Re: M & I

Bill Lesley (rwl2@AXE.HUMBOLDT.EDU)
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 23:31:00 -0700

To all-
I hope you will excuse my rambling, but the hour is late. I must digest
what Richard G. Calo has said a bit before I can give a really coherent
comment, but being coherent hasn't bothered me before - so here goes:
I think it may be a matter of perception which operates, as Richard G. Calo
has so aptly stated, on several levels. We may, if I may continue the
analogy," typecast ". I have only seen Ben Kingsley playing Ghandi, so
the dichotomy of Kingley as Moses vs. Kingsley as Ghandi does not allow
me to transcend into another level as it did Richard G. Calo. I am, however,
aware of Kingsley as an actor as well as Kingsley playing a particular
character. This , I believe, is a mental operation on two levels also.
We know, intellectually, that the character we see portrayed is not "real"
, but do we really believe the unreality? It is similar to optical
illusions such as those of M.C. Esher which we know are impossible, BUT
our "brain" tells us are real.
This is the problem I have always had with ethnographies. I feel that,
no matter how careful one may be, it is impossible to write a totally
objective ethnography. We will see what we perceive or are prepared to
This is, to me, the problem with observing the religions of other groups.
We must view through our "lens" which has been built over the years by
our culture. Hence, our observations are doomed to be colored by our past.
No two individuals will totally agree on what they see. I see no real
solution, but to realize the flaw.
I hope some of this made sense! Perhaps it is as Wolgang Pauli said:
"Mann muss nichts alles wissen werden". Certainly I don't.
Bill Lesley

On Mon, 8 Apr 1996, Richard G. Calo wrote:

> 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."