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In search of spirituality:

Provisional conceptual and theoretical explorations from the cultural anthropology of religion and the history of ideas

Wim van Binsbergen


for the Research Group on Spirituality, Dutch/Flemish Association for Intercultural Philosophy, meeting Friday 29 October, 1999, 16.00 hrs, Philosophical Faculty, Erasmus University Rotterdam

hastily written first draft
not for publication or published comment


1. Background and outline

At the previous session of the Research Group of the Dutch-Flemish Association for Intercultural Philosophy, a kick-off to the theme of ‘Spirituality’ as a focus for intercultural philosophy was given by means of three papers by Henk Oosterling, written at different phases in the development of his perspective on the philosophy of difference. For those somewhat familiar with, and sympathetic towards, that intellectual position, a few major questions stood out at the end of that meeting:

     how can we make specifically intercultural philosophy out of Oosterling’s ideas?

     how do we accommodate in this connection the tension (which could be argued to be at the heart of any endeavour towards intercultural philosophy) between universalism and relativism

     how can we apply Oosterling’s ideas -- or modifications thereof -- to settings peripheral to, or even outside, the intellectual climate of the North Atlantic today, e.g. in present-day African villages and small towns, whose forms of (I suppose) ‘spirituality’ have been explored in numerous forms of empirical research from the part of social scientists

     in the context of such empirical research social scientists have build up a considerable experience with the theoretical and conceptual aspects of ‘spirituality’; how can we make these intellectual resources work for our present Research Group?

     how are we to ground our theoretical exercises in the concrete situation of such contexts of spirituality as encountered on the contemporary Rotterdam scene, supposed we all agree that this is what we want to do (via a link with the ‘Rotterdam Cultural Capital in 2001’ project).

I trust that my fellow-members of the Research Group will accept that, in the present paper, I seek to make a contribution to only a tiny a selection of these huge questions!

       In search of a theoretical frame of reference I start out by presenting, in a nutshell and with extreme simplifications, some of the more central theoretical resources of the sociology and anthropology of religion. This will culminate in a brief inspection of how these approaches might serve us to make sense, from an intercultural perspective, of religion in a context of pluralism or -- as is the fashionable term today -- the multicultural society. Although the heritage of classic social-science research in the field of religion would not seem to be directly employable in the context of our present project, I hope to demonstrate that a first purusal of this tradition from the perspective of ‘spirituality’ throws light not only on this tradition but also on dimensions of spirituality (e.g. the social, economic, political and psychoanalytical aspects) which will help us along in further phases of our project. Meanwhile another urgent concern of our Research Group is the concept of spirituality itself. I investigate a few recent usages of this word, from the sociology of religion and from a New Age discussion on morphic resonance. I then proceed to characterise the concept of ‘spirituality’ as recent and strategic, as a reflection of specific concern typical of our contemporary condition of globalisation. The term turns out to carry all sorts of connotations whose philosophical implications we shall have to consider very seriously before we can even commit ourselves to make spirituality the leading theme of our forthcoming researches.


2. Some theoretical resources in the anthropology and sociology of religion

2.1. Overview

Let us here provisionally define ‘spirits’ as ‘immaterial beings as conceived by certain humans, who moreover tend to endow these beings with anthropomorphic traits and with the capability of interfering in the ordinary, material world of common human experience’.

       Tylor, one of the founding fathers of cultural anthropology, was one of the first to stress the widespread distribution of the belief in spirits (defined along roughly the above lines) across the societies of mankind past and present. He defines religion as simple ‘the belief in spiritual beings’, and for instance identifies as the belief informing divination with the use of a material divinatory apparatus, and gambling with the use of dice or lots, as

‘spiritual beings standing over the diviner or the gambler, shuffling the lots or turning up the dice to make them give their answers’.[1]

Tylor’s definition of religion was soon challenged and broadened, when the ethnography of the Pacific Ocean came to stress such local concepts as taboo and mana, referring not to personalised, anthropomorphic spiritual beings but to spiritual forces rather comparable to static electricity (then scarcely a century old as a physics concept) and absolute, numinous prohibition. Especially since Otto’s Das heilige,[2] religious anthropology and comparative religious studies became aware of the fact that in many human contexts (specific in time and place) the non-personalised, non-human connotations of what is locally constructed to be the sacred, are at least as important as the anthropomorphic connotations. The latter may allow people to think of the sacred as just another interaction partner, comparable to fellow-humans in their capability of rational maximalisation, and therefore capable of manipulation, flattery, coaxing, deceit, propitiation. But these anthropomorphic aspects tends to be offset against ungraspable, numinous, fundamentally non-human aspects, and in fact the constant oscillation between these to poles was recognised as a major dimension of religion in general. Meanwhile the Tylorian approach offered useful guidelines in those many contexts of the ethnography and historiography of religion (e.g. in North and West Africa, in Graeco-Roman Antiquity and in Mediterranean popular religion), where humans apparently conceptualised their involvement beyond the material world in terms of rationalising, maximalising interaction with specific spirits, speaking to them, striking contracts with them, seeking thus to enlist their superior powers for their own personal goals and interests.

       Perhaps we would not readily apply the term ‘spirituality’ to such conceptualisations of the sacred: they would strike us as being too pedestrian and down-to-earth for such a qualification, which for many of us would imply overtones of ‘aspiring to a higher order of being’. But arriving at a useful working definition of ‘spirituality’ is precisely the purpose of this paper; let us not skip essential parts of the argument.

       Although much later there have been attempts to revive Tylor’s ‘spiritual’ or ‘rationalistic’ definition of religion,[3] these could not prevent that the main stream of religious studies in the social sciences opted for a totally different and far more subtle approach, in which the religious belief is recognised to be a representation, notably of the social experience of the believers, so that a theory of the religious symbol, rather than a model of rational maximising interaction after the human model, is installed at the heart of religious studies. Of course, the seminal study here is Emile Durkheim’s Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse,[4] which still after nearly a century dominates the social scientific study of religion as no other. Durkheim departs from what he considers the fundamental condition for religion: the distinction between sacred and profane, which may take all sorts of forms in concrete settings of time and place, but whose fundamental and universal (!) feature is that it is absolute. As such the distinction between sacred and profane is not only the basis for all rational thought, but particularly for a cosmological partitioning of the world in terms of sacred and profane. Sacred aspects of the world (given aspects of the natural world such as animal species (religiously turned into totems), but also man-made aspects: events, human acts, concepts, myths) are not sacred by some aspect of their intrinsic nature, but there sacredness is superimposed by collective human representations; the selection of things sacred is entirely arbitrary and therefore can vary from society to society and from historical period to historical period — what is involved is merely the application, with endless variation, of the distinction between sacred and profane. The sacred is nothing in itself, but a mere symbol -- but of what? The sacred is subject to a negative cult of avoidance, taboo, but also to a positive cult of veneration. It is essential that this cult is a collective thing, in which the group constitutes itself as a congregation, a church -- Durkheim uses this world (‘église’) in the original etymological sense (ekklesia, i.e. ‘people’s assembly’) and without Christian implications: his own background was Jewish, and his argument is largely underpinned by ethnographic reference to the religion of Australian Aborigines, who at the time had undergone virtually no exposure to Christianity. Durkheim then makes his genial step of identifying the social, the group, as the referent which is ultimately venerated in religion. Here Durkheim is also indebted to Comte’s idea of a ‘religion de l’humanité’ as a requirement for the utopian age when a ‘positivist’, rational science will have eclipsed all the religious and philosophical chimera of earlier phases in the development of human society. It is the group which, through its transformation into a religious symbol -- a transformation of which the adherents themselves are largely or completely unaware -- , inspires the believer and the practitioner of ritual with such absolute respect that their ritual becomes an ‘effervescence’, a heated melting together into social solidarity by which the group constitutes itself and perpetuates itself, and in which the individual (prone to profanity, anti-social egotism, sorcery) can transcend his own limitations, can give up his individuality, and become part of the group, for which the individual is even prepared to sacrifice not only ritual prestations, but also himself. Without religion no society, but it is society itself which is the central object of religious veneration; and from this spring all human thought, all logical and rational distinctions, concepts of space and time, causation etc.

