Making Sense of Religion Performance, Art and Experience
11th Conference of the SIEF Working Group on Ethnology of Religion
Lisbon, Portugal 22-23 May, 2014
Download the conference poster as a PDF.


Religion has always been directly connected with embodied experience, artistic manifestations of ritualism, and creative performances of getting in touch with the sacred. Classic ethnological and anthropological theory of performance places emphasis on the ‘social dramas’, namely the actions of social interaction in the communicational ‘metatheatre’ (Turner 1987) of identity and status negotiation in everyday life.

Religious performance has thus been considered as a genre of social action, as an art that it is open and liminal, a ‘paradigm of process’ (Schechner 1987). The study of the performative and artistic discourses in the field of contemporary religious practice is not new to ethnology, folklore, anthropology and to the social sciences in general, however little attention has been paid to the ‘pluri-sensorial’ (Barna-Fikfak 2006, Howes 1991) character of religious experience, and the creative transformations entailed in the process. Despite the recognition that bodies are mindful (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1987), and the centrality of sensory perception in any form of performance, art, and religious act, social scientists continue to ignore the role of the senses in their analyses of religious practice.

Religious experience has also been tied to other forms of social expression and production. For example, anthropologists of spirit possession traditions are prone to associate the experience and content of such forms of mystical contact to other modes of relation, such as those engendered in oppressive socio-political and economic contexts. While also irreducible to this, religious practices such as spirit mediation are often seen as ways of performatively resisting, if also reinterpreting and reintegrating, social realities. Performance here is read not necessarily as a theatrical or intentionally mimetic impulse, but as the articulation of subjectivities through the acting, moving body and its manifold, oven covert, registers. It is unsurprising that an emphasis has been placed in recent anthropology on the phenomenology (and cognition) of processes of “embodiment” or the “mindful body”.

While classic ritual theory generated concerns with the shaping of emotional, physical and social experience through techniques (and disciplines) of the body and its sensorium, performance theorists have expanded these concerns to include the role of illocutionary, aesthetic, material and dramatic processes in the expression of religious cosmology and its dividends. This has also implied a shift towards recognizing the profoundly self-reflexive, recursive dimensions of religiosity and its manifestations.

Re-centralizing the importance of sensory perception, we call for ethnographic and/or theoretical contributions that: a) make sense of religion through performance and art and b) approach performative and artistic action as religion in a variety of sociocultural, political, and spiritual contexts.

This conference thus aims to explore themes within the ethnology of religion, as well as within folklore-oriented studies, that speak to their fundamental capacity to sense which performs itself, through and with its actants, audiences, and media. At stake is a reconsideration of the universality of distinctions such as those between private and public religious experiences; the experience of intimate, “real” selves versus their performance or social construction; the existence of orthodoxies and established ontologies in counterpoint to their diversification, globalization, commoditization. We aim to ask not what the senses and “performance” of religion does to it (corrupts it, enhances it, promotes it, transforms it), but in what senses religion is constituted by its virtual or inherent senses, performativities and aesthetics? We ask how sport, technologies, artistic movements and forms of consumption, as well as modes of social and gender contestation, reveal and articulate religious dimensions; as well as how these can form novel configurations of religions themselves.

Taking these points in mind, some specific topics within anthropology, ethnography and folkore studies we aim to focus are:

Format: the conference takes place over two days, followed by an excursion on the third day. Paper presentations are limited to 20 minutes each, followed by ten minutes of discussion. In total 20 paper presenters can be selected. Colleagues who do not present a paper are welcome to participate in the conference and its discussions. A business meeting of the Working Group will be held during the conference.

Organizers: the conference is organised by the Center for Research in Anthropology (CRIA) and the Ethnology of Religion Working Group of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF). Venue: Universidade Nova de Lisboa-FCSH

Fee: the conference fee is 60 €, incl. conference materials, reception, coffee, lunch. Participants are responsible for travel and accommodation; there is no funding for expenses available.


ABSTRACTS (in order of presentation)

Pedro Antunes

The Commendation of Souls: performativity and gender

“The Commendation of Souls” is a Portuguese folk religious ritual practiced in Lent, in which some women gather to pray to/for the souls of the dead and living people in great pain, so they can get their indulgences in Purgatory and ascend to Heaven with greater brevity.

