I referred to an article he wrote together with Peter Fry (1975) which can be read as a prelude to the other two. Like Rolim, Howe endeavors to include the religious contents of Pentecostalism in his explanation. In his 1977 article, Howe puts Brazilian Pentecostalism in its economic, political, and social context. In his view the fundamental relationships are those between capital and labor, and between state and citizen. Economically speaking, commodities are produced, for export and for the national market, through a capitalist mode of production. Industrialization is supposed to be a substitute for the Brazilian agricultural export economy that was based on monocultures. Simultaneously, on the political level, a strong bureaucratic state is formed, its purpose being to monitor the economic process. Socially, the tendency is towards individualization, with an emphasis on the responsibility as well as the submission of the person. In sum, the new situation is characterized by concentration of economical and political power, strict rules in the production process and in the state, and individual submission. These three features Howe finds reflected in Pentecostalism. This religion, therefore, perfectly suits the new situation. There is a parallel between societal developments and the contents of Pentecostal faith. In the believers’ view, power is concentrated in the hands of an almighty God. They submit themselves to this God and to a strict moral code.


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

The paradox is that they deviate from society, and yet adapt themselves (1977: 42). Howe admits that this is an ‘ideal type’ picture and a simplification of reality (1977: 46). In his 1980 article, he shows the other side of the picture and therewith the ambiguity of the situation and its interpretation. Combining the modernization approach with the so-called dependency theory, Howe’s thesis is that Brazil, though changing, is not modernizing. This also implies a criticism of Willems’ model as discussed above. To Howe the Third World constitutes, by definition, the periphery of the First World. Having this role it will never be able to modernize fully. The history of the First World cannot be repeated in the Third. The latter lacks a periphery of its own, unless this is to be found within the country itself: the poor areas. Anyhow, the process called modernization is in fact absorption into a capitalist economy, as dominated by the First World (cf. Rolim 1980: 178). Howe also draws attention to the fact that there are various and widely different religions in Brazil. Even if it were accepted that they all reflect modernizing society, then the differences still have to be explained. Thus the two religions that have expanded most in the 20th century and in an almost parallel way, Pentecostalism and Umbanda, may have similar functions, but in beliefs and practices are each other’s opposites. This is clear from the vehemence with which Pentecostal preachers condemn Umbanda as diabolical. In this respect the relationship is asymmetrical: The Umbandists are much more tolerant. Like Pentecostals, Umbandists accept God as the supreme being, but the many divinities and spirits of different origins that manifest themselves through the mediums’ trance are much more important. There is no strict ethical system. Instead, improvising negotiations with sacred powers are emphasized. The type of power and the way it is approached depends on the problem to be solved. This may involve the intention of doing harm to persons considered the cause of the problem. Since problemsolving takes such a central place, a person seeking relief generally only takes part in the rituals as long as the problem is not satisfactorily solved. Only a few enter mediumship as a consequence of the treatment they receive. The mediums form the hard core of the Umbanda temples. The audience is characterized by a large turnover. In sharp contrast with the Pentecostal preachers, Umbanda mediums do not seek to bind their clients in an exclusive, total, ‘eternal’, committed relationship. The

6. Failed Modernization and Pentecostal Growth


visitors to the Umbanda temple make a strategic, manipulative use of the network it offers, and disappear after being helped. The comparison of the two contrasting religions raises the question whether all religions reflect modernization to the same degree. The model of a deterministic reflection with a single-track causality, therefore, hangs in the balance. A way out of this deadlock Howe finds by abandoning the idea that modernization is a coherent process. The three features of modernization – concentration of economic and political power, strict rules in the production process and in the state, and individual submission – have their reverse in nepotism, patronage, regionalism, corruption, favoritism, personal networks, and improvisation, on a scale that has never occurred before. Ultimately the opposition is between favors and rights (and duties!), between manipulation and law. Howe (1980) links this dichotomy to the one put forward in his earlier article, between traditional rural oligarchies, the manipulators, and the new industrial bourgeoisie, the bureaucrats. Howe is inspired in this type of assertion by the work of the Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta who has written extensively about what he calls ‘the Brazilian dilemma’ (1973, 1979, 1985, 1986a, 1986b, 1991). Howe and his colleague Peter Fry had used DaMatta’s interpretation in an article (1975) in which they raised the question why some urban migrants opt for Umbanda and others for Pentecostalism. If, according to the anomie model, the two religions have the same functions (Willems 1966: 208; Camargo 1973: 184), what motivates the preference a person has for one of the two? Howe and Fry suggested that Pentecostalism stands for rules, law, and duties, whereas Umbanda represents the manipulative, improvising pole. Pentecostals are loyal to the church, the group, Umbandist clients to the individual medium. The Pentecostal symbolic system is orderly and fixed, that of Umbanda malleable and open to manipulation. Using an economic metaphor: It depends on the migrant’s biography and personal strategy where he or she will choose to invest, and what the balance is between expenses and results (Fry and Howe 1975: 83 – 85). The two religions meet the same demand, but with a different supply. Recognizing that this does not contribute much to an explanation of the beliefs and rituals of the two religions (Fry and Howe 1975: 89), the two authors point out that the effectiveness of the symbols used depends on the personal biography and social experience of the migrant. These will influence the meaning people attach to symbols (see e. g. Burdick 1993; Ireland 1991; Mariz 1994). It is as if God and divinities, the Spirit and spirits become part of the


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

people’s networks and are used in the same manner: respecting the rules and laws (Pentecostalism), or manipulating and improvising (Umbanda). So hypothetically people with a ‘bureaucratic’ social experience will prefer Pentecostalism whereas ‘manipulative’ persons will opt for Umbanda (Fry and Howe 1975: 90 – 91). Pentecostalism represents successful, Umbanda failing modernization. In a similar manner Howe (1980), in comparing Pentecostalism and Umbanda, makes a virtue of need and opts for a double reflection of society in religion, representing the two sides of the Brazilian dilemma and thus of the failing modernization process. Historically speaking, the new industrial bourgeoisie had to give in to the demands of the traditional oligarchy. Although modernization had been adopted as official policy since the thirties, in practice it was made harmless by all the concessions to the traditional elite. In Howe’s view (1980: 135) the failure of modernization implies that Umbanda is more the rule and Pentecostalism the exception. The Pentecostals are too modern for Brazilian society. They refuse to play the manipulative game and are, therefore, prone to abuse especially in their relationships with employers and the state. Ingenious as this solution may be, some critical questions can be asked. Does this hypothesis really take religious contents into account, or is it a mere variation of the anomie and reflection model? Are religious attitudes not represented as social attitudes in disguise? Is the whole argument not an example of the chicken-and-egg problem? Where does the reasoning start: on the side of the demand as influenced by biography and social experience, or on the side of supply as advanced by Pentecostal preachers and Umbandist mediums? Are Pentecostals successful participants in the modernization process, while Umbandists are losers? As in the case of Rolim, the hypothetical connections between religious and societal processes are difficult to operationalize. The parallels depend on theoretical presuppositions. Why is the industrial bourgeoisie not entirely Pentecostal, and the traditional oligarchy Umbandist? Again the question is the weight of economic modernity or dependency as factors for the explanation of religion. Howe’s approach does not escape determinism and reductionism. Finally, Pentecostals have their manipulative experiences as is shown by the internal politics, scandals, and schisms of their churches. Equally Umbandists have bureaucratic inclinations as shown by the formation of regional and even national federations.

7. Conclusion


7. Conclusion In this chapter two tracks have been followed simultaneously: that of the expansion of Pentecostalism, and that of social science explanation of this phenomenon. Special attention was given to contradiction and paradox as encountered on both tracks. By way of a start, an inventory was made of the alternatives and contradictions. In the course of the chapter it became clear how authors developed their own preferences with regard to the options available, rarely in an extreme manner but always selectively. Researchers, like the researched, try to make sense, produce meaning. This process of signification establishes identity. In science as well as in religion identity often seems to be based on the one-sided selection of characteristics. The two inventories, of researchers and researched, proved to be connected. A scholar’s choice of one particular characteristic in a theoretical model of society often leads to an emphasis on a certain aspect of Pentecostalism. Thus if Lalive (1970: 14) opts for the element of continuity, even though recognizing fault lines in the religious landscape, he cannot but emphasize the hierarchical tendency in Pentecostalism. Similarly Rolim’s starting point lies with conflict and protest and so he discusses emotional freedom, the inversion of the relations of production, and glossolalia’s symbolic protest as deserving our particular attention. The other authors and their views may also be situated somewhere within the two inventories. It might be suggested that the diversity of models has contributed to a focus on contradictions in Pentecostalism. He who seeks regularity – and that is what scientific work is about – dislikes contradictions. The latter are a complication in explanatory work. Logical consistency is the rule, contradiction the deviation. Being called contradictory is a pejorative appellation. When a scholar’s model puts hierarchy as the norm, he will experience egalitarian tendencies as contradictory. When the emphasis is on order and consensus, he will find emotional freedom puzzling. Only when an eclectical attitude is adopted are paradoxes no longer problematic, because these are then viewed as the consequences of explaining only partially and unilaterally. This partiality is not only based on scientific preferences, but may also have ideological connotations and may reflect a particular worldview. Scholars, despite being trained to produce objective knowledge, are marked by their context. The study of culture is itself a cultural phenomenon. A surprised reaction to the discovery that Pentecostal believ-


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

ers are not of but yet in the world, may be based on a personal option for socially engaged Christianity. Similarly astonishment at the paradox of apolitical Pentecostal pastors’ support for military dictatorship may reveal the author’s opinion that a church should always resist dictators or that Romans 13’s advice on respect for authorities should not be read in the literal sense. So it seems that the overexposure of paradoxical traits in Pentecostalism can at least partially be traced to the views of the researchers. This does not mean that the approaches described above can be consigned to the dustbin. Though I saw fit to raise critical questions about each of the models, each also was shown to have its positive aspects. Each author contributed an essential element to the – still incomplete – mosaic.

8. Epilogue 1996 The three models just discussed represent approaches that belong to a particular phase in the history of the social sciences. This does not mean that they have had their time; on the contrary, they are part of the eclectic approach advocated in this article. Yet, they should be complemented by some rapid observations on the programmatic relevance of some recent theoretical perspectives for the study of Pentecostalism and its growth, particularly because these approaches are more eclectical and as a consequence seem to take the paradoxical into greater account. This section will contain short references to praxis theory, cognitive anthropology, globalization, gender approaches, and postmodernism. In concrete cases, the degree to which these perspectives can be applied and be integrated into a theoretical framework that fits the specificity of the case under research must be considered. If a synthesis is reached this might suggest a mono-paradigmatic approach, yet it may in itself be the start of a new eclectic cycle. Theoretical perspectives like those presented below are primarily of heuristic value, drawing attention to aspects that seem promising for further research. In proceeding in this manner, some approaches may prove of little value, whereas others will be most helpful, all depending on the particular case and the specific researcher. It goes without saying that each perspective has its own concepts and metaphors and, therefore, seems unique as a way of constructing scientific knowledge. It may thus not be easy to integrate perspectives into a single framework. Yet, in a dialectical move-

8. Epilogue 1996


ment between induction and deduction, scientific syncretism can be reached to a certain degree. The eclecticism advocated here is of a practical nature, leading to a temporary synthesis, but always of a provisional nature. The first of the perspectives to be mentioned, praxis theory, exists in such a variety of forms, that it hardly can be considered a paradigm or school. Yet some common characteristics can be distinguished as a kind of family resemblance between them. The central question is how actors and structures are related. In answering this question a one-sided stance is avoided. Praxis theorists seek to go beyond the familiar dichotomies and paradoxes that, as we saw, have also troubled the social science study of Pentecostalism. So they look for the delicate and complex link between actors and structures, trying to show how actors are influenced by social and symbolic structures and at the same time change these structures. In this manner there is attention given to processes of regularization that confirm and reproduce existing structures, as well as to processes of situational adjustment, in which events generate behavior that causes structural changes (Moore 1977; see also Ortner 1984; Sahlins 1985). In the course of time, people give meaning to what occurs to them, whether they reproduce or change structures. Research should have a historical dimension, and power processes must receive attention. Pentecostalism in the Latin American context offers a striking example of this process. Conversion is viewed by believers as a radical change; social scientists would say a structural change. The convert adopts new social and symbolic structures. Certain events, often related to cognitive and material problem-solving, lead the potential convert in that direction. We have hardly begun to understand the complexity of these processes and personal strategies. Structural change not only occurs on the individual level, but also in society. Structural changes in society create problems for people and inspire and even oblige them to look for a solution to their problems. In any case, where individual and societal processes of regularization fail to combat indeterminacy, processes of situational adjustment occur (Moore 1977). What happens in the religious sector is a more specific illustration of this: if the joint familiar solutions of popular and official Catholicism do not solve the problems, alternatives like the Pentecostal become attractive. As a religious movement, Pentecostalism has its own social and symbolic structures that contain aspects that attract people. In other words, Pentecostalism should not only be explained by external factors, reducing it to a reflection of so-


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

cietal trends or of religious competition. The internal process should be studied in detail and in context. Power, within the groups under study, and in their societal context, is an important aspect of such studies. Cognitive anthropology can be seen as a helpful tool for this type of study of Pentecostal praxis. The central question is how people organize their knowledge – understood in a wide sense, including emotion – within a cultural context. This again includes the relationship between actor and structure, because it is through cognitive processes that people internalize structures and reinterpret them. Cognitive processes are rooted in experience, including physical experience. People use schemas that consist of cognitive elements in their bare, simplified form, sufficiently summarized to be remembered. These schemas are completed in daily praxis. People think not only in a syntagmatic manner putting cognitive elements in a discursive order, but they also have a paradigmatic capacity, through which they can consult and manipulate several schemas simultaneously. In the study of Pentecostalism, attention should be given to the schemas that are current and also to the way in which they are used. Conversion is, of course, a prime schema completed in each particular case. But there are other cognitive schemas and processes that are learned, reproduced, and reinterpreted in the Pentecostal’s life, including emotional dimensions. They often have to do with problem-solving and with physical experiences. Dualism is an example of a way to organize knowledge about society. The way healing occurs provides another example of a set of schemas. The Charismatic gifts of glossolalia and prophecy also represent schemas. In general, schemas in Pentecostalism have a dramatic character. These schemas should be compared to those that are characteristic of popular religion, especially popular Catholicism. A cognitive approach to Pentecostalism will show aspects of its dynamism despite the religion’s reputation of rigidity and inflexibility. With regard to globalization, the central question is which tendencies occur worldwide. Globality is consciousness of the world as a whole, as a single place (Robertson 1992: 6). This perspective looks beyond modernization as a process of westernization. It gives special attention to processes that influence all societies, including western societies. Globalization works at the supranational level cutting across state lines. Culture is becoming deterritorialized, as is visible already in mass media and in communication technology. Though globalization theories are focused on the global level, the parallel question is how these worldwide influences are translated to the local level. Some speak of glocalization

8. Epilogue 1996


(Robertson 1992: 173). It is also clear that at the local level fragmentation occurs simultaneously, often motivated by ethnic and religious motives, as when former states collapse and fall apart. As far as religion is concerned, globalization does not only mean privatization and secularization, but also new chances for religionization, most evident in the spread of fundamentalism (Beyer 1994). For the study of Pentecostalism in the Latin American context, the globalization perspective suggests that the movement not only grows because of North Atlantic influence, a thesis studied critically by Stoll (1990), but that it is very much part of a global movement. Martin (1990; 1994), comparing it to Methodist growth, presents Pentecostal expansion in Latin America as a – partly endogenous – expression of liberal pluralism that puts an end to Catholic monopoly and creates a free social space. His approach resembles Willems’ anomie interpretation of Latin American Pentecostal expansion linking it to global processes. The globalization perspective points out another aspect: Pentecostals feel part of a worldwide movement, a true transnational enterprise. They will couch this in religious terms as the coming of the Kingdom. The already mentioned Brazilian Universal Church of the Kingdom of God makes a case in point, being a ‘southern’ initiative that now has branches in dozens of other countries, including ‘northern’ nations. It is also known for its ability in using mass media and electronic devices. Globalization theory offers a framework that cannot be neglected in the study of Pentecostal expansion in Latin America. Gender approaches represent a turning of feminist and women’s studies to the study of the cultural definition of the relation between men and women, men and men, and women and women. Gay studies form a special branch of gender studies. The focus is no longer on what characterizes women as a category, but on difference between women. Gender is viewed as continuously constructed and reconstructed, as subjected to a process of symbolism and meaning-making. Since Latin American Pentecostalism attracts many more women than men and paradoxically has an almost exclusive male leadership, gender approaches must be included in the set of tools to be used in studying Pentecostal expansion. Pentecostals generally condemn gay behavior, so a gay studies perspective must be added to this set of tools. A gender approach must include critical reference to the stereotype of religion in Latin America as a female affair. The approaches discussed in this article can be rethought with regard to the gender dimension. A situation of anomie will demand a renewed definition of gender roles and


Chapter 12. Paradoxical Views on a Paradoxical Religion

the corresponding values and norms. Pentecostal churches may offer stability by maintaining tradition and may also offer new chances of leadership to women. Similarly modernization can be studied from a gender perspective, especially with regard to the changed position of women in the economic process and its consequences for the Pentecostal women. Finally, postmodernism must be mentioned. In certain respects, it is similar to the eclectic approach proposed here. It deeply distrusts any exclusive and ultimate framework of orientation and explanation, most of all modernity. It presents reality as fragmented and knowledge of that reality as even more fragmented. Consensus is difficult to reach since knowledge is always under construction and deconstruction. Representation of reality is, therefore, problematic and always incomplete. In a more constructive way this has expanded the range of literary forms available to authors of research reports. Text has become a major metaphor in postmodernism. To the study of Pentecostal expansion, a postmodernist approach can contribute first of all by relativizing unilateral approaches. If anything at all can be said, the student’s discourse must be plural. This is a plea for an eclectic approach and for freedom in the literary expression of research results (for an example see Guerrero 1995). Furthermore, postmodernism’s bitter criticism of the modernization project may oblige to a rethinking of explanations of Pentecostal expansion that refer to modernization theories. Finally, postmodernism, through its criticism of positivist conceptions of science, indirectly rehabilitates worldviews that do not obey the criteria of such conceptions. Though critical of all-embracing views, including religious ones, postmodernism relativizes the opposition between science and religion and shows the general incompleteness of knowledge in both. This may lead to a radical change in the attitude of those students of Pentecostalism who are interested in its attractive irrationality, to see it no longer as a strange and exceptional phenomenon, but as something normal and common, and, therefore, appealing to many people.

Acknowledgements I am grateful to the members of the Pentecostalism Study Group at the Vrije Universiteit for their comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.



References Alexander, Jeffrey C. (1990). Analytic debates: Understanding the relative culture. In: Jeffrey C. Alexander and Steven Seidman (eds.) (1990). Culture and society: Contemporary debates. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1 – 27. Baal, J. van (1971). Symbols for communication: An introduction to the anthropological study of religion. Assen: Van Gorcum. Beyer, Peter (1994). Religion and globalization. London: Sage. Bonilla, Plutarco (ed.) (1985). Pentecostalismo y teologia de la liberacion. Pastoralia, 7(15), 7 – 111. Boudewijnse, Barbara, André Droogers, and Frans Kamsteeg (eds.) (1991). Algo ms que opio: Una lectura antropolgica del Pentecostalismo latinoamericano y caribeÇo. San José, Costa Rica: DEI. Barbara Boudewijnse, André Droogers and Frans Kamsteeg (eds.) (1998). More than opium: An anthropological approach to Latin American and Caribbean Pentecostalism. Lanham and London: Scarecrow Press. Bourdieu, Pierre (1974). A economia das trocas simblicas. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1974. Brown, Diana DeGroat (1974). Umbanda: Politics of an urban religious movement. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Xerox University Microfilms. Brown, Diana DeGroat (1994), Umbanda: Religion and politics in urban Brazil. New York: Columbia University Press. Burdick, John (1993). Looking for God in Brazil: The progressive catholic church in urban Brazil’s religious arena. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. Camargo, Cándido Procópio Ferreira de (ed.) (1973). Catlicos, protestantes, espritas. Petrópolis: Vozes. DaMatta, Roberto (1973). Ensaios de antropologia estrutural. Petrópolis: Vozes. DaMatta, Roberto (1979). Carnavais, malandros e heris: Para uma sociologia do dilema brasileiro. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar. DaMatta, Roberto (1985). A casa e a rua: EspaÅo, cidadania, mulher e morte no Brasil. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1985. DaMatta, Roberto (1986a). ExploraÅes: Ensaios de sociologia interpretativa. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco. DaMatta, Roberto (1986b). O que faz o brasil, Brasil? Rio de Janeiro: Rocco. DaMatta, Roberto (1991). Carnivals, rogues, and heroes: An interpretation of the Brazilian dilemma. Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press. Dominguez, Enrique, and Deborah Huntington (1984). The salvation brokers: Conservative Evangelicals in Central America. Nacla Report on the Americas, 17(1), 2 – 36. Droogers, André (1985). From waste-making to recycling: A plea for an eclectic use of models in the study of religious change. In: Wim van Binsbergen and Matthew Schoffeleers (eds.) (1985). Theoretical explorations in African religion. London: KPI, pp. 101 – 137. Fernandes, Rubem C. (1977). O debate entre sociólogos a propósito dos pentecostais. Cadernos do ISER, 6, 49 – 60.


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Fernandez, James W. (1986). Persuasions and performances: The play of tropes in culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Fry, Peter H., and Gary N. Howe (1975). Duas respostas a aflição: Umbanda e pentecostalismo. Debate e Crtica, 6, 75 – 94. Guerrero J., Bernardo (1995). ’A Dios rogando…’: Los pentecostales en la sociedad aymara del norte grande de Chile. Amsterdam: VU University Press. Hoekstra, Angela (1998). Rural pentecostalism in Pernambuco (Brazil): More than a symbolic protest. In: Barbara Boudewijnse, André Droogers and Frans Kamsteeg (eds.) (1998). More than opium: An anthropological approach to Latin American and Caribbean Pentecostalism. Lanham and London: Scarecrow Press, pp. 145 – 167. Hoffnagel, Judith Chambliss (1978). The believers: Pentecostalism in a Brazilian city. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Xerox University Microfilms. (1977). Representações religiosas e capitalismo: Uma ’leitura’ estruturalista do pentecostalismo no Brasil. Cadernos do ISER, 6, 39 – 48. Howe, Gary N. (1980). Capitalism and religion at the periphery: Pentecostalism and umbanda in Brazil. In: Stephen D. Glazier (ed.) (1980). Perspectives on Pentecostalism: Case studies from the Caribbean and Latin America. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America. Ireland, Rowan (1991). Kingdoms come: Religion and politics in Brazil. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. Kamsteeg, Frans (1995). Prophetic Pentecostalism in Chile: A case study on religion and development policy. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit. Kamsteeg, Frans (1998). Prophetic Pentecostalism in Chile: A case study on religion and development policy. Lanham and London: Scarecrow Press. Lalive d’Épinay, Christian (1970). O reffflgio das massas: Estudo sociolgico do protestantismo chileno. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra. Lalive d’Épinay, Christian (1977). Religião, espiritualidade e sociedade: Estudo sociológico do pentecostalismo latinoamericano. Cadernos do ISER, 6, 5 – 10. Marcus, George E., and Michael M. J. Fischer (1986). Anthropology as cultural critique: An experimental moment in the human sciences. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press. Mariz, Cecilia Loreto (1994). Coping with poverty: Pentecostals and Christian base communities in Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Martin, David (1990). Tongues of fire: The explosion of protestantism in Latin America. Oxford: Blackwell. Martin, David (1994). Evangelical and charismatic Christianity in Latin America. In: Karla Poewe (ed.) (1994). Charismatic Christianity as a global culture. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, pp. 73 – 86. Moore, Sally Falk (1997). Epilogue: Uncertainties in situations, indeterminacies in culture. In: Sally Falk Moore, and Barbara G. Myerhoff (eds.) (1977). Symbol and politics in communal ideology: Cases and questions. Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell University Press, pp. 210 – 239. Novaes, Regina (1985). Os escolhidos de Deus: Pentecostais, trabalhadores e cidadania. São Paulo: Marco Zero (Cadernos do ISER 19).



O’Dea, Thomas F., and Renato Poblete (1970). Anomie and the ‘Quest for Community’: The formation of sects among the Puerto Ricans of New York. In: Thomas F. O’Dea (ed.) (1970). Sociology and the study of religion: Theory, research, interpretation. New York and London: Basic Books, 1970. Ortner, Sherry B. (1984). Theory in anthropology since the sixties. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26(1), 126 – 166. Poblete, Renato (1996). Sectarismo PortorriqueÇo. Cuernavaca: CIDOC (Sondeos no. 55). Poewe, Karla (ed.) (1994). Charismatic Christianity as a global culture. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press. Robertson, Roland (1992). Globalization: Social theory and global culture. London: Sage. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1973a). Expansão protestante em Nova Iguaçu. Revista Eclesistica Brasileira, 33(131), 660 – 675. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1973b). Pentecostalismo. Revista Eclesistica Brasileira, 33(132), 950 – 964. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1977). A propósito do pentecostalismo de forma protestante. Cadernos do ISER, 6, 11 – 20. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1979). Pentecôtisme et société au Brésil. Social Compass, 26(2 – 3), 345 – 372. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1980). Religi¼o e classes populares. Petropólis: Vozes. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1981). Gênese do pentecostalismo no Brasil. Revista Eclesistica Brasileira, 41(161), 119 – 140. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1982). Igrejas pentecostais. Revista Eclesistica Brasileira, 42(165), 29 – 60. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1985). Pentecostais no Brasil: Uma interpretażo socio-religiosa. Petropolis: Vozes. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1987). O que pentecostalismo. São Paulo: Brasiliense (Primeiros Passos 188). Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1991). Popular religion and Pentecostalism. In: Jacques van Nieuwenhove and Berma Klein Goldewijk (eds.) (1991). Popular religion, liberation and contextual theology. Kampen: Kok, pp. 126 – 137. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1995). Pentecostalismo: Brasil e Amrica Latina. Petropolis: Vozes. Sahlins, Marshall (1985). Islands of history. London: Tavistock. Souza, Beatriz Muniz de (1969). A experiÞncia da salvażo: Pentecostais em S¼o Paulo. São Paulo: Duas Cidades. Stoll, David (1990). Is Latin America turning Protestant? The politics of evangelical growth. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. Tennekes, Johannes (1972). De Pinksterbeweging in Chili: Een uitdaging. Wereld en Zending, 1(2), 148 – 163. Tennekes, Johannes (1985). El movimiento pentecostal en la sociedad chilena. Iquique: CIREN. Valderrey, José (1985). De sekten in Centraal-Amerika: Een pastoraal probleem. Pro Mundi Vita Bulletin, 100, 1 – 43.


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Willemier Westra, Allard Dirk (1987). AxÞ, kracht om te leven: Het gebruik van symbolen bij de hulpverlening in de candombl-religie in Alagoinhas (Bahia, Brazili). Amsterdam: CEDLA. Willems, Emílio (1964). Protestantism and culture change in Brazil and Chile. In: W. d’Antonio and F.B. Pike (eds.) (1964). Religion, revolution and reform. New York: Praeger, pp. 91 – 108. Willems, Emílio (1966). Religious mass movements and social change in Brazil. In: E.N. Baklanoff (ed.) (1966). New perspectives of Brasil. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, pp. 205 – 232. Willems, Emílio (1967). Followers of the new faith. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press. Yinger, J. Milton, (1970). The scientific study of religion. New York and London: Macmillan and Collier.

Chapter 13 Globalization and Pentecostal Success 1. Introduction The characteristic of Pentecostalism that seems to have attracted the most attention is its rapid expansion. The interpretations given to Pentecostal expansion have differed according to each author’s paradigmatic preference. Some, for instance, have worked from a modernization perspective (Pentecostals make good citizens of modem society), whereas others have taken a neo-Marxist starting-point (Pentecostals seek relief from oppression or resist it in their own particular way). In the 1990s, partly as an elaboration and modification of previous approaches, the concept of globalization has come to the fore (Pentecostalism flourishes under the conditions that globalization creates, or is even part of that process). In any case, both currently and in the past, whatever the theoretical framework used, most attention is given to factors that are external to Pentecostalism itself. Only rarely are specific characteristics of Pentecostalism taken into account and is a more idiosyncratic explanation sought. In this chapter I take the cultural anthropology of religion as a disciplinary frame of reference, in order to take a closer look at the internal religious characteristics of Pentecostalism and their articulation within the external circumstances of globalization. I propose to do this because I believe that if the starting point of analysis is the prevailing external social processes, then we will never be able to do justice to the specifics of a particular religion such as Pentecostalism. These social processes usually affect other religions as well, whether they are growing or not, and the particularities of a specific religious situation are usually insufficiently explained in the light of these external processes alone. I suggest that the search for a more complete explanation for the expansion of these religions should start from the particularities of a specific religion and proceed from there to the influence of, and articulation with, external social processes. Only in such a case is it possible to clarify why different religious reactions to similar processes occur and why a


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

new adherent opts for one of the religions on the market, rather than another (cf. Fry and Howe 1975).

2. Some Theoretical Issues Even when analyses give priority to the typical religious particularities, the complex nature of the connection between religion and society must also be taken into account. A plea to use religion itself as the starting point does not necessarily imply either a causal one-way relation between the religious and the social, not even in the case of a religion such as Pentecostalism, with its clearly marked boundaries and large degree of autonomy, or even a relation of opposition with regard to the surrounding culture and society. Any religion can influence non-religious social processes, just as it too can be influenced by them; equally, some degree of correlation, or complementarity, can exist between religion and social processes. My purpose, then, is not to prove that Pentecostal expansion is an internally propelled phenomenon, unfettered by the external social conditions that surround it. That would be as one-sided as a sociological reductionism of religious expansion to those same social conditions, in this case globalization. To refuse either form of unidirectional explanation means that some view on the mutual implications of the interaction between religion and society must be developed. This would amount to summarizing the whole history of the discipline of the anthropology (and sociology) of religion, a task far beyond my scope here. In the light of recent insights, however, I do feel that a few useful remarks can be made (cf. Hall and Du Gay 1996, Holland et al. 1998, Keesing 1994, Ortner 1984, Strauss and Quinn 1994, 1997). As long as the discipline has existed, cultural anthropology has struggled with its self-imposed distinctions. The basic questions raised here are: how does the autonomy of cultures relate to contact between them; how are the order and continuity a cultural framework guarantees reconciled with rupture and change; does culture make people (a culturalist view) or do people make culture (a constructivist view); to what degree is a culture homogeneous; how are the universal human and the particular cultural related? These general questions are not valid for cultures alone, but for religions as well, including Pentecostalism, especially when studying their connection with the globalization process. More specific questions can be added, of course, particularly with regard to religion’s relations with the social and cultural context.

