First you don't see, then you do, then it's gone
In 2017, I walked a lonely 300 miles along the Camino Portuguese Interior to Santiago de Compostella. I then took a bus back into Portugal to walk from Fatima to Tomar (34 km) a trail through wilderness that always seemed to lose me. I celebrated 60 in 2015 by taking on the 500 miles of the Camino Frances. But the story begins in 2012, when Victoria and I found this "espiritu" tapestry on a rainy Sunday along the Camino Ingles. We'd stopped at Iglesia de Santa Maria, encircled with flowers. Was this a wedding? A brusque blond doña drove up, nodded to us, and unlocked the ancient church doors. The sanctuary was full of Santa Marias. It was the Feast of Christ the King Sunday, so she led us over a small foot bridge and into Paradiso. Dazed, we followed the wet floral trail up and down cobbled stone streets.
As quickly as Paradise opened, she closed off to us. We turned right and met the hard concrete wall of an overpass.
As quickly as Paradise opened, she closed off to us. We turned right and met the hard concrete wall of an overpass.
Tracking the unseen
Loboc Cathedral's blue door, Bohol, Philippines 2003
“Gods and spirits,” Chakrabarty reminds us “are not dependent on human beliefs for their existence; what gives them presence are our practices” (2000, 12). Not our beliefs, our practices. We enter here into the domain of experience, of a turn from epistemology (belief) to ontological (the practice of being). I've been ruminating about Chakrabarty's subaltern argument in Provincializing Europe. How to shift provinces, shall we say.
This is not an intellectual project for me but a struggle to integrate my own worlds into one.
I will address how certain communities interact with the invisible realms and offer different contours to being and knowing (that gods appear on trees, statues call out in dreams, objects can protect). One must consider new epistemologies of the south, critiques of Western forms of knowing. And for us who visit these places and then return to our comforts, how do we map those conversions, the ‘shock of encounter’ (Goulet 2007) with these knowledge systems that produce in us more elasticity with the boundaries of our 'real'.
My study considers conflict and disaster imaginaries where interchange between visible and invisible worlds is a necessary aspect of the cosmic order.
I argue in Invisible Aid that when periods of violent upheaval and catastrophe traumatize relations among humans, non-humans (spirits, ghosts, statues, animals) and landscapes, these assemblages of multiple ontologies seek solace and information from each other. My project considers phantasmic interventions through apparition, dreams, statues, or amulets in several potential communities. It is not intended to be a comprehensive ethnography. Rather, I embark on a journey through various communities' imaginaries to consider how attention to religious lifeworlds affects the practices of peacemaking. There is surprisingly little attention to this in the field of "integrated" or "strategic" religious peacebuilding.
So, I'm ruminating on all this...
- What does the "immaterial" mean in the 21st century? What are the new politics of the material?
- Can we re-map the divide between dream and "alert" life so that pathways between time-spaces are not closed off? And if so, what are the implications of this?
- What does it mean to reassembly the social, and to consider a "multinaturalist" perspective of a world?
- How do we learn to learn a new way of being in the world? What is a recursive epistemology?
- What is a new orientation to exploring the "supernatural"? What are the ethical issues? Whose experiences qualify?
Under Ruminating, I will investigate ontologies, being qua being. I start with Aquinas and the immaterial, consider metamorphosis, and how to use the imagination to investigate the social imaginary (Castoriadis 1998, 1999; Taylor 2007, 2003; Kearney 2004, 1984; ). How do we reassemble the social so that dolls take vacations and statues counsel humans. How do we learn new ways to learn, such as Bateson's recursive epistemologies (1988). What theorists help us to navigate an ecosphere populated with "overlapping ontologies" of multiple persons (not all human). What does this mean when subjugated knowers speak, what kind of world is possible?
In Dream Matters, I embark on dream encounters and enchantments (Warner 2006). These encounters need a poetics. De Certeau in The Mystic Fable: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries referred to a juncture where ineffable experience (mysticism) became the basis of new forms of knowledge of God in contest with scholastic treatises. Are we at a new juncture in which science and religion form new alliances, where porous beings are at play with the internet of things. What is imaginary, what is the speculative real?
What's at stake? What difference does this make in conflict zones?
We need to take seriously the case of spirits, gods, and ghosts as social actors in conflict zones (Chakrabarty 2000), particularly in communities that are marginal and powerless.
