The Sacred is the Profane

The other day I was looking at UVA’s podcast, now with several episodes (give it a listen), and couldn’t help but notice a nice example of a theoretical and methodological fracture point in the field, one which likely prompts people to pick a side when doing their work.

For although I agree that “the sacred is the profane,” Bill Arnal and I didn’t quite have this sense of the phrase in mind when picking a title for a set of essays that we collected together and published a few years ago. Continue reading

What if Harry Potter is Sacred?

boywholivedcroppedWhen we label something “sacred,” that designation often changes how we engage it. Discussing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a sacred text, the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text illustrates this engagement and the ways readers interpret from their own experiences. Both hosts in this podcast have a particular interest in the category of the sacred. Vanessa Zoltan is a Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, and Casper ter Kuile is studying to minister to those who identify as non-religious. Continue reading

Should Sunday Schools Be Registered with the Government?

schoolclassThe head of the British government’s Ofsted — the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills — Sir Michael Wilshaw, was on the radio the other day, discussing a variety of things that scholars of religion might find interesting. Continue reading

Made Sacred Through Branding

Script A ManlyWhat makes the “Capstone A” (central on the banners outside Manly Hall in my photo above) special? What makes people associate it with the University of Alabama? It is not something inherent in the font or colors that gives it a different significance from any other uppercase A. It has been a long-term, extremely successful effort at branding by the University of Alabama, and especially its athletic programs, that give the symbol a generally positive, sometimes passionate, association with the University. To keep that significance as something set apart, the university restricts the use of this trademarked A. Outside companies, and even departments and organizations on campus, must go through an approval process to put the A (or any university symbol) on a t-shirt or mug, for example. For people outside the university, that process requires buying a license to use it, as the local bakery featured in this recent Marketplace story had to do. Continue reading

The World is a Funny Place

eliadeAs I remarked to someone on Facebook some years ago, all it takes is a slight tweak in some of our cherished texts in the study of religion to make plain how problematic the work actually is — i.e., how deeply embedded the argument is in a set of presumptions about the world that likely need to be examined instead of simply assumed.

Case in point: consider replacing the words “sacred” and “profane” as follows in this famous passage:

If we should attempt to summarize the result of the descriptions that have been presented in this chapter, we could say that the experience of funny space makes possible the “founding of the world”: where the funny manifests itself in space, the real unveils itself, the world comes into existence. But the irruption of the funny does not only project a fixed point into the formless fluidity of humorless space, a center into chaos; it also effects a break in plane, that is, it opens communication between the cosmic planes (between earth and heaven) and makes possible ontological passage from one mode of being to another. It is such a break in the heterogeneity of humorless space that creates the center through which communication with the trans-serious is established, that, consequently, founds the world, for the center renders orientation possible. Hence the manifestation of the funny in space has a cosmological valence; every spatial asteiophany [Greek asteios, funny] or humorification of a space is equivalent to a cosmogony. The first conclusion we might draw would be: the world becomes apprehensible as world, as cosmos, in the measure in which it reveals itself as a funny world.

Source: Mircea Eliade, Chapter 2 of The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1959).

The Eternal Return All Over Again

Picture 8I wrote a post recently in which I critiqued a new book by Brent Plate, saying it (along with other developments in the field, such as the turn toward so-called embodied or lived religion) was evidence that the work of Eliade was still representative of the field, no matter how much distance some may claim separates us today from when he first wrote many of his now famous studies in the history of religions (that is, back in the 1950s). I was lucky enough to have Brent comment on the post and a brief back-and-forth resulted, during which he posted the following comment:

I may be an unwitting Eliadean. So be it.

Continue reading

If You Believe…

Picture 6Irving Rosenfeld: I got a knife, alright? This is for the mayor.
[he shows the knife to Paco]
Irving Rosenfeld: You gotta present it to the mayor.
[Paco goes to take the knife but Irving pulls it back]
Irving Rosenfeld: Just look at me, alright? Look me in the eye. This means a lot to you. Right? That knife.
Paco Hernandez: Oh.
Irving Rosenfeld: Play it. You present it, alright? Friendship for life. Alright? You gotta feel it.
Paco Hernandez: Right.
Irving Rosenfeld: It’s sacred. Can you do it?
Paco Hernandez: Sacred.
Irving Rosenfeld: You gotta sell it.
Paco Hernandez: Sacred.
Irving Rosenfeld: You gotta sell it.
Richie DiMaso: Sell it.
Irving Rosenfeld: If you believe it’s sacred, it’s sacred.

Scene from “American Hustle” (2013)

Scene from “Peter Pan” with Mary Martin (1960)

George teaching Jerry to lie — and get away with it.