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E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F
RELIGION
S E C O N D E D I T I O N


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E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F
RELIGION
S E C O N D E D I T I O N
11
PIUS IX
LINDSAY JONES

EDITOR IN CHIEF
RIVERS

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Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition
Lindsay Jones, Editor in Chief
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Encyclopedia of religion / Lindsay Jones, editor in chief.— 2nd ed.
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1. RELIGION—ENCYCLOPEDIAS. I. JONES, LINDSAY,
1954-
BL31.E46 2005
200’.3—dc22
2004017052
This title is also available as an e-book.
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E D I T O R S A N D C O N S U L T A N T S
EDITOR IN CHIEF
Program in Religious Studies,
SIGMA ANKRAVA
LINDSAY JONES
University of Wisconsin—Madison
Professor, Department of Literary and
Associate Professor, Department of
C
Cultural Studies, Faculty of Modern
HARLES H. LONG
Comparative Studies, Ohio State
Professor of History of Religions,
Languages, University of Latvia
University
Baltic Religion and Slavic Religion
Emeritus, and Former Director of
Research Center for Black Studies,

DIANE APOSTOLOS-CAPPADONA
BOARD MEMBERS
University of California, Santa Barbara
Center for Muslim–Christian
DAVÍD CARRASCO
Understanding and Liberal Studies
MARY N. MACDONALD
Neil Rudenstine Professor of Study of
Program, Georgetown University
Professor, History of Religions, Le
Latin America, Divinity School and
Art and Religion
Moyne College (Syracuse, New York)
Department of Anthropology, Harvard
DIANE BELL
DALE B. MARTIN
University
Professor of Anthropology and Women’s
Professor of Religious Studies, and
Studies, George Washington University
GIOVANNI CASADIO
Chair, Department of Religious
Australian Indigenous Religions
Professor of History of Religions,
Studies, Yale University
Dipartimento di Scienze
KEES W. BOLLE
AZIM NANJI
Professor Emeritus of History,
dell’Antichità, Università degli Studi
Professor and Director, The Institute
University of California, Los Angeles,
di Salerno
of Ismaili Studies, London
and Fellow, Netherlands Institute for
WENDY DONIGER
JACOB OLUPONA
Advanced Studies in the Humanities
Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service
Professor, African American and
and Social Sciences
Professor of the History of Religions,
African Studies Program, University
History of Religions
University of Chicago
of California, Davis
MARK CSIKSZENTMIHALYI
GARY L. EBERSOLE
MICHAEL SWARTZ
Associate Professor in the Department
Professor of History and Religious
Professor of Hebrew and Religious
of East Asian Languages and
Studies, and Director, UMKC Center
Studies, Ohio State University
Literature and the Program in
for Religious Studies, University of
Religious Studies, University of
INÉS TALAMANTEZ
Missouri—Kansas City
Wisconsin—Madison
Associate Professor, Religious Studies
Chinese Religions
JANET GYATSO
Department, University of California,
RICHARD A. GARDNER
Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies,
Santa Barbara
Faculty of Comparative Culture,
The Divinity School, Harvard
Sophia University
University
CONSULTANTS
Humor and Religion
GREGORY D. ALLES
CHARLES HALLISEY
Associate Professor of Religious Studies,
JOHN A. GRIM
Associate Professor, Department of
McDaniel College
Professor of Religion, Bucknell
Languages and Cultures of Asia and
Study of Religion
University and Co-Coordinator,
v

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EDITORS AND CONSULTANTS
Harvard Forum on Religion and
TED PETERS
Religion, University of Chicago
Ecology
Professor of Systematic Theology,
Law and Religion
Ecology and Religion
Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary
TOD SWANSON
JOSEPH HARRIS
and the Center for Theology and the
Associate Professor of Religious Studies,
Francis Lee Higginson Professor of
Natural Sciences at the Graduate
and Director, Center for Latin
English Literature and Professor of
Theological Union, Berkeley,
American Studies, Arizona State
Folklore, Harvard University
California
University
Germanic Religions
Science and Religion
South American Religions
URSULA KING
FRANK E. REYNOLDS
MARY EVELYN TUCKER
Professor Emerita, Senior Research
Professor of the History of Religions
Professor of Religion, Bucknell
Fellow and Associate Member of the
and Buddhist Studies in the Divinity
University, Founder and Coordinator,
Institute for Advanced Studies,
School and the Department of South
University of Bristol, England, and
Asian Languages and Civilizations,
Harvard Forum on Religion and
Professorial Research Associate, Centre
Emeritus, University of Chicago
Ecology, Research Fellow, Harvard
for Gender and Religions Research,
History of Religions
Yenching Institute, Research Associate,
School of Oriental and African
GONZALO RUBIO
Harvard Reischauer Institute of
Studies, University of London
Assistant Professor, Department of
Japanese Studies
Gender and Religion
Classics and Ancient Mediterranean
Ecology and Religion
DAVID MORGAN
Studies and Department of History
HUGH B. URBAN
Duesenberg Professor of Christianity
and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania
Associate Professor, Department of
and the Arts, and
State University
Comparative Studies, Ohio State
Professor of Humanities and Art
Ancient Near Eastern Religions
University
History, Valparaiso University
SUSAN SERED
Politics and Religion
Color Inserts and Essays
Director of Research, Religion, Health
CATHERINE WESSINGER
JOSEPH F. NAGY
and Healing Initiative, Center for the
Professor of the History of Religions
Professor, Department of English,
Study of World Religions, Harvard
and Women’s Studies, Loyola
University of California, Los Angeles
University, and Senior Research
University New Orleans
Celtic Religion
Associate, Center for Women’s Health
New Religious Movements
M
and Human Rights, Suffolk University
ATTHEW OJO
Healing, Medicine, and Religion
R
Obafemi Awolowo University
OBERT A. YELLE
African Religions
LAWRENCE E. SULLIVAN
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, University
of Toronto

J
Professor, Department of Theology,
UHA PENTIKÄINEN
Law and Religion
Professor of Comparative Religion, The
University of Notre Dame
History of Religions
University of Helsinki, Member of
ERIC ZIOLKOWSKI
Academia Scientiarum Fennica,
WINNIFRED FALLERS SULLIVAN
Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious
Finland
Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer
Studies, Lafayette College
Arctic Religions and Uralic Religions
in the Anthropology and Sociology of
Literature and Religion
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

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A B B R E V I A T I O N S A N D S Y M B O L S
U S E D I N T H I S W O R K
abbr. abbreviated; abbreviation
3 Bar. 3 Baruch
2 Chr. 2 Chronicles
abr. abridged; abridgment
4 Bar. 4 Baruch
Ch. Slav. Church Slavic
AD anno Domini, in the year of the
B.B. BavaD batraD
cm centimeters
(our) Lord
BBC British Broadcasting
col. column (pl., cols.)
Afrik. Afrikaans
Corporation
Col. Colossians
AH anno Hegirae, in the year of the
BC before Christ
Colo. Colorado
Hijrah
BCE before the common era
comp. compiler (pl., comps.)
Akk. Akkadian
B.D. Bachelor of Divinity
Conn. Connecticut
Ala. Alabama
Beits. Beitsah
cont. continued
Alb. Albanian
Bekh. Bekhorot
Copt. Coptic
Am. Amos
Beng. Bengali
1 Cor. 1 Corinthians
AM ante meridiem, before noon
Ber. Berakhot
2 Cor. 2 Corinthians
amend. amended; amendment
Berb. Berber
corr. corrected
annot. annotated; annotation
Bik. Bikkurim
C.S.P. Congregatio Sancti Pauli,
Ap. Apocalypse
bk. book (pl., bks.)
Congregation of Saint Paul
Apn. Apocryphon
B.M. BavaD metsiEaD
(Paulists)
app. appendix
BP before the present
d. died
Arab. Arabic
B.Q. BavaD qammaD
D Deuteronomic (source of the
EArakh. EArakhin
Bra¯h. Bra¯hman.a
Pentateuch)
Aram. Aramaic
Bret. Breton
Dan. Danish
Ariz. Arizona
B.T. Babylonian Talmud
D.B. Divinitatis Baccalaureus,
Ark. Arkansas
Bulg. Bulgarian
Bachelor of Divinity
Arm. Armenian
Burm. Burmese
D.C. District of Columbia
art. article (pl., arts.)
c. circa, about, approximately
D.D. Divinitatis Doctor, Doctor of
AS Anglo-Saxon
Calif. California
Divinity
Asm. Mos. Assumption of Moses
Can. Canaanite
Del. Delaware
Assyr. Assyrian
Catal. Catalan
Dem. DemaDi
A.S.S.R. Autonomous Soviet Socialist
CE of the common era
dim. diminutive
Republic
Celt. Celtic
diss. dissertation
Av. Avestan
cf. confer, compare
Dn. Daniel
EA.Z. EAvodah zarah
Chald. Chaldean
D.Phil. Doctor of Philosophy
b. born
chap. chapter (pl., chaps.)
Dt. Deuteronomy
Bab. Babylonian
Chin. Chinese
Du. Dutch
Ban. Bantu
C.H.M. Community of the Holy
E Elohist (source of the Pentateuch)
1 Bar. 1 Baruch
Myrrhbearers
Eccl. Ecclesiastes
2 Bar. 2 Baruch
1 Chr. 1 Chronicles
ed. editor (pl., eds.); edition; edited by
vii

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viii
ABBREVIATIONS AND SYMBOLS
EEduy. EEduyyot
Hung. Hungarian
Lith. Lithuanian
e.g. exempli gratia, for example
ibid. ibidem, in the same place (as the
Lk. Luke
Egyp. Egyptian
one immediately preceding)
LL Late Latin
1 En. 1 Enoch
Icel. Icelandic
LL.D. Legum Doctor, Doctor of Laws
2 En. 2 Enoch
i.e. id est, that is
Lv. Leviticus
3 En. 3 Enoch
IE Indo-European
m meters
Eng. English
Ill. Illinois
m. masculine
enl. enlarged
Ind. Indiana
M.A. Master of Arts
Eph. Ephesians
intro. introduction
Ma Eas. MaEaserot
EEruv. EEruvin
Ir. Gael. Irish Gaelic
Ma Eas. Sh. MaE aser sheni
1 Esd. 1 Esdras
Iran. Iranian
Mak. Makkot
2 Esd. 2 Esdras
Is. Isaiah
Makh. Makhshirin
3 Esd. 3 Esdras
Ital. Italian
Mal. Malachi
4 Esd. 4 Esdras
J Yahvist (source of the Pentateuch)
Mar. Marathi
esp. especially
Jas. James
Mass. Massachusetts
Est. Estonian
Jav. Javanese
1 Mc. 1 Maccabees
Est. Esther
Jb. Job
2 Mc. 2 Maccabees
et al. et alii, and others
Jdt. Judith
3 Mc. 3 Maccabees
etc. et cetera, and so forth
Jer. Jeremiah
4 Mc. 4 Maccabees
Eth. Ethiopic
Jgs. Judges
Md. Maryland
EV English version
Jl. Joel
M.D. Medicinae Doctor, Doctor of
Ex. Exodus
Jn. John
Medicine
exp. expanded
1 Jn. 1 John
ME Middle English
Ez. Ezekiel
2 Jn. 2 John
Meg. Megillah
Ezr. Ezra
3 Jn. 3 John
Me Eil. MeEilah
2 Ezr. 2 Ezra
Jon. Jonah
Men. Menah.ot
4 Ezr. 4 Ezra
Jos. Joshua
MHG Middle High German
f. feminine; and following (pl., ff.)
Jpn. Japanese
mi. miles
fasc. fascicle (pl., fascs.)
JPS Jewish Publication Society trans-
Mi. Micah
fig. figure (pl., figs.)
lation (1985) of the Hebrew Bible
Mich. Michigan
Finn. Finnish
J.T. Jerusalem Talmud
Mid. Middot
fl. floruit, flourished
Jub. Jubilees
Minn. Minnesota
Fla. Florida
Kans. Kansas
Miq. MiqvaDot
Fr. French
Kel. Kelim
MIran. Middle Iranian
frag. fragment
Ker. Keritot
Miss. Mississippi
ft. feet
Ket. Ketubbot
Mk. Mark
Ga. Georgia
1 Kgs. 1 Kings
Mo. Missouri
Gal. Galatians
2 Kgs. 2 Kings
MoEed Q. MoEed qat.an
Gaul. Gaulish
Khois. Khoisan
Mont. Montana
Ger. German
Kil. Kil Dayim
MPers. Middle Persian
Git.. Git.t.in
km kilometers
MS. manuscriptum, manuscript (pl.,
Gn. Genesis
Kor. Korean
MSS)
Gr. Greek
Ky. Kentucky
Mt. Matthew
H
. ag. H
. agigah
l. line (pl., ll.)
MT Masoretic text
H
. al. H
. allah
La. Louisiana
n. note
Hau. Hausa
Lam. Lamentations
Na. Nahum
Hb. Habakkuk
Lat. Latin
Nah. Nahuatl
Heb. Hebrew
Latv. Latvian
Naz. Nazir
Heb. Hebrews
L. en Th. Licencié en Théologie,
N.B. nota bene, take careful note
Hg. Haggai
Licentiate in Theology
N.C. North Carolina
Hitt. Hittite
L. ès L. Licencié ès Lettres, Licentiate
n.d. no date
Hor. Horayot
in Literature
N.Dak. North Dakota
Hos. Hosea
Let. Jer. Letter of Jeremiah
NEB New English Bible
H
. ul. H
. ullin
lit. literally
Nebr. Nebraska
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ABBREVIATIONS AND SYMBOLS
ix
Ned. Nedarim
pop. population
sp. species (pl., spp.)
Neg. Nega Eim
Port. Portuguese
Span. Spanish
Neh. Nehemiah
Prv. Proverbs
sq. square
Nev. Nevada
Ps. Psalms
S.S.R. Soviet Socialist Republic
N.H. New Hampshire
Ps. 151 Psalm 151
st. stanza (pl., ss.)
Nid. Niddah
Ps. Sol. Psalms of Solomon
S.T.M. Sacrae Theologiae Magister,
N.J. New Jersey
pt. part (pl., pts.)
Master of Sacred Theology
Nm. Numbers
1Pt. 1 Peter
Suk. Sukkah
N.Mex. New Mexico
2 Pt. 2 Peter
Sum. Sumerian
no. number (pl., nos.)
Pth. Parthian
supp. supplement; supplementary
Nor. Norwegian
Q hypothetical source of the synoptic
Sus. Susanna
n.p. no place
Gospels
s.v. sub verbo, under the word (pl.,
n.s. new series
Qid. Qiddushin
s.v.v.)
N.Y. New York
Qin. Qinnim
Swed. Swedish
Ob. Obadiah
r. reigned; ruled
Syr. Syriac
O.Cist. Ordo Cisterciencium, Order
Rab. Rabbah
Syr. Men. Syriac Menander
of Cîteaux (Cistercians)
rev. revised
TaE an. TaEanit
OCS Old Church Slavonic
R. ha-Sh. RoDsh ha-shanah
Tam. Tamil
OE Old English
R.I. Rhode Island
Tam. Tamid
O.F.M. Ordo Fratrum Minorum,
Rom. Romanian
Tb. Tobit
Order of Friars Minor
Rom. Romans
T.D. Taisho¯ shinshu¯ daizo¯kyo¯, edited
(Franciscans)
R.S.C.J. Societas Sacratissimi Cordis
by Takakusu Junjiro¯ et al.
OFr. Old French
Jesu, Religious of the Sacred Heart
(Tokyo,1922–1934)
Ohal. Ohalot
RSV Revised Standard Version of the
Tem. Temurah
OHG Old High German
Bible
Tenn. Tennessee
OIr. Old Irish
Ru. Ruth
Ter. Terumot
OIran. Old Iranian
Rus. Russian
T
. ev. Y. T
. evul yom
Okla. Oklahoma
Rv. Revelation
Tex. Texas
ON Old Norse
Rv. Ezr. Revelation of Ezra
Th.D. Theologicae Doctor, Doctor of
O.P. Ordo Praedicatorum, Order of
San. Sanhedrin
Theology
Preachers (Dominicans)
S.C. South Carolina
1 Thes. 1 Thessalonians
OPers. Old Persian
Scot. Gael. Scottish Gaelic
2 Thes. 2 Thessalonians
op. cit. opere citato, in the work cited
S.Dak. South Dakota
Thrac. Thracian
OPrus. Old Prussian
sec. section (pl., secs.)
Ti. Titus
Oreg. Oregon
Sem. Semitic
Tib. Tibetan
EOrl. EOrlah
ser. series
1 Tm. 1 Timothy
O.S.B. Ordo Sancti Benedicti, Order
sg. singular
2 Tm. 2 Timothy
of Saint Benedict (Benedictines)
Sg. Song of Songs
T. of 12 Testaments of the Twelve
p. page (pl., pp.)
Sg. of 3 Prayer of Azariah and the
Patriarchs
P Priestly (source of the Pentateuch)
Song of the Three Young Men
T
. oh. t.ohorot
Pa. Pennsylvania
Shab. Shabbat
Tong. Tongan
Pahl. Pahlavi
Shav. ShavuEot
trans. translator, translators; translated
Par. Parah
Sheq. Sheqalim
by; translation
para. paragraph (pl., paras.)
Sib. Or. Sibylline Oracles
Turk. Turkish
Pers. Persian
Sind. Sindhi
Ukr. Ukrainian
Pes. Pesahim
Sinh. Sinhala
Upan. Upanis.ad
Ph.D. Philosophiae Doctor, Doctor
Sir. Ben Sira
U.S. United States
of Philosophy
S.J. Societas Jesu, Society of Jesus
U.S.S.R. Union of Soviet Socialist
Phil. Philippians
(Jesuits)
Republics
Phlm. Philemon
Skt. Sanskrit
Uqts. Uqtsin
Phoen. Phoenician
1 Sm. 1 Samuel
v. verse (pl., vv.)
pl. plural; plate (pl., pls.)
2 Sm. 2 Samuel
Va. Virginia
PM post meridiem, after noon
Sogd. Sogdian
var. variant; variation
Pol. Polish
Sot.. Sot.ah
Viet. Vietnamese
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ABBREVIATIONS AND SYMBOLS
viz. videlicet, namely
Yad. Yadayim
* hypothetical
vol. volume (pl., vols.)
Yev. Yevamot
? uncertain; possibly; perhaps
Vt. Vermont
Yi. Yiddish
° degrees
Wash. Washington
Yor. Yoruba
+ plus
Wel. Welsh
Zav. Zavim
minus
Wis. Wisconsin
Zec. Zechariah
= equals; is equivalent to
Wis. Wisdom of Solomon
Zep. Zephaniah
× by; multiplied by
W.Va. West Virginia
Zev. Zevah.im
→ yields
Wyo. Wyoming
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N



v o l u m e e l e v e n
a c r e d g a
s
S z
A Ce
R E D G A Z E
Sacred images engage viewers in acts of seeing that are
themselves forms of religious experience. When human beings
“see,” they do so by means of an extensive apparatus of vision that may be designated
by the term gaze. The gaze is not simply an optical event, the physiological act of
looking at something, but the constellation of numerous events and aspects of vision:
the engagement of the body of the viewer, the regimentation of time, the application
of an epistemology of seeing that makes things intelligible, the eclipse of spaces and
orders outside the boundaries of the gaze, and the focus of memory and consciousness
on certain matters. The act of vision orchestrates all of these as a culture of thought,
feeling, and sensation shared by members of a
group. Glimpsing, glancing, glaring, gleaming,
gorging, and other discrete visual operations,
such as blinking—all are to apprehend images
in various ways and construct very different rela-
tionships between viewer and image and what-
ever is evoked or represented by the image. Even
the destruction or privation of imagery creates an
experience that can be profoundly meaningful.
Visitors to labyrinths (a) experience a form
of gaze turned inward. The body is submitted
to a simple and repetitive routine of movement
that allows regular breathing and mental focus
on bodily rhythm. This deflection from compet-
ing forms of attention delivers the mind from
distraction and aligns body, mind, and sensation.
“Performing” the material image of a labyrinth
is often reported to be very refreshing and
enabling to focused contemplation. For prac-
titioners of Tantric Buddhism, imagery plays
an explicit role in meditation. Man.d.alas (b and
(a) An outdoor labyrinth near Michigan City, Indiana.
[Photograph by David Morgan]
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SACRED GAZE
c) are highly detailed schematic images that organize levels
of imagery around a central figure, a tutelary deity or bud-
dha with whom the meditator ultimately seeks identity
in mediation. The man.d.ala is a mnemonic device and
an instructional aid in preparing for meditation, visual-
izing the many stages of meditation and helping one to
remember them.

Seeing the deity or gazing upon the image of the saint
or savior is an important aspect of many different religious
traditions. Visual piety is a term that designates acts of
veneration or adoration that engage the viewer in a pow-
erful relationship with the sacred. Hindus perform darśan
as a visual engagement in which the believer’s vision of the
deity is reciprocated as the deity’s visual contact with the
believer (d). Some Christians contemplate the suffering
(b) LEFT. Seventeenth-century painting of the meditational
deity Hevajra with Skati, the female embodiment of energy,
gouache on silk, Tibet. [The Art Archive/Musé Guimet Paris/Dagli
Orti]
(c) BELOW.
Novice monks from Simtokha, a Buddhist
dzong near Thimphu, Bhutan, contribute to a sand man.d.ala.
[©Jeremy Horner/Corbis]
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SACRED GAZE
of Jesus or the saints as a way of participating empatheti-
cally in their passion and thereby experiencing pain and
suffering as transfigured into a likeness or kinship with
the sacred figure. An especially theatrical performance of
empathy is enabled by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s well known
sculpture and architectural installation, the Cornaro
Chapel (e), in which the viewer is invited to gaze on the
sensuous vision of Saint Teresa of Ávila, who receives an
ecstatic visitation of pain in the form of a golden arrow
administered by an angel. In her autobiographical account
of the mystical life, The Interior Castle, Saint Teresa
describes the experience visualized by Bernini’s sculpture:
“I know that this distress seems to penetrate to [the soul’s]
very bowels; and that, when He that has wounded [the
soul] draws out the arrow, the bowels seem to come with
(d) RIGHT. An Indian couple prays before a domestic shrine to
the goddess Laks.mī, wife of Vis.n.u, during the Dīvalī festival.
[©Arvind Garg/Corbis] (e) BELOW. An eighteenth-century paint-
ing of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture (1645–1652) of the
ecstacy of Saint Teresa of Ávila in the Cornaro Chapel of
the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.
[©Eric Lessing/Art Resource, N.Y.]
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SACRED GAZE
(f ) El Greco, The Burial of Count Orgaz, 1586, in the church of
it, so deeply does it feel this love” (Sixth Mansion, chap.
Santo Tomé, Toledo, Spain. [©Scala/Art Resource, N.Y.]
2). Bernini has included opera boxes on either side of the
event, in which members of the Cornaro family devoutly
witness the mystic spectacle. Above, the heavens open in a
dazzling epiphany and illuminate the central event below.
The artist’s intention is not to craft a lurid spectacle, but
to create a compelling image of the saint’s embodied
spirituality, in which pain was not explicitly erotic, but the
register of divine presence.

The intermingling of heavenly and earthly domains
was treated by another important artist. Vision is carefully
parsed as a system of visual relays in El Greco’s master-
work, The Burial of Count Orgaz (f ). The viewer’s gaze is
met by the young boy in the lower left and directed by his
gesture to the body of the dead count, who is embraced
by Saint Augustine. Another level of gestures and gazes
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SACRED GAZE
directs the viewer upward to the angel ushering the soul
of the count (the body of an infant) through a luminous
conduit into the celestial domain where it is received
first by the Madonna, who receives the homage of John
the Baptist, who looks upward to the enthroned Christ.
This succession of relays forms a vertical hierarchy that
structures the ascent of the soul and maps the ontology of
iconic devotion. Venerating the images of the saints means
directing one’s worship of God in and through Christ.

Jews, Muslims, and Protestant Christians often insist
that they do not practice an iconic piety, but their tradi-
tions are not without visual forms of devotion. The Way to
Happiness
(g) is a good example of a Protestant configura-
tion of the gaze. Instead of looking at an icon of Jesus, the
young woman portrayed in this print by Nathaniel Cur-
rier looks longingly, with gleaming eyes, to the memory
of her parents’ devotional reading of scripture as she medi-
tates prayerfully on the Bible. The print deftly interweaves
reading, seeing, and remembering as corresponding acts
of piety. For Chinese literati and artists such as Ma Yuan,
who practiced an erudite and aesthetically refined Dao-
(g) ABOVE. Nathaniel Currier, The Way to Happiness, c. 1860–
ism, images of sages contemplating nature (h) were wist-
1870, lithograph. [Courtesy of the Billy Graham Center Museum,
fully poetic ways of evoking a mindfulness of simplicity
Wheaton, Ill.] (h) BELOW. Ma Yuan, (active 1190–1225) Bare
and a rustic transcendence of urban complexities and life
Willows and Distant Mountains, ink on mounted silk fan, China.
at court during the Song dynasty. Modern viewers might
[©Burstein Collection/Corbis]
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SACRED GAZE
find something of an equivalent refuge in Tobi Kahn’s
paintings of marine horizons (i), in which the portentous
contact of water and sky suggests something mythical,
a moment of revelation about to occur. Like Ma Yuan’s
painting, the viewer is urged to regard the natural world
as pregnant with meaning that cannot be spoken, only
glimpsed.

Painters such as Ma Yuan and Tobi Kahn focus the
viewer’s attention on the material qualities of paint and
canvas, while other image makers direct our attention
to new media that rely on streams of electronic signals.
Nam June Paik’s TV Buddha (j) explores the relevance of
videography for Buddhist meditation. One wonders who
the real Buddha is: the statue of the seated figure or the
image on the video monitor? The two seem inextricably
and perpetually engaged in a single loop, mediating one
another. By equating meditation and mediation, this work
demonstrates strikingly how the sacred gaze constructs
religious experience: to see the other is to think it and to
provide thereby the medium for contemplating the self.
A variation of this contemplative use of new media is the
(i) TOP. Tobi Kahn, Ya-Ir XX, 1999, oil on canvas. [©1999
Tobi Kahn] (j) ABOVE. Nam June Paik, TV Buddha, 1974.
web user’s devotional exercises at goddess sites. Coursing
[Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam]
down a seamless electronic scroll, the viewer consumes the
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SACRED GAZE
site in glancing movements of the eye, beholding not a
discrete image, but an ever-shifting screen of pixels.

The destruction of imagery is actually a fundamental
part of religious visual culture. The erasure of Buddhist
and Navaho sand man.d.alas (c) is a necessary part of their
ritual significance. The histories of Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam offer countless instances of the ritual destruc-
tion of images. For example, the Taliban in Afghanistan
destroyed ancient carvings of the Buddha at Bamiyan (k)
in the face of widespread objections. They did so in order
to broadcast the militancy of their version of Islam, know-
ing that the act would elicit an unambivalent response
through the instantaneous loop of global media, but also
because the images may genuinely have offended their
religious sensibility. Prompted by the rhetoric of icono-
clastic audacity, the viewer glares at the broken image,
either to celebrate its destruction or to loathe its destroyers
in paroxysms of disgust. In yet another manner of icono-
clasm, the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich both negated
and reaffirmed the long Russian history of icon painting
and veneration in his image Black Cross (l). Whereas
icon painting necessarily focused on the face and body
of the saints, whose veneration was a fundamental aspect
of Orthodox liturgy and devotion, Malevich’s painting
cancels the presence of the face with a bold geometry
that both denies presence and reasserts it in the austere
(k) ABOVE. Colossal standing Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan,
contructed no later than the sixth century ce, and destroyed
2001 by the Taliban. [©Reuters/Corbis] (l) LEFT. Kasimir
Malevich, Black Cross, 1915, oil on canvas. [CNAC/MNAM/Dist.
Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, N.Y.]

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SACRED GAZE
abstraction of the cross. If the sacramental materiality of
the human body is gone, the robust darkness of the cross
replaces it with a new and foreboding presence. The shape
of absence is the symbol of hope.
René
Magritte’s
Le Rossignol (The nightingale) (m)
may appear irreligious by causing the viewer to blink at
the absurd juxtaposition of God in heaven and a roaring
locomotive. The two images belie one another, though
God comes off the worse. Thwarting the sacred hierarchy
of El Greco’s painting (f ), Magritte’s image suggests that
the same universe is not big enough to contain the world-
view of industrial technology and the traditional deity
perched on a cloudy throne above. Yet Magritte may use
this iconoclastic device to suggest that the traditional con-
ception of God is limited. An effective way to transcend
the constraints of an idea is to violate its sanctity.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Eck, Diana L. Darśan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, 3d ed.
New York, 1998.
Latour, Bruno, and Peter Weibel, eds. Iconoclash: Beyond the Image
Wars in Science, Religion, and Art. Karlsruhe, Germany, and
Cambridge, Mass., 2002.
Morgan, David. Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular
(m) René Magritte, Le Rossignol (The nightingale), 1955,
Religious Images. Berkeley, 1998.
gouache on paper. [©Herscovici/Art Resource, N.Y.]
Teresa of Ávila. Interior Castle. Translated by E. Allison Peers.
Garden City, 1961.
Wu Hung. The Double Screen: Medium and Representation in Chi-
nese Painting. Chicago, 1996.
David Morgan ()
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C O N P
T I N U E D
PIUS IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, 1792–1878), pope of the Roman Catholic
Church (1846–1878). Born on May 13 into a family belonging to the gentry of the Papal
States, the future pope had his priestly formation delayed by an epilepsy-like illness. This
left him with an excessively impulsive temperament for the rest of his life.
Mastai was ordained at Rome on April 10, 1815, and in an age when most young
priests aimed at a successful career in the church, he stood out because of his piety and
complete detachment from ecclesiastical honors. Serving as an assistant to the papal dele-
gate to Chile (1823–1825) gave him an opportunity to see not only the difficulties that
liberal governments with regalist tendencies could cause the church but also the new di-
mensions that missionary problems were acquiring. As bishop of Spoleto (1827), then
of Imola (1832), in a region largely won over to the liberal and nationalist ideals of the
Risorgimento, he won esteem not only for his pastoral zeal and sympathy for Italian patri-
otic aspirations, but also for his desire to improve the outmoded and repressive regime
of the Papal States.
At the death of Gregory XVI, Mastai, a cardinal since 1840, became the preferred
candidate of those conservatives who thought it necessary to make some concession to
aspirations for a modernization of the administration of the pontifical state. He was elect-
ed pope on the second day of the conclave, June 16, 1846.
The first months of Pius IX’s pontificate seemed to confirm the reputation of “liber-
al” that reactionary circles in Rome had pinned on this enlightened conservative. Disillu-
sionment soon set in: first, in the area of internal reforms, because the new pope had no
intention of transforming the Papal States into a modern constitutional state, and, second,
when he refused to intervene in the war of independence against Austria because he
thought such a step would be incompatible with his religious mission as common father
of all the faithful. Economic difficulties and the pope’s lack of political experience finally
precipitated a crisis. The Roman uprisings of 1848–1849, crushed with the help of a
French expeditionary force, left Pius IX more convinced than ever that there was an inher-
C LOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT CORNER. Fifteenth-century woodcut depicting the burning of the Jews.
[©Bettmann/Corbis]; Sixth-century BCE Laconian cup depicting Atlas and the punishment of
Prometheus. Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican Museums. [©Scala/Art Resource, N.Y.]; The
pyramids of Giza, Egypt: Menkaure (foreground), Khafre, and Khufu. [©Yann Arthus-
Bertrand/Corbis]
; The Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, Greece. [©Jan Butchofsky-Houser/Corbis];
Nineteenth-century carving of the Polynesian god Rongo, from the Gambier Islands. Museo
Missionario Etnologico, Vatican Museums. [©Scala/Art Resource, N.Y.] .
7179

7180
PIUS IX
ent connection between the principles of the French Revolu-
cated by a scientistic conception of progress of the primacy
tion (1789) and the destruction of traditional social, moral,
of what theologians call the supernatural order: the biblical
and religious values.
vision of humanity and salvation history, which is opposed
to an interpretation of history as a progressive emancipation
The reactionary restoration that followed upon the
from religious values and to such a great confidence in
pope’s return to Rome after his flight to Gaeta was to play
human potentialities that there is no room for a redeemer.
into the hands of Cavour (Camillo Benso), who exploited the
If we are to understand the inflexibility with which Pius IX
discontent of the middle classes and was able in 1860 to
fought his battle against liberalism, “the error of the centu-
annex the greatest part of the Papal States. In 1870, the Ital-
ry,” as he called it, we must see this struggle as the center of
ian army took advantage of the Franco-Prussian War to oc-
his efforts to focus Christian thinking once again on the fun-
cupy Rome and its environs. Pius IX, who saw himself less
damental data of revelation. In his own mind, the First Vati-
as a dethroned ruler than as the owner of a property for
can Council (1869–1870), which was interrupted by the
which he was responsible to the entire Catholic world, felt
entry of the Italians into Rome, was to be the crown upon
he could not accept the unification of Italy and attempted,
these efforts.
with little success, to organize Italian Catholic resistance.
Historians have for a long time judged the pontificate
Politically inexpert, Pius IX was advised mostly by men
of Pius IX negatively because of his failures in the realm of
who judged affairs with the intransigence of theoreticians
diplomacy and his fruitless efforts to resist the advance of lib-
lacking any contact with the contemporary mind. He never
eralism. More recently, however, scholars have come to see
understood that in the modern world the problem of the
that matters were more complex and that Pius IX’s activities
Holy See’s spiritual independence could no longer be re-
were a notable help in strengthening the Roman Catholic
solved by the anachronistic preservation of a papal political
Church in its religious sphere, whatever may be thought of
sovereignty. Thereafter, obsessed by what he called the “revo-
certain debatable tendencies.
lution,” he identified himself increasingly with the conserva-
tive governments whose support seemed to provide the most
Missionary expansion advanced at an increasingly rapid
effective guarantee for the maintenance and ultimate restora-
pace on five continents during the thirty-two years of Pius
tion of the Roman state. Moreover, seeing that the pope’s
IX’s pontificate, and thriving churches were developed in
temporal power had been challenged in the name of the lib-
Canada, Australia, and especially the United States as a result
eral conception of the state and of the right of peoples to self-
of Roman Catholic emigration from Europe, but his person-
determination, he issued more and more protests against lib-
al role in this expansion was secondary. On the other hand,
eralism. The most spectacular of these were the encyclical
he made an important contribution to the progress of the ul-
Quanta cura (1864) and the Syllabus of Errors that accompa-
tramontane movement, which caused guidance of the uni-
nied it.
versal church to be concentrated increasingly in the pope’s
hands. This movement, given solemn approbation by Vati-
Pius IX was never able to distinguish between, on the
can I’s definition of the pope’s personal infallibility and his
one hand, what was of positive value in the confused aspira-
primacy of jurisdiction, did not go unresisted by those who
tions of the age for a democratization of public life and was
saw the advantages of pluralism in the local churches and
preparing in the long run for a greater spiritualization of the
feared to see the episcopates come under the thumb of the
Catholic apostolate and, on the other hand, what represented
Roman Curia. But Pius IX, whose very real virtues were ide-
a compromise with principles alien to the Christian spirit.
alized and who benefited from a special sympathy because
He saw in liberalism only an ideology that denied the super-
of his repeated misfortunes, succeeded in rousing in the
natural. He confused democracy with anarchy, and he could
Roman Catholic world a real “devotion to the pope” which
not grasp the historical impossibility of claiming for the
remarkably facilitated the enthusiastic adhesion of the masses
Roman Catholic Church both protection from the state and
and the lower clergy to the new conception of the pope’s role
the independence from it he valued so highly.
in the church. While Pius IX did all he could to encourage
As a result, Pius IX was unable to adapt the Roman
this trend, he did so less from personal ambition or a liking
Catholic Church to the profound political and social devel-
for a theocracy than for essentially pastoral reasons: the
opments of his time. Nor was he able to provide the impulse
movement seemed to him to be both a condition for the res-
that Catholic thought needed if it was to respond effectively
toration of Catholic life wherever government interference
to the excesses of rationalism and materialistic positivism. By
in the local churches threatened to smother apostolic zeal
abandoning control of the church’s intellectual life to narrow
and the best means of regrouping all the vital forces of
minds that could only condemn new tendencies as incom-
Roman Catholicism for response to the mounting wave of
patible with traditional positions, he lost valuable time. The
“secularization.”
real roots of the modernist crisis may be traced back to his
No less important were the largely successful efforts of
pontificate.
Pius IX to promote the renewal of the religious orders and
Central to the pope’s zeal was a confused and clumsily
congregations, encourage the raising of the spiritual level of
expressed perception of the need to remind a society intoxi-
the clergy, and improve the quality of ordinary Catholic life.
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PLATO
7181
During his pontificate there developed an immense move-
PLANTS SEE VEGETATION
ment of eucharistic devotion, devotion to the Sacred Heart,
and Marian devotion (the latter being encouraged by the def-
inition in 1854 of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin
Mary). This movement has sometimes been faulted as super-
PLATO. Plato (c. 428–348 BCE), a Greek philosopher and
ficial, but the multiplication of charitable works and pious
founder of the Athenian Academy, was an Athenian citizen
associations and the immense development of the religious
of high birth who grew up during the Peloponnesian War
congregations give the lie to this simplistic judgment. Pius
(431–404 BCE). He was a member of the circle of young men
IX himself made a large contribution to these developments.
who surrounded the charismatic Socrates (469–399 BCE).
First, he was an example of personal piety for the devotional
After Socrates died, Plato withdrew from public life. He trav-
movement. Second, and above all, he applied himself system-
eled to southern Italy and Sicily, where he not only met the
atically to energizing, and at times even pushing, the devel-
tyrant Dionysius I and began a lifelong involvement with
opment that had begun right after the great revolutionary
Dion of Syracuse, but also came in contact with the Pythago-
crisis. It was precisely because he regarded an intransigent at-
rean school that flourished in southern Italy. Soon after his
titude as indispensable to this work of Christian restoration
return to Athens (c. 387 BCE) Plato began meeting with col-
that he forced himself, despite his personal preference for
leagues and pupils at his home near the grove of Academus
conciliation and appeasement, to repeat unceasingly certain
outside the walls of Athens. The rest of his life—apart from
principles that he believed formed the basis for a Christian
two ill-starred visits to Syracuse at the behest of Dion—was
restoration of society.
devoted to teaching and inquiry in this community, where,
Pius IX was handicapped by a superficial intellectual
in dialogue between teacher and pupils, the mathematical
formation that often kept him from grasping the complexity
disciplines were pursued for the sake of their contribution
of problems. In addition, the mystical confidence this deeply
to an understanding of the foundations of moral and politi-
devout man had in Providence and the excessive importance
cal life (see Republic 526d–532c). Plato used the dialogue
he attached to prophecies and other manifestations of the ex-
form in writing, not only to portray Socrates himself (in the
traordinary made him too ready to see in the political up-
so-called early dialogues, such as Apology, Crito, Euthyphro,
heavals in which the church was involved only a new episode
and Laches), but also to present the outlines of his own grow-
in the great conflict between God and Satan. But having said
ing and changing thought. In the great dialogues of the mid-
this we must not forget the very real qualities of the man—
dle period—Phaedo, Republic, Symposium, Phaedrus—Plato
simplicity, refinement, serenity, and courage in adversity—
develops the basic themes of his philosophical vision. In the
and of the pastor, whose ruling concern was always to be first
late dialogues, he pursues a variety of insights and difficulties
and foremost a churchman, responsible before God for the
concerning the nature of knowledge and of being (Theaete-
defense of threatened Christian values.
tus, Parmenides, Sophist), produces a treatise on the structures
of the visible cosmos (Timaeus), and offers reconsidered ac-
SEE ALSO Modernism, article on Christian Modernism; Ul-
counts of the best constitution for a city-state (Statesman,
tramontanism; Vatican Councils, article on Vatican I.
Laws).
PLATO’S DOCTRINE. The main feature that characterizes tra-
BIBLIOGRAPHY
ditional Greek religion before Plato is the distinction be-
Some of Pius IX’s addresses can be found in Abbé Marcone’s La
tween gods and human beings, or immortals and mortals. In-
parole de Pie IX, 2d ed. (Paris, 1868), and Pasquale de Fran-
spired by minority religious beliefs, Plato reacted against this
ciscis’s Discorsi del sommo pontifice Pio IX, 4 vols. (Rome,
1873–1882). Some letters are in Pietro Pirri’s Pio IX e Vit-
presupposition and assigned to human beings the goal of as-
torio Emanuele II dal loro carteggio privato, 5 vols. (Rome,
similating themselves to god. This radical reversal, to which
1944–1961).
the Platonic tradition was to lay claim throughout antiquity,
The carefully written work of Carlo Falconi, Il giovane Mastai
was based on a twofold opposition: first, between intelligible
(Milan, 1981) covers only the first thirty-five years. The na-
realities and sensible things, which participate in the intelligi-
ively hagiographical work by Alberto Serafini, Pio Nono
ble; and secondly, between soul and body. Soul accounts for
(Vatican City, 1958), stops at his election to the papacy. The
the spontaneous movement of a living body, yet it can sepa-
excellent work by Giacomo Martina, Pio IX, 3 vols. (Rome,
rate itself from its original body in order to transfer itself into
1974–1990), is essential for a good understanding of the
another one.
pope’s personality. On the pontificate, see Joseph Sch-
midlin’s Papstgeschichte der neuesten Zeit, vol. 2 (Munich,
Plato maintained the existence of “Forms” (eide) in
1934) and my Le pontificat de Pie IX, 1846–1878, 2d ed.,
order to explain how this world, where everything is in cons-
“Histoire de l’Église,” vol. 21 (Paris, 1962). E. E. Y. Hales’s
tant change, presents enough permanence and stability for
Pio IX: A Study in European Politics and Religion in the Nine-
human beings to be able to know it, act upon it, and talk
teenth Century (London, 1954) is superficial and focuses
about it. In the belief that such stability and permanence
chiefly on the political aspects.
were not to be found in the sensible world, Plato therefore
ROGER AUBERT (1987)
postulated the existence of a reality of another kind that
Translated from French by Matthew J. O’Connell
would fulfill these requirements and explain why, within that
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7182
PLATO
which never stops changing, there is something that does not
(81a3, 83e1, 84a1), the Republic (VI 500e3, VII 517d5, X
change. In the Phaedo (79b), Socrates admits “that there exist
611e2), the Statesman (269d6), the Theaetetus (176e4), the
two species of beings: on the one hand, the visible species,
Parmenides (134e4), and the Philebus (22c6, 62a8). Here,
and on the other the invisible species.” In fact, these two spe-
the adjective has a hyperbolic value, which implies opposi-
cies of beings are separate. Nevertheless, the separation be-
tion with regard to “human” (anthropinon). Theion desig-
tween the “intelligible” and the “sensible” cannot be com-
nates what is perfect in its kind as a function of its relation
plete, simply because the existence of the “Forms” must
with that which bestows this perfection: the intelligible,
contribute a solution to the paradoxes that “sensible” partic-
which is therefore also theion. The intelligible brings the god
ulars never cease generating. “Sensible” realities receive their
its nourishment and its very divinity (Phaedrus 247d). Thus,
names from “intelligible” realities. Above all, “sensible” can
to imitate the god, who is wise (he is a sophos), human beings
be truly known only through the intermediary of the “intelli-
must seek to become wise themselves (philosophoi) and to
gible.”
tend toward that wisdom that is conferred by the contempla-
tion of the intelligible.
Sensible things are bodies, which, as is explained in the
Timaeus, are made up of the four elements—fire, air, water,
For Plato, a living being is one endowed with a body
and earth—and of them alone. Because the body (soma) has
and a soul. Among living beings, however, some are mortal
come into being, no body is indestructible in itself (Timaeus
and others are not. Since the soul is by definition immortal
28a3). Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between the
(Phaedrus 245a–d), a living being can therefore be declared
bodies that receive their motion from outside and those that
