What those repeated actions tell us : reflections toward a comparative phenomenological hermeneutics of religious rituals

Falgout, David Christopher
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [August 2014]
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This research addresses an intersection of philosophy of religion and aesthetics via a theory of religious ritual hermeneutics and aesthetics. Primary attention is paid to a daily religious ritual in Vedic Hinduism (agnihotra, twice daily oblations to Agni) and in Islam (úṣalāt, five daily prayers). Philosophers of religion have long debated the nature of religious experience, yet ritual is rarely discussed. Philosophers of aesthetics have recently developed medium-specific approaches to performative art theory, but religious ritual remains undertreated. Negotiating tensions between five hermeneutic themes influential in contemporary theories of ritual action (rule-following, instrumentalism, self-transformation, morality, and aesthetics), this theory aims to avoid two extremes: "domestication of religious ritual," attributing meaning to unfamiliar religious rituals by reducing them to familiar categories of action, and "alienation of religious ritual," regarding such rituals as only meaningful within that religion, rendering outside interpretation fruitless. Three sets of philosophical sources are brought into dialogue: critics denying any positive significance of religious rituals, religious affiliates interpreting such significance, and recent nonaffiliates interpreting such significance. Key critics include James Frazer, viewing religious rituals as erroneous attempts at scientific efficacy, Sigmund Freud, regarding them as obsessional-neurotic action, and Frits Staal, theorizing them as non-meaningful rule-following. Primary affiliate sources include theory about ritual injunctions in Prābhākara and Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā schools of Vedic hermeneutics, the Bhagavadgītā on ritual action as indicating exemplary morality, philosophy of Islamic ritual in al-Ghazālī and Ibn ÛṬufayl, and Ibn al-'Arabī's philosophy of religious imagination. Central non-affiliate sources are Wittgenstein on rule-following and the role of instrumental thinking in ritual, Kant on connections between ritual morality and aesthetics, Bourdieu's theory of ritual as socially constitutive action, and Heidegger's phenomenology of art. A thorough investigation of these theories shows that the complex inter-relation of the five hermeneutic themes produces religious ritual meaning that becomes most substantial when united in religious ritual performance to create an intensely aesthetic experience of what the author refers to as a "ritual world," a bodily re-envisioning of the ordinary world both shaped by and re-shaping of the values, symbols, and narratives of a religious tradition.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2014.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Theses for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Philosophy.
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