BRUNO LATOUR AND RELIGION AS “REL”

I have no hostility to religion as such, and I think that there is much to learn from the way Latour extracts religion  out of the mode of REF and of belief. However, I don’t think that a separate mode REL is the best way to do justice to religion historically, sociologically, and anthropologically. Also, I disapprove of smuggling credal assumptions into a text that is not supposed to be a theological treatise, but an “empirical” ontology. A philosophical text that is far more widely welcomed by priests and theologians than by philosophers raises doubts and questions.

I don’t think that the reserves expressed on Latour’s treatment of religion are due to dusty abstract philosophers being unable to cope with empirical investigation, but rather they are due to people finding that the inquiry is not empirical enough.

For those who are Christians the reduction of religion to the mode REL has devastating consequences. Not only does God does not exist in a referential sense, but neither does Jesus (or if it could be shown that he did exist, it would be irrelevant). The Gospels, on this analysis, describe no empirical historical facts, as they are not referential texts but propose the “wisdom” or the “poetry” of REL. So with Jesus non-existent or irrelevant we have REL as a Christ-without-Jesus mode, that very few Christians would recognise as the essence of their faith.

REL as mode is doing no service to Christianity, unless you are whole-heartedly embracing the refined, or symbolic, Christ-without-Jesus version.

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4 Responses to BRUNO LATOUR AND RELIGION AS “REL”

  1. Not really being interested in Latour’s classifications, for the simple reason that I surmise them to be too ad hoc, that is to say, based on some mish mash of a position he would have distilled out of the contemporary scene. I saw one of the Edinburgh lectures. It’s ok. I can kind of see what he’s doing. But he’s too slow, he’s appeasing his idea of tradition. I’m not convinced by his ecological classicisms.

    On belief: Structures of credence inhabit the empirical, where else could they be?
    On reference: Contemporary structures of referential practice are not suited to discerning the ‘divine’.
    On Jesus Christ: I remember, in the 80s, with all the fuss about the Turin Shroud, I had the idea that they could resurrect Jesus, or at least a clone, if they could find any genetic residue. These days, it’s a common notion, with Jurassic Park, etc..

    With regard to Christianity, it won’t disappear, Occidental forms of ‘atheism’ keep it alive. Secondly, it is an inalienable ingredient of ‘Modernity’ & ‘Capitalism’.

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  2. I think that the more general question is the place of history in AIME. What is the meaning of history.

    As for REL it reminds me the following
    “In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.”

    A spirit (a [REL] being ) passing through people and getting them out of ordinary ways of going around. Towards what? I do not think it is specified (and why should it be- it sounds like a very open procedure).

    In this sense MOE feels like wanting to produce experiences of “Spiritual conversion”, it is like a call into “Existential entering in the jungle”

    But I think it calls for an understanding of history that is very different from what we usually feel when we speak about “empirical historical facts” (which I guess is perceived as mainly [REP] in MOE). Our common notion of time is challenged.
    Can one keep some “objectivity” in the construct of time without seeing time as a succession of empirical historical facts? Can Jesus (to take a more familiar example to me) be historical but not in the sense of “the search for the historical Jesus?”. If yes then perhaps the MOE account of religion is not that repulsive for Christians.

    Perhaps one can make the whole issue more close to us: what about the time of our own biography, in MOE?

    Finally I think that MOE is a call into a new empirical ontology (which calls for a transform of the self of the “observer”/inquirer himself/herself). In a sense Newtonean physics is also a call into “empirical ontology”, in the sense that it asks us to perceive and explain the world in a strongly counterintuitive way. MOE feels as if it asks for such a change towards “the world” AND towards the subject (the philosophising subject, the participant in the philosophical discussion) at the same time (introducing new “symbols” in both directions). I have heard that something similar is done in phenomenology so (this is a question for more phylosophically litterate people) is MOE continuing along the lines of phenomenology? Is it like an expansion of phenomenology in new directions? (Ricoeur in his discussions with Changeux speaks about the search of a new discourse beyond phenomenology and neurobiological talk and to me it seems that the traffic of discourses that Latour sets in motion in MOE sounds like something like this)

