On religious constructs, interregnum, and new religions
For a month, I have been involved in a new research group at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in Madrid. The topic of our three year long research project is Orientation. The plan is to study how society and its elements orient themselves using a generative ethnographic bottoms up research techniques. The group I work with is super fun. They are ex-teachers, friends, and philosophers.
The involvement with the group has made me observe several things. These days, I am interested in Disorientation— The lack of any fixed locus to construct life. Philosophers like Zigmut Bauman (Liquid Modernity), Byung Chul Han (Groundlessness), Baudrillard (Accelerationism), and others have written a lot about it. That made me think about my grandfather, who was not as disoriented as I feel. That made me (with help of readings from Han) probe the lack of religious sentiment that seems to stabilise time and hence, society. That made me wonder how religion is constructed.
Please note, you may notice my writing and use of words is not technical. I am loitering around various disciplines and this is what I make of when my knowledge interacts with my world. I am not an expert, it is not my goal to be one either.
The religious construct
Religions create history, shape society, wield power, make wars, and influence culture. In this section I tried to deconstruct religion into three main aspects.
These 3 elements place religion as a dominant force in a social system.
The Moral Actor/Actors : This is a single person or a group of people or even a hierarchy of people who create, and preach the moral code that the religion prescribes in hope to stabilise the society. The moral actors create stories, these stories act as basis to spread the message of the moral code. For example : In Hinduism, the moral code is prescribed in the Vedas, leading to Vedic Hinduism (Aryasamajis), these difficult Vedic texts contained 'Upanishads' that led to the creation of Vedantic Hinduism. The Upanishads talked about spiritual concepts like reality and soul. Then came the Smritis that lead to the epics — Mahabharata, and Ramayana. The holy book of Hindus is Bhagava Gita is a part of Mahabharata. These texts created a system of gods that are now worshiped by Hindus all over. The gods are the moral actors who teach the moral code. The moral code is the same across many religions, but the telling and rituals make them different.
Rituals : Rituals are activities performed by the followers to enact the moral code or participate in religious discourse. For example : The Sunday morning mass is a major ritual across Christianity. Offering water to the Sun god is a ritual performed in my family everyday. These rituals are layered narratives whose reason is embedded inside the moral code. The rituals can be personal, family or community. Religious festivals are a ritual that is layered across these dimensions (even if it is Festivus, it has rituals). Some examples of rituals are : - Individual : Fasting (Ramadan, Vrats) , Waking up before sun rise, abstaining from eating animal products, personal worship - Family : Worship as a family, marriage, death - Community : Giving back to the community, Worship in a holy place, festivals
Community : A community is a group of people who abide by the moral code and participate in rituals. A community is the most important part of a religion. No community, No religion. A community tends to create ways to organise itself and often times interpret moral code in their own way and create their own rituals, divisions, wars, and may even lead to radicalism. But, a community is what 'enacts' a religion. The community makes the churches, temples, mosques, and other architecture to promote the moral code. The king is a part of the community.
Interregnum and Post-disciplinary society
In the previous section, I presented a construct to look at religion. In our modern societies, on one hand, in the west, we can see, the 'slowdown' of religious ideology as a force as more liberal ideas about individualism, freedom, and transparency. On the other hand, there are radical movements in certain parts, the rise of right governments, and a clash between religious ideologies and liberal ideologies around rituals that lead to suppression.
I would like to analyse these happenings with our defined 'construct' using the concept of Interregnum. Interregnum is the state of a nation when the old has gone, but the new has not been elected yet. The usual happening in England. Jokes apart, Antonio Gramsci used this concept in his philosophical work. He said,
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
Now, we do seem to live in times of interregnum. We do not like the ways of the past. Those systemic inefficiencies, routine suppression, the limitations, Modernity has us covered and we are past that. But, are we ? We detest the old time, but we do not seem to have a new order. The new order is chaos. The new cannot be born. The earth is boiling. The leaders are quitting. There is comedy and tragedy at the same page and we cannot distinguish.
Welcome to the interregnum. The interregnum affects the 'religious construct' too. In someway, religion did stabilise older society and then destabilised it often.
In our times, the old rituals are dying and the new rituals are not there yet. Byung Chul Han talks a lot about rituals in his book Disappearance of Rituals. He highlights the role of rituals as a stabilising force in the social order. In a lack of rituals, there is not rest. Oftentimes, the only rituals are consumption (Netflix and Chill) or production (Hustle your way).
