The introduction to this special section foregrounds the key distinction between ‘religious plurality’ and ‘interreligious pluralism’. Building from the example of a recent controversy over an exhibition on shared religious sites in Thessaloniki, Greece, we analyze the ways in which advocates and adversaries of pluralism alternately place minority religions at the center or attempt to relegate them to the margins of visual, spatial, and political fields. To establish the conceptual scaffolding that supports this special section, we engage the complex relations that govern the operations of state and civil society, sacrality and secularity, as well as spectacular acts of disavowal that simultaneously coincide with everyday multiplicities in the shared use of space. We conclude with brief summaries of the four articles that site religious plurality and interreligious pluralism in the diverse contexts of Brazil, Russia, Sri Lanka, and the Balkans.
Religious Plurality, Interreligious Pluralism, and Spatialities of Religious Difference
Jeremy F. Walton and Neena Mahadev
Toward a Contemplative Ethnography
Don Seeman and Michael Karlin
Amid growing interest in mindfulness studies focusing on Buddhist and Buddhism-derived practices, this article argues for a comparative and ethnographic approach to analogous practices in different religious traditions and to their vernacular significance in the everyday lives of practitioners. The Jewish contemplative tradition identified with Chabad Hasidism is worth consideration in this context because of its long-standing indigenous tradition of contemplative practice, the recent adoption of ‘mindfulness’ practices or terminology by some Hasidim, and its many intersections with so-called Buddhist modernism. These intersections include the personal trajectories of individuals who have engaged in both Buddhist and Hasidism-derived mindfulness practices, the shared invocation and adaptation of contemporary psychology, and the promotion of secularized forms of contemplative practice. We argue that ‘Hasidic modernism’ is a better frame than ‘neo-Hasidism’ for comparative purposes, and that Hasidic modernism complicates the taxonomies of secularity in comparable but distinctive ways to those that arise in Buddhist-modernism contexts.
Jeremy F. Walton and Piro Rexhepi
Over recent decades, Islamic institutions and Muslim communities in the successor nation-states of former Yugoslavia have taken shape against a variegated political and historical topography. In this article, we examine the discourses and politics surrounding Islamic institutions in four post-Yugoslav nation-states: Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, and Slovenia. Our analysis moves in two directions. On the one hand, we illuminate the historical legacies and institutional ties that unite Muslims across these four contexts. As we argue, this institutional history continues to mandate a singular, hegemonic model of Sunni-Hanafi Islam that pre-emptively delegitimizes Muslim communities outside of its orbit. On the other hand, we also attend to the contrasting national politics of Islam in each of our four contexts, ranging from Islamophobic anxiety and suspicion to multiculturalism, from a minority politics of differentiation to hegemonic images of ethno-national religiosity.
Theology, Everyday Religion, and Anthropological Theory
I was very honored by the invitation to deliver the 2019 Rappaport Lecture, which forms the basis of this article. The theme of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion’s conference for which it was written, “The Politics of Religious Knowledge and Ignorance,” is one that is very close to the heart of Roy Rappaport’s work. After all, the foundation of his magisterial theory of the role of ritual in the development of humanity is our species’ radical inability, once language allowed expression to take on a life of its own, to know whether others are lying to us or not, and ritual’s ability to address the problem of radical social ignorance that this incapacity sets before us by creating certainty about who people are and what commitments they have taken on (Rappaport 1999). For Rappaport, ritual and religion were both from the start fundamentally entangled with issues of knowledge and ignorance.
Amira Mittermaier, Susan Harding, and Michael Lambek
A Portrait in Scenes by Amira Mittermaier
For Saba by Susan Harding
Recollections of a Friendship by Michael Lambek
Sacrifice, Anti-sacrifice, and the Rearticulations of Conflict in Sri Lanka
Since 2009, in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s ethnic war, certain contingents of Sinhala Buddhists have lodged attacks against religious minorities, whom they censure for committing violence against animals in accordance with the dictates of their gods. Considering these interventions against sacrifice in spaces of shared Hindu and Buddhist religiosity, this article examines the economies of derogation, violence, and scapegoating in post-war Sri Lanka. Within Sinhala Buddhism, sacrifice is considered bio-morally impure yet politically efficacious, whereas meritorious Buddhist discipleship is sacrificial only in aspirational, bloodless terms. Nevertheless, both practices fall within the spectrum of Sinhala Buddhist religious life. Majoritarian imperatives concerning postwar blood impinge upon marginal sites of shared religiosity—spaces where the blood of animals is spilled and, ironically, where political potency can be substantively shored up. The article examines the siting of sacrifice and the purifying majoritarian interventions against it, as Buddhists strive to assert sovereignty over religious others.
The Work of Anti-wonder among Sufi Reformists and Traditionalists in a Macedonian Roma Neighborhood
This article describes how an iconic mystical Sufi ritual of body wounding, zarf, was stripped of its mystical credentials and conventional efficacy amid tensions between Rifai reformists and traditionalists in a small Roma neighborhood in Skopje, Macedonia. The death of a sorcerer and a funeral event-series set the scene for acts of ‘anti-wonder’ and demystification by the Rifai reformists. Despite the history of socialist secularism and inadvertently secularizing Islamic reforms in the region, demystification signaled not the loss of enchantment per se, but a competition for legitimate forms of wonder. In addition to accounting for socio-historical context and relational forms of Islam, the real challenge is how to see a demystified ritual for its explicit intellectual capacity to stimulate speculation about itself.
Topographies of Pluralism in Russia
Melissa L. Caldwell
This article examines several key sites where Russia’s civic and religious bodies intersect in pursuit of social justice goals. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among religious communities and social justice organizations in Moscow, the article focuses on the physical, social, and legal spaces where church and state, secular and sacred, civic and personal intersect and the consequences of these intersections for how Russians understand new configurations of church and state, private and public, religious and political. Of particular concern is the emergence of new forms of religious and political pluralism that transcend any one particular space, such as for worship, community life, or political support or protest, and instead reveal shifting practices and ethics of social justice that are more pluralist, progressive, and tolerant than they may appear to be to outside observers.
Kim Knibbe, Brenda Bartelink, Jelle Wiering, Karin B. Neutel, Marian Burchardt, and Joan Wallach Scott
The Large-Scale Rituals of the Repkong Tantrists in Tibet
Tantrists, non-monastic religious specialists of Tibetan Buddhism, constitute a diffuse, non-centralized form of clergy. In an area like Repkong, where they present a high demographic density, large-scale supra-local annual ritual gatherings of tantrists are virtually synonymous with, and crucial for, their collective existence. In the largest of these rituals, the ‘elders’ meeting’ is in effect an institutionalized procedure for evaluating the ritual performance, its conditions and effects, and, if necessary, for adjusting aspects of the ritual. At a recent meeting, the ‘elders’ decided to abandon a powerful and valued but violent and problematical component of the ritual, due to its potential detrimental effects on the fabric of social relations on which the ritual depends for its continued existence. Thus, a highly scripted, ‘liturgy-centered’ ritual (per Atkinson) can be adapted to the social context. The specialists of these textual rituals demonstrate collectively an expertise that extends into the sociological dynamics surrounding the ritual.