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Old 02-26-2010   #141
ptamas
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Default operationalizing religion

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In fragile states circles there is a lot of talk about disaggregating the state...pulling apart all the different functions, practices and belief that make up a sovereignty. This seems to be part of the understanding all the bits of humpty-dumpty so that we can figure out how to put him (back) together again. The discussion is very useful because it has produced a whole bunch of language to talk about the bits and pieces that we find lying around in the places we work..fragments of the state. Second, it is really useful because it stops transfer of cognitive similarity. That is, it used to be when I said state and a guy from Congo said state, I would assume that we were talking about the same thing. We may not be...so our attempts to make things better may be mutually incompatible. The term state, here, is actually an obstacle to communication.

I'm having the same itch with religion. So, I would like to know what, if any, work has been done to pull apart the term 'religion' when we are talking about this stuff.

second
and I want the doc on AKO that Marc wants...(twiddling thumbs waiting patiently)

third
the entire development business is Catholic (http://www.answers.com/topic/catholic) about its secularism. This is dangerous when it isn't short sighted or just plain ignorant. It is very interesting for me to see how the military is trying to recognize this domain. I suppose it is predictable from an institutional perspective that padres would be tagged for the role. In this the military is in some ways fortunate. Padres are believers trained to care for a diverse flock under dire circumstances who are recognized by their institution as having a legitimate domain of competence. In the development business we tend to have a lot of covert missionaries frustrated by their secular workplaces and atheists who think that religion is quaint who work in a language whose express purpose is to render ideological challenges on technical terms that are amenable to the sorts of intervention strategies that donors find convenient.

finally
I have found this thread enormously rich.
thanks to all of those who contributed.
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Old 02-26-2010   #142
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ptamas:
Without insulting you with an anthropology lesson, man is inherently religious whether his religion is Wahabbist Islam or secular liberalism.

Any regime change operation which fails in this calculus is destined to create more martyrs for the causes of religious faith (SEE: In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq By Nir Rosen).

The difference being that secular liberals are ultimately overcome by religious adherents not always in war, but always in demographics and sustainability. How else do we explain the fact that 70% of Russians believe in God today?

The highest birthrates in the world are in Muslim 3rd world nations.

Western liberalism and its illegitimate step child Modernism are responsible for the decline of religious faith that is, in the ultimate analysis, the West's greatest liability.

I did not bring that view of life with me to Iraq in 2003. It descended on me like a falling safe, irrespective of my wishes and druthers. War has a way of doing that.

John
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Old 02-26-2010   #143
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ptamas:
Without insulting you with an anthropology lesson, man is inherently religious whether his religion is Wahabbist Islam or secular liberalism.
None taken.
The first thing that gets me concerned is when folks think they have a universal truth (today this would be secular liberalism) and act on that basis.

quote from a paper I wrote in '04 never published
Dobkin Hall argues that it is “likely that both the rationales and the methods of bureaucratic and corporate organization [in North America] actually emerged from the domain of religion and spread from there to economic, political and social situations”(Dobkin Hall, 1998 p. 101). Hall continues from this point by mentioning that a major industrial player (‘Pope’ Dwight) and his companions in New England:
became early promoters not only of voluntary organizations with explicitly religious purposes — Bible, tract and missionary societies — but also secular organizations — reform, temperance, education, charitable, and other societies, as well as schools and colleges — which could act on the unchurched masses and move them towards the Light. (ibid., p. 104)
Second,
Where I may differ is in the ease with which you use the term 'religious'. We have a specific notion of 'religious' here. Ours is a history informed both by the wars of religion and the perfusion of Protestant values with, now, an thick overlay of new forms of religious expression most of which are constituted within bounds tolerable to the sort of pluralism that we have snowballed into (there is lots of good work out there on the limits of pluralist states whose conditions of formation did not anticipate and can not accommodate new forms of expression). That is our history.

Other folks have had very different histories and what we call religious may not map tidily onto the world in which they live. I work with the assumption that folks' horizons (secular liberals included) are suffused with the ideological/symbolic/theological/mystical (whatever term works) but I get itchy when folks use our constructs without caveat cause that leads us to think that we can understand their realities.

That conceit has cost many lives.

-peter
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Old 02-26-2010   #144
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Hi Peter,

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The first thing that gets me concerned is when folks think they have a universal truth (today this would be secular liberalism) and act on that basis.
LOL - I tend to use terms like "theocrat" or "theologian" (note the red) for that type of person.

