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The importance of religion 3: Religion, text, and subjectivity

Professor Gavin Flood
Monday, 3 November 2008 - 11:00am

A religious community is defined and adapts to present conditions by the way it reads or receives its sacred texts realised in the present in a ritual space and internalised within subjectivity. The self becomes an index of tradition and subjectivity is formed through repeated liturgical acts which are enactments or embodiments of the revelation or text (broadly defined and not restricted to written document). The lecture will explore the internalisation of the text through the ritual process as the expression or realisation of the religious imperative. The realisation of the text in present speech (and it can only be realised in the present here and now) is accompanied by the internalisation of the text in subjectivity and also by the externalisation of the text in ethics, art and politics: the religious imperative comes to be articulated through ethical behaviour defined by a community, artistic expression and political institution. The ritual space within which the text is realised and brought to life for a present speech community, along with the internalisation of text and tradition, is the site of transcendence as instantiated in the history of religions. In technical terms from Linguistic Anthropology this is the subordination of the ‘indexical-I’ to the ‘I’ contained within the text, the implied reader or ‘I of discourse’ (Urban ‘The ‘I’ of Discourse’). The self of religions is formed through revelation mediated by tradition and realised in specific acts of ‘reading’ or the reception of texts. The argument will be that the central aspect of the religious self is the internalisation of the text and the alignment with the narrative of one’s own life with the tradition. This is to see life as quest for meaning through the internalisation of tradition. This internalisation is also an orientation towards the future.

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