Re: M & I

Richard G. Calo (rgcalo@EDEN.RUTGERS.EDU)
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 23:53:56 EDT

Bill Lesley writes:

> While I agree that it is questionable to teach students that their particular
> religion is "false", I feel that allowing them to consider that it is"true"
> presents an equal problem. Unfortunately,it usually follows that if "mine"
> is "true",that of "others"is "false".This certainly is not the case, but
> human nature tends to operate that way.

Could it be that we're in a sense 'wired' for truth, but that this 'truth'
operates entirely on the side of those who possess it, or have acceded to it?

> I am in the midst of reading Boas and Malinowski where the terms
> "primitive" and "savage" are not uncommon. One would hope that most, if
> not all, anthropologists no longer use that type of language, I fear that
> most lay people continue to do so and most students do not have the
> background of the people on this list.
> There also seems to be a mystique attached by some to cultures other than
> one's own. Witness the popularity of "white shamanism" in some circles.
> Both this and the questioning of the validity of the religion of others
> would appear, at least, in my humble opinion, to be damaging to any
> attempt to understand other cultures which is, at least to me, the point
> of teaching anthropology.I am also disturbed by the use of the word "cult"
> due to its negative connotations, at least in the US, but this is, i
> admit, merely semantic bickering.
> The solution is, of course, to eliminate using the adjectives true,
> false, etc. when discussing religion. I realize that this is rather
> pollyannish on my part. Any other suggestions from those wiser than I
> would be greatly appreciated.

As I write this, I'm also watching this new version of Moses that's
been previewing on the TNT station. The version stars Ben Kingsley.
I never would have imagined Kingsley in the role of Moses. I'm not
sure he's very good at it, although this observation is probably beside
the point-- if unavoidable. In fact, I think he was a better Ghandi than
he is a Moses-- this too is beside the point, if unavoidable. In any case:
Ghandi, Moses, two different traditions. Kingsley, in some way going
between them. In the process, Kingsley provides a lens to bring either
into focus. But this is not an objective lens, obviously, since my
preference and reaction to Kingsley (not Ghandi, not Moses) is still very
much a part of my understanding and appreciation of the whole.
This is a stilted metaphor in its present format, but I wonder if it could
serve for the moment as a description of anthropological procedure, at
least where it concerns religions. So here I am looking at Moses, and
here I am looking at Ghandi. The first order of observation establishes
clear differences between Ghandi and Moses. But now I refocus, and
instead I see Kingsley, a second order, which in its turn subtends (and
I *believe* explains) the first one. The first order, I can assume for the
purposes of argument, comprises the empirical, or ethnographic reality.
The second order, consists of the relations I tease out of this empirical
reality-- what Marcus Auren a couple of posts back called the
"mechanical or structural/functional" level-- what I 'see' the two systems,
Ghandi and Moses, as having in common.
These then, in reference to Bill Lesley's observation concerning
Boas and Malinowski, are the two levels on which the latter may have
operated. But what about that third level, the one which can be identified
as the relation between Kingsley and my preferences and reactions?
Actually, I think I just ran into a first problem: where do I get my
Kingsley? He is neither Moses, nor Ghandi, but already a part of that
system to which I react, in which I invest my preferences and my reactions.
At the moment I find myself repeating Bill's words: "Any other
suggestions from those wiser than I would be greatly appreciated."