Just to be up front about my definition of religion, I use Clifford Geertz' definition:

Quote:
(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic (
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quote from a paper I wrote in '04 never published
Dobkin Hall argues that it is “likely that both the rationales and the methods of bureaucratic and corporate organization [in North America] actually emerged from the domain of religion and spread from there to economic, political and social situations”(Dobkin Hall, 1998 p. 101). Hall continues from this point by mentioning that a major industrial player (‘Pope’ Dwight) and his companions in New England:
became early promoters not only of voluntary organizations with explicitly religious purposes — Bible, tract and missionary societies — but also secular organizations — reform, temperance, education, charitable, and other societies, as well as schools and colleges — which could act on the unchurched masses and move them towards the Light. (ibid., p. 104)

I would argue that it's a bit of chicken or egg situation. Sure, the North American version comes out of religious bases, but they (in turn) came out of the secular, Roman bureaucracy, which came out of the Roman religious bureaucracy, ..... The earliest bureaucratic organizational forms about which we have any information are those furshlinger accountant-priests of the Sumerian city states (ca. 3300 bce). It goes back well before Christianity, although modern bureaucracy, including its secular form (i.e. Scientific Management) was definitely influenced by a mutant 9or degenerate) form of Calvinism.

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Where I may differ is in the ease with which you use the term 'religious'. We have a specific notion of 'religious' here. Ours is a history informed both by the wars of religion and the perfusion of Protestant values with, now, an thick overlay of new forms of religious expression most of which are constituted within bounds tolerable to the sort of pluralism that we have snowballed into (there is lots of good work out there on the limits of pluralist states whose conditions of formation did not anticipate and can not accommodate new forms of expression). That is our history.
I've often found a similar problem when talking about "religion" in Canada. In many ways, our history is almost the antithesis of the European experience. As an illustration, did you know that Canada was the only place where there was a witch hunt that was stopped by popular protest (1610, Isle de Montreal)? An incredibly large part of our "national culture" (and I happen to hate that term but, in this case, it is appropriate) is cebtered around a rejection of a "one true path" expression of religion.

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Other folks have had very different histories and what we call religious may not map tidily onto the world in which they live. I work with the assumption that folks' horizons (secular liberals included) are suffused with the ideological/symbolic/theological/mystical (whatever term works) but I get itchy when folks use our constructs without caveat cause that leads us to think that we can understand their realities.
Really good point, and one that is often forgotten. Personally, I have a tendency to use two constructs - via negativa and via positiva - as descriptors of "religious" symbol systems (in Geertz's terminology again). The positiva form comes out as "God (reality, nature, etc.) is...", while the negativa form is "God (reality, nature, etc.) is not...". Personally, I believe that these are more mental (psychological, philosophical, metaphysical) "stances" towards however individuals choose to express their symbolizations of "reality / meaning"; certainly there are behavioural correlations between those stances and social actions.

Can "we" understand "their" realities? We, I tend to follow Ginzberg on that one. In short, we can never wholly understand the reality of the other, but that doesn't mean we should not try .
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Old 02-27-2010   #145
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Geertz's definition of religion is nakedly Modernist as his verbs render: "establish", "formulating", "clothing." This definition precludes the possibility of revealed religion, that is, truth communicated to men from a source external to themselves by the Divine Creator.

For those of us who adhere to the Hebraic-Christian Tradition of monotheism, our religion cannot be contained, described, apprehended or even meaningfully criticized using Modernist technical terms.

This is an impasse that cannot be abridged by simple broadmindedness or goodwill. It is a conflict of cosmologies that cannot be reconciled in any abstract way although political reconciliation is always achievable when we accept the limits of our present conditions as finite beings in an imperfect world.

The only long-term experimentations with antireligious social constructs have completely collapsed (USSR) or have yielded to the impetus of religious ascendancy (PRC). And it may be forcefully argued that Stalinism and Maoism were in practice religious constructs, as is North Korea's bizarre compulsory adoration of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

If man is inherently religious then Truth matters. If we are to engage the Other in our academic, social and political (not to mention military) engagements, it is disingenuine to exclude the possibility of revealed religion at least as a sincerely held belief.

Modernism, naturalism, Darwinism, materialism, liberalism, etc.. are practiced as cosmologies and to the religious believer on the other side of the table are engaged as such.
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Old 02-27-2010   #146
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Hi John,

You know, this is getting a touch weird (in the very old sense of the term) conducting parallel discussions on this .

