Abstracts - J Z Smith Conference NTNU
In considering the work and legacy of Jonathan Z. Smith, it is crucial that we not fail to acknowledge his profound contribution to pedagogy in the undergraduate classroom, considering specifically the introductory course. Although rightfully recognized for his research accomplishments, Smith should be equally well known for his emphasis on undergraduate education (as well as his widely reported —perhaps facetious—disdain of teaching graduate courses) and his prioritization of teaching skills, e.g., critical thinking, reading, interpretation, writing, etc., in those courses. Bearing in mind that his careerlong contributions to teaching have not received as much attention, this paper will study
Smith’s writings and talks on pedagogy, scattered throughout his oeuvre, to ascertain his methods for approaching the classroom. Once developing a clear list of those principles often employed by Smith, this paper will use several current, popular introductory texts as case studies to see the extent to which Smith’s work has had an impact on pedagogy in the study of religion. After working through several such examples to demonstrate whether Smith’s principles persist, this paper will then turn to its third section where it will tackle the larger task of considering how best to apply Smith’s pedagogical principles in introductory classes today. The premise that animates this study is that shifts in the understanding and engagement of religious studies begin in the undergraduate classroom—a site always emphasized by Smith, though one that is often deemphasized in a
profession increasingly focused on graduate education and faculty research accomplishments. By identifying and then applying his pedagogical principles, this paper will argue that the implementation of Smith’s teaching methods works well to effectively move the field of religious studies forward by demonstrating its relevance not simply through the acquisition of expertise in content but also the cultivation of critical thinking skills.
Andie Alexander is a doctoral student in American Religious Cultures at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, USA. Her research interests focus on identity construction, boundary formation, nationalism, and discourses on classification. Her work focuses on the history of religious studies so to examine the emergence of the lived and material religion approaches and the ways in which they are employed in the study of and Americanization of Catholic immigrant groups in the US.
The proposed presentation would lay the theoretical foundations for attempting a taxonomy of the earliest examples of Tibetan indigenous and Buddhist devotional literature. The wider genre of prayer and related concepts as they exist in Buddhism and Tibet have been addressed previously, but their Old Tibetan forms have yet to be compared and contrasted systematically. The data on which such a classification will be based comes from epigraphic and manuscript documents dating from Tibet’s imperial period (c. 650–850) and shortly after. Taken together, these works seem to reflect a nexus of Buddhist terminology emerging in a literature that is elsewhere focused solely on glorifying kingship and administering of empire. However, the theoretical underpinning for such an enterprise is wholly absent in Tibetan Studies, and only very short and general remarks have been made on the relationship between early Tibetan Buddhist prayer and either Buddhist prayer in surrounding South, Central and East Asia or non-Buddhist prayer and ritual existing in Tibet at the time. Using Jonathan Z Smith’s intellectualist understanding of religion as a useful heuristic starting point, I shall interrogate examples of early Tibetan Buddhist prayer as a test case. I shall hope to test the extent to which these texts act as not only expressions of devotion but also largely elite constructions of ideal Buddhist worlds, or “maps” (which are perhaps incongruent with the ways things actually were), that—whether intentionally or not—largely eclipsed the pre-existing imperial worldview and hierarchy (Tibetan Buddhists’ “proximate other”) while also papering over the actual intracultural discrepancies that the entry of Buddhism into Tibet had caused. Of especial interest in this respect would be the importance of the emperor (where mentioned), and the part that this character plays in the structure, ideology and performance of these imperial- and
early post-imperial prayers.
Lewis Doney is Associate Professor in the History of Religion (Buddhism) at the NTNU. He received his PhD (Study of Religions) in 2011 from SOAS, London, with a thesis focused on the eighth-century Tibetan emperor, Khri Srong lde brtsan. Since then, he has published in philology, history and sociology, charting the impact of Buddhism on Tibetan literature, society and material culture.
