The World-Historical Institution of [REL], part 1 of 2

The presentation of ‘religion as a mode of existence’ that I’ve offered in various posts above remains close to the technical nomenclature of Latour’s own system. For some, this nomenclature is too technical, too self-referential, too meta-narratival… or maybe just too much. Are you fed up with [REL], [DC] and talk of ‘crossings’ yet? Perhaps you are. But the bigger problem is that such technical nomenclature runs the risk of abstraction.

Even to a casual observer, ‘abstraction’ is not a criticism to which Latour’s system should be vulnerable. It would be out of step with the very telos of a mode of existence which, as has been demonstrated above, is only meaningful insofar as it is constructed by agents operating within the pluralist ontological landscape of the common world.

So the question must be asked: what is the occurrence of [REL] in the world? Or, to put it another way, what is the world-historical institution of [REL]?

This is a very significant question. I’ll just lay out a few preliminary thoughts here and in a subsequent post.

With the question of the world-historical institution of [REL], a tension begins to play out within Latour’s account. For an initial response to this question would suggest that [REL] is found (virtually) nowhere in the world. The Religion of the Moderns, that is, the [DC:REL] crossing, has become ubiquitous. Or, to use the language of the Inquiry, the transmogrification of religion-as-subsistence into religion-as-substance has rendered [REL] almost impossible to detect and enunciate in the contemporary public space.

Latour frequently figures this situation in terms of the awkwardness of religious speech. Hence the title of his key work on [REL]: Rejoicing, or the Torments of Religious Speech. The emphasis on corrupted ‘speech’ should not be surprising to us: after all, both forms of religion have been characterised by their management of an original utterance (in the case of the Religion of the Moderns this management was enacted by the stale procedures of rationalization and derationalization; in the case of [REL] by the faithful innovation of reprise). The burden of Modernity, then, is that it has ‘turned the logos into a substance, one that moreover has the strange particularity of being endowed with speech to boot’ (Rejoicing, p.133). Latour has spoken of his own personal Catholic faith as being infected by this same burden. He finds that his prayers are ‘weighted with lead’ (Rejoicing, p.1). Although he regularly attends Mass, he finds himself incapable of describing ‘what I am doing there’ – even, he claims, to his own children (Latour, Thou Shallt Not Freeze-Frame, or How Not to Misunderstand the Science and Religion Debate, 2005, p.127). And when he does attempt to register his religious experience in words, the hegemony of the substance metaphysic within which he is required to operate renders his account quite literally ‘meaningless’ (Rejoicing, p.2). Latour’s own life bears witness to the drag exerted upon religious speech by Modernity.

In what space, then, might [REL] by articulated? It is at this point that the tension begins to arise. To begin with, Latour intimates that if [REL] is so dispersed, obscured or even absent in the world, then it will need to be intentionally activated in some way. And he categorises his own writing on religion as a vehicle of this activation. Thus, the stated aim of Rejoicing is that by its own textual activity it will achieve the ‘re-activation’ of reprise that is necessary in order to generate the value of presence (Rejoicing, p.128).[1] In addition, a number of his writings on religion unashamedly describe themselves as having sermonic form, in the sense that they metaphorically posit a congregation (readership) to whom, through the ministration of the Word (Latour’s own writing), an authentically religious experience is mediated. Thus, the value of being brought-into-presence is quite literally performed by the text, ‘today, as the hic et nunc, for you as listeners, composing now, because of my unusual manner speaking, a gathering of persons, those who receive the present of presence’ (Latour, Thou Shallt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain, 2001, p.226).

Claims like this expose Latour to the charge of pre-orientation. This would suggest that Latour’s achievement (whether he realises it or not) is in fact nothing more than the retrofitting of a religious experience that he himself has designated a priori as normative. As a consequence, in enunciating [REL], Latour is accused of merely providing a post-empirical and autobiographically delimited version of the religion of the Moderns, and not one that can be grounded world-historically. Terence Blake has articulated this point very clearly on his blog.

