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  • Believing the Evidence

    Page 1 of 38

    PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) CopyrightBritish Academy, 2014. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the l icence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of asingle chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use (for detailssee: http://britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy/privacy-policy-and-legal-notice ). Subscriber: PontificiaUniversidad Catolica del Peru (PUCP); date: 30 April 2015

    UniversityPressScholarshipOnlineBritishAcademyScholarshipOnline

    Evidence,InferenceandEnquiryPhilipDawid,WilliamTwining,andMimiVasilaki

    Printpublicationdate:2011PrintISBN-13:9780197264843PublishedtoBritishAcademyScholarshipOnline:January2013DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197264843.001.0001

    BelievingtheEvidenceJASONDAVIES

    DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197264843.003.0015

    AbstractandKeywords

    Thestudyofancientreligion,partlyinresponsetoanthropology,movedinrecentdecadesawayfromthinkingintermsofbelieftostudyingritual:thishasafundamentaleffectonhowwetreattheevidence(ordecidewhatevidenceis,andwhatitisevidenceof).Thischapterarguesthatthetransitionisincompleteandexploressomeofthedeeperimplicationsofthinkingintermsofbelief.Itarguesthatthesecontinuetohamperourperspectiveonancientreligion.Theothernessofancientreligiondoesnotresideintherationalityoftheirthinking,rather,itisaxiomatic(theircreditingritualwithpowertoeffectchangesinthewiderworld).

    Keywords:ancientreligion,belief,ritual,evidence

    AbstractThestudyofancientreligion,partlyinresponsetoanthropology,movedinrecent

  • Believing the Evidence

    Page 2 of 38

    PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) CopyrightBritish Academy, 2014. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the l icence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of asingle chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use (for detailssee: http://britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy/privacy-policy-and-legal-notice ). Subscriber: PontificiaUniversidad Catolica del Peru (PUCP); date: 30 April 2015

    decadesawayfromthinkingintermsofbelieftostudyingritual:thishasafundamentaleffectonhowwetreattheevidence(ordecidewhatevidenceis,andwhatitisevidenceof).Iargueherethatthetransitionisincompleteandexploresomeofthedeeperimplicationsofthinkingintermsofbelief(whetherimplicitlyorexplicitly)andarguethatthesecontinuetohamperourperspectiveonancientreligion.Theothernessofancientreligiondoesnotresideintherationalityoftheirthinking:rather,itisaxiomatic(theircreditingritualwithpowertoeffectchangesinthewiderworld).

    1.ThenaturalnessofbeliefSOMEWHEREAROUND2000,therewasaninternationalmovementwhichencouragedpeopletoputJediastheirreligionincensuses.ThehomepageoftheJediChurchsays:

    TheJediChurchbelievesthatthereisoneallpowerfulforcethatbindsallthingsintheuniversetogetherSoquietyourmindandlistentotheforcewithinyou!

    Theinterestingaspectofthisforourpurposesistheprominenceofthewordbelieves,whichframeseverythingthatfollows.Apparently,ifyouwanttostartareligion,evenasajoke,youtalkaboutbeliefs.1Toamodernreader,itseemsabsurdeventonotethis:howcanareligionnotbeaboutbelief?Amoreinterestingquestionforourpurposesiswhetheritisausefulhistorical(p.396) categorywhentalkingaboutancientreligionsorindeedanyreligionthatdoesnotresidewithabroadlysecularframework.2

    ModernscholarshipofreligionisbuiltontheattemptssincetheendoftheVictorianeratoformadiscourseofreligionthatstruggledwiththeculturaleffectsofEuropeanempire,namelytheconfrontationwithprimitivereligions:typicallythequestionwasbuiltaroundtheassumptionofEuropeansuperiority.Thuswhatneededtobeexplainedwashowwegotfromtheretohere,sowehadschemaspositedwheremagichadevolvedintoreligion,whichhad(inourcase)beensupersededbyscience.Tobeassociatednowwithsuchschemes(thechiefculpritsareFrazerandTylor)3isnowacademicdeath:ifwecentreourdiscussionsonsomekindofevolutionfromreligiontoscienceastheydid,anthropologyandhistorybecometheexhaustivecataloguingofothersfallibility.ItwasEmileDurkheimwhobroughtlightwheretherehadbeendarkness,delvedintothemysteriesandtriumphantlyreturnedwiththelawsforanthropology,andlikeallhero-founders,hasfoundhiswordsusedforcontrastingpositionseversince.TheprinciplethatpersiststhemostpowerfullywasthatofreligionasaprojectionofagrouporsocietyfromDurkheimonwardsinsistenceonthesocialastheprimaryareaofanalysishasbeenacommonplaceinanthropologyandnowalsoinmodernhistory.4Freedfromansweringthequestionhowcouldtheybesowrong?,religionbecomesabroadpointofaccesstohowasocietyfunctions,sinceforthemostpart,religionandpoliticsareimpossibletodisentangle.5

    Thatisnottosaythattheanthropologyandhistoryofreligionnowhasasecureandagreedbasis:itmightbesaidthatwearestillgrappling(albeitwithgreatersophistication)withtheoriginaldifficulty,namelytheshockthatunderliestheexperienceofconfrontingforthefirsttimeaculturewhotakeitforgrantedthatthecosmosisaverydifferent

  • Believing the Evidence

    Page 3 of 38

    PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) CopyrightBritish Academy, 2014. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the l icence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of asingle chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use (for detailssee: http://britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy/privacy-policy-and-legal-notice ). Subscriber: PontificiaUniversidad Catolica del Peru (PUCP); date: 30 April 2015

    placefromtheonethatweareconvinceditis(andwhenIsayweImeanatypicalWesternintellectualwith(p.397) asecularoutlook).6OfcourseImightusefullyexplorenon-secularperspectivesbutspacedoesnotpermitthatand,secondly,thoseperspectiveswouldhavetheirowndistinctivelyorchestratedblind-spots.Myprojecthereistoextendseculardiscourse,nottocircumventit.