2. Some Theoretical Issues


Does religion reflect society around it, and compromise with it, or does it stand in opposition to its central values? Has this position been inspired by religious views and experiences? Does it determine its adepts’ identity or is there room for individual initiative? When Pentecostalism spreads to other cultures, how does its specific character relate to that of those other cultures and to human nature in general? And how does this relate to the internal organization of that religion? In the culturalist perspective, culture – including religion as a cultural phenomenon – is viewed as a more or less fixed and autonomous complex of ideas and actions shared by the members of a human group and through which they are socialized. It guarantees continuity and order, just as it facilitates identification by individual group members with its central ideas and values, with its standardized behavior and with their fellow-group members. Correspondingly, identity is understood, in an essentialist way, as a constant and consistent self-understanding, the hard core of the cultural personality. Since Pentecostalism is often depicted as strict and even as fundamentalist, as well as influential in determining a person’s attitude to life, a culturalist approach might at first sight seem adequate. In the globalizing setting of the current situation, however, the boundaries of these autonomous cultures are becoming ever more perforated. One might even say that religions have played a major role in perforating cultural boundaries, in spreading their messages to people of cultures not previously primarily associated with them. In any case, the times of splendid cultural isolation, if ever they existed, are now well and truly over. It follows, then, that a constructivist critique of the culturalist view is to be recommended, because it does justice to individual initiatives and to global change, in the same way that it also points to dynamism, flexibility and difference. People construct their identity in an unessentialist and strategic way, depending on the context, and using elements from multiple selves, and a large, and nowadays intercultural, repertoire of scripts (Friedman 1994, Hall and Du Gay 1996). Cultural reality, therefore, is understood to be in a constant state of shift and fragmentation, with an ever growing library of scripts. New religions, including Pentecostalism, add to it their own scripts, just as do all the other partners in the globalization process. However, this constructivism should not swing to the other extreme, where all is in a state of change and profound chaos. Order and dynamism, culturalism and constructivism, therefore, should all be components of a framework that can serve to clarify the relationship be-


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

tween religion and society. In the case under examination here, this means that Pentecostalism should not be thought of as a phenomenon with a constant, more or less fixed, autonomous position, nor as a constantly adapting and changing religion. We will have instead to look for unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Similarly, Pentecostals should not be seen as people with a fixed religious position, nor as champions in adapting to changing circumstances. It is much more a question of studying the localized form which basic Pentecostalism adopts in specific cases. To this a remark must be added about the relationship between the actors and their social context. Neither the one-sided determinism of culturalism, nor the equally one-sided voluntarism of constructivism, offers very much help in understanding how Pentecostal actors operate in the globalizing world. These protagonists are both constrained and empowered by their social context; they submit to socialization and social control, just as they act in their own idiosyncratic way and may thus take innovative initiatives that will appeal to others and which, in the end, may change those constraining structures, be they symbolic or social. On a much wider scale, globalization processes have led to renewed attention being focused on the tension between the common and the particular, between the universally human and the specifically cultural. If everyone in the world were submitted to the same global processes, that which is common to all humanity would obviously receive more attention than that which is exclusively cultural. Contact between people of different cultures exploits the source of common humanity. Whereas both a culturalist and a constructivist approach appear to emphasize particularity, be it at the culture or actor level, the common human element will always need to be taken into account as well. In the case of Pentecostalism, this element is important because, for example, similar trance-like phenomena occur in other religions, and yet they remain typically Pentecostal by virtue of the concrete form they take. Just as the human gift for culture can only be observed in actual cultures, so too, what is universally human can only be studied in the context of its concrete manifestations. Attempts to study the way in which universal human potential is used and interpreted thus in no way contradict the approach advocated earlier in this chapter, that is to embark on an explanation of Pentecostal growth from the premise of its own particular religious characteristics.

3. Some Common Characteristics


3. Some Common Characteristics Despite apparent diversity within the world of Pentecostalism which I will discuss in the next section, something can nevertheless be said in a general, more or less ‘culturalist’, way about common Pentecostal features. This is particularly so when the ultimate goal is to understand Pentecostal expansion within the context of globalization and in terms of its internal religious characteristics. There is, of course, some unity in diversity, as is illustrated by the internal characteristics of the churches and other Pentecostal or charismatic groups. Whilst some of these characteristics might readily be mentioned by Pentecostals themselves, some are more striking to the outside observer. In elaborating on these characteristics, it should be clear that they too appear in diverse forms and that we are dealing here with ideal types. Healing through exorcism, for example, is certainly not the same everywhere. I once witnessed how an Argentinean pastor, for instance, exorcised the ‘demon of economic problems’. Local variations mean that an over-essentialist picture of Pentecostalism needs to be avoided. A good starting-point may be the central place given to the presence of the Holy Spirit, as experienced in the gifts of healing, speaking in tongues (glossolalia) and prophecy, all of which have the human body as their locus. These gifts, or charismata, are available in principle to all the faithful through conversion and baptism in the Spirit. The constructivist comment, of course, would be that what really matters is what persons actually do with their potential. The generous distribution of the gifts of the Spirit is the ideal image; the reality might be different, because not all members display the same gifts in the same way, despite doctrinaire equality. Secondly, there is the conversion experience, which is often related to the first experience of the charismata. To many Pentecostals, conversion is a dramatic personal event, by far the most important of their lives. And when it is linked to the experience of the Spirit, it has a strong physical component. Its consequences are felt in daily life, twentyfour hours a day, seven days a week. After conversion, the claim of the faith on the lives of its converts is – at least formally – total and absolute. In giving witness to their conversion, most people divide their lives into pre- and post-conversion periods. The watershed is a primal or proleptic spiritual experience that fundamentally changes the parameters of a person’s life (Hexham and Poewe 1997: 59ff, Poewe 1994). The receiving of the gifts of the Holy Spirit usually has the effect of


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

solving an existential problem and continues to be an important and healing resource in the ongoing struggle for life. In this context, healing must be understood in a very wide sense, including non-medical problems such as unemployment or conflicts with others. At the very moment of their conversion, people embark on a new life. The ‘rebirth’ metaphor is common, and is also implicit in baptism through total immersion as a physical experience. Again, we are dealing here with an ideal image, and we should bear in mind that membership includes believers who have not necessarily gone through such a dramatic experience or who do not succeed in living up to the high claims of the model, full-time, Pentecostal. Conversion often means that a person takes leave of customs in his or her culture that are considered sinful and demonic. This may lead to the church being seen as an alternative cultural community, that substitutes the dominant culture in important respects and that may even demand the rupture of kinship ties with non-converts. In contexts where ethnic identity is salient, the brothers and sisters of the church may form a new ‘tribe’, as it were. The original culture will not fully disappear from the lives of such converts, but it will undergo profound changes and only those aspects that are considered harmless remain. This leads us to a third characteristic, the so-called duality of the Pentecostal worldview. In a simple and clear manner, just as in the division of a personal life history into pre- and post-conversion phases, so too is the world divided into two parts: that of God and his believers, and that of the devil and his followers. The Pentecostal convert moves from the second to the first and feels saved in consequence. In both the social and the personal sense, the convert takes sides in the war that is said to rage between these two parts of the world. Looking back on the evil world, from whose sinfulness believers are fleeing, they are comforted by having taken the right decision. Once this fundamental choice has been made, the convert’s life becomes both transparent and comprehensible. This helpful and therapeutic worldview should therefore be brought to others, indeed to as many as possible. Such a rich experience cannot be kept to oneself. There is a certain ‘narrative compulsion’ (personal communication from Ruth Marshall-Fratani) felt by many Pentecostals, and the experience becomes truly self-fulfilling when transmitted to others. The more people accept the message, the better the world will be, until the devil is finally defeated. All people who share in the gifts of the Spirit are, in consequence, obliged to spread the ‘good news’.

4. Pentecostal Diversity


4. Pentecostal Diversity The concept of Pentecostalism is, to a certain degree, very much a social scientific construct. The term covers a variety of forms, to such a degree even that it seems difficult to determine exactly what they all have in common. In view of this diversity, the constructivist approach would seem to be more applicable than the culturalist approach discussed in the previous section. Despite their being renowned for their strictness, one’s first impression is that of a huge diversity in the types of churches and movements that choose to call themselves Pentecostal. First of all, there is much historical diversity. The first churches, founded at the beginning of the twentieth century, had a variety of precursors, thus ensuring diversity from the start, and there is no doubt that the segregation of white and black churches contributed in no small measure to this diversity (Hollenweger 1974: 18 – 19). Within a very short time span, Pentecostal churches were founded throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. They are all recognizable as Pentecostal churches, but at the same time they all have their own particular profiles, depending on their history and their cultural context (Miguez 1998a and b). The charismatic movement, also worthy of the name ‘Pentecostal’ despite being part of mainstream churches, including the Roman Catholic Church (Hollenweger 1974: 76 – 97), emerged from the early 1960s onwards. In the last few decades, a neo-Pentecostal type has also become evident, although in a very different sense, to refer to the charismatic movement (Hunt et al. 1997: 2). Others use the term neo-Pentecostal to label so-called Third Wave Pentecostals, who themselves come in a wide variety. One approach is to identify these churches as very actively seeking expansion, as having a middle-class orientation, with an emphasis on prosperity as a fruit of faith, and a ‘health and wealth’ message (Brouwer 1996: 6, 44, 266). Besides diversity for historical reasons, therefore, there is also a social and organizational diversity, and the model of the autonomous church is a very common one. Many followers of the charismatic movement have often opted to remain loyal to their mainstream churches, be they Roman Catholic or Protestant. Even when a church model is adopted, the size may differ enormously. At one extreme, there are the livingroom churches with services being held at the leader’s home, and at the other extreme we see multinational churches with a strong presence in many countries. A special case, best illustrated in the US, is formed by


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

pastors organizing their work as businesses, carrying expressive or personal names such as ‘Full Gospel Healing Ministries’, or ‘John Johnson Exorcist Ministries Inc’. Some make use of modem marketing and PR techniques, a business-type strategy that can also be found in some of the Pentecostal churches. Another significant social type is the organization surrounding a gifted evangelist who may travel around the world, appearing in huge local campaigns held in sports stadiums, and often in collaboration with local churches, but with his own core group as the real organizer and powerhouse. A good example of this is the Korean Paul Yonggi Cho and his ‘Church Growth International’ (Brouwer 1996: 44, 45). There is also diversity with respect to political issues (Hollenweger 1974). The almost stereotypical image is that of a Pentecostal church that, in the light of Romans 13, honors the authorities that be, even when they also happen to be dictators. But there have also been churches, albeit a small minority, that have defended a politically progressive stance and have formed part of the opposition against dictatorships. Chile in the 1970s and 1980s is a notorious example of deferment, with the majority of the Pentecostal churches remaining loyal to the Pinochet regime, while a few took an active dissenting role (Kamsteeg 1998). And then there is diversity too in terms of the attitude towards other Pentecostals, let alone other Christians. On the one hand, there may exist a very exclusivist and hostile attitude, especially on the part of Protestant Pentecostals towards Catholics, and this is sometimes reinforced by fundamentalist thinking. On the other hand, there may be forms of cooperation among Pentecostals, such as when a famous evangelist visits a city or region. Some Pentecostal churches are members of international organizations and networks, including the mainstream ecumenical World Council of Churches, and several use ecumenical training institutes for the education of their pastors. A final comment concerns a special source of diversity: Pentecostalism’s capacity for the paradoxical combination of opposite characteristics (Droogers 1998). A variety of seemingly contradictory scenarios are used according to context and need. There are several examples of this. There is an eschatological, even apocalyptic, tendency in Pentecostalism. Pentecostals live in expectation of the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. They also hold a long-term view of human history, although there is no question of postponing the treatment of affliction in anticipation of that moment, and the Pentecostal faith in the

5. Contextual Factors


gifts of the Spirit also serves to solve small and large problems, here and now, and within a short-term perspective of human history. Another example of this way of reconciling apparent opposites is the way in which Pentecostal believers despise the sinful world, and yet they participate and have even earned themselves a reputation of being responsible and reliable citizens and workers in it. Similarly, traditional culture may, by and large, be condemned while even Pentecostals cannot escape cultural socialization completely. The way in which equality and hierarchy are combined also illustrates this facility to maintain a double perspective. Both forms of social management seem to belong to the Pentecostal repertoire and are used according to need and situation. The combination of opposite characteristics can also be detected in the simultaneous presence of spontaneity and control, or of individual expression and social conformity. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit seems to stimulate the free expression of emotions; people sometimes give tearful witness to their faith. But at the same time, the pastor usually has his own codes for bringing this spontaneous part of the service to an appropriate end.

5. Contextual Factors Now that Pentecostalism’s unity and diversity have been duly sketched, I shall discuss the problem of explaining the Pentecostal success story. The first step is to make an inventory of reductionist explanations put forward since the 1960s. In the next section, we will focus on the concept of ‘globalization’. Where Pentecostals themselves have attributed the expansion of their churches and movement to the workings of the Holy Spirit, social scientists have looked for other, more secular, explanations. Reference to anomie, therefore, is common to several such explanations, be they economic, social or psychological by nature (Droogers 1998). For example, the growth of Pentecostalism is presented as a remedy or a compensation for some disorder in society from which people suffer. In this context, modernization is often mentioned, especially with respect to the developing countries. When modernization is mentioned, it is usually placed in the context of the city, and urbanization is seen as an influential manifestation of the modernization process. The story is told in terms of personal uprooting and the loss of a social and cultural framework. The urban religions, including Pentecostalism, provide a new


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

home and even a new family of brothers and sisters, albeit based on artificial kinship. When that same argument is used to explain the expansion of other religions, it does not represent a sufficient explanation for Pentecostal growth, or for people’s preference for it. Rather more specific is the explanation from modernization which argues that Pentecostals, because of their reliability and good citizenship, make model participants in the modernization process (Willems 1967). The individualism inherent in the Pentecostal faith – although often lived out within the confines of a closely-knit community – corresponds, in this sense, to the individualism which is regarded as an asset in a liberal capitalist society. Using the Weberian thesis in a selective manner, it can still be argued that, in the case of Pentecostals, their faith, their personal (missionary) initiatives, their desire to make full use of their talents and their labor ethos all contribute to making them strong candidates for upward social mobility in modern society. This argument, in my view, is an example of a more specific interpretation, in that it takes a particular characteristic of Pentecostal religion into account and thereby departs from the level of general social theorizing. Again, the question is whether this explanation suffices, and whether it is applicable to all new converts (Hoffnagel 1978). It may also be that a Pentecostal church attracts successful and socially mobile citizens because the ideology corresponds with their own expectations and aspirations: the Weberian thesis is thus inverted. This would seem to be the case when it becomes apparent that urban converts are not recent migrants but belong, instead, to the already established middle class. Some authors (e. g. Lalive d’Épinay 1968) have pointed to the fact that the patron role of the rural landlord corresponds with that of the influential Pentecostal pastor, thereby implying that this urban religion is successful because it consolidates a feudal framework that, in itself, is anything but modern; the ‘clients’ have merely changed their patrons. Viewed from this standpoint, Pentecostalism creates no break between the rural and urban contexts, but represents continuity instead. A few authors have developed a variation on the modernization thesis, by focusing on the trend towards cultural and social pluralism typical of today’s society. Especially where a monolithic religion such as Catholicism makes itself felt in the Latin American context, the rise of alternative religions is viewed as the emergence of a free social space, a value cherished by societies on the Northern Atlantic axis (Martin 1990). Latin American Pentecostals have, in consequence, been presented as radically innovative, in that they develop a new social framework

5. Contextual Factors


devoid of the traditionally ever present leadership of some sympathizing elite. In this respect, Pentecostals differ from their competitors, the liberation theologians and their flock (Lehmann 1996). The matter can also be looked at from another theoretical – and ideological – perspective, in this case neo-Marxist. In its more vulgar version, religion – and thus Pentecostalism – parades as the opium of the people, serving only the interests of the producing owners. Religions, including Pentecostalism, are said to be growing because they help their converts and adepts to forget the misery that, as workers, they experience in capitalist modernizing society. In this view, the new free social space is not free at all, but subject to manipulation and foreign interests. In more sophisticated versions, reference is made to the Gramscian concept of hegemony, which suggests that the oppressed have a part in the acceptance of their own fate. Another, less vulgar, interpretation contends that the expropriated victims of economic production ultimately gain control over religious production without any control on the part of upper class clergy; in this way, they rehabilitate themselves from anonymity and address their fellowvictims in the language of their own class (Rolim 1980, 1987, 1995). Again, it must be observed that the neo-Marxist approaches are partial. The Marxist perspective does not explain Pentecostal expansion among the middle and upper classes, unless the new prosperity preached by Pentecostalism is legitimized as a blessing from God. Neither does it account for the growth arising from autochthonous ‘Southern’ initiatives, sometimes even specifically directed, as in the case of some Brazilian churches, towards ‘Northern’ capitalist societies, including the US. And as we have seen already, Pentecostalism is politically diverse and even includes believers with leftist preferences upon which they act. We have discussed the predecessors of current globalization theories, and we have seen that their authors have managed to reduce the religious to the non-religious to the extent that their theories, in consequence, are not sufficiently specific. It has also been shown that their explanations are not valid for all Pentecostals, and in that sense too, they are partial. These contributions from the 1970s and the 1980s are nonetheless relevant to the present debate because several of the insights gained from the modernization and Neo-Marxist approaches are still in use, as will become clear when we take a closer look at globalization perspectives.


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

6. Globalization Globalization has been referred to in diverse manner. Depending on their disciplinary homeland, some authors focus on the economic and ecological aspects, and others on the social, political and cultural sides of the phenomenon. In all cases, the world is experienced as a single place, or even a non-place, an abstract sign space, or as subject to time/space compression (in order: Robertson 1992: 6, Augé 1995, Vieille 1986: 312, Bauman 1998: 2). World society is presented as a system of mutual dependency. People, nations, transnational corporations and religions are all condemned to each other. But this one world also has its shadow world. There is often talk of a tension between the universal and the particular, the global and the local, the whole and the fragments, and this has led to terms such as ‘glocalization’ (Robertson 1992: 173). Globalization has stimulated postmodern interest in fragmentation, not so much in relation to the global, but much more in relation to the local translations of the global. In Arizpe’s words: ‘the new “globality” is, in fact, a new “locality”’ (Arizpe 1996: 89 – 90). The fascination with globalization does not stem from the characteristics of the global, but from the attitudes developed locally in order to survive in an era of globalization. The stereotype is that the local disappears under the influence of Coca-Colaization or McDonaldization. A world culture, however, is highly improbable. It would seem better to follow Axford’s advice: ‘understanding the complexity of the global system requires a multi-dimensional approach that deals with the mediated connections between actors and institutional orders, at whatever “level” they are to be found’ (Axford 1995: 26). The only solid conclusion that can be drawn from this is that a cognitive global order has come into existence, rather than a political, let alone a moral one (Axford 1995: 27). At the political level, one aspect of globalization that is often mentioned is the erosion of society as a unity and, more specifically, of the nation-state (Axford 1995: 25, Featherstone 1990: 2, Vieille 1986). The transnational corporations are said to be the new states of the future, no longer confined to a particular territory, but ever-present, especially through the world-wide availability of brand name consumer products. Instead of proclaiming the end of the nation-state, it would perhaps be more interesting to study how the nation-state adapts itself through what might be called an effort at cultural syncretism, thus surviving global erosion at the local or regional level. This means that so-called

6. Globalization


national cultures share in the transformation of the state, and society’s boundaries are redefined along similar lines. Multicultural societies are the result of this process and they represent the wider world within the old national and cultural boundaries, changing former concepts of space and scale. Some authors (Drummond 1980, Hannerz 1992) use a linguistic metaphor to describe the cultural change that is taking place; by taking the example of the Creole languages and speaking of ‘creolization’, they imply that people today are increasingly fluent in more than one cultural ‘language’. This account bears a striking similarity to the founding myth of Pentecostalism as explained in the story of the first Pentecost, when people were able to understand each others’ languages (César 2001). Religion sometimes receives a good deal of attention in globalization debates. Fundamentalist forms, Christian and Islamic in particular, are said to thrive in the new globalizing climate. Christian expansion has always been viewed as a transnational phenomenon with globalizing tendencies, even before the term became popular. For several decades already – and without using the word – Christian missiologists have been very aware of the ‘glocalization’ concept, as in the case of local cultural translations of the universal message, stamped as ‘inculturation’. Especially in non-Western contexts, Christian converts have shown how people can adopt a global view and at the same time remain faithful to their traditional identities. An African church elder once told me, quite unashamedly, that he regularly asked his ancestors for help in being a good Christian. The emphasis on globalization as a cultural process has stimulated interest in the concept of identity. As we saw above, two approaches to identity, formerly presented as mutually exclusive, are now being combined to represent two aspects of the identity phenomenon. On the one hand, identity viewed from a culturalist standpoint is stable, and forms the basis for the experience of continuity; for this view of identity, Hall uses the metaphor of the root (Hall and Du Gay 1996: 4). On the other hand, it has also been presented in a constructivist way as contextualized, as a strategic device used by persons according to their particular needs in a particular situation, as a repertoire of multiple selves. To summarize this view Hall suggests the metaphor of the route (Hall and Du Gay 1996: 4). People involved in globalization processes tend, like the above-mentioned church elder in Africa, to protect themselves by trying to remain who and what they are (identity as root), while simultaneously developing their own history, and making


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

strategic use of all new opportunities that present themselves (identity as route). Though not identical, this distinction can be coupled with that between mechanistic and subjectivistic perspectives, emphasizing respectively the autonomy of structures and of actors. The more autonomous the structures are, the more they produce people with similar identities who feel themselves to have the same roots. Actors have their own way of dealing with structures, by means of adaptation or selection, or even by constructing totally new structures, choosing – in short – their own routes. In globalization processes, actors are confronted with a new stock of structures that seem to impose themselves upon them, but which they use to develop their own routes. This then is the somewhat murky globalizing world within which Pentecostal expansion occurs. Many of the issues raised so far provoke the type of questions relevant to understanding the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of Pentecostal expansion. If we move from Pentecostalism’s basic characteristics towards the non-religious aspects of the globalizing context, how specific and precise can our explanation of Pentecostal expansion then be? What, in this case, is the relationship between the religious and the social? How are the two articulated? What are, in Axford’s terms, the mediated connections? Does a religion like Pentecostalism change when it crosses cultural boundaries? Is the global message translated into local forms? To what degree does Pentecostalism mark people, and to what extent do Pentecostals form and transform their religion? How are culturalist roots and constructivist routes connected? Does the Pentecostal experience easily combine with universal human characteristics?

7. Globalization and Pentecostal Commonality To find a tentative answer to these questions – the complete answer will require years of research – I will now return to the characterization of Pentecostalism given above, and confront it with the globalization process as described in the previous section. I will suggest that these internal religious elements together, as a constellation, make Pentecostalism a religion that fits with the globalizing world. In the subsequent section, I will address the relationship between globalization and Pentecostal diversity.

7. Globalization and Pentecostal Commonality


What then is the value of the experience of the Holy Spirit as a religious element in a globalizing world? Experience of the Spirit is personal, embodied and, therefore, dramatically intense. It is not just a message, but more often a message experienced bodily. This very intimate manifestation of the Spirit, however, is not limited solely to the personal universe. First of all, what is felt physically is an experience that the believer shares with the universal body of Pentecostal believers, his or her brothers and sisters, in a world-wide artificial kinship of God’s family. The community of believers is the model of the ideal society, and globalization has made this world-wide fellowship more visible. Secondly, the personal experience of the Spirit underpins a link not only with other Pentecostals but with all people of this one-place world, because the message must, by all means, be transmitted to the whole of mankind. The ultimate perspective is that of a global world that coincides with the Kingdom of God. The Pentecostals have their own scenario for the globalised world. The scope of Pentecostal interest is global; after all, the whole world is under God’s authority and all people are potential believers. The language miracle of the first Pentecost is more than a metaphor: Pentecostals behave like cultural polyglots. Whether or not the nation-state will survive the globalization process, Pentecostals will certainly not allow themselves to be constrained by national boundaries. They preach their own model of a world society, and give it substance within their own communities. They regard fellow believers in other countries as their kin in faith and, as such, part of the world-wide community. Pentecostalism takes advantage of the world-wide change in scale, it normalizes the expanded boundaries of people’s worlds, and facilitates access to that larger world. Anywhere in this global setting, it provides a place where the believer can feel ‘at home’, meet fellow believers, and make converts. ‘Place’ is primarily the Pentecostal meetingplace, and secondly a locus for recruitment, wherever it may be located. This perspective is reflected in the charismata, most clearly in ‘speaking in tongues’ (glossolalia) as the victory over linguistic differences, and the new universal language of God’s worldly Kingdom. Through the gift of prophecy people are instructed, not so much about the future, though this may occur, but about the right path to follow and about the course the world as a whole will follow. This gives certainty to the faithful, who have to bear with the lack of comprehension on the part of nonbelievers. Healing is the practical reaffirmation of a prevision of the Kingdom of God. Globalization is for many often accompanied by pain and suf-


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

fering – they have not asked for it, and every token of help, therefore, is welcomed with open arms. This might give the impression of a functionalist and therefore reductionist interpretation, yet the mere fact that Pentecostalism offers relief cannot be denied, even though its success cannot be explained from this ‘function’. The point is that this function depends on religious convictions and the experience of the Spirit. Interestingly enough, the definition of healing goes beyond purely medical problems, and includes a wide variety of personal problems which people have to deal with in this modern global world. One of these problems is that of identity. Globalization creates all kinds of identity crises in all kinds of cultures, societies and persons. The question ‘who am I?’ becomes more pressing when new repertories of behavior and conviction enter the market of public opinion. Globalization brings a solution in the shape of Pentecostalism. Interestingly, as some have suggested, the US is the main distributor both of corporate capitalism and of Evangelical missionaries (Brouwer 1996: 7). Though they are by no means the only ones in the field, ‘astute Christian entrepreneurs are successfully selling a new international belief system’ (Brouwer 1996: 7). Pentecostalism helps to solve the individual quest for a reliable and convincing orientation in life and, in addition, it offers a formula that corresponds to the scale of the globalized world insofar as it links personal and global worlds. There is, of course, much more that can be said about the way people receive the gifts of the Spirit in very diverse cultures, such as Ghana, Korea and Brazil. Cox has suggested, for instance, that Pentecostalism flourishes on a basis of ‘primal spirituality’ (Cox 1995: 82), and he thus takes as his starting-point the importance of physical experiences in Pentecostalism (see also Csordas 1993, 1994) as a reflection of supposedly universal human experiences which include glossolalia, trance, vision, dreams, healing and hope. Other authors take paranormal experiences as the universal basis for Pentecostalism (Hunt 1997: 6). The functional continuity between Pentecostalism and its more traditional, or popular, predecessors also seems to point in the direction of a common human basis, beyond specific times and places. It may well be that the Pentecostal gifts ought to be seen as a specific use and interpretation of a global human body language, doubly adapted to Pentecostal theology and the local cultural context in which it is sometimes helped, as in the African, Brazilian and Korean contexts, by a tradition of similar experiences, albeit critically used and interpreted. The Pentecostal reper-

7. Globalization and Pentecostal Commonality


toire has colored human potentialities through the role attributed to the Holy Spirit, thus giving them a unique and exclusive flavor. Conversion, the second religious characteristic, brings this complex of views and practices ‘home’ to the new believer. As a dramatic bodily event, expressed in baptism, with water and in (the name of) the Holy Spirit, it is the prototype of an individual’s experience of the Spirit. It has drastic consequences at the personal level too, but acts as a mediating force between the person and the community of believers, locally as well as globally. It amounts, in fact, to admission to the new world community of the saved, the prototype of the promised Kingdom of God and an alternative to the prevailing global situation. It also emphasizes the commitment to that divine Kingdom. Conversion stories are widely used in spreading the message, and in globally expanding Pentecostalism these stories serve as models open to adoption by potential converts. The narrative discourse offers cross-cultural possibilities of identification, despite cultural differences that may hamper understanding. Basic human experiences of affliction and happiness are easily recognized. Let us turn now to the third Pentecostal characteristic, duality of worldview. This has the advantage of being a simplistic model of what is happening in the world: God and Satan are at war and Pentecostals are God’s proud and committed soldiers. It is a short-hand theory of globalization, tailor-made for the Pentecostal believer. In this way, misery and suffering can be explained, just as the moral choices believers have to deal with are put into a comprehensive and decisive framework, while retaining the belief that the end of the world is expected and understood. At the same time, there is an absolute certainty that God will ultimately win and that the devil will be overcome. Here, too, is a universal dimension that corresponds to the global expansion of Pentecostalism, just as the experience of the spirit and the conversion experience have a universal human component. Dichotomous views have a certain universality, across and despite cultural boundaries, even though each society, or religion, produces its own form of this duality (Needham 1973). The expansion of Pentecostalism appears to be seconded by a capacity to understand such dual schemas. On the global market, a dualist view stands a good chance of being recognized and accepted, even in its specific Pentecostal form. It is suggested, in short, that taken together as a constellation, the three characteristics of Pentecostalism currently facilitate Pentecostalism’s access to the world’s peoples. The message is adapted to the global


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

scale and experienced at the recognizable level of the human body. Precisely because the corporeal experience, through the charismata, is so important, it grounds universal human potential in a physical basis, even though it is interpreted in a radically exclusive manner. Similarly, duality can be traced to universal dichotomous thinking. Pentecostalism offers a universal framework that can be amplified and developed within the cultural (and culturalist) as well as the personal (and constructivist) context. It allows for cultural adaptation and for individual initiatives. It combines root and route, commonality and diversity.