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If man is inherently religious then Truth matters. If we are to engage the Other in our academic, social and political (not to mention military) engagements, it is disingenuine to exclude the possibility of revealed religion at least as a sincerely held belief.
First, I'll note that this is not specifically excluded from Geertz' definition. Let me further point out that all of the "revealed religions" in the Abrahamic tradition warn about testing continuing revelation against scripture, so your point is only immediately valid when it concerns the direct recipient of direct revelation (like Joseph Smith?).

Second, and it follows from the first, is that all religious systems are a) symbolic and b) constantly subject to re-interpretation by individuals who profess them. How an individual professes their individual interpretations, even if they have "historical backing" (or scriptural for that matter), is still an individual choice and, hence, subject to this definition.

Third, I could find your position to be equally disingenuous in that it denies the validity of a non-received, exploratory religion that has recognized that all deities are mere illusions (i.e Vadrayana Buddhism or Taosism).

Finally, let me point out that Geertz' definition of religion is a via negativa definition of religion in that it maps out broad boundaries, but actually does not exclude belief systems that are usually not considered to be "religious" such as Marxism.

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Modernism, naturalism, Darwinism, materialism, liberalism, etc.. are practiced as cosmologies and to the religious believer on the other side of the table are engaged as such.
And do you seriously believe that they do not fulfill the same function as more formally recognized "religions" ? I *think* (not sure, but...) I spelled out some of the arguments against this position in my two-part comments today (for those of you wondering what I'm talking about, the exchange is over here). As far as them being treated as cosmologies, of course they are! Exactly as formal religious systems are treated as cosmologies.

What is critical, IMO and getting back to the origin of this entire thread, is for people to see other people as a) holding their beliefs sincerely and, b) using that system to promote "the Good".

Cheers,

Marc
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Old 02-28-2010   #147
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And do you seriously believe that they do not fulfill the same function as more formally recognized "religions" ? I *think* (not sure, but...) I spelled out some of the arguments against this position in my two-part comments today (for those of you wondering what I'm talking about, the exchange is over here). As far as them being treated as cosmologies, of course they are! Exactly as formal religious systems are treated as cosmologies.
I think we are in violent agreement here, Dr. Marc.

A short vignette. While assigned to the US Army Combined Arms Center (CAC), one of my duties was to provide enlisted advice to the CAC Command Chaplain for input to CAC's arm of TRADOC. TRADOC CAC-Training Directorate was mass producing laminated cards for distribution to Soldiers on how to behave culturally in Iraq. The 2nd bullet on the front side said "never discuss religion."

This blunder illustrates the blindness that accompanies so much of what passes for 'cultural awareness training' in the US DoD. A short taxonomy of assertions:

1. Islam makes no distinction between religious and political life.
2. There was little or no religious freedom in Iraq under Saddam's Baathist government.
3. Iraq's clerics filled the void created by the Baath Party government's dissolution.
4. The Friday Mosque speech/sermon is the #1 most trusted IO transmission in Iraq.
5. AQ infiltrated Iraq's government through Mosque channels.
6. Iran infiltrated Iraq's government through Mosque channels.
7. Iraq's constitution names Islam as the basis for Iraqi jurisprudence.
8. IO messages using words like takfiri and irhabi are promulgated by Soldiers and Marines on the streets and villages of Iraq.

Now, add to this equation that in this COIN fight for legitimacy you should never discuss religion with Iraqis.

[Imagine here an Iraqi social leader being engaged by a US Army/Marine Platoon Leader. After exchanging salam alechems, the Iraqi, who punctuates references to anything future with In sh'Allah, says something that touches an Islamic or Christian concept. The young Lieutenant abruptly shows the Iraqi the hand and says, "stop! We can't discuss religion with you." What is this Iraqi opinion maker going to take back to his Mosque, neighborhood or tribal council?]

(BTW, substitute Afghan for Iraqi and you get the picture for another application.)

The whole idea that our regime change mission would bring a separation of mosque/state is anathema to every version of Islam. Yet that is exactly what we set out to do whether by declaration or example. This inflamed the clerics, emboldened the extremists, and painted bull's eyes on anyone 'collaborating' with CF and the new government.

I am sure the TRADOC developers assured themselves that this 'nonreligious, apolitical approach' was the safest way to navigate the human terrain they were trying to protect. In fact, because that is a worldview being expressed, it comes across to many as Yankee cultural imperialism.

