Archive for the ‘ideology’ Category

Modernity vs. Tradition

October 4, 2012


I found this image circulating around and realized that I had a rote speech from my lecturing about the categories ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’ and thought I’d share.

The term ‘tradition’ is new. It is an innovation. It is a signifier that only makes sense in relation to ‘modernity’. The two terms are mutually necessary pairs that evoke each other, stated or not, whenever deployed. That is, tradition is modern construct. To use the term ‘modern’ is to be traditionally modern.

The most interesting thing I take from these insights is really quite practical. Tradition is a modern recreation of a fictional past–the imaginations of innovators make tradition. Any invocation of tradition is actually a ruse. The moment we can conceive of the modern is the exact moment we create tradition. Before we imagined the modern, there was no tradition in the sense that we use the term now. It was just the way that things were. With the modern, everything is up for grabs and we’ve forgotten the way things were. To remember tradition, it must be re-created. It is made anew.

Thus, tradition is actually the most modern of phenomenon. Let’s see some examples.

In India, tradition, when invoked, often points back to the infinite past of Hindu culture and speaks of norms, like those of the Laws of Manu, that are in all actuality the joint construct of British scholars, missionaries, administrators, and Indian elites, be they pandits, rajputs or brahmins. That is to say, what is constructed as tradition is actually something made wholly new in the 19th century by the complex process of colonial and cultural exchange with its notions of cultural essentialism.

In West Asia, the various ‘fundamentalisms’ of Islam were created as anti-colonial responses to European colonialism. Immasculated and denegrated, Arabs and other people of color found a united resistance through this shared recreation of Islam. It is actually somewhat more complex than this, as much of the Islamic revolutions of the 60s-80s were undoubtedly also resistance to the fact that secular leadership in West Asia was concieved to be too much under the power of the West. And then when the West turned on West Asia, as it did in Iraq (which was the most ‘progressive’ part of Asia), this tendency only continued. My hypothesis is that the West, perhaps only partially unwittingly, actually played a large role in creating what it now calls Islamic fundamentalism.

Look at Asian diaspora in North America or Europe. It often holds on far more stridently to what it sees as ‘traditions’ of the homeland.

The global resistance to alternative sexualities and genders under the guise of tradition fits the same pattern: before colonialism, most regions had come to terms with it in their own way, were convinced to denounce it through colonialism, and now in the postcolonial moment understand that denunciation as ahistorical tradition.

There are many more examples that can be made. Often we find it oxymoronic, strange or even hypocritical when those who we associate with ‘tradition’ take advantage of what we see as ‘modern’ (like technology… twittering monks for example). In fact, it is the same activity under different labels. We only think this way because these terms modernity and tradition serve the purpose of obfuscating and calcifying power-relations, both real and discursive. Fundamentalists get much credence for their traditional stance, and can hide their innovations behind the veil of ‘tradition.’ Modernists too, can veil their conservativism behind the seemingly progressive stance of the ‘modern’ (take for example, the old-timey racism of the New Athiests).

Monks owning cellphones is no different than an Atheist with the bible on the shelf.

What does this insight allow us to do? It allows us to see far more clearly the ways in which people strategically use the categories (and all their associated semiology) modernity and tradition to get other people to do what they want, for one.

It may also allow us to see way to step past these categories–either in a dialectical way, or in a revolutionary way–and conceive of a world that cannot so easily use the enmity attached to this binary for divisive purposes.



January 18, 2012

While I am not normally in the business of providing emotive comments about certain topics about religion, this post by Alas quoting Barbara C. Sproul’s view of fundamentalism is interesting. Normally, I would ask something a little more hermeneutical about fundamentalism, such as: What kinds of needs or reasons or socio-cultural meanings does fundamentalism tap in to or allow to be expressed that make it a popular choice in the contexts in which it is popular. Again, I am genealogical about these things. None-the-less, from a theological viewpoint, Sproul’s comment is interesting.

Derren Brown and Religious Studies

May 23, 2011

I am in the process of watching Derren Brown‘s new film Miracles For Sale. I have seen his earlier work, including another film on the subject of what we might call belief systems or religion, Messiah. Derren Brown is a mentalist and magician that is well-known in the UK, and is frequently critical of what he might call the more dubious practices within the realm of “religion” or “spirituality”. His film and tv show work on the subject typically uses the skills of mentalism to mimic the such phenomena as physic powers, faith healing and so forth.