8. Globalization and Pentecostal Diversity Having examined the basic Pentecostal constellation of defining religious traits in relation to the human universal potential as applied in the Pentecostal global worldview, it is now possible to concentrate on the other end of the spectrum, the almost fragmented diversity of Pentecostal manifestations. How can this diversity be linked to the globalization process? What is its relevance for the expansion of Pentecostalism? In my opinion, this diversity can best be seen as an illustration of the capacity of Christianity to bridge the gap between the global and the local. This adaptability may surprise those who have a view of Pentecostalism as static, dogmatic and rigid. Pentecostals have, throughout their history, shown themselves well able to adapt to new circumstances. In social terms, their strong focus on their mission has given them good insights into the most efficient way of organizing themselves. What role then does this diversity play in the context of the globalization process? Let us look, first of all, at social diversity which may have a weakening effect on that sense of unity. The sheer variety can also be seen as an asset in the globalization process, especially if this diversity is coupled to flexibility. If globalization can best be observed at the local level, then Pentecostal diversity matches the local diversity that is the other side of the universalizing globalization coin. Pentecostalism facilitates the translation from the global to the local and vice versa. An example of this is the neo-Pentecostal emphasis on prosperity, which fits very well the dream of wealth spread by the globalization process. As Brouwer put it: ‘It makes the religious culture compatible with the worldwide commodity culture’ (Brouwer 1996: 9). Another example is that conscious choice of a target group, using modern commercial marketing techniques, facilitates Pentecostal penetration into new mis-

8. Globalization and Pentecostal Diversity


sion fields. Pentecostalism adapts easily to the contours of the social map. Two restrictions must be mentioned, however. Firstly, the radical choice converts are expected to make carries obvious consequences for their cultural repertoire. Much of what was normal in pre-conversion times now becomes anathema, in short, demonic (see e. g. Guerrero 1995). Pentecostalism is able to give short shrift to cultural elements considered contrary to the message. The second restriction is that Pentecostals are ambiguous with regard to modernity. As we have already seen, they apparently fit well into modern society and make good citizens. They also make skilful use of modern communication techniques, although they are not averse to voicing strong public criticism of such phenomena as loss of ‘community’ and falling moral standards, which they claim are the result of modernity, and which lead to dereligionization or secularization. In this sense, Pentecostals are anti-modern (Hunt 1997: 3). With regard to political diversity, it could be that political abstinence, based on respect for the established order, actually did much to aid missionary access to dictatorially governed countries. On the other hand, progressive churches may also have served as rallying-points for those opposed to dictatorship, as happened in some Chilean churches. Ecumenical diversity is linked to globalization, if only in the sense of the meaning attributed to the word ‘ecumenical’: concerning the whole inhabited world. Cox has called Pentecostalism ‘a kind of ecumenical movement’ (Cox 1995: 16), and indeed Pentecostals have their own world-wide networks and conferences. The intricacies of information technology were quickly grasped, as was clear from the rapid spread of the so-called ‘Toronto Blessing’ in the early 1990s. The spread of the Roman Catholic charismatic movement presents another example. The final Pentecostal feature mentioned, the combination of opposite characteristics, exists only within the parameters of a simplistic worldview; it does, however, facilitate access, bearing in mind that whatever the circumstances, every potential convert can find something of value. This may also be linked to the global nature of current world society, notwithstanding cultural differences and whether or not they are taken into account. Globalization also combines opposite characteristics, especially the global and the local. The combination of a ‘happy end’ for all believers and a problem-solving capacity in the here and now is undoubtedly very attractive. Similarly, the condemnation of


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

the world as sinful imposes no demands to retreat from it as was the custom in the monastic tradition. In short, Pentecostal diversity has generally worked towards utilizing the opportunities offered by the globalization process. As a global movement, Pentecostalism can be said to have become part of religious globalization. As a form of faith, it has spread its message on the wings of more secular sectors of the globalization process, just as in the traditional churches, both Catholic and Protestant, missionary efforts were the constant companions of colonial expansion.

9. Conclusion This chapter has explored the complex articulation between Pentecostalism and globalization. An effort has also been made to avoid reductionist explanations of Pentecostal expansion that seek to attribute it to effects arising out of non-religious (social, economic, political and psychological) factors. Without denying the importance of these factors, however, the internal religious characteristics of Pentecostalism were taken as the starting point in order to discover how, taken together as a constellation, they are articulated together with these non-religious factors, thus facilitating Pentecostalism’s role in the current process of globalization. In this way, a more specific explanation has been found whereby the Pentecostal’s physical experience with the Holy Spirit, based on a dramatic conversion experience and lived out in the framework of a dualist worldview, serves to situate the believer effectively at the global, local and personal level. The Pentecostal message has the potential to create a religious fellowship that serves as a model, not only for the individual, but for national and global societies as well. Pentecostals have shown themselves well able to use the cultural tools that are at the disposal of all mankind, tools which ensure both continuity and change, combining social control and individual initiative, and making unique use of capacities that belong to the universal human toolkit. Although Pentecostal identity contains outspoken and, as it were, eternal components, believers are able to find a dynamic form that facilitates adaptation to changing personal and cultural situations. Special attention has been given to the way in which unity and diversity are related in Pentecostalism and how this influences its position in the globalization process. The global scope of the Pentecostal message matches the current global



framework. At the same time, the variety of Pentecostal forms corresponds to the local groundedness of the globalization process.

References Arizpe, Lourdes (1996). Scale and interaction in cultural processes: towards an anthropological perspective of global change. In: Lourdes Arizpe (ed.) (1996), The cultural dimensions of global change: An anthropological approach. Paris: UNESCO, pp. 89 – 107. Augé, Marc (1995). Non-places: Introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity. London: Verso. Axford, Barrie (1995). The global system: Economics, politics, and culture. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Bauman, Zygmunt (1998). Globalization: The human consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press. Beyer, Peter (1990). Privatization and the public influence of religion in global society. In: Mike Featherstone (ed.) (1990), Global culture: Nationalism, globalization and modernity. London etc.: Sage, pp. 373 – 395. Beyer, Peter (1994). Religion and globalization. London: Sage. Brouwer, Steve, Paul Gifford and Susan D. Rose (1996). Exporting the American gospel: Global Christian fundamentalism. New York: Routledge. César, Waldo (2001). From Babel to Pentecost: A social-historic-theological study of the growth of Pentecostalism. In: André Corten and Ruth Marshall-Fratani (eds.) (2001). Between Babel and Pentecost: Transnational Pentecostalism in Africa and Latin America. London: Hurst, pp. 22 – 40. Cox, Harvey (1995). Fire from heaven: The rise of Pentecostal spirituality and the reshaping of religion in the twenty-first century. New York: Addison-Wesley. Csordas, Thomas J. (1993). Somatic Modes of Attention. Cultural Anthropology, 8(2), 135 – 156. Csordas, Thomas J. (1994). The sacred self: A cultural phenomenology of charismatic healing. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Droogers, André (1998). Paradoxical views on a paradoxical religion: Models for the explanation of Pentecostal expansion in Brazil and Chile. In: Barbara Boudewijnse, André Droogers and Frans Kamsteeg (eds.) (1998). More than opium: An anthropological approach to Latin American and Caribbean Pentecostalism. Lanham and London: Scarecrow Press, pp. 1 – 34. (Chapter 12 of this book) Drummond, Lee (1980). The cultural continuum: A theory of intersystems. Man, 15(2), 352 – 374. Featherstone, Mike (1990). Global culture: An introduction. In: Mike Featherstone (ed.) (1990). Global culture: Nationalism, globalization and modernity. London etc.: Sage, pp. 1 – 14. Friedman, Jonathan (1994). Cultural identity and global process. London: Sage. Fry, Peter H., and Gary N. Howe (1975). Duas respostas a aflição: Umbanda e pentecostalismo. Debate e Crtica, 6, 75 – 94.


Chapter 13. Globalization and Pentecostal Success

Guerrero, Bemardo (1995). A Dios rogando… Los pentecostales en la sociedad Aymara del norte grande de Chile. Amsterdam: VU University Press. Hall, Stuart, and Paul du Gay (eds.) (1996). Questions of cultural identity. London etc.: Sage. Hannerz, Ulf (1992). Cultural complexity: Studies in the social organization of meaning. New York: Columbia University Press. Hexham, Irving and Karla Poewe (1997). New religions as global cultures: Making the human sacred. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Hoffnagel, Judith Chambliss (1978). The believers: Pentecostalism in a Brazilian city. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Xerox University Microfilms. Holland, Dorothy, William Lachicotte Jr, Debra Skinner and Carole Cain (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Hollenweger, Walter (1974). Pentecost between black and white: Five case studies on Pentecost and politics. Belfast: Christian Journals Limited. Hollenweger, Walter (1994). The Pentecostal elites and the Pentecostal poor, A missed dialogue? In: Karla Poewe (ed.) (1994). Charismatic Christianity as a global culture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, pp. 200 – 214. Hunt, Stephen, Malcolm Hamilton and Tony Walter (1997). Introduction: Tongues, Toronto and the millennium. In: Stephen Hunt, Malcolm Hamilton and Tony Walter (eds.) (1997). Charismatic Christianity: Sociological perspectives. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1 – 16. Kamsteeg, Frans (1998). Prophetic Pentecostalism in Chile: A case study on religion and development policy. Lanham and London: Scarecrow Press. Keesing, Roger H. (1994). Theories of Culture Revisited. In: Robert Borofsky (ed.), Assessing Cultural Anthropology. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 301 – 312. Lalive d’Épinay, Christian (1968). El refugio de las masas: Estudio sociolgico del bprotestantismo Chileno. Santiago de Chile: Editorial del Pacifico. Lehmann, David (1996). Struggle for the spirit: Religious transformation and popular culture in Brazil and Latin America. Cambridge: Polity Press. Martin, David (1990). Tongues of fire: The explosion of protestantism in Latin America. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990. Miguez, Daniel R. (1998a). Spiritual bonfire in Argentina: Confronting current theories with an ethnographic account of Pentecostal growth in a Buenos Aires suburb. Amsterdam: CEDLA. Miguez, Daniel R. (1998b). Qué puede agregarse a los clasicos? Buscando nuevos horizontes a los estudios sobre el Pentecostalismo Latinoamericano. Estffldios sobre Religin, 6, 4 – 6. Needham, Rodney (ed.) (1973). Right & left: Essays on dual symbolic classification. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Ortner, Sherry B. (1984). Theory in anthropology since the sixties. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26(1), 126 – 166. Poewe, Karla (ed.) (1994). Charismatic Christianity as a global culture. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press.



Poewe, Karla (1994). Rethinking the relationship of anthropology to science and religion. In: Karla Poewe (ed.) (1994). Charismatic Christianity as a global culture. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, pp. 234 – 258. Robertson, Roland (1992). Globalization: Social theory and global culture. London etc.: Sage. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1980). Religi¼o e classes populares. Petrópolis: Vozes. Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1987). O que pentecostalismo. São Paulo: Brasiliense (Primeiros Passos 188). Rolim, Francisco Cartaxo (1995). Pentecostalismo: Brasil e Amrica Latina. Petrópolis: Vozes. Strauss, Claudia and Naomi Quinn (1994). A cognitive/cultural anthropology. In: Robert Borofsky (ed.) (1994). Assessing cultural anthropology. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 284 – 300. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1997). Cognitive theory of cultural meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Vieille, Paul (1986). Du transnational au politique-monde? Peuples mditerranens, 35 – 36, 309 – 38. Willems, Emílio (1967). Followers of the new faith. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press.

Part III Methodological Applications

Methodological Ludism Chapter 14 Methodological Ludism: Beyond Religionism and Reductionism 1. Introduction In 1970, as a new anthropologist, using the method of participant observation, I witnessed a boys’ initiation ritual in a small Congolese tribal society, the Wagenia of Kisangani (Droogers 1980). This rite of passage had not been held for fourteen years. For five months almost the whole tribe of about 8,000 people was busy staging the initiation. More than 1,300 boys, aged between 5 and 20, were isolated in fourteen camps. The ritual accompanied the boys during a transition in their life. It did so by using symbols in dramatic and social contexts that were part of its various phases. My training provided not only the method of participant observation – in fact a simulated participation – but also the stereotypical expectation that ritual is a religious phenomenon, and that initiation is a vehicle for the transmission of culture, especially religion. Besides, Africans were supposed to be incurably religious (e. g. Thomas et al. 1969: 5). I soon found out, however, that Wagenia reality was different. Their reflection and behaviour were to correct my academic discourse. They introduced me to the ludic. The initiation ritual was mainly secular. It contained only a few religious references, principally to spirits of the dead, as when the boys were painted white, the color of the spirits, in order not to be harassed by them. Moreover, the Wagenia boys’ initiation proved to be a rather boring experience for most of them. Explicit transmission of culture hardly occurred. The main thing the novices learned – but most of them had known before – was wrestling. Besides, a lot of time was invested in training an imitation of a military parade observed in town. In this make-believe parade the older boys played the role of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. The oldest novice, who acted as the chief of


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

the camp, was given the role of the state president, Mobutu. The smallest boy played the role of the region’s archbishop, at the time a man of very small stature. Though predominantly secular, the ritual was reminiscent in some respects of religion. There were a few secrets that the non-initiated, especially the women, were supposed not to know, but that almost all of them were acquainted with. Yet the women played their role of outsiders, almost as I played my role of insider. Thus, the women were supposed to believe that the boys in the camp stayed day and night unprotected in the open air, except when it started raining. Then a big bird with enormous wings came to the camp to offer the boys shelter from the rain. A bird-like sound was heard from the camp, and the men and the boys chanted and danced to the rhythm of the bird’s song. As most of the women knew, this bird was not a bird at all, but represented the hut in the camp, built in a U-form, with a ‘breast’ and ‘wings’, as of a bird. The sound of a bird was imitated by an instrument made out of two sticks and a big shell. At other stages in the initiation two more ‘animals’ were enacted by the men, again using musical instruments, always with the suggestion that the women were being led to believe that extraordinary beings manifested themselves. Here too the women played their role, but knew what was being staged. This was my first experience with an intriguing mixture of profane and seemingly sacred elements. Besides the ‘normal’ religious element of the belief in spirits of the dead, there was an enacted element that might be called religioid. The men and women played at religion, as the novices did when teaching the smallest boy to act as an archbishop. It was obvious that everything was played, but also that the illusion was maintained in a strict manner, as if it were real. The ludic seemed part of a religious, or at least religioid, atmosphere. Of course, my participant role was also an illusion, a method of make-believe, though not religious or religioid in nature, although the Wagenia word for white man was the same as that for spirit of the dead. About ten years later, when doing fieldwork in a Brazilian spiritist healing group, I had another confusing experience that led me to the ludic (Droogers 1991). The group was composed of about thirty people, many of them with an academic training. Its leader, a medical doctor, had developed a specific method of spiritist healing. It was a combination of spiritist, Christian, Afro-Brazilian and medical insights. As was the case in Congo, some form of enactment seemed to occur, at least to me. But now the playfulness was not a manifest part of the partici-

1. Introduction


pants’ view; it had much more to do with my own academic bias and corresponding presuppositions. In this case, the ludic – though not fully absent from the people’s behavior – was primarily a promising concept in my search for an explanation. Perhaps the experience with the Wagenia influenced me in my way of looking at these spiritists. The group attributed the affliction of the patient to demonic spirits. One of these spirits was made to manifest himself in a spirit medium. The coordinator of the healing session then started a severe but often also rather humorous and ironic – ludic, I would say – dialogue with the spirit, with the ultimate intention to convert him, often ‘in Jesus’ name’. The converted spirit would then stop his attacks on the patient and would accept to continue his evolutionary course through a morally progressive series of reincarnations. Normally the spirit would first resist and utter blasphemous statements, but gradually he would give in. Often he was referred to a hospital in the spirit world in order to prepare for reincarnation. Thus, in a few minutes, a small drama of transition, a rite of passage, was enacted – at least that was my interpretation – in which the cause of the patient’s affliction was first made real. Very often the demonic spirit was shown to have sought revenge for acts his victim had committed against him in a former life. This cause was subsequently eliminated through the conversion of the spirit, and sometimes also by a reconciliation with the patient. Like the boys’ initiation, the healing process produced a transformation in a symbolic and dramatic way, within a social context, and in a consecutive series of phases. In my view, then as now, metaphors were used as effective resources. To the participants the spirits were real; here was no question of a useful illusion. On the contrary, in a book the group’s leader presented the healing method as new medical science (Lacerda de Azevedo 1988, 1997). Knowledge was constructed within a socio-political context in which scientific knowledge was supposed to represent the highest standard. As an academic doing research among academics and formally addressed as ‘professor’, I was constantly challenged by my spiritist friends to position myself and to agree with them. My research was to validate their method. The group’s leader wanted me to take the message to Europe and spread it there. However, my participant observation was much more observation than participation. Despite the fact that several members of the group affirmed that I could be a good spirit medium, I remained an outsider. Yet, if I did not accept their discourse about the


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

manifestation of spirits, I would have to look for another explanation for their behavior, and most of all for their healing successes. In both fieldwork experiences, I had come with the metropolitan academic discourse I had been trained to use, but both times I was challenged to change my mind. The people I studied taught me to look for other dimensions: in Congo for religion in playfulness, in Brazil for religion in science. Their behavior and reflection rendered my type of discourse problematic. The Wagenia proved not to be as religious as I had supposed them to be; the Brazilian spiritist academics were not as secular as I had expected them to be. Supposedly religious Africans were enacting a secular play with some religioid characteristics, whereas supposedly secular Brazilians were in a very serious manner enacting a drama with religious entities, presenting their view as a new erudite science, although I sometimes found them as playful and inventive as the Wagenia. In both cases, the secular and the religious were intermingled in a fascinating and puzzling manner. Religious and non-religious factors competed for priority in the explanation of the phenomena I had observed. How seriously was religion to be taken? How far was religion something essentially playful? How was religious knowledge being constructed, and how was my academic knowledge of religion constructed? When studying religion and ritual, what was the value of enacted participation as a method? Did informant and researcher have in common the fact that both were players?

2. The Problem Doing social science implies debate. Any debate has its own map of options, often based on dichotomies, like mind/matter, self/other and nature/culture, that have been with us for a long time already. What can I do, as a social scientist, when involved in such a theoretical or interpretative debate? Should the options be accepted as permanent and for ever inevitable? Or is there a way to go beyond the well-known options? If there is a way out, would I be able to follow it without abandoning my own preferences? The conflict under discussion in this chapter is that between a reductionist and a religionist view of religion. Although in the course of time a whole spectrum of varying and nuanced opinions has been developed on both sides (see the next section), the original issue is still

2. The Problem


basic to the current discussion (e. g. Idinopulos and Yonan 1994). The central question under debate is whether religion can adequately and totally be explained by exclusive reference to non-religious facts and factors. The debate is asymmetrical in that the problem is not so much a cause of concern to reductionists as it is to religionists. Reductionists, mainly but not exclusively social scientists, usually explain religion by referring to psychic and social characteristics of human life. Reductionists will maintain that it is perfectly possible to explain religious behavior, including believers’ opinions about the truth of the sacred, by appealing to non-religious factors, and without reference to a supernatural reality that is supposed to manifest itself. They will not exclude participants’ opinions from their data and their explanation of religious behavior, but they will not regard them as truths about the sacred, as religionists – directly or indirectly – do. From the reductionists’ point of view, theirs is an adequate use of informants’ views, and consequently there is no problem at all. Therefore they will refer to the religionists’ claim that the manifestation of the sacred is an important element in the explanation of religion as a non-debate. They generally do not see the need to refer to a sacred reality and may find the use of the word ‘reality’ at the least dubious in the case of the supernatural, even though they may accept, as a fact to be explained, that the supernatural is something real and ‘natural’ to believers. To reductionists the supposed truth of these beliefs in a sacred reality is in itself not an element in their scholarly study of religion, but only the fact that people say it is true. Even if, in a hypothetical case, some day the beliefs in question were shown to be really true, it still remains to be explained why people accept them. Conversely, in the religionist view, an explanation of religion takes into account that the ‘other’ reality that is the object of religious activity can manifest itself. Religion would not exist without people’s experiencing this other reality, and therefore its manifestation should be part of the explanation. The comparative approach excludes the acceptance of the views expressed by one particular religion on this manifestation. Accordingly, less specific notions of the sacred are adopted, implying that specific religions express particular views on this universal sacred. The sacred that manifests itself is supposed to be paralleled by human capacities, such as the production of symbols. Despite – or perhaps because of – this wide gap between religionists and reductionists, I shall explore a solution that leads beyond the familiar options. I look for it in the notion of the ludic, or playfulness. The


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

hunch that the ludic might show a way out of the problem has been with me for some time now, as may have become clear from the brief autobiographical reference to some of my anthropological fieldwork experiences, just as these same experiences put the relation between religion and science on my agenda. But first of all a more detailed appraisal of the conflict between religionism and reductionism is needed – as it were the map of the available options. Then this appraisal is applied to the cases presented in the introduction. After that the notion of the ludic is discussed. The next section puts the theme within an interdisciplinary framework. In the penultimate section, the lessons of the preceding sections are compared in order to explore the chances of finding a way beyond old repeated options. A conclusion summarizes the argument.

3. Religionism and Reductionism: The Options It is useful to make an inventory of the options that are at stake in the religionism/reductionism debate. Clarke and Byrne (1993), Guthrie (1993: 8 – 38), Idinopulos and Yonan (1994), and Segal (1989) are sources for such an inventory. The central question can be formulated as a choice between two alternatives: Must religion be explained in terms which refer to a sacred reality that manifests itself (religionism), or should the explanation of religion be exclusively ‘humanistic’ and limit itself to a psychological and sociological framework, referring to human conditions that are external to religion (reductionism)? A common distinction is that between methodological theism, agnosticism and atheism: in explaining religion and for methodological purposes the student accepts that a sacred reality exists (methodological theism); abstains from an opinion about this issue (methodological agnosticism); or denies the existence of the sacred (methodological atheism). In scholarly practice the second position has the same effect as the third, but its proponents, in suspending a judgment, intend to show more respect for other people’s beliefs. The adjective ‘methodological’ suggests that the options are valid in research alone. The scholar may cherish another opinion in private. A reductionist may opt for methodological atheism or agnosticism, while being a theist in private. This is possible precisely because of the fact that to him or her the truth question is not an element in the explanation of religion. Religionists will most probably be religious per-

3. Religionism and Reductionism: The Options


sons, but this does not exclude far-going variations between their religious convictions. The fact that religions differ in their truth claims implies that religionists must in some way position themselves, either opting for a certain religion, or accepting some basic general view on the sacred that is supposed to manifest itself in all religions. Yet, in the latter case a preference for a certain religion as the best expression of the sacred is still possible. In short, private opinions and scholarly convictions can but need not coincide. One should be aware that these views did not develop in an ideological vacuum, but were part of an intellectual struggle concerning the right definition of reality. In terms of the sociology of knowledge, the question is in what social and cultural context the construction of an academic discourse takes place. This means that what is normal and natural in our own cultural context should be considered problematic, and even treated as exotic. This applies to religionists as well as reductionists. Religionists developed their views in the context of expanding Western culture. The history of Western expansion had rehabilitated what were formerly considered barbarous societies as civilizations. It became possible to study the so-called ‘world religions’ linked to these civilizations, to collect their texts and to document their rituals. Comparisons could be made. Religion in the singular, as a human capacity, came to the fore. Inspired by philosophical phenomenology, methods were developed that should guarantee a scientific quality and a certain correctness of the observations, excluding the Western bias. Though many of the new theories were reductionist in nature, some, inspired by a form of modern liberal Christian theology, maintained the idea of a common manifestation of the sacred behind the diversity of religions. Religionists have had to defend themselves on two fronts, against science, and against Christian theology. The latter conflict was often caused by the coexistence of ‘Comparative Religion’ and Christian theology in the same department. This ungrateful position of ‘attack and defence’ (Sharpe 1975: 144) seems to have contributed to the formulation of a religionist point of view by such scholars as Söderblom, Otto and Van der Leeuw. Using other sources Eliade arrived at a similar position. The adoption of a non-religious frame of reference, especially in methodological atheism, is nourished by Enlightenment science’s skepticism and the critical question raised by the rise of modernity of why religion should exist at all (Clarke and Byrne 1993: 28, 32, 40). Criticism of religion has often been the main motive to seek for an explan-


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

ation: how could people believe in an illusion? Behind their objectivity, scholars were taking part in the secularization process, and occupying positions in the competition between religious and scientific worldviews. The debate between religionists and reductionists, though different in essence, cannot be isolated from this conflict. It is its hidden agenda. If reductionists qualify it as a non-debate, the – rather arrogant – presupposition is that science has overcome religion and dictates the norms. One of the two parties wants to take the place of the judge. The reductionist goal of producing a general theory of religion as such, understood in the universal singular, necessarily leads to the exclusion of religious explanations, because the latter are supposed to be linked to particular religions (Clarke and Byrne 1993: vii, viii, 28). The most common explanations in this category refer to such non-religious functions as wish fulfillment, the social order, or cognition (Guthrie 1993: 10). Ironically, the reductionist attention given to function has led to a definition of religion in which not the supernatural or the transcendental was the criterion, but the unity of the group or the resolution of ultimate existential questions. As a consequence, what formerly had been called secular, like ideology or even science, came to be viewed as religious. Though maintaining the basic option, some amendments have been formulated (Clarke and Byrne 1993: 55, 73, 74; Segal 1989: 126 – 9). Thus, on the religionist side, it has been suggested that the specific forms religions show are only symbolic approximations of a sacred reality that is by definition beyond our knowledge. In this way a general theory can be maintained without embracing a specific religion. Similarly, on the reductionist side some have advocated a symbolic approach, advancing the idea that religious expressions are not what they seem to be, but refer symbolically to another – in this case secular – reality. Another refinement has occurred with regard to the question of how the opinions of the religion’s participants should be appreciated. Straightforward religionism would accept them as true and valid in the explanation of that religion. When, in a less strict form of religionism, religions are understood as expressions of a sacred, unknowable reality, the participants’ views are heard for their symbolic referential value. On the reductionist side, if emphasis is put on the mechanistic role of structures, less attention tends to be given to participants’ views, especially if some supra-individual structural mechanism is considered responsible for the rise of religion. Yet, the symbolic approach in reductionism will include participants’ beliefs and behavior in its ex-

4. Experiences and Options Confronted


planation, since these contain information on the symbolic system. Related to this, but for other reasons, an actor-centered approach will in any case consider the believer’s religious point of view. Similarly, when it is considered a basic human characteristic that people confer meaning – though not necessarily religious meaning – to reality, participants’ views are basic data in research (Segal 1989: 109 – 135).

4. Experiences and Options Confronted The fieldwork experiences related in the first section may be commented on in the light of these central questions. Thus, experiencing the spirits of the dead was a reality that was not subject to discussion to my Wagenia and Brazilian informants. To me it was out of the question that their opinions were part of my data. My personal problem in participant observation was of course whether as a researcher I accepted that my informants were right and that spirits were real, especially as my Brazilian informants did much to try to convince me. Yet, my skepticism obliged me to look for other explanations, like attributing healing power to metaphors. The ambiguity of my position implies that, in a rather eclectic way, I see the value of reductionist theories of the three types mentioned by Guthrie (1993: 10), also when dealing with the above-related fieldwork experiences. With regard, first of all, to wish fulfillment, anxiety reduction plays a role in both the Wagenia and Brazilian case described above. The Wagenia boys who paint their body with white clay are seeking protection, believing that spirits can be deceived. When they and their fathers dance with the ‘big bird’, they are at the same time reassuring their mothers and experiencing male security and unity. The Brazilian spiritist healers are seeking relief for their patients by eliminating the spiritual cause of the affliction. The interpretation of religion that focuses on social order can also be applied to the cases just presented. The Wagenia spirits of the dead represent the continuity of society. The initiation ritual reinforces social structural distinctions related to age, gender and kinship. The whole ceremony accompanies the boys’ transition from the world of women and children to that of the men. In the case of the Brazilian healing group, their battle against demons is a way of establishing a social order based on charity. Both Wagenia novices and Brazilian spiritists were constructing their identity.


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

The third group of interpretations, of a more cognitive nature, also applies to my fieldwork cases. The Wagenia initiation ritual can be understood as an effective manner of accompanying boys on their way from childhood to manhood, even though the low frequency of the ritual means that the youngest boys are still too young and the oldest already too old to reach this result. Yet, because some of the fundamental organizing principles of their society are active in initiation, all boys become acquainted with them. Even though education in the strict sense hardly takes place, the ritual therefore has educational value. Cognitive aspects are also present in the spiritist practice. They not only present their method as a new science, but also include religious categories, like demonic spirits and Jesus, in what they see as a scientific interpretation of affliction. It may be clear that even a generous eclectic use of theories of religion does not exhaust the cases described. None of the theories allows for the playfulness present, especially in the Wagenia case, and also, in my view, among the spiritists of the healing group. It seems that in the religious context there is a margin for experiments and creativity. Even experiments with make-believe are possible. The boundary between the possible and the real is vague. All these considerations led me to the idea that the ludic could not only be an underestimated dimension in religion, but could also offer a way out of the dilemma between religionism and reductionism. Epistemological questions (raised at the end of the first section) contributed to that idea. I now explore a trail beyond the dichotomy of religionism and reductionism. Yet, scientific paradigms are tenacious and resilient. Usually they are still very much alive outside the discipline in which they have been declared dead for some time. Besides, the amended frames of reference have still not dealt with the challenge of the religious and theological explanations of religion. Methodological theism remains taboo among most social scientists, despite lip-service to postmodernism. As I will show, the dimension I add to the debate has relevance for the interdisciplinary study of religion. Its claim goes beyond the current discussion between religionists and reductionists, and it sheds a different light on religion and on the explanation of religion. Before this can be shown, the concept of the ludic must first be discussed.

5. The Ludic


5. The Ludic It is almost impossible to give an adequate overview of what has been written on the ludic. The literature on the subject is vast and at the same time extremely diverse and even contradictory. There is an obvious difference whether one refers to games and sports, or to theatre, or to a child’s way of playing, or to animals’ play, or to power games in political strategy – to mention only a few of the examples authors have taken as their starting-point. In view of my particular interest I have made my own selection and summary from the material that was available. This means that I will ignore some important authors in the field, and give preference to others who may be not so wellknown. A working definition of the ludic, adapted to my purposes, can be formulated as follows: the ludic is the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality. With regard to the term ‘subjunctive’, I follow Victor Turner who distinguishes between the ‘indicative mood’, the domain of the ‘as is’, and ‘the subjunctive mood … used to express supposition, desire, hypothesis, or possibility’, the domain of the ‘as if’ (Turner 1988: 25, 169). Simultaneity is the other defining term. Pruyser (1976: 190) attributes to the player a ‘double awareness’. Huizinga, who with his ‘Homo Ludens’ (1952) contributed immensely to our understanding of the ludic, has emphasized the seriousness of play, even though he has been criticized for not sufficiently emphasizing the simultaneity of seriousness and play (Ehrmann 1968: 33; Pannenberg 1984: 323, 524). According to the critics the ludic is not an extra, but part and parcel of human reality. The compartmentalization and pluralism that are characteristic of modern society have made us blind to that characteristic. In Victor Turner’s terms: the ‘indicative mood’ has overcome the ‘subjunctive mood’ (1988: 101). The ludic has been exiled to its own sphere. Modern society has thereby lost sight of play’s real nature. As we will see below, postmodernism has partly recovered this perspective. Thanks to simultaneity, things can be discriminated and yet equated, just as in a comparison differences and common traits can be included. The ludic capacity implies a double view of reality, combining perspectives. One application of the ludic capacity is therefore the art of handling contradictions, dichotomies and paradoxes. In scientific methodological terms the ludic represents an eclectic, poly-paradigmatic way of looking at reality. But examples also abound in daily life. It is possible to


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

enjoy a movie and at the same time be conscious of how actors and director have done their job. On the one hand, participation and identification occur, on the other hand, one is constantly observing and reviewing what happens. Even though participant observation is a contradictio in terminis, anthropologists make of simultaneity their trade mark. The participant observer’s position represents continuity as well as rupture, identification as well as distance, both simultaneity and simulation. A seemingly contradictory procedure has proven to be a productive method. Perhaps one should not be too afraid of making a virtue of necessity. When discussing methodological theism, atheism and agnosticism, I referred to the distinction between scholars’ positions in their practice of studying religion, and when speaking as private persons. This seeming contradiction may be positively valued as a symptom of the ludic capacity. In the remainder of this chapter I will argue that the ludic, as a human capacity, can and should manifest itself in the scholarly study of religion, and moreover that it is fundamental to religion itself. I will also suggest that the ‘double awareness’ can be put to use to find a way beyond religionism and reductionism. This allows for a combination of two diverging positions, and adds the possibility of a meta-position.