    Oneoftheresultsofthisongoingdiscourseisthatwehavebecomefarmoresensitivetowhatwearebringingtotheevidence:whenwetalkaboutreligionandbeliefwearegenerallydrawingonapredominantlyChristianisedperspectivethatemphasisedinnerexperience,spirituality,thewell-beingofthesoul(asmoreimportantthanthebody)andsomekindofcorebelief(whichissuspiciouslysimilarstructurallytotheCatholiccreed).7Ifwelookforthese,wefrequentlylookinvain(oftenevenwhenwearelookingatChristianity).8Thatisnotindispute:thedifficultyisthattheexpectationsareoftenunconsciousorunacknowledged.

    ThestudyofRomanreligionhasasimilarhistory:mosttwentieth-centuryscholarshipfoundRomanreligionwantingbecauseitdidnotfitthebill.Theirapparentobsessionwithritual,theimpossibilityofagreeingwiththepropositionsthatweinferredunderlaytheirreligiouspracticeandadistinctlackofrecognisablespiritualityledtotheimpressionthattheoriginal,morevibrantandaltogethermorespiritualRomanreligionhadbecomeossifiedtothepointofmeaninglessnessbythetimewereachthehistorical(i.e.decipherable)period.Thuswewerelookingforspirituality,richinnerconvictionandapreoccupationwiththewell-beingofthesoul,butallwefoundwasfastidiouslegalismandanattachmenttostickingtohowthingshavealwaysbeendone.

    Thepersistenceofthiswell-preservedcorpseofRomanreligionwasaccountedforbythesuggestionthattheelite,moreintelligentanddiscerningthanthecredulousmasses(thatis,coincidentallyunwillingtobelievewhatmodernscholarshappennottobelieveeither),hadkeptupapretenceforpoliticalreasonsbutclearlysignalledtothosethatcouldreadbetweenthelinestheirdisapprovalofallthenonsense.Thispositionwasreasonablyconsistentwithitself:itaccountedforratheralotoftheevidencewehad.Sowhena(p.398) changebeganitwasnotsomuchintheevidenceasawholesalequestioningwhetherthepositionwasplausibleasawhole.9

    Movingourfocusbacktoanthropology,amajorlandmarkwasthepublicationin1972ofRodneyNeedhamsBelief,LanguageandExperience.Asystematicsynthesisofphilosophicalandanthropologicalscrutiniesledhimtoconcludethatweshouldabandonalluseofthewordbeliefindiscussingreligion:

    Anythingthatwemightpleasetosay,andwhichincommonspeechisusuallyhungontothehandypegofbelief,willbebettersaidbyrecoursetosomeotherword;andifweareclearaboutwhatwewanttosay,weshallfindthatitcanbesaidclearlyonlybyanotherword.10

    Thus,asLindquistandColeman(2008)putit,wearedrawntothinkagainstbeliefratherthanwithit.

  • Believing the Evidence

    Page 4 of 38

    PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) CopyrightBritish Academy, 2014. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the l icence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of asingle chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use (for detailssee: http://britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy/privacy-policy-and-legal-notice ). Subscriber: PontificiaUniversidad Catolica del Peru (PUCP); date: 30 April 2015

    BuildingpartlyonNeedhamslegacyandtheresultinganthropology,ancienthistoryalsoturneditsattentionawayfromaspectsofbelief,experienceandspiritualitytowardsritual.11TheadvantagesofstudyingRomanreligionfromthepointofviewofritualinsteadofsome(usuallyinferred)beliefispreciselythatmostoftheevidencethatwehaveisalreadyintenselyfocusedaroundritualactions.

    ThemarchofritualmeantthatFeeney(1998)couldrhetoricallyderailtheexpectationthatweshouldorganiseouranalysisbybelief:itseemeddeadinthewater.

    AdynamicallychangingpolytheisticsystemisanexceedinglyproblematicplaceinwhichtofindthegroundingforaquestionlikewhatwerethereligiousbeliefsofAugustus?ThismanwasparticipantinanobjectofvariousnewandtraditionalcultsatRomeandthroughouttheempire,andinitiateintothemysteriesofEleusissincetheageof32.Hewasacclaimedinmarble,bronze,papyrusandsongasthedescendantofVenusandthesonofdivusJulius.HewastheviceregentofJupiter,founderofanewtempleofJupitersfounder,andalways(p.399) carriedasealskinwithhimasprotectionagainstthunderstorms.Inwhichofthesecontextsisthecoreofbelieftobefound?(1314)

    Theabandonmentofbeliefasanorganisin

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