My paper examines the category of magic in the work of Jonathan Z. Smith. By surveying magic in his work, and specifically by focusing on his essay “Trading Places,” I argue that a closer engagement with Smith’s use of the category of magic might clarify his methodological concepts of redescription and rectification, and, in turn, usefully enlarge his theoretical contributions for future work in the study of religion. I will begin by exploring Smith’s early discussions of magic, primarily in Map is Not Territory and Imagining Religion. In these works, Smith deploys magic and magicians in Western antiquity as historical exempla to (re)theorize matters of “sacred space” and to frame his criticism of comparative method as mimicking the operations of early anthropological notions of “sympathetic magic.” I will then turn to Smith’s most concerted essay on magic, “Trading Places” (in Relating Religion) where his above interests converge. Here Smith argues that attempts to form magic into a useful analytic category have failed and thus there is little use in continuing to use it in scholarly parlance. Instead, Smith argues that we should “trade places” between those evidences typically called magic and “better and more precise taxa” that we already have for such evidences. For Smith, in doing so there is nothing to lose and everything to gain: such a procedure promises to generate a more adequate set of typologies better keyed to those bodies of evidence than the general, vague, and stigmatizing category of magic. I argue that “trading places” is another rendering of Smith’s notions of redescription and rectification, key components of his proposed method of comparison that he discusses variously throughout his work. By comparing different articulations Smith has given for redescription and rectification, I will show that “trading places” can be understood as a more radical view of these two components, insofar as Smith calls for the full rejection of a standard academic term, magic, rather than simply suggest critical self-consciousness, as he does with religion.
Andrew Durdin received his Ph.D. in History of Religions from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2017. He is currently an Assistant Teaching Professor at Florida State University in the Department Religion where he teaches world religions as well as classes in ancient Mediterranean religions and Western magic. His research focuses on Roman religion, magic and religion in Western culture, and scholarly historiography of ancient religions.
Comparison is among the most persistent of J. Z. Smith’s preoccupations. We first characterize his view that comparison is “the redescription of the exempla (each in light of the other) and a rectification of the academic categories in relation to which they have been imagined.” Highlighting the reciprocal, relational fluidity of this interplay between redescription and rectification, we argue that Smith’s work presupposes a view of the nature of meaning called interpretationalism, a view that is increasingly prominent in recent theory of religion. This view seeks to make sense of phenomena in their contexts, as opposed to presuming that the meaning of words depends on what they supposedly refer to (a competing view called representationalism). For Smith, comparison takes us “from what is known to what is unknown,” but this makes little sense from a representationalist perspective. (We argue that representationalist readings of Smith are responsible for relativist and radical constructionist appropriations of his famous "no data for religion"
statement.) It would be possible to hold that the back and forth adjustments of redescription and rectification aim to bring our concepts closer to religious “reality.” However, we will show that this reading is inconsistent with how Smith actually works his cases. For Smith, rectification is not a matter of converging on an accurate description of the phenomena (to preserve representational meaning); it is a matter of maximally explaining why statements and actions take the form they do in specific contexts. Smith’s view of comparison is more coherent, consistent and useful once we recognize that it presupposes an interpretationalist view of meaning. All scholarly work necessarily presupposes some view of meaning. Our project of “thinking with Jonathan Z. Smith” argues that his ongoing relevance is even greater when his particular semantic presuppositions are brought
Steven Engler is Professor of Religious Studies and Mark Q. Gardiner Professor of Philosophy at Mount Royal University, Calgary. Their joint work includes articles in Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, Journal of Ritual Studies, Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Religion, Religious Studies, Unisinos Journal of Philosophy and various book chapters.
Jonathan Smith’s titles are often riddles and jokes that confound as well as delight: “When the Chips are Down,” “‘Now You See It Now You Won’t:’ Religious Studies over the Next Forty Years,” ”I am a Parrot (Red),” “The Bare Facts of Ritual,” “When the Bough Breaks,” and his Yale dissertation The Glory, Jest and Riddle: James George Frazer and The Golden Bough. They often engage games and play, homophones and double-entendres, even nursery rhymes. While clever and provocative, Smith’s titles are more so lumps of compressed theory radiating glorious insights that he has developed throughout his studies persistently preoccupied by incongruity, difference, and gaps without forcing facile resolution. Smith’s understanding of religion and its study has the dynamics of openness and ongoingness as well as critical rigor and detail. I refer to the core structurality threading together his insights as an aesthetic of impossibles. It involves an appreciation of the sensorybased distinctively-human capacity to hold together two or more things as being alike,
even identical, while knowing all along that they are not the same at all. This capacity is fundamental to joke and riddle and play, also to comparison and metaphor and myth and map and art–religion as well. In this paper I will document and explore this impossible copresence as foundational to Smith’s distinctive understanding of religion and the study of religions. I will demonstrate its importance by application to specific cultural examples in areas not common to Smith: body, moving, gesture, dancing. The larger intent of the paper is to offer fresh insight into Smith’s work demonstrating its value through novel applications in order to argue that Smith is essential to the future development of a proper and vital academic study of religion.
Sam D. Gill: For fifty years Jonathan Smith was my mentor and my friend. At the University of Chicago Jonathan was my principal teacher and dissertation advisor (Sacred Words: A Study of Navajo Religion and Prayer, 1981). He invited me to edit the “traditional religions” section of HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (1995), for which he was the general editor. I wrote an extensive article focused on Jonathan’s work “No Place to Stand: Jonathan Z. Smith as homo ludens, the Academic Study of Religion sub specie ludi” (JAAR, 1998) and a book, Storytracking: Texts Stories and Histories in Central Australia (1998) much of which focuses on a critical examination of his and Mircea Eliade’s use of Arrernte (Australian Aboriginal) materials to establish their theories of religion. I taught a graduate course on Jonathan’s work including his visit to my campus, the University of Colorado, to work with my students and to give public lectures. Many times, I invited him to do lectures and participate in conferences over the decades; the latest in 2010 was one of his last major lectures. His topic was on the future of the field over the next forty years; this lecture has not been published. I have consistently engaged his work throughout my career that began with many books on Native American religions, Australian Aboriginal religions, religion theory, then to thirty years of studying dancing (Dancing Culture Religion, 2012) and operating a dance studio, and, more recently, to writing on religion, technology, popular culture, and futurist studies (Religion and Technology into the Future: From Adam to Tomorrow’s Eve, 2018). Completed just before Jonathan’s death, my most recent book, Creative Encounters, Appreciating Difference: Strategies and Perspectives, (2018, dedicated to Jonathan), develops on his persistent interest in difference and incongruity. I was invited by NAASR to contribute a paper, “Jonathan Smith and the Necessary Double-Face,” honoring Jonathan at the 2018 annual meeting. In my efforts to come to terms with his death and my fifty years of engagement of his work, I have just completed a new book manuscript, Religion as a Proper Academic Study: Following Jonathan Z. Smith. It took shape as I asked how I might more fully comprehend and appreciate how, even with our differences, Jonathan has persistently and powerfully shaped my work. Writing this book has been a thrilling rediscovery of so much of Jonathan’s work. As is evident in my title, a persistent concern throughout the book addresses my sense that while Smith is widely known, the importance and implications of his work are far from being adequately realized and appreciated. This book includes my own perspectives presented as they have developed throughout my half-century journey following Jonathan in what I hope offers complex models, criteria, and inspirations for the future development of a proper academic study of religion.
Religions are social constructions, and so are religious traditions—so what’s the difference between religion and science / scholarship and the possible units or scales of comparison? Using bits and pieces from two well-known philosophers, Karl R. Popper and John R. Searle I shall try to elucidate what I think can be a solution to the conundrum (not just the middle initial joins them). Scholars of religion study religious worlds, socio-cultural creations produced on bases of collective intentionality. In Searle’s terms they may attain the status of social institutions, characterized by their deontic powers (e.g. in duties, rights, obligations, privileges, rewards and punishments). Following Popper’s view I hold that they are also ’world 3’ products with their own social ontologies—they exist in and as socio-cultural artefacts (that is how we may study, e.g., middle Pharaonic religion). As worlds, they exist(ed) and as such they may become the stuff of our epistemic learning and understanding.
However, in the translation and reconstruction processes, they lose their deontic deontic powers – their social ontologies become the stuff of our epistemological means. They are interesting (perhaps) but they do not govern our lives. The difference is one of normativity.
Jeppe Sinding Jensen is Interacting Minds Centre research associate and emeritus Associate Professor in the Department of the Study of Religion, Aarhus University, Denmark. Trained in Arabic and Islamic culture, history of religions and philosophy, his work now focuses on theory and method in the study of religion.
Is there a method in this magic, or can a method for constructing comparisons be gleaned from J. Z. Smith’s remarks about comparative endeavors? In my presentation, I will address—and positively answer—this question using my recently completed project—a comparative study of various Jewish theological responses to the Holocaust—as a case study.
Barbara Krawcowicz is a postdoctoral fellow in Judaic Studies at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Her book “History, Metahistory, and Evil: Jewish Theology and the Holocaust” is forthcoming from the Academic Studies Press.
Within Jonathan Z. Smith’s vast scholarship on pedagogy, he emphasizes the importance of the “decisions and operations” undertaken by the whole “community” engaged in the academic study of religion. Not limiting himself to his own discipline, Smith imagines this reflexive decision-making as fundamental to every academic enquiry. Although for Smith, reflexivity seems to form a part of the unique initiation into post-secondary education, we wonder if it is not a posture that Religious Education (secondary, to be sure, but also primary?) ought to adopt more fully. What might it mean for Religious Education (RE) to embrace Smith’s programmatic pedagogy? Perhaps some programs already do this. But in the case we are most familiar with–the Canadian province of Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture Program (ERC)–we’ve discerned many ways in which the “decisions and operations” of the program are occluded even at the highest levels of its administration. Thinking about this on the 40th anniversary of Jonestown, we look to Smith’s famous essay on that event. For therein we find much that questions RE as it is often practiced. At the same time, we think the article offers much for the renewal of RE. The matter is pretty straightforward for us: insofar as ERC emphasizes Quebec’s religious heritage, what has it to say about that echo of Jonestown, the Solar Temple mass suicide of the mid-90s in Morin-Heights? If Religious Education avoids trying to understand such things, it not only fails at the Enlightenment experiment of daring to know (a fundamental upon which universal education is based), it fails at its Deweyian mission of citizen-formation.
Jack C. Laughlin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at University of Sudbury, a federated Catholic college of Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. He teaches in the World Religions
area. His expertise is in South Asian religions and history. His resent publications include articles on religious education, religion and law, and theory and method in the study of religion. He is co-editor of Implicit Religion
Kornel Zathureczky is an Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at University of Sudbury, a federated Catholic college of Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. His expertise is in
political theology, especially in consideration of the work of Walter Benjamin. Recent publications, drawing on and contributing to the theory and method of the study of religion, examine the construction and management
of religious pluralism within the context of a multicultural state, interrogating a variety of normativies at the intersection of law, State and religious identities.
In one of the last endnotes (115) in the essay “When the chips are down,” Smith remembers wondering why few people ever ask the question “why map territory?” Using the New York and London Subway system mapping efforts as exempla, he seems to come down on the answer that we map territories because it is useful to do so; the usefulness depends on the context and realism in our mapping efforts is not always the most useful. Though my own education in the study of religion was like swimming in an ocean of scholars reacting to Smith’s genius, so critique of Smith is also self-critique, my essay will explore the usefulness of JZ Smith for the study of religion from a number of critical angles. 1) with regard to teaching Smith in Europe, the difficulties of non-native English speakers reading him, 2) method—there does not seem to be a coherent method other
than read a lot and be interesting, 3) theory—is Smith useful anymore in theorizing about religion?