6. Interdisciplinary Views Simultaneity and subjunctivity have been discussed in various, relatively diverging disciplines and schools of thought. In a playful manner, not hindered by seeming contradictions or mono-paradigmatic and disciplinary scruples, I will now call my witnesses from these disciplines and schools to the box. The summary I give here reflects my rather haphazard and sometimes intuitive reading experience. I was amazed by the surprising similarity between seemingly divergent arguments. Despite their variety, all references reinforce the plea for the application of the ludic capacity, both in religion and in the study of religion. The perspective the Wagenia first showed to me, and that the Brazilian spiritists confirmed in their own way, can be pursued in the scholars’ tribe. My first witness is Maurice Bloch (1991). He has drawn anthropologists’ attention to connectionism – also called parallel distributed processing, PDP (D’Andrade 1992: 29; 1995: 138 – 49) – as a fundamental hypothesis about human thought. Whereas it has long been assumed

6. Interdisciplinary Views


that people think as they speak, i. e. in sentences, recent research suggests that people are able to appeal to different ‘non-linguistic chunked mental models’ (Bloch 1991: 194) at the same time, making up their minds within seconds, ‘making it possible to carry out thousands of tiny computations simultaneously’ (D’Andrade 1992: 29). Images are used as stores of information. Connectionists suggest that knowledge is made accessible ‘through a number of processing units which work in parallel and feed in information simultaneously … the information received from these multiple parallel processors is analysed simultaneously through already existing networks connecting the processors’ (Bloch 1991: 191). The simultaneity also means that dichotomies can be overcome. Once a conclusion has to be explained, sentential logic and dichotomous thinking take over again. Though they are much more visible and seemingly dominant, they do not represent the normal way of thinking. Quinn and Holland (1987) have developed similar ideas. They coined the term ‘cultural model’ as a narrative, prototypical, schematic and simplified form of social knowledge that is available to interpret events. Quinn and Holland stress the simultaneity of a variety of cultural models used to perform tasks, both interpretative and goal-embodying, verbal and non-verbal, thinking and doing (Quinn and Holland 1987: 6 – 8). Following Lakoff and Johnson, the authors distinguish between proposition-schemas and image-schemas (Quinn and Holland 1987: 24, cf. Quinn 1991: 58). The first type is based on what Bloch has called sentential logic, while the second illustrates the connectionist-PDP view of the way knowledge is organized. A key image, a root metaphor, often physical and bodily, can summarize knowledge in a way that is much more rapid than its explanation in propositions would be. This has methodological consequences, as Csordas (1993) has pointed out, suggesting ‘somatic modes of attention’ as an important instrument in research. The holistic perspective of the key image is complemented by the verbalization of propositional logic. One might perhaps add: the religious experience of inspiring images is complemented by the verbalizations of narrative in myth and of reason in theological – as well as atheist – discourse. Translated in structuralist terms this can also be called the paradigmatic comparison of syntagmatic chains. Connectionist and image thought is paradigmatic, whereas sententional and propositional logic is syntagmatic in nature. The process of ‘bricolage’ combines the two types of view and makes them more dynamic. It is like hearing melody


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

(contiguity) and harmony (analogy) at the same time, and improvising with them. From cognitive anthropology we move on to psycho-analysis. An interesting way to illuminate the fundamental characteristics of simultaneity and subjunctivity in the ludic can be found in Donald Winnicott (1971). Though psychoanalytic in origin, his interpretation of play is not as strictly Freudian as, for example, that given by Alexander (1958), who links play with libido. Winnicott takes his starting-point in the infant’s discovery of the difference between ‘me’ and ‘not-me’, between subject and object (1971: 6). He suggests that between the two there is an intermediate area to which inner reality and external life contribute. The individual, also when adult, is ‘engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet interrelated’ (Winnicott 1971: 2). Winnicott locates play in the intermediate area. ‘Transitional objects’, such as the modern infant’s teddy bear, represent a bridge between inner experience and outer reality. In Winnicott’s view, illusions are also characteristic of the intermediate area, since the transitional object seems to be part of both inner reality and external life. Interestingly, ‘illusion’ is etymologically related to ‘ludic’, as Huizinga has observed (1952: 12). Winnicott considers the illusions to be non-pathological (1971: 15), even though the child gradually meets with disillusionment, weaning being the clearest example. Adults maintain their illusions, as in art and religion (Winnicott 1971: 5). Winnicott suggests a link between the infant’s experience and collective culture. Transitional objects are instrumental in constructing this link. Transitional objects provide the first experience of symbolism. The softness of the teddy bear represents the mother’s breast, experienced by the infant as part of the body. Transitional objects also offer the first experience of power: ‘The mother’s adaptation to the infant’s needs, when good enough, gives the infant the illusion that there is an external reality that corresponds to the infant’s own capacity to create’ (Winnicott 1971: 6). It gives the infant the confidence that there is ‘a neutral area of experience which will not be challenged’ (Winnicott 1971: 12). To adults, religion and art belong to this unchallenged intermediate area. They offer relief from the strain of relating inner and outer reality (Winnicott 1971: 13). ‘The thing about playing is always the precariousness of the interplay of personal psychic reality and the experience of control of actual objects. This is the precariousness of magic itself’ (Winnicott 1971: 47).

6. Interdisciplinary Views


Winnicott’s approach to play can be confirmed by contributions from symbolic and psychological anthropology. Katherine Ewing (1990) speaks of the ‘illusion of wholeness’. She suggests that a person will always maintain this illusion, despite the presence of ‘multiple inconsistent self-representations that are context-dependent and may shift rapidly’ (Ewing 1990: 251). People develop ways of managing inconsistencies (Ewing 1990: 255). They are ‘adept at using multiple rhetorical strategies, relying on ambiguity and tropes to establish a position’ (Ewing 1990: 262). As a consequence, cultures are not the coherent systems they have been assumed to be (Ewing 1990: 257). This can also be put in connectionist terms: the chunked models of the self-representations can be simultaneously active, despite inconsistencies. Quinn and Holland put it this way: That there is no coherent cultural system of knowledge, only an array of different culturally shared schematizations formulated for the performance of particular cognitive tasks, accounts for the co-existence of the conflicting cultural models encountered in many domains of existence. (Quinn and Holland 1987: 10)

In my terms it is the human ludic capacity that allows for a satisfying management of inconsistencies, of the fundamental tension between consenting and diverging. Scientific thinking does not escape the co-existence of conflicting cultural models, but especially in eclectic approaches the multiplicity of views is recognized and becomes part of the method. The analysis made by Winnicott and Ewing finds a parallel in the work of the Dutch anthropologist of religion Jan van Baal. Comparing play, art and religion, Van Baal (1972) points to a common source of these three sectors of culture. Human beings feel both part of the world and yet at a distance. Symbols cause that distance, because to the human subject, defined as homo exprimens, they refer to objects, even when these are not present. The capacity for reflection is paid for with distance, absence and loneliness. In Van Baal’s opinion, play, art and religion, each in its own way, offer a solution to the fundamental tension of being at the same time part of reality and at a distance from it (Van Baal 1972: 118). In play the participants create a separate world which they know to be fictitious. This world has its own rules, but despite these rules the uncertainty of chance is just as present. In art the world addresses the human being as essentially beautiful, as an invitation to enjoy reality. Thus it gives him


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or her a sense of belonging, of being part, even though the aesthetic experience may be momentary. Religion offers a solution to this fundamental problem by offering a possibility of communication, primarily with supernatural powers, but also with fellow human beings and with nature. The difference between the world evoked in play and that evoked in religion is that only in the latter do matters of life and death predominate. Whereas in the reality of play uncertainty is exciting, in that of religion uncertainty nourishes fear. Of the three categories discussed here, play offers the greatest awareness that one is dealing with an imaginary world, with an illusion that helps one to understand the incomprehensible mystery (Van Baal 1971: 125). Victor Turner, who contributed to various sub-disciplines of anthropology, developed a special approach to the study of the ludic, particularly in his later publications. Yet, early in his career, when coining the concept of social drama, play was already central to his observations. This led him on to the study of ritual and theatre (Turner 1982). The liminary phase in the ritual process (Turner 1974) has many ludic characteristics, even though the initial list of typical liminary elements did not include play (1974: 93). In a later work Turner calls play the essence of liminality, and speaks of ‘the ludic capacity, to catch symbols in their movement, so to speak, and to play with their possibilities of form and meaning’ (1982: 23). Liminality combines work and play. In the modern ‘liminoid’ setting, play is exiled to the sphere of leisure, with the exception of some professionals, like academics and actors, who make their play a commercial activity (1982: 33, 55). Turner’s work is very tentative and conjectural; it is most stimulating for the study of play. In his view, play bridges the contrast between the two hemispheres of the human brain, the two being characterized by different tasks. Following Barbara Lex, Turner (1988: 163) describes as tasks of the left hemisphere: speech, linear analytic thought, assessment of time, sequentially organized information. The right hemisphere is characterized by: limited linguistic capability, holistic synthetic thought, perception of space, information organized in patterns. From D’Aquili, Laughlin and McManus (1979: 174), Turner takes the idea of a ‘rapid functional alternation of each hemisphere’ (quoted in Turner 1988: 164). The left half is dominant and activating, the right half has a stabilizing effect. One is of course reminded of Bloch’s distinction between sentential logic and parallel distributed processing. The connectionist ‘processing units’ might be located in the right hemisphere, whereas verbalization can be said to take place in the left half. The struc-

6. Interdisciplinary Views


turalist distinction between paradigmatic comparisons and syntagmatic chains, or, in the musical metaphor, between harmony and melody, can also be included in this schema of the brain hemispheres. Turner understands ritual as based on a combination of the two hemispheres’ characteristics, producing a feeling of well-being. Ecstasy, mysticism, and enlightenment are terms for this state, in which paradoxes are considered acceptable or even welcome (1988: 166). Adding italics, Turner again quotes D’Aquili, Laughlin and McManus (1979: 177) who suggest that ‘during certain ritual and meditation states, logical paradoxes or the awareness of polar opposites as presented in myth appear simultaneously, both as antinomies and as unified wholes’. In a later publication the same authors (Laughlin, McManus and D’Aquili 1990: 180) refer to play as ‘at the very evolutionary foundations of both science and mysticism’. Turner affirms that play is difficult to localize in the brains. It has an inter-face function (Turner 1988: 167), ‘betwixt and between’, ‘as if’ rather than ‘as is’ (Turner 1988: 169). Many of the insights that have been presented so far point to a link between the ludic and a fundamental human predicament: that of having to deal simultaneously with various forms of reality that make themselves felt all at the same time. This point has been pursued in symbolic anthropology. An interesting human instrument in dealing with this predicament is the trope, especially the tropes of metaphor and metonym. Tropes contain ludic aspects. They are used to get a grip on reality, to maintain the sensation of a unified, unfragmented reality. Fernandez speaks of the play of and between the tropes (1986, 1991: 6,7); Friedrich introduces the term ‘polytropy’ (Friedrich 1991: 17 – 55). Metaphors pertain to two domains (Quinn and Holland 1987: 30). They are images taken from a familiar domain and applied to another, inchoate (Fernandez 1986, passim) and unfamiliar domain, with the purpose of clarifying this latter domain and making it more familiar. Scholars also use metaphors, as when society is compared to an organism or a mechanism. Especially in religion, metaphors return the subject to the whole, precisely by establishing a relationship between two domains, all the more so because hitherto these seemed unconnected (Fernandez 1986: 118 – 213). There is a double perspective in metaphors: society may be an organism, but even to functionalists it was clear that, literally speaking, it is not so. As McFague (1983: 13) has observed, metaphors ‘always contain the whisper, “it is and it is not”’. Bateson (1973: 158), when speaking of play, distinguishes between primary and secondary process thinking: primary in the sense that map and ter-


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

ritory are equated, secondary when they are distinguished. Play in his view combines the two types of process thinking. In view of these observations, one might conclude that metaphors create illusions, but that these are useful illusions that are widely held and applied, also in science: ‘scientific models can be construed as extended metaphors’ (Edwards 1994: 180). Of course, metaphors are not reinvented every time they are used. A speaker, using a metaphor, expects the audience to recognize the movement from two separate domains to two related domains or even one integrated domain (Fernandez 1986: 45). The ludic, as the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two ways of classifying reality, finds in metaphors an important instrument for the routine connecting of these two orders. Metonyms pertain to one domain instead of two, but lead to the same result. A particular experience or phenomenon within that domain is generalized for the whole of it. An example from religion is the Christian expression that ‘the cross saves from sin’, in which ‘the cross’ represents Jesus’ death as well as a whole theological reasoning about his death. In the case of metonym, two levels of order, one partial and the other referring to a whole, are connected. This again illustrates the simultaneous double perspective of the ludic. So in both metaphor and metonym people play with domains and levels of order. They are engaged in ‘the play of tropes in culture’ (Fernandez 1986). Metaphors and metonyms can be distinguished but occur together. If metaphors entail the suggestion of a unity, of one domain, despite linking two domains, they are closer to metonyms than the distinction at first seems to suggest. One should therefore not limit oneself to the study of metaphor, but look ‘Beyond Metaphor’ (Fernandez 1991). Again distance and contiguity are looked at simultaneously, within the context of culture. Fernandez (1991: 13), referring explicitly to reductionism, makes a plea for the combination of two approaches, one reductionist and distant, the other more poetic and participatory: . . . on the one hand, anthropological poetics challenges the dehumanization that lies in the reductionist tendencies of scientific formalization, while, on the other hand, scientific formalization forestalls the excessively extravagant and freewheeling intuitive interpretations that are a tendency in poetic approaches.

Poewe (1989: 375) has observed that ‘While academia seems preoccupied with text and genre, and the rarefied world of metaphor, many at

6. Interdisciplinary Views


the grass roots level have returned to experience, “life”, and a language empowered by metonyms. Scholars will more readily use metaphors because their supposed scientific objectivity keeps them at a distance from what they study. In daily life and in religion, reality is experienced as one domain, and consequently metonyms are more fitting. In Van Baal’s terms religion is a way of restoring unity and wholeness. From within religious experience, then, metonym seems a better instrument than metaphor, even though metaphors keep being used. Yet, scholars cannot do without metonyms. Especially anthropologists need them, because the distinction between metaphor and metonym is paralleled by that between observation (suggesting distance) and participation (suggesting one reality), participant observation being, as we saw, the twin method characteristic of anthropology. Here too, the ludic is present, since fieldworkers have to manage two perspectives at the same time. They need to find an equilibrium between distant observation and intimate participation. While observing, they belong to two domains; while participating, they belong to one only. When only observing they cannot participate, and vice versa. Fieldworkers often report on the play-acting needed in such situations. They too experience Ewing’s tension between multiple selves and the illusion of wholeness, and find a way to manage these contradictions. Finally, another school of thought that is relevant to our theme must be called to witness. Postmodernism, whatever its value in retrospect may be, has made two contributions to a growing awareness of the ludic in academic work. First, playfulness has been mentioned as typical of postmodernists (Rosenau 1992: 117, 135; Bryan S. Turner 1990: 4, 5; 1991: xxi). Postmodernists have a special interest in language games and experiment with style and narrative knowledge (Sarup 1988: 120). As in the ludic subjunctive dealing with two different orders, postmodernists cherish contradictions, indeterminacy, paradoxes and inconsistencies. Criticism of the one meta-narrative leads to experiment and openness, with carnival as a leading metaphor (Rosenau 1992: 141). Yet, unity and wholeness have become suspect, and in that sense postmodernism is blind to the fundamental tension between distance and participation, plurality and unity. To me, the simultaneity in the ludic seems to be more interesting than the – in the end often rather cynical – preference for fragmentation. A second contribution of postmodernism has perhaps been less purposeful and more ambiguous. It does not relate to the ludic, but primarily to religion and science. I am referring to the idea that the postmod-


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

ern deconstruction of traditional scientific models has eroded the contrast between science and religion as forms of knowledge (Berry and Wernick 1992). When ‘presence’ is no longer a core concept and ‘darker, more obscure ways of seeing and thinking’ (Berry 1992: 2) become acceptable, that contrast loses much of its point. As Milbank puts it (1992: 31): ‘one can no longer will the end of religion’. Rorty, often mentioned in connection with postmodernism, introduces a term that comes close to the ludic. He speaks of the ‘ironist’ (1989: xv) as: … the sort of person who faces up to the contingency of his or her most central beliefs and desires – someone sufficiently historicist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance.

The ironist is opposed by Rorty to the theologian and the metaphysician. Since this ironism is linked to liberalism, the liberal being depicted as a person who thinks ‘that cruelty is the worst thing we do’ (Sklar quoted by Rorty 1989: xv), this posture is certainly not cynical. Compared to the ludic as defined above, it contains a certain degree of subjunctivity, but lacks the simultaneity of combining, for example, ironist and metaphysical points of view. Whereas Rorty’s ironist is ironical about a foundation beyond time and chance, someone who is ironic in the ludic way will underline a double understanding, of both the ‘either’ and the ‘or’. Our witnesses, though drawn from such diverse approaches and disciplines as cognitive studies, psycho-analysis, symbolic anthropology, anthropology of religion, neurobiology and postmodernism, all point to the possibility of a subjunctivity and simultaneity in points of view.

7. The Ludic, Religion, and the Explanation of Religion As we have seen above, the debate on reductionism and religionism suggests the need of a choice between different ways of classifying reality. The questions formulated in that section point to a series of tenacious contrasts, such as between rational and irrational orders, the religious and the scientific way of classifying, the believers’ and the scholars’ classifications, Western and non- Western views. They also refer to differing concepts of science.

7. The Ludic, Religion, and the Explanation of Religion


It has already been observed that the sharpness of these contrasts has been somewhat eroded in the last decades. In the light of the preceding section, it seems to me that awareness of the ludic human potential reinforces this tendency and gives it a new basis, since it points to the art of simultaneously and subjunctively dealing with contrasting classifications. The various types of explanation of religion, even though contrasting and exclusive among themselves, can be valued in a ludic approach. Thus it will be possible to go beyond the familiar dichotomies, not necessarily by producing a synthesis or some form of dialectics, but by the simultaneous adoption of two or more perspectives. To their own disadvantage, scholars have left an essential part of the human potential unused. Academics may reflect the modernity of the time they live in, but they also suffer from the consequences of the modern exile of the ludic, domesticated in its own harmless sphere. They have to learn anew how to use both hemispheres of their brain at the same time, and thus to handle dichotomies. If the ludic simultaneity has recently been recovered and rediscovered, this human talent should not be buried, but put to use. More than anywhere else, the study of religion is an area where it can be applied, not only because of its relevance for methodology, but also because religion is one of the areas where the ludic is at work. I suggest that methodological ludism is necessary to study the ludic capacity of religious people. Object and method happen to be based on the same foundation, and this is more than a mere coincidence. This similarity between the simultaneity of views in religion and in the study of religion presents itself for the simple reason that the ludic capacity can be applied to more than one field of human activity. The implementation of ludism as a meta-position in scholarly work opens the scholar’s eyes to the believer’s ‘constellation’ view. This posture takes us beyond the choice between methodological atheism, agnosticism, or theism. In appealing to a perspective of simultaneity, the ludic invites one to take a triple view, at the same time theist, atheist and agnosticist. In this way methodological theism, so far neglected in the debate, can be given a place. Van Baal’s legacy, expressed in his last publication (1990: 20, 55), urging us to consider the believer as normal and not as deviant, can then be elaborated. The anthropologist’s method of participant observation offers a good starting-point if interpreted as a ludic activity in the sense I have given to the word (cf. Van Baal 1990: 55). If only as a hypothesis, scholars should invert the current perspective and start at the believer’s end, taking the Mys-


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tery not as an option but as an obliging necessity (Van Baal 1990: 67). In this light, the idea of a ‘useful illusion’ is no longer a contradiction, but acceptable within the simultaneity of the ludic perspective (cf. Kliever 1981; Nijssen 1991; Vaihinger 1922). As a method, the application of the ludic capacity to the study of religion is more than a juxtaposition of opposing approaches like those mentioned in the first paragraph of this section. It allows for a new way of looking at religion. The methodological ludism advocated here offers the extra of a simultaneous view. This is not necessarily a synthesis, but much more an overview of the total constellation of possibilities. It is also more than empathy, since the subjunctive ‘make-believe’ guarantees a serious sympathy that is honest and absolute as long as it lasts. In that sense ludism goes beyond the religionist and reductionist positions. The use of the ludic capacity, which is recommended for the study and explanation of religion, can also be encountered in religion itself. If indeed it is a universal human capacity, it must necessarily be present in the religious field as well. Van Baal’s remarks on the closeness between religion and play point in this direction, as does Fernandez’s emphasis on the play of tropes and the quest for wholeness in religions (Fernandez 1986: 188 – 213). The human and the superhuman, nature and the supernatural, the part and the whole, as different orders, are simultaneously and subjunctively present in the ludic capacity as it is at work in religion. There are several other indications that the ludic and the religious are related, as in ritual, especially through the use of masks, but also in myth, as in the trickster figure. Huizinga has already drawn attention to this (1952: passim). Syncretism can be defined as a ludic way of dealing with religious classifications of a different order. The same can be said of popular religion – often syncretistic – as an alternative to official religion. Magic represents an alternative, illegitimate production of religion (Bourdieu 1971). It can be understood within the ludic perspective, as was affirmed by Winnicott’s phrase quoted above about the ambiguity between ‘personal psychic reality and the experience of control of actual objects’ and its link with the precariousness of magic. As Luhrmann (1989: 332 – 3) puts it, following Winnicott: The crucial part of magical practice is that the play-claim of being a powerful, efficacious magician is also a reality-claim, a science-like assertion about the objective instrumental efficacy of magic within the physical world.

7. The Ludic, Religion, and the Explanation of Religion


This allows magicians ‘to waver between the literal and the metaphorical when casting a spell’ (Luhrmann 1989: 333). Perhaps students of religion should put a bit more of this magic into their study of religion! It must be added that, as has occurred in the academic world, religions have often abolished the ludic dimension as disturbing. The subjunctive ‘as if’ is experienced as threatening. Simultaneity may be promising, but it is a menace to vested interests and to the sentential logical order of authorities. Therefore syncretism, magic, and popular religion are condemned by erudite religion as heresies. In this context it should be noted that doubt and scepsis are rarely part of the official version of a religion, even though they are typical of much religious experience, representing the ludic’s double awareness. As Pruyser (1976: 190) affirms: Though the focal feelings may convince the participant that he is in the presence of the Holy, there may be a dim but persistent feeling in the background of his consciousness that he is involved in an act of ‘make-believe’ and that it is perfectly within his powers to step out of it.

The Wagenia initiation is, as we saw, a perfect example of this ‘makebelieve’. In a similar manner the Brazilian spiritists created their own healing method. Without idealizing the individual consciousness, it must be observed that in religion, as in science, institutionalization may generate power mechanisms. Whereas in science a process of mono-paradigmatic school formation is the consequence, in religion fundamentalism and orthodoxy come to the fore. The connectionist mechanisms in religious thought are totally overlooked, and as a consequence one is blind to the ludic perspective. Metaphors are reified and taken literally. In Bateson’s terms: map and territory are equated. What remains is the exclusively serious, verbalized and dichotomized sentential logic of orthodoxy, made for eternity, but in fact nothing more than a petrified monument of the past. As far as science is concerned, the ludic posture demands what many would consider a literal salto mortale, the death of scientific explanation and debate. Yet, the special attractiveness of the ludic is the possibility to look at things from another angle, without abandoning a prior way of classifying that is considered preferable and even exclusive. The seriousness that is part of the ludic allows for both exclusiveness and inclusiveness. It is a way of playing with alternatives in which one can become captivated by each of these alternatives. It is the seduction of the meta-


Chapter 14. Methodological Ludism

phor that whispers ‘it is and it is not’ (McFague 1983: 13). It is a way of transforming the vice of contradiction into a methodological principle. The multiple selves of the researcher are complemented by the illusion of wholeness. In terms of explanatory paradigms, a plea for the ludic therefore implies some form of eclecticism. The advantage of such an approach is that the space for creativity and experiment is enlarged, and in that sense the scientific enterprise need not succumb to the salto mortale, but appears rejuvenated. The ludic posture may, for example, put an end to a sterile exchange of arguments about the rationality of religion or of non-Western cultures. The self-sufficiency and inner logic of each way of classifying reality can be recognized without leading to a sterile relativism. It is the condition of simultaneity, instead of co-existence, that prevents relativism. In that manner the ludic also points to a way beyond a choice between objectivity and subjectivity. Secularization can be reconsidered in the light of the ludic perspective, interestingly not only from a scholarly point of view, but even in a personal way (Kliever 1981). To elaborate on the methodological consequences would require another chapter. A new methodology must be developed, and this will certainly not be easy. The ludic capacity has some trickiness, is a trickster itself, as V. Turner (1988: 167 – 170) put it. Therefore its extra dimension escapes categories and makes for surprises. Yet, in scholarly work, something like Winnicott’s intermediate area would be most helpful. It demands another way of looking and understanding, different from what scholars have been trained to do. The ludic offers a most promising perspective. Ludicity, though inevitably ludicrous to some, may lead to lucidity for others. One condition is that one forgets the over-serious ‘official’ view of religion that is often typical of Western culture and academic discourse, and also that one avoids the homogeneous univocal discourse on other cultures of the type ‘The BongoBongo are of the opinion that..’. Non-Western cultures and religions abound with examples of the ludic, as the Wagenia and their presumed secrets showed me when I started doing anthropological fieldwork. If the field of study is replete with examples, and if the double perspective required of the fieldworker is paralleled by that of religion, it should not be too difficult to adopt a corresponding methodology. It may mean that research reports have to avoid an excessively strict sentential logic. Since the publication of ‘Writing Culture’ (Clifford and Marcus 1986), anthropologists have more than ever been made aware of the



‘poetics and politics of ethnography’, in the words of the sub-title of that collection of articles. Awareness of styles will help to translate the ludic capacity into fieldwork methodology. With regard to politics, Wagenia novices and Brazilian spiritists have shown me the localized and political nature of my discourse. They called my attention to the ludic that had been exiled from my own discipline and that as a consequence I had been conditioned not to observe. If ludism proves to be a viable alternative, the polemics between religionists and reductionists can gradually be brought to a conclusion. The interdisciplinary study of religion will be relieved of a cumbersome burden and can be immensely stimulated.

8. Conclusion If students of religion integrate the human ludic capacity into their method, and discover its marks in the religions they study, the interdisciplinary study of religion will make a leap forward. The perspective of methodological ludism and of the simultaneity of classifications will make it possible to maintain personal convictions and at the same time accept those of others. In such a way one can be a believer and a student of other people’s beliefs. It will be possible to use preferred methods without abandoning other methodologies. One can be a methodological theist, atheist and agnosticist at the same time and even add to these positions. An eclectical use of paradigms will no longer be something to be ashamed of. Interdisciplinary contact will be greatly facilitated. As proponents of the method of participant observation, anthropologists are in an excellent position to play a leading role in developing this liminary – or even preliminary – approach.

Acknowledgements I want to thank Lourens Minnema for important reading suggestions; Anton van Harskamp, Bert Musschenga and the other members of the Relativism group of the Bezinningscentrum of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam for their comments; Rein Fernhout, Sander Griffioen, Hans Tennekes, Henk Versnel and an anonymous reviewer for observations on earlier drafts; the members of the ‘Specialisatieoverleg Religieuze en Symbolische Antropologie’ and the ’Post-doc leesgroep’ for


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their interest in my efforts to understand religion in a playful manner. I am grateful to the Research Centre for Religion and Society, of the University of Amsterdam, especially Peter van Rooden, for a stimulating discussion. Special thanks to my Ph.D. students. As long as I have been reflecting on the ludic, João Guilherme Biehl has stimulated me immensely in continuing the quest for play.

