Seriousness, Irony, and the Mission of Hyperbole

in Religion and Society
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Seriousness is achieved when a speaker effectively moves the audience according to his or her intentions. But seriousness is fragile and subject to countless vicissitudes, as illustrated in an encounter with the television evangelist Oral Roberts. I interrogate one of the means used to counter such vicissitudes-hyperbole. Hyperbole may include exaggeration and amplification of all kinds, and may be manifest in deeds as well as words. I first follow hyperbole through 9/11 and the competing ideologies of Salafi jihadists and the Bush administration to show how 'absolute metaphors' are enlisted hyperbolically. I examine too how epic narratives are created as a similar form of hyperbole. Finally, I show how sacredness, another allied form of hyperbole, is attributed to the Holocaust in present-day Germany. Throughout I argue, and illustrate, how anthropological writing is of necessity ironic, such that irony is better than 'cultural relativism' as an understanding of the anthropological enterprise.