This is one of the reasons why our RLEs (religious leader engagements) were so effective in OIF I. Christian chaplains cleverly disguised as Christian chaplains sat across the table from Islamic scholars, Imams, and Sheikhs and represented a (largely Protestant) Christian worldview well-known to the Umma leadership. Iraqi Christians were seen as honest, trustworthy, courageous, patriotic and reliable partners. When we shoved everyone into FOBs in the fall of '03 and focused on government, government and government, we marginalized the clerics and basically handed them over to the nascent insurgency. AQ picked up on this immediately and began promulgating Sayyid Qutb's Salafist rhetoric which sharply condemns the West for its division of religious and political life. The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq was split over the legitimacy of AQ's theology until the Anbar Awakening - which could never have succeeded without buy in from the AMS.

So we see that the secularist liberals (here represented by the TRADOC developers) secure in the conceit that they were above or outside of making religious statements in fact reinforced a 'religious' worldview that is far more antithetical to Muslims than Christianity ever has been or could be.

Lastly, my problem with Geertz's definition is that it emerges from a school that considers nonreligion to be outside the domain of faith/dogma and therefore a judge of all religions. Modernism, materialism, et al as we agree on are indeed 'religious' perspectives inasmuch as they rely on philosophical presuppositions informed by belief of some kind. It is the height of arrogance to refuse acknowledgement of this. We see this vividly in the intolerance of the 'science-by-consensus' community who crush all dissent on issues like moles-to-man macroevolution or (more recently) climate change theory.

To take a position like this in foreign policy (which is what that US Army Sergeant and his M4 Carbine Rifle represent) is obviously problematic. It is as though a Methodist, refusing to admit to Wesleyan inspiration, sits down to criticize and reform a Lutheran Church based on his 'unbiased' Methodism.

Yes, we all interpret through our subjective filters, however - there are objective expressions of dogma that are not subject to modification. This is an orthodox Catholic viewpoint (full disclosure).

Thanks for the spirited colloquy.

john
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Old 02-28-2010   #148
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I am sure the TRADOC developers assured themselves that this 'nonreligious, apolitical approach' was the safest way to navigate the human terrain they were trying to protect. In fact, because that is a worldview being expressed, it comes across to many as Yankee cultural imperialism.

and

So we see that the secularist liberals (here represented by the TRADOC developers) secure in the conceit that they were above or outside of making religious statements in fact reinforced a 'religious' worldview that is far more antithetical to Muslims than Christianity ever has been or could be.

and

Lastly, my problem with Geertz's definition is that it emerges from a school that considers nonreligion to be outside the domain of faith/dogma and therefore a judge of all religions.
About 10 years ago I was at a conference on religion and development at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa sponsored by a retired Jesuit who was then the Vice President. A Thai lady stood up at the plenary and stated that 'you are all guilty of blind theological imperialism.' The wiggling in chairs was audible. The comment was left entirely untouched. The assembled authorities on religion and development could not or would not engage the challenge that their secular, their technical, their universally good intervention was of the same order as those troubling religions they studied.

I'm going to go out on a limb here...

It is this conceit, I believe, that you pick up in the academic study of religion. Religion is held to be an effect of culture. There is no room in this theorizing for the possibility of Revelation, through either (M)manifestation or (E)existence. Whether or not somebody is an expert on religion, if they are not of Faith, that changes the manner in which they engage with counterparts who are of Faith (whatever form that takes).

Put differently, even if you are of a different faith, perhaps even one with radically different tenets, you are peers. You stand similarly in a relationship of submission, of contingent existence, to something external to yourself. This common position provides a ground for communication that is not available to those who do not see their existence as contingent.

If I'm not entirely off base on that much, I would be very curious to know how inter-faith engagement plays out between the faithful in COIN environments when the parties present acknowledge that the content of their and their peers' beliefs are in part the effect of all to human interference in their canon...and that a portion of the violence witnessed can be attributed to this meddling. What I'm particularly interested in here is the disposition, in this case, of Padres towards the difficulties to which they are witness in their work (e.g. compassion, commiseration, condescension) and what relationship their disposition has with their perceived (self and other) and actual effectiveness.