References Alexander, Franz (1958). A contribution to the theory of play. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 27, 175 – 93. Bateson, Gregory (1973). A theory of play and fantasy. In: Gregory Bateson (1973). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution and epistemology. St. Albans: Paladin, pp. 150 – 66. Berry, Philippa (1992). Introduction. In: Philippa Berry and Andrew Wernick (eds.) (1992). Shadow of spirit: Postmodernism and religion. London: Routledge, pp. 1 – 8. Berry, Philippa, and Andrew Wernick (eds.) (1992). Shadow of spirit: Postmodernism and religion. London: Routledge. Bloch, Maurice (1991). Language, anthropology and cognitive science. Man, 26, 183 – 98. Bourdieu, Pierre (1971). Genèse et structure du champ religieux. Revue FranÅaise de Sociologie, 12, 295 – 334. Clarke, Peter, and Peter Byrne (1993). Religion defined and explained. London: Macmillan. Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus (eds.) (1986). Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press. Csordas, Thomas J. (1993). Somatic modes of attention. Cultural Anthropology, 8 (2), 135 – 56. D’Andrade, Roy G. (1992). Schemas and motivation. In: R. D’Andrade and C. Strauss (eds.) (1992). Human motives and cultural models. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 23 – 44. D’Andrade, Roy G. (1995). The development of cognitive anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. D’Aquili, Eugene, Charles D. Laughlin, and John McManus (eds.) (1979). The spectrum of ritual. New York: Columbia University Press. Droogers, André (1980). The dangerous journey: Symbolic aspects of boys’ initiation among the Wagenia of Kisangani, Zaire. The Hague: Mouton. Droogers, André (1991). Brazil as a patient: Political healing and ‘New Age’ in a spiritist group. In: André Droogers, Gerrit Huizer and Hans Siebers (eds.) (1981). Popular power in Latin American religions. Saarbrücken and Fort Lauderdale: Breitenbach, pp. 237 – 59. Edwards, Tony (1994). Religion, explanation, and the askesis of inquiry. In: Thomas A. Idinopulos and Edward A. Yonan (eds) (1994). Religion and re-



ductionism: Essays on Eliade, Segal, and the challenge of the social sciences for the study of religion. Leiden: Brill, pp. 162 – 82. Ehrmann, Jacques (1968). Homo ludens revisited. Yale French Studies, 41, 51 – 57. Ewing, Katherine P. (1990). The illusion of wholeness: Culture, self, and the experience of inconsistency. Ethos, 18(3), 251 – 78. Fernandez, James W. (1986). Persuasions and performances: The play of tropes in culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Fernandez, James W. (ed.) (1991). Beyond metaphor: The theory of tropes in anthropology. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press. Friedrich, Paul (1991). Polytropy. In: James W. Fernandez (ed.) (1991). Beyond metaphor: The theory of tropes in anthropology. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 17 – 55. Guthrie, Stewart Elliott (1993). Faces in the clouds: A new theory of religion. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Huizinga, Johan (1952). Homo ludens: Proeve eener bepaling van het spel-element der cultuur. Haarlem: Tjeenk Willink. Idinopulos, Thomas A. and Edward A. Yonan (eds.) (1994). Religion and reductionism: Essays on Eliade, Segal, and the challenge of the social sciences for the study of religion. Leiden: Brill. Kliever, Lonnie D. (1981). Fictive religion: Rhetoric and play. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 49, 657 – 69. Lacerda de Azevedo, José (1988). Esprito/matria: Novos horizontes para a medicina. Porto Alegre: Pallotti. Lacerda de Azevedo, José (1997). Sprit & matter: New horizons for medicine. Tempe: New Falcon Publications. Laughlin, Charles D., John McManus, and Eugene D. D’Aquili (1990). Brain, symbol & experience: Toward a neurophenomenology of human consciousness. Boston and Shaftesbury: New Science Library, Shambala. Luhrmann, T. M. (1989). Persuasions of the witch’s craft: Ritual, magic and witchcraft in present-day England. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. McFague, Sally (1983). Metaphorical theology. London: SCM. Milbank, J. (1992). Problematizing the secular: the post-postmodern agenda. In: P. Berry and A. Wernick (eds.) (1992), Shadow of spirit: Postmodernism and religion. London: Routledge, pp. 30 – 44. Nijssen, Freek N. M. (1991). Onder goden en goochelaars. Trouw, 15.2.91, 19. Pannenberg, Wolfhart (1984). Anthropologie in theologischer Perspektive. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Poewe, Karla (1989). On the metonymic structure of religious experiences: The example of charismatic Christianity. Cultural Dynamics, 2(4), 361 – 80. Preus, J. Samuel (1987). Explaining religion: Criticism and theory from Bodin to Freud. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Pruyser, Paul W. (1976). A dynamic psychology of religion. New York: Harper & Row. Quinn, Naomi (1991). The cultural basis of metaphor. In: J.W Fernandez (ed.) (1991). Beyond metaphor: The theory of tropes in anthropology. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, pp. 56 – 93.


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Quinn, Naomi, and Dorothy Holland (eds.) (1987). Cultural models in language and thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rorty, Richard (1989). Contingency, irony, and solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rosenau, Pauline M. (1992). Post-modernism and the social sciences: Insights, inroads, and intrusions. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Sarup, Madan (1988). An introductory guide to post-structuralism and postmodernism. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Segal, Robert A. (1989). Religion and the social sciences: Essays on the confrontation. Atlanta GA: Scholars Press. Sharpe, Eric J. (1975). Comparative religion: A history. London: Duckworth. Thomas, Louis-Vincent, René Luneau and Jean-Léonce Doneux (1969). Les religions d’Afrique noire: Textes et traditions sacres. Paris: Fayard Denoël. Turner, Bryan S. (ed.) (1990). Theories of modernity and postmodernity. London: Sage. Turner, Bryan S. (ed.) (1991). Religion and social theory. London: Sage. Turner, Victor W. (1974). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Turner, Victor W. (1982). From ritual to theatre: The human seriousness of play. New York: PAJ Publications. Turner, Victor W. (1988). The anthropology of performance. New York: PAJ Publications. Vaihinger, Hans (1922). Die Philosophie des Alsob: System der theoretischen, praktischen und religiçsen Fiktionen der Menschheit auf Grund eines idealistischen Positivismus. Leipzig: Felix Meiner. Van Baal, Jan (1972). De boodschap der drie illusies: Overdenkingen over religie, kunst en spel. Assen: Van Gorcum. Van Baal, Jan (1990). Mysterie als openbaring. Utrecht: ISOR. Winnicott, Donald W. (1971). Playing and reality. London: Tavistock.

Chapter 15 The Third Bank of the River: Play, Methodological Ludism and the Definition of Religion The only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency. (Hall 1992: 280)

1. Introduction: Definitions and Dichotomies At the back of the scholarly mind slumbers the illusion that there is such a thing as the perfect definition. This illusion is kept alive, and sometimes awakened even, by the echoes of the positivist conviction that scientists can, and should, provide the last word about reality ‘out there’. Even if this realism takes the form of a post-positivist critical realism, with more modest claims, the attitude of the definer undergoes no radical change. Objectivity remains the ideal. Despite widespread postmodernist doubts about the feasibility of knowing the reality ‘out there’, pointing to the reality ‘in here’, the academic habitus of many scholars appears not yet to have abandoned the positivist – or post-positivist – ideal (cf. Guba 1990: 18 – 23). That it is necessary to have a debate on definitions, in the case of religion, is a symptom of this lag. That the definition of religion is an issue in itself, seems partly due to the confrontation between the institutions of religion and science, and their representatives. The adepts of two worldviews with more or less exclusive claims collide, especially in our era of globalization when on a world-wide scale religions and science confront each other. The world religions currently lie outside the area they occupied two centuries ago, thanks often to the tools (such as transport and broadcasting) supplied by science and technology. Western science and technology have changed the face of the earth, not infrequently as a consequence of religiously motivated economic behavior. Yet science and religion are not easy bedfellows. Just as scholars do not accept religious views on what science should be, so too can believers be shocked by scholarly opinions on what religion is all about. Scholars may not only describe


Chapter 15. The Third Bank of the River

religion but also, by their explanation, use scientific criteria to evaluate religion as not being the last word: an illusion, useful perhaps, but definitely wrong. Similarly, believers may use religious norms to express negative views on the scientific claims, as occurs in some forms of fundamentalism, such as creationism. The proponents of religion are often not on speaking terms with those of science, and vice versa. Under these circumstances, little scientific or religious salvation can be expected from the encounter between the two, as epitomized by the difficulties of scientifically defining religion, and – for that matter – religiously defining science. The question is whether the conditions can be changed. It is clear, nonetheless, that to discuss the definition of religion demands a capacity to maneuver on the border between the two realms that, as a consequence of their claims, often stand in mutual opposition. Consequently, in a debate on the definition of religion, account must be taken not only of religion but of science as well. As a representative of the science of religion in an era of postmodernism and globalization, the scholar as definer is also part of the definitional problem. This is even more true today because religion, as an academic term, is fairly recent, especially if used only in the singular, as a human universal (Saler 1993: 64 – 68). Asad even doubts that, in different periods, the term religion referred to the same phenomena: ‘socially identifiable forms, preconditions, and effects of what was regarded as religion in the medieval Christian epoch were quite different from those so considered in modern society’ (Asad 1993: 29). For this and other reasons, he rejects the possibility of a universal definition of religion: ‘that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes’ (Asad 1993: 29). In my view, the fact that we are conditioned by our own era and culture, does not constitute sufficient reason to absolve ourselves from defining religion. It challenges us instead to be conscious and critical of the conditions that constrain the current discursive defining process. The purpose of my contribution, then, is to heighten the degree of consciousness, especially now that religion and science tend to bypass the dialogue. How then can we achieve a breakthrough in this deadlock? For a start, and without simply taking the postmodernist approach, it may be helpful to accept that perfection is virtually unattainable, even in rigorous and critical science. To define is to select, reduce and simplify. It is important, therefore, to know what criteria the definer uses in the course of that process of selection, reduction and simplification. The less specific the criteria, the vaguer the definition and the vaguer the

1. Introduction: Definitions and Dichotomies


boundaries of the phenomenon being defined. The more specific the definer’s criteria, the more exclusive and limited his or her definition will be. Thus functional, substantive, experiential and family-resemblance definitions (Clarke and Byrne 1993: 6,7) differ in scope. If the criterion for selection refers to the functions and goals religion serves, phenomena not included in a more substantive definition using the criterion of belief as a relationship with the sacred, i. e., God, gods, spirits and other supernatural or meta-empirical beings or forces, could be called ‘religion’ (e. g., soccer, ideology). Similarly, if the emphasis is on the experience, the selection of phenomena is different from that in the case of a family-resemblance approach that denies the need to apply one single criterion. It is, in any case, the definer’s particular view on religion, including his/her suggested explanation of religion, that guides the process of selection, reduction and simplification. The illusion of the perfect and ultimate definition denies selection. It contains an ambiguity: it whispers from the back of our minds that the single voice is beautiful, but at the same time it wants that voice to encompass and express as much as possible, and be a choir in itself. To the defender of the single voice approach, the variety of definitions is disturbing. Yet, the impossibility to put it all in one phrase inevitably leads to an abundance of proposals that all seem to have some validity. The functional, substantive, experiential and family-resemblance types of definition do contain plausible versions of religious reality, and each of them has relevance in its own context. Definitions, therefore, are partial and complementary, despite the probable desire of their authors to phrase, to the best of their abilities, an insight that can stand the test of time. Paradoxically, both exclusivity and complementarity, therefore, characterize the relationship between definition proposals. The debate between their authors is based on the presupposed intention to convince or, at least, challenge the other, and yet it is realistic enough to be satisfied with the richness of the plethora of opinions. The choice is not between right and wrong, either/or, or yes and no, as in a digital mode of thought (Saler 1993: 12), but is more personalized between what is right in this context, or for me, and what is right in another context, and for you. A collection of articles representative of widely differing opinions is in itself a good metaphor of such an approach. As we will see, a reference to the human capacity for play may help to legitimize such an attitude, which combines different criteria.


Chapter 15. The Third Bank of the River

Interestingly enough, criteria tend to be organized in dichotomies. The nature of dichotomies facilitates exclusivity as well as complementarity. On the one hand, the poles seem to suggest the necessity of a choice, because the two terms in a dichotomy are often asymmetric, certainly if ‘real’ science is understood as exclusively mono-paradigmatic. If, on the other hand, reality is considered too complex for one model, a holistic inclusive approach is advocated, minimally an eclectic, poly-paradigmatic approach in which the whole spectrum between the dichotomy’s poles is considered relevant, or more difficult an approach that seeks to go beyond dichotomous thinking, seeking as it were ‘the third bank of the river’ as the Brazilian writer Guimarães Rosa put it (Guimarães Rosa 1993). The debate on the definition of religion abounds with dichotomies. Let us examine some of them. Because of its simplification, dichotomous thinking distorts reality, although it also has definite didactical advantages, which may explain its tenacity. I hold that the dichotomies to be discussed are still active, albeit in a mild form showing awareness of distortion, but nevertheless influential. A basic dichotomy refers to the contrast between the need to be concise when defining, and the religious experience of ‘the ineffable’. The latter could constitute a reason for opting out of the search for a definition of religion. In such a view, the scientific need to express as adequately as possible what is characteristic of a phenomenon cannot bear comparison with a believer’s human inability to express his or her experience with the suprahuman, i. e., something which is beyond words, unspeakable. The manifestation of the supernatural cannot be represented in natural terms. Whatever is said when defining religion, it will always fail to transmit what religion is really about. This basic dichotomy is linked with the opposition between what anthropologists use to call emic and etic approaches, roughly the insiders’ and the academic outsiders’ views. Should believers recognize themselves in the definer’s etic wording? Are emic religious insights relevant to the definition and explanation of religion, or should one restrict oneself to the academic discourse? Accordingly, in terms of extremes, religion is either defined with reference to the sacred that manifests itself and thereby stands at the origin of religion (a religionist view), or it is coined, in a reductionist and generally functionalist manner, in terms of the non-religious goals served – whether intended by the believers or not – such as the social (Durkheim), the psychic (Freud) or the eco-

1. Introduction: Definitions and Dichotomies


nomic (Marx) roles of religion. In the reductionist functional approach, religion’s finality points teleologically back to its origin. The emic/etic dichotomy is related to another, which has already been mentioned above, and which puts religion and science in opposition to each other. The process of secularization, partly the result of scientific critique of religion, shows that the two are not unrelated. The scientist’s view of religion, therefore, may reflect the erosion religion has suffered in recent decades. In other words, the definer’s scientific objectivity may lead to a point of view that religious people, and religionist scholars in their wake, may experience as being marked by anti-religious subjectivity. In their view, science appears to assume the role of judge, notwithstanding that it is one of the parties in the conflict being brought to judgment. This situation complicates the debate on the definition of religion, because to believers and religious scholars alike, it is not clear whether the scholarly definer is really an objective outsider giving his or her impartial characterization of religion, in the same way that s/he might define science or any other social phenomenon. Religious believers will regard the definer as contaminated by the very fact of his or her being part of critical and distant academia. Scholars are free to regard this issue as not their problem and as outside their language field, and reductionist scholars, in fact, are generally uninterested in the religionist’s characterization of the problem, let alone in the apologetics of believers. Yet the question remains: is an understanding of religion, as for example expressed in a definition, possible without considering the religious point of view? This chapter explores the plausibility of an inclusive, simultaneous, use of alternatives and it may perhaps help towards a breakthrough in the deadlock between reductionists and religionists, without losing the advantages both approaches offer. This rapprochement could be facilitated if religion and science can be shown to be struggling with similar problems. This demands another view of science as well as of religion. As will be shown, the concept of play provides such a perspective. Another dichotomy that has had structuring consequences for the debate on the definition of religion is that between unity and diversity. On the one hand religion, not unlike culture, is understood in the exclusive singular, without a plural, and viewed as a universal human characteristic. Most definitions of religion refer to this singular. Yet, this universal human phenomenon manifests itself in an extreme diversity, especially if one does not limit oneself to the five so-called world religions but also takes into account the thousands of ‘tribal’ religions, as


Chapter 15. The Third Bank of the River

well as the many new religions arising from syncretic processes stimulated by globalization. But even if we focus on the five world religions, it must be acknowledged that they are far from homogeneous. Each religion has its own currents and modalities, and to this must be added the popular versions of each of the official modalities. In a way, the dichotomy between unity and diversity also applies to scholarly discourse. Diversity is inherent in the various disciplines to which students dedicate themselves in the study of religion. In the history of the study of religion, scholars such as historians, philologists and archeologists have also focused on this diversity, whereas others, especially phenomenologists of religion and philosophers of religion, have searched for the common and the universal (Sharpe 1975: 220). The same contrast is present in the types of definition mentioned above. Functional definitions, in particular, in that they seek the general utility of religion, do not include the variety of religious manifestations and expressions, and nor do they explain the specificity of each religion. Substantive, experiential and family-resemblance definitions, when summing up the forms the sacred may take, shed more light on each religion’s diversity. Within and across the disciplines, authors of paradigms compete for authority, and in this struggle, definitions may serve as banners. Accordingly, a diversity of views develops bearing consequences for the definer of religion as well as his or her product. Grosso modo, s/he has an option between a single, mono-paradigmatic approach and a plural, poly-paradigmatic method. In the latter case, various degrees of eclecticism can exist, corresponding in an ironic manner to the degrees of religious syncretism that have been distinguished in the literature (see Droogers 1989: 14 and Rudolph 1979: 207 for an overview). Eclecticism thus, in its minimal form, can be a practical juxtaposition of models, used according to the characteristics of the case under study, whereas at the other end it suggests a new synthesis as a stage on the way towards a mono-paradigmatic approach. In between, other degrees of model-mixing are also possible. Despite – or thanks to – his or her broad perspective, the eclecticist also carries the illusion of the perfect definition at the back of his or her mind, just as the mono-paradigmatic scholar has to admit that s/he is not alone in the world. As we will see, the apparent inconsistency of this ambiguous use of paradigms may turn into an advantage when considered in the light of the concept of play, because play is a way of handling different perspectives. How then can we do justice to the concise and the inexpressible, to emic and etic views, to an explanation by religion and the explanation

2. Play and Religion


of religion, to the unity and diversity in religion, to mono-paradigmatic and poly-paradigmatic approaches? How can we safeguard scientific unity and diversity in defining and explaining religious unity and diversity? Reference has been made several times above to the term ‘illusion’, a word etymologically connected with homo ludens (Huizinga 1952: 12). In this chapter I will argue that the concept of ‘play’ may be helpful in overcoming some of the difficulties encased in the definition debate. The phenomenon being defined, religion, and the activity of defining it, can be clarified by a reference to ‘play’. Both religion, and the study of religion, can be fruitfully considered in the light of that concept. This will lead to a plea for what I have called methodological ludism (Droogers 1996). Its consequences for the definition of religion will be explored. The next sections discuss the relationship between play and religion and add the dimension of power to that relationship. This leads to a provisional definition of religion. From there the significance of play for an understanding of the study of religion is shown. In conclusion, the significance of the concept of play for the understanding of both religion and the study of religion, is summarized in a definition.

2. Play and Religion In common discourse, the first connotation of play is that it is the opposite of seriousness, even though a game is spoiled when not played seriously. Since religion, as well as science, is generally considered to be a serious matter, any reference to play when discussing a scientific definition of religion, therefore, may seem out of order. Yet, much depends on how play is conceived. The literature on the definition of play is not very helpful because it is even more diverse than that on the definition of religion. The variety of phenomena that constitute play and the heterogeneity of academic approaches do not make the process of defining any easier (cf. e. g. Caillos 1958, Handelman 1987, Kolb 1989, Norbeck 1974). It makes a difference as to whether one refers to party games, to sports matches, to gambling, to children’s or animals’ play, to theatre plays, to wordplay or to power games. An ethologist will take a different approach from a psychologist, not to mention a linguist or a specialist in leisure studies.


Chapter 15. The Third Bank of the River

In an earlier publication, I gave the following definition: Play is ‘the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality’ (Droogers 1996: 53). The verb ‘to play’ refers then to the use of this human capacity, and ‘playful’ and ‘playfulness’ to the attitude through which this capacity is activated. I am aware of the fact that mine is just one of many possible definitions (see e. g. Csikszentmihalyi & Bennett 1971; Csikszentmihalyi 1975), but for several reasons it serves my purposes best. Firstly, by using the adjective ‘subjunctively’, the creative potential of play is emphasized. The term is taken from Victor Turner’s work (Turner 1977: 33, 1988: 169), where the ‘as is’ of the indicative is opposed to the ‘as if ‘ of the subjunctive. Secondly, my definition presents play as a general human capacity, and not so much as the product or the application of this ability, represented by the cultural form. It therefore refers to more than play in the narrow sense, i. e., as a more or less exceptional, abnormal context, outside ‘normal’ life. Thus, thirdly, the wider perspective capitalizes on the simultaneity of two sets of rules, each embracing a way of classifying reality. As long as a game lasts, one set only is valid and creates its own reality. Yet, even during the game itself there is the consciousness that when the game is over the other set will prevail. The simultaneity of different orders, of the normal and the abnormal, the usual and the exceptional, is inherent in play. It invites us to adopt another mode of thinking, stereophonic as it were, an inner dialogue of contrasting views. It implicitly characterizes both ways of constructing reality at stake in play as equally serious, thus avoiding the modern misunderstanding that play is identical to ‘not-serious’, ‘only a game’, in the margin of ‘real’ life. The seriousness of play appears to have become invisible to modern eyes because of the rigid separation between work and leisure. The seriousness and obligation of work is contrasted with the playfulness of free time. It seems worthwhile to release the concept of play from its exile and return it to its rightful place in the fullness of life. Understood in this way, play resembles what in other disciplines, for example Cultural Studies, is called ‘articulation’: the process of creating connections between distinct and dissimilar elements (Slack 1996: 114). The term became popular in Cultural Studies because it was a help in avoiding reductionism – more specifically class reductionism and economic reductionism, which suggest necessary links between a variety of phenomena on the one hand, and class or mode of production on the other (Slack 1996: 116, 117). Articulation serves as a

2. Play and Religion


sign that speaks of other possibilities, of other ways of theorizing the elements of a social formation and the relations that constitute it not simply as relations of correspondence (that is as reductionist and essentialist) but also as relations of non-correspondence and contradiction, and how these relations constitute unities that instantiate relations of dominance and subordination. (Slack 1996: 117)

Articulation gives simultaneity and unity their turn, despite diversity and antagonism of practices (Slack 1996: 122). The concept of articulation has been applied to a variety of terms and problems. The best-known example is Gramsci’s view on hegemony. Hegemony, he says, is constructed through the articulation, by a hegemonic class, of contrasting interests, with the surprising result that, contrary to reductionist expectations, the dominated accept their subordination. It has been used to analyze what occurred in the encounter between the capitalist mode of production and other modes of production, especially in Third World contexts. Another example is the view of communication as a process of articulation, presupposing that there cannot be a one-to-one relationship between sender and receiver, between encoded and decoded messages (Slack 1992: 124). The relation between paradigms that emphasize either structure or agency, a longstanding puzzle in the social sciences, can be said to have been articulated in praxis or practice theories like those of Bourdieu (1997) and Giddens (1984). When people use metaphors, they merge two different domains of reality into one meaningful image (Fernandez 1986). What happens in play is that two different orders of classification are articulated, despite their dissimilarity. Instead of speaking of ‘the capacity to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with two or more ways of classifying reality’, we might also say that play is ‘the capacity to articulate, in a subjunctive manner, dissimilar ways of classifying reality’. As I will argue below, play can be of methodological use, because dissimilar and contradictory approaches in the study of religion can be combined. The corresponding attitude towards paradigms is eloquently expressed by Stuart Hall in the motto above this chapter. Anthropologists can claim to have gained some experience in this capacity for play as defined above, because their trademark is the method of participant observation, an interesting combination of closeness and distance, of identifying with the people under observation, seeking unity with them, and yet maintaining scholarly identity, being different and separate. The creative potential of such an application of play has


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been shown in the results of anthropological fieldwork and can be to our advantage in the study and explanation of religion. Not only anthropologists, however, have found a methodological solution to the problem of the tension between the etic and the emic. In the field of comparative religion, efforts have also been made to reach ‘a direct analysis of essences or general structures’ (Sharpe 1975: 224). This was the hermeneutic mission and hallmark of the phenomenology of religion. Epoch, Verstehen, and the ‘eidetic vision’ were meant to overcome the limits posed by presuppositions. Although predominantly directed towards knowledge of the universal essence, as hidden behind the obvious diversity, there was undoubtedly a playful attitude at work in this intuitive quest for the essence, because an experiment was waged with another mode of looking at reality. This should be acknowledged, despite justified criticism of the phenomenology of religion as ‘theological propaedeutics’ and as being too much involved in the subjective search for religious truth (Sharpe 1975: 233, 236). An interest in play is not new in the anthropology of religion. At least three anthropologists of religion have referred to play in their work: namely Victor Turner, Jan van Baal and James Fernandez. Their insights may show us the way. Together with the related views of psychologist Donald Winnicott, they facilitate a better understanding of the relationship between religion and play. Turner’s book ‘From Ritual to Theatre’ (Turner 1982) carries the subtitle ‘The Human Seriousness of Play’. Playfulness is characteristic of the central part of a ritual, the liminal phase. Inversions and experiments are typical of liminality. The social unity of the ‘communitas’ combines with symbolic creativity and with ‘the ludic capacity, to catch symbols in their movement, so to speak, and to play with their possibilities of form and meaning’ (Turner 1982: 23). In this sphere of ‘communitas’, involvement and wholeness, the effects of hierarchy are temporarily put between brackets. Although Turner has been criticized for overgeneralizing on this point (Eade and Salnow 1991), there are cases in which his ideas are nevertheless valid. In a posthumous collection of articles, Turner (1988) explores the relation between play and neurobiology. Whereas the left and right hemispheres of the brain differ in function – more analytical-linearcausal-dichotomous or more synthetic-holistic-pattern-like-monistic, respectively – play is taken to be the interface between the two. The opposition between the poles in dichotomies in the left hemisphere is complemented by the holism in the right hemisphere. Ritual is one

2. Play and Religion


way of stimulating both hemispheres and of generating a feeling of wellbeing, which may take the form of mysticism, extasy or enlightenment. Paradoxes do not pose a problem in this climate. Turner (1988: 166) quotes, with approval, a statement from D’Aquili, Laughlin and McManus (1979: 177): ‘during certain ritual and meditation states, logical paradoxes or the awareness of polar opposites as presented in myth appear simultaneously, both as antinomies and as unified wholes’. Turner (1988: 169) points to the political consequences of play: it represents a risk to the system, because it is open to, and appreciative of alternatives. Because of its subjunctiveness play, by nature, is subversive. As Bateson (1973) suggested, play carries ‘meta-messages’, and these are beyond the control of the established authorities. Van Baal’s contribution to the theme is in Dutch (Van Baal 1972). In translation its title is: ‘The Message of the Three Illusions’. These three illusions are religion, play and art, and in Van Baal’s view, they help to overcome the basic existential problem of human beings: i. e., being part of reality and yet at the same time standing apart, isolated from it. Each in its own manner, the three illusions, despite their being illusions, or perhaps thanks to the fact that they are inventions, create a feeling of belonging. Religion does this by communicating with supernatural powers that cannot be verified empirically. Play generates a fictitious reality with which homo ludens can identify. Art transforms reality into something that is beautiful and therefore enjoyable. In religion, the uncertainty of human life is defined as a problem that can be solved, in play it adds to the excitement, and in art it stimulates creativity. This view of religion, play and art seems reductionist, because the three are explained by means of their functional contribution to the solution of the psychic and social problem of human isolation. Yet, at the same time, Van Baal suggested that religion differs from play and art, in that ultimately it is not an illusion (1972: 125). In fact, in one of his last publications before his death, he opted explicitly for a religionist approach in which the manifestation of what he called ‘the Mystery’ was taken seriously in terms of explaining religion (Van Baal 1990). When presenting his views on the role of tropes, especially metaphors, in religion (Fernandez 1986), Fernandez also refers to the human problems of belonging and not belonging, of unity and variety. Significantly, Fernandez subtitles his book ‘The Play of Tropes in Culture’. He views metaphors as essential instruments in the creation of a feeling of wholeness, precisely because a metaphor brings two domains


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together which would otherwise not occur simultaneously, thereby creating a suggestion of linkage, or articulation, between disparate elements. In a metaphor, one clear domain is used to clarify another. In the case of metonymy, only one domain is involved, but here the sensation of linkage is created when, e. g., one part stands for the whole domain. The play of tropes serves to establish feelings of belonging. Anthropologists of religion are not alone in associating religion with play. A striking example of a psychologist who pointed to such a connection from the perspective of so-called object-relations theory is Winnicott in his book ‘Playing and Reality’ (Winnicott 1971). Again the tension between belonging and not belonging is taken as a startingpoint (Winnicott 1971: 6). The individual is ‘engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet interrelated’ (Winnicott 1971: 2). ‘The thing about playing is always the precariousness of the interplay of personal psychic reality and the experience of control of actual objects. This is the precariousness of magic itself’ (Winnicott 1971: 47). Winnicott suggests that the child, in learning to distinguish me from not-me, the subject from the object, uses play to maintain the feeling of being a part of a larger whole. The infant is thus helped to accept the separation from the mother’s body. The child’s experience is constitutive of adult culture. Just as Van Baal did at about the same time, Winnicott also suggests that religion and art represent alternative means of maintaining the intermediary zone between self and not-self in which inner reality and external life come together (Winnicott 1971: 3). According to psychoanalyst Winnicott, illusions, such as play, art and religion, are therefore not pathological. What extra value is to be derived from a discussion of what links religion to play? And what consequence would it have for a definition of religion? What criteria are typical of such a ‘play-ful’ definition? Although each of these four authors has his own way of developing his insights, they do share relevant characteristics. All four connect play with religion, though not all play is considered religious, and not all religion playful. All four take as their starting-point the human endeavor, best visible in religion, to go beyond the basic dichotomy between whole and part, wholeness and disparity, belonging and not-belonging, communitas and hierarchy, thus bringing together the opposites of identification that unifies, and identity that differentiates. Through this effort, separate domains are brought together, and despite the dominant feeling of division, there is a prevailing sense of unity. This is a functional, and thus rather reductionist approach to religion, of which

2. Play and Religion


only Van Baal distanced himself publicly in the final stage of his life, when he explicitly advocated a religionist perspective. Play and religion are linked by all four authors to the human constitution and predicament, be it neurobiologically, as in Turner’s last work; or in the tension between feeling oneself as part of, and as standing apart from, as we see in Van Baal’s work; or the capacity to use tropes as Fernandez does; or in the child’s experience as Winnicott illustrates. Play and religion are regarded as very useful tools, but also as illusions tolerated, as it were, because of their function. For homo ludens, to play with these illusions is to solve an existential problem. Recent insights confirm these authors’ view on the human condition. Ewing, for instance, shows how a person will maintain a coherent unitarian view of self, an ‘illusion of wholeness’, despite ‘multiple inconsistent self-representations that are context-dependent and may shift rapidly’ (Ewing 1990: 251). In cognitive anthropology, the socalled connectionist approach (Bloch 1991, D’Andrade 1995: 139 – 149, Strauss and Quinn 1994) has been taken from cognitive studies, in order to show that human thinking cannot primarily be characterized by the serial succession of ideas as in a spoken or written phrase, but should be understood as a parallel consultation of separate and often contradictory but connected schemas or archives, common to the participants in a certain cultural context. The way in which a conclusion is verbalized in sentences should not mislead us into believing that all human reflection proceeds in that manner. Play, which I defined above as the ‘capacity to articulate, in a subjunctive manner, dissimilar ways of classifying reality’ depends greatly on the connectionist capacity of human thinking. If connectionism is right in claiming that the parallel processing of disparate schemas is much more typically human than the serial mode, then all of a sudden play becomes less exceptional. That which is specifically religious in play is the hunch – and often the experience – that there is another dimension, beyond the differentiating and restricting limits of time and space, that transforms fragmentedness into wholeness. The subjunctiveness of play is used to develop a view of another reality. The play with tropes, as Fernandez suggests, reveals the unity in reality through its linking of separated domains or parts of domains. Through tropes, human beings refer to the hidden, the invisible, the absent, the future or the abstract, all of which are essential to the idea of another dimension in reality, whether it be called sacred, supernatural, transcendental, metaphysical, or whatever. The specific symbol systems that are the result of this human gift differ among them-


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selves, even though certain symbols occur again and again. This statement does not exclude the possibility – to believers a reality – that this human antenna for the perception of an extra dimension in reality, corresponds to a sacred force, or being, that represents the other end of this chain of communication and manifests itself as such.

