Anthropological perspectives on ritual and religious ignorance

Authored by: Liana Chua

Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415718967
eBook ISBN: 9781315867762
Adobe ISBN: 9781317964674


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Although ignorance has long played a critical off-stage role in anthropological discussions, controversies and theories about ritual and religion, it has only recently been cast under the analytical spotlight as an ethnographic topic in itself. Following a brief overview of the long-standing but largely implicit presence of ignorance in the anthropology of religion over the last century, this chapter will explore three broad themes in the current literature on ritual and religious ignorance: (1) loss, change and collective memory; (2) the politics of ignorance; and (3) ignorance as a strategic or ethical project. I suggest that these recent contributions can be seen as both extensions of and rejoinders to earlier debates on ritual and religion—notably those revolving around the distinction between praxis and propositional knowledge and the relationship between individuals and society. At the same time, they lay bare the many overlaps and slippages between ignorance and other cognate phenomena such as secrecy, ambiguity, loss and indifference. Rather than attempting to delineate a clear-cut category of ‘ignorance’, then, this chapter will take seriously its definitional ‘fuzziness’ as central to the real-world complexities with which anthropologists inevitably have to grapple.

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