This charge of pre-orientation must be offset, however, by the increasingly tendency of Latour’s writing on [REL] to be framed in terms of the doctrines and traditions of the Christian religion. This tendency becomes particularly apparent in the Gifford Lectures which he delivered in 2013 and in his current book Face à Gaïa.

face

By means of this framing, Latour answers the accusation levelled above: rather than empirical abstraction (which opens him up to the charge of pre-orientation), his articulation of [REL] now begins to take the form of an apologetic for a specific world-historical institution.

However, at this point a new charge arises. This would proceed as follows. If [REL] is indeed a mode of existence, embodied in a universal experience (as shifted up from its empirical site) then it certainly must not correlate to a particular world-historical form. In closely identifying [REL] with a world-historical institution, is it not the case, then, that Latour has post-orientated it, delegating by means of a substance metaphysics (in this case, the doctrines and received forms of tradition given by Christianity), and not to as a process of subsistence?

Does Latour manage to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of these accusations?

In the next post, I will try to sketch out a route by which we might answer this question with a ‘yes, mabye’.

Reference

[1] It is very interesting that Latour elsewhere describes Rejoicing – his book on religion – as his most ‘scientific’!

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6 thoughts on “The World-Historical Institution of [REL], part 1 of 2

  1. “However, at this point a new charge arises. This would proceed as follows. If [REL] is indeed a mode of existence, embodied in a universal experience (as shifted up from its empirical site) then it certainly must not correlate to a particular world-historical form. In closely identifying [REL] with a world-historical institution, is it not the case, then, that Latour has post-orientated it, delegating by means of a substance metaphysics (in this case, the doctrines and received forms of tradition given by Christianity), and not to as a process of subsistence?”

    I think: Well each person comes from a particular tradition (or selects a tradition and is adopted there). What you describe Latour doing reminds me of these passages of P Riceur in his dicussion with Changeux in “What makes us think?”

    pg 268.” the idea of being preceded in one’s capacity for speech by the word of another is for me the point of origin, the point of departure, and , in the last resort, the ultimate source of religious authority”

    pg 270 “I am standing on the surface of a fragmented sphere at the point that lies between different religious areas: if I try to run along this surface-if I try to be eclectic- I will never reach a universal religion through syncretism; but if I go deeply enough into my tradition, I will go beyond the limits of my language. In moving toward what I call the fundamental -what others reach by other routes- I shorten the distance between myself and others along the dimension of depth. On the surface the distance separating us is immense; but if I dig down, I draw nearer to the other, who travles the same path.”

    In a way this is a test on [REL] that others (and not Latour) should validate. Does he owe a declaration of abandoning the tradition in which he was brought up (like Christof Koch or Michael Gazzaniga)? Is this not conformism to the extreem?
    Does it fit with the experience of other (modern) Catholics? What about those following different existential traditions: Do they feel that in the account given by the other modes there is a gap left? A gap having to do with presence in the world, with becoming persons? How do they feel this gap, they that are not preceded by a Catholic lineage ? Does it lead them to think a mode of existence been present there? Do they feel the urgent need for another mode? Is this mode similar to the account given by Latour (standing on his personal history)?

    Moreover [REL] is on the one side part of an anthropology of the moderns (so “informants” one would say should be moderns ) and on the other side an experiment in comparative anthropology so non-moderns and semi-moderns might have a say.

    Finally the core of religiosity is politically important at this point of new immigrants comming to EU. Would it ever be acceptable to a modern european that these orientals (among which there are some brought forth as particularly misbehaving) might have a deeper understanding of a fundamental mode of existence than herself? That they may have still a sensitivity that she has left uncultivated?

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    1. “Would it ever be acceptable to a modern european that these orientals (among which there are some brought forth as particularly misbehaving) might have a deeper understanding of a fundamental mode of existence than herself?” Spot on. This is exactly where a deterritorialised religion (= REL?] begins to make a contribution.

