Questions of discipline are, today, no less ubiquitous than when under Foucault’s renowned scrutiny, but what does ‘discipline’ in diverse religious systems actually entail? In this article, we take ‘lenience’ rather than discipline as a starting point and compare its potential, both structural and ideological, in religious contexts where disciplinary flexibility shores up greater encompassing projects of moral perfectionism as opposed to those contexts in which disciplinary flexibility is a defining feature in its own right. We argue that lenience provides religious systems with a vital flexibility that is necessary to their reproduction and adaptation to the world. By taking a ‘systems’ perspective on ethnographic discussions of religious worlds, we proffer fresh observations on recent debates within the anthropology of religion on ‘ethics’, ‘failure’, and the nature of religious subjects.
Lenience in Systems of Religious Meaning and Practice
Maya Mayblin and Diego Malara
Life Journeys across Borderlands of Memory and Deception; Michal Giedroyc and Ryszard Kapuscinski
This article combines an auto-ethnographic approach with literary criticism and applied anthropology. It is about the lives of two men whose journeys through the major events of the twentieth century via different routes and moral choices suggest that literary ends do not always justify the means. Ryszard Kapuscinski (1932-2007), a world-renowned Polish journalist-turned-bestselling author, personally witnessed twenty-seven revolutions and military coups. His travel accounts stretch over five continents and have been widely recognized for their poignant dissection of the human condition. However, recent biographical details and examination of Kapuscinski's reporting methods by social researchers and field anthropologists have raised questions about the credibility and ethics of his works. By comparing his lifework and that of the lesser known Polish cross-cultural traveler exiled to Britain, author Michal Giedroyc (b. 1929), this article contextualizes political and personal dilemmas of both writers. They were born 150 kilometers apart in the multi-ethnic eastern Polish borderlands (now in Lithuania and Belarus). Their childhoods were similarly traumatized by the Nazi-Soviet division of Poland in September 1939. Both of their life journeys brought them into a united Europe in 2005 as Polish and British citizens, respectively.
In his book The Anxiety of Influence. A Theory of Poetry,2 Harold Bloom presents several ‘revisionary ratios’, that is, several ways in which an author may critically refer to his predecessor in order to separate himself3 from the latter. The author’s criticism of his predecessor manifests an anxiety of influence insofar as it overstates the differences and neglects the similarities between his and his predecessor’s works. In this paper I shall show that some aspects of Sartre’s criticism of Kant’s moral theory in the Notebooks for an Ethics mani- fest an anxiety of influence.
Simone de Beauvoir, Djamila Boupacha, and the Algerian War
This article situates Simone de Beauvoir's involvement in the case of Djamila Boupacha, an FLN militant who was tortured by the French Army in 1960, in the context of the repeated revelations of torture in course of the Algerian War. Drawing on Beauvoir's writings on ethics and other contemporary denunciations of torture, the essay illuminates how Beauvoir worked to overcome wide-spread public “indifference.” By focusing public attention on the Army's sexually degrading treatment of Boupacha, Beauvoir figured torture as a source of feminine and feminizing national shame.
Virtuous Action and Obligation in Contemporary Tibet
A significant strand of anthropological work on Buddhist generosity practices in Theravādin and Tibetan Buddhist societies has examined their role in reproducing and reinforcing social and economic hierarchies. Inspired by the recent ‘moral turn’ in anthropology, this article addresses the moral dimensions of these practices by analyzing debates, decisions, and judgments about what to sponsor and how to do so during times of accelerated ‘modernizing’ change. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in northeastern Tibet (Amdo) conducted between 2008 and 2015, I focus on a mode of collective sponsorship that has, in different contexts, been considered good, problematic, or even wrong. The moral grounds for such evaluations show that sponsorship is evaluated and experienced not only as a Buddhist practice but also as a social and economic practice with direct consequences for both individuals and communities. The moral stakes of generosity practices are shown to extend beyond individual ethics to the common good.
Intergenerational Activism and the Ethics of Empowering Girls
In this article I consider the ethical boundaries of intergenerational activism for the feminist researcher conducting research in pre-existing activist networks. Drawing on a decade of involvement with girl-activists at the United Nations, I revisit key moments that challenged me to re-think the ethical, discursive, and relational conditions of girls’ political empowerment. Intergenerational activism creates relational messiness between adults and girls since effectively partnering with girls requires disruptions of generational power with practitioner-scholars learning to make it up as they go along. This article illustrates the complex and contested ways in which girls and adults build activist partnerships in adult-centered and sometimes politically hostile settings. In exploring the environment within which North American girls experience political (dis)empowerment, I question the ethics of empowering girls under current spectacular discursive conditions.
This article argues that the moral dimensions of the term 'culture' have been under-theorized in anthropology. The argument stems from a particular reading of the Western philosophy of ethics. Based in economic anthropology, I explore how an understanding of the moral imperative can illuminate differences in processes of accumulation. After a discussion of the concept of morality in philosophy and in recent anthropology, I go on to examine the principles of altruism and reciprocal utility in the light of theories of kinship and of rational choice. I then outline an argument concerning the general form of moral reasoning. According to this argument, kinship classifications function logically to synthesize variable distributions in different societies of two interconnected principles—altruism and reciprocal utility.
Cognitive dissonance provides a model for understanding how we experience film texts as profound. This article looks at the ways in which filmmakers might motivate or exploit the pleasure of resolving familiar narrative dissonance to inspire emotions associated with profundity, sublimity, or transcendence. David Lynch scholarship provides a primary case study in the conflation of cognitive dissonance and transcendence, however it is contended that moral obligations to rape and trauma victims are sublimated in the process. Alternative moral dissonances across a range of different cinematic modes are subsequently addressed. Comparative analysis of vigilantism in American revenge and “social cleansing” films, Ken Loach’s social realism, Richard Linklater’s Bernie (2011), and John Sayles’s Lone Star (1996) permits an exploration of variability in filmic dissonance and narrative comprehension, as well as alternative approaches to filmmaking ethics and responsibility. The article concludes with suggestions for an applied ethics extended from cognitive film theory.
A Contribution to Discussions on Piety and Ethics
Drawing on an ethnographic research in some rural communities of Trabzon, Turkey, this article provides insights about the diversity of Islamic pieties and their relations to religious norms. An exploration of everyday Islamic practices in the area demonstrates how piety can take peculiar forms within which norms are both publicly and socially upheld and yet also hollowed out. Among Muslim men of ‘the Valley’ in Trabzon, piety emerges as an aggregate of reiterative practices exterior to the pious self. Highlighting the aestheticised and ritualised state of these engagements with Islam in the Turkish context allows discussion of the relationships among practices of piety, pious subjectivities, and ethics.
Counterfeits, Comedy and the Supreme Court
Shakespeare uses the classical comic archetype of the miles gloriosus (braggart soldier) to probe social and ethical issues regarding military honour. These issues are still with us. This article takes as its point of departure the US Supreme Court’s 2012 decision finding the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 unconstitutional on free speech grounds. This high-profile case, centring upon a latter-day avatar of Falstaff or Pistol, suggests both continuity and change in how militarist societies address the challenge of distinguishing true and counterfeit valour. Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays and Henry V, like the Supreme Court opinions, stage a contest between classical epic ideologies of honour and comic recuperations of the coward or braggart. These literary and legal discourses are further contextualized through historical anecdote and Aristotle’s account of courage and cowardice. The Aristotelian figure of the alaz¯on (impostor) creates a complex interplay between ethics and poetics which plays out in theatre and courtroom alike.