to be “mortal” only as a function of its body. Those living
move spontaneously because they are endowed with a soul
beings whose body can be destroyed are mortal, and as a con-
(psyche) that can be directed by a higher faculty: the intellect
sequence the soul can separate itself from the body it moves
(nous). The intellect enables the perception of the intelligible
(see Timaeus 85e). This is the case for mankind and all the
realities in which sensible things participate.
beings that inhabit the air, the earth, and the waters (see Ti-
maeus
90e–92c). However, there are living beings whose soul
The soul is defined as the self-moving principle of all
and body are united forever because their body cannot be de-
motion, physical as well as psychic (Laws X, 896e–897a).
stroyed. The body of these living bodies is not in itself inde-
The immediate consequence of this definition is as follows:
structible, for, according to an axiom of Greek thought, all
we must attribute immortality (Phaedrus 245a–d) to the soul
that is born is liable to perish (see Timaeus 28a and 38b). It
as a whole, which, by definition, can have no beginning or
is the goodness of he who has fabricated them that ensures
end. Particular souls, and namely those of mortal beings
that they will not be destroyed (Timaeus 41a–c).
(those of human beings, which can transfer into other
In addition to being endowed with an indissoluble
human bodies and even into the bodies of animals), are, as
body, the gods possess a soul, whose higher faculty—intellect
shall be seen, subject to cycles of ten thousand years, at the
(nous)—is constantly active and seizes its object (that is, in-
end of which they lose the features that characterize them.
telligible reality) immediately and without obstacles. Once
In the course of the following cycle, they acquire new charac-
his soul is incarnated, the human being can accede to the in-
teristics.
telligible only through the intermediary of his senses, at the
WHAT PLATO UNDERSTANDS BY “GOD” (THEOS). If we
end of the complex process to which Plato gives the name
wish to speak of religion in Plato, we must first ask ourselves
of reminiscence (anamnesis), which enables the soul to re-
what Plato understands by “god” (theos), that is, by “immor-
member the intelligible realities it contemplated when it was
tal.” When, in the Phaedrus (246c–d), he tries to describe
separated from all earthly bodies. Ultimately, it is the quality
what a god is, Plato shows himself to be very prudent. He
of this contemplation that makes a god a god. In brief, for
begins by situating his discourse not on the level of logos,
Plato a god is a living being endowed with a body that is in-
which is based on argued knowledge that makes a claim to
destructible, not in itself but through the will of the demi-
truth, but on that of mythos, or a story that remains likely;
urge, and with a soul that possesses a perfect intellect.
and he concludes by an appeal for benevolence on the part
As compounds of a body and a soul, the gods form part
of the divinity, which takes the form of a prayer. There is,
of an extremely vast hierarchical structure. They are situated
however, a definition that will not vary: a god is an immortal
at the summit, together with the demons (see Symposium
living being.
202d), the most famous of whom is Eros. Then come human
It follows that since the intelligible realities (including
beings, men and women; then the animals that live in the
the Good) are defined as intelligible forms, they cannot be
air, on earth, and in the water, in which human beings may
considered as gods. Since they are incorporeal, these intelligi-
come to be incarnated by virtue of the quality of their intel-
ble forms cannot have a body, and since they are immutable,
lectual activity; at the very bottom, we must range the plants
they can neither be nor have a soul, which, by definition, is
(Timaeus 76e–77a). Two criteria enable the gods to be isolat-
a motion that moves itself. In addition, Plato never qualifies
ed from all the rest of living beings: their indestructibility
an intelligible form—even the highest one, that of the
and the quality of their intellect. This being the case, let us
Good—as a god (theos), although it may happen that the in-
draw up an inventory of the beings that may be qualified as
telligible is qualified as “divine” (theion) as it is in the Phaedo
“gods.”
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BEINGS THAT MAY QUALIFY AS “GODS.” First, there is the
The soul of the traditional gods is in every point similar
universe, whose constitution is described in the Timaeus.
in structure to that of human beings (see Phaedrus 246a–d);
The body of the world, which is unique, has the appearance
this is why the gods can be subject to aggressiveness and ex-
of a vast sphere, bereft of organs and of members. This
perience feelings and passions. Unlike that of human beings,
sphere includes within itself the totality of elements so that
the soul of the gods is always good because their soul is per-
nothing can come to attack it from outside, and it is there-
manently guided by their intellect, which perfectly contem-
fore exempt from illness and death. What is more, the demi-
plates the intelligible (Phaedrus 247c–e). In this magnificent
urge, because of his goodness, does not wish the universe to
passage, we find a constant mixture between tradition and
be subject to corruption. Within this body he placed a soul,
novelty, myth and philosophy, where myth is the object of
which is situated between the sensible and the intelligible
a transposition. The gods, whom the poets describe as lead-
and is endowed with a mathematical structure. In fact, its
ing a life of banquets on Olympus, where they feed on special
structure is twofold: motor, since it moves bodies as a whole,
food, nectar and ambrosia, are described in the Phaedrus as
including the celestial bodies; and cognitive, insofar as it is
nourishing their soul with the intelligible. We should also
Providence. The motion that animates the world is as simple
note their peculiar language, which is more correct than that
as possible: that of a sphere rotating around its axis, from
of men, probably because of the quality of their contempla-
west to east, on the spot. This physical motion is associated
tion.
in turn with a twofold cognitive faculty, which seems to deal
This contemplation enables assimilation to the god:
with the intelligible and the sensible; this is a necessary con-
“Such is the life of the gods. Let us move on to the other
dition if one admits that the world soul must rule over the
souls. That which is the best, because it follows the god and
universe. The world soul, associated with an indestructible
seeks to resemble it . . .” (Phaedrus 247e–249a). This is the
body that it dominates, is in addition endowed with an intel-
sense in which we must understand that the intelligible forms
lect that is perfect and whose activity is incessant. How, then,
are qualified as “divine.” However, the motion that animates
can we avoid concluding that the universe is a blessed god
the traditional gods is less uniform than that which animates
(Laws VII 821a)?
the celestial bodies. In the central myth of the Phaedrus, they
The celestial bodies (made up of fire) and the earth
rise and fall, although many of the verbs that describe these
(made up, above all, of earth) are qualified as “divine” be-
movements feature the idea of circularity.
cause they meet the criteria stated above. They are indeed
immortal living beings that consist of a body that cannot be
There remains the most controversial case: the demiour-
destroyed, and of their own soul, endowed with an intellect.
gos of the Timaeus, to whom we must assimilate the phutour-
A hierarchy is established between the celestial bodies, associ-
gos of the Republic. He who fashions the universe in the Ti-
ated with their motion, to which the passage mentioned
maeus is explicitly qualified as a “god”: “Thus, in conformity
bears witness. The fixed stars proceed from east to west in
with an explanation which is merely probable, we must say
a perfectly uniform way, for the motion of their soul does
that this world (cosmos), which is a living being provided with
not give rise to any interference. The soul governing the wan-
a soul that is endowed with an intellect, was truly engendered
dering stars introduces anomalies in the motion of their tra-
as a result of the reflective decision of a god” (Timaeus
jectories. The earth, for its part, remains at rest at the center
30b–c). This god is, however, described as a worker who
of the universe simply because in it conflicting types of mo-
thinks, has feelings, speaks, and acts. At Timaeus 29e30b it
tion cancel each other out.
becomes clear that the demiurge is a god endowed with an
intellect: he “reasons” and “reflects”; he “takes things into
The traditional gods are mentioned in an enigmatic pas-
consideration” and he “foresees,” and he is author of acts of
sage: “Thus, when all the gods, both those whose circular
“will.” His responsibility is engaged; he “speaks”; and when
motions we observe, and those who show themselves only
he contemplates his works, he “rejoices.” In addition, the de-
when they so wish, the begetter of this universe spoke to
scription of his activity is scarcely compatible with the ab-
them” (Timaeus 41a). These are also living immortal beings,
sence of a body. Besides being qualified as a “father,” the per-
endowed with a soul and a body, although it is hard to know
sonage who causes the universe to appear is qualified as
what the body of the traditional gods is made of. We can
“demiurge,” “maker,” wax-modeller, and carpenter, and he
suppose it is fire, since we find in the Timaeus a passage
is a builder whose most important function is assembling.
where the different species of living beings are associated
Moreover, if one considers the verbs that metaphorically de-
with an element: the gods with fire, the birds with air, the
scribe his action, one realizes that the demiurge carries out
living beings that walk or crawl with earth, and fish with
several activities that are typical of some arts and crafts.
water (Timaeus 39e–40a). One might think that the associa-
tion of the divinity with fire holds only for celestial bodies,
However, nowhere is it said that the demiurge has a soul
but it is, it seems, permissible to extrapolate to the traditional
and a body simply because it is he who fashioned soul and
gods for two reasons: (1) in the next paragraphs the celestial
body in their totality. This is probably the reason some com-
bodies are mentioned first (Timaeus 40a–d), then the tradi-
mentators have maintained that the demiurge cannot be sep-
tional gods (Timaeus 40d–e); and (2) the demiurge then ad-
arated from the soul, of which he must, one way or another,
dresses the totality of these gods (Timaeus 41a–c).
be like the intellect. Yet it seems very difficult to accept this
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PLATO
position, for this would amount to pulling up the ladder one
posed by destiny, which involve a system of retribution based
has just used. In summary, Plato describes the demiurge,
on reincarnation.
even if only metaphorically, as a god endowed with a body
and a soul.
In order to account for the soul’s relations with an inde-
structible body, Plato, beginning with the Republic, distin-
At the summit of the divine Platonic hierarchy, then,
guishes three powers within the soul, the first of which is in
we find the demiurge, who fashions the other gods. He is
itself immortal, whereas the two others enjoy immortality
thus considered as the god who always is, and he is in a para-
only as long as the body over which they reign is indestructi-
doxical situation with regard to the soul and the body he is
ble. The immortal power of soul—that is, the intellect
supposed to fashion. Then we find the universe, which
(nous)—contemplates the intelligible realities, of which sen-
comes into being as a result of the demiurge’s action; this god
sible things are mere images. By its means, human beings are
takes on the appearance of the most perfect form in that he
akin to a god, or rather to a daimon. The other two powers
rotates on the spot. Then there come the fixed stars and the
are: (1) the spirit (thumos) that enables mortal living beings
planets, whose body is also spherical: but the fixed stars take
to defend themselves, and (2) the desire (epithumia) that en-
on a circular motion that is perfectly regular if we compare
ables them to remain alive and reproduce. Whereas the intel-
it to that of the planets, which feature certain irregularities.
lect can be said to be immortal, these two powers are declared
The status of the earth is also problematic; bereft of motion,
to be mortal because they are associated with functions that
it rests at the center of the universe and presents an imper-
enable the survival of the sensible body to which the soul is
fectly spherical form. The traditional gods, for their part, are
attached, albeit only for a lifetime.
subject to motions that are not only circular but also linear,
When applied to mortal living beings, and in particular
for they can rise and descend in the heavens.
to human beings, the psychic tripartition just mentioned is
In brief, whether one looks at traditional mythology, at
associated with one that is corporeal and even social. In the
Plato, at Aristotle, at the Stoics or the Epicureans, the gods
Timaeus, Plato associates each power of soul with a place in
are always considered as living immortal beings, endowed
the body. The lowest or desiring power, which ensures the
with an indestructible body and a soul that possesses an intel-
functions of survival (by provoking the desire for food) and
lect. The idea that there may be gods who do not possess ei-
of reproduction (by provoking sexual desire), is situated
ther a soul or a body is, it seems, contemporary with the ef-
under the diaphragm, in the area of the liver. Above the dia-
forts made by the Middle Platonists to ensure the
phragm, in the area of the heart, is the spirited power, which
preeminence of the first god. In this divinity, they saw both
enables human beings to remain alive by ensuring defensive
the Demiurge of the Timaeus, and the Good of the Republic,
functions, both within and without. This second power en-
which they considered as an intellect in actuality, whose in-
ables a mediation between the desiring power and reason, sit-
