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Religion Notes

History Notes > Disciplines of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Notes

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Dr Matthew Grimley

! Diversity of the meaning of being religious

~ Means different things according to place, culture and class
~ Differs within religions

~ Outward conformity and subscription to doctrines

~ Some allow conversion -- others restrict membership to a particular group

~ Individual piety

~ Collective worship

~ Individual priest v. collective equality
! 50 years ago -- Church History or Ecclesiastical History

~ History of the Christian Church
! Religious History is now something much broader than that -- comparative religion

~ Mass migration after WW2 -- much more aware of other religious traditions
! Move away from institutions towards a more individual experience

~ Movement towards religion from below -- social history

~ Ordinary religious experience
Link with other disciplines e.g. gender -- female piety
! Global modern events can make people think about the intersection between religion
and politics
! Move away from materialist explanations towards thinking about the importance of

~ Revival of intellectual history -- history of ideas
! Desire to reconstruct the mental world of believers

~ Can be very difficult
Cannot infer religious commitment from church attendance statistics
! Difficult connection between external and internal
! Can find out what public authorities say about what people believed -- yet they have their
own agendas

~ Victorian parson would often denounce the godlessness of society --
overemphasising heterodoxy?
! Problem about the types of question that people are asking

~ Charles Booth found quite high levels of irreligion -- yet he only really talks to men

about religious experience
! Some historians have tried to use oral history to ascertain what people believe

~ Have to carefully ask questions -- may impose own categories and answers upon

the interviewee

~ Belief is a private issue

~ May say what they think you want to hear
! Can read between the lines e.g. words used in wills

~ Yet language may be purely formulaic and we do not know who drafted


~ Tell us more about individual belief or official ones of lawyer or parson
Can look at records for prosecution of heresy

~ Judges may be imposing their own categories

~ May not be typical

! Other forms of source -- material culture such as devotional works, religious art, statues,
amulets etc.
! Influence of anthropology -- can look at ritual

~ Public rituals such as pilgrimages, saints cults etc.

~ Private such as prayers


! Trying to explain why people are religious is very complicated






~ Conformity
~ Upbringing
~ Solace
~ Life after death
~ Religious experience
Cannot be mono--causal -- this is where Marxism is deficient
Have to allow for the human propensity to believe contradictory things at the same time
~ 1871 Paris Commune -- revolutionary said he was an atheist but believed in the
Virgin Mary -- attempted to recover mentalities of 16th and 17th century people
~ Found 5 types -- yet these may overlap and others may not fit in them at all
Have been influenced by power
~ Complexity of religious power relationships
By stigmatising some forms of religion as deviant some groups have become
~ Witchcraft
~ Minorities
~ Moore -- heresy was an invention of the medieval church as a means of cementing
its authority

~ Yet this does not mean that there were not some heretics who defined
themselves as such -- fault in Moore's argument
British categorised Hinduism in 19th century India

! It is not just elites who can derive power from religion
! Women in 19th century Europe who saw visions e.g. Marpingen, sisters of Fatima and
Bernadette of Lourdes

~ Marginal and poor women see visions and acquire power -- issue for Catholic
clerical authorities
! Subversive phenomenon

~ Threat to a male clerical hierarchy

~ Claiming to be mediators with God -- removing the need for clergy?
! In most cases they try to give official sanction and bring the cult under their authority
! Complex power relationship in religion -- not just the authorities
! Medieval saints cults -- in some cases the Catholic Church had no choice but to accept
! 2 way power relationship can also be seen in the colonial context

~ Missionaries projected their own religions on those people they were trying to

convert -- can change elements of Christianity e.g. ancestry worship can lead to

emphasis on saints' cults

~ Might play down other doctrines -- in parts of Africa they may give less

emphasis to monogamy
! Religions are not monolithic -- are not unchanging


~ Can be changed by other circumstances

Labelling religion
! Linguistic turn -- think more carefully about the language that we are using
! Language such as heresy, superstition and religion -- what do these categories mean?
! Reynolds -- 'words like superstition and sorcery belong to polemic rather than analysis'
! Williams -- argues that you cannot talk about superstition

~ Must think about popular and folk religion as part of religion

~ Superstition can also be part of a tradition
! Need to avoid pigeonholes
! Another issue is that of binary opposition or artificial periodisation

~ Issue of temporal chunks e.g. the Reformation, the Enlightenment
Enlightenment -- contested idea of explosion of religious heterodoxy

~ Are different enlightenments that do not involve renunciation of traditions
! MacCulloch -- cannot have binary distinction between the Reformation and the Counter

~ Better to think of the Reformation as religious reform in many different religious

! Another false distinction is between pre--industrial societies as religious and industrial,
modern societies as irreligious

~ Long tradition of irreligion in rural areas prior to industrialisation

~ Religion can survive in urban areas after industrialisation

~ McLeod -- cannot generalise about cities

~ Obelkevich -- in Lincolnshire people have not been going to church for



! Other labels such as reform movements, tolerance, heresy, fundamentalism,
millenarianism etc.

~ Can mean very different things

~ Conversion can be individual or widespread, voluntary or forced, long--term or

short term

~ Tolerance -- rough tolerance in agreement not to have violence or more
formalised ideas of toleration as seen in places such as the Dutch Republic
! Must be careful not to impose religious explanations from one religion onto another

~ Fundamentalism is specifically used to describe certain forms of 19th century

Protestant religion, particularly in America

~ Being a Muslim fundamentalist is different -- emphasis on other aspects
! Part of the process of making historical comparisons is discerning whether we are
talking about the same phenomenon over different periods or whether the words mean
different things


! Religious history has been transformed in recent years -- subjectivity, selcood, gender,
theories of power, linguistic turn etc.
! Should not think about religion using blocks and inappropriate categories

Gender and Religion Lecture


! Much work done in the last 30 years
! Women are often seen as utterly repressed by religion -- patriarchal system
*> Eve and original sin
There is a fundamentally paradoxical relationship between women and religion
*> Spiritual messages in religion -- saints and God's love => women have often
found these messages very empowering
! Spiritual equality which a supernatural recognises


! Physicality or materiality
! Written sources are thought to be supreme
! Yet in most societies, cultures were semi--literate or pre--literate -- yet visually and orally
could be very sophisticated
*> Mind and body -- Cartesian dualism
- Did not exist for people -- we must think about religious systems where
these two were integrated
Wholeness -- relationship between the material and the spiritual


! Holy Feast and Holy Fast -- C. W. Bynum



Has also published on the material world
Examines Catherine of Siena -- died at 33 => same age as Jesus
Entered a nunnery -- visions and spiritual experiences
Entered politics -- trying to stop war
- Time when there is a large schism in the papacy
*> Largely failed attempts to intervene in the male world of religion and politics
*> Status -- public, extreme self--mortification
*> From 16 she only ate water, bread and raw vegetables
*> Tales about her care for the poor
*> Most venerated woman of her day
Holy Anorexia -- R. M. Bell
*> Attempt to render her body sacred
Is it right to reduce this experience to this?
Must reinterpret late medieval asceticism
St Francis' Stigmata -- famous display of self--mortification
*> Seen as the holiest people
*> Unusual for St Francis -- usually a female manifestation
Eucharistic cults
Catherine of Siena was seen as a mother -- food miracles


! Oedipus and the Devil -- Lyndal Roper
! Discourse theory -- through language you can find out most of the things you need to
know about the past
*> Roper rejects this
! Concentration on civic life, processions and religious life -- concentrates on communities
and groups as this 'other'
*> Collective ideas

! Need to think about how these rituals + influence are created by individuals, how they



reflect cultural and social norms and where the body is situated in this
The body was very important -- subjectivities
*> How the person feels about who they are -- how they experience reality
Physicality is not just socially constructed -- interaction between body and society
*> Not detached from our body
Relationship of all these concerns to sexual difference -- yet gender should not be seen as
something that is utterly socially constructed or through language => importance of the
Reformation put these issues at its centre
*> Opened monasteries -- encouraged women to marry => holy households
- Spiritual beings in the practical aspects of life
*> New kind of holiness -- not chastity
Looked at how bodily and psychic phenomena were interrelated -- fantasy and the
Interpersonal and cultural dynamics of witchcraft accusations
Work on childbirth and lying--in chamber
*> Acknowledged by society as being in between being pregnant and being
reintegrated into society through churching
*> Women were anxious for the welfare of their offspring -- world where babies
often died
*> Older women are often accused of destroying their children
- Nowadays this is called post--natal depression
*> Lying--in maids become hags/witches -- motive of envy
- Community support such accusations => investigate for witchcraft
Even investigated by theologians and public officials -- they also
believe in witchcraft
*> Elaborate stories of demonic activity -- redeemed through confession => shows
that they feel pain
- They will still be burnt
Reveal the worst fears and irrational fantasies of the individual and collective


! Miracles and apparitions at Lourdes
! How in the growing secularisation of the 17th century do you have the emergence of this
major spiritual site?
! Bernadette sees the Virgin Mary -- she feels no pain
! Lourdes becomes a way to manifest one's intense believe
! France -- radical priests bring sick people to Lourdes => against scientific revolution
*> Faith, not science -- even though there is a large risk of becoming infected
*> Struggle between science and religion


! High number of women involved in religious experiences
! Deeply believe in the hierarchy of the Church
! Are they subjugated?
*> Feel reborn in the Eucharist -- personal connection with the divine
! Lourdes water -- exorcism or labour => reject illness
*> Many of these women are cured




Gandhi -- spiritual politics and anti--colonialism
Jainism -- absolute need not to destroy life => non--violent principle
People come to see him -- in a loincloth sitting at a spinning wheel
Renaissance of Indian values and culture
Focus on self--discipline
Similar asceticism to Catherine of Siena
*> 21 day fast
Devotion to the charka -- homespun textiles
*> Woman's activity -- showed his humility => kind of discipline
He was not humanitarian -- did not care that people died => wanted them to become
moral agents
*> Told Jews in Nazi Germany to go into the streets and be massacred -- more
important than saving their lives => would inspire others to passive resistance
Gandhi admired Mussolini and wrote personally to Hitler -- both enemies of the British
*> Trying to convert Hitler to stop being so violent -- yet still sees himself as being
in common with him
Gandhi -- appearance made a point of the extreme difference between Western powers
militancy and the mildness of the Middle East
*> Not unmasculine -- was emphasising spiritual strength

Religion: Illusions and liberation -- Denys Turner


! Marx (1975) -- 'Religion . . . is the opium of the people'



*> Supposed to embody his unremitting hostility to religion
Religion is the 'illusory happiness of the people'
*> For 'religious suffering is the expression of real suffering'
*> Why do people flee to religious illusions?
- 'To call on [the people] to give up their illusions about their condition is to
call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions'
Why do people need illusions at all?
Religion has a basis in reality
Propaganda and ruling classes cannot explain the pervasiveness of religion among the
oppressed classes
*> Must look at their needs
Was a thoroughgoing atheist -- saw religious belief claims as false
*> World history is created by man through human labour
*> 'the question of an alien being, a being above nature and man . . . had become
impossible in practice'
Marx as the atheist v. socialist critic of religion in its role under capitalism
*> Religious belief claims are false v. assertion that religious phenomenon as a
whole is ideological -- not the same assertions
Religion expresses real needs yet also misconstrues them
Analogy of opium -- shows needs of the taker yet merely offers an alternative experience
*> Does not experience the world in a distorted fashion
Believer is still part of the real world -- through the prism of belief in a false world
Recursiveness -- religious distortion of the world feeds back into social relationships
*> Religion is a lived false consciousness


! Discourse may be coherent in itself -- issue of the context of its utterance
! Position in which one speaks -- interplay of text and context



*> What if the speaker is aware of this? => further manipulative context
Marx and Engels -- Christianity in all its forms is alienating and ideological
Thomas Muntzer -- communist of biblical inspiration
*> Engels -- 'a communist by fantasy' => argued that Muntzer's radical political
program was merely utopian
- Based on Christianity rather than being rooted in concrete possibilities of
- Pure moral idealism
- Theologically inspired idealism -- could only prevail through violent
imposition => inevitably degenerated
Marx -- 'The Peasant War, the most radical episode in German history, suffered defeat
because of theology'
Christianity is always alienating -- destiny under control of forces other than those purely

! Religion can be positive in the revolutionary process -- at least provides a form of
criticism of prevailing conditions
*> Engels -- Muntzer at least enabled peasants to envisage alternatives

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