This essay examines the importance of sorcery in the dynamics of religious innovation in contemporary Hindu and Buddhist Sri Lanka.1 My interest stems from two observations. First, in almost stark contrast to other Hindu ritual forms that emphasise unchanging text-based rites, the sorcery practices I describe display an almost modernist preoccupation with innovation. Second, much of this innovation originates, or is seen to originate, from outside the cosmic order both of the pantheon and of society. Consequently, sorcery practices manifest a dynamism that often results in the appearance of sorcery having sprung up from nowhere or of being on the sharp increase. However, such an appearance of growth is less of an increase by degree than a shift in visibility. Moreover, it is a characteristic Sri Lankan sorcery practices share with practices elsewhere. When social scientists whose gaze has been primed for spotting anomalies light upon these shifts in visibility, the reaction is usually one of alarm. Scholars whose basic orientation is to the problem of social order and stability tend to judge these apparent aberrations in terms of social breakdown and anomie. Instead of considering what sorcery reveals anthropologically, they instead analyse sorcery as a symptom of a social pathology. The restless dynamism of sorcery and its role in religious innovation remain unaddressed, and this contributes to a conservative view of both the phenomenon of sorcery and the study of religion in general.
The figure of Dumont continues to loom large in the anthropology of South Asia, notwithstanding the fact that arguably the last thing he published on India was the preface to the 1980 edition of his masterpiece Homo Hierarchicus. 2 Yet what Dumont shows in that preface is that he has loomed large while and perhaps because other anthropologists have pointed accusatory fingers at him, especially those from Britain and within the tradition of British social anthropology and social science. So what was it that so ruffled the feathers of the British bulldog? Was it Dumont’s attack on the atomistic individualism of British social theory? Was it that he appeared to reduce every aspect of Indian caste to the structural dyad of pure and impure? Was it his argument (more fully developed in Dumont 1977) that the ideological notion of the economic as a distinct social category is the product of a historical juncture, and that historical materialist or Marxian analysis is as much an ideology as it is a theory of ideology? Or was it simply Dumont’s insistence that India is seen in its own terms, and not from the (ideological) position that stressed the fundamental inequalities and injustices of the Indian social system as something in need of change? Was Dumont, in short, a conservative apologist for caste writing in an era in which the social was regarded as something that could be changed?
The current moment, seen by some as an interregnum between societies of discipline and control, is marked by intense forms of religious fanaticism and iconoclasm that are striving to create new forms of the state. This is evident in the militancy and political engagement of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, who promote war against Tamil separatists as well as violent resistance to the proselytization identified with global civil society agencies that, due to the war and the 2004 tsunami disaster, have been active in the country. The article looks at this rising Buddhist militancy, which is associated with a political party that is linked to the more famous party known as the JVP. It argues that instead of resisting the formation of the new global civil society, the iconoclasm of this Buddhist political formation is facilitating its establishment.
Capture and Excess
Developing Deleuze and Guattari's concepts of territorialization and the apparatus of capture, this article explores the role that Sri Lankan Hindu temples have played in the formation of ethnicity and ethnic conflict. Analyzing three contemporary events, the article introduces ways in which many different Sri Lankans (Sinhalese and Tamil) interpret their country's predicament and seek to resolve or prolong it. The events also reveal how scholarship becomes entangled in ethnic nationalism. I then examine in greater detail a village in which temple construction was a critical feature of identity formation during the creation of Sri Lanka as a colonialist and capitalist bureaucratic space. Through this account, I argue that the formation of polarized ethnicity in Sri Lanka is the product of multiple refractive forces, of which temples are one, and not the end result of a singular colonialist bureaucratic agency.
Bruce Kapferer, Andrew Lattas, Rohan Bastin and Don Handelman
The idea of writing a personal statement regarding my approach to ritual and to present a self-portrait of my own movement into this field is difficult, to say the least. This is particularly so as the idea has too much of an overriding finality to it—an epitaph, after which there is no more. There is the implication that somehow over the 40 or so years that I have been working in the anthropological field of ritual and religion that I have been building a distinct coherent approach. It is tempting to say so, but it would be wrong. I would say that my orientation has taken many different paths. I have always, like most anthropologists, been directed by the problem-at-hand, given the empirical realities in which I found myself and the issue in the subject of anthropology that appeared to me to be particularly problematic at the time. This has sometimes resulted in a critical look at prevailing orientations and has led me in unexpected directions. The ethnographic materials with which I have been recently working, primarily in North Malabar of the Indian state of Kerala, is setting me off on new routes of analytical possibility, at least new for me. This is also the case with my (see Kapferer 2013a, 2013b, 2014) current interest in film and its relevance for the anthropological study of myth and ritual. Such changes in direction are far from unusual in the ethnographically driven circumstance of anthropology in which ethnography is the ground for analytical and theoretical construction (and not the other way around as in other social sciences where theory governs research, see Kapferer 2007).
First World Peoples, Consultancy, and Anthropology
Rohan Bastin, Barry Morris, Janine R. Wedel, Craig R. Janes, Stevan Weine, Ralph Cintron, Ferid Agani, Elissa Dresden and Van Griffith
The essays in this forum collection are concerned primarily with the application of expert knowledge in fields where there is the expectation of considerable cultural, social, and political consequence for human populations, as a result of state, corporate, or non-governmental organizational action. The essays here are, with a couple of exceptions, written by anthropologists whose knowledge—insofar as it may be distinct from others in the social sciences—is based conventionally in a methodology of long-term fieldwork of a small-scale, faceto-face kind, and founded in theoretical orientations which are sensitive to cultural and social difference.
Rohan Bastin, Marit Brendbekken, René Devisch, Allen Feldman, Ørnulf Gulbrandsen, Bruce Kapferer, Michael Lambek, Knut Rio and Kari G. Telle
Notes on contributors
Ien Ang, George Baca, Rohan Bastin, Jacob Copeman, Thomas Ernst, Jonathan Friedman, Kingsley Garbett, Diana Glazebrook, Greg Gow, Keith Hart, André Iteanu, Roger Just, Bruce Kapferer, Judith Kapferer, Khalid Koser, Neil Maclean, Jukka Siikala, Amy Stambach, Christopher C. Taylor, Pnina Werbner and Amanda Wise
Notes on Contributors
Ferid Agani, Kalman Applbaum, Rohan Bastin, Daniel Breslau, Joshua Breslau, Ralph Cintron, Richard Daly, Andrew Davidson, Elissa Dresden, Andreas Glaeser, Van Griffith, Georg Henriksen, Michael Humphrey, Craig R. Janes, Ingrid Jordt, Roland Kapferer, Thomas M. Malaby, Barry Morris, June Nash, Alcida Rita Ramos, Steven Robins, Janine R. Wedel and Stevan Weine
Notes on Contributors