telligible forms were the thoughts. In addition, it bears the
uated in the head, which is responsible for all the processes
mark of the definitive assimilation carried out by Plotinus
of knowledge that can be expressed in speech. In human be-
between the Intellect and the Intelligible that all the later
ings, only reason is immortal, for the spirited power and the
Neoplatonists were to follow. Even in this context, however,
desiring power are restricted to ensuring the functions that
there remained an important place for the lower gods, en-
enable destructible bodies to maintain themselves in good
dowed with a soul and a body. The same holds true for the
working order for a specific time. When this body is de-
Neoplatonists.
stroyed, the spirited power and the desiring power associated
with it can only disappear, and this is why they are qualified
Since the gods possess a soul whose highest faculty, the
as “mortal” (Timaeus 69d).
intellect (nous), is constantly active, and this intellect grasps
its object, the Forms (eide), immediately and without obsta-
This psychic tripartition, associated with a corporeal
cles, they are necessarily good (agathoi), since evil is equiva-
one, is in addition related to a functional tripartition in a so-
lent to ignorance; hence the saying that “No one commits
cial context. At the end of Book II of the Republic, Plato pro-
evil willingly.” One can understand, then, why Plato con-
poses an organization in which individuals are distributed in
demns the poets who describe the gods indulging in unjust
functional groups in accordance with this hierarchy, based on
or indecent acts. Since every god is good, it follows that none
the predominance in the human individual of one of three
can be responsible for any evil (Republic X 617e). Thus, in
powers: intellect (nous), spirit (thumos), or desire (epithumia).
the myth of the Statesman, as in Book X of the Laws, the pos-
The most numerous group, responsible for ensuring the pro-
sibility of divinities opposing one another is rejected. This
duction of food and of wealth, is made up of farmers and
amounts to a condemnation of dualism.
craftsmen. This group is protected by guardians, or warriors,
responsible for ensuring the maintenance of order, both
MORTAL LIVING BEINGS. Beneath the gods in the hierarchy
within and outside the city. Insofar as they can possess nei-
are souls that possess an intellect like the gods but are liable
ther property nor money, the guardians are completely sepa-
to be attached to a body that, unlike that of the gods, is de-
rated from the producers, who, in exchange for the protec-
structible. These inferior souls are subject to temporality;
tion they receive from the guardians, must feed them and
their existence is marked by cycles of ten thousand years, im-
ensure their upkeep. From these functional groups, a very
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7185
small number of individuals are chosen, those who are in-
Within the psychic scale mentioned above, one notes
tended for higher education and the government of the city.
two discontinuities: (1) a discontinuity between the souls of
Soul, as an incorporeal whole, is immortal; yet one indi-
gods and of demons (which never fall into a body subject to
vidual soul can be attached to a particular body, which is,
destruction) and the souls of human beings and animals
for its part, subject to destruction. However, the soul is recy-
(which inhabit destructible bodies with diverse appearances);
cled every ten thousand years; in this way, Plato’s thought
and (2) a discontinuity between the souls of human beings
on soul is not so different from Asian (particularly Hindu)
and animals (which are endowed with a rational power) and
doctrines on reincarnation. We now turn to consider the
the souls of plants (which are reduced to the desiring power).
soul’s wanderings.
Let us consider one by one the consequences of these
During the first millennium (Phaedrus 245d–248c), the
two discontinuities.
soul is separated from all destructible bodies, whereas during
1. In this hierarchical system, only souls endowed with an
the following nine millennia (Phaedrus 248c–e), it passes
intellect are subject to a retributive system, which makes
from body to body as a function of the moral value of its pre-
them rise or fall on the scale of souls, incarnated accord-
vious existence, which is determined by the quality of its in-
ing to the quality of their intellectual activity. Gods and
tellectual activity. This intellectual activity is a reminiscence
demons are above this class, and plants are beneath it.
(anamnesis), or memory, of the soul’s contemplation of intel-
Gods and plants thus always remain at their level, at the
ligible realities when it was separated from all terrestrial bo-
highest or the lowest extremity.
dies. At the end of this first millennium, all souls that are
worthy of being associated with a sensible body inhabit the
2. As a result, human beings, who are situated at the up-
body of a man—that is, a male, even though the sexual or-
permost limit of the class of incarnate souls, must have
gans are still missing; and this association remains valid for
as their goal assimilation to the gods and the demons
the following millennium. A man who loves knowledge or
by seeking contemplation of the intelligible forms.
beauty and who has chosen an upright life for three consecu-
Hence the theme of the assimilation to the divinity by
tive millennia will be able to escape from the cycle of reincar-
the philosopher, who tends toward the knowledge, that
nations and rise back up to the heavens. The others will voy-
is, the contemplation of the intelligible forms, or true
age from one body to another, beginning with the third
reality.
millennium (Timaeus 90e–92c). The first category of bodies
3. The hierarchy of human beings and animals, which is
in which these imperfect souls may be incarnated is that of
a function of the exercise of intellectual activity, is
women: whoever displays cowardice enters into the body of
materialized by the body. The body, in which the soul
a woman, since virility is associated with war in ancient
is situated, illustrates the quality of that soul’s intellectu-
Greece. Only in the course of this millennium does the dis-
al activity; in short, the body is a “state of the soul.”
tinction of the sexes appear, thus allowing sexual reproduc-
tion. Then come incarnations in various kinds of what we
4. Like human beings, whether men or women, the soul
call “animals,” although there is no specific term in ancient
of animals is endowed with a rational power, and this
Greek to designate this category of living beings. They are
is true even if animals are what they are because they
classified as a function of the elements (beginning with the
make little or no use of their intellect. In any case, noth-
air, since fire is reserved for the gods), in a vertical order. At
ing prevents an animal, whatever it may be, from climb-
the top, birds fly through the air. Then come the living be-
ing back up the scale to become a human being.
ings that inhabit the surface of the earth; these are the quad-
It follows that changing the destiny of an animal may imply
rupeds, insects, and reptiles. Finally, there are the aquatic an-
eating the soul of a former human being. How, in this case,
imals: fish, shellfish, and others, which are the most stupid.
can the survival of human beings, who need to feed them-
In fact, Plato describes a psychic continuum in which
selves, be ensured without turning them into “anthropopha-
one finds a hierarchical order of gods, demons, human be-
gi”? By giving them as food a kind of living being that is not
ings, and the animals that live in the air, on the earth, and
endowed with intellect—namely, vegetables. After mention-
in the water—and even, as shall be seen, plants. Intellectual
ing the four types of living beings that populate the uni-
activity, conceived as the intuition of intelligible forms, con-
verse—the gods associated with fire; demons; human beings;
stitutes the criterion that enables a distinction to be made be-
and the birds, the animals, and the aquatic beasts—Timaeus
tween all these souls. Gods and demons contemplate the in-
rapidly mentions the origin of vegetables, which he associates
telligible forms directly, and, as it were, incessantly. Human
with the third, or desiring power of soul. However, this call
beings share this privilege only during a certain period of
for vegetarianism enters into conflict with the traditional sac-
their existence, when their souls are separated from all bo-
rifice (thusia) of the city, which implies slaughtering victims
dies. Once human souls have been incarnated, their contem-
and consuming their flesh. Scarcely mentioned in the Repub-
plation of the intelligible forms is mediate, since it must pass
lic, this kind of sacrifice seems to play an important role in
through the intermediary of the senses; above all, it is more
the city of the Laws. Does Plato accept this contradiction,
or less uncertain. By contrast, animals use their intellect less
or does he give a wider meaning to thusia? It is impossible
and less as one goes down the scale of beings.
to say.
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PLATO
TRANSMIGRATION OF THE SOUL. Scholars usually consider
fluence on Pythagoreanism and on Orphism. In this perspec-
that the transmigration of the soul was a dogma among the
tive, the question of which group—Orphics or Pythagore-
Orphics and the Pythagoreans and that Plato made it his
ans—influenced the other is meaningless. Pythagoreanism
own. The stakes here are important, insofar as the transmi-
and Orphism, like Plato, accepted and rejected some of the
gration of the soul is the basis of the doctrine of reminis-
prohibitions and doctrinal points of these religious move-
cence, which itself implies the notion of a separate intelligible
ments, which it is impossible to identify.
form that can be contemplated by the soul even when sepa-
From this perspective, all human beings and animals
rated from the body.
that inhabit air, earth, and water constitute a vast system of
However, none of the testimonies advanced to prove
symbols—symbols from the point of view of appearances,
that the Pythagoreans preached the doctrine of transmigra-
but also from the viewpoint of behavior, which justifies the
tion is decisive: whether it is that of Diogenes Laertios, who
recourse to a number of comparisons, images, and metaphors
claims to cite verses by Xenophanes that he attributes to Py-
in which animals play a role. In the Timaeus these symbols
thagoras (Diogenes Laertios VIII 36 = Diels-Kranz 21B7);
refer to different types of soul, whose moral quality is ulti-
of Aristotle (De anima I 3, 407b20 = Diels-Kranz 59 B39;
mately determined by their contemplation of the intelligible,
cf. also II 2, 414a22) on the soul’s entry into the body; of
according to a number of details that may seem ironic or ri-
Dicearchus on the dogmas that Pythagoras was the first to
diculous but that can be interpreted only in this sense: birds
introduce into Greece (Dicearchus, fr. 33 Wehrli = Porphy-
are naive astronomers, who think that sight is the ultimate
ry, Vita Pythagorica 19); or of Herodotus (IV 95–96), who
source of knowledge; quadrupeds need four feet in order to
affirms that the Greeks living in the region of the Black Sea
support their skull, which has been elongated by the defor-
attributed to Pythagoras the practices for obtaining immor-
mations of the revolutions of the circles of its rational power.
tality current among the Getae (Getai athanatizontes). There
Stupid terrestrial animals crawl; fish are even more stupid,
is every reason to believe that modern and contemporary his-
and the worst ignorance is that of shellfish.
torians of religions, following in the path of the Neopytha-
PLATO AND TRADITIONAL RELIGION. Plato thus agrees with
goreans, often project Plato’s doctrine of the soul on the
traditional mythology, particularly when he maintains that
teachings of Pythagoras, about which, objectively, we know
the gods have a body. However, even on this point he differs
nothing.
from his contemporaries. He can endure neither the idea that
In addition, no ancient testimony attributes explicitly
the gods have a corporeal aspect or a behavior that renders
the doctrine of transmigration to Orphism. All that is explic-
them akin to human beings (since the gods can only be good)
itly attributed to Orphism is the doctrine of the soul’s preex-
nor the idea that the gods may change in corporeal appear-
istence (a preexistence that is not necessarily individual), and
ance or in opinion. The violent criticisms that constitute
that of retribution in the next world. On this point as well,
Books II and III of the Republic, and the denunciation of the
the testimonies of Plato (Cratylus 400b–c; Phaedo 62b; Re-
poets in Book X, are clear proof of this. Only a mythology
public II 364e–365a; Laws IX 870d-e) and that of Aristotle
fabricated by poets under the control of those who know—
(De anima I5, 410b27) are insufficient to inspire persuasion.
that is, the philosophers—is permitted. Myths of this kind
can be used, together with a kind of rhetoric, as means of
The only way to affirm that Orphism maintains the
persuasion in the preambles to the laws for dissuading in ad-
transmigration of the soul would be to think that the priests
vance those who might be thinking of breaking a law, as is
and priestesses Plato mentions in the Meno (81a–e) are Or-
explained by the Athenian Stranger in Book IV of the Laws.
phic, or to slant in this direction the testimony of Herodotus
(II 123), who refers the doctrine of transmigration to the
A similar position can be observed in Book X of the
Egyptians. It is presumptuous to supply names that Herodo-
Laws, where the goal is to demonstrate to young atheists that:
tus will not even reveal and say that the people in question
(1) the gods exist, (2) they are interested in the fate of human
are Orphics. In addition, the passage from the Meno (81b–c)
beings, and (3) they are insensitive to all attempts to influ-
in which are cited a few verses traditionally attributed to Pin-
ence their judgment. This last point has the consequence of
dar (fr. 133 Bergk = 126 Bowra) does indeed evoke the doc-
rendering traditional religion obsolete. In this context there
trine of transmigration but refers it to priests and priestesses
can no longer be any question of making prayers or offering