Withdrawing from an ongoing ethnographic research, initially developed in the village of Corgas (Proenca-a-Nova, Portugal), and comparative instances in neighbouring villages, I intend to think about the performativity of these commendations, their gestures, words, and objects and their dramaturgy (Turner, 1987; Schechner, 1987) mediated by women, who gather and relate the present and the absent (residents, migrants, alive or dead).

In the current context of productive restructuring of the rural space and of local identity formulations resorting the idea of ​​Intangible Cultural Heritage, it is important to reflect (1) on the meanings and symbols that the performance of commending souls acquires for their practitioners and for those who hear it; (2) to think about the conditions that allowed women to take the lead and to became the main actor performing it (Gemzöe, 2000; Dubisch, 1990), what it shows about the current position of women in the community and on the management of relations with the religious domain; (3) to understand how the practice of commendation of Souls constitutes a "repertoire" (Taylor, 2003) of embodied memory and how it intersects with other performing actions of its agents.

Anna Fedele

Ritual as a form of art: Goddess spirituality and the quest for gendered healing

In this paper I explore the gradual spread of Goddess spirituality (also described with the umbrella term Neopaganism or contemporary Paganism) in traditionally Catholic countries of Southern Europe such as Italy, Spain and Portugal and its use of crafted rituals to connect with divine forces. Even if they criticize and refuse the concepts related to gender, corporeality and sexuality they received from their Catholic families, the Goddess spirituality practitioners I encountered do not entirely refuse their Catholic background and reinterpret Christian figures such as Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. They also claim their right to use Catholic pilgrimage routes or churches to perform their own rituals.

My interlocutors often described the process of ritual crafting as a form of art. It was an art that had at its center the creation of a kind of beauty that fostered the encounter with the Goddess, the main divinity they venerated. Drawing on Sabina Magliocco’s study of Neopagan sacred art and altars (1996, 2001) I will show that when they create their altars and craft their rituals, these spiritual practitioners try to experience a kind of beauty that fosters a sense of integrity, harmony and healing. This healing experience is often attained by turning upside down the negative concepts about female corporeality and sexuality received in a Catholic environment. These crafted rituals offer a privileged window upon the intersections between ritual and art and I will analyze in particular the way in which the encounter with beauty through art and/or ritual can bring about a kind of healing that is specifically related with gender and sexuality.

Anna Clot Garell

From becoming to being: an approach to transformations in the conceptions, experiences and performances of a nun´s role

To what extent a nun should be docile and obedient? Can a Catholic nun wear trousers? How alternative spiritual practices reconcile with normatively institutionalised Catholic ones? Is a nun able to use body language and express her emotions? Does being a nun necessarily deny being a woman and young? What does mean and imply, therefore, being an ‘authentic’ Benedictine nun? Drawing on the fieldwork conducted in a female Benedictine monastery which represents an exception in the Catalan context due to its intergenerational community and presence beyond the walls of the institution, this paper approaches to these questions raised through the analysis and presentation of significant transformations in the ways of understanding and performing a nun’s role. On the basis of the collected empirical evidence, this paper discusses relevant factual and experiential implications that a new generation of professed nuns, who entered in the monastery in 1990s, have had in questioning and modifying traditional conceptions of monastic life and a nun’s figure yet in continuity with the heritage of the Benedictine tradition that they represent. Taking as a point of departure a shift identified in the novitiate period as a process of remaking identity (Goffman, 1961) to a process of reaffirming identity, this paper pays particular attention to changes in the conceptions of individual, community and authority within the monastic context. These transformations are examined as the result of these novel ways of comprehending, experiencing and performing a nun’s role that are in relation and tension to broad processes and socio-cultural dynamics constitutive of Western late-modern societies as the Catalan society.

Eugenia Roussou

Making Sense of contemporary Portuguese religiosity: perception, ritual performance, and spiritual healing in Lisbon.

Affected by multiculturalism, globalization, and the current socio-economic crisis, contemporary Portuguese religiosity is going through a process of transformation. Spiritual practices that belong to the so-called ‘New Age’ phenomenon (Heelas 1996; Hanegraaff 1996; Sutcliffe 2003) have made their way into people’s everyday life, affecting their beliefs and religious aspirations. In this newly formed spiritual context, performances of alternative healing play a central role in the Portuguese’s quest of the sacred. Sensory perception constitutes a core channel for communicating with the supernatural, and developing one’s ‘sacred self’ (Csordas 1997) by means of spi/ritual performance.