    To use my beloved Voegelin it feels to me like an elaboration of the experience of metaxy. The tension that Voegelin speaks about is now reshaped into a multitude of flows (the flows in the Modes of Existence). Voegelin speaks about a “divine ground” and perhaps the flow of the beings of the modes of existence creates a sense of “beginning” that happens elsewhere (even if Latour speaks continually against a strong transcendance perhaps this is a more reasonable transcendance). In a more traditional theological language perhaps the modes of existence can be related to God’s energies (one of the issues that had central position in the theological contrast between Western and Eastern Churches) (There are important differences though: Voegelin tells that man is in the in-between , between the world and the divine ground of existence. In Latour the particulars of the world are very strongly connected with humans. But the feel is not that different: Consciousness in Voegelin is not identical with what we usually experience as “I”)

    On the whole MOE feels to me like a call to the wilderness: it feels like calling somebody to leave back the automatisms of “everyday modern thinking” and become something like a part of a jungle tribe with its wholly different way of living (I think of the varieties Descola presents in his systematizing book). Perhaps a “living in the Gaia-jungle”

    But perhaps I just serve as an example that religiously inclined people find all kinds of analogies in a book that was not made with such a purpose.

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  3. There is an other aspect of religion that I do not find in [REL]. Now I am a semi-modern, a hybrid, so I am not sure how much this fits to Moderns. On the other hand MOE should help comparative anthropology so in this sense there should be some connection between [REL] and Orthodox Christian religious experience.

    I find it very difficult to speak of the latter without considering what the monks who are recognised as saints by us told us. They do use the symbol of “visitation of grace ” (which I think is close to conversion in [REL]) but they also use the symbol of constant motion towards God and preceverence against abandonment. I see the first in [REL] but I do not see the second. However even in our relationships do we not also have love crisis where the one feels for some reason angered or offended and then the other has to percevere against indifference or even hostility (I remember when I was doing French decades ago Le Carte du Pays de Tendre https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Map_of_Tendre) ?
    The monk who feels abandoned by the Grace of God and still perceveres (memory is very important here) is he/she not moving [REL]igiously? Indeed there is a constant motion against various levels of “resistance” (this sounds like [TEC] but the monk might feel that this technological movement is a joint effort of man and God) in the course of life seen religiously.

    Sesoes the Great whom we celebrate today was in his death bed and was telling his students after years of efforts that he felt he had not even start repenting in his life. St Athanassious the Athonite (whom we celebrated yesterday) went alone in a place in Athos (called Melanos) but then started to not feel at ease with the place. He decided though to stay and percevere for one year and in the last day when he was ready to leave ” set about to prayer, a heavenly light suddenly shone upon him, filling him with an indescribable joy, all the thoughts dissipated, and from his eyes welled up graced tears. From that moment St Athanasius received the gift of tenderness , and he became as strongly fond of the place of his solitude as he had formerly loathed it.” There are other cases too, but mainly there is the experience that what is described as [REL] is followed by a tension, a direction towards a fullfilment that is only remembered (there are few cases of people who are considered that they leave constantly the presence of grace and even then, I think, the vigilance against relapsing in a perverted form of ego is always present) and therefore there is grief but a grief that has hope in it and energises towards “cleaning one’s heart” (which reminds of [MET] but still this is done “for the shake of Somebody” so it does not sound like the [MET] described in MOE). Monks speak about “the grief that makes you happy”

    (I should also add that “revelations” are treated with much concern and care amongst the monks because they consider they could be devil’s ploy into leading them in a distorted sense of their being, in feeling puffed up)

    Now these that I described in extreme forms in monks appear in other forms in people living “in the world”.
    Still I am not the proper person to speak about all these. I just wanted to express in an negotiatory style what sounds difficult to accept in [REL] from my tradition as I experience it. I do not know how it resonates with Catholic or Protestant religious experience.

    The above also show I think the difficulty to put such a “Feedback” inside the constraints of Contributions in AIME. In order to make for the above a positive contribution in AIME I should comprehend the whole system of modes and propose a variation that takes them also into account. This is quite difficult. So in the majority of cases I think that the conctraints for the Contributions work like a “selection machine” that makes it easy to put forward examples that agree with the MOE scheme and makes it difficult to register in a positive way cases that express concerns about the MOE decription of affairs.

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