intent on being able to account for the functions they fulfill;
sacrifices in an attempt to sway any particular god. The only
his goal is to make not only Pindar but also poets the spokes-
goal of the cult is to glorify the gods, with a view to assimilat-
men for this doctrine. The interpretation of this passage,
ing oneself to them by one’s contemplation.
where the names of Orpheus or of the Orphics never appear,
In summary, although he takes up many ideas concern-
remains debatable.
ing the gods in ancient Greece, Plato appears as a revolution-
In the face of so many confusions and uncertainties, the
ary when he assigns to human beings the goal of assimilating
only valid hypothesis at the present time is as follows: Pindar,
themselves to god, seeks to submit the myths that narrate the
Empedocles, Herodotus, and Plato were aware of the exis-
deeds and exploits of the gods to the control of the philoso-
tence of religious movements that maintained the doctrine
pher, and attributes to cultic acts and ceremonies the original
of transmigration. These movements seem to have had an in-
finality of the mere glorification of the gods.
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PLATONISM
7187
SEE ALSO Dualism; Ficino, Marsilio; Gnosticism, article on
of Athens’ destruction by the Romans, accomplished by
Gnosticism from Its Origins to the Middle Ages; Herme-
Sulla in 86 BCE, the Academy had ceased to exercise any real
tism; Neoplatonism; Platonism; Soul, article on Greek and
influence on Platonic thought. Thereafter, Platonic schools
Hellenistic Concepts.
were founded in the most famous cities of the Roman Em-
pire, including Pergamum, Athens, and Alexandria. A Pla-
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depended on a First Principle (The One Which Is the
Garland, Robert. Introducing New Gods: The Politics of Athenian
Good), as taught by Plato in his “unwritten doctrines.” Both
Religion. Ithaca, N.Y., 1992.
Good and Beautiful exist as a derivation from the First Prin-
Gerson, Lloyd P. God and Greek Philosophy: Studies in the Early
ciple. Xenocrates, however, turned back to Plato, though not
History of Natural Theology. London, 1990.
without distinguishing his thought from Plato’s. He was the
Goldschmidt, Victor. La religion de Platon. Paris, 1949; reprinted
first to divide philosophy into physics (which included the
in Platonisme et pensée contemporaine. Paris, 1970 and 2000.
so-called metaphysics), ethics, and logic, as later philosophers
Laurent, Jérôme, ed. Les dieux de Platon. Caen, 2003.
also did. Xenocrates abandoned Speusippus’s mathematical
Morgan, Michael L. Platonic Piety: Philosophy and Ritual in
metaphysics and re-proposed Plato’s numerical Forms, to-
Fourth-Century Athens. New Haven, Conn., 1990.
gether with other kinds of Forms. These various kinds of
forms (numerical and other) constitute the intelligible world
Morgan, Michael L. “Plato and the Greek Religion.” In The Cam-
bridge Companion to Plato, pp. 227–247. Cambridge, 1991.
and are the production of the two basic Principles, the One
and the indefinite Dyad. Xenocrates called the One “Zeus”
Pétrement, Simone. Le dualisme chez Platon, les Gnostiques et les
(i.e., the highest male god, the father, and the ruler of uni-
Manichéens. Paris, 1947.
verse). In contrast, the indefinite Dyad was the female god-
Reale, Giovanni. Toward a New Interpretation of Plato. Translated
dess, the mother of All, the cosmic soul. Therefore Xenocra-
from the 10th edition by John R. Cactan and Richard Da-
tes interpreted in a religious way the highest ontological
vies. Washington, D.C., 1997.
principles, and his interest in a religious philosophy is mani-
Reverdin, Olivier. La religion de Platon. Paris, 1945.
fested also by his demonology. The daimon is an intermedi-
Rudhardt, Jean. Notions fondamentales de la pensée religieuse et actes
ate being between gods and humans. Active in shrines and
constitutifs du culte. Étude préliminaire pour aider à la compré-
oracles; he may be either good or bad, like humans, but he
hension de la piété athénienne au IVe siècle. Geneva, 1958.
is immortal. Xenocrates’ demonology and, as a whole, the
Solmsen, Friedrich. Plato’s Theology. Ithaca, N.Y., 1942.
ancient Academy’s doctrines were taken up by second-
Van Camp, Jean, and Paul Canart. Le sens du mot theîos chez Pla-
century CE Platonism. Aristotle might well be added to this
ton. Louvain, 1956.
list of Plato’s direct followers, even though he founded his
own school, the Lyceum, in 335, after Xenocrates had suc-
LUC BRISSON (2005)
ceeded Speusippus. Aristotle was notoriously critical of
Plato’s way of understanding Form and of his identification
of Form with being. Further, he was contemptuous of Speu-
PLATONISM. Taken in its broadest sense, Platonism
sippus’s devotion to Pythagorean number theory. Neverthe-
refers to the influence of Plato in Western philosophical, reli-
less, Aristotle’s works pursued, in their own way, the agenda
gious, and political thinking. In the Hellenistic world, the
of Plato’s Academy, and his account of the First Principle as
vehicle of this influence was the Academy, but from the time
self-thinking Intellect (nous) was early adopted in the Platon-
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PLATONISM
ic tradition, and Pythagorean doctrines continued to be dis-
EUDORUS AND PHILO, THE MIDDLE PLATONISTS. Accord-
cussed in the Platonic school.
ing to most authoritative critics, Eudorus and the Jewish phi-
THE SKEPTICAL ACADEMY. With the succession of Arcesilaus
losopher Philo, both active in Alexandria between the first
(d. 241 BCE) as its head, the Academy took a fresh turn. The
century BCE and the first century CE, should be considered
so-called New Academy—frequently labelled “sceptical”—
Middle Platonists. Eudorus influenced those who, during the
maintained that neither Socrates nor Plato had taught any
first and second century, were interested in the theology of
settled, dogmatic system but had pursued arguments on both
a First Principle, such as Plutarch of Chaeronea and Nu-
sides of every question without seeking to reach definitive
menius of Apameia. Eudorus introduced the Pythagorean
conclusions. Indeed, Arcesilaus’s approach was not com-
principle (the One), distinguishing between the absolutely
pletely unsound, since Socrates had taught students to doubt
transcendent One and the One that is correlated to the indef-
traditional certainties. So, Arcesilaus maintained that the
inite Dyad. This second One is the principle of limit (under-
epoche (suspension of judgement) in which this procedure re-
stood as form, “eidos”) and is opposed to matter, from which
sulted represented the true philosophical position of Plato,
disordered movement originates.
but Arcesilaus’s devotion to it was largely evoked by Stoic
dogmatism, with its assertion of the existence of “indubitable
On the other side, Philo, whose imposing bulk of works
perception” (kataleptike phantasia). Against this Stoic view
was dedicated to a Greek exegesis of the Old Testament, em-
the New Academy emphasized the doubtfulness and subjec-
ploys many of the doctrines that were then considered Pla-
tivity of both perception and judgment. In response to the
tonic, such as the “three principles theology” (Dreiprinzi-
charge that such a stance left people without guidance for the
pienlehre, as it is called by German scholars). The first
conduct of life, Carneades (d. 129
Principles, according to Philo, were not the first or the sec-
BCE) developed his theory
of pithanon (the “persuasive” or “probable”), holding, as Cic-
ond One, but God, the Logos, who has in himself the ideas
ero sums it up (Academica 2.10), “that there is something
as his thoughts; and matter, out of which the Logos “created”
which is probable and, so to speak, like the truth” and that
the world, just as the platonic Demiurge “created” the world
this provides a “rule both for the conduct of life and for in-
out of matter by contemplating the ideas. Philo also em-
quiry and discussion.”
ployed Stoic tenets, such as the doctrine of pathos.
It was not, however, in scepticism that Platonism was
The first and second centuries CE were the heyday of
to find its future. Even in the time of Carneades and his suc-
Middle Platonism. Once studied as preparation for Plotinus,
cessor Philo of Larissa (d. about 80 BCE), Platonists were be-
the philosophers of the Middle Platonism are now consid-
ginning, though solely in defense of their own position, to
ered worth studying in themselves, and their doctrines must
employ Stoic ideas and terminology; and at the same time,
be reconsidered as a more or less “organic building” (a coher-
in the teaching of the Stoic Posidonius of Apamea (d. about
ent philosophical system). Therefore the word “eclectisism”
51 BCE) there are traces of Plato’s influence. This incipient
must be excluded, since it means an assembly of doctrines
eclecticism became stronger in Antiochus of Ascalon
from various schools, excluding the foundation of a coherent
(d. about 68 BCE), and with it came a repudiation of scepti-
system of thought. On the contrary, the historical develop-
cism and a new, dogmatic Platonism—so-called Middle Pla-
ment of Platonism involved from its beginning confronta-
tonism—that eventually set the stage for the work of Ploti-
tion with other philosophies, such as Pythagoreanism, Aris-
nus and his successors.
totelism, and, later, Stoicism, and it must appear neither an
ANTIOCHUS OF ASCALON. The split between Antiochus and
oddity nor a mark of eclecticism if Middle Platonists em-
his teacher Philo of Larissa, a skeptic, had its basis in Antio-
ployed (and occasionally rejected) Stoic and Aristotelian doc-
chus’s belief that the authentic tradition of Plato’s teaching
trines. These philosophers did not by any means represent
must be sought in the Old Academy and that this tradition
a uniform point of view but presented various interpretations
embraced the contributions of Aristotle and the Stoics. Anti-
of Platonic thought. Since the Academy had been dissolved
ochus himself was substantially a Stoic in his assumption of
long ago, they didn’t represent a continuity, but only a loose
Stoic logos spermatikòs, which he considered quite similar to
“tradition.” Platonic doctrines, in their new reassessment,
the Platonic ideas and thus untypical of the later Middle Pla-
were articulated by Areius Didymus, another scholar of the
tonist tradition. Nevertheless his rebellion opened the way
Augustan Age (like Eudorus and Philo), who was a doxo-
for the growth of a school of thought that treated the Platon-
grapher more than a philosopher. His collection of Platonic
ic corpus as an authoritative text even while it brought other
doctrines took up many Antiochean tenets, which reap-
points of view—Pythagorean, Aristotelian, and Stoic—to
peared some decades later in the Stoic philosopher Seneca.
the interpretation of that corpus. The influence of Antiochus
For all their differences, however, these thinkers had much
was overestimated by critics of the nineteenth century and
in common. In particular, they shared the corpus of Platonic
the first decades of the twentieth century who considered
dialogues, among which special attention was reserved for
him the founder of Middle Platonism, but now it is thought
the Timaeus. Its interpretation, however, was not unani-
more probable that Antiochus simply proposed a “return” to
mous. Plutarch and Atticus took the view—which com-
the Old Academy (including Aristotle) but was not able to
mended them to Christian readers—that the story of the
give a new impulse to Platonism.
Demiurge’s “creation” of the cosmos was to be taken literal-
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PLATONISM
7189
ly. Others, like Albinus and Calvenos Tauros, saw the story
origin (the oikeiosis, the innate ideas or physikai ennoiai, and
as a proper Platonic muthos, a tale intended not to explain
the distinction between natural and perfected virtues) are
how the cosmos came to be but to suggest how it is eternally
also present in Apuleius (For this reason Alkinoos was sup-
structured.
posed to be, like Apuleius, the pupil of the little-known Pla-
tonic philosopher Gaius). More than other Middle Plato-
In spite of such differences, however, all agreed (against
nists, Alkinoos represented the Aristotelian tradition, since
traditional Stoicism) that the First Principle was transcen-
his First principle is the nous.
dent and should be equated with the Good of Plato’s Repub-
lic
, the self-thinking Intellect of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, or the
As to the “rediscovered” Albinus, he wrote an Introduc-
One of Pythagorean cosmology. The Platonic realm of
tion to Platonic Philosophy (Eisagoge), which contains a dis-
Forms appeared in Middle Platonism as the content of divine
cussion on nature, as well as characteristics of Platonic dia-
Intellect, and thus as the truth that actuated the World Soul
logues. In other works he was principally devoted to the
in its work of ordering the visible cosmos. This scheme, in
Timaeus exegesis.
which the ultimate god was sometimes distinguished from
a second “demiurgic” Intellect, foreshadowed the Neopla-
In contrast, Severus and Nicostratus fought against Aris-
tonic hierarchy of three divine hypostases. At the same time,
totle and his doctrine of the Categories. Since, it seems, they
the human ideal became the contemplative life in which the
had friends in Athens, scholars have proposed an “Athenian
soul achieves that “likeness to God” (homoiosis theoi) that
school,” which John Dillon dismisses (like the school of
Plato had commended in the Theaetetus (176b). Apart from
Gaius) as “an empty name” (1977, p. 265). More important,
the school philosophers, there are a number of individuals
Nicostratus’s polemic against Aristotle fits very well with the
(e.g. the physician Galen, the mathematician Theon of
philosophy of his contemporaries, Calvenus Taurus and At-
Smyrna, and the rhetor Maximus of Tyre) who, while not
ticus. The first had some kind of school in Athens, and his
quite philosophers themselves, give good evidence for con-
ethics are akin to those of the Stoics in his doctrine of oikeio-
temporary Platonic schools.
sis and his assumption that nothing is good unless virtuous.
Taurus was interested in the interpretation of the cosmogony
The new form of Platonism appeared in an organic
in the Timaeus, which he interpreted as an allegory and not
structure for the first time in Plutarch’s (before 50–after 120