Based on on-going anthropological field research in Lisbon and its periphery, the aim of my paper is to investigate the ‘pluri-sensorial’ (Howes 1991: 6) character of performing spirituality in the Portuguese capital. I will do so by paying particular attention to a crucial angle of spirituality in Portugal, that of alternative healing. As Csordas (1997: 91) observes, the notion of performance has gained a central position in the study of religious healing. My objective is to show how a communication with the divine is achieved through the performance of alternative therapeutics and the invocation of the senses in the process; a process, where people bodily experience, ritually act, and spiritually transform their selves and negotiate their social relationships. Keeping in mind that the senses are ‘bearers and shapers of culture’ (Howes 1991: 3), I want to explore how a multiple ritualism is assembled in the sensory therapeutic performance, the spiritual elements of which make sure that a religiously complicated and dynamically acted charismatic healing is under effective practice.

Eivind Eggen

Seeing the spirit in the field: a pluri-sensorial approach to New-Age agriculture

In this paper, I will concern myself with the sensorial aspects of esoteric agricultural practices in the context of New Age spirituality. Drawing upon anthropological fieldwork, conducted in the spring of 2011, among biodynamic farmers in Northern California, I will focus on how a sacred and invisible agricultural landscape is ritually enacted.

Biodynamic agriculture, a method developed by the anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner, is today a worldwide institution applying theosophical philosophy with the expressed purpose of “healing the world through agriculture”. This relies largely on manipulating spiritual forces and energies, invisible and undetectable to most humans’ sensorial apparatus. Still, trained farmers claim to be able to sense the impulses of the cosmos, and work with these essentially “sacred” forces.

In order to examine how such religious experiences are constituted, I will be approaching my fieldwork material through the contemporary literature on human perception, brought fourth by the ontological turn in anthropology. Drawing on the approaches to sensory anthropology, outlined by authors such as Tim Ingold, Rane Willerlsev and Paul Stoller, I will give an account ritual ways of making supersensory phenomena available to the senses. To do so I will explore how processes of fermentation and decay, through the ritualistic production and application of the biodynamic “compost preparations”, become entangled with spiritual beliefs, and how this entanglement helps elicit a religious experience. Further, I explore how such supersensory phenomena are able to generate group cohesiveness by articulating a common way of perceiving a complex landscape.

Fotis Lambiris

The ritual offerings for health in Greece from Antiquity to the Modern Era: a lineal tradition

The use of ritual to communicate with the Deity, is a kind of a theatrical act, with the intention to assist or teach, in a way, both the participants and the viewers of it. Basically, ritual is a form of communication.

In Greece whenever an ancient religion came into conflict with the advancing Christian world, it lost- but still- leaving many traces which are recognisable even today.

The Christian ideal, as it came into contact with the Pagan, the Magical, and while it dominated over or set aside many ancient traditions which could not be conquered, it gave them a parallel meaning, making them it’s own.

In a world with a Greek Education, the offering of objects, as a kind of a present to the deity, as a form of thanking or asking something of the Divine to the interest of the pleader, is very old. According to findings it is as old as 700 b.C. but still these practices must be considered much older, as we can trace such within the work of the Iliad.

During the classical times, these practices had grown through the adoration of Asclepius- god of healing- by making offerings in the shape of human parts in scale (like legs etc), to thank the deity for healing.

Through the course of the centuries this practice has not faded, but it survives through the offerings that are today called “Tamata”. These are mostly made out of thin layers of metal (gold, silver, copper or bronze) which are being hung by a thread over icons, or beside them.

The Greek history provides us knowledge of many prominent historical Greeks who have used such tamata. These have been offered singularly, while other times together with Boy Scouts’ items. These people have mostly been army officers, priests, Patriarchs and people of culture.

There are various shapes of “Tamata” concerning healing, such as depictions of eyes, hearts, legs, bodies, etc. Moreover there are Tamata in other shapes such as houses’, cars’, boats’ etc in various forms, or other everyday objects like wedding tiaras. The Tamata are considered a proof of miracle for the believers and a testimony of faith to the Church.

The use of these Tamata is a continuous selective procedure. The study of these offerings can bring into light information on various levels of knowledge, from the social science to all humanitarian studies in general.

The words of Mirca Eliade I came across when I first started to study the matter, seem to be very exact “By making the visible divine, every object becomes something else, while a the same time it remains the same, as it continues to be a part of the worldly things.”