-peter
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Old 03-01-2010   #149
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If I'm not entirely off base on that much, I would be very curious to know how inter-faith engagement plays out between the faithful in COIN environments when the parties present acknowledge that the content of their and their peers' beliefs are in part the effect of all to human interference in their canon...and that a portion of the violence witnessed can be attributed to this meddling. What I'm particularly interested in here is the disposition, in this case, of Padres towards the difficulties to which they are witness in their work (e.g. compassion, commiseration, condescension) and what relationship their disposition has with their perceived (self and other) and actual effectiveness.

-peter
Peter, perhaps these cartoons would explain what I think about your question. I hope you also had a chance to look over the PDF I sent you a link to in a PM.



This image depicts the shared area of religious concern that can be operationalized by political, government and social institutions because the interreligious dialogue has produced a clear understanding of the religious objectives of both parties (in this case, CF and Iraqi indigenous religious leaders).
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Old 03-01-2010   #150
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This graphic depicts the ways the knowledge of religious objectives can be applied to counterinsurgency operations. This method gives legitimacy to the COIN operation by acting in support of OBJs identified by the host nation religious leaders. The primary method for identifying those religious OBJs is the religious leader engagement operation (RLEO). The cleric-to-cleric colloquy is the vehicle for ascertaining religious OBJs. Note: not all religious OBJs can be agreed to by CF or the GOI. But as a start point, it is important to know what the clerics think of as most important.

Religious leaders are the most trusted leaders in Iraq today and the mosque is the #1 most credible IO transmitter.
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Old 03-01-2010   #151
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I think the “secularist liberals” who you continue to bash intended something much different than the simple interpretation you choose. “[Y]ou should never discuss religion with Iraqis” is not intended to get the Iraqis, or Afghans for that matter, to adopt a Western model of separation of church and state, but rather to keep some jackass from getting into a religious debate with the host nation populace about his jeezus being better than the other guy’s allah. Its designed to keep morons from proselytizing and passing out bibles. Its designed to keep us from playing into AQ’s IO campaign.

Your example of: “The young Lieutenant abruptly shows the Iraqi the hand and says, "stop! We can't discuss religion with you" is a feeble strawman you’re using to push your own agenda. I would fully expect any soldier when meeting with a local leader, be he the qariya dar (village leader) or imam, to respectfully discuss the issues important to those people. Without his gear, without his Oakleys, and without his M4 at the ready. Nobody says we need to try and get them to adopt our view of religion and that’s not the message which TRADOC is trying to get across. If the qariya dar elects the imam to speak for the village, or if the leader himself discusses his needs through a religious lens (which of course he probably would because, as you pointed out, it is the central theme that everything else stems from), the US soldier will do his job as it relates to the COIN mission and not “wave off” because of your perceived interpretation of doctrine. If he did, that soldier is obviously unfit for such duty.

Thanks, but I think most of us have taken a few classes by now and understand that Islamic Republics such as Iraq and Afghanistan operate under different sets of rules and concepts than we do in the West. I also think that a soldier can perform his COIN mission without needing a uniformed chaplain to bridge any gaps and put said chaplain in any situation outside of seeing to the needs of his own troops. Anything else gets into a moral and legal über gray area that is begging for AQ or the Taliban, or the US press for that matter (and rightfully so), to pick up on. As long as that soldier uses the respect, honor, an open mind, and intelligence which dealing with local leaders requires in today’s wars, he can earn the trust and partnership of the imam or elder just as easy as a US chaplain. The qariya dar or imam doesn’t need a US chaplain to be able speak religion with; he needs the responsible US soldier to talk with about what his village needs, how best to provide security, and how to ensure the village swings to the CF side and not the Taliban’s. That takes a culturally aware, respectful, and intelligent soldier. Not an ordained minister bridging religious gaps. It’s not about religious street cred, it’s about not acting like a bunch of door-kickers during a COIN mission.

Cheers,
A secularist liberal and damn proud of it. Its what makes our nation strong and unique throughout a world history full of theocracies and monarchies.
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Old 03-01-2010   #152
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Hi John,

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Lastly, my problem with Geertz's definition is that it emerges from a school that considers nonreligion to be outside the domain of faith/dogma and therefore a judge of all religions. Modernism, materialism, et al as we agree on are indeed 'religious' perspectives inasmuch as they rely on philosophical presuppositions informed by belief of some kind. It is the height of arrogance to refuse acknowledgement of this. We see this vividly in the intolerance of the 'science-by-consensus' community who crush all dissent on issues like moles-to-man macroevolution or (more recently) climate change theory.
I think you misunderstand where Geertz' definition came from. Discursively, yes, it is part of the modernist school, but philosophically it isn't. Hmmm, how to explain this.....