3. Play, Power and Religion The relation between play and religion cannot be understood without reference to a third component, i. e. power. It is therefore important to note in what ways play and power are connected; they can be contrasted, and can also reinforce each other. Let us first look at the contrast. Implicit in Turner’s ideas is that inversion is a threat to any hierarchical system, and that play with inversion puts the system at risk. As I have already said, symbols facilitate the experience of the impossible, the invisible, the unexpected, the inexpressible, the converse side of reality, in short the subjunctive. Those in power view the infinite possibilities hinted at by play, as chaos, as contrary to order. The experience of the infinite and eternal power that is central to religion may have a similar result, unless it is used to legitimize and eternalize the powers that be. As a consequence, it can be said that as soon as a division of labor is installed in religion, and religious specialists dominate the process of signification, then play using religious symbols tends to be monopolized and curtailed. Put in connectionist terms: the serial verbalization of a uniform and exclusive worldview ignores and masks the parallel processing of contradictory schemas. Only the individual religious experience is the safe haven from where one can experiment with parallel schemas and escape the leaders’ power. Ironically, play and power cannot only be contrasted but can also merge in a power game. Power, when seen as an instrument by which the behavior of people can be influenced, can in fact be used to frustrate play, but it may also be seen as a means of stimulating it, albeit under strict conditions. A power game, therefore, is sometimes played in the interest of putting an end to other forms of play. The subjunctive is then transformed into the indicative, the as-if into the as-is. The right to play is monopolized and the rules of the game, including ritual, are formulated by the hierarchical top. And it is here that truth claims become so important. A situation of hegemony arises in which

3. Play, Power and Religion


people share the conviction that they are free to play, without realizing that the rules are laid down, from above, by others. It is the rise of power differences, putting an end to free play, that might be said to be the Fall of original religion, ‘original’ taken in the double sense of time and quality. The story Umberto Eco tells in ‘The Name of the Rose’ (Eco 1984) can serve as a metaphor of this Fall: an overzealous monk seeks to prevent a book on comedy being read by his fellow-monks, because he thinks the text is a danger to his religion. I hasten to add that I am aware of the fact that speaking about the Fall of original religion is a normative statement, and that in this context it is meant as such. What is more, in my view, the concept of play has an apologetical dimension, not in defense of hierarchically organized religion, but of original and authentic religiosity. Interestingly, Turner has been criticized by scholars who have given us examples of hierarchical relations in marginal or liminal situations (e. g. Eade and Salnow 1991). Apparently in those examples too, playfulness was constrained and tempered by power mechanisms. With regard to religion and play, the role of power suggests that religion has a basic built-in tension, between the free and controlled use of play. There is a cyclical and dialectical alternation between these modes of constructing and reproducing religion. The Fall is re-enacted time and again. Though free play is not necessarily an individual practice, heretics and other religious innovators, among them founders of religious movements and new religions, have all been confronted by this tension. Some, like Mohammed, have been successful and accordingly have moved to the centre of power. Others, like Jesus, fell victim to the exercise of power at that particular moment in time. The distinction between official and popular religion is, in part, based on those same power mechanisms. The official and often rationalized defense of what is considered to be the correct version of a religion, contrasts with popular experiments with religious resources in an effort to make sense out of life, in its daily and enduring vicissitudes. Like popular religion, expressions of syncretism, at least in the initial stage, are to be found much more on the side of the free religious use of play, and are therefore opposed by representatives of official religions. Yet such an initiative may ultimately lead to a new official religion, as has happened with most world religions, each with its own process of institutionalization and corresponding play control. The current process of globalization offers examples of the way power processes, basically economic and political in origin, can stimu-


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late play-ful religion, including forms of syncretism. Boundaries between cultures, as also between religions, are being perforated. Free use of play is being given a new impulse because of the expansion of repertoires and the accompanying loss of exclusivity of systems once closed. Communication and information empower people to produce their own worldview. Access to sources that formerly remained hidden, opens new perspectives to believers, and beyond the control of established religious authorities. The term creolization, originally a linguistic concept, is being used for the human capacity to move in more than one culture (Drummond 1980, Hannerz 1992). In the religious sense too, a process of creolization occurs in which people obtain a working knowledge of more than one religion and are able to act appropriately in each of them. Diversity and cross-religious commonness are stimulated simultaneously. The Internet alone offers a large number of religious web sites. Admittedly one needs economic power to gain access to such a medium, but more and more people have recourse to the electronic highway. In the modern situation, established religions are suffering from deinstitutionalization, whereby individuals are able to construct their own idiosyncratic systems, and broaden the realms of diversity. Yet at the same time people are searching for common elements between religions, to form a kind of meta-religious transnational experience, as is clearly the case in several new religions, including New Age. An emphasis on silence and individual meditation, either as emptiness to be filled, or as an overflow to be absorbed, is a significant symptom of the search for unity in diversity. Silence challenges people to play with their private stock of tropes. It allows them to do so uncontrolled by sermonizing religious authority. But not only the laity, even those in leadership positions within the world religions, the defenders of the official versions, are confronted with the consequences of globalization. If ever it were possible to maintain a climate of splendid isolation, no current-day religious leader can escape the question of how to position him/herself with regard to other religions. Autonomy, self-sufficiency and combativeness belong, as ever, to the possibilities. Yet more and more experiments with forms of dialogue are being ventured and, in some cases, have reached a certain degree of institutionalization. An attitude towards other religions based on play, constitutes one of the modes for a dialogical attitude (Droogers 1995b). The question of the power relationship between religions can find an answer in the concept of play.

4. A Provisional Definition


4. A Provisional Definition If religion is viewed as one of the areas in which the human capacity for play performs a vital role, it may find its reflection in a definition of religion. As was suggested by the four authors discussed above, religion is by nature open to, and dependent on, play because play helps people to overcome the basic human problem of being part, as well as apart. Human beings, playing subjunctively, become aware of another dimension in reality. Even without limiting oneself to play’s actual function, one might suggest that the origin of religion could, in part, be sought in this human capacity. The capacity to deal at the same time with two or more ways of classifying reality makes use of symbolic means to introduce the idea of an extra dimension in reality. From the double perspective revealed in the ability to play, people consider themselves simultaneously autonomous and dependent, unique and part of the universe. Play articulates the ambiguity of reality as one in diversity. It facilitates a possible distinction between a natural and a supernatural dimension. If specific believers emphasize the sacred unity of reality, whereas others might distinguish the divine from the human, the supernatural from the natural, then both groups have succeeded in finding a solution to the problem of the unity-in-variety dichotomy. Formulated in this way, there is room for both dualistic and monistic worldviews, because simultaneity allows for unity, despite the dividedness of reality. Interestingly, the contrast between science and religion can only emerge in a dualistic perspective, as the history of modern science has shown us. It could be then that the definition of religion issue is, in part, nothing more than a product of Western-Christian dualism (Sahlins 1996). The higher the degree of institutionalization, the more a check will be put on the risks that free use of play can have for the religious institution. In so doing, schackles are placed on the infinite potential of play. On the other hand, as we have already seen, power constellations may, in fact, stimulate the use of play. In any case, power mechanisms should always be taken into consideration, when exploring the relation between play and religion. Summarizing the approach followed so far, religion can provisionally be defined as: the term scholars use for the varied application – within the parameters set by the power mechanisms that correspond to the degree of institutionalization – of the human capacity for play to the articulation of the tension experienced between inexpressibility and representation, between belong-


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ing and separation, between a unifying identification and a differentiating identity, an application that adds an extra dimension to reality, which allows human beings to overcome this tension.

This definition is, of necessity, both partial and selective, because it focuses on play itself. With regard to the criteria and dichotomies mentioned in the preceding section, this focus can also be said to present religion as an etic and scholarly concept, because the emphasis is laid on its academic nature. Such a concept combines functional, substantive and experiential elements, in that it points not only to religion’s role in solving existential tension, but also in introducing the idea of an extra dimension in reality. It is reductionist in focus, but leaves room for a religionist view. The definition recognizes religious variety and incorporates the power dimension of religion. This definition must, however, be provisional, because there is a lot more to be said about the art of defining and explaining religion. Having explored the link between play and religion, therefore, the scientific study of religion should be discussed in a ‘play-ful’ light.

5. Play and the Study of Religion As we have seen, all kinds of dichotomies complicate the search for a definition of religion, and scholars have to face the problem of how to tread this minefield. The problems of unity and diversity, of universality and uniqueness dominate not only the religious field but also that of the scholarly study of religion itself. Scholars also have to position themselves in terms of the opposition between science and religion. And as far as religion is concerned, it was suggested in the preceding sections that play, as the capacity to articulate, in a subjunctive manner, dissimilar ways of classifying reality, is essential to solving these problems. Similarly, it will now be argued that play is useful in the scholar of religion’s search for an adequate position. The consequences for research strategies will also be considered. Academics tend to opt for specific solutions, and it is the capital they draw on. Varsity politics thrive on exclusive opinions and definitions, institutionalized in schools, professional associations, fundraising strategies and citation circuits. One wonders whether the institutionalization of academia has not reduced creativity and playfulness, as has been the

5. Play and the Study of Religion


case with institutionalized religion. This might be illustrated by the central problem of emic and etic views on religion. As far as research strategies in the study of religion are concerned, it is possible to distinguish three methodological attitudes. Either a scholar opts for methodological atheism (religion is based on a false view), theism (religious insights should be included in the explanation of religion), or agnosticism (a scholar should abstain from an opinion on the validity of religion). Roughly speaking, these three attitudes reflect general conceptions of what science is about, methodological atheism representing a positivist and realist view, theism seeing science as one possible worldview, and agnosticism, politically the most correct perhaps, abstaining in case of doubt, thus implicitly relativizing science’s realism. Methodological atheism and agnosticism are definitely etic in attitude, whilst methodological theism combines etic and emic attitudes. What is to be gained by confronting this set of positions with the notion of play? If play is a general human capacity, it must not be applied only to religion but to science as well. If human beings are able to deal simultaneously and subjunctively with more than one way of classifying reality, scholars need not be an exception. Instead of opting for one approach, they might consider the possibility that views on reality take plural forms. Even if only for a second, they should still be capable of viewing the matter from a vantage point that is opposite to the position they usually assume. Thus, that other point of view might be a colleague’s specific methodological atheism, theism or agnosticism. Connected to methodological theism, it might even be the emic view of the believers. Although views presented as exclusive are, more often than not, actually complementary to each other, there remains the possibility that some real contradiction may exist, and that partial truths do not combine harmoniously to formulate the final word. Even in such a case of incongruency and incompatibility, the plea for empathy maintains its value. One could call this approach methodological ludism (Droogers 1996). It is a way of applying the human gift of play to scientific activity. Parallel to the provisional definition of religion, it can be defined as ‘the application by students of religion of their human capacity for play, though constrained by the power mechanisms of academic institutionalization, to the articulation of the tension experienced between participation and distance, unity and diversity, religious and scientific views, suggesting an extra dimension in the academic perspective that allows the scholars to overcome this tension’. Although basically eclectic in na-


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ture, methodological ludism still leaves room for a mono-paradigmatic approach, whilst complementing and softening it through the experimental consideration of alternatives. Applying play to the field of competing paradigms in this way, also means relativizing power mechanisms that may hamper the expansion of science. It is also a way of avoiding repetitive polemics and fruitless trench wars. Methodological ludism could be misunderstood as a variation of methodological agnosticism. Admittedly, neither makes an explicit claim for either a religious or a scientific truth. Methodological ludism, however, is not the same as abstention, but rather the – albeit temporary – acceptance, through empathic participation, of a particular religious or scientific claim to truth. Respect is expressed in empathy. Even though facilitated by the human capacity for play, this is a serious matter. Methodological ludism can be said to proceed from where methodological agnosticism stops. It is not satisfied with the conclusion that religious truth lies outside the realm of testability, even though in methodological agnosticism this point of view does not lead, as in methodological atheism, to a rejection of religion. Methodological agnosticism, it seems, is a way of ‘live and let live’, although in my view the insiders’ perspective is not fully appreciated, and thus methodological agnosticism, in this respect, is not appreciably different from methodological atheism. One reservation needs to be made, however. There is a limit to dealing playfully with unity and variety, and in anthropology, cultural relativism has led to a similar reaction. Ethical considerations, for example in terms of human rights (Droogers 1995a), set a limit to the application of ludism. This ethical reservation points to another aspect of power mechanisms in institutionalized religion. Whereas power was shown above to constrain as well as to stimulate playfulness in religion, not all legitimized expressions are necessarily acceptable. Play has its moral limits, and just as any other human capacity, it can be put to both good and bad use. This is something all responsible scholars must expect to meet at some time in their careers. Some comments should be made here on the exclusivity of claims, be they religious or scientific in nature. In the same way that methodological ludism, as a method, invites scholars to take serious notice of scientific perspectives different from their own, it also suggests, by extension, an inherent respect for religious truth claims. This may seem contradictory as long as religion and science, just as religions themselves and scientific paradigms in competition, are put in an either/or relationship. The plea for a playful approach points to an inclusive and/and relation-

5. Play and the Study of Religion


ship and therefore demands another mode of reflection. Reductionist explanations of religion do not necessarily, therefore, exclude religionist positions. In contrast to what is usually believed, there is for example much less contradiction in accepting a religion’s insights while, at the same time, recognizing the functions that religion may have for the believer, be they social, economical, political or psychical. The abovementioned usefulness of articulation in avoiding reductionism, can thus be helpful in the debate between reductionists and religionists. Articulation offers a way of going beyond reductionist expectations of there being a necessary and sufficient link between psychic, social, economic and political needs on the one hand, and religion on the other. The dissimilarity between reductionist and religionist positions becomes less striking and is made productive. It may be that our era, more than any other, demands such an and/ and attitude, as an answer to the urgent need for a manner to handle increasing variety. The changes that we experience in our information society, seem to force us into adopting other modes of thinking. As Melucci puts it: ‘A society that uses information as its vital resource alters the constitutive structure of experience. The way we conceive reality and ourselves is changed in its cognitive, perceptive, and emotional dimensions’ (Melucci 1996: 1). More than ever before, ‘human action is an interactive process, continuously constructed within a field of possibilities and limits’ (Melucci 1996: 4, 5). As a consequence of globalization, variety and unity have combined into a political problem. A change in scale, producing larger units, is accompanied by a growing emphasis on local identity and uniqueness. Melucci makes a plea for play and for the ability ‘to pass with fluency from one dimension to the other’ (Melucci 1996: 3). The more variety, the more the need for a method of handling it without loosing sight of unity and commonness, and playfulness appears to offer the means to this end. It may indeed be the ‘third bank of the river’ we need in order not to be engulfed by the tidal wave of information. Methodological ludism could help to relativize the dichotomies that have haunted the debate on the definition of religion for so long. This chapter represents an effort to consider both poles of a dichotomy, despite apparent or – less often – real contradictions. It enables as complete a view as possible to be reached, without denying the validity of partial views, be they religious or scientific. Justice can thus be done to the large variety of religious and scientific paradigms, without surrendering an holistic view of the matter. In transforming the inconvenience of


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ambiguity in the context of defining religion into an advantage, it becomes feasible to acquiesce to the nostalgic search for the ultimate definition whilst accepting the likely partialness of its result. The inexpressible can thus be reconciled with representation. The creolization of the believer may find its parallel in an academic version of creolization, in which the scholarly mother tongue, though primal, does not prevent fluency in other paradigmatic languages, even when spoken with difficulty and a heavy accent. Some degree of academic syncretism when studying religion, be it religious syncretism or its opposite, fundamentalism, becomes an option; if not, science will be curbed by academic fundamentalism. In science, as in religion, illusions are there to help human beings survive as homo ludens.

6. Conclusion: A Definition of Religion It has been argued in this chapter that the search for the optimal definition of religion is frustrated by some strange ‘digital’ customs peculiar to the academic tribe, especially the either/or mode of viewing the relation between religion and science and between disparate paradigms. Academics have still not come to terms with the competition between religion and science, and with the competence of religion and that of science. A true understanding of religion is hampered by academic power mechanisms that exclude an exchange of ideas between competing paradigms, reductionist and religionist approaches in particular. A debate on the definition of religion should, therefore, take full account of the definers. In order to make progress, a change in the corporate culture of students of religion is needed. The change I suggest is the adoption of methodological ludism, and I have argued that our era, in particular, is in need of just such a conversion in the habitus of scholars. Methodological ludism has the double advantage of improving the methodology of scholars, as well as their subsequent understanding of religion. Scholars, as well as the believers they study, are equipped with the same human capacity for play, embracing both the serious and creative articulation of dissimilarity and simultaneity. Articulation, as the most striking characteristic of play, can be applied to both the craft of religious studies and to the understanding of religion. This has consequences for the actual process of defining religion, as well as for the resultant definition itself.



Accordingly, I defined religion provisionally as ‘the term scholars use for the believers’ varied application – within the parameters set by the power mechanisms that correspond to the degree of institutionalization – of their human capacity for play to the articulation of the tension experienced between inexpressibility and representation, between belonging and separation, between a unifying identification and a differentiating identity, adding an extra dimension to reality that allows the believers to overcome this tension’. Though most active when left free, the capacity for play is even at work when controlled by religious authorities. Free play’s politically motivated Fall from the grace, is compensated for by a cyclical return to the free and perhaps heretic exercise of this human gift. The current process of globalization appears, thus, to stimulate free religious play. Parallel to this, methodological ludism is the term I use for ‘the application by students of religion of their human capacity for play, though constrained by the power mechanisms of academic institutionalization, to the articulation of the tension experienced between participation and distance, unity and diversity, religious and scientific views, suggesting an extra dimension in the academic perspective that allows the scholars to overcome this tension’. The playfulness that unites believers and scholars is evident in both religion and science. Our own period in human history demands that religion and science should be compared not only for their differences but also for what they have in common. The advantage of such an approach is that it combines emic and etic views, unity and diversity. The provisional definition of religion and the parallel characterization of methodological ludism can finally be united in the following definition of religion: Religion is the field in which both believers and scholars act, each category applying the human capacity for play, within the constraints of power mechanisms, to the articulation of the basic dichotomies of inexpressibility and representation, of diversifying identity and unifying identification, of variety and unity, thus adding an extra dimension to their view of reality.

Acknowledgements I gratefully acknowledge helpful comments given on earlier versions by Barbara Boudewijnse, Els Jacobs, Frans Kamsteeg, Jaap-Willem van der Meulen, Daniel Miguez, Arie Molendijk, Jan Platvoet, Hans Siebers,


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Hans Tennekes, Marjo de Theije, Peter Versteeg, Paul Vleugels, and by participants of the Paper Seminar Religious and Symbolic Anthropology, and of the Research Group ‘Encounter of Religions’, both at the Vrije Universiteit.

References Asad, Talal (1993). Genealogies of religion: Disciplines and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore etc.: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Bateson, Gregory (1973). A theory of play and fantasy. In: Gregory Bateson (1973). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution and epistemology. St. Albans: Palladin, pp. 150 – 166. Bloch, Maurice (1991). Language, anthropology and cognitive science. Man, 26, 183 – 98. Bourdieu, Pierre (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge, etc.: Cambridge University Press. Caillois, René (1958). Les jeux et les hommes. Paris: Gallimard. Clarke, Peter, and Peter Byrne (1993). Religion defined and explained. London: Macmillan. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1975). Play and intrinsic rewards. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 15(3), 41 – 63. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, and Stith Bennett (1971). An exploratory model of play. American Anthropologist, 73(1), 45 – 58. D’Andrade, Roy G. (1995). The development of cognitive anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. D’Aquili, Eugene, Charles D. Laughlin, and John McManus (eds.) (1979). The spectrum of ritual. New York: Columbia University Press. Droogers, André (1989). Syncretism: The problem of definition, the definition of the problem. In: Jerald Gort et al. (eds.) (1989). Dialogue and syncretism: An interdisciplinary approach. Amsterdam and Grand Rapids: Rodopi and Eerdmans, pp. 7 – 25. (Chapter 9 of this book) Droogers, André (1995a). Cultural relativism and universal human rights? In: An-Na’im, Abdullah A., et al. (eds.) (1995). Human rights and religious values: An uneasy relationship? Amsterdam and Grand Rapids: Rodopi and Eerdmans, pp. 78 – 90. Droogers, André (1995b). Spelregels voor het religieuze verkeer. In: Reender Kranenborg and Wessel Stoker (eds.) (1995). Religies en (on)gelijkheid in een plurale samenleving. Leuven, etc.: Garant, pp. 131 – 146. Droogers, André (1996). Methodological ludism: Beyond religionism and reductionism. In: Anton van Harskamp (ed.) (1996). Conflicts in social science. London: Routledge, pp. 44 – 67. (Chapter 14 of this book) Drummond, Lee (1980). The cultural continuum: a theory of intersystems. Man, 15 (4), 352 – 74. Eade, John, and Michael J. Sallnow (eds.) (1991). Contesting the sacred: The anthropology of Christian pilgrimage. London: Routledge.



Eco, Umberto (1984). The name of the rose. London: Picador. Ewing, Katherine P. (1990). The illusion of wholeness: Culture, self, and the experience of inconsistency. Ethos, 18(3), 251 – 78. Fernandez, James W. (1986). Persuasions and performances: The play of tropes in culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Giddens, Anthony (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press. Guba, Egon G. (ed) (1990). The paradigm dialog. Newbury Park etc.: Sage. Guimarães Rosa, João (1993). De derde oever van de rivier. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff Quatro. English version in: K. David Jackson (2006). Oxford anthology of the Brazilian short story. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 315 – 318. Hall, Stuart (1992). Cultural studies and its theoretical legacies. In: Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson and Paula Treichler (eds.) (1992). Cultural studies. New York etc.: Routledge, pp. 277 – 294. Handelman, Don (1987). Play. In: Mircea Eliade (ed.) (1987). The encyclopedia of religion. New York: MacMillan, vol. 11, pp. 363 – 367. Hannerz, Ulf (1992). Cultural complexity: Studies in the social organization of meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Huizinga, Johan (1952). Homo ludens: Proeve eener bepaling van het spel-element der cultuur. Haarlem: Tjeenk Willink. Kolb, Michael (1989). Spiel als Ph nomen – Das Ph nomen Spiel: Studien zu ph nomenologischen-anthropologischen Spieltheorien. Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag Richartz. Melucci, Alberto (1996). The playing self: Person and meaning in the planetary society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Norbeck, Edward (1974). Anthropological views of play. American Zoologist, 14, 267 – 273. Rudolph, Kurt (1979). Synkretismus vom Theologischen Scheltwort zum religions-wissenschaftlichen Begriff. In: Humanitas Religiosa: Festschrift fur Haralds Biezais zu seinem 70 Geburtstag. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, pp. 193 – 212. Saler, Benson (1993). Conceptualizing religion: Immanent anthropologists, transcendent natives, and unbounded categories. Leiden, etc.: Brill. Sahlins, Marshall (1996). The sadness of sweetness: The native anthropology of western cosmology. Current Anthropology, 37(3), 395 – 428. Sharpe, Eric J. (1975). Comparative religion: A history. London: Duckworth. Slack, Jennifer Daryl (1996). The theory and method of articulation in cultural studies. In: David Morley and Kuan Hsing Chen (eds.), Stuart Hall: Critical dialogues in cultural studies. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 112 – 27. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1994). A Cognitive/Cultural Anthropology. In: Robert Borofsky (ed.) (1994). Assessing cultural anthropology. New York, etc.: McGraw-Hill, pp. 284 – 300. Turner, Victor W. (1977). Frame, flow and reflection: Ritual and drama as public liminality. In: Michael Benamou and Charles Caramello (eds.) (1977). Performance in postmodern culture. Madison, Wisconsin: Coda Press, pp. 33 – 55.


Chapter 15. The Third Bank of the River

Turner, Victor W. (1982). From ritual to theatre: The human seriousness of play. New York: PAJ Publications. Turner, Victor W. (1988). The anthropology of performance. New York: PAJ Publications. Van Baal, Jan (1972). De boodschap der drie illusies: Overdenkingen over religie, kunst en spel. Assen: Van Gorcum. Van Baal, Jan (1990). Mysterie als openbaring. Utrecht: ISOR. Winnicott, Donald W. (1971). Playing and reality. London: Tavistock.

Religion and Science Chapter 16 Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge: The Cultural Anthropology of Religion and a Religious Anthropology 1. Introduction The convener’s description of the theme for the conference that led to this text referred to ‘the different ways of knowing and of coming to know that are fundamental to human life’. More specifically mention was made of ‘the difference that being a Christian makes when acknowledging, reflecting on, and participating in these ways of knowing’. This is of course a vast topic, even with the specification mentioned. Fortunately the convener added that ‘plenary speakers are encouraged to engage this theme in a manner and with the focus that each finds most appropriate’. The manner and focus I find appropriate reflect my field, cultural anthropology, particularly the cultural anthropology of religion and symbolic anthropology, the subjects of my chair. To avoid misunderstanding: My type of anthropology is not of the philosophical kind, it is cultural anthropology. Besides it is of interest that the Vrije Universiteit employs me. When my university decided that the department of cultural anthropology should have a chair in the cultural anthropology of religion, the chair was viewed as a way to express the Christian character of the Vrije Universiteit. I understand it to be my task on this chair to reflect on the study and explanation of religion, taking into account the Christian framework my university confesses to have. Though during most of my professional life so far I was linked with the Vrije Universiteit, I have been working in similar Christian academic settings in Congo and Brazil, both for about five years. Thus, academic knowledge of religion is in my case closely linked to religious knowledge. In cases where the field


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

under study is profane, the question how religious knowledge influences academic knowledge is already an important issue. However, when the field of study is religion itself the intriguing question is raised how religious knowledge will influence the search for academic knowledge of religious knowledge. This chapter has a rather personal tone and touch. This means that I will not even try to summarize the state of the art of the theme under discussion here. What I would like to do is to explain to you how I personally try to deal with the challenge to practice the cultural anthropology of religion, working in a Christian university, and being myself a Christian. I would like to stress that I am not a theologian, nor a philosopher. I am a social scientist with an interest in the ways of knowing that are current in my particular discipline. I am a scholar of religion as well as a religious scholar. I try to reconcile one role with the other, taking both of them seriously. I would like to avoid a misunderstanding. Though I will talk about science and religion as separate categories, even opposite categories, in a dualist manner, this does not mean that I accept such a dualism. In fact, in this chapter my debate is with the dualist trends that are current in the social science study of religion, and I search for arguments to avoid such a dualism. In my contribution I will proceed in the following manner. First I will summarize the problem of the relation between religion and the social sciences, as I understand it (section 2). Then I will refer to some recent developments that have in an interesting manner changed the framework of the debate (section 3). In section 4 one of these recent developments, connectionism in cognitive anthropology, will be discussed with somewhat more detail, especially because it presents a possibility to avoid the strict dualism between religion and science. This will then be related to the current discussion on globalization (section 5). In the second half of this chapter I will explain how I myself seek to deal with the problem of the academic knowledge of religion. In my view the notion of play suggests the simultaneous presence of two ways of knowing, in concert (section 6), that can be helpful when dealing with the problem of the relationship between religious knowledge and the knowledge of religion (section 7). I will suggest that it also matches a Christian point of view (section 8).

2. Academia and the Study of Religion


2. Academia and the Study of Religion What is the basic issue in the relationship between religion and the social sciences? It can be summarized in this question: Is religion to be explained exclusively by nonreligious factors or should religious insights also be taken into account? (Droogers 1996; see also Idinopulos and Yonan 1994, Segal 1989). Reductionism is the approach in which religion is exclusively reduced to the nonreligious. The opposite stance I will call, for lack of a better term, religionism, in that – directly or indirectly – it includes religious notions and a reference to another reality of some kind (sacred, transcendental, invisible or whatever term you prefer) when religion is to be explained. Religionists are committed to a religious worldview. If religion exists, it is not just because it fits the human condition, but also because the sacred manifests itself. Let us first take a closer look at reductionism. Generally the nonreligious factors and aspects that reductionists refer to, concern psychic and/or social features of humankind. Religion, including the various forms of religious knowledge, is explained by reference to characteristics of the human psyche or of human society (e. g., Clarke and Byrne 1993, Sharpe 1975). Several of these views have become part of popular discourse: religion as a sublimation of guilt, a veneration of the father figure, a projection of unfulfilled wishes on a God. Or again: religion is the cult of the group and the social, the opium of the oppressed people, a disguised ethics. In all these explanations, whether in a simplified popular or a sophisticated academic form, religion is presented as an illusion, perhaps a useful illusion, but nevertheless an illusion. It is significant that these interpretations often merely refer to psychic and social functions that religion may have (and that in most cases cannot be denied). Because of this exclusive focus on function, the argument is often extrapolated to similar functions of other institutions, such as ideology or nationalism, labeling these institutions as quasi-religious or even as equally religious, despite the fact that they do not refer to some other reality. The fact that ideology and nationalism offer a frame of reference by which at least some people give meaning to their lives is already considered sufficient to call them religious. Ideology, or nationalism, but also soccer (Ter Borg 1996: 39 – 45) – or even in combination as the ideology of nationalist soccer – can then become pictured as religious in nature, as part of the religious field, religion being taken in the functional sense. Obviously the other reality is then no longer used as a significant criterion


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

for a definition of religion and does not really matter. The field of religion is substantially widened. The issue, however, is not whether religion, in the narrower sense, really has these functions, but whether these functional explanations help us to understand why some other reality is central to many believers’ religious experience. The old question is of course whether a teleological approach settles the problem: Does the function of a phenomenon explain why it exists? Is it possible to explain the cause from the consequences? What about, for example, unintended consequences? What if no conscious, rational argument from cause to consequences – or vice versa – can be found? Moreover, in the case of the phenomenon that is called religion, this teleological explanation, as I just explained, has widened the definition of religion radically, including in it institutions with similar functions, despite the fact that these institutions have nothing to do with the extra dimension of another reality. Thereby the reference to that other reality is no longer relevant. In other words: The question whether that other reality should be taken into consideration when explaining religion, is simply ignored. As a consequence, the debate between reductionists and religionists is removed from the agenda. Those who do not believe some other reality exists will simply have no qualms about this move. Besides, if the field of religion is thus expanded, including secular institutions, any explanation of religion need no longer pay attention to the belief in another reality. So reductionists, though reducing the religious to the nonreligious, at the same time tend to expand the religious field, ignoring the reference to another reality as a possible defining characteristic of religion. Thereby they also ignore the religionist claim that an explanation of religion should consider the possibility that the other reality that is dear to believers manifests itself. Religion is thereby in fact secularized. While the religion that points to another reality caused irritation, religion that serves useful functions becomes acceptable. The sting is taken out of religion. I confess to have used some didactic exaggeration so far, presenting reductionism in a rather stereotypical manner. I am aware of the fact that there are reductionist believers, and that they accept that God may call people to his service in secular sectors in society. Reality is more nuanced than I can explain in a short time. Let us now turn to the religionists. The religionist approach takes a variety of forms. At one extreme, the specific knowledge that a partic-

3. Recent Changes and their Consequences


ular religious conviction represents is brought to the explanation of religion, as based on the believers’ concrete perception of a revealed manifestation of the other reality. At the other extreme, in a much more general form, religions are compared for their commonality and the description of the other reality is less specific. All people experience the manifestation of the other reality, but each group or even person develops a specific version of that experience. A particular stance is taken by forms of fideism, in which knowledge of the other reality is said to be impossible. In any case, in the religionist perspective the experience of the believer is taken seriously. If religion is to be explained, it is considered too easy to call it an illusion. The reductionist/religionist controversy is obviously taken more seriously by religionists than by reductionists. To many reductionists the question is a non-issue, settled for now and always. They may take believers’ experiences and opinions into consideration, but not as truths about the other reality, let alone as manifestations of the other, sacred reality. Reductionists take either one of two positions, usually referred to as methodological atheism and methodological agnosticism. These positions are called methodological because they are taken as a matter of research method. No reference is meant to the personal views of the researcher, which may be religious of some sort. Methodological atheists deny the existence of the other reality that is central to religion. Methodological agnostics abstain from an opinion. In their view the other reality may exist but it cannot be proven by scientific means. In both cases exclusive attention is given to nonreligious factors in the explanation of religion. In their research practice methodological agnostics therefore do not differ much from methodological atheists. In that sense they differ radically from methodological theists who, when explaining religion, include the possibility that the other reality manifests itself.