Cécile Guillaume-Pey

Trans/trance-gressive ways to embody the divine: “Spirit-letters” against possession

Among the Sora, a tribal group from central eastern India, the divine is generally actualized in multiples. Deities are materialized in landscape elements – stones, trees, termite mounds, etc. –, offerings and sacrificial victims, the voice of a possessed medium or even paintings made with rice powder. Gods can be seen, touched, heard, tasted by the various mediums that embodied them. Since the beginning of the last century, the various material, visual and sensory supports of the divine and the way they are perceived are shifting due to the spread of new media, the influence of major religions – Hinduism, Christianity – and the emergence of new autochthonous religions movements. In Odisha as well as in Andhra Pradesh and Assam, Sora become adepts of Matharvanam, a religious movement which appeared in the 1930s in Odisha. This movement focuses on the worship of the script invented by a Sora teacher to transcribe the Sora language. This script, used exclusively in a ritual context, is emblematic of the way tribal actors manage to conciliate both Sora and Hindu beliefs. Indeed, the Sora graphic system, which considered as a whole appears as the incarnation of Jagannath, a prominent figure of the regional pantheon, is also called ‘script of the sonum’, the deities of the Sora pantheon which are also incorporated into the holy script. The ways actors apprehend the spirits as alphabetical characters sharply contrasts with the ways the non-converted Sora usually experience them. The modes of communication with the divine change considerably. Indeed, among the non-converted, actors speak with their dead or with local deities through a medium in trance. Once the spirits are fixed in letters they remain mute. Possession — a practice often associated with low status groups in India —is no longer considered a privileged way of dealing with the divine by most of the Matharvanam devotees. But during the last decade, the “charisma of the letter” seems blunted and the traditional mediums associated with deities are re-entering the ritual stage.

James A. Kapaló

Transgressive Iconographies: Imperial and the Divine ‘Presence’ in Inochentite Cosmology

In this paper I explore the religious iconography of the Inochentite movement in 20th century Romania and Moldova. The Inochentite movement emerged in the first decade of the twentieth century in the Russian Province of Bessarabia and the neighbouring Governorate of Podolia, on the territory of contemporary Moldova and Ukraine. The intensely apocalyptic and charismatic movement, which was inspired by the Moldovan Orthodox monk Ioan Levizor, was soon portrayed as both religiously heretical and politically subversive and as such was seen as a challenge to the authority of both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsarist regime. As a marginalised and persecuted minority during the Soviet era, the movement went underground. However, Inochentism has proved a tenacious presence on the religious landscape, gradually re-emerging into the public domain in the post-Soviet era. Today, various Inochentite groups operate on the margins of mainstream Orthodoxy.

The Inochentite revival gave rise to a rich and varied ‘folk’ or naïve iconographic tradition reflecting the significance of its charismatic leader and revealing the universal cosmological claims of Inochentie’s followers. The images, produced by followers, are displayed in homes and circulated in Inochentite manuscripts and small scale publications. This paper will focus on two aspects of Inochentite iconography that transgress canonical norms: representations of the imperial and of the divine. The hagiographic tradition will be discussed in relation to the transformative power of the material ‘presence’ of icons to silently critique political and social realities and contribute toward the transformation of subject positions.

Lidia Guzy 

Boil - Trans/trance-mediumship in Western Odisha, India

This paper presents the local belief and knowlege system "boil" based on trance mediumship and a particular musical tradition of orchestral music performed in the Bora Sambar region of Western Odisha by marginalised musicians and priest-musicians belonging to a local low caste. Boil will be discussed as a culture specific idea of transformation from human to non- human entity through trance. We will highlight the various sensuous and polymorphic ways to materialize the Goddess during the performance and the efficacy of this practice of ritual metamorphosis.

Raquel Romberg

Sensing, Grasping, and Representing Spirits: Anthropological Ruminations and Predicaments