according to the Aristotelian principle of the eternity of the
CE) works, and perhaps already in the doctrine of his teacher,
world.
Ammonius, who was an Egyptian like Eudorus and Philo.
In physics, Plutarch was influenced by Pythagoreanism,
Atticus is distinguished by a lack of toleration, and his
whence he took the doctrine of the indefinite Dyad and
interpretation of Aristotle is substantially distorted. His po-
number mysticism. In his interpretation of the Timaeus he
lemic against Aristotle concentrated on cosmogony and eth-
insists on the temporal creation of the world as the result of
ics. He rejected the Aristotelian exegesis of the Timaeus and,
God’s intervention on matter, which is moved by a preexis-
following Plutarch, asserted the temporal creation of the
tent, disorderly, bad World Soul. He asserts the existence of
world and the existence of an evil world soul. In ethics, he
the daemons, as Xenocrates had done, and he identifies them
refused any peripateticism, considering it a moral weakness.
with the human soul, bad or good. In ethics, he abandoned
Stoicism and, like Antiochus, returned to the peripatetic
But the most interesting figure of Middle Platonism was
doctrines of the “moderation of affects.” Apuleius (125–
surely the Syriac Numenius of Apameia. His doctrine shows
180), an important Sophist (i.e., orator) in the Latin-
an intermingling of Platonism and Pythagoreanism (and
speaking West, is similar in some aspects to Plutarch. Apule-
therefore he had often been considered as a Neopytha-
ius was the author of a novel (Metamorphoseon libri) and of
gorean); but from Xenocrates and Eudorus onward, Platonic
various orations (Pro se de magia liber; Florida) that show his
philosophy was often shadowed with Neopythagoreanism.
interest in other problems, such as magic and literature,
Numenius was interested in Hermetism, Gnosticism, and
though without abandoning Platonic ideas (indeed, he was
Zoroastrian and Hebrew cultures. His Pythagorizing Plato-
called philosophus platonicus). Apuleius followed the “doc-
nism, perhaps through Ammonius Saccas, the master of Plo-
trine of the three principles” and, in ethics, the Stoic apatheia
tinus, exercised a powerful influence over Neoplatonism and
and the Platonic “assimilation to god.” More interesting is
Plotinus himself. Numenius is a radical dualist, taking the
his practice of the Isiac cult, as it appears in the last book of
Pythagorean Dyad as the passive principle in opposition to
the Metamorphoses, and of many other cults to which he ad-
One-god. The Dyad is the origin of matter, which is eternal
hered in his youth. So Apuleius’s Platonism possesses a kind
and unorganized, like the evil Soul of Plutarch and Atticus,
of henotheistic flavor; besides, he professed, like Plutarch,
though put in an organized state by the Demiurge. As such,
the Xenocratean daemonology.
the Dyad was not produced by the Monad. Matter is fluid
and without quality, but possesses an intrinsic evil force. The
Previously confused with Albinus, the author of a hand-
Demiurge is the second god. Above him is the first god,
book of Platonic philosophy (Didaskalikòs), Alkinoos is not
called “Father,” and under him is the world. So the Demi-
an original thinker, for his doctrines derive in great part from
urge is double, being both the first and the second god, and
Areius Didymus’s doxography.The three principles of Stoic
there is a triad of divine entities, perhaps corresponding to
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PLATONISM
the triad of the second Platonic epistle (312e), which is now
Sophia, the aeon who originate last, was a female principle.
regarded a Pythagorean forgery.
Her sin is her desire to know her origin and the Forefather’s
nature, which leads her to try to bear a child without a syzy-
The first and second centuries CE saw the growth and
gos, or partner. She has the function of the indefinite Dyad,
diffusion of Gnosticism and Hermetism. Middle Platonic
which introduces evil at the highest level. Horos, the “limit”
doctrines are present to some degree in these philosophical-
in the Valentinian myth, perhaps is akin to the Pythagorean
religious movements, mingled with and transformed by
peras, and his function is analogous to the regulating activity
other doctrines of various origins. This is a large field, which
(for instance, in Philo) of divine Logos.
Dillon has defined as “the underworld of Platonism” (1977,
p. 384).
Before Valentinus lived Basilides (end of first century
G
CE), who held views similar to those of Plotinus. He pro-
NOSTICISM. The relationship between Gnosis and Plato-
fessed apophatism about divine Being as the natural conse-
nism should begin with an examination of the concept of du-
quence of the doctrine of divine transcendence. According
alism, specifically, Platonic dualism. If by dualism we mean
to Basilides, both original Principles, light and darkness,
a doctrine of two principles, from which the whole universe
originally were distinct, but when darkness saw the light, it
derives and on which it depends, then Plato’s Timaeus, with
longed for union with it, just as light desired to see darkness.
its doctrine of coeternal Demiurge (at a higher ontological
In the beginning there was the absolute naught, which is per-
level than ideas) and chora (interpreted as matter), is certainly
haps identified with God (Hippolytus says that God was
dualist. However, such a dualism is pre-cosmic, since the cre-
“not existing”)—such is the conclusion of “negative theolo-
ated world is characterized by harmony and eternity, and
gy,” which was quite common in Platonic and Pythagorean
chora is not a negative entity. Besides, Plato’s anthropogony
schools. Basilides discussed, as Platonists did, the problem of
in Timaeus 42d and 69c, which describes the intervention
the creation of the world, which, according to him, is created
of the inferior gods, who, obeying the Demiurge, create the
out of “seeds.” These seeds are derived from the Stoic doc-
human soul and body in order not to involve God in the re-
trine of logos spermatikos, which states that the cosmic Logos
sponsibility for evil, foreshadows some Gnostic tenets. If the
contains the logoi spermatikoi, and in this primordial seed is
chief characteristic of Gnosticism is its negative depiction of
contained all that will be developed thereafter. Basilides’ cos-
world, Gnostic dualism, though of quite different origin,
mic seeds also contain all that will happen. Like Plato (Tim.
may be paralleled with Platonic dualism as it is expressed in
73c), Basilides employs the word panspermia. God creates
Plutarch and Numenius. Among Gnostic schools, one of the
the world thanks to his free will, and cosmic seeds don’t
most representative was that of Valentinus, who was a con-
come out of preexistent matter. Middle Platonists, in con-
temporary of Albinus and Numenius; Valentinus was con-
trast, considered God to be a craftsman. So, Basilides was the
sidered platonicus by Christian writers. Some of his doctrines
first Christian philosopher to consider the same problems as
derive in part from certain forms of contemporary Plato-
contemporary Middle Platonism. Valentinian cosmogony
nism, where a relatively nondualistic position is present. For
also took up some Middle Platonic doctrines, such as: Matter
Valentinus, the creation of the world is not the result of the
in itself is not body but possesses the fitness to become every
struggle between the principle of Good and the principle of
kind of body.
Evil, as it is for Barbelognostics and Mani, but is rather the
result of the corruption of a previously perfect system, just
HERMETISM. The treatises of the Corpus hermeticum were
as for Neoplatonism the existence of evil is the corruption
composed during the second and third century CE. Herme-
of perfection. Valentinus created an elaborate myth in order
tism was influenced by Middle Platonism, which can be
to explain the existence of the material world. The basic
seen, for example, in the first and most important treatise of
framework of his system is reminiscent of Pythagorean meta-
the Corpus hermeticum, the Poemandres (this name is perhaps
physics, which had penetrated also into Middle Platonism.
a translation from Egyptian). Poemandres describes himself
It has been supposed that Valentinus had interpreted the
as the nous of the Supreme Power. It is open to interpretation
aeons of his metaphysics as a kind of Platonic idea. Tertullian
whether the Supreme Power is above the nous, as God is
was perhaps the first to interpret aeons as the thoughts and
above Mind, or whether nous possesses the Supreme Power.
motions of the divine Being, whereas Ptolemaeus, one of
The description of the creation of the world owes something
Valentinus’s followers, interpreted them as real persons.
to the concept of the Platonic Demiurge. The Hermetic
From the primordial reality new entities come out in a kind
writer distinguishes between nous and logos in a manner simi-
of “emanation” (probole). The new entities retain, in a depo-
lar to Philo of Alexandria. Like Philo, the Hermetic writer
tentiated way, the essence of the original reality, just as in
defines Logos as “son of God.” The supreme Nous generates
the Neoplatonic system. Initially there are a monadic and a
another nous demiourgos, who is the creator of fire and pneu-
dyadic figure, the latter being subordinated to the former.
ma, the seven planetary gods, and other entities, such as the
Their secondary, derived Principle has the titles of the Pla-
cosmic soul and physis, the archetypal man (borrowed per-
tonic supreme god, Father and First Principle, while the real
haps from Philo). Also in ethic, the ideal of apatheia found
supreme principle is called Forefather and Pre-first Principle.
its way into Hermetic doctrines.
The name Ennoia, in the Valentinian system, is reminiscent
CHRISTIAN MIDDLE PLATONISTS. Middle Platonism had a
of Philo’s Sophia, which is the same as the Logos of God.
strong influence on Christian thought, beginning in the sec-
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7191
ond century CE. Apologists such as Justin, Tatian, Athena-
the One. Soul, the third hypostasis, images Intellect, although
goras, and Theophilus of Antioch identified the Son of God
its being and knowing are distended in time, and although,
with the Logos, or the second god of contemporary Middle
as “nature,” it approaches division in space by giving rise to
Platonists, while the Father was considered the origin of the
the corporeal, visible cosmos. The limit of this expansion of
Logos and even superior to him, just as first nous is above
reality from the One is primal matter, which, Plotinus teach-
second nous. Christian Middle Platonism was developed by
es, is in itself mere privation. To the emanation of reality
much more representative thinkers, like Clement of Alexan-
from the One there corresponds a converse and simultaneous
dria and Origen, who went deep into the question of the na-
movement of “return” (epistrophe), by which each level of
ture of God and of the relation between the Father and the
being seeks itself in its source and original. From this point
Son, both being eternal and divine entities, but personally
of view, the structure of Plotinus’s cosmos corresponds to the
differentiated. In ethics, Clement of Alexandria and Origen
route that consciousness takes in contemplative activity as it
recognized the Middle Platonic “assimilation to god” as the
moves from dispersion to integration. The highest normal
ideal implicit in the doctrine that God created Adam “in our
level of consciousness is the unified awareness that belongs
image, after our likeness” (Gn. 1:26). The interpretation of
to Intellect, but in moments of mystical ecstasy the soul—as
Genesis 1:2 that the world was created out of shapeless matter
Plotinus records from his own experience—achieves a loss of
is the Christian accommodation of Old Testament cosmogo-
particular selfhood in union with the One.
ny to Middle Platonic philosophy. Philo of Alexandria had
already proposed this, and it clearly appears in Athenagoras,
Porphyry was a commentator on Plato and Aristotle and
Theophilus of Antioch, and Irenaeus of Lyon (second centu-
the author of a lengthy treatise titled Against the Christians.
ry
In Porphyry’s writings the scholastic tone and religious inter-
CE). As soon as Apologists considered the biblical narra-
tion of the creation of the world, the problem of a philosoph-
ests of later Neoplatonism are foreshadowed. He produced
ical interpretation became cogent, since the text of the Bible
not only commentaries but also summary interpretations of
was not compatible with Platonic philosophy. The solution
Plotinian ontology and ethics, as in his Sentences and Letter
was a creatio ex nihilo, which developed at the end of second
to His Wife Marcella. Porphyry seems to be responsible for
century
reviving the repute of a late-second-century collection of rev-
CE, but Christian authors who were educated in the
Middle Platonic philosophy, such as Justin, Athenagoras,
elations known as the Chaldaean Oracles. Although sceptical
and Clement of Alexandria, found it difficult to accept such
of the claims that this collection made for the ritual-magical
a solution, and the contemporary heretic Hermogenes re-
practice of theurgy, Porphyry apparently initiated the prac-
turned to the Middle Platonic doctrine of creation out of ex-
tice of interpreting the Oracles in the light of a Plotinian
isting matter.
metaphysic.
PLATONISM AND NEOPLATONISM. From the beginning of
Porphyry’s disciple Iamblichus (d. c. 325 CE) wrote a
the Plotinian school in Rome (244 CE onward) and the re-
commentary (now lost) on the Chaldaean Oracles and in his
search of Porphyry of Tyros (middle third century CE), we
treatise On the Mysteries defended theurgy (against Porphyry)
usually speak no more either of Middle Platonism or of Pla-
as necessary for the soul’s union with the divine. He was also
tonism, but of Neoplatonism. Of course, original Platonic
a speculative philosopher of great originality, and his system
doctrine mingled with Neoplatonic elaborations, and their
opened the way for the elaborate metaphysics that marked
influence can be traced in the writing of Christian and, later,
the thought of the later Platonic school at Athens. There,
Islamic theologians and philosophers. Plotinus (205–270) is
from about 400 until 529, a series of distinguished teachers
normally considered the founder of Neoplatonism