I’m trying to get a definition of religion, as opposed to spirituality, for my glossary. You’d think that’d be a simple task. But alas NOT.
“Religion” is a term like “shaman” which is an anthropological term imposed on “native” subjects of study – So then Chad, why are you walking around a circle with a smudge stick every other Tuesday when that big bright star is over that big-assed mountain? Rite? Repeated. Faith in that rite? The rite that reinforces that narrative/myth associated with that rite that may have ancestral wisdom that is evolutionarily relevant. Religion is the repetition of the rites that keep us entrained to the narratives that we hold culturally valuable, even if they are fucked like they are in our culture now (don’t get me started on the bullshit narratives that our rites are reinforcing and don’t get me started on the neurological elements of that manipulation). Now what about power.
Says Jonathan Z. Smith in his dense essay Religion, Religions, Religious:*
“It is impossible to escape the suspicion that a world religion is simply a religion like ours, and that it is, above all, a tradition that has achieved sufficient power and numbers to enter our history to form it, interact with it, or thwart it. (You might wanna re-read that, I had to a bunch of times to get the true horror of the implication)
We recognize (me again – why do these guys always use the imperial “we” when a singular author wrote the damn dense thing) both the unity within and the diversity among the world religions because they correspond to important geopolitical entities with which we must deal. All “primitives,” by way of contrast, may be lumped together, as may the “minor religions,” because they do not confront our history in an direction fashion (…wait for it, wait for it…) From the point of power, they are invisible.”
Faceplant here. That is the nature of my disseration. They are not invisible, but what those “lessor” religions ritualize and mythologize are those psychic/social/emotional currents that run through us anyway, that are part of our story here, our tendencies as mammals. This is what I am doing, trying to bring the white girls juju back up. It’s already there in us, and that is why there is a bunch of crazy white cat ladies. We have that sensibility to be connected and just because the dominant world religion has relegated us to the top of the bottom rung of the patriarchal colonial food chain doesn’t mean we have to stay there. In fact it means we are of great value to them as means of energy, but if they devalue us culturally, through myth/narrative over and over through…um…RELIGION, we give it up for free.
Think of what a good plan that was. Elevate some of the bottom class to a little higher than the more worser scarier bottom and you have your patriarchal top hat on for life. S’cuse me Scarecrow, think I’m digressing.
This dynamic of that food chain thing has been said by better than myself, in fact, I am startin to think that one has got to look at colonialism if we’re looking for that one closepin that is holding this charade of violent, wasteful, patriarchal culture together. Get that one piece and we can bring this thing down.
*Critical Terms for Religious Studies, ed Mark C. Taylor.