One extremely hot noon in Puerto Rico, while “observing” a Santeria bembe celebrating the end of the initiation of two women, I was the object of Ochun’s embodied attention. When a container with honey was poured over my head and body by Ochun (riding a woman), undulating around me to the sounds of drumming, I stopped analyzing and begun sensing, as a fleeting embodied sense of the presence of Ochun took over me. This “imprinting” experience during the early stages of my fieldwork was an important lesson about crosscultural multisensorial extraordinary experiences, especially their poetic drama and viscerality, and their transformative, affective power. That was a lesson outside and beyond belief, which I would later continue to learn during my fieldwork in Puerto Rico, working with Haydée, a witch healer, in her daily consultations. Drawing on ethnographic vignettes from my extensive work with witch healers in Puerto Rico and comparative work by other ethnographers, this paper will reflect ethnographically and theoretically on multisensorial ways of experiencing the world of spirits by participants and ethnographers, especially as they are engineered in visceral dramas of spiritual healing in which synesthesic correspondences summon the spirits’ presence. Theoretical ruminations on performance, poetics, drama, and the senses will accompany these ethnographic vignettes in a co-production in which cacophonic styles of representation of extraordinary experiences will be proposed. In the last two decades the anthropological and folkloristic attention to the senses as co-producers of reality in religious contexts has intensified, and yet suspicions about the “sensuous” ethnographer continue to linger in the academy. This paper will explore not only the significance and limits of “flow” and “effervescence” in such fieldwork encounters but also test the limits and predicaments of un-didactic, suggestive representations.

Bea Vidacs

Making Sense of Sacred Space and Place:  The Impact of Place on the Sensory Perception of Religious Experience

The experience of sacred place and space is an important element of the sensory experience of religious feeling.  The paper will examine how members of a religious community in rural Hungary understand and interpret three contiguous but also distinct religious places in their midst.  The community has come into being in 1993 around a visionary who relives the sufferings of Christ on the first Friday of every month. The paper will discuss the three disparate places that have been constructed by the community on the compound of the visionary’s own house, which are thus private and public at the same time. They are: 1) a church, where mass is celebrated and many of the activities of the community are taking place; 2) a permanent “tent”where the visions

occur; and 3) an open space with a Golgotha and the stations of the cross encircling a manicured lawn and set against a Central European agricultural landscape of vegetable gardens and outbuildings.  Based on interviews with the visionary and her followers I will seek to elucidate how my informants experience the different sensory impacts of these different sacred places on their religious experience.  I will also attempt to disentangle how the types of activities associated with the different places are intertwined with the sensory perception and experience of religion for my informants. 

Clara Saraiva

Performance, aesthetics and religion: the case of the Afro-Brazilian religions in Portugal

The expansion of the afro-Brazilian cults (Umbanda and Candomblé) in Portugal in the last 20 years has been immense, and every six months a new temple opens up. Although Brazilians constitute the major group of immigrants in Portugal (ca. 25% of the total immigrant universe), it is the Portuguese that are attracted to these cults. The only Brazilians present are individuals with special ritual duties, such as the pai or mãe de santo, the heads of the temples. Some of the factors that attract the Portuguese are the aesthetics and performative aspects of such religions: the idea of incorporating an orixá and dress in the orixá´s beautiful clothes is something everyone longs for. The careful aesthetics and performance of the ritual is complemented with a careful management of emotions, that individuals nevertheless feel are much more loose here than in the traditional Catholic rituals. How do these two ideals of a different aesthetics and of a different emotional model interact in this new scenario of the expansion of the Afro-Brazilian religions in a previously Catholic country? This paper will expand on issues of transnationalism and religious migration, exploring also what is the meaning of performance and aesthetics in different religious views.

Lieke Wijnia

The Experience of Religion in Musical Performance

Contemporary experiences of religion have a plural and diverse character, not only due to the diversity of the religious landscape, but also to the secular contexts in which these experiences can take place. This paper explores the variety in which the notion of religion can be experienced through musical performance. It argues how both the elements of sound and space are of importance in the musical experience of religion. These experiences are defined by their sensory character, which is triggered and influenced by emotional and aesthetic appreciation of the performed music and the space it is performed in.

To demonstrate the interplay between space and sound in the sensory experience of religion through music, this paper draws from ethnographic data regarding performances during the 2012 and 2013 editions of festival Musica Sacra Maastricht. This festival propagates it explores manifestations of sacrality in music, from both religious and secular perspectives. Mendelssohn’s St. Paul is programmed just as well as John Luther Adam’s Strange and Sacred Noise that was inspired by the grandeur of Alaskan nature. The festival takes place throughout Maastricht, a city characterized by its religious heritage.

A variety of concert locations and musical periods and styles will be addressed through the ethnographic data. In addition to the intentions of the program committee, the experiences of two respondents in particular will be explored. One self-identifies as religious, the other as non-religious. They demonstrate very different ways of experiencing the notion of religion; experiences which have a highly sensory character. These are in turn for both a reason to return to the festival each year and what contributes to the meaning of their ideas of the sacred. The data sheds light on how both sound and space constitute these different experiences of religion in musical performances.