3. Recent Changes and their Consequences The background of the debate on what may explain religion is of course the confrontation between religion and science in recent centuries. The development of science has contributed to the erosion of religion. For some time it even seemed as if modernization, as the application of the results of science and technology in society, would bring about the end of religion. Recently most leading sociologists of religion have abandoned this position, including those who launched this pre-


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

diction in the sixties and seventies. Though it is clear that religious institutions may lose importance, this does not mean that religion disappears. Even where religion is no longer an influential sector of a society, people continue to have religious views and even practices. The European and especially the Dutch perspective differs from that of the United States. In terms of frequency of church visits, the Netherlands has a reputation of being the most secularized country in the world, once second after the German Democratic Republic, now first on the list – or last if you prefer that order. Anyway, the influence of science in society seems less secularizing than has often been thought. From a situation in which science was not only a party in the conflict with religion, but also happened to be the presiding judge, the present position of science has become more modest, also because, after positivism, other views have been developed on the philosophy of science. Even without adopting some postmodern view, it can be argued that science has become a discourse among several others, instead of being considered the ultimate discourse (Cilliers 1998, Rosenau 1992, Sarup 1988). Its forms of representation have become problematic, admittedly not as problematic as religious representations were in the view of positivist scholars, but problematic nonetheless. Ironically, the empiricism that condemned religious worldviews has now come under strong criticism from secular circles. Some scientists nowadays even adopt elements from the religious strategy of the via negativa to express reality. Though postmodernism cannot be accused of religious sympathies – religion, especially as represented by the world religions, being one of the much criticized meta-narratives – it certainly has helped to create the situation in which nonscientific ways of knowledge can be rehabilitated. If under postmodern influence representation has become viewed as problematic, the awareness of the tools used in representation grows. The fundamental role that tropes, especially metaphors, play in knowledge formation processes, whether scientific or religious, is more and more recognized. How do metaphors work? Generally a clear image from one transparent domain is applied to the task of understanding an inchoate domain of experience (Fernandez 1986: 28 – 70, 1991). Several of the schools of thought in the social sciences adopt a root metaphor that must add something to our insight in society. Thus a layer metaphor like a pyramid had been used for class society or the metaphor of an organism for integrated functional society. Very often the metaphors are not just means to facilitate understanding, but serve as part

3. Recent Changes and their Consequences


of the proof of the viability of the approach. Metaphors are reified and become reality. It is forgotten that metaphors are only images, and that their use is based on a comparison between two domains. This comparison is never fully applicable, and there will always remain characteristics of the metaphor that do not apply to the real issue. McFague (1983: 13) has aptly observed that metaphors ‘always contain the whisper, “it is and it is not”’. This applies without distinction to scientific as well as religious metaphors. They are all imperfect. Thus, the pyramid society is not a pharaoh’s grave, just as God the Father is not kin or the physical conceiver of the believers. Besides, metaphors are products of certain times and places and therefore lack universality. If this is forgotten, metaphors become overstretched. In science paradigms then become laws, just as in religion versions of religious language become truths. In both cases a more modest use of discourse seems recommendable, as Christians might know already from the commandment not to make any graven image or any likeness of any thing in heaven or on earth. This commandment has put theologians on the via negativa. They have listened to the whispered ‘it is not’. Anyway, a more modest position may contribute to a more symmetrical relationship between science and religion. Science can be shown to have more in common with religion than it ever wished to admit. There is an important consequence of the use of metaphors in the accumulation of our knowledge. As I just explained, metaphors, as images from one domain, produce a link with another domain that needs clarification. Usually these domains are different and are not normally brought into connection with each other. Pyramids or organisms have no direct link with the domain of society. Religious experience is not necessarily connected with kinship. Yet, as Fernandez (1986: 41,50) has argued, the fact that two radically different domains are brought together in the process suggests a unity in reality that is not there naturally. While on the one hand there are striking differences between cultures in the way in which domains in reality are associated, on the other hand surprising similarities in the choice of metaphors are possible, facilitating cross-cultural understanding and communication. In all cases reality is presented as organized, as a system of interconnected elements, and what seems to be a collection of fragments appears as a more or less systemic whole, as a more or less unified worldview. In understanding reality, science as well as religion contributes to systemic knowledge by using metaphors, thus bringing unity to reality. Chaos and difference are domesticated by order and system. Reality is organized through


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

models. In the tidal movement of history, fragmentation as well as wholeness has been emphasized. Postmodernism, of course, accentuated fragmentation. Indeed, if metaphors play the role just attributed to them, then postmodernist critique refers to at least half of the process, reminding us that wholeness is only one side of the coin. In seeking a way out of the dichotomy between fragmentation and wholeness, science and religion do not differ basically.

4. Connectionist Commonality A bit more symmetry between science and religion can also be deduced from recent insights from cognitive anthropology (Bloch 1991, D’Andrade 1995, Strauss and Quinn 1997). Inspired by cognitive studies, especially connectionism, cognitive anthropologists recently have developed a new model of how cultural knowledge is constructed and organized. Since these ideas apply to both science and religion, the opposition between the two loses its sharpness. Again, both can be shown to offer solutions to the tension between fragmentation and wholeness. The key concept – or should I say key metaphor – is schema. Following Strauss and Quinn (1997: 6) schemas can be defined as ‘networks of strongly connected cognitive elements that represent the generic concepts stored in memory’. They are tools for the processing of information. Knowledge is primarily organized by means of a socalled ‘parallel distributed processing’ mode. Before this parallel mode was suggested, the basic metaphor was that of language. Thoughts were viewed as sentences, as a linear or serial succession of words in a certain order, the so-called ‘symbolic processing’ mode. Scholars also speak of ‘sentential logic’. We were supposed to think as we speak or write. In contrast, in the parallel mode, knowledge is not seen as a set of sentences, but as a network of links between processing units that function like neurons. Several of these units can be activated simultaneously. New knowledge changes the connection weights and thereby the linkages between the paralleled processing units. If what you read now is new to you, your units are right now feverishly considering whether to adapt their connection weights. Instead of the sentential logic of links between words, a connectionist logic prevails that depends on complex linkages between parallel processing units. Schemas then are exemplars of these units. Each new situation leads to a very rapid selection of the schemas that may provide insight into that situation. These may be ex-

4. Connectionist Commonality


isting routine units, as in reading or writing these words, but the situation may be so utterly new that weights of connections between units have to be changed before a valid answer can be given. This does not exclude sentential logic, but the main job is done in the parallel distributed processing mode. That is the place where ‘brainstorming’ as it were occurs. The final result can be verbalized in the sentential mode. Thus, human knowledge seems to depend on a combination of parallel and sentential (or serial) thinking. The latter is the façade behind which the real work is done. Our right brain hemisphere would then be the main locus for the parallel, synthetic mode, whereas the left hemisphere would be the scene for the sentential, analytic way of thinking, best exemplified in verbalization and language (Turner 1988: 163, see also Pinker 1998: 271). As a concept, schema has two fundamental advantages. One is that schemas are not complete. They are – a metaphor! – like bureaucracy’s forms that have a basic structure but have to be filled in by the concrete person. A favorite example is the restaurant schema: no visit to a restaurant is identical to other visits, but there is a basic scenario that everybody will more or less follow. This gives visits to restaurants a certain degree of predictability. The other advantage of the schema concept is that schemas facilitate both continuity and rupture, wholeness and fragmentation. Continuity exists especially when, through socialization, schemas have become part of behavior’s routine. Yet they can be adapted to new circumstances, especially when routine fails to provide an answer to the question how to proceed. Thus the traditional restaurant schema may fail when an exotic Asian or African restaurant is visited: ‘Will there be an entree and do they have desserts? How about wine?‘. Schemas have been used in the study of cultural knowledge. But also when we deal with scientific or with religious knowledge, schemas seem to be the raw material for knowledge formation. In science some schemas acquire the status of paradigms and have a profound influence on ways of thinking. Theologies are characterized by one or a few specific schemas that can be applied in diverse contexts. The same can be said of ideologies. But in the course of time these schemas are transformed and even abandoned. New paradigms are adopted, new theologies present themselves, and ideologies nowadays are in crisis. What remains despite much change is the popularity of dichotomies. Dichotomies could be viewed as the simplest form of fragmentation that yet suggests unity. It seems that dual thinking is the norm and di-


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

rects the production of distinctions and typologies, in science, in religion, in ideologies, in cultures in general. What help is this development in cognitive anthropology to our problem of the knowledge of religion and religious knowledge? Obviously connectionism provides us with another reason why science and religion can be viewed as similar in their ways of forming knowledge. Both present schemas that allow us to go from chaos to order, to construct the bridge between fragmentation and wholeness, between rupture and continuity. The circumstance that in religion people may view these schemas as revealed, as given, as presupposed, does not alter this process. Both will also offer conditions to adapt schemas to a certain degree or to produce new ones as soon as it becomes clear that the usual schemas no longer satisfy. Again, if religious schemas are viewed as given, they will be less subject to change. More importantly, both science and religion depend on the parallel processing units before a clear view can be uttered. What is then verbalized seems final, but is the result of a tentative weighing of the alternatives that were candidates for the final proposition. So if we look for dynamics in thinking, the parallel mode is much more interesting than the sentential mode. That is where the new paradigms come from, where new theological ideas – some would perhaps speak of heresies – are bred, where mysticism is processed into religious knowledge, where scholarly experience with religions is transformed into knowledge of religion and religions. It is there that fragments are reprocessed into system and order. Especially to science the vague and diffuse but fundamental role of the parallel mode of thinking seems to contradict the rational pretension and controlled manner of reasoning that was its prerogative. Again, this relativizes the contrast between science and religion. Though in their own manner and to different degrees, science and religion make it possible to give meaning to reality. Even when suggesting different schemas, both help us to make sense of the reality we experience. They do so by switching between parallel and serial modes of thinking, between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It may be that science and religion differ in that left-hemisphere analysis is a virtue in science whereas the right-hemisphere search for the experience of synthesis and wholeness is central to religion. Of course, both science and religion have very often limited themselves to the output of the sentential process. Order and system are very attractive and safe, even seductive. Thus schemas tend to become perpetuated. As a social scientist I suspect that power mechanisms are among the

5. The Fragmented Local and the Unified Global


factors that favor this tendency. New ideas are always a threat to the powers that be. Whether we think of paradigm communities in science or of theological schools in religion, the conclusions have too often indeed seemed final, not just for the strength of the argument, but also because of vested interests. This may also take the form of the reification of metaphors. A paradigm shift is then avoided in science, whereas in religion ‘graven images’ come to reign. Maybe the exertion of power represents the Fallacy of science, just as it seems to bring about the real Fall of any religion.

5. The Fragmented Local and the Unified Global Among changes in the religious field, the current process of globalization occupies an important place. The consequences this process has for religion may vary significantly. We discussed the secularization thesis already when modernization was mentioned above. Fundamentalism seems to have felt this threat in the global process and has reacted accordingly, securing a position at the other pole of the spectrum, even though it uses some of the technological benefits of modernization, especially where the media are concerned. But other reactions occur as well. The main characteristic is that people experiment with religious elements. Just as the boundaries between cultures are becoming less clear, with a growing perforation of former walls, in the same manner border traffic between religions is becoming more important. People travel more, the media represent a window to the world, other religions become commercial topics as in the recent wave of Buddhism in films from Hollywood, and there is an enormous diaspora through voluntary and forced migration. The clearest outcomes are forms of syncretism, sometimes in the form of new cults like New Age, but often also at the individual level. Especially in contexts where religious institutions are weakened, it becomes less likely to identify the religious field by the activities of the five world religions. As a consequence of global processes the religious field has become more varied. Local variation is ever more important. In the same manner as the (universal) human cultural capacity is becoming more important than bounded cultures by themselves, religiosity is increasingly characterizing the field of religion, leaving less room for specific institutionalized religions. This religiosity corresponds with the generic term ‘religion’, with only a singular, as a universal human


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

capacity. It may lead to new religions, but it is also a force that makes itself felt outside institutionalized religion. Globalization does not necessarily lead to a unified world religion, notwithstanding several serious efforts to develop such a religion. Nor does the universal human capacity for religion necessarily lead to such a result. A more striking consequence is the increased diversity at the local level. In any case, the global is only observable at the local level, as it were, translated to that level. Pentecostalism is a case in point. It is part of the globalization process, yet its local forms are many. Globalization has therefore already been called glocalization (Robertson 1992: 173). This process can be analyzed in terms of schema theory and of connectionism. This approach points, as we saw, to the human capacity to use schemas, both religious and scientific. Schemas, as was said, are never complete and invite concrete and contextual complementation. Besides, they combine continuity and rupture, reproducing tradition but also producing new combinations of old parallel units, changing the connection weights. Through globalization processes more and more schemas are available. The most obvious presence is that of scientific and technological schemas, but religious ones also compete in that market. Their flexibility facilitates their divulgation. The current encounter between religious forms doubles or triples the repertory of schemas people have at their disposal. People may not only become fluent in more than one language but also in more than one religion. This process has become known as creolization (Drummond 1980, Hannerz 1987, 1992: 261 – 267). In many societies in Asia and Africa creolization is not as recent as globalization, but has occurred for a long time already, even in pre-colonial times. Nowadays it is becoming more common in the North Atlantic societies, where nation-states are losing influence. It seems to me that if people feel more free to experiment with their religious experiences, no longer restrained by the institutional framework, they are in a position to give more attention to ways in which the other reality manifests itself. In that sense there may be a relationship between modernization processes and the recent but sustained growth of Pentecostal and evangelical groups. As a result, academic explanations of religion should and will focus more and more on the religious capacity of human beings and less on the institutionalized forms of established religion. This may lead to a further recognition of religious knowledge as a way of being in the world, comparable to and parallel to scientific knowledge. While scientific schemas are strong in explaining how things happen, they are weak in

6. The Gift of Play


explaining why things happen. The African mother who comes to the polyclinic with her child who suffers from malaria, while waiting her turn, can study the poster on the wall that tells her all about the role of the anopheles mosquito in causing malaria. What she wants to know however is not only how her child became ill, but also why it is precisely her child that suffers from malaria and not the neighbor’s child. She will turn to religion for an answer, just as she will not only seek help from the medical doctor but also from some religious specialist, be it a witch doctor or a pastor. In making sense of the world, people will more and more combine scientific and religious schemas, in a new type of syncretism.

6. The Gift of Play Play can afford us a way out of the dilemma between religion and science, between religious knowledge and knowledge about religion. To make that case I need several of the elements from the argument developed so far. We have seen that reductionists have no need for the experience or religious knowledge of a sacred reality. Religion in their view can easily be explained from nonreligious factors. They focus on functions, because religion for them is whatever serves these functions. For them another reality is not essential to religion. In a way, religion is thereby secularized. We have also seen that religion and science have recently begun to occupy different positions: no longer opposite each other, but next to each other. The dominant position of science has not led to the elimination of religion. Scientific forms of representation are no longer considered natural but have been made problematic, just as was previously the fate of religious representation when scrutinized by science. Both science and religion use metaphors to deal with the basic tension between fragmentation and wholeness. It has also become clear how both scientific and religious knowledge consist of schemas. Science and religion use schemas in processing information. And in using them, people rapidly consider alternatives when they interpret an experience, be it in the scientific or the religious domain. To this was added the circumstance that globalization not only puts the universal in the limelight but also produces variety and differentiation. Everywhere people experiment on the expanding market of sche-


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

mas that are on offer for the interpretation of the world. These schemas – among other forms – are scientific and technological as well as religious. What now does the gift of play have to do with this debate? To understand this, let us first look for a definition of play. Usually when we think of play, we distinguish it from seriousness. If you are playful you cannot be serious at the same time. Can serious matters, as religion and science usually are, be linked to play? Johan Huizinga (1952) has convincingly demonstrated that play should be done in a serious manner. If you are playing a game and do not take it seriously, you are a spoil-sport. Especially if your motivation is to win, you will take the game even more seriously than seems basically necessary. So a first characteristic is the paradox that play is a serious matter. What more can be said about play? The literature on this topic is very varied and sometimes contradictory. Much seems to depend on the concrete example one is thinking of: children’s games, a dog’s playfulness, sports matches, theatre plays, power plays, gambling, word play, etcetera. In a way this gives me the liberty to produce my own view on play, using some of the basic ideas about play. Thus, it is clear, as I just observed, that playfulness can be combined with seriousness, that they are complements and not necessarily opposites. But what is more, it seems that this capacity to combine dissimilar elements is a second characteristic typical of play, not just in the sense that seriousness and playfulness go together, but that two realities or two ways of classifying reality are combined. To make this clear, let me tell you a Jewish story I heard from a student of mine (personal communication Franz Kalab), in which two ways of classifying reality are combined. During the Middle Ages a pope decided to expel all the Jews from Rome. The Jewish leaders protested in vain. The only gesture the pope wished to make was to allow for a theological debate. He ordered: Find me one Jew who outwits me in a theological discussion. The Jewish leaders thought the case was hopeless but decided to give it a try. But they were careful to choose somebody as their representative who had nothing to lose. This was Moishele the street sweeper. He agreed but on condition that not a word was to be spoken. The pope accepted but claimed that in that case he had the right to open the debate. So when the day of the debate came, the pope and his staff were there on one side and Moishele with the Jewish leaders on the other side. To begin with, the pope raised his hand and showed three stretched fingers. Moishele shook his head and raised just one finger. Then with his arm the pope drew a large circle around him above his head. Moishele again shook his head and pointed to the floor in front of his feet. Then the pope showed wafers and a wine goblet. In reply Moishele took an apple

6. The Gift of Play


from his garment. After these three exchanges, the pope was astonished and gave up. He said: I quit, I can’t beat that man. The Jews are allowed to stay. The pope’s staff was surprised and asked for an explanation. The pope told them that he had shown three fingers as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, and that Moishele’s gesture of just one finger of course meant that God is yet one. The gesture of the circle indicated God’s omnipresence, but Moishele outwitted the pope by pointing to the floor: God is here as well. With the wafers and the goblet, the pope referred of course to the Eucharist and thereby to Christ’s atonement of sins, but Moishele’s apple pointed to the original sin of Adam and Eve. So the pope had decided to give up. At the very same moment the astounded Jewish leaders had asked Moishele what he had meant with his gestures. Moishele explained patiently that the pope’s three fingers of course meant that the Jews should leave within three days, and that he had shown one finger to suggest that even if they were to leave in one day they would not obey. When the pope had made the gesture of the circle, Moishele saw this as a suggestion that the Jews were to depart from everywhere, and therefore he had pointed to the floor to indicate his intention to stay where he was. And when the pope had shown wafers and goblet, Moishele had decided that for him too it was time to eat his lunch and therefore he had taken out the apple he had with him.

In this example we see that the author of this story combines two realities and two worldviews in a playful and funny manner. I consider this typical for play, and humor can be understood as one way of playing with different orders of reality. The added value of such a combination of two separate ways of classifying reality is that an appeal is made to creativity. The challenge of play is that one has to imagine an alternative. Victor Turner (1988:101) has used the adjective ‘subjunctive’ for this characteristic of play. To him ‘subjunctive’ stands for the ‘as if’ as opposed to the indicative: ‘as is’. If the concept of play is used in such a way, it refers to a process of active reflection about alternatives, and not so much to a phenomenon that is finished and complete in itself, as the institutionalized end result of a process. An emphasis on the creative and innovative side of play leads us to a dynamic view of a process, more than to a static view on the end product of this process. In that manner play is no longer exceptional, reserved for certain occasions, but it is viewed as a normal element of our life and of our way of knowing. As a matter of fact, the gift of play makes us combine two ways of knowing. One may be considered normal and the other abnormal. The pope and Moishele both have their view of what is normal. The joke shows that what is normal to the one is abnormal to the other. There are many dissimilar types of reality that can be brought to-


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

gether through play. One may be Christian, the other Jewish. One reality may be scientific, the other religious. One may be reductionist, the other religionist. One may be this-worldly, the other other-worldly. One may be immanent, the other transcendent. One may be my conviction, the other your conviction. So an essential characteristic of play is that the simultaneity of different orders, of different ways of classifying reality, stimulates innovative reflection. If we use the gift of play and go beyond the view that it is ‘just a game’, we are obliged to consider alternatives, even to put ourselves in the shoes of our opponents, if only for a split-second. Play incites a process of articulation (Slack 1996), in the sense of connecting dissimilar or even contradictory elements. This requires another way of thinking – stereophonic, as it were. Play allows us to listen to two channels at the same time. It leads us to an inner dialogue. Anthropologists have some experience with this mode of thinking, as when they do fieldwork and combine observation (i. e., distance) with participation (i. e., closeness). The dual view is similar to what Richard Mouw when speaking of popular religion has called ‘the hermeneutics of charity’. This approach helps us, as he put it, ‘to take a positive look at things we might otherwise reject without carefully considering the merit’ (Mouw 1994: 13). This view on play can also be argued by an appeal to the connectionist schema theory that was discussed above. If the human way of producing knowledge passes through the parallel and simultaneous consultation of an x number of schemas in the right hemisphere of our brain, before reaching a verbalized conclusion, the play and connectionist logic are closely connected. Why is it that we have lost consciousness of this human gift? Why is it so underdeveloped? I would advance at least two reasons. One is that in our society we have created a separation between work and leisure, which has reinforced a concept of play as not serious, as abnormal. For a long time this distinction was paralleled by that between male and female. The other is that in any society, but to different degrees, power processes reduce the room left for play. Generally it is not in the interest of the powers-that-be to admit alternatives, because these may result in efforts to subvert those in power. As a consequence codification and dogmatization are emphasized. Their impact is reinforced by the circumstance that people seem to prefer security over experiment. So the exercise of power brings with it a sometimes deadly seriousness that excludes all playfulness. We seem to have been misled by the

7. Play and Religion


final verbalizations produced by the sentential logic of the left hemisphere of the brain, so much so that we were convinced that we think by that logic. Those in power are usually interested only in the final verbalization, not in the creative process that comes before it in the right brain hemisphere. As Bateson (1973: 158) put it, play carries meta-messages. The dominant group in society does generally not want these. So by now play can be circumscribed as ‘the human capacity to articulate, in a subjunctive, connectionist manner, dissimilar ways of classifying reality, thus presenting alternatives to dominant views’.

7. Play and Religion If we take the notion of play seriously, we may think of a way out of the dilemma between reductionist and religionist views on the explanation of religion. Not only can the religious view itself be understood as an application of the human capacity to think simultaneously of more than one order of reality, it can also be applied to confronting views on religion. With regard to the religious view it could be argued that religion and play are closely connected. Indeed, several authors have advanced such ideas. Victor Turner (1974, 1982, 1988) has shown how rituals often contain what he calls a liminal, intermediate phase, in which a play with inversions is prominent. The normal order is temporarily inverted and substituted by what is considered abnormal. Thus a new chief may be insulted before he is installed. Initiation novices may have to sleep in the open or remain dumb before acquiring a new status (Droogers 1980a). Interestingly Turner (1988: 164 – 166, following D’Aquili et al. 1979) also spoke in this connection of the human cerebral outfit and viewed ritual as a way to stimulate both halves of the brain. Ritual and meditation help to be aware of the simultaneous presence of opposites. The liminal preference for inversions facilitates a rethinking of common views. From the ritual margins of society, innovation and creativity subvert the normal and therefore the powerful. Those in power are also subject to the process of inversion, and hierarchy is substituted, if only temporarily, by feelings of what Turner (1974:82) calls ‘communitas’. Inversion and subversion may be closely connected. Following this line of thought, what was said above about the opposition between play and power applies here as well. The cause of the Fall according to any religion may be exclusively dictated by one of-


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

ficial view, excluding the popular play with alternative inversions. Current processes of globalization stimulate the popular religious imagination, whether Pentecostal or New Age, whether syncretistic or fundamentalist. This produces a creative process that sometimes brings remarkable results with it but that cannot for that reason be ignored. As soon as powers establish themselves, whether linked to a particular faction (usually priestly) or to a specific gender (almost without exception male), the creative process is slowed down. Let us now turn to another anthropologist who saw a link between play and religion, Jan van Baal (1972), who taught me the anthropology of religion. He interpreted play and religion, together with art, as means by which people overcome the basic tension between being part of reality, and being separated, apart from reality. Play generates a fictitious reality with which homo ludens can identify. In Van Baal’s view religion creates a feeling of belonging by communication with supernatural powers. Art is a way of transforming reality into something beautiful and enjoyable. In all three cases a play with two realities is a central element. On purpose Van Baal used the term ‘illusions’ for play, religion, and art, not in the pejorative sense mentioned above, but as a reference to the common etymological root between the ludic and the illusion. Illusions are the product of homo ludens. Interestingly, Van Baal refused to see religion as an illusion in the usual derogatory sense. At the end of his life he even left a reductionist position and adopted a religionist position, in which he presented revelation as a possible explanation of religion (Van Baal 1990, 1991). In his view the other reality does manifest itself. The anthropologist James Fernandez (1986), mentioned above, sheds a similar light on play and religion. He focuses on the central role of metaphors in religion. As I explained before, what happens in metaphor is that a clear image from one domain is used to clarify another, totally different domain. In other words: a metaphor is an articulation of dissimilar elements. Fernandez speaks in the subtitle of his book (1986) of ‘the play of tropes’. He suggests that through metaphors a sense of unity and wholeness is created that compensates disparity and variety. Metaphors evoke the invisible, the absent, the inexpressible, the unexpected, the rear side of reality. Metaphors are a tool for subjunctivity. Again: what was separated becomes part of a meaningful whole. Religious metaphors use another reality as a domain that can be connected to the day-to-day reality, thus reestablishing the meaningful

7. Play and Religion


unity in reality, as when somebody says that he or she has to carry his or her cross with patience. All three authors, Turner, Van Baal, and Fernandez, see a link between play and religion. All three also give a central place to the solution of the tension between belonging and being separate, between wholeness and fragmentation. Homo ludens solves an existential problem by using his or her capacity for play. The religious view is shown to depend on play. How about the scientific view of religion? Is there a similar dependency on play? And does power also play a role? It seems that the power in this case belongs mainly to the reductionist approach. Whether reductionists present themselves as methodological atheists or agnostics, the basic idea is that the religious can be sufficiently explained by an appeal to nonreligious factors. A reference to a religious reality, as pleaded by the methodological theists, is considered superfluous in a predominantly functional approach. Van Baal’s reappraisal of the question is an exception. Yet, the notion of play may not only serve to clarify what religion is about, but may also find application in the scientific debate on religion. In fact the gift of play invites a dialogical attitude. If play, as defined above, is a human gift, why not use it to broaden understanding, not only of religious views, as in interreligious dialogue, but also of views on religion. This means that religionists may adopt reductionist views, without embracing the definite finality that usually comes with them. It also invites reductionist scholars to listen, if only for a minute, to the other ‘channel’, the religionist view, without rejecting it right away. It may be beneficent to the debate if opponents learn to put themselves in the shoes of the other, even if in the end they re-find their own shoes. So what I would like to suggest, is that we choose not only between methodological theism on the one hand and methodological atheism or agnosticism on the other. Methodological ludism must be added to the alternatives, as a way out of a trench-war that has reached a stage of uselessness. Scholars should use their capacity for serious play and experiment with the stereophonic approach. A bit of the hermeneutics of charity is welcome. Methodological ludism could be misunderstood as a kind of methodological agnosticism. The difference is that in methodological ludism the claim to truth is – temporarily but seriously – accepted and not just considered unverifiable in a vaguely tolerant or politically correct way.


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

It seems to me that a ludic attitude could help put an end to other trench-war debates, with a chance to progress, and to overcome the established dichotomies. The example of the debate between religionists and reductionists can serve other similar controversies. Especially if there is a certain asymmetry in that one view seems majoritarian, a bit of methodological ludism may produce miracles.

8. How Christian is the Ludic Perspective? The subtitle of the conference for which this article was prepared spoke about Christian initiatives and responses. As I said before, I happen to be a scholar of religion as well as a religious scholar. In what sense does the approach I explored here correlate with my religious, in this case, Christian views? How Christian is the ludic perspective? A few elements of what I proposed above can be traced to what I consider a Christian view, though I realize that one should not be too exclusive in claiming such a label. Thus Turner’s ideas about the liminal and the marginal correspond with elements in the Christian message that are dear to me. Though other and older religions, such as Buddhism and Judaism, also seem to cherish the innovative potential of the marginal, Christianity seems to do so par excellence, as some theologians have suggested, among them at an early stage Okke Jager (1954). If the liminal and the marginal stimulate the ludic inversion of meanings, Jesus’ biography seems to abound with references to such meanings (Droogers 1980b). There are striking inversions. He is born to a virgin, while his parents are temporarily homeless and traveling. The birth takes place not among fellow human beings, but between animals. The first people to share the event are shepherds, marginal to the society of those days. His parents have to flee to Egypt to save his life, an inverted Exodus. During active life he is marginal to the theological elite of his time. He is not married, but travels around with his disciples, some of whom are fishermen, who used to live at the margin between land and water. He is tempted in the desert, outside the inhabited world, but refuses the temptation of power. An eye for an eye is substituted by the inversion: turn the other cheek. Power is put at the service of solidarity, especially with people from marginalized categories, women among them. His dialogues with representatives of the religious elite are at times very funny, at least if you are not spoiled by the overseriousness with which we have learned to read the gospel. If you are

9. Conclusion


ready to see the playfulness present in them, a different gospel opens its pages to you. Towards the end of his life the master plays the role of a slave, washing the feet of his disciples. He is not the revolutionary leader that some want him to be. He dies on a cross, hanging between criminals, wearing a thorny crown, as a mock king. He inverts death by his resurrection, of which women are the first witnesses, not men. According to the gospel of John, Jesus asks his disciples, who have caught nothing all night, for some fish, and when the answer is negative he suggests to cast the net on the right side of the ship. There they find a multitude of big fish, according to the story 153, a number that invites speculation on its symbolism (3 times 7x7, and an extra 6?; 3x3 plus 12x12?). The inversions that are typical of this and other stories point to the consideration of alternatives, especially those that present a different view on power distribution. It shows the subjunctive sprig of the ‘as if’ against the indicative giant tree of the ‘as is’. At least until the Constantine merger between faith and state, Christians remained faithful to their vocation of marginality. Once religion began to fulfill functions that served the state, something essential was lost. But even after that turning-point new initiatives from the margin brought innovation through the courageous and playful reflection on alternatives. The Catholic tradition was to isolate such initiatives in monastic orders. The Reformation was an initiative that put itself outside the Catholic realm. As was observed before, much of the discussion on the explanation of religion has to do with power positions. As I said before, the religionist view is a minority view. The reductionists are in no need whatsoever of entering this debate. Yet, the methodological ludism I propose may be a way of inverting positions and of looking at issues from the other end.