Anthropology, and especially the Anthropology of Religion post, say, J. G. Frazer, has been the home of some of the, hmmmm, "weirdest" (in the old, Anglo-Saxon meaning of the term!) people in the discipline. Please believe me when I say that pretty much everyone in the field is fully aware that "non-religions" are "religions". I suspect that the attacks on Geertz' definition of religion from inside the discipline, mainly the the post-modernist crowd, are for precisely that reason; they don't want to be "recognized" as a religion .

Personally, I've never heard of the moles-to-man macroevolution but, speaking as someone who has taught evolutionary theory, I find it somewhat silly . As for "climate change theory", at least in its modern version, I'm not sure if we really want to get into that debate at all.

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Yes, we all interpret through our subjective filters, however - there are objective expressions of dogma that are not subject to modification. This is an orthodox Catholic viewpoint (full disclosure).
The existence and general properties of dogma (singular dogmata from the Gr. Dokein) operate regardless of the religion, ranging from the axiomatic assumptions of the symbol system through to certain, hmmm, let's call them "tentative Truths" (in Catholic theology, these are sometimes referred to as "virtual revelations" as opposed to formal and explicit and formal and implicit revelations).

At the social, discursive level (like, you know, when we are talkin' about stuff ), dogmata can show up either as a formal constraint within a person who accepts the system or by, hmmm, "viral" exchange (i.e. it's part of the person's popular culture without being a subscriber to the formal system). Technically, and remember I'm speaking as an Anthropologist right now, they are "objective" only in as much as they are an artifact of the system that holds them to exist. Their actual objectivity, in terms of the entire species, is much more limited and, even for people who operate within the system of which they are a part, is subject to interpretation. That, too, is a part of Roman Catholic doctrine BTW (if you want an example of it, check out the actual reason for Galileo's trial rather than the mythologized one).

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Thanks for the spirited colloquy.
Always fun !

Cheers,

Marc
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Old 03-03-2010   #153
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Technically, and remember I'm speaking as an Anthropologist right now, they are "objective" only in as much as they are an artifact of the system that holds them to exist. Their actual objectivity, in terms of the entire species, is much more limited and, even for people who operate within the system of which they are a part, is subject to interpretation. That, too, is a part of Roman Catholic doctrine BTW (if you want an example of it, check out the actual reason for Galileo's trial rather than the mythologized one).
As a practicing and believing Catholic, you must know I reject this Geertzism. Dogmas are for the faithful Catholic, the immutable and incontrovertible Universal Truths, whether accepted outside 'our system' or not. I do appreciate the full disclosure of anthropologese - an excerpt from a Papal Encyclical promulgated by Pope St. Pius X is in order:

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26. To finish with this whole question of faith and its shoots, it remains to be seen, Venerable Brethren, what the Modernists have to say about their development. First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be, among the chief of their doctrines, that of Evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject - dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself, and the penalty of disobedience is death. The enunciation of this principle will not astonish anybody who bears in mind what the Modernists have had to say about each of these subjects. Having laid down this law of evolution, the Modernists themselves teach us how it works out. And first with regard to faith. The primitive form of faith, they tell us, was rudimentary and common to all men alike, for it had its origin in human nature and human life. Vital evolution brought with it progress, not by the accretion of new and purely adventitious forms from without, but by an increasing penetration of the religious sentiment in the conscience.

Pascendi Dominici Gregis
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Old 03-03-2010   #154
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Hi John,

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Originally Posted by MSG Proctor View Post
As a practicing and believing Catholic, you must know I reject this Geertzism. Dogmas are for the faithful Catholic, the immutable and incontrovertible Universal Truths, whether accepted outside 'our system' or not.
Sure, I know that you are compelled to reject it. I will point out, however, that the process discussed by it is, however, recognized by a Papal Encyclical - Humani Generis (Pius XII) - which, while arguing that there both are absolute truths and specific routes towards them, also argues that the process I was describing exists and needs to be guarded against. As a practicing Baconian scientist, i.e. with a via negativa stance, you need to remember that the models I discuss and work on are a) contingent and b) refer to processes that are observable. I'm not making value judgements per se about their desirability, only about their existence.

