Desktop version

Home arrow Religion

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Religion as communication

From a standpoint that understands religion as a certain form of risky communication, memory becomes central for religious action. When memory links the contents of memory with the circumstances of its sedimentation, the resulting complex is intimately connected with the articulation of (not only religious) experience and with processes of both socialization and individualization. The connection makes it possible to retrieve memory contents of an emotional or cognitive nature by repeating the social and sensual contexts of acquisition, for example, in ritual form or via sufficiently similar - or more precisely, similarly perceived - communication situations. But it also facilitates experiences via communicative contents that are remembered. This furthers the production of different types of literary texts.

First, religious memory and autobiography. The classic example of the late antique thinker, Augustine and his Confessions, opens up a particular perspective on the genre of autobiography. Autobiography is not simply reliable autopsy. Of course, the autobiographical narrator is also an authorial construction that can arbitrarily fake its insights into the self. However, a religious self-interpretation, as in the case of Augustine, is not necessarily a later attempt at interpreting one’s life, that is, a secondary interpretation. Instead, it might preserve and articulate contents that were situationally linked in the biographical recollection. Being past interpretations that arose from different situations, they do not have to be systematically coherent. As an individual, religion is to be taken seriously as part of one’s acquired habitus. The type of connection that can be shown in the case of Augustine’s Confessions and the central role played here by divinatory practices (Rupke 2010a) can also be identified in the autobiographies of African Americans. In an analysis of such texts, Albert J. Raboteau has shown how traumas are dealt with and interpreted in the light of personal and collective experiences that are considered in a specifically religious way. Here, counterfactual literarily mediated interpretation can flow into one's own autobiography and thus confirm in one’s own life the principle that the rejected are the chosen ones (Raboteau 2009).

Second, religious habitus and literary performance. Karen Dieleman, in her analysis of the Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Adelaide Anne Procter, has shown how fruitful this perspective can be (Dieleman 2012). Neither individual memories nor a particular theological position can be grasped in these texts. Instead, worldview and access to the world (ibid., 256), and, thus, also the production of texts, are determined by the memories acquired through repeated, and equally routine and interested, participation in rituals, or through continued intellectual debate, or in affective episodes. These memories are then embodied in action routines and attitudes. The fact that these texts are not ‘religious poetry’ shows how unhelpful the distinction between ‘holy’ and ‘profane’ is here. Both religious narratives and religious practices can help shape literary and cultural production. What applies to writing practices can also determine performances or, more broadly, practices of reception. For the Christian field, one should think, for instance, of all the memory invested in and produced by the embodied experiences of the ritual practices of psalm singing. The practice of singing and the habitual use of certain translations both play important roles in this context (Hamlin 2004, 254).

Third, appropriation of rituals and calendars. The individual appropriation of collective practices and texts finds expression in narratives and texts that address events in the context of established rituals or celebrations, be it in the mode of the memory of a homodiegetic narrator or in the mode of the narration of a heterodiegetic narrator. The perspective developed above allows a new view of even seemingly classical works in the traditions of a given religious institution, such as Ovid’s Calendar Commentary (Lihri fas forum). The passage of the calendar through the abbreviations of the Roman feast days of the first six months of the year (the subject of several poems and additions in the Renaissance) always explicitly refers back to Ovid’s own memories. These range from knowledge connotated as ‘learned at school’ to his own participation in rituals, that is, autopsy. However, the entire text (in addition to its interest in the place of the new monarchy in calendar practices and associated ideas) is based on an interest in the emotional quality of ritual participation, which can hardly be explained other than by reflection on one’s own habitus (see Riipke 2015a). The same can be said for the literary description of triumphal processions in Latin, and especially poetic, texts (Beard 2007). In addition to cognitive content, which particularly emphasizes the representation of the world in Rome and is thus part of the formation of an Imperial habitus, the affective quality of the spectacle plays an important role here too. In view of the longevity of calendar structures and representations - but also in view of the manifold variance of ritual designs of memories evoked by calendars - calendar literature, especially since the early modern period, offers an important medium of religious communication that is potentially in conflict with more recent, even if widespread, narratives (see Schmidt 2000; Riipke 2010b).

A further example is provided by serial texts and individual reminders. The reception of biblical narratives and figures, including by, for instance, Jewish martyrs and Christian saints, can hardly be understood as a mere intertextual phenomenon in view of the significance of individual memories and religious habitus. Individually remembered and habituated listening (or reading) and the affective and cognitive quality associated with it through, for example, the specific type of interpretative framing or the social constellation of the reception situation, are certainly as important. Here, the results of Brian Stock’s work can be drawn upon fruitfully once again. The particular prominence of non-canonical narratives - as in the multitudinous variations of saints’ lives, martyrdom reports, or miracle stories - might play a role here as a phenomenon of remembrance. The interest of institutional actors and researchers in canonical texts as fixed texts has, ironically, led to us knowing very little about the reception of these works. For Europe and the circum-Mediterra-nean region, this applies to the late antique epoch as much as it does to the early modern period (which begins to open up collections of sermons or marginal notes in lectionaries).

Reception and production cannot be separated by this view of memory. Only more recently have poetic texts been placed at the centre, texts which themselves represent and thematize memories of previous liturgical texts and, in turn, shape later memories. In the medieval Jewish realm, this applies to the piyyutim. often highly individual poetry that was used in a ritual context (Hoffman 1979; Reif 2006; Swartz 2017). In modern Christianity, the invention of the printing press and the Protestant community liturgy has made the genre of the ‘hymnbook' important, the texts of which are often aimed at remembrance. Their performance and the habitualization of this singing constitute memory itself. In his analysis of Emma Mason’s work, Mark Knight referred to the parallel presence of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer; the latter in its revised version of 1662 was still used in the 19th century and was present in every household (Knight and Mason 2006, 7).

Finally, remembrance instead of dogma. It is these texts, songs, prayers, literary narratives, which also represent places of remembrance - loci - for religious doctrine all the way up to the most elaborate distinctions of dogmatic subtleties. However, what we find here are discontinuous memory contents, not a coherent and systematic teaching. From this specific form of memory that is grounded in literary texts it might be possible to explain the meaning and the concreteness of certain dogmatic differences to a wider audience, something that was repeatedly attempted, quite often successfully, in the history of Christian religion following the Christological disputes of the 4th century ce. However, the re-updating that can be remembered, i.e. recharged with the corresponding quality of ritual emotionalization and routine, goes beyond established dogmatic positions. The focused memory can also absorb experiences of nature, be it as typologically interpreted (Gatta 2004, 63, see also Wolfzettel 2008) or as memory of destroyed nature (Gatta 2004). Here, memory becomes part of a strategy of sacralization that seeks to shift the boundaries between 'sacred' and 'profane’.

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics