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My Notes taken in Robert Bellah’s 1996 Lectures on the Sociology of Religion, Spring Semester

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January 30th. I missed this lecture.

February 1, 1996

The point when religious structures were distinguished from social ones is important. Formerly religion was a whole way of life. It is in a late development that religion becomes a restricted sphere.

Bodily actions are central to religion at every stage, as well as materiality in the sacraments. The notion that art, music, poetry is other than religious is quite recent.

Narrative mode of expression stands in contrast to logical or experimental demonstration, which has more prestige in our society. But here in the social sciences the latter are more ambiguous. For example, narrative is necessary at the center of history for it to be able to understand itself.

Myth stands in contrast to how it really is. The former has no concern for when or whether it happened. Saga, however, has rooting in historical experience.  In oral history the meaning of its accounts were shaped by the concerns of later historical elements. It is a huge project to try to isolate the historic elements in the Bible. But Judaism is a historic, not an archaic religion. The Bible does not contain myth, but saga, with mythical elements. The Bible is not tribal (i.e., primitive). They believe it happened.

Facis [from the Latin facio?] points to a fact, a made thing.

Facis points to fiction, a made thing.

But history is also a made thing.

History, at least in a book, also has a plot. Historians want to tell how it actually was, but that is hubris. History is narrative.

Q. (Moving up in the chart gets you into B-cognition.) [See post with Bellah’s first two lectures.]

Anecdote: Bellah was at the Princeton House of Studies and had an opportunity to experience some of the world’s greatest mathematicians and physicists. They are not into the everyday realities of life. Their wives had to come to the door in order to get them and take them home. Music reached them the way normal human interaction could not. This also shows the interrelationship of math and music.

A question arose whether or not Genesis did not have to be considered a myth. What Mid-eastern myth starts off with God? For a very long time Genesis was considered history. The stories were not perceived as myth, and they were not meant to be myths. The stories were at odds with myths and intended as critique of myths. But they have mythical elements.

Q. If our faith and religion are restricted in our society, and every society is inescapably religious, then what is the real religion of our society?[1] Every society has a faith, has a religion, and it can be called humanistic rationalism (The Right is not crazy.) or civil religion. You can’t get rid of it even if you don’t like it. You can only reform it.

A Buddhist apprentice, Ishida Baigan, (Ishida is his family name), practiced meditation.  While nursing his mother, he opened the door, the doubt of his former life scattered, fish swam in the water, birds flew in the air, everything is natural and he rejoiced. He related his experience to his teacher who was not satisfied, because the I remains. There must be nature without the I. In other words the element of subjectivity must be overcome. Then he experienced the serenity of the great sea and the cloudless sky and their distinction disappeared.

It can be the cry of a sparrow, something radically unexpected that wakes you up. Get the self out of the experience. In his second experience, the objective reality is in the forefront, and in the first it was his subjective interpretation. He was a single individual to the point of his second experience.

What he experienced can also be a group experience. It was primarily originally collective, a collective effervescent experience, which is the experience of a different and deeper reality. When the general effervescence is increasing, the group is dominated and carried away by an external power, in which a person does not recognize himself. The Greek word is ec stasis, to stand outside oneself, i.e., to become a new being. A mask is put on the face, and all the companions feel transformed in some way. An environment of exceptionally intense force metamorphosizes them. The language they use is close to that of being born again. The force takes people out of themselves and reveals to them another reality. Not the world that drags along is here, but the sacred power of reality itself. These are unitive events – like experienced in Pentecostalism. The I is gone, who is experiencing is gone; there is no subjectivity nor objectivity but Reality.

There is of course a “hard-wiring” potential for shifts of consciousness. But there is no cheap grace. Drunkenness or drugs will not do. You cannot get it out of a bottle. Because there is no religious atmosphere, you do not get into the B-consciousness.

Jean Piaget[2]

Children first see objects as extensions of their bodies. Early experiences are lived rather than thought, or thinking is living at that stage. But gradually, Piaget notes, for the child to hold in the mind without holding in the hand is an achievement. This is the grasp. (J. Brunner) Representation can be put to the guidance of action itself. Even after action-free imagery has developed, the child needs to do what it is talking about. This is enactive representation. We can give a verbal instruction of how to tie a knot. But it is not learned until it becomes a body motor, sensory-motor habit. It becomes an embodied recipe for certain kinds of actions. Only in this sense can we speak of representations.

The seeing becomes important, but centered on the face relating to holding, feeding, warming and comforting. Seeing is embedded in global human relation.

Religion is always in part bodily. But this brings one problem: we can get sick because of our bodies. Religion has an important role here. Sabaton is rooted in bodily health.[3]

Birth and death are almost always central for religious systems. There is the importance of the rhythm of bodily motion. Concerted physical movements can induce B-cognition. Things can be thought out or danced out. Dancing can be a highly complex and highly intelligent form of activity. But it is embodied. Meditation is an extremely refined use of the body. (Note that the word “use” is very problematic here.) But it is sitting. The pain in the knees kill you. That painful sensation gets better, long devotees report, but it never completely goes away. Breathing is an important form of religious action.

W. B. Yeats wrote an example of enactive representation about six days before his death in 1950?

I know for certain my time will not be long.

I am happy and full of energy.

Man can embody truth, but he cannot know it.

I must embody it in the completion of my life.

Our culture makes knowing anti-physical. If I can’t embody it, if I know it just mentally, it is not there. Christianity rests its truth on the Incarnation, on the embodied truth.

A question was asked concerning the enactive mode of representation. We cannot do without the world of working. A degree of means-ends thinking is pretty essential to avoid catastrophe. If we remain in the unitive state then we are always looking up, and then we fall into a hole.

Here we are making an analogy between the development from childhood to adulthood and the evolution from primitive social fusion to a higher differentiation as society.

To think with a pencil in hand is one thing.

To think without a pencil in hand is an achievement.

To think with a pencil in hand is another achievement again.

A symbol means all kinds of things.  Rockets all over the map.

Some mean the conceptual by it. But Piaget means things rooted in something separate from the body. Piaget speaks of being with a child beside a cathedral in which the bells began ringing with a deafening noise. In his office, the child makes a lot of noise next to his desk. “You are bothering me.” He says to the child.

“You can’t bother me. I am the church.” Piaget noticed that the child was enacting the bell from the church.

When the child starts becoming loose from the enactive stage the game Peek-a-boo becomes its favorite. The deep structure of Peek-a-boo is controlled disappearance and reappearance of a face or object. Children are fascinated with the game. It is preverbal. When played by the mother or with a familiar face the child responds with laughter. But with a stranger it collapses into tears. The game plays with its deepest fears, those of being left. It brings the child to the edge of terror. But it has a ritual delight. There is the loss of the care giver, or loss of object and return. It is a rousing of anxiety and allaying it, also not unknown to religion.

Paul Ricoeur holds that religious symbolism is the central point of religious representation. Subjectivity and objectivity are not radically separate. Both are going on in the representation of a child and in religion. There is regression and progression, double regression and return to discovery. We have the surveyor, staff, and guide, cosmos and psyche, and the great hierophanies. There are great symbols that reveal the sacred: light, water, sun, iconic symbols. The little girl as the church. Images are full of muscles and they do not only affect the brain, but induce enactment.

When a child is first given a crayon it first begins with a random scribble, which is an enactive symbol. It has pleasure in the movement. The hand, line, crayon are all fused. The child is not making a picture, above all not about something. The child is the picture. The paintings of Jackson Pollack are of an adult who is two years old.

Then the child discovers shape, which is more than just an extension of the body. Then at three to four years of age it can draw more clearly bounded shapes like circles and squares. Adults with a strong difference between themselves and the world want the picture to be about something. There is a bounded form in the emerging self.

Mandela, rose window

With a central cross

There is a sense of order in both the self and the world. A drawing can be of a sun or a flower.

Then at four or five children are capable of drawing people identifiably. Then the drawing gets a face – and it is me – or the sun? a flower?  Me?

There are resonances

between the self and the world.

Rhoda Kellog and Scott O’ Dell in the Psychology of Children show that if a child is pushed to representation then it collapses, and then it becomes tedious and bored with the exercises.

Music. If images are full of muscles, then rhythms are characterized by bodily life. Music reaches right into the body. Although the mathematicians and physicists at Princeton were so disembodied, the music could reach them. At a concert the audience should not sit there like a stone. They were playing Vivaldi and Bach and all the musicians were moving, and the audience should too. Otto Klemper, who sat beside Bellah, could not keep still. Music is embodied. It comes out of enactment and goes back into it. Singing is enactment. It is body. To many worshipers, singing is the most important thing in the service.

In many pre-modern conditions music was a more central phenomenon in terms of how cosmic and personal reality came together. Pythagoras discovered that the scale had seven notes, and the planets moved in a musical progression. He heard the music of the spheres, which was an expression of the order of the cosmos. Singing is not just a form of self expression, but one is bringing oneself into harmony with the sounds and rhythms of the cosmos. Confucius takes music to relate to the inner rhythm of Tao and the state of the moral consciousness of people. He visited a number of small states in China. If he heard licentious music there, he said: This state cannot last long.


[1]This is another of my questions.

[2]Bellah is most likely referring to J. Piaget, The Child’s Conception of the World, or Judgement and Reasoning in the Child. A child’s conception of the world provides a recapitulation for the unitive event in religion developing into the mature conceptual stage of adults as well as religions.

[3] Note: Is Sabaton a Swedish sauna? It names a band. It can also be medieval foot and toe armor. I missed the reference and connection here.

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Written by peterkrey

August 17, 2010 at 8:36 pm

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