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Editorial: Marching the devotional subject: The bodily-and-material cultures of religion

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Drawing on the Maussian notion of the technologies of the body, on the Schilderian theory of the Körperschema, on the neurocognitive sciences and the Foucauldian concept of subjectivation, this article shifts the study of religion away from the
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  https://doi.org/10.1177/1359183517725097    Journal of Material Culture2017, Vol. 22(4) 369  –384© The Author(s) 2017Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/1359183517725097 journals.sagepub.com/home/mcu  Journal of  MATERIALCULTURE Marching the devotional subject: The bodily-and-material cultures of religion Urmila Mohan University College London, UK  Jean-Pierre Warnier  Institut des Mondes Africains, Paris, France Abstract Drawing on the Maussian notion of the technologies of the body, on the Schilderian theory of the Körperschema , on the neurocognitive sciences and the Foucauldian concept of subjectivation, this article shifts the study of religion away from the verbalized creeds, doctrines and texts towards the consideration of the bodily-and-material cultures that are prominent in most, if not all, religious traditions. This shift helps us to understand how the bodily-and-material cultures of religious practice contribute to producing the devotee and obtaining compliance. The potential synergies, tensions and cognitive gaps between the verbalized creeds, on the one hand, and the bodily techniques and   material culture, on the other hand, are emphasized for a better understanding of the complexities of the devotional subject. Keywords compliance, embodiment, materiality, religion, subjectivation Take any religion, anywhere across time and space, that is, anything that is deemed reli-gious according to commonsensical or scholarly knowledge. For the sake of analysis, remove from the religious phenomenon anything that pertains to beliefs, creeds, dogmas, doctrines, speech, texts, preaching and verbalized knowledge. Put it provisionally  between brackets. Practise the epoche  advocated by Husserl. This will help us to Corresponding author: Urmila Mohan, University College London, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0B, UK. Email: u.mohan.11@ucl.ac.uk  MCU 0   0   10.1177/1359183517725097Journal of Material Culture Mohan and Warnier  editorial    2017 Editorial   370  Journal of Material Culture 22(4) dislodge the creeds from their natural evidence. Later on, but only much later, shall we  bring this package back into the picture.Similarly, remove from religion anything that belongs with signs, codes, meaning and symbols. Obviously, religion makes sense. Semiotics provides efficient tools for the analysis of religious coded components. Religion is pervaded with signs that have a sign value in a system of connotation and communication and that can be decoded. Religious icons, sym- bols and signs can translate into speech and words. They belong with the verbalized knowl-edge mentioned above. They too should be put between brackets for analytical purposes.Once you have practised the epoche  that denies the natural evidence of religion as creeds and a system of signs, what is left is what we shall refer to henceforth as bodily-and-material cultures of religious practice and their practical or praxic value in a system of agency, that is, for what they achieve or do, to and for the religious subject, through  bodily practice and material culture.Since the publication of its first issue in 2005, the journal  Material Religion  has gone a long way in promoting a non-discursive approach, together with establishing a high degree of expertise and legitimacy, and situating bodies, things, places and practices squarely within the scientific agenda of religious studies (Meyer et al., 2010). However, as Vasquez (2011: 11) argues in his book on religious materiality, a textual emphasis still  prevails in religious studies. Before going further to respond to this, we wish to acknowl-edge a complementarity of goals between a study of religion that attempts to materialize the field of religious studies and the study of material culture. Indeed, a scholar of reli-gious materiality will find robust theoretical and methodological resources, together with a wealth of empirical data in the  Journal of Material Culture  since its first issue was  published in 1995, and in the publications by the ‘Material Culture’ research team and teaching programme at University College London (see Tilley et al., 2006). We also note that historians, anthropologists and archaeologists have traditionally been interested in the study of materiality with earlier works by Turner (1979) and Bell (1997) pointing out the importance of studying the emotive and performative aspects of religion.We acknowledge all these contributions but also distinguish our ‘bodily- and  -material’ approach as one with a heightened level of theoretical and methodological clarity (Mohan, 2015a, 2015b, 2016; Warnier, 2001, 2007, 2009). A focus on the bodily-and-material inspires this special issue, in which we intend to give an account of the confer-ence titled ‘The Bodily and Material Cultures of Religious Subjectivation’ held at UCL on 17–18 June 2014 by publishing 5 of its 16 presentations and simultaneously attempt-ing to clarify a number of more analytical and/or theoretical debates. We hope that this discussion will have much to offer scholars interested in what people do and why they do it in the service of religion. In other words, that a study of religion through a bodily-and-material