The field of religion and peacebuilding emerged in the late 1990’s (Appleby 1999) and has clustered around clear themes: interfaith dialogue (Smock 2002), just peacemaking (Stassen 2008), theological sources of peace (i.e. Abu-Nimer 2003), faith-based diplomacy (Johnson 2003), forgiveness and reconciliation (Hemlick and Petersen, 2002) and transitional justice (Philpot 2006). Noting the danger of neglecting religion in the Israel-Palestine conflict Gopin (2000) argues that shared mythic sources is key to bridging the conflict. I press Gopin’s argument further to argue we must also consider powerful role of supernatural intervention in conflict zones. Renee Girard and Juergensmeyer have theorized about the unique nature of religious violence. Juergensmeyer (2003) argues that the cosmic apocalyptic wars of Abrahamic religions have justified extremist militancy and martyrdom. In other words, these current wars are conducted simultaneously on earth and in heaven. The phantasmic realm is mediated through amulets, mythic texts, non-human creatures (jinn, the spirit, angels, ghosts) and non-rational epistemologies (dreams, apparitions, and signs). This is particularly relevant in dangerous spaces that require supernatural protection and intervention in material politics. For an "on earth as it is in heaven" mindset, how is heaven affected by the suffering on earth, how does it assist those who suffer?
I’ve worked with Southeast Asian refugees since the late 1970’s and then studied post conflict reconstruction after Cambodia’s 1992 Peace Accords. Since 2005, I’ve taught and developed curriculum in an intensive, applied conflict transformation MA program in Phnom Penh. The Applied Conflict Transformation Studies program (ACTS) draws practitioners from peacebuilding programs throughout the region (Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, Philippines). These peacebuilding programs are often based in faith-based INGOs such as World Vision, the Quakers, Caritas and Catholic Relief Services, though there are local ngos that are Buddhist or Muslim.
Peacebuilding NGOs are driven by donors who have pressed to show measurable results, not an easy task in the field of peacebuilding. Indeed, Lederach in The Moral Imagination acknowledges the messy, inspired, and indeterminate ways that conflicts often are resolved. Because of this, staff aren’t often encouraged to reflect on more “soft” problems of the conflict -- the cultural, psychological and religious dimensions of the social problems they are called upon to solve.
Embarking on an ‘anthropology of the imagination” my current work takes seriously the social imaginary of communities who seek out the invisible world for guidance, protection and solace. I focus particularly on subject's narratives of dreams and visions in “undreamy times” (Mittermaier 2010), and how they employ technologies of protection.
My first site (Cambodia) considers the role of epiphany dreams during and after revolutionary conflict. In the cases of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Francis, the figures appeared in the dreams of Khmer Buddhists and Roman Catholic Vietnamese settlers, communities in tension. The rescues served as bridge between the two faith communities. I conjecture that the means of recovery of these statues as well as the statue’s return are understood by the believing communities as the healing of a phantasmic imaginary (both Khmer and Vietnamese).
Mexican farmworkers in Watsonville: Virgin apparition at Pinto Lake and Santa Muerte
Arbitrary amulets of US vets in Afghanistan and Iraq
Muslim refugee technologies of protection (jinn and the evil eye in America)
Appleby, Scott. The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers,1999.
Abu-Nimer, Mohammed. Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam: Theory and Practice, University Press of Florida, 2003
Bateson, Gregory and Bateson, Mary Catherine. Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred, Bantam, 1988
Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010
____________The Enchantment of Modernity: Crossings ,Energetics, and Ethics, Princeton University Press, 2001
Castoriadis, Cornelius. The Imaginary Institution of Society. MIT Press, Cambridge 1998
___________World In Fragments. Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA 1999
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000
de Certeau, Michel, The Mystic Fable: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995
Girard, Rene. Violence and the Sacred, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979
Gopin, Marc. Between Eden and Armageddon: The Future of World Religion, Violence, and Peacebuilding. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000
Hang, Chan Sophea. Stec Gamlan and Yay Deb: Worshipping Kings and Queens in Cambodia Today. In History, Buddhism and new religious movements in Cambodia, Eds John Marston and Elizabeth Guthrie, University of Hawaii Press, 2004, 113-126
Gordon, Avery. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Social Imagination, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997
Goulet, Jean-Guy and Miller, Granville. Eds. Extraordinary Anthropology: Transformations in the Field, University of Nebraska Press; 2007
Hemlick, Raymond and Rodney Peterson. Eds. Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy, & Conflict Transformation. Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2002
Johnston, Douglas. Ed. Faith-based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003
Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003
Kearney, Richard. The Wake of the Imagination: Ideas of Creativity in Western Culture, Routledge, London and New York, 2004
_____________Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers: The Phenomenological Heritage – Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1984
Lederach, John Paul. The Moral Imagination, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005
Mittermaier, Amira. Dreams that Matter, Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010
Orsi, Robert. Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them. Princeton: Princeton University Press: 2004.
Philpott, Daniel. ed. The Politics of Past Evil: Religion, Reconciliation, and the Dilemmas of Transitional Justice, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006
Smock, David. Ed. Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding. Washington.DC: US Institute of Peace, 2002
Stassen, Glen. Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War. Pilgrim Press, 2008
Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age, Boston: Harvard University Press, 2007
____________Modern Social Imaginaries, Durham, NC:Duke University Press, 2003
Warner, Marina. Phantasmagoria Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-first Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006