       This is not the place to trace the philosophical antecedents of Durkheim’s thought, which include idealist and collectivists French philosophers as de Maitre and Bonald, a fair helping of Kant, and also influences from rabbinical mysticism. Durkheim achievement was to offer coherent, theoretically underpinned answers to some of the most pressing questions of religious studies, e.g.

     why do people create representations of a world beyond the one of everyday sensory experience;

     why do people not give up these representations even if their rational faculties are unimpaired, and even if they are confronted with alternative, rational, scientific modes of explanation;

     why is there the extreme variety of human beliefs, both within and across societies and historical periods;

     why can we often detect a striking parallelism, isomorphism, between specific aspects of a society’s religion (e.g. notions concerning the causation of illness and healing, featuring ancestors dispensing punishment and reward; or the parcelling up of the society and of the landscape into hierarchically nested congregations and spirit provinces) and other aspects of that society e.g. its kinship system (in which living senior kinsmen are in control of production and reproduction and constitute major role models; and the ramification of social and territorial organisation into nested localised social groups)

       Throughout the twentieth century CE, part of the sociology and most of the anthropology of religion has revolved on the specific empirical application, as well as the theoretical critique, of Durkheim’s theory. From the original context of the Année Sociologique (the leading sociological journal at the turn of the twentieth century CE) Radcliffe-Brown[5] introduced the theory into social anthropology, greatly modifying and simplifying it in the process. Durkheim’s general approach to the identity of the sacred and the social obtained a particularly original twist in the work of René Girard.[6] Malinowski[7] initiated a dominant line of critique: given Man’s selective interest in nature (some natural species are more edible than others, etc.) it can be argued that for some sacred symbols their sacred nature is not entirely superimposed, but does spring from some intrinsic quality they have for human production and reproduction; this line of argument was later carried on by the Marxist anthropologist Worsley.[8] On the other hand, a direct link of student/teacher relations connects Durkheim, via his most famous student Mauss, to Lévi-Strauss. The latter’s rationalistic theory of totemism[9] as constituting and expressing binary group oppositions, while on the one hand a specific application of structuralist ideas with a different, Saussurian ancestry, is on the other hand merely a specific elaboration of Durkheim’s ideas as rendered above. In Levi-Strauss’s work ritual, veneration, ‘spirituality’, scarcely play a role, and only operations of the mind are considered.

       A more promising elaboration of Durkheim from the point of view of religious studies is the work of Victor Turner,[10] who on the basis of detailed ethnography of both the social and the ritual process in the mid-19th century CE society of the Ndembu in northwestern Zambia, South Central Africa, greatly refines Durkheim’s theory of religious symbolism. He situates the construction and the experience of the sacred no longer in the static characteristics of a belief system which is supposed to be formulated once for all, but (in a way which we might characterise as praxeological) in the dynamic dramaturgy, the micro-historicity, of the unfolding ritual process in concrete settings of time and place. Another major innovation is that he identifies the idealist, even totalitarian streak in Durkheim’s approach to the social: while it may be the ultimate source of sacred meaning and of experienced reality, it also takes on the characteristics of Big Brother forcing the individual into sociable submission by extremely powerful symbolic devices. For Turner, by contrast, ritual does not necessarily reproduce and replicate (through isomorphism) the social order -- it may also challenge that order, create situations where that order is temporarily suspended, denied, or overthrown: liminal, i.e. threshold-like situations, like pilgrimage, retreat, ecstasy, rituals of an rebellious or orgiastic nature. There not structure but anti-structure is being produced. Therefore in Turner’s hands Durkheim’s ‘effervescence’ becomes ‘communitas’ -- an intersubjective sense of transcendence of individuality into sociable collectivity. Communitas does not necessarily refer to some pre-existing community whose members participate in the ritual, whose structure is reinforced and whose persistence is perpetuated; the transformation of alterity into community may merely involve those actually participating in the specific ritual at hand, but then again it may transcend, consciously or by implication, the concrete setting and generate identification with a very wide class of humanity and even with the non-human world, with the world at large, the cosmos -- holding up ideals and aspirations concerning an ideal world rather than reinforcing the status quo on the real world and its structures. While for Durkheim ritual reinforces the power structure of a society, for Turner it is likely to expose and potentially explode that power structure.

       It would take us to far to consider the question why throughout the twentieth century CE Durkheim’s approach has remained fairly dominant in the cultural anthropology of religion, whereas in the adjacent (originally indistinguishable) field of the sociology of religion from the middle of the century Weber’s approach increasingly eclipsed Durkheim’s. For Weber the intentionality of (individual) human action is the central point in sociological explanation (in terms of ‘Verstehen’), and he therefore sees religion in terms not of arbitrary symbols imposed by ‘society’, but as a structure of collective signification, which implies a shift from a static model of individual submissiveness to institutionalised religion (Durkheim’s emphasis) to the dynamic tension between individuals’ acts and conceptions and their merging into a more or less enduring, more or less institutionalised religion.

       Issues of power dominate also the main original alternative to the Durkheimian approach in twentieth-century CE anthropology and sociology of religion: the Marxist approach. At first glance there could not be a greater difference between Durkheim’s sociologistic idealism and Marx’s historical materialism, but the extreme difference becomes more relative once we realise how much both traditions owe (via Hegel) to Kant; how much structural persistence over time is really an emphasis shared by both Marx and Durkheim; and how much Marx’s theory of value, fetishism, and religion as false consciousness which is produced as a result of class contradictions, in fact amounts to a theory of religious symbolism which has unsuspected parallels with Durkheim’s. Interestingly, not only Worsley but also Turner (and most of his colleagues of the Manchester School of anthropology) went through a phase of being a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. For a long time, the Marxist approach to the sociology of religion was obsessed with the distinction between (a) a material basis revolving on relations of production and the class contradictions these entail, and (b) a superstructure where religious beliefs and practices, myths, legal procedures, and other forms of symbolic expression would be situated, allegedly reflecting, and being determined by, the material basis; here again there is a parallel with the fundamental distinction between sacred and profane informing Durkheim’s theory. Major steps were taken in religious anthropology in the 1960-70s, when a more relative view was taken of the basis/ superstructure distinction, without giving up the idea that any society, including its religious dimension, necessarily revolves on processes of production, the alienation of the product from the primary producers, the class contradictions this produces, and the devices by which these forms of exploitation, although counter to the interests of the primary producers, are yet accepted by them. Violence, slavery, raiding, forced labour, are among these devices, but far more common ones exist in the religious and ideological sphere, were the true nature of the exploitation to which they are being subjected is either obscured from the consciousness of the primary producers, or rendered acceptable to them: their suffering on earns wins them heaven; the exploiters do not exploit for their own interests but on behalf of the gods; the exploiters occupy an incomparably higher place in the fixed order of things and therefore their acts of appropriation cannot possibly be resented; it is the gods, ancestors, spirits of the wilds, etc. that guard over the social relations of the living, and thus underpin with their incomparable authority the (exploitative) redistribution of the primary product that take place, etc. The important insight therefore arose that religious beliefs and practices are not superstructural epiphenomena of whatever more fundamental material processes around which social life was supposed to revolve -- no, religion was recognised as part and parcel of the relation of production themselves. This rendered the concept of ‘false consciousness’ extremely problematic: it seemed to suggest, ethnocentrically, that the forms of exploitation to be found in the North Atlantic at the height of capitalism -- forms which Marx’s and Engels’ writings had identified for us -- would be found back, on closer analytical scrutiny, in all societies at all periods of human history. Instead, it was admitted that specific local cultural systems would entail their own local ways of justifying and obscuring exploitation, and that therefore we had to study ‘modes of production’ in all parts of the world and in all historical periods, seeking to identify the specific ways in which the obscuring of exploitation and appropriative violence was build into the very structure of these societies. This suggested an interesting research agenda for Marxist religious studies. However, despite promising attempts in this direction,[11] this line of enquiry was from the beginning severely handicapped by the persistent difficulty of formulating a non-reductionist Marxist theory of religious symbolism; the movement (of which I was an active member) was virtually terminated by further developments in North Atlantic intellectual life: the demise of international communism as a political reality, and the replacement of the Marxist paradigm by the post-modern and post-structuralist ones in the social sciences in the course of the 1980s.

       Another major idea informing the social science of religion from the beginning of the twentieth century CE has been that of the subconscious (Freud and followers) or the unconscious (Jung and followers). These approaches have in common the idea that the religious content which is the object of representations, beliefs and rites, is based in the contents of those domains of the psyche which the individuals involved cannot directly access by rational, self-critical reflection, and which therefore govern their lives to a considerable extent, either on the basis of repressed and transformed conflicts in their autobiography (Freud -- predominantly the father figure as an evocation of the superego), or on the basis of the accumulated collective images of their family, ethnic group, and mankind as a whole (Jung).

2.2. Implications for the study of religion in multicultural pluralism

       Against this summary background of some theoretical resources in the empirical sociology and anthropology of religion, our next step is to spell out what modes of analysis the anthropology and sociology of religion has in stock for the analysis of religious plurality -- the coexistence of various religious forms within the same more or less complex society, and how this may inform our intercultural perspective on spirituality, particularly as encountered in the multicultural environment of a major North Atlantic city today.

       An argued discursive treatment would take us much too far, and instead I refer the reader to Table 1, which sets out the essentials in greatly simplified and no doubt contentious form. Although these social scientists scarcely use the term, I have tried to fathom what meaning might be given in their work to the concept of ‘spirituality’ -- since for better or worse this concept has been chosen as our point of departure. I have then tried to outline the implications of their theories along three complementary dimensions which are increasingly emerging in our Research Group discussions as important parameters:

     the synthetic potential to be found in their (reconstructed, or attributed) notion of spirituality;

     its community-building potential; and

     its critical political potential.

In the last, right-hand column I have sought to outline what might be the specific perspective on the theory in question on urban spirituality in a context of multicultural pluralism, such as is to be found in Rotterdam today -- the setting we have been led to single out as an empirical referent.

author (order follows the main text)

in this author’s approach, spirituality would appear to be equivalent to:

synthetic potential attributed to spirituality

community-building potential attributed to spirituality

critical political potential

implications for urban spirituality in multicultural pluralism (‘spiritual map of Rotterdam’) project


belief in anthropomorphic spiritual beings, and actions based on such a belief

minimal: entrenched in the model of dyadic transactions between humans

minimal: individual-centred


unspecified (‘one-group approach); by implication: social landscape reduced to the human measure, individuals may shop around for spirits as they do for human interaction partners


dealing with the numinous which is non-anthropomorphic

more than minimal: beyond the human

more than minimal: individual-centred but beyond the human

consider­able: beyond the human measure

unspecified (‘one-group approach); by implication: diffuse sacralisation of the social landscape


dealing with the sacred (<-> profane) in positive and negative rites, especially in effervescence

radically transcends the individual so as to create the social; cosmology, myth, rationality, society all spring from spirituality

spirituality is the one constituent factor of community; but the only case considered is a one-group community

on the one hand totalitarian implica­tions (the collectively social is God); on the other hand rejection of extreme individual atomism

unspecified (‘one-group approach); by implication: sacralisation of each of the constituent groups (‘églises’, congregations); given the fundamental nexus between the social and the religious this might produce absolute divisiveness between these groups, both religiously and socially


spirituality appears to be the uninteresting epiphenomenon of an underlying rationality (be it ‘wild’ or otherwise) shared by all humans

to the extent to which spirituality is thinking about the natural world, it creates the socio-cultural world, in a pattern of transformations converging for all mankind

considerable: ˜Durkheim with a rationalistic slant, but involving a plurality of groups, each group associated with a sacred symbol on the basis of aetiological myths linking symbols and therefore groups

none: everything goes as long as it is in the mind; protest amounts to cultural nostalgia, not to ethics, freedom etc.

between, and beyond, the constituent groups a larger community is conceived on the basis of myths attributing to each specific group (or sets of groups) a place on the basis of its specific emblems; but it is difficult to see how this may proceed from consciousness to practice


ritual interactive practice, subject to micro-historicity generating communitas

spirituality both sums up and, as anti-structure, escapes from the structure of everyday life

great, but the community is not necessarily an established, concrete one, but may be imaginary, thus not outlasting the ritual itself


great potential both for the expression of group-specific, ritually underpinned community, and for the transcendence of group-specificity into more diffuse and comprehensive communitas


structure of collective signification open to understanding; action component remains implicit

collective meaning constituting a coherent world-view

builds a community of shared meaning

limited: emphasis on meaning and life styles

emphasis on class, estate, life styles and consumption patterns rather than ethnic pluralism; difficult to see how plurality of meanings is negotiated and transcended

Marx (1), neo-Marxism (2)

(1) false consciousness; (2) reproducing immaterial conditions for specific modes of production and appropriation

spirituality as a prerequisite for production, which is the centre of social life

community is not an operative concept


focus on production, appropriation and alienation highlights the economic contexts of multiculturality but has no appreciation of spirituality as such


spirituality as misguided libido

apparently negative; but perhaps the spirituality in this approach will be found ‘Jenseits des Lustprinzips’

apparently negative: society mainly as an anti-libidinous conspiracy


limited: psychoanalysis tends to produce crude sociology; yet it would be worthwhile to look at the multicultural society and its spiritualities as a ramification of libidos and their repression


communication with the individual and the collective unconscious

beyond the self, layers of cosmic and pan-human inclusion but also of sub-universal exclusion and othering

somewhat limited: tendency to entrenchment in what one perceives as one’s own group, which may be either historical or newly constructed


limited: how to identify, in concrete settings, the more comprehensive layers of the unconscious; moreover a tendency to stress individual psychology at the expense of social and economic collectivities

Table 1. Classic social-science approaches to religion provisionally scrutinised from the point of view of spirituality and urban multicultural pluralism

The benefit of this overview is that it makes us aware once more of the many and variegated ways in which aspects of religion have been singled out for theoretical reflection. At first, an approach in terms of spirituality would seem to take a healthy distance from the overemphasis on established, institutionalised religion which has been standard in social science research over het past hundred years. However, one we begin to scrutinise this corpus of theoretical resources from the point of view of a concept of spirituality, we are made aware of the fact that all these complementary classic approaches should not be cast overboard simply because we do not like the term ‘religion’ anymore. In my opinion, Table 1 offers a valuable link between our project and its central concept ‘spirituality’, and the accumulated resources of a wide field of religious studies in which the best minds in the social sciences have invested for well over a century. Even if some of the entries in this table must remain arbitrary or even preposterous, it outlines a number of dimensions and options which is going to enrich our future analysis of spirituality.

       Therefore, having taken stock of one set of resources for our Research Group let us now scrutinise our chosen central concept, ‘spirituality’.


3. Introducing spirituality

There is currently a hype in the production of encyclopaedias of Africa, and in this context Mudimbe approached me a few years ago whether I would be willing to write the entry on ‘African spirituality’ for an encyclopaedia of African religion and culture which he was editing. Never having used the word ‘spirituality’ in any of my own writings on African religion so far, and bargaining for time, I asked him what I was to understand by spirituality: time-honoured expressions of historical African religion such as prayers at the village shrine and magical incantations; the wider conceptual context of such expression, including African views of causality, sorcery, witchcraft, medicine, the order of the visible and invisible world, and such concepts as the person, ancestors, gods, spirits, nature, agency, guilt, responsibility, taboo, evil, and the ordering of time and space in terms of religious meaning; the expressions of world religions in Africa, especially Islam and Christianity; the accommodations between these various domains. Mudimbe’s answer was: all of the above, and whatever else you wish to bring to the topic. Though understandably flattered by his request, I never came round to writing the entry.

       Although we may expect hundred of thousands of hits when searching the Internet for 'spirituality', the term is rather a newcomer among the terms by which scholars refer to religious beliefs and practices. It does not feature prominently, if at all, in any of the contributions to Ann Loades and Loyal Rue’s authoritative collection of Contemporary classics in philosophy of religion, nor in the titles of the extensive and consensually compiled list of recommended further reading at the end of that book.[12] The same applies to the even more authoritative 1994 update of Eric Sharpe’s Comparative religion: A history.[13]

       Let us consider a few randomly chosen contexts in which the concept of ‘spirituality’ appears.

       In some of the older of such contexts as have come to my attention in the brief period of preparation of the present paper, ‘spirituality’ simply features as a noun derived from spiritual, in the sense of ‘relating to spirits, i.e. spiritual beings’. [14]

       An instructing use of elements from the lexical cluster ‘spirit(u)...’ is to be found in anthropological and comparative religion studies of African Independent Christian churches in Africa, especially Southern Africa, and it is to these that we now turn.

       These religious organisations often combine an emphatically modernist organisational and doctrinal idiom with transformative selections from regional historical religious forms pre-dating Christianity and the European conquest. In the literature they are often called ‘spiritual churches’, because ‘the spirit’ (in a Christian sense, a presumably historically African, or a combination of both) is held to be a central concept in these religious forms. Schoffeleers[15] has demonstrated how these churches combine this emphasis on ‘spirit’ with a particular political stance, that of acquiescence vis-à-vis the extensive structural, symbolic and physical oppression characteristic of the South African state and economy under apartheid, and spilling over into the neighbouring countries. Whatever the limitations of Schoffeleers’ approach,[16] he has certainly identified a wider context of power, symbolic oppression and hegemony in which we have to situate both the ‘spirit’ emphasis of these African organisations, and their designation in the anthropological and Africanist literature (whose hegemonic origin is unmistakable despite more recent attempts to steer away from that heritage). The same link with politics is clear from the following Vapostori church from Zimbabwe and Botswana:

‘In the course of time the second generation and the newcomers, mostly of Kalanga stock (the original Vapostori are Shona) began to regard many Vapostori practices as unnecessary and old-fashioned. In 1957 the elders started restricting the activities of the new concerts and promotion to posts of authority was stopped. The latter then accused the ASCG leadership of nepotism and tribalism. When o compromise could be reached the ultra-liberals and ultra-conservatives were expelled for the church in 1957/58.. They established themselves as Vapostori elsewhere, for instance in Shashe and the non-tribal Lobatsi bloc and Gaborones Bloc. In 1961/62 the liberal wing called for formal education for Vapostori children and employment in private and public sectors for adult members. The conservatives opposed and many liberals left the church. It should be noted that as years passed relations between the parent body and breakaway factions often became more cordial, the uniting bond most probably being Masowe’s leadership. In 1965, in Francistown younger members believed that Vapostori should take an active part in the policies of their country. In order to be fully represented in governmental body. The Vapostori leadership refused, because the community’s mission was to liberate Africa spiritually, not politically.’[17]

A powerful attempt to deal with these churches in a context of symbolic hegemony (although she does not yet use that Gramscian term) was Jean Comaroff’s first book, Body of power spirit of resistance, dealing with a major African Independent Church in the Southern African region, the Zion Christian Church (ZCC):

‘I have suggested that the initial meeting of the Tshidi with the agencies of European imperialism was mediated by a coherent symbolic order; and that this order was itself reformed in a more sustained confrontation with the iconography and practices of colonialism. The resulting bricolage represented a particular instance of a universal process of symbolic construction— the repositioning of signs in sequences of practice, “texts” which both press new associations and reproduce conventional meanings. Such practice varies in its intentionality and its formal elaboration, from the implicit meanings of reformed habit to the assertive syntax of transformative rites. Its substance, in any context, is a matter of circumstance; marked efforts to signal dissent or to induce innovation often occur in situations of radical structural cleavage — such as result from conquest, proletarianization, or the sudden sharpening of contradictions within hierarchical orders. The purposive act of reconstruction, on the part of the nonelite, focuses meaningly on the attempt to heal dislocations at the level of experience, dislocations which derive from the failure of the prevailing sign system to provide a model for their subjectivity, for their meaningful and material being. Their existence is increasingly dominated by generalized media of exchange — money, the written word, linear time, and the universal God — which fail to capture a recognizable self-image. These media circulate through communicative processes which themselves appear to marginalize people at the periphery; hence the major vehicles of value have come to elude their grasp. In these circumstances, efforts are made to restructure activity so as to regain a sense of control. Repositories of value, like the Zionists’ money, are resituated within practices that promise to redirect their flow back to the impoverished, thus healing their affliction. Dissenting Christianity has often, in the Third World, offered the terms for such reformulation. Its logic seems to reverse the signs of Protestant orthodoxy and the global industrial culture; its reintegration of spirit and matter, for instance, or its insertion of the subject in a web of tightly ordered sociomoral relations, seeks to restrict the circulation of generalized media, offering to return lost value and meaning to the alienated.’[18]


The uncritical use of the concept of spirit in the scholarly literature dealing with the Southern African Independent Churches already points to the usage of the word ‘spirituality’ in its present-day sense. Let us explore this usage somewhat systematically, even if at this stage this has to be done on rather too few sources.


4. Spirit and spirituality

There can be no question that in the scope of this paper I could do justice to the absolutely central place which the concept of ‘spirit’ (pneuma, animus, Geist, esprit) has occupied throughout the history of Western philosophy. From Anaxagoras, via Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus en Augustine, philosophical reflexion on ‘the spirit’ preoccupied philosophy in Antiquity, and after establishing itself as a cornerstone of Christian thought, was taken to decisive positions for Western thought and society in the works of Descartes and Hegel. However, this history is well documented.[19] From here we readily derive the adjective ‘spiritual’. However, ‘spirituality’ is far less obvious and not in frequent use; presumably, being a derivation from a derivation, the word ‘spirituality’ has built-in, morphological connotations of artificiality raised to the power 2.

       At any rate it should be clear that with the choice of the term ‘spirituality’ we risk importing into our analysis the odds and ends an internally contradictory heritage of two and a half millennia of philosophical and theological thought, and (given the alliance between theology and one of the major political factors through many centuries of European history, the Christian churches) of social power formation around the concept of spirituality. This aspect is very manifest in a French dictionary definition from the beginning of the twentieth century CE:


spirituel (...) (lat. spiritualis); de spiritus, esprit) Qui et esprit, incorporel: les anges sont des êtres spirituels. Qui a de l’esprit, qui sait donner aux choses une tournure vive et ingénieuse: homme spirituel. Où il y a de l’esprit: réponse spirituelle. Qui annonce de l’esprit: physionomie spirituelle. Qui est borné au domaine de l’esprit: parenté spirituelle. Qui regarde l’âme: le pouvoir spirituel s’oppose au temporel. Qui a rapport à la religion: execises spirituels. Vie spirituelle: vie de l’âme pieuse, pratique des choses du salut. Lecture spirituelle, lecture sur un wujet mystique. Sens spirituel, sens figuré dans l’interprétation des écritures. Concert spirituel, qui se compose de morceaux de musique religieuse. N. m. [ noun masculine ] Pouvoir mystique: le spirituel et le temporel. Membre d’une section de l’ordre des franciscains, qui se sépara de l’ordre au XIIIe siècle. Ant. [antinomies ] matériel, niais, sot, imbécile.[20]

Hence for Larousse, ‘spiritualité’ was, at the beginning of the twentieth century CE:

‘Qualité de ce qui est esprit: la spiritualité de l’âme. Théol. Tout ce qui a pour objet la vie spirituelle: livre de spiritualité.[21]

The Oxford Shorter Dictionary on Historical Principles confirms the Christian connection although there it is considerably diversified:

Spirituality (...). late ME. [— (O)Fr. spiritualité or late L. spiritualitas, f. spiritualis SPIRITUAL; see -ITY. I 1. The body of spiritual or ecclesiastical persons; the clergy. Now Hist. 1441. 2. That which has a spiritual character; ecclesiastical property or revenue held or received in return for spiritual services. Now arch. 1456. b. pl. Spiritual or ecclesiastical things; ecclesiastical possessions, rights, etc., of a purely spiritual character. Now Hist. late ME. 3. The quality or condition of being spiritual 1500. b. With a and pl. A spiritual thing or quality as distinct from a material or worldly one 1676. 4. The fact or condition of being spirit or of oonsisting of an inoorporeal essence 1681.                                                                                                                         1. He blamed both S. and laity 1709. 2. b. They [the Dean and Chapter ] are Guardians of the Spiritualities during the Vacancy of the Bishoprick 1726. 3. His full of excellent Lessons of S. 1763. 4. That He is invisible is accounted for by His s. 1884.[22]

The intellectual origin of the term ‘spirituality’ is clearly Christian, more specifically Roman Catholic theology. This is also still the context of a book like that of the Dutch sociologist of religion Gérard van Tillo, Onthullingen: Spiritualiteit sociologisch beschouwd,[23] a collection of short essays on the border between sociology and pastoral theology -- apart from its title little useful for our present purpose since it does not contain an attempt to confront the definition of spirituality outside the position prise of Roman Catholicism today.[24] Here again the paucity of analytical reflection on the term ‘spirituality’ becomes manifest: although van Tillo’s extensive bibliography covers much of the sociology of religion and theology, it only contains one title featuring ‘spirituality’: a dated systematic elaboration of the concept as an established term in Roman Catholic theology.[25]


5. Spirituality: A surprisingly inspiring New Age approach

Considerably more promising for our present purpose is a recent book by the controversial biologist Sheldrake and the (originally Roman Catholic) pastoral theologian Fox, Wetenschap & spiritualiteit.[26] With these two authors, the traditional theological tradition of the spirituality concept is linked to a post-Christian exploration of contemporary predicaments in science, cosmology, and existential signification. Although the book’s argument takes us close to the borders of the utopias of New Age, the author’s intellectual stature guarantees a inspiring reading experience. It appears that the insistence on the term spirituality in this book is largely Fox’s contribution; it can be no accident that those passages in this dialogical book which explicitly pose the question of spirituality are claimed by Fox rather than by Sheldrake. Situating himself in continuity with the Roman Catholic spirituality tradition (p. 106, on the spirituality of praying), Fox has for nearly two decades operated an Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality (p. 180), in which he seeks to derive new religious inspiration and existential motivation (= ‘spirituality’) from modern science’s up-to-date version of the creation story: Big Bang, spiral nebulae, supernovas, the origin of the solar system, the origin and evolution of life on our planet -- the kind of context in which one expects Teilhard de Chardin to have been a major influence although he is not specifically mentioned in this particular book. In this endeavour Fox finds an enthusiastic interlocutor in the person of Sheldrake. As is well-known, the latter’s theory of morphic resonance revolved on the following idea: nature, the world, has a memory, is informed by morphogenetic fields which are produced, inter alia, by individual human volition and acts, so that e.g. the performance of an unchanged, time-honoured ritual brings us in contact with the original insight and the founders of that ritual; or the speaking of a language that has any speakers and/or that has existed for a long time is facilitated by our world environment; and old propitiatory or apotropaic rituals performed in a emphatically contemporary context may yet yield tangible material effects.[27] Even science itself turns out to be largely ritual, not so much in the sense of being rigidified into fixed procedures, but in sharing to a large extent the spiritual dimension of religious rituals.[28]

‘Vanuit het standpunt van de morfische resonantie hebben rituelen duidelijk zin. Door het bewust uitvoeren van rituele daden, zoveel mogelijk gelijk aan hoe ze eerder zijn uitgevoerd, komt er voor de deelnemers via morfische resonantie een verbinding tot stand met de deelnemers uit het verleden. De tijd krimpt ineen, speelt geen rol. Allen die eerder aan het ritueel hebben deelgenomen, zijn onzichtbaar aanwezig in een tijdloze rituele gemeenschap.’[29]

‘Het op een goede manier gebruikmaken van rituelen kan mensen in staat stellen om met die oorspronkelij ke creatieve momenten te resoneren, en dus in verbinding te staan met dat oorspronkelijke moment van inzicht, waardoor er een voortdurende vernieuwing kan zijn van het creatieve potentieel. Ik denk ook dat dat het doel is van rituelen. Het probleem is dat rituele vormen wel gekloond kunnen worden, maar het openstaan en de inspiratie niet. Dat geldt waarschijnlijk ook voor andere contexten en instituties, niet alleen voor de religie.’[30]

The revolutionary idea of morphic resonance, partially indebted to Sheldrake’s extensive residential and theoretical experience in Asia (India, Indonesia), makes him a ready New Age hero.


6. A provisional analysis of the present-day concept of spirituality, and some of its theoretical implications

The remarkable thing in the recent resilience of the concept of spirituality in what could be broadly identified as a New Age context,[31] consists in the redefinition of the original Christian theological concept of structured personal devotion, into a concept which seems to refer, in many cases, to:

‘religious forms from the periphery of the local or global social system, -- forms which from the dominant centre would tend to be negatively judged because of their very peripherality (on the basis of which they would popularly acquire connotations of exoticism, savagery, paganism -- also originally a peripheral terms, denoting the pagus or rural hamlet -- , superstition), but which the blanket, apparently neutral concept of spirituality allows us to retain under one broad general umbrella together with other, more dominant and central forms; spirituality it is contemporary usage is largely a term of inclusion deferring (but far from precluding, and in fact implying) negative judgement and prejudice.’[32]


It is not difficult to glean from the literature titles which seem to confirm this provisional semantic analysis.[33]

       The same attempt to embrace all religious forms of mankind under a common denominator of ‘spirituality’ is reflected in the title of the impressive project entitled World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest.[34]

       We could adduce numerous examples which convey the same all-embracing fascination.[35]

‘Er zijn in mijn leven veel verschillende dingen geweest die mij genade gaven. Toevallig teen ik het boek States of Grace van Charlene Spretnak aan het lezen. Zij legt uit dat de mystieke ervaring van genade aan de wortel ligt van veel verschillende religieuze tradities: de inheems Amerikaanse traditie, de traditie van de moedergodin, de christelijke en de boeddhistische traditie. Zij klinkt heel overtuigend als ze stelt dat nensen zich binnen al die tradities door het ervaren van genade met een groter geheel verbonden hebben gevoeld.’[36]

‘Het gaat erom af te dalen in de bron en op te houden met die onzin over de verschillen tussen onze religies; die zijn tenslotte piepklein als je bedenkt wat er moet gebeuren. Is daar beneden een vulkaan of niet? Waar is het vuur? Zijn er voedingsstoffen te halen of niet? Nicolaus Cusanus was een vijftiende-eeuws mysticus, wetenschapper en kardinaal van de rooms-katholieke Kerk (wat niet zonder meer een pluspunt is). De natuurkundige David Bohm zei dat hij meer aan Cusanus te danken had dan aan Einstein, hetgeen mij voor een wetenschapper een nogal ketterse opmerking lijkt. Cusanus was de pauselijk gezant in Griekenland en leerde door zijn werk iets over het diep oecumenische. Het is bijna ongelooflijk dat hij in de vijftiende eeuw al schreef: ‘De mensheid zal ontdekken dat het niet verschillende geloven zijn die overal worden beleden, maar dat iedereen hetzelfde geloof belijdt, want er kan maar een wijsheid zijn. De mensen zullen moeten beseffen dat er maar een allereenvoudigste wijsheid is, wier macht oneindig is, iedereen die de intensiteit van die schoonheid probeert uit te leggen, zal moeten ontdekken dat het een oppermachtige en verschrikkelijke schoonheid is.’[37]

In other words, looking for the greatest common denominator, in the light of which all locally-specific forms of religion, all such forms as associated with specific identities, ethnicities, organisational structures, are really all ramifications of the same continuous stream, stops at the same cosmic journey of all mankind, images in the same dream. The concept of spirituality seems to imply an invitation to give up all emphasis on specific doctrinal and ritual specificity -- underneath all those superficial different forms, we are promised, lingers a unifying shared quality which merges for all mankind and for all historical periods...

       For the authors from whom this quotation derives (Sheldrake and Fox), spirituality even has a more embracing meaning than just the whole of mankind:

‘ een kosmische context kunnen plaatsen, wat dus spiritualiteit en verwondering betekent.’[38]

       But in this present-day semantics of spirituality we are not just dealing with unqualified inclusion on a global or a cosmic scale.

       Our brief discussion of the African independent churches has indicated that there may important political issues at stake in the use that the term spirituality: the term sets a discursive framework within which to speak of power and hegemony is to be considered irrelevant, impolite, un-aesthetic, rude, indicative of a base materialism and the incapability of overcoming the clutches of matter and to take wing in the realm of the spirit. The price of inclusion seems to be submission, both to a code of aesthetic and civility (it implies e.g. an unqualified and uncritical respect for, interest in, and admiration for, the ‘exotic’ spirituality of ‘the other’) and to an a-political stance. One wonders what happens to agency, of individuals and groups, from this perspective. And one is tempted to reconstruct the kind of arena (that of the multicultural society and its politics of recognition,[39] no doubt) which requires such an approach to religion.

       An additional feature of the latter is the emphasis on unstructured humanity, I mean on humanity conceived as consisting of a loose set of unattached individuals (as in the cosmology of the market ideology of the 1990s, of consumerism, of democracy as the disempowering mechanism of individualised, anonymous polling instead of local-level participation), instead of enduring, sharing, richly structured social ties and networks of relationships. The individual, not the group, not the collective identity, would seem to be the implied unit of study in an approach centring on the present-day spirituality concept. If the concept is applied to a human collectivity, it may tend to be at an abstract level of people sharing classificatory characteristics (a gender, a sexual preference, a profession) within global and local arenas of identity, rather than people constituting a viable group or community on the basis of their consciously mediated and sustained, personal ties.

       Atomised human individuals, the avoidance of questions of power and hegemony, and the assumption of universal (at least global) distribution of traits and mutual access to traits -- all this makes the concept of spirituality eminently suitable within the context of globalisation and one of its most pressing North Atlantic manifestation: the installation of what is officially known as the multicultural society.

       There is another forms of submission which seems to be implied in the contemporary usage of the term spirituality: submission to a particularly crude solution to the problem of body-mind duality. Does this concept of spirituality no imply that ‘the spiritual’ is a universal category of all mankind, throughout all distinct human cultural orientations of past, present and future. Hence authors such as Fox and Sheldrake exhort us to recognise the concept as the soul as vital to any historical civilisation and therefore the need for the west to rediscover the soul.[40]

       Behind these images lurks the dominance of appearance as the central concern of the postmodern world, of a reality which is primarily experienced (whatever the attempts at grounding it in environmental concerns) as disembodied and virtualised[41] -- as electronic and furtive, man-machine contact rather than man-men contact. It is at this point that Henk Oosterling’s analyses of spirituality[42] as presented before this Research Group in its previous session fall in place and will turn out to be of lasting importance and inspiration.

       As seems to form an established trope in New Age discourse, Sheldrake and Fox do critique Cartesian dualism. Yet one cannot help wondering if a position like theirs is not based on ignoring the history of the philosophy of mind/body dualism, and with today’s growing consensus, from many different philosophical directions, that the Cartesian position has ushered European thought into a dead trap from which it is only disentangling itself with great difficulty.[43]

       Reflecting the fashionable themes which have captures public opinion in the North Atlantic over the past few decades, not only globalisation is implied in the present-day concept of spirituality, but also the environment as a growing cause of alarm, and hence increased awareness of natural, biological, chemical, physical conditions informing the world as it appears to our senses. Fox’s creation spirituality (which reflects a thread running through much of New Age thought) is a case in point. Another theme is that of intuition, imagination, creativity, -- aspects of the realm of spirituality which allow us to think up alternative futures, and break out of such mechanical rigidity in our intercourse with ourselves, fellow humans, and the surrounding world as may be characteristic of North Atlantic modern subjectivity.[44]

‘In het voorwoord hebben we gezegd dat het nodig was opnieuw een ‘gevoel voor het heilige’ te ontwikkelen om met de wanhoop en de machteloosheid van zoveel van onze tijdgenoten te kunnen omgaan. Zijn deze dialogen over de natuur en de spiritualiteit van de schepping, over genade en lof, over de ziel, bidden, duisternis, ritueel, morfische resonantie en het onderwijs werkelijk een steun bij het terugvinden van een gevoel voor het heilige? Hebben ze ons erbij geholpen? Ja. Een van de dingen die erdoor aan het licht zijn gekomen, is hoe de wetenschappelijke inzichten apart zijn gehouden van de gebieden van de intuitie en de verbeelding. Veel van wat de wetenschap heeft ontdekt over de natuur is steriel gebleven, geisoleerd van de geestelijke wereld. De rijkdommen van de natuur, die door de wetenschap zijn blootgelegd, bieden nieuwe mogelijkheden voor dankzegging, voor lof en voor verwondering om de creativiteit die aan alles ten grondslag ligt.’[45]


7. Conclusion

The present paper offers an initial exploration of what appears to be three aspects of our central term ‘ spirituality’: 

1.   religion and ritual as a standard context in which we have always tended to situate spirituality, and subject it to scholarly analysis;

2.   the etymological, historical approach to the concept, which reveals the idealist heritage of the concept of spirituality particularly in the Christian tradition which for many centuries (ca. 400 - 1600) has been the main bedding of European thought;

3.   the specific meaning which has been given to spirituality in our own time.

Our project has hardly started and my aim at this stage can only be provisional. My main aim has been to trigger further discussion, and this aim has certainly been achieved.



[1]   Tylor, E.B., 1948, Primitive Culture. New York: Harper; reprint, first edition 1871. p. 78

[2]   Otto, R., 1917, Das Heilige: Über das Irrationale in der Idee des Göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen, Munich: C.H. Beck.

[3]   Spiro, M.E., 1966, Religion, problems of definitions and explanation, in: Banton, 1966:85-126. Banton, M. (ed.), 1966, Anthropological approaches to the study of religion, London: Tavistock; Goody, J., 1961, ‘Religion and ritual: the definitional problem’, British Journal of Sociology, 12: 142-64.

[4]   Durkheim, E., 1912, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

[5]   Radcliffe-Brown, A. R., 1952, Structure and Function in Primitive Society, London: Oxford University Press.

[6]   Girard, R., 1977, The violence and the sacred, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press; first edition 1972; Engl. tr. of La violence et le sacré, Paris: Grasset, 1972; Troisfontaines, Claude, 1980, ‘L’identité du social et du religieux selon René Girard’ Revue Philosophique de Louvain, 78:71-90. On Girard a voluminous literature has generated, for bibliographical details cf.: Simonse, S., 1992, Kings of disaster: Dualism, centralism and the scapegoat king in southeastern Sudan, Leiden etc.: Brill; Hamerton-Kelly, R.G., 1987, Violent Origins, Walter Burkert, René Girard, and Jonathan Z Smith on Ritual Killing and cultural Formation. Stanford: University Press; Janssen, P.E.L., 1991, Geweld als oorsprong van de samenleving. Over de cultuurtheorie van Rene Girard, Academisch proefschrift, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; McKenna, A.J., 1992, Violence and difference: Girard, Derrida and deconstruction, Champaign (Ill.): University of Illinois Press; van Beek, W. (ed.), 1988, Mimese en geweld, Beschouwingen over het werk van René Girard. Kampen: Kok Agora.

[7]   Malinowski, B., 1954, Magic, science and religion and other essays, New York: Doubleday (Anchor); first published as a collection 1948.

[8]   Worsley, P.M., 1967, ‘Groote Eylandt totemism and ‘‘Le Totémisme aujourd’hui’’ ’, in: Leach, E.R., ed., 1967, The Structural Study of Myth and Totemism, London: Tavistock, ASA Monograph no. 5, pp. 141 -59; Worsley, P.M., 1956, ‘Emile Durkheim’s theory of knowledge’, Sociological Review, 4: 47-62.

[9]   Lévi-Strauss, C., 1962, La pensée sauvage, Paris: Plon; Engl. tr. The savage mind, 1973, Chicago: University of Chicago Press/ London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, first published 1966; Ned. tr. Het wilde denken, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff; Lévi-Strauss, C., 1962, Le totémisme aujourd’hui, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

[10]  Turner, V.W., 1967, The forest of symbols: Aspects of Ndembu ritual, Ithaca (N.Y.): Cornell University Press; Turner, V.W., 1968, The drums of affliction: A study of religious processes among the Ndembu of Zambia, London: Oxford University Press; Turner, V.W., 1969, The Ritual Process, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; Turner, V.W. & Turner, E., 1978, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, Oxford: Blackwell; Turner, V.W., 1974, Dramas, fields and metaphors: Symbolic action in human society, Ithaca: Cornell University Press; Turner, V.W., 1975, Revelation and divination in Ndembu ritual, Ithaca: Cornell University Press; Turner, V.W., 1982, Celebration: Studies in festivity and ritual, Washington: Smithsonian.

[11]  Bonte, P. (1975), 'Cattle of God: an attempt at a Marxist analysis of the religion of East African herdsmen', Social Compass, 22, 3-4: 381-400; Feuchtwang, S., 1975, ‘Investigating religion’, in: Bloch, M., ed., 1975, Marxist Approaches and Social Anthropology, London: Malaby Press, ASA Studies, pp. 61-82; Godelier, M. (1975), 'Towards a Marxist anthropology of religion, Dialectical Anthropology, 1, 1: 81-5; Maduro, O., 1975, ‘Marxist analysis and sociology of religions: an outline of international bibliography up to 1975’, in: Maduro, O., ed., 1975, Marxism and the Sociology of Religion, Social Compass, 22, 3-4, Louvain: Centre de Recherches Socio-Religieuses, pp. 401-79; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., & Geschiere, P.L., 1985, ‘Marxist theory and anthropological practice: The application of French Marxist anthropology in fieldwork’, in : Binsbergen, W.M.J. van, & Geschiere, P.L., red., Old modes of production and capitalist encroachment: Anthropological explorations in Africa, London/ Boston: Kegan Paul International, pp. 235-289; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1981, Religious Change in Zambia: Exploratory studies, London/ Boston: Kegan Paul International.

[12]  Loades, A., & L.D. Rue, 1991, eds., Contemporary classics in philosophy of religion, La Salle (Ill.): Open Court

[13]  Sharpe, E.J., 1994, Comparative religion: A history, 2nd ed., this edition first published 1987, La Salle: Open Court, first published 1975

[14] E.g.:

‘Über den Inder Kanakah (Katakah ?) ist nichts Zuverlässiges bekannt. Abu Maarnennt ihn in seinem K. al-Uluf als einen hervorragenden indischen Astrologen. 3 (...) Hadjdj Halifa (V p. 158 nr. 10530) fügt noch das K. Manazil al-qamar hinzu, in dem Kanakah "hermetische" Lehren über die Spiritualität der Planeten übernommen haben will. Schließlich zitiert al-GHaznawi in sein  (...) Kifaya (fol. 52b, -3; 56a 9.I4) mehrfach den Inder Kanakah.’ [ boldface added ]

Ullman, M., 1972, Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaft im Islam, Handbuch der Orientalistik, Erste Abteilung: Der Nahe und der Mittlere Osten, Ergänzungsband vi, 2. Abschnitt, Leiden: Brill , p. 298f. Reference is being made here to the belief that the central concepts featuring in astronomical and (in Antiquity and classical Arabic magic scarcely distinguished from the latter) astrological science are ‘spirits’.

[15]  Schoffeleers, J.M., 1991, ‘Ritual healing and political acquiescence: The case of Zionist churches in Southern Africa’, Africa, 61, 1: 1-25.

[16] I have argued that Schoffeleers’ emphasis on  specifically apartheid conditions as producing these churches’ emphasis on ‘spirit’ has to be revised in the light of the proliferation of such churches in Botswana, which especially after its independence (1966) has been the hallmark of civic liberties, political stability, effective state services to the citizens, and relative affluence: van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1993, ‘African Independent churches and the state in Botswana’, in M. Bax & A. de Koster, eds., Power and prayer: Essays on Religion and politics, Amsterdam: Fre University University Press, pp. 24-56.

[17]  Lagerwerf, L. 1982 “They pray for you”: Independent churches and women in Botswana, Leiden/Utrecht: Interuniversitair Instituut voor Missionologie en Oecumenica, p. 43

[18]  Comaroff, Jean, 1985, Body of power spirit of resistance: The culture and history of a South African people, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, p. 253.

[19]  Buchner, Hartmut, 1973-1974, ‘Geist’, in: Krings, H., H.M. Baumgartner & C. Wild, 1973-1974, eds., Handbuch Philosophischer Grundbegriffe, Studienausgabe, München: Kösel, vol. ii, pp. 536ff; Derrida, J., 1987b. De l’Esprit. Heidegger et la question. Galilée, Paris.; Editor, 1974, ‘Geist. [ in Romantic philosophy of nature ] ‘ in: Ritter, J., ed., Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, Basel/Stuttgard: Schwabe, Bd III: G-H, cols 181f; Fulda, F., 1974, ‘Geist. [ Hegel ] ‘ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 191f; Hülsmann, H., 1974, ‘Geist, objektiver [ N. Hartmann ] ‘ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 206f; Hülsmann, H., 1974, ‘Geistiges Sein [ N. Hartmann ] ‘ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 216f; Kaulback, F., 1974, ‘ Geist, Laplacescher’ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 206f; Kohlenberger, H.K., 1974, ‘Geist [ from Jewish/Christian tradition onward] ‘ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 162; Marquard, O., 1974, ‘Geist. [ from Kant to Schelling] ‘ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 182f; Nobis, H.M., 1974, ‘Geist. [ in philosophy of nature ] ‘ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 180; Oeing-Hanhoff, L., , 1974, ‘Geist [ general ] ‘ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 154f; Riedlinger, H., 1974, ‘Geistseele, Vernunftseele’ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 217f; Ries, W., 1974, ‘Geist, freier’ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 203f; Rothe, K., 1974, ‘Geist. [ nach Hegel ] ‘ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 199f; Snell, B., 1955, Die Entdeckung des Geistes: Studien zur Entstehung des europaischen Denkens bei den Griechen, Hamburg: Claassen & Goverts; Eng. tr. The discovery of the mind: The Greek origins of European thought, New York: Harper & Row.; Verbeke, G., 1974, ‘Geist. II Pneuma ‘ in: Ritter, o.c., cols 158f.

[20]  Augé, C.,  [ n.d., c. 1910 ] ed., Le Larousse pour tous: Nouveau dictionnaire encyclopédique, 2 vols, Paris: Larousse, II, s.v. ‘spirituel’.

[21]  Augé, C.,  [ n.d., c. 1910 ] ed., Le Larousse pour tous: Nouveau dictionnaire encyclopédique, 2 vols, Paris: Larousse, II, s.v. ‘spiritualité’.

[22]  Little, W., Fowler, H.W., & Coulson, J., eds., 1978, The shorter Oxford English dictionary: On historical principles, revised and edited by Onions, C.T., etymologies revised by G.W.S. Friedrichsen, third reset edition, 2 vols, Oxford: Clarendon Press, s.v. ‘spirituality’.

[23]  van Tillo, G.P.P., 1994, Onthullingen: Spiritualiteit sociologisch beschouwd, Tilburg: Edmund Husserl-Stichting/ Gianotten; the reader expecting in this book a Husserlian perspective on spirituality will be disappointed.

