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- Jour Fixe: "Of Sacraments, Sacramentals and Anthropology:...
Jour Fixe: "Of Sacraments, Sacramentals and Anthropology: Is Anthropological Explanation a Form of Sacramentalism?"
Of Sacraments, Sacramentals and Anthropology: Is Anthropological Explanation a form of Sacramentalism?
Abstract: This lecture will attempt to argue that what is usually called a cultural misunderstanding of biomedical disease categories may be construed as a biomedical and anthropological misunderstanding of cultural categories. This is premised on the fact that anthropology often functions as an intimate double and handmaiden of biomedicine, in so far it refuses to countenance the possibility of theurgic aetiologies in the realm of what is called ‘mental illness’. Perhaps the best way to elucidate this is to do an anthropology of Euro-American biomedicine and anthropology. Such an anthropology would argue that the unexamined religious beliefs of Anglo-European anthropology are the terra firma from which the tacit and emic categories that inform their explanatory moves arise.
The argument is that biomedicine in pathologising and reducing a category like ‘possession’ to ‘mental illness’, and anthropology by displacing native explanations of the divine or the demonic to human and social causes, together offer physical rather than meta-physical explanations, and argue for efficacy based on collective or individual human actions and beliefs rather than divine agency.
The lecture will proceed to demonstrate that while native explanations are akin to the sacraments, anthropological explanations are a form of sacramentalism. If the sacraments, like divine agency, operate ex opere operato, then the sacramentals are wholly dependent on the disposition of the recipient and on the good offices of the church, as they operate ex opere operantis Ecclesiae (i.e. from the work of the working Church), as well as ex opere operantis (i.e. from the work of the working one). While the sacraments are efficacious as it is work done by Christ alone, and akin to work done by the possessing agent (blasphemous from a Christian point of view), sacramentals are efficacious as they are dependent on the disposition of the recipients and the good offices of the person dispensing the sacramental. In other words, anthropological explanations are officially a form of sacramentalism, though many anthropologists may privately believe in the power of the sacrament, which may be occasionally gleaned from the preface of their works, from personal conversation, or more rarely from the very body of the text. Or, to put it differently, they are good Zwinglians officially, while privately they may behave like Calvinists, Lutherans or Catholics; or sometimes even like natives.
Bio: Harish Naraindas is professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University and adjunct professor at the University of Iowa. Among his recent publications are two co-edited books: Healing Holidays: Itinerant Patients, Therapeutic Locales and the Quest for Health, London: Routledge 2015; and Asymmetrical Conversations: Contestations, Circumventions and the Blurring of Therapeutic Boundaries, New York: Berghahn, 2014. He is currently working on past-life aetiologies and therapeutic trance in German psychosomatic medicine, a cross-cultural study of perinatal death, personhood, and modes of memorialising perinatal loss, and a comparative study of well-being in India and Switzerland.