perspective and its attendant tools (see Galliot, 2015; Naji and Douny, 2009) helps us access data and generate analysis that is difficult to pinpoint by other means. Two kinds of religious knowledge: Verbalized and procedural We shall begin by calling on the cognitive neurosciences to establish a distinction  between two kinds of human knowledge: verbalized and procedural – knowing that  , and   Mohan and Warnier 371 knowing how  (Kosslyn and Koenig, 1995). The first one concerns verbal expressions, discourse and ideas that can only be expressed in so many words. The second one con-cerns our bodily techniques that may or may not be immediately identifiable as ‘reli-gious’: knowing how to reach a state of trance (Romberg, this issue), how to drink the Qur’an (Nieber, this issue), and, more broadly, how an aggregation of bodily techniques might feed into domains not associated with religion, for instance, the value of Jain aus-terity in the informal economy of Indian emeralds (Brazeal, this issue). Procedural knowledge is always the result of an apprenticeship, whether to a person or process, often a protracted one, as in the use of a musical instrument.This distinction is by no means a theoretical innovation. Head and Holmes (1911– 1912), Schilder (1950[1935]) and many others had established this point in the early 20th century. More recent and spectacular developments in the cognitive neurosciences have validated this conceptual distinction (Berthoz, 2000; Berthoz and Petit, 2006) by demon-strating that verbalized and procedural knowledge do not rest on the same neuro-physio-logical processes although there is a fair amount of connection between the two. Yet,  procedural knowledge is far more involved with the sensorium and with bodily-and-material culture. David Morgan (2010: 4) writes: When (the devotee) says he believes in God, we must listen for the silent speech beneath his words, the habits and felt-life of old practices. We must learn to hear his sighs, his gritted teeth, the murmur of nostalgia, the distant gaze of eyes searching the memory of folded hands … He says he believes, but what he really does is feel, smell, hear, and see. This dimension of religious practice clearly belongs with procedural knowledge.The two kinds of human capabilities – verbalized and procedural – do not simply duplicate the Cartesian divide between body and mind. Verbalized knowledge depends on the brain no less than the action of driving a car or singing religious songs in a church. Both are equally human. Often, they are implemented simultaneously. Yet, all too often, scholars rely on verbalized descriptions to have access to the bodily-and-material cultures of the devotee, whereas direct participant observation and media such as photography and video are required to document actions and emotions (Romberg, this issue). Neither should it be assumed that the practice observed obeys the verbal-ized norms and codes of behaviour. The bodily-and-material culture of religion is not the same as its representation through verbal description, guidelines and norms. The actual practice and its representation should not be collapsed together, as we are reminded by the famous series of paintings by René Magritte representing a smoking  pipe with the caption: ‘this is not a pipe’ (Foucault, 1973). The pipe and its representa-tion are not the same by any means. Their affordance is not the same. One cannot stuff tobacco into the painting of the pipe, light it and smoke it. Neither can it be claimed that pipe-smoking, viewing the paintings (or, in some cases, setting fire to them) do the same thing to  and  for   the subject, since they do not implement the same kinds of pro-cedural knowledge. When it comes to bodily conducts, the body of the smoking sub- ject, his or her handling of the pipe, tobacco and matches, the way he or she inhales the smoke and the pleasure he or she takes from it are of a different order from the contem- plation of the picture of the pipe. The confusion between the smoking pipe and its  372  Journal of Material Culture 22(4) representation, between the territory and the map, between the icon and its text is what Warnier (2007: 5–13) calls ‘the Magritte effect’.In contrast with creeds and doctrine, procedural knowledge is ‘propped’ on material culture. By propping, we refer to the fact that practically all our sensori-motor conducts are geared to particular objects – statues, icons, temples, shrines, holy water, beads, offer-ings, musical instruments, reliquaries, etc. In the human species, there is hardly any tech-nique of the body that takes place in a material vacuum (Warnier, 2007: 11–12). Moreover, as Paul Schilder (1950[1935]) underscored in his seminal work on the image of the body, the bodily schema does not stop at the limits of the human coetaneous envelope. It extends  beyond it and includes the objects at hand. Through perception, motion and emotions they  become an integral part of bodily synthesis and therefore of the subject.We need a specific tool kit for the analysis of bodily-and-material culture so as to grasp motions, the senses and the emotions that are attached to them, and what they do to/for the subject. The cognitive neurosciences have gone a long way in achieving this when addressing the procedural, non-verbalized knowledge that we acquire through bod-ily apprenticeship, applied to the use of material things and of bodily techniques. On the topic of cognitive gaps The issue of cognitive gaps is an important blind-spot that we wish to challenge in this special issue. We claim that the bodily-and-material cultures of religion do not duplicate or merely enact systems of beliefs and signs. They are something