[24]  van Tillo, o.c., p. 9:

‘Er zijn weinig begrippen die zo onduidelijk zijn als het woord 'spiritualiteit'. Voor verschillende mensen roept het telkens heel andere werelden op. Daarom is minstens een globale aanduiding nodig van wat in dit boek onder spintualiteit verstaan wordt. In ieder geval gaat het bij spiritualiteit om een aspect van het menselijk leven, dat misschien het beste in beeld te brengen is met de terrn 'leven van de geest'. Het gaat echter niet om een geestelijk leven, dat gescheiden is van en onttrokken is aan de andere levensaspecten, het dagelijks leven bij voorbeeld . Het is een houding van de geest , die bij alle andere levensfacetten een rol speelt. Het is niet iets statisch, maar het gaat om een houding in ontwikkeling. Het beste synoniem zou daarom zijn 'geestelijke groei', omdat hierin de dynamiek van het streven naar verbetering en vooruitgang enigszins verdisconteerd is.                                                                                                                                               Over dit onderwerp is veel nagedacht en geschreven, met name vanuit de theologie. Bijvoorbeeld over de vragen, welke soorten spiritualiteit voorkomen, hoe de geestelijke groei in zijn werk gaat, hoe die bevorderd kan worden, welke belemmeringen er zijn, etcetera. Kortom er is een hele wetenschap over spiritualiteit ontstaan. Het verwarrende nu is, dat die wetenschap 66k 'spiritualiteit' genoemd wordt, zodat in ieder geval onderscheid gemaakt moet worden tussen de door mensen geleefde spiritualiteit en spiritualiteit als theologische discipline. In het laatste geval wordt ook wel gesproken over de theologie van het geestelijk leven.'

[25]  Villers, M., e.a., 1938, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique, doctrine et histoire, I, Paris: Beauchesne.

[26]  Sheldrake, R., & Fox, M., 1997, Wetenschap & spiritualiteit: In gesprek over een nieuwe visie, Utrecht/ Antwerpen: Kosmos - Z & K; Dutch translation of: Natural grace, London: Bloomsbury, 1996. Of course, in a later version of this paper, I intend to give the quotations from this book in English.

[27]  In a certain South Asian context a rite of fertility and protection turns out to be performed for a local corporation’s computer’s functioning during the coming year, the computer being as vital to the organisation as the historical productive asset for which the rite was originally performed, was in that historical context (Sheldrake & Fox, o.c., p. 159. )

[28]  ‘We moeten weer gevoel ontwikkelen voor de rituele aspecten van de wetenschap zelf. Sommige daarvan zijn erg onplezierig, bijvoorbeeld het offeren van dieren. Er worden elk jaar miljoenen dieren ‘geofferd op het altaar van de wetenschap’, zoals het wel eens wordt gesteld. Het zou ook goed zijn om te beseffen dat wetenschappelijke experimenten een moderne variant zijn van het raadplegen van een orakel. In een echt experiment weet je niet wat er gaat gebeuren. Je doet alleen onderzoek naar dingen die nog niet of niet volkomen bekend zijn. Als je weet wat er gaat gebeuren, verspil je geen tijd aan een experiment. Bij experimenten heb je altijd te maken met het onbekende, je zit altijd op de grens van wat kenbaar is. Dit is traditioneel het domein van de orakels. Sommige mensen trokken conclusies uit sporen van dieren, anderen luisterden naar de wind in hoge eikenbomen, weer anderen raakten in trance zoals in Delphi en deden raadselachtige uitspraken. Traditionele orakels moesten door priesters of waarzeggers worden geinterpreteerd. Bij wetenschappelijke experimenten zijn de gegevens die je verkrijgt, meestal dubbelzinnig en verwarrend en moeten ze, net als de orakels, worden geinterpreteerd. Wetenschappers lijken opvallend veel op priesters, in die zin dat ze de orakels van de natuur lezen. Het zou goed zijn voor de wetenschap om de eigen activiteiten met meer gevoel voor ritueel te benaderen. Maar dit heb ik nog nooit door wetenschappers onderling horen zeggen.’ Sheldrake & Fox, o.c., p. 164f.

[29]  Sheldrake & Fox, o.c., p. 153.

[30]  Sheldrake & Fox, o.c., p. 168.

[31]  An early compilation, within the general massive industry of esoteric publications, and foreshadowing the explosion of New Age publications, seems to be: Dictionnaire de spiritualité, Paris, 1937, which however I have not seen.

[32]  The notions of peripherality and centrality in the context of the study of cultic systems was elaborated by Lewis: Lewis, I.M., 1971, Ecstatic religion: An anthropological study of spirit possession and shamanism, Harmondsworth: Penguin; Dutch tr. Lewis, I.M., 1972, Religieuze extase, Utrecht & Antwerpen: Spectrum.

[33]  E.g.: Zahan, D., 1979, The religion, spirituality and thought of traditional Africa, Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Breeveld, J., [ year ], De risico’s van het denken: Het treffen tussen Indiaanse spiritualiteit en techniek, Utrecht: Van Arkel; O’Brien Wicker [ check O’bien], in press, ‘Mami Water in African religion and spirituality’, in: J.K. Olupona & C.H. Long, eds., African spirituality, [ place ] : Crossroads Press. Crossroads Press, although a name which would not be out of place in New Age contexts, is in fact an imprint of the authoritative African Studies Association of the United States, is a serious academic publisher, e.g. of medical anthropology.

[34]  Rothkrug, Lionel, 1987, ‘‘The Cult of Relics in Antiquity.’’ World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest. Vol. 1, European Archaic Spirituality, ed. Charles Long.

[35]  In fact, my own research throughout the 1990s, looking for extensive temporal and spatial continuities n aspects of African symbolic and religious forms throughout the Old World and even into the New, could be seen as contributing to this trend -- but I scarcely ever used the term spirituality in that context. For a brief introduction, cf. my ‘Culturen bestaan niet’, and references there.

[36]  Sheldrake & Fox, o.c., p. 58.

[37]  Sheldrake & Fox, o.c., p. 108.

[38]  Sheldrake & Fox, o.c., p. 184.

[39]  Cf. Taylor, C., 1992, Multiculturalism and ‘the Politics of Recognition’, Princeton: University of Princeton Press; cf. my ‘Cultures bestaan niet’, o.c.

[40]  Sheldrake & Fox, o.c., p. 180.

[41]  van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1997, Virtuality as a key concept in the study of globalisation: Aspects of the symbolic transformation of contemporary Africa, The Hague: WOTRO [ Netherlands Foundation for Tropical Research, a division of the Netherlands Research Foundation NWO ] , Working papers on Globalisation and the construction of communal identity, 3; also at . van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1998, ‘Globalization and virtuality: Analytical problems posed by the contemporary transformation of African societies’, in: Meyer, B., & Geschiere, P., eds., Globalization and idenity: Dialectics of flow and closure, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 273-303.

[42]  Oosterling, H., 1996, Door schijn bewogen: Naar een hyperkritiek van de xenofobe rede, Kampen: Kok Agora.

[43]  Hein, H., 1983, ‘Liberating philosophy: An end to the dichotomy of matter and spirit’, in: Could, C.C., ed., Beyond domination: New perspectives on women and philosophy, Totowa (N.J.): Rowman & Allanheld, pp. 123-141. Also Feyerabend, P.K., & G. Maxwell, eds., 1966, Mind, matter, and method: Essays in philosophy and science in honor of Herbert Feigl, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. For an overview of the hisoty of alternatives to Cartesian dualism, cf. work by Poortman, pedestrian in execution (and translation) but of immense relevance: Poortman, J.J., 1978, Vehicles of consciousness: the concept of hylic pluralism (ochema), 4 vols, Utrecht/Adyard (Madras, India) etc.: Theosophical Society in the Netherlands/Theosophical Publishing House Adyar-Madras; English tr. of Ochema, Assen: Van Gorcum, 1954

[44]  Oosterling, H., & Thisse, S., 1998, eds., Chaos ex machina: Het ecosofisch werk van Félix Guattari op de kaart gezet, Rotterdam: Instituut voor de Studie van Filosofie en Kunst; for a longer study greatly expanding my contribution to that book, see:

[45]  Sheldrake & Fox, o.c., p. 190.


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