Shifting topic somewhat, I think that our discussions here and elsewhere show some of the limits of religious engagement. I happen to agree with kotkinjs1 interpretation that the TRADOC policy is "to keep some jackass from getting into a religious debate with the host nation populace about his jeezus being better than the other guy’s allah." How do you think it could be modified to avoid that problem?

Cheers,

Marc
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Old 03-04-2010   #155
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I was assigned to TRADOC/CAC when called by MNF-I to the contingency work group on religious leader engagements in the ITO in 2008 (earlier in this thread).

My work A Short History of Religious Leader Engagements in Operation Iraqi Freedom is footnoted and referenced to real events, situations and leaders that make the case for religious understanding in a COIN operation among Muslims. Mr. kotkinjs1's oversimplification of the realties briefs real well but does not seem to admit that our COIN operations in OIF are an intervention in a largely Islamic internicine conflict and require more savvy than just "respect, honor, an open mind, and intelligence..." Case in point.

To answer your question directly, most of TRADOC's cultural education products (especially those uploaded to CALL's website) are pretty sound and getting better. The laminated card I referred to above is symptomatic of the radical secularizing attitude that played right into the hands of the multitude of insurgent groups animated by religious impulse in Iraq and Iran.

The best way to tackle the problem is by weaponizing cultural knowledge (GEN Petraeus' phrase, not mine) and applying the same energy towards knowing human terrain on the COIN battlefield as we would the physical terrain in a kinetic, conventional linear operation. Square one is dealing with the 'religion doesn't really matter' attitudes within our own ranks.

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“These are three of the most important political figures in Iraq today. Their edicts and counsel go out to millions of Iraqis every Friday at the mosques, and to members of the national government and parliament throughout the week. In short, if there is to be reconciliation in Iraq it must be led by these men… clearly the most authoritative word in Iraq comes from its most respected institution, religion.” Voices from Iraq, Wall Street Journal 26 March 2008 by Robert McFarlane
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“The policing of corruption, the work of the rule of law, the acceptance of the Iraqi government and its credibility among the people, a willingness to lay off violence—none of those things could progress forward without mosque permission.” CH(COL) Mike Hoyt, Religion a Major Player in Recent Iraq Success, by Jane Cook
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Old 03-04-2010   #156
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Hi John,

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Originally Posted by MSG Proctor View Post
The best way to tackle the problem is by weaponizing cultural knowledge (GEN Petraeus' phrase, not mine) and applying the same energy towards knowing human terrain on the COIN battlefield as we would the physical terrain in a kinetic, conventional linear operation. Square one is dealing with the 'religion doesn't really matter' attitudes within our own ranks.
I still find myself in two minds on on both of these issues.

First, the idea of "weaponizing cultural knowledge" makes my guts churn. I don't really care if it is discussed in (supposedly) neutral terms such as "cultural terrain", it is the very concept of converting cultural knowledge into a "weapon" that makes me shudder. That, BTW, doesn't come from some fuzzy, neo-liberal idealization of "culture" as "sacred"; it comes from a very real fear that once you weaponize any symbol system
  • it can be used by any player;
  • it will be turned back on its "inventors"; and
  • historically, it destabilizes the culture / society that uses it.
Second, the supposedly "neutral" terminology of "cultural terrain" contains within it an ontological predisposition towards hubris: "we" can analyze "their" culture (and "fix" it), therefore "we" are "better" than "them". Proverbs 16:18 captures this concern nicely: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall". When coupled with "weaponization", there is an implication of an engineering "solution" which, if it was ever found, would open the door to cultural engineering in other venues including the US (not that this isn't already happening, but the playing field is roughly level right now).

Third, while I do believe that religion matters and religious engagement of certain types is quite beneficial as well as being useful (your article shows some of the potentials), there is also a danger of over-reaction and misinterpretation (vide the case you point to amongst many others).
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Old 01-15-2015   #157
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I was looking over this old (and very stimulating) discussion tonight and saw where I referred to an FOUO document that I had downgraded to unclassified back in 2009, but I don't think I ever linked to it.
Since this thread has gone dormant, I have deployed to Afghanistan in Regional Command South and took my thesis a step further by integrating with the CJ7 (Military Information Support Operations or MISO) with positive results in COIN Ops there.
The document referred to in earlier posts is A Short History of Religious Leader Engagements in Operation Iraqi Freedom published by the IO Journal. As of now I have uploaded an unclassified reports of activity in OEF which you can download here.
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