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  2. this is getting to much of the protest of my last comment so I’ll be interested to see how you defend Bruno’s stance that this isn’t about projecting his ideal preferences.
    So far I’m still left wishing he had stuck to the kind of ANT/STS fieldwork that ethnographers like Tanya Marie Luhrmann have been doing on metanoia and such.
    have you read any of Caputo’s work on the event-uality of Christian happenings/experiences?
    http://syntheticzero.net/2015/09/11/event-uality-after-the-death-of-god-john-d-caputo/

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  3. I thought, let me work like an informant (with respect to [REL] in Orthodox Christianity). I am not a good informant due to my life history and my lack of relevant studies but I’ll do the best I can.
    Greek Orthodox Christianity met modernism in a massive way after the French Revolution (and I think that till now for most of our secular intellectuals the French Revolution or the Enlightenment before it is THE LIGHT- something that I think does not hold true in the Anglosaxonic world). By our times one can see trends like the following: a) those who keep only whatever useful morality they can find in it b) those who enjoy the theatrical aspect of it as comfort for the human condition c) those that are very hostile to modernity but one feels that they themselves (this is my interpretation) are really influenced by the spirit of modernity as far as their self goes d) those who try to “modernize” the old faith somehow combining the old and the new (the kind that fights “superstition”) and e) those who are between tradition and modernity in somehow experimental ways but keeping close touch with tradition. This is how it seems to me
    Now I will see things from the point of view of e) I think. Here is a video of an older guy (whom I know) speaking about a recently canonized saint (whom he has met on occasions)
    http://www.pemptousia.gr/video/prosopika-viomata-ke-empiries-apo-ti-gnorimia-mou-me-ton-osio-porfirio/
    This is in Greek (I think that the same is a problem if one would search for similar sources among other religious traditions: the most interesting sources are probably in local languages). In our case I hope this is not a severe problem since Greeks are handy in many places in the world (we have a big Diaspora)
    So as I hear the speaker there are times that he sounds very close to Latour and times that I think there are some , let us say, diversions.
    An example of proximity . At the 5th minute of the video the speaker uses a similar terminology with Latour “Like two people in love. If one asks:Why do you love me? They cannot answer why they love each other”

    Some different themes I see in this talk
    a) the theme of humility. In the presence of saints says the speaker the main feeling I had was that of humility (like brought to tears by the sense of humility). So the saint does not speak in words but there is here a presence (which may talk in gestures? otherwise?) that brings ME in a state of humility (I am the recipient which is different from [MET]). Do I thus become a person?
    b) the theme of love towards Christ. (Actually I thought of what Christ says before the Lord’s prayer: do not say much because the Father knows what you need. This Father is a person not a power). The saint brings forth the love towards Christ (Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity). The speaker in the video used also the example of the two lovers but he then speaks about being in love with God. “Our relation with Christ is ερωτική. It is not λογική (reasonable)” We say that God is person (I know that one may ask: what is empirically different between meeting a person and meeting a power or a cosmic law? If my experience of my self is the basis for what a “person” means, how many meanings/forms may this experience have? I guess one deals with them if one is an intellectual . Otherwise he/she deals with these questions practically through life). Moreover we have a saying: “Did you see your brother? you saw the Lord your God.”
    c) the connection between crucifiction and resurection. [REL] is very strong on the relevatory. But Latour himself comes into speaking as he does out of turmoil (jn Rejoicing). He has to feel the impass to arrive to the feeling of [REL]. It sounds as if one could have this purely salvatory feeling if just one would tune well. The feeling I get from my tradition is not this. It is through impasses that breakthroughs happen. And these impasses are felt in a very intense way and being relieved is felt as a personal meeting

    (there might be other issues too but at the point I do not have a good connection so I cannot hear the whole talk. )

    However I feel that AIME as a “training field in articulation” is a hand of help towards traditions (like mine) battered by the self righteousness of modernity and the image of the “natural world” as the supposedly “dead rock of certainty” in which everything must be projectable in order to be real.

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