Gabriel Levy is a Professor of Religious Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway and Chairperson of the board for the Interdisciplinary PhD Research School, Authoritative Texts and their Reception at University of Oslo. He is the author of Judaic Technologies of the Word: A Cognitive Analysis of Jewish Cultural Formation (Routledge 2014). See www.gabriellevy.com.
Becoming one of the modern classics of the religious studies has caused J. Z. Smith to be included in all sorts of discussions concerning concepts, taxonomy and comparison. Despite the fact that Smith himself never really seemed to be that much interested in presenting systematic defences of any specific theoretical positions, rather preferring to analyse the central problems of the discipline and highlight the conundrums intertwined within and between these, he is oftentimes depicted as defending one or another theoretical or methodological position. Perhaps at first sight such an approach to Smith would seem inevitable. After all, how else is one supposed to include him in the theoretical and methodological debates as well as in the treatments and analyses of new data and research directions? In this sense, paradoxically, Smith himself has become data for many taxonomic studies of theories, arguments and scholars. Instead, I would like to point out how the real relevance of J. Z. Smith’s “persistent preoccupations” should not be viewed as a matter of defending or pursuing one or another position. Rather, the real relevance and central importance of J. Z. Smith reveals itself in his way of thinking about the problems we face in the study of religion. For Smith it is not so important to present arguments and defend positions, as it is to reveal the intertwined complexities of the problems we face; to dismantle these problems, yet also
to disclose the reasons why we can never completely free ourselves from them; to evaluate the inherent shortcomings of research, and still continue pushing forward. In my paper I intend to highlight a couple of examples how this kind of approach, this way of thinking is central to Smith’s research as and definitely something contemporary scholars should continue to practice in their own research.
Indrek Peedu is a Junior Research Fellow in Religious Studies at the School of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Tartu. His research has mostly dealt with the methodological and epistemological issues of the contemporary evolutionary, cognitive and behavioural study of religion, but he has also written about the history of the study of religion and other related issues.
Jonathan Z. Smith’s attention to the politics of taxonomy opened countless doors to scholars, particularly in the process of re-imagining the category of “religion” and our relationship to both the word and the field that claims it as an object of study. A master of etymology, Smith often left his readers breathless as he traced classificatory terms to unexpected roots. My paper hopes to shed light on a possible limitation of this method in the context of an essay Smith wrote on racial classification–“Close Encounters of Diverse Kinds,” in Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: U Chicago Press, 2004)—by exposing consequences arising when we fail to attend to power relations when describing any taxonomical enterprise. Smith presents his essay as an attempt “to isolate the intellectual moment that made the invention of ‘race’ necessary” (308). By tracing the European encounter with the Americas as precipitating a battle between monogenetic and polygenetic exegetes working through the resources of both Biblical narrative and Greco-Roman ethnography to authorize conflicting versions of human origins, Smith constructs his own tale of the birth of “racial” classification. He summarizes this pitched intellectual battle as an exercise in “describing and explaining difference”–an exercise Smith notes, off-handedly, marred by the “unfortunate eighteenth-century decision to correlate biological and cultural characteristics”
(315). Like a Tylorian intellectualist treatment of religion as emerging from the puzzling nature of death and dreams, Smith’s “Close Encounters of Diverse Kinds” treats “race” as springing from an apparently innocent human curiosity about difference. His story is seductive, but my paper will argue that in resisting a fuller treatment of power’s role in the formation of racial imaginings, the limitations and risks of Smith’s etymological approach, in this case stripped of politics, are laid bare.
Craig R. Prentiss is a professor of religious studies and chair of the Department of Theology & Religious Studies at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the editor of Religion and the Creation of Race and Ethnicity: An Introduction (NYU Press, 2003) and the author of Staging Faith: Religion and African American Theater from the Harlem Renaissance to World War II (NYU Press, 2014).