Kinga Povedák

Performance and Creativity in Religious Experience: A case study of Pentecostal-charismatic worship music from Hungary

We cannot overemphasize the importance of the role of senses if we look at religious experience or try to make sense of religion. Religion in its lived form is performed through sensual engagements while musical engagement is probably one of the most essential participatory ritual of religions where religious music is not only music but also a transcendental communication which engenders and performs vernacular theology. In our day the situation is similar however, with the blurring boundaries between the sacred and the profane, congregational music-making was enriched with peculiarities of ’experience society’. Popular religious art is immensely changed by media-mediated forms and new aesthetic formations appear, we cannot pass unnoticed of the creation of a novel religious experience and entailing the reinterpretation of religious experience.

In my case study I look at a Pentecostal-Charismatic service and worship and analyze how enthusiastic singing and collective religious music-making (as individual and collective performances) leads to ‘collective effervescence’, an embodied sense of belonging through the worship songs of popular religious art. I try to shed light on how the choice and use of worship songs is a creative process, a matter of constant negotiation of the worship-leaders and the community based on the concept: “what works the best for the desired religious experience”. In this creative process prescripted elements are unwelcome and replaced with improvisational elements. This paper endeavors to analyze the importance how the performance of sonic practices contribute to religious experience.

Birthe Jorgensen

Temporary communities of practice – on the instability of shared spiritual experiences

As an installation artist, I am interested in exploring how sacred and secular spaces are created in globalised, materialist times.

I resist irony as a tactic (Foster-Wallace 2000) and instead explore the potential of working within temporary communities of practice (Wenger 1998) with practitioners from other disciplines than my own. In such ‘molecular’ constellations (Deleuze & Guattari 1980) where flows of creativity travel in between the written and spoken word, musical notes, acusmatic sound, physical materials and bodies in motion, methods of ‘cutting up’ (Burroughs 1977) and improvisation helps uncover mechanisms behind story formation, thereby opening up/laying bare new territories for action. (Lee-Barclay 2011). Can collective, creative acts within such territory be considered to have a spiritual dimension? If so can we embrace such spiritual realms as temporary, shifting and in a constant state of becoming other (Deleuze & Guattari 1980)?

My current practice is rooted in my experiences as a member of the experimental, multi-disciplinary company Apocryphal Theatre, with whom I worked as a Live Visual Artist in London between 2005-11. The company consisted of Actors from a wide variety of backgrounds, Performance Artists, Dancers, a Mime Artist, a Comedian, an Improvisational Violinist/Vocal Artist, a Composer, a Lighting Designer and a Visual Artist. Improvising from scores and using theatrical tools and concepts collectively created in our weekly lab, I would produce a continuous stream of quick sketch-like sculptural elements live on stage. Sharing the creative process with fellow performers and an audience (often engaging actively), rather than displaying finished, static pieces, raised important questions about work taking the form of instable, particularly resonant moments. Emerging within a live theatrical context and a specific set of creative minds at work these moments would soon be transformed/disappear and in doing so lend a kind of grace to that which would follow.

Since 2011 I have been researching these questions within several other temporary, cross-disciplinary communities of practice – working closely with Human Geographers, Sonic Artists, Writers, Musicians, Dancers, Archaeologists and Anthropologists.

Celso de Brito

The Orixás in the “glocalized” Capoeira Angola: The search for the Afro-Brazilian tradition in Germanic lands

Taking in consideration the concept of “glocalization”, used by Robertson (2005) to describe cultural processes arising from the adequacy of the global market with the homogenizing tendencies towards the local demands, I have analized the French Capoeira and saw an over-value of what is called the “afro-Brazilian tradition” as part of a legitimization process in a globalized scenario. This search for legitimization takes a great investment of both time and money to allow one to experiment, to its fullest, what has been homogenized as “afro-Brazilian tradition”. However it is in this homogenizing tendency that we find the specific local characteristics when we ask: By what means was this pattern acquired and what are their consequences? I will try to analyze this using multi-situated ethnography, using the case-study of the European part of the group Irmãos Guerreiros of the Capoeira Angola, settled in the terreiro of candomblé Ile Oba Sileke, based in Berlin, a locus of Afro-Brazilian tradition experiences.