9. Conclusion In this contribution I showed how religious views and views on religion represent ways of knowing that can be brought in concert by the application of the human gift of play. Methodological ludism represents an attitude that temporarily but respectfully and seriously examines the opposite pole of a controversy. The case discussed was that between religionists and reductionists in the explanation of religion. It was suggested that a ludic approach is a way out of seemingly unsolvable conflicts. The


Chapter 16. Knowledge of Religion and Religious Knowledge

advantage of this approach is that the conditions for a true dialogue can be created.

References Bateson, Gregory (1973). A theory of play and fantasy. In: Gregory Bateson (1973). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution and epistemology. St. Albans: Paladin, pp. 150 – 66. Bloch, Maurice (1991). Language, anthropology and cognitive science. Man, 26, 183 – 98. Cilliers, Paul (1998). Complexity and postmodernism: Understanding complex systems. London and New York: Routledge. Clarke, Peter, and Peter Byrne (1993). Religion defined and explained. London: Macmillan. D’Andrade, Roy G. (1995). The development of cognitive anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. D’Aquili, Eugene, Charles D. Laughlin, and John McManus (eds.) (1979). The spectrum of ritual. New York: Columbia University Press. Droogers, André (1980a). The dangerous journey: Symbolic aspects of boys’ initiation among the Wagenia of Kisangani, Zaire. The Hague: Mouton. Droogers, André (1980b). Symbols of marginality in the biographies of religious and secular innovators: A comparative study of the lives of Jesus, Waldes, Booth, Kimbangu, Buddha, Mohammed and Marx. Numen 27(1),105 – 121. (Chapter 1 of this book) Droogers, André (1996). Methodological ludism: Beyond religionism and reductionism. In: Anton van Harskamp (ed.) (1996). Conflicts in social science. London and New York: Routledge, pp 44 – 67. (Chapter 14 of this book) Drummond, Lee (1980). The cultural continuum: A theory of intersystems. Man, 15 (4), 352 – 74. Fernandez, James W. (1986). Persuasions and performances: The play of tropes in culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Fernandez, James W. (ed.) (1991). Beyond metaphor: The theory of tropes in anthropology. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press. Hannerz, Ulf (1987). The world in creolisation. Africa 57(4), 546 – 559. Hannerz, Ulf (1992). Cultural complexity: Studies in the social organization of meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Huizinga, Johan (1952). Homo ludens: Proeve eener bepaling van het spel-element der cultuur. Haarlem: Tjeenk Willink. Idinopulos, Thomas A. and Edward A. Yonan (eds.) (1994). Religion and reductionism: Essays on Eliade, Segal, and the challenge of the social sciences for the study of religion. Leiden: Brill. Jager, Okke (1954). De humor van de bijbel in het christelijk leven. Kampen: Kok. McFague, Sally (1983). Metaphorical theology. London: SCM. Mouw, Richard J. (1994). Consulting the faithful: What Christian intellectuals can learn from popular religion. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Pinker, Steve (1998). How the mind works. London: Allan Lane.



Quinn, Naomi, and Dorothy Holland (eds.) (1987). Cultural models in language and thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Robertson, Roland (1992). Globalization: Social theory and global culture. London etc.: SAGE. Rosenau, Pauline M. (1992). Post-modernism and the social sciences: Insights, inroads, and intrusions. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Sarup, Madan (1988). An introductory guide to post-structuralism and postmodernism. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Segal, Robert A. (1989). Religion and the social sciences: Essays on the confrontation. Atlanta GA: Scholars Press. Sharpe, Eric J. (1975). Comparative religion: A history. London: Duckworth. Slack, Jennifer Daryl (1996). The theory and method of articulation in cultural studies. In: David Morley and Kuan Hsing Chen (eds.), Stuart Hall: Critical dialogues in cultural studies. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 112 – 127. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn (1997). A cognitive theory of cultural meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ter Borg, Meerten B. (1996). Het geloof der goddelozen. Baarn: Ten Have. Turner, Victor W. (1974). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Turner, Victor W. (1982). From ritual to theatre: The human seriousness of play. New York: PAJ Publications. Turner, Victor W. (1988). The anthropology of performance. New York: PAJ Publications. Van Baal, Jan (1972). De boodschap der drie illusies: Overdenkingen over religie, kunst en spel, Assen, Van Gorcum. Van Baal, Jan (1990). Mysterie als openbaring. Utrecht: ISOR. Van Baal, Jan (1991). Boodschap uit de stilte/Mysterie als openbaring. Baarn: Ten Have.

Chapter 17 As Close as a Scholar Can Get: Exploring a One-Field Approach to the Study of Religion 1. Introduction Among all the phenomena that scholars study, religion occupies an exceptional position because as a form of knowledge it is commonly presented as the opposite of science. Religion, as we now use the term, is a relatively recent construct, formed explicitly in contrast to science. When in modernity science came into a dominant position, religion was categorized in accordance with its nonscientific nature, given that the transcendental reality to which it refers is not open to empirical verification. That non-empirical reality could not be accepted as a causal factor in explaining religion. As a consequence, theories of religion refer primarily to nonreligious processes and aspects. Religious experiences, practices, and beliefs are thereby reduced to nonreligious factors of a psychological, social, political, or economic nature. Moreover, because of the contrast, science, being considered a superior form of knowledge, has directly or indirectly contributed to the secularization process. The delicate relationship between religious studies and its object creates a methodological problem that other disciplines need not face. If the scholar’s task is to study empirically a field whose defining part cannot be verified empirically or is even denied reality, special caution is necessary. One must then ask whether the accepted asymmetry between science and religion may not hamper scholarly understanding. Moreover, the secularizing critique of religion on scientific grounds invites reflection on the degrees of objectivity and subjectivity in the study of religion. Objective distance and a critical attitude make human subjects into objects. This may have advantages, but it may also estrange the researcher from the field. In view of the distance that has resulted, it may be worthwhile to consider more empathic ways of studying religion. This essay seeks to explore the potential of a one-field perspective, one that brings science and religion together into a single field instead of treating them as two distinct fields. In fact, when science – including the

1. Introduction


study of religion – is critical of religion and contributes to the erosion of religion in society, the two already belong to one field. Besides, fieldwork involves personal contact. Moreover, in other respects the distinction is not as neat as has often been thought, for example, when we look at the place of religious studies in academia, often in or near theology schools. A one-field approach does not maintain distance but moves as close as possible to the object under study. It considers religion without the subjectivity of critical opposition, yet it is aware of possible other subjectivisms. Which possibilities would become available if scholars were to experiment with the boundaries that are usually drawn between the study of religion and the religion being studied? When the scholar engages in the religious field, he or she must to a certain degree be physically present and involved there, participating in this field with body and soul. As an anthropologist of religion, I intend to explore what would change when, if only as an experimental line of thought, one were to adopt a perspective that would assume that scholars – not only anthropologists – and believers are inevitably operating in a single field. This is not a new proposal. Phenomenologists of a variety of types have experimented with this approach by bracketing presuppositions. Moreover, anthropologists have accumulated expertise in qualitative fieldwork methods, especially participant observation, which demands that the researcher reduce the usual ’objective’ distance. In a similar vein, the human capacity for play can be put at work, given that play allows simultaneous orientation to two realities (Van Harskamp 2006: 3, 4). Room for a one-field approach has also been opened by a change in views of the mission of science. In recent decades, constructivist insights have helped to acknowledge the spectrum of positions that scholars may take with regard to the phenomena studied. If knowledge is constructed through some form of inter-subjectivity between scholar and informant, then they are assumed to belong to the same social field. As a consequence, the idea that scholars and believers may form one realm is no longer aberrant. By making room for some form of empathy and closeness, such an approach may at least complement the way studies of religion have been done so far, that is, by maintaining critical distance. A one-field approach may suggest new methods that have never been taken seriously because they were outside the two-field scope that had been adopted.


Chapter 17. As Close as a Scholar Can Get

Once the researcher is viewed as part of the religious field, he or she is as much an object of study and analysis as the believers being studied. This obliges the researcher constantly to be aware of his or her degree of involvement. Any researcher, even when attempting to be objective, is an idiosyncratic representative of a particular cultural and religious – or secular – context and of a specific academic subculture. Since the scholar’s representation of religion and religions is inevitably colored by his or her training, by a particular perspective on religion, and by a personal background, explicit reflection on the scholarly habitus is to be recommended. This is, of course, a normal condition in a (neo)positivist setting, where objectivity is a core value of the profession. It becomes even more important when some degree of experimentation with subjectivity is allowed. In this essay I will first discuss the ambiguous position of religious studies as already having some one-field elements in its history. The methodological consequences of the one-field approach will then be stipulated. Special attention will subsequently be given to the body’s role in the study of religion, as a consequence of the researcher’s involvement. The general and abstract argument is then illustrated by the study of Pentecostalism, the field in which I happen to be active as a scholar. In conclusion, I then summarize the relevance of this exercise for the general issues discussed in this chapter. I propose there a definition of religion that might match the one-field approach.

2. Ambiguity in the Study of Religion In developing its identity, the study of religion had to come to terms with the changing position of religion in society, especially in Western Europe, and with the discipline’s position in academia. I will start with the dynamics of religion in society, especially the increasing importance of the dichotomy between the religious and the secular, and the secularization process. After modern science began to influence society in radical ways, the religious came to be defined and positioned in contrast to the secular, and vice versa. Science is the model representation of a secular world, no longer inhabited by the sacred. It is now the dominant frame of reference, just as religion had been before the days of Galileo Galilei. The comparison between the religious and the secular is therefore primarily

2. Ambiguity in the Study of Religion


given form by submitting religion to scientific criteria, not the other way around. Religion is then found lacking. In this context, science commonly has positivist connotations, with a strong emphasis on the empirical method, taking the natural sciences to be the prototype and the laboratory model to be the prime example. Reality exists when it can be verified empirically. In studying processes, a selected number of variables are controlled and experimentally changed, looking for causality. In principle it does not make a difference whether one looks for the effect of a change in gas pressure or in the frequency of church visits. As a consequence of scientific dominance, the rational and empirical are contrasted with the irrational and nonempirical, as is reflected in definitions of religion that contain these words. J. van Baal and W. E. A. van Beek, for example, define religion as ‘all explicit and implicit notions and ideas, accepted as true, which relate to a reality which cannot be verified empirically’ (Van Baal and Van Beek 1985: 3). When discussing religious dynamics, one cannot avoid the debate about secularization. According to Peter Berger, who was one of the early proponents of the secularization thesis and is now one of its critics, a ’thin but very influential stratum of intellectuals – broadly defined as people with Western-style higher education, especially in the humanities and social sciences’ (Berger 2002: 293, 294) forms one of the few strongholds of secularization. The proper study of religion has contributed to the process of secularization; thus the discipline is in the unusual position of having contributed to the elimination of its own topic. From its patriarchs Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and Freud it inherited a critical view of religion, their interest in religion being in part inspired by the illogic and puzzling resilience of religion and religions. The comparative study of religion has eroded any religion’s claims to truth and exclusive uniqueness, making religious truth something dependent upon context and coincidence. The fact that most scholars have now abandoned the idea that secularization will produce the end of religion in the world represents a new challenge to the study of religion. The secularization thesis stimulated reflection on the definition of religion, leading to the distinction between a substantive and a functional definition. Whereas a substantive definition limits religion to a view concerning the nature of the transcendental – or more precisely, the supernatural non-empirical diension – the functional type of definition includes views concerning life and the world that do not refer to divine entities but nevertheless serve the same function as religions in the sub-


Chapter 17. As Close as a Scholar Can Get

stantive sense had done. Thus any secular ideology, but also soccer, could be called a religion in the functional sense, despite secularization. This move can be appreciated as a way of showing continuities, notwithstanding the erosion of religion in the substantive sense. At the same time, the notion of religion has been broadened to an extent that some would reject as blurring unacceptably the border between the secular and the religious. The question of definition illustrates what a process occurring in the field under study does to the discipline that studies the phenomenon and its concepts. With regard to the religious and the secular, the definition debate suggests that the boundaries adopted between the secular and the religious have not been made from all eternity. More recently, non-positivist views of the task of science have been developed, especially by postmodernism and constructivism (Guba 1990: 25 – 27). These lines of thought draw attention to the way in which the discipline has, since its patriarchs, constructed its categories by contrasting the religious and the secular. These new views thereby show the relativity of the conceptual framework insofar as it is a construct. Though postmodernism contains a devastating secularizing critique of religion, it has also had the effect that scholars, whether they embrace postmodernism or not, may have become aware of their way of representing the religious field, including the changing boundaries between the religious and the secular. We need also to look at the discipline’s home in academia. Though the academic seems to be synonymous with the secular, the scientific study of religion has not occupied an unambiguous academic position. As a discipline, the science of religion or comparative religion is often accommodated in Christian theology departments, because theologians were the first to turn to the study of religion and religions (Asad 1995, Dubuisson 2003). In some cases, the study of religion was included in departments of social science, as has happened with the anthropology and sometimes the sociology of religion. Interestingly, theology can be considered an academic discipline that represents an exception to the contrast between religion and science. One of the oldest disciplines, it has succeeded in occupying an intermediate position between science and religion. Theology thus offered some compensation for science’s secularizing tendencies, in many cases maintaining itself as an integral part of universities. In return, it appears to serve two mistresses, science and religion. Theology, being the scientific and systematic reflection on the non-empirical sacred, has developed systematic formulations of

2. Ambiguity in the Study of Religion


faith, especially as representative of and directive for the mainline churches. These doctrinal systematizations obey a more or less rational need for logical thinking, despite presupposing sacred entities whose existence cannot be proven empirically. The position of religious studies in theology departments has influenced the way religion and religions have been studied. The theological example of offering a systematic and historical overview of Christian thought was copied in the study of non-Christian religions. The image of religion in general was influenced by the Christian case. Moreover, the official version that the leadership of a religion – including its theologians – represented was usually reproduced in accounts of nonChristian religions. Church history found its parallel and extension in the history of religions. The ethnocentrism of this approach can be shown if the perspective is inverted and, for example, emic concepts from Buddhism are used to describe Christianity. Representations of other religions were thus ideal and systematized versions of doctrine and, to a lesser degree, ritual. This approach included a focus on written sources, if available, as codifications of this ideal version. Similarly, the anthropology of religion has mapped so-called symbolic systems. Only later on was the difference between official and popular religion made visible. Yet textbooks on world religions still show this practice of presenting a systematic and consistent overview of official ideas, doctrine, scriptures, and rituals, modeled after Christianity and from the clergy’s point of view. Accordingly, popular religion and magic have often been neglected, or they have been defined and described as deviant, second-rank, sectarian, or illegitimate religion. Even the term religiosity has this connotation. Yet scholars from the field of religious studies have also sought to maintain an independent position. They have often had difficulty in defining their own identity in relation to their theological colleagues. The discipline of religious studies has for a long time struggled with this ambiguous position. Differences from theology have therefore been emphasized. In their professional activities, students of religion have not identified primarily with Christianity, whereas their theological colleagues have. Whether they did so privately is another question altogether. By contrast to theologians, students of religion have not taken a stance with regard to religious truth claims but have sought to represent the world’s religions, their history and scriptures, in an objective, descriptive way. Students of religion have also applied a comparative method, which led to the phenomenology of religion. This particular subdisci-


Chapter 17. As Close as a Scholar Can Get

pline showed the relativity of Christian expressions, putting them in the same categories as those of other religions. Of course, these categories had usually been copied from Christianity in the first place. Nevertheless, the comparison redefined phenomena that had been seen as unique to Christianity as common to all religions, those religions being described according to such subdivisions as: scriptures, views concerning human beings and salvation, images of God or gods, ritual, ethics, and degree of institutionalization. At the same time, the problem has been that phenomenological comparison tended to emphasize common traits, thereby making scholars blind to idiosyncrasies and to the unique constellation of elements in a particular religion or religious group. In that respect, anthropologists especially were critical of phenomenologists, the anthropological trademark being a holistic and contextualized approach. Yet as students of religion became specialists, taking one of the world religions as their area, they began to treat it in a holistic manner. This review of the ambiguous position of religious studies shows that any scientific effort to study religion has had to come to terms, explicitly or implicitly, with the fact that in our society, that is, within a single field, religion is contrasted to science. The definition debate is a more recent example, blurring the usual distinction between the religious and the secular. The history of the discipline shows that the possibility of a one-field approach has been there from its beginnings in theology departments, even though it was later rejected because of Christian bias. The price paid for an independent identity, however, was distance and alienation from the believing subjects who were to be studied.

3. Methodological Consequences Anthropological fieldwork has a long tradition of a one-field approach, with the researcher seeking to be as much part of the context under study as is possible. Though the basic method of participant observation contains a paradox – simultaneous participation and observation being logically impossible, at least in positivist scientific terms – this research technique has proved productive. The peculiar advantages of the method can best be shown by contrasting it to the survey and polling methods used in other social sciences of religion. In surveys, following the laboratory model of positivist origin, the researcher measures the influence of variables and looks for cau-

3. Methodological Consequences


sality. He or she is instructed not to influence the interview situation and to take an objective position, as if he or she were not there or were substitutable, just as a lab researcher would be. The experiment must be repeatable and therefore impersonal. Participant observation, by contrast, uses the researcher’s personality as a tool in seeking rapport with the people studied. Positivist-minded scholars often consider the result of such an approach biased and subjective. It sins against the rule of the strict separation of researcher and object of research. Even when participant observation is combined with open, in-depth interviews, the same judgment applies, casting doubt on the validity of data obtained in this way. Yet anthropologists have now for almost a century shown that such fieldwork allows for insight from the inside. Though statistical generalization is not possible, case studies show the plausibility of cultural and social processes. Narratives make up for what statistics cannot show and often tell more than numbers do. Especially in the study of religion, where people’s stories about their experiences with the sacred are important, such an internal perspective produces data that cannot be obtained in any other way. To study the idiosyncrasies that generate religious experience, methods of fine-tuning are needed. In short, subjectivity must be considered as a tool. If scholars in religious studies have come from theology or are believers themselves, their personal experience with religion may be helpful in fieldwork when they seek to understand co-believers. If these scholars do fieldwork in another religion, the advantage of knowing religion through private experience might turn into a disadvantage. The researcher, as we suggested, may model the other religion after his or her own – for example, Christian – religion, or implicit preferences and prejudices may color the representation. Thus the advantage of being familiar with religion may turn into a handicap. Yet when this risk is explicitly reflected upon and sufficient attention is given to possible religiocentrism, being a religious scholar of religion may have an extra value in research. In that sense, when a one-field approach is adopted, the ambiguous position that students of religion who operate from theology departments may have could give them a head start. For different reasons, those who on purpose maintain their distance from religion and shun the experience that comes with it could also claim an advantage, being free from the subjective risk that a believing scholar runs. Yet in their case bias is not excluded, since not having a religion may come with a – perhaps unconscious – subjective critical position regarding religion and its claims.


Chapter 17. As Close as a Scholar Can Get

In any case, participant methods are a way of entering the one field and immersing oneself in it. Because subjectivity can be both an asset and a risk, there is a need for explicit reflection on the scholar’s involvement. Philosophical phenomenology, having contributed to the classical understanding of religion, has been rediscovered for its way of introducing new possibilities for documenting experiences (cf. Csordas 1993, 1999, Droogers 2003, Van der Leeuw 1933, Widengren 1969). In anthropology this approach has inspired a new school of phenomenologists ( Jackson 1989, 1996; cf. Knibbe and Versteeg 2008). The fieldworker’s body becomes a tool for research. Evocation is more important than objective representation. Metaphors are not viewed primarily as cognitive means but as ‘phenomena of intelligent and intelligible bodies that animate lived experience’ (Csordas 1999: 186; cf. Fernandez 1990). The focus is on the lived experience of scholar and believer, both being in the world. Elsewhere I have proposed a way to overcome the paradoxical distance between observer and participant by referring to the human capacity for serious play (Droogers 1996, 1999; cf. Van Harskamp 2006). Religion is actually one of the fields in which this capacity – to deal simultaneously with more than one reality – can be observed. Believers play with the possibility of two realities, one natural and one supernatural. Their play can become so engaged that the two realities merge into one or at least position themselves on the same spectrum. The capacity for play and the experience of an extra dimension in reality reinforce one another. The use of tropes, especially metaphors, important in religions, is another form of play with two domains, one in need of clarification, the other offering a clear image. When believers express their experience, they switch from one domain to the other. Thus God has come to be called ‘Father’, or ‘Mother’, linking the religious and kinship domains. The use of play is not limited to believers. The explicit reference to play also suggests a possible position scholars may choose with regard to their study of believers’ religious experiences. It is common to distinguish between three scholarly postures regarding religious claims. Methodological theists (or religionists) accept the possibility of experiencing the manifestation of the sacred. They include some reference to a divine agency in their explanations of religion. Methodological atheists (or naturalists and reductionists) reject precisely that. In between the two, methodological agnostics abstain from an opinion in this matter. They will neither deny nor affirm such a sacred agency. In research practice,

3. Methodological Consequences


methodological atheists and agnostics will describe data that support the religion’s claim – for example, when believers refer to corporeal experiences as one of the proofs that the sacred manifests itself. But they will not accept the reality of these experiences as a cause when explaining religion. Instead, scholars with these leanings often appeal to reductionist explanations for these experiences, pointing to non-religious elements and mechanisms of a variety of kinds. In contrast to and complementing these three positions, I have proposed methodological ludism, inspired by the anthropological tradition of participant observation and by authors who have written about play (Droogers 1996, cf. Huizenga 1952, Turner 1982, 1988). In play, human beings are capable of dealing simultaneously with two or even more realities. This also holds, as we have seen already, for believers who presuppose a sacred reality. But it would also be possible for a researcher who puts himself into the believer’s view of reality, if only for a moment. By temporarily, but as completely as possible, sharing the concrete bodily experiences of the people being studied, the researcher gains in understanding of the role of these experiences. Though requiring the seriousness of playing a role, methodological ludism is as methodological as the other three options and thereby independent of the researcher’s personal conviction with regard to religion. A playful attitude reduces the distance between the student of religion and believers. Moreover, it acknowledges the constructionist insight that knowledge should be construed in the interaction between the scholar and the person who is the object (read: the other subject) of the research (Guba 1990: 26). Incidentally, play can also be used in debates on theoretical paradigms, obliging one temporarily to adopt the opponent’s point of view. We may conclude that, once the possibility of a one-field approach is accepted, several methods present themselves. Though never fully eliminating the distance between scholar and believer, they explore the possibilities that become available when a strict separation between the two is no longer required. The consequence of this approach is that we must acknowledge the role of the body as a research tool.


Chapter 17. As Close as a Scholar Can Get

4. Religion Incorporated The one-field approach brings the bodily involvement of the researcher with it. Whereas believers use all their senses to register manifestations of the sacred, the people who study them have tended to limit themselves to reading texts, watching behavior, and, with less distance and more bodily involvement, listening to people. That seems to have been a consequence of the need for objectivity and distance, reinforced by the need to differ from theological neighbors in the same department, who by definition were participants in Christianity. It reduced bodily involvement and excluded participation, creating a rather cerebral climate for the study of religion. Accordingly, little room was left for what Birgit Meyer has called ‘sensational forms’, which make the transcendental capable of being sensed: ‘relatively fixed, authorized modes of invoking and organizing access to the transcendental, thereby creating and sustaining links between religious practitioners in the context of particular religious organizations’ (Meyer 2008: 707). This exclusion of the body copied the perspective of Christian leadership. Whether influenced by Victorian prudery or not, for the past century Christian leaders have had difficulty in formulating a view of the role of the body in believers’ lives. This has contributed to a church climate in which attention to religious experiences has been more the exception than the rule. Bodily experiences were associated with sectarian groups. In general, Western culture for quite some time did not facilitate the study of the role of the body, neither in theology nor in the social sciences. As Thomas J. Csordas observed of the last few decades: ‘the notion of “experience” virtually dropped out of theorizing about culture’ (Csordas 1999: 183). Bodily experience also tends to be a blind spot in social science’s religious studies. Religious experiences have been reduced to religious representation, bodily symbols to their meaning, despite the attention that in some other disciplines has been paid to corporeal religious experiences. One may think of the psychology of religion and its individual-centered tradition, which started with William James (cf. Taylor 2002), or of the philosophy of religion and the tradition that began with Friedrich Schleiermacher and was given form by Rudolf Otto (cf. Proudfoot 1985). In the study of religion, corporeal experiences disappeared behind the veils of a systematization of ideas and articles of faith, and also a focus on the social order. Admittedly, not all religious activities are easily accessible, especially not those that demand specific sensational forms. Believers themselves

4. Religion Incorporated


already have difficulty in expressing their experiences. Religious corporeal experiences are by definition difficult to document. Though anthropologists of religion use participant observation as one of their basic methods, and therefore could have done better than their colleagues from the science of religion, their degree of participation has varied. Religious experiences could have been a key element in ritual studies, however. Yet – symptomatically so – ritual is a contested term, since it is identified as a contaminated Christian term (Boudewijnse 1995). Moreover, defining the behavior that is proper to ritual is thought to be too difficult. The presupposition that ritual has a meaning outside itself – usually a meaning that corresponds to doctrinal ideas or even myth – has been contested. The focus on meaning, following the Christian theological example, as a way of connecting ritual and doctrine, may have led to a neglect of bodily experiences as crucial ingredients of ritual (Stringer 1999: 211 – 215). Evidently, looking for the symbolic meaning of ritual has indirectly facilitated the application of the Christian theological model in the study of other religions. Behind this contrast between meaning and experience there is an asymmetrical relation between mind and behavior, with the mind occupying a primordial position over the body (Bell 1992). Reflecting the contrast between thinking and acting, scholars consider religious corporeal experiences to be on the behavioral and thus on the ritual side. The same contrast between mind and behavior appears in the debate between intellectualists and symbolists – ritual as an epistemology of explanation, prediction, and control that is comparable to science versus ritual as a symbolic behavioral statement about social order (Bowie 2000: 157, 158, Horton 1994: 197 – 258). The two competing models have in common that the role of religious bodily experiences is reduced either to knowledge and meaning or to their contribution to the social order. A comparison of the role of the body in religion and in religious studies points to a surprising parallel. As I will suggest, students of religion and religious leaders may show unexpected common characteristics that cannot be explained only by the use of the Christian model as normative for the description of other religions. The parallel has to do with the focus on order and the uncontrollable place of the body in both the clergy’s and – for other reasons – academia’s interest. To begin with religious order, one can refer to the fact that visionary mystics and other persons who emphasized their corporeal experien-


Chapter 17. As Close as a Scholar Can Get

ces as a source of authenticity and authority sometimes were persecuted by religious authorities. Even though there were also mystics who became part of the honorary gallery of religious heroes, and despite the fact that founders of world religions often were driven by similar corporeal experiences, the doctrinal and cerebral side has usually predominated. The way people interpret their experiences can, of course, not be isolated from doctrinal socialization, and the contrast, therefore, should not be exaggerated. The fate of bodily experiences must be understood as a consequence of the manner in which religious control, organization, and power work (Droogers 2001). The leadership cannot easily control idiosyncratic ecstatic manifestations and so will introduce behavioral codes with set times and places. Priest and prophet do not get along easily – to use a Weberian example from the Christian religion. The first generation of believers will ultimately have to submit to the ritual control and routinization of their spontaneity. The body is domesticated, and the believer incorporates the power structure into his or her body language. One may suspect here also a case of male domestication of female bodies – for example, in spirit mediumship and other extrasensory experiences. Doctrinal orthodoxy is an even easier and safer instrument at the leadership’s disposal than control of diverse experiences, since it is easier to maintain social structures and boundaries when the ideas that legitimate the identity of the group are clear, predictable, and undisputed. Spontaneity and playfulness form a weak basis for social order. Moving now to the parallel between religious leaders and students of religion, many scholars are, consciously or not, as focused on the question of how social order is possible and can be maintained as is the religious leadership. Therefore, the starting point of many explanations of religion and religious success is religion’s contribution to social order, and not the obvious center of religious practice: experience. This does not mean that religious corporeal experiences are never mentioned, but often they are submitted to a reductionist treatment. A rediscovery of experiences’ role in religion may lead to a rehabilitation of religion as it was before success linked it to the powers that be. When the role of the body in religion is emphasized, new concepts may need to be developed. One way of bringing and keeping body and mind together is to use the concept of schema, as defined in cognitive anthropology (Bloch 1991, D’Andrade 1995, Strauss and Quinn 1997). Schemas are culturally accepted minimal scripts (or scenarios, prototypes, or models) for and of a certain thought, emotion, perception, or act (Droogers 2003: 267). They contain a limited number of ele-

4. Religion Incorporated


ments, which are common to similar concrete situations. Thus the conversion-experience schema contains a number of characteristics that are normally part of the event, despite personal and contextual differences. Claudia Strauss and Naomi Quinn have defined schemas as ‘networks of strongly connected cognitive elements that represent the generic concepts stored in memory’ (Strauss and Quinn 1997: 6). Schemas are physically anchored in the body as connections between millions of neurons in the brain (Strauss and Quinn 1997: 51). In fact, this view goes beyond the dichotomy of mind and body. Schemas generate religious corporeal experiences, just as experiences inspire the formation or alteration of schemas. One way of mapping what happens in bodily religious experiences is to describe them by discovering the schemas that are at work. Schemas do not stand alone, but form repertoires that characterize a particular field – for example, that of a religion. Believers and scholars both have their own repertoires of schemas to make sense of their fields (Droogers 2003: 267). When we wish to understand why bodily religious experiences have until recently been a neglected area in the study