This paper will test the adequacy and applicability of J. Z. Smith’s thought on locative and utopian spatial orientations (1978;1987), as well as his religion(s) of “here,” “there” and “anywhere” (2004) in the context of my ongoing ethnographic study of contemporary O’odham Catholicism. Today, multiple Magdalenas on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border vie for pilgrims with rival fiestas for Saint Francis, as contemporary O’odham negotiate their everyday lives along an increasingly militarized international border that has cut their traditional territory in half. Many O’odham travel to Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico to visit Saint Francis, particularly around the saint’s day on October 4. However, there are also several rival destinations, each with their own Saint Francis. Both Mission San Xavier del Bac near Tucson and San Francisquito–meaning “Little Saint Francis,” an O’odham village in Sonora near the international border–have their own rival fiestas for Saint Francis. Moreover, the Tohono O’odham Nation also has a movable feast of Saint Francis that rotates each year across the eleven districts of the nation. This means that each year there are no fewer than four rival destinations for O’odham to travel to in addition to, or in lieu of, traveling to Magdalena. Additionally, there is a village named Ali Mali:na, or “Little Magdalena” in the Baboquivari District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Each of these places effectively aspires to be a replica of Magdalena, vying for its prestige, power, authority, and authenticity. However, each of these other places derive
their authority from Magdalena insofar as these other places invoke Magdalena as the standard against which they should be measured.
Seth Schermerhorn is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Hamilton College. He specializes in the study of indigenous traditions, particularly in the southwestern United States. His first book, Walking to Magdalena: Personhood and Place in Tohono O’odham Songs, Sticks, and Stories will be co-published in April 2019 by the University of Nebraska Press and the American Philosophical Society. He also serves on the steering committee of the Indigenous Religious Traditions Unit of the American Academy of Religion.
In the opening of his book, Imagining Religion (1982), Jonathan Z. Smith argues that “Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study” (xi) a phrase that has had as many followers as opponents. This phrase, though, only makes sense as the punch line of what comes before it, i.e., Smith’s idea of religion as an “act of second order, reflective imagination.” I argue that this set- up should instead be our focus of attention, for only then might we understand why Smith claims that although there is much data that can be characterized as religious “there is no data for religion.” Building on Smith, I’m both interested in how the category “religion” gets imagined but also projected into the ancient Greek world, inquiring about the consequences of this discursive constitution of the “past.” In this paper, by taking Smith’s idea of religion as an act of a second order reflective
imagination, I want to explore the idea of “the past” as a similar discursive act. As a case study I will look at a contemporary archaeological excavation, near the village of Narthaki, in central Greece, and the often-unnoticed collaborations between a variety of participants (e.g., archaeologists and local residents, museum visitors and curators, etc.), who each have their own narratives about, and investments in the archaeological finds. The purpose of the research is to investigate how and in what ways these collaborations (implicit or explicit) between so called outsiders (e.g., archaeologists) and insiders (e.g., local residents) impact how material artifacts–as found in archaeological sites–are imagined; what kind of meanings those artifacts acquire; how they are discussed/ historicized not only within the framework of local communities and their larger ethnic discourses but also within archaeological and historical disciplinary discourses.
Vaia Touna is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. She is author of Fabrications of the Greek Past: Religion, Tradition, and the Making of Modern Identities (Brill, 2017) and editor of Strategic Acts in the Study of Identity: Towards a Dynamic Theory of People and Place (Equinox 2019). Her research focuses on the sociology of religion, acts of identification and social formation, as well as methodological issues concerning the study of religion in the ancient Greco-Roman world and the discursive constitution of the past in general.