The interregnum of communities is a bit complex. One aspect of communities is power it holds. We see a conflict between the Old power (governments, religious organisations, politics, wealth) and new power (Dotcom power). They play a catch game. Another aspect is the stabilising effect of communities that support and nurture individuals. The news on this front is mixed and rather positive. The Information Age has accelerated creation of communities. These communities tend to be mile wide inch deep. But, more people can explore things and express themselves 'online'. Offline, I am afraid, things are not that rosy. People do feel more lonely. The lack of overarching force and the spirit of individualism are clashing. This in-turn leads to a dissonance. The dissonance that affects me, and many other.
"The Future is Single", as my dear friend and philosopher,Pablo Jarauta said the other day quoting his father, the imminent Spanish Philosopher, Francisco Jarauta.
What kind of society is this? Well no one knows, it is interregnum folks. We are still figuring things out. Foucault 1 talked about three societies in the past : Society of Sovereignity, Disciplinary Society , Biopower 2. Then Deleuze (in postscript to Societies of Control) talks about Control Society. The rational order seems to be :
- Society of Sovereignity : Regulates death > "You don't work you die"
- Disciplinary Society : Regulates bodies > "You don't work, you get punished or starve"
- Control Society : Regulates access > "You don't work, you are not allowed here"
A control society is an on-going project. Panopticons are being constructed.
Other philosophers, have talked out certain symptoms of the control society. Han calls the constant self exploitation of a control society subject as an Achievement society. Zigmut Bauman calls the subject exposed to constant fragmentation, changes, fluidity as Liquid Modernity.
We have elements of Disciplinary Society, Control society, Liquid modernity, Achievement society etc in the soup bowl of modernity.
A modern subject has different (or lack of clear) rituals and communities compared to a subject living in a world of religious beliefs.
Rituals often become a performance for the followers rather than just doing things for them. The pottery class that soon became a production. The casual painting ritual became a mad rush for NFTs. The enjoyable photowalk became a rush to get more likes. I have been through them.
Many rituals and communities are from 'me' to 'us', rather than from 'us' to 'me', highlighting their individualistic nature. Contribution is possible if only there is a personal gain. Religious communities are interesting, not unique, in this case. The personal gain is achieved by doing deeds but are expected from the Almighty moral actor and not from the community itself.
Need of rituals and communities
I would like to end this sketch trying to make a case for inculcating rituals and communities in our lived life.
In these times, we might not need the mythological elements of the religions our ancestors used to follow. The moral codes are to a large extent integrated in our psyches, laws, daily ethics, and value system. The sovereign subject is protected to some degree in many (not all) parts of the world. Strong beliefs in moral actors may lead to conflicts too. It may be wise for me to not delve more in this sensitive topics.
So, it is fine if you do not believe in the role of moral actors or in them. Being an atheist, agnostic, or spiritual is cool and does not matter.
I do, however, argue we need rituals and communities, more now than ever. Rituals to stabilise our time, to observe, reflect, and nurture our psyches. Communities that hold our hands in distress, support each other, uplift every member, to celebrate our shared existence.
In his book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver talks about the concept of 'Social Synchronicity'. In a study done in Sweden, it was found that Swedes perceived there was a direct correlation between “social synchronization and life satisfaction”.
“... the more Swedes who were off work simultaneously, the happier people got. They derived psychological benefits not merely from vacation time, but from having the same vacation time as other people.”
“... what people need isn’t greater individual control over their schedules but rather what he calls “the social regulation of time”
This empirical study, that the book mentions, adds weight to my claim of the need of communities and rituals.
Rituals are hard to grow. They are like habits. They provide us the "me" time without a compulsion to produce anything or consume any more information to perform them. Some rituals I am trying to work on are :
- Morning Routine
- Going for a short walk in the lunch break
- Weekend hikes in El Escorial
Communities are even harder to assemble. People move in and out, like social butterflies, and it is hard to trust someone's presence. The online communities work for me very well. Discord, although overwhelming, has helped me meet and talk to really cool people. I am guilty of not being able to spend time there. Repeatability matters in communities a lot. If you go to a meet-up and not go again, nothing happens. I believe, there is a 5-time rule, which is the minimum number of times you must go to the same meetup, meet similar people for them to even make you feel a part of the community. There are just a few communities, I feel I go regularly (less regular that I would like to) :
- The English board-gaming community in Madrid (Thanks to Joris for this)
- Meditation community (There are two places I go to)
- The Hiking group of four friends — Ben, Joris, Ruven, and Me
My efforts have been variable. But after a recent breakdown, I am doubling up on my efforts on creating rituals. Things are not easy being an immigrant.
I know, it is hard. Too much information, too many choices. Too much manufactured digital hope. Start somewhere, smaller, lighter, slower.
Borrowed from this YouTube video↩
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