The candomblé is introduced in the European Capoeira practices through the participation in candomblé rituals, Orixás dance lessons, percussion and music, and sacred cuisine.Thus, the search for tradition leads the European Capoeira practitioners to the Irmãos Guerreiros’ group for multi-sensorial experiences (images, smells, sounds and movements) from afro-Brazilian religion as “somatic modes of attention” (Csordas, 2008) accessing, in the end, mystical perceptions, and thus turning what was initially thought of as a sporting activity, into a religious practice.

Karolina Lambrou

Rituals in Performance Art

After the Second World War, an important shift is observed within the art world with many artists demonstrating their work in other spaces, often non-gallery ones, where their ideas are explored and presented in action. During the 1960s these new forms of art became more popular, mainly due to the intense social changes within the gay and lesbian community, the struggle for women’s rights and against race discrimination as well as the appearance of new left antiwar movements. Body and Performance artists, through interacting with the people, aimed to offer a unique and powerful experience in order to make a statement, their voice to be heard and ultimately succeed in accomplishing certain changes within the sociopolitical context, not only of their country but also generally in the world.

Many of these artists willingly adopt the role of the scapegoats of society, as a kind of pharmakos in order to help their fellow human beings to come to a sort of realisation of the evils of this world and to see where humanity is heading. Art can eventually contribute to the progress of humanity through the artists’ selfless and self-sacrificial work. Performance artists use their traumatized body to project their art and the nexus between body, violence and rituals.

In order to transform the abject into something positive, performance artists often give a ritualistic character to their performances. The ritualisation of the abject is an idea that concerns the philosopher Julia Kristeva. Using Kristeva’s Powers of Horror and her reading of Sigmund Freud, Mary Douglas and Claude Levi Strauss, the purpose of this paper is to explore how performance artists, through the use of rituals, offer a cathartic experience in their attempt to reconstitute humanity.

Joanna Popielska-Grzybowska

Senses in the ancient Egyptian rebirth of the deceased and the performative aspects of Egyptian religion

The author of the paper will scrutinise, with reference to textual and contextual arguments, the performative role of the world’s oldest religious texts, namely the ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Moreover, in connection with this, the way in which the Egyptians perceived the senses and the role people attributed to the senses in the rebirth to new life and its rituals, specifically, will be discussed. The “embodiments” of the pharaoh, as a part of the metamorphoses reaching a final after-death embodiment in the form of creator god Atum, are very significant and thought provoking. Interestingly, concurrently these processes of embodiment and rituals described in the Pyramid Texts were means of expression of one of the Egyptian cosmologies. Although that which will be presented concerns a distant past, the ideas and religious ritual practices seem to be common to all people all over the world and all the time.

The author aims also to find out if the above-mentioned practices differed significantly from those of the common Egyptian people. Do the Egyptian religious texts written for the pharaoh’s benefit and use mention common people and if so in what context?

Furthermore, following the same texts’ example, it is plausible to reconstruct how the Egyptians understood sensory perception. Added to that it will be shown how important it was in constituting the social and political image of the Egyptian King.

Aiming at possible thoroughness of the study, the analysis will be concentrated on the texts from the period of the Egyptian early history, namely the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom.

István Povedác, László Attila Hubbes & Aida Rancane

How to interpret neopagan religious art?

The analysis of neopaganism as a new religious movement gained increasing scientific interest in the past decades. Researchers analysing the topic thoroughly introduced the ideology, teachings, subgroups and rituals of the movement, its interconnection with

different social-, political movements both in ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ societies, however the research on the artistic dimension of this syncretic movements has only sporadic results. The aim of my paper is to shed light on this dimension, with answering such questions as how it is constructed, why and how it uses syncretic elements from religious and mundane culture, how religious arts are used during rituals. The paper will use examples from Central- Eastern Europe. 

Irina Stahl

The emergence of new, alternatives icons in Romania and their inherent religious challenges

As religious revival continues to evolves in Romania, Orthodox devotees increasingly turn towards saints (both official and popular), seeking for help, guidance and support with everyday life difficulties. Devotees treasure photos of contemporary saints and occasionally of their bodily remains the same as icons.

Traditionally, Orthodox icons are painted using special techniques and according to strict iconographical rules. Specific rules also regulate the painter’s behaviour. Painters are advised to pray and fast during the creative artistic process, as their work will reflect their faith. Traditional icons are mainly painted on wood and are expensive. In an attempt to make icons accessible to as many people as possible, the Church sells alternative, inexpensive non-traditional icons made of paper plasticised reproductions. While there are ancient rules stipulating how to deal with old and deteriorating wooden icons, there are no rules regarding broken or discarded plastic icons. One wonders what will happen with these alternative icons over time.