One of the most important concerns in the study of religion is creation of categories, their classification, and systematisation. In consequence the history of taxonomy can contribute to our understanding of the general concept of “religion.” In the present paper, using J.Z. Smith’s reflection on classification, taxonomy and comparison, I would like to focus on the role of suffix –ism (and its correlates) in creation of modern concept of religions in general, and on the history of conceptualisation of Orphism, in particular. The Greek suffix –ismos is a nominal derivation from a verbal theme –izein which stands for “to belong to a group” or “to follow someone’s way of life or opinions.” This way, from the noun christianoi derivates the verb christianizein, “to follow Christian way of life” and the noun: christianismos, “a life according to Christian rules.” Since the end of the
16th century the suffix –isme, –ism has been used in vernacular languages to denominate non-Christian religions: e.g. islamisme (1697), druidism, (1715), brahmanisme (1801), bouddhisme (1831). The word Orphism was a modern creation which presumed the existence of Orphic religion or religious movement inside the ancient Greek culture. Its career began in the 19th century in atmosphere of the quest for deeper spirituality, which could be considered a forerunner of Christianism, a kind of pagan mystique church with a clergy and a canon of sacred scriptures. The concept was built on arguments used in the polemics between Catholic and Protestant scholars. To sum up, the term Orphism, as other –ism formations, suggests a whole that has never existed, but was made out of existing fragments.
Lech Trzcionkowski is a Professor of the History of Religions at the Institute for the Study of Religion, Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland. He has widely published on Greek religion and mythology, Orphism and Plutarch. His latest publications include ‘Hieroi Logoi in 24. rhapsodies. Orphic Codex?’ in: Praying and Contempling. Religious and Philosophical Interactions in Late Antiquity, Ed. by Eleni Pachoumi and Mark Edwards, Mohr Siebeck 2018; ‘Collecting the dismembered poet: the interplay between the whole and fragments in the reconstruction of Orphism,’ in: Fragments, holes and wholes : reconstructing the ancient world in the theory and practice, ed. Derda Tomasz, Hilder Jennifer, Kwapisz Jan, Warsaw 2017.
In one of his major statements on how to think about the historiography of religion, To Take Place, J. Z. Smith states that, “ritual represents the creation of a controlled environment where the variables (accidents) of ordinary life may be displaced precisely because they are felt to be so overwhelming and powerful.” For Smith, this “controlled environment” of ritual, by definition, takes place in an “extraordinary setting” that is entirely removed from the activity of the “everyday.” My current work documents how early Indian Buddhist monastics navigated the forces of Brahmanization at work in the early centuries of the Common Era. The textual record suggests that many Buddhist monastic practices were regarded by Brahmanizing forces in Indian society as impure and thus incompatible with the social order sought by Brahmanism. Brahmanism has long been treated in scholarship not merely as a set of rituals taking place in a “controlled environment” but as a totalizing social system for negotiating impurity. Recent scholarship has tended to view the Brahmanizing forces as authoritative in Indian society, and thus, as a force the Buddhist monastic order was
compelled to reckon with, and ultimately submit to. Scholars, such Gregory Schopen, have argued that Brahmanism had become dominant enough in the social structure of North India that Buddhist monasteries were forced to curb or eliminate all practices in ordinary life that might incur ritual impurity. In this paper, I will argue (with J. Z. Smith) that ritual practice was limited to the “controlled environment“ of Brahmanical circles of social authority and did not spread to the field of “ordinary” or “everyday” life in the India of the early centuries CE. I will make this case using the example of Buddhist monastic resistance to Brahmanical attempts to enforce a totalizing purity regime in
Nicholas Witkowski received his PhD in 2015 in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University. Having completed a two-year post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Tokyo, he recently assumed a post as assistant professor in comparative religion at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He specializes in Indian Buddhism with a focus on the cultures of everyday life in the Buddhist monastery. His current work is a multi-stage project that draws primarily on the Buddhist law codes (Vinaya) to demonstrate the centrality of ascetic precepts to the Buddhist monastery of middle period Indian Buddhism. His most recent publications discuss the practice of cemetery asceticism within early Buddhist monastic communities.