One of the results of our June 2015 Working Conference was to establish broad topics under which individual research projects could be grouped. The purpose of this was to create the opportunity for collaborative research, shared bibliographies, dialogue partners and critically interested readers for all of our individual research endeavors. Five general “affinity” areas have emerged as ways to address the central theme of the emergence and effect of the sacred:
Genealogy of the Sacred
A Genealogy of the Sacred investigates modern and late-modern usages of terms frequently associated with theoretical definitions of “the sacred.” Modern writers have espoused many viewpoints on the sacred, often making political, economic, national or religious use of the category in order to classify and legitimate forms of authority, power and hierarchical domination. With this historical framework in mind, this research group will explore the current vocabulary of the sacred, tracing the theoretical origins of keywords. The purpose of this investigation is to expose both misguided and helpful links between certain terms, with the hope of reconceptualizing the notion of sacrality / the sacred / sacredness for our contemporary world. Individual projects in this research group trace a certain concept’s usage in modern and late-modern scholarship (e.g. nature, fetishism, sacrifice, etc.) so that a contemporary audience might more accurately determine what these various definitions of sacrality mean for today.
One of the classic ways of speaking about “the sacred” is to establish a contrast with “the profane.” Various theoretical approaches utilizing the pairing of “sacred/profane” have been proposed and criticized, but in the process what withstands criticism is a recognition that some objects, places, people and even non tangible entities (like “time”) are valued as more than ordinary, or significant in ways other than everyday use would recognize. But to describe instances of the processes by which such added value occurs, or to theoretically account for this process in various historical and contemporary contexts is a challenge. Individual projects in this research group explore the ways in which objects, places, people etc. become identified either with the sacred or as sacred in themselves. In contrast to the research carried out under the title of “genealogy of the sacred,” the focus of this research group is the actual process involved in recognizing, designating or making something sacred—in short the process of “sacralization.”
Sacralizing Change / Changing Sacralization
There are many ways to recognize that sacrality changes over time: archeological investigation of sites indicate that what was once held to be sacred either loses the original cultural configurations that supported a certain from of sacrality, or that one form of sacrality is replaced by another through conquest, migration, of passage of time. Likewise there are many ways to recognize that change itself is often associated with sacralization: pilgrimage is a process of geographical change in search of the sacred; changes in biological development are often recognized as opportunities for encountering the sacred; temporal changes—either developmental or catastrophically rupturing—as associated with the sacred. Individual projects in this research group analyze the complex ways in which the sacred changes, or in which change itself becomes sacred. The primary focus is on the relation of the sacred to various ways of conceiving temporal and geographical movements.
The common human dynamic of creating identity by relation to what is “other” often involves appeals to sacrality. This may take the form of social role identification (the ritual leader as opposed to onlookers [?]), group differentiation (those who are truly “orthodox” as opposed to the “infidels”), or relations to origins and endings (those who are the original disciples, or those who are the remaining remnant, as opposed to those who are far removed from the beginnings, or those who do not recognize the signs of the end). Identity formation is a very powerful social dynamic, and when identities receive the added value of being associated with the sacred, such identities become particularly commanding. Individual projects in this research group explore the ways in which individual and group identities become entwined with claims to sacrality and what effects that has on social interactions.
Conflicting and Cooperating ‘Sacreds’
In some instances what is designated as sacred stands over against what is not recognized as sacred, but in many instances, both historical and contemporary, “sacreds” are in conflict or in cooperation with each other. In short, the “other” of the sacred may itself be another form of the sacred. Multiple instances of this are evident: the sacrality of human rights in opposition to the sacrality of traditional religious values; the sacredness of a local symbol being energized syncretistically by the supplement of another sacred overlay; the conflicts over opposing canonical textual groupings among members sharing similar religious outlooks. In fact, one prominent contemporary theory of the sacred claims that its central feature is the characteristic of that which is designated as sacred to create conflict. Individual projects in this research group focus on the relation of conflict to sacrality, especially but not exclusively as seen in issues associated with textuality.