His latest film’s premise is to take a “man off the streets” and train him to be a faith healer. The sensational climax is when this ‘faith healer’ “passes” as a faith healer in Dallas, Texas. Throughout the film Derren plays up the notion of faith healing as a scam and to “debunk it”, framing this as a moral issue of revealing scam artists.

You can see a clip here.

While Watching this film, it has come to me that this would be a perfect film to address to a 4th year or graduate seminar class about the nature of the discipline of Religious Studies. I would ask the students what is the first thing that comes to mind or what they might think about the show–framing their answers to be as if they were a response by a professional academic of Religious Studies. I predict a number of responses from students that I would take issue with. And I would want to fail them for all of these responses. (more…)

What do you believe?

November 11, 2010

A significant proportion of discursive debate comes down to two fundamental perspectives that people have about the world:

A. The exception proves the rule.
B. The exception disproves the rule.

If you believe A. then you can be accused of totalitarian, tyrannical rhetoric.

If you believe B. you can be accused of moral relativism.

Both of these positions are fundamental epistemic ways of experiencing the world around us, and their rebuttals fall within set strategies of discursive resistance. My question is, what makes both A and B possible? What other ways of approaching the world might there be?

The critical underpinings of everyday life

July 21, 2010

I’ve been recently reading about hermeneutics, in specific about Riceour and his interpretation of the Gadamer/Habermas debate found in “Hermeneutics and the Critique of Ideology”. It has made me imagine a new way of thinking of ideology and criticism that incorporates a potentially more robust understanding of the way people interpret the world around them. Keep in mind this is just a hypothesis, or a one-off insight that needs more thought, deliberation and research to reach more fruitful insight.

In short, it is to argue that with the onset of modernity, subjectivity has necessarily entered a critical mode of thought. My critique of the binary of modernity and tradition is comprehensive. These categories are purely ideological or conceptual. There is no modernity other than that which we give a name to and then act or think upon. There is no tradition anymore either, because of the power of the concept of modernity. The two concepts are now inextricably linked. Tradition no longer means the traditio of the Roman period. Tradition is always in critical dialogue with modernity. The two terms are tactics put into the play of discourse for people to construct the world in ways that suit their needs–and these terms are situated now as almost uniquely powerful tools for rhetorical sledgehammers to define reality in certain ways. These terms are, then, in many ways of thinking of the term, ideological. This is true even if we have different meanings of the terms modernity, tradition, and ideology.

That being said, we often have the “common sense” or even “critical” interpretive stance that those who we label conservative or traditionalists are not critical or self-reflexive about their own positions. This is what I would like to challenge. From a hermeneutic perspective, what we call “back-ward thinking” and “critical thought” are produced in subjects in very similar ways. Both are conditioned by upbringing, education, social norms, interpretive frameworks, etc. etc. The process by which subjects are constructed (or to be a little more nuanced, the process by which subjects take the available horizons of meaning to heart in their own self-constructions) are similar, it is rather that the varied inputs of biology, sociology, culture, education etc. on a subject differ for each in such a unique way as to produce very unique, contextually-dependent subjects who are nonetheless all undergoing similar processes of subject- and identity-formation. Whether one is born-again or a freethinker, one is inevitably shaped by one’s context and relates to and constructs oneself in/from that context in the same manner. (more…)

Religious Studies should be Ideology Studies

July 16, 2010

Caveat: I know the term ideology is quite loaded, and also has many expressions and meanings etc. etc. However, the most broad and non-judgemental meaning includes all the above. So that’s how I mean it here.

Caveat 2: this post is bitchy. and ranty. and nearly incoherent. But I gotta get it out! Maybe someone can translate for me in the comments.

So, I came across the video above at Sociological Images about David Harvey’s take on the economic crisis and blah blah. Interesting video and all that. At the end of the video, however, Harvey says we should be debate and discussing the issue and thinking differently and all that warm fuzzy stuff that makes critical thinkers think of rainbows.

My immediate reaction, however, was that nowhere is it more clear that ideology is afoot is when we think about economics and capitalism. While Marxists by no means have a monopoly on the term Ideology, they were a powerful voice in shaping what we mean by ideology. To be a jerk about it, this is how I think we tend to think about ideology today: everything you believe is ideology and what I believe is truth. (more…)