Icons help the faithful connect with the represented saints and thus enhancing communication. Do the apparitions of the new icons alter this religious connection and communication with the saints? Do people relate differently to icons representing the saints as living persons or showing their relics? Is there any difference in praying to saints using a traditional versus an alternative icon? Do people relate to them differently? Is the artistic quality of the icon important to the devotee and does it influence the result of the prayer?

It has been assumed that Orthodoxy has remained unchanged while confronted by modernity. On the contrary, everyday reality shows how modernity has gradually penetrated the religious process. The existence of these alternative icons is a good illustration of this.

Leonard Norman Primiano

Sentimentality, Sacramentality, Memory: Towards a Typology of Catholic Kitsch

Engineer and philosopher Abraham Moles has noted that “kitsch is essentially an aesthetic system of mass communication.” Moles speculates that kitsch allows the masses to pass “from sentimentality to sensation,“ from mere pleasure to the “genuine” experience of art. Continuing work that I presented at the 2013 SIEF meeting in Tartu, Estonia, this paper argues that the communicative power of Catholic kitsch is perhaps better understood through a change in Mole’s proposal where sentimentality, sacramentality, and memory permit kitsch to pass from the passive role of usually material pleasure to the active mental and physical state of genuine devotion.  A typology of Catholic kitsch emerging from this discussion will be presented through relevant images.

Anne K. Larsen

The Staging and Structure of Ceremonies

This paper focuses on the staging and design of rites de passage. When participating in life-cycle rituals during fieldwork in a Malay fishing-village (1988-92), I was initially struck by the seemingly lack of clear borders regarding time, space and participants in the rituals. I simply could not figure out where the ceremonies took place, when they started and ended, who were the performers contra the audience, etc. This must of course be seen on the background of my own experience of Scandinavian ceremonies in churches and other venues, where I find the framework of the ceremonies rather clearly defined and therefore possibly a mean for creating a certain atmosphere and for channeling the participants’ emotional experience. Could the explanation be linked to the old discussion on the sacred and the profane, and a lack of distinction between these two states in Malay religious beliefs? Could it be connected to the lack of separation between public and private domains in Malay village life, with a corresponding “absence” of homo goffmani? When taking up the topic of unclear borders with the villagers, they did not find this puzzling or problematic as long as the necessary actions were performed in a technical sound way. So maybe it was our western rites of passage that needed explanation. The whole question of borders came again to the fore during my more recent fieldwork among bedu villagers in Dubai. A main ingredient in their wedding celebrations is the making of films by a professional team covering the event, and during much of the arrangement the film director is almost a master of ceremonies who much decides on the course of action. On the basis of these observations I will invite a discussion on what different staging of rituals may do to the experience of the participants.

Alessandro Testa

«This is no spectacle». Poetics of Authenticity and Processes of Ritualization in the Production and Consumption of Tradition in Europe Today

The quotation that introduces the title of this communication is drawn from a record taken during my ethnographic fieldwork in central Italy. It is the answer that an informant gave me when asked about the “nature” of a ritual act performed during the “traditional” Carnival which constituted the main object of my ethnographic fieldwork. “Is it a ritual or spectacle?” was that question. The quoted answer – and the facial expression that accompanied it – revealed the sense of endangerment to authenticity felt, during the ethnographic interaction, by the local informant, who manifestly considered my analytic curiosity as an attempt of potential desacralization or “pollution” of a tradition considered precisely authentic, typical, old, unchanged, etc.

In this contribution I will present this as well as other examples taken from European anthropological literature to discuss in which ways the sentiments and poetics of authenticity are constructed, lived and expressed in contemporary ritual performances, especially those once labelled as “folkloric”. I will also address the issue of the role and the relevance that recent processes of ritualization related to the re-functionalization, re-invention and invention of traditions have in shaping so called “cultural heritages” and new forms of religious or pseudo-religious experiences.

The aim of the contribution is to raise questions and induce further theorization, through the mention and the discussion of well-established and particularly representative ethnographic cases, about the currently observable European patterns in processes like the creation of cultural heritages, performing rituals, and experiencing new forms of religiosity – obviously by means of a critical and theoretically well-informed comparison. Notions like authenticity, ritual, religion and tradition will be thus not only used as explanatory categories but also briefly discussed in relation to their general methodological usefulness, limits, and implications.