else, a different register of knowing and being. More than that, they may be at odds with beliefs and doctrines. In any given religion, there may be cognitive gaps and even outright contradictions between these two forms of knowledge.We are aware that these are strong claims. They challenge one of the basic, if often hidden, tenets of most anthropological studies concerning the adequacy between practice and representation. Making these claims introduces a suspicion concerning the compe-tence of the devotee and even the religious specialist when they tell us what their religion is all about. However, we would go one step further and claim the following. That to locate the study of religion exclusively in the consistency of belief and sign systems or the accordance between scripture and performance is to misunderstand the compelling  potency of religious compliance. We argue that this compliance exists not in the enact-ment of an ideological adherence but in the tensions, deviations and potential contradic-tions between verbalized knowledge, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, embodied,  procedural knowledge embedded in the material world. This approach encourages us to appreciate practice not just as orthopraxy but as something slippery, uncertain and incon-sistent that requires constant social and cultural work on bodies-and-materials.These are statements with important consequences. But, although they are seldom expressed with such boldness in anthropological literature, there is nothing new about them. Gregory Bateson (1972: 179–181) had put them at the heart of his theory of cogni-tive gaps, double binds and schismogenesis, following his analysis of the  Naven  ritual (1936, revisited in the ‘Epilogue 1958’) and his study of mother–child interactions con-ducted in Bali together with Margaret Mead (Bateson and Mead, 1942). In his view, the very fact that the interaction between two or more subjects could be conducted through   Mohan and Warnier 373 two different media – speech, on the one hand, bodily conducts and   material culture, on the other hand – provided the potential for gaps and contradictions between the two and   the complex and compelling nature of such relationships. Since procedural knowledge specifically concerns the techniques of the body, let us now turn to the body of the sub- ject and come back to the possibility of cognitive gaps later. The ‘real’ in religious practice To begin with, there is no single religion in the world that does not involve the imple-mentation of ‘techniques of the body’. Religion is the very point of departure of the eponymous article published by Marcel Mauss in 1936. Religion is compelling, says Mauss (2006[1936]), because it is a technique, that is, an efficacious and traditional action on and by the body of the ‘total man’ as a bio-psycho-social entity. To translate: religion is an efficacious and traditional action on and by the subject. The next tools in our kit will be the notions of a body and a subject, and the double status of the body as a subject/object. The subject is  a body and has  a body.Second, we shall collapse together the techniques of the body and the material culture of religion. All too often they are kept separate. Some academics deal with the body, oth-ers with material culture. This division of labour has adverse effects on our understand-ing of both. All the techniques of the devotee’s body are propped against specific material cultures such as those of the temple, shrine, musical instruments, food, drink, clothing, images, sacred objects and substances. We should never talk of material culture per se, except as a kind of shorthand for ‘bodily-and-material culture’ hyphenated together. This  point has been stressed time and again by the team at the  Material Religion  journal. ‘The material study of religion concentrates on what bodies and things do, on the practices that put them to work, on the epistemological and aesthetic paradigms that organize the  bodily experience of things (Meyer et al., 2010: 209).What is ‘the bodily experience of things’? That is the question that the  Matière à  Penser   network has also harped on since the mid-1990s (see Galliot, 2015; Gowlland, 2011; Naji and Douny, 2009) by drawing on the heritage of Schilder (1950[1935]) on the  Körperschema , Merleau-Ponty (1945) on the phenomenology of perception, the cogni-tive neurosciences, and the post-Kantian philosophy of the subject.As far as the efficacy of the bodily-and-material culture on the religious subject and religion as a technique are concerned, we shall adopt the statement by Michel de Certeau (1987: 57) that, ‘It is always in the name of something real that one can “march” the  believers and produce them.’ 1  This quote underscores the compelling efficacy of reli-gious practice as a technique. It should be remembered that Michel de Certeau was not one of those 20th-century radical, atheist, reductionist thinkers. He was a Catholic priest, a Jesuit – himself a believer – but also a critical historian and a psychoanalyst, close to Jacques Lacan. The expression ‘to march’ like a platoon of soldiers is somewhat deroga-tory. It implies some sort of artifice. 2  De Certeau suggests that the religious subject is more or less compelled to comply. The devotee is produced, marched, directed and shaped almost against his or her better judgement, and becomes that particular kind of human being who walks with other devotees to the shrine, temple, church, ritual forest or stream. Walking is anyway a basic devotional practice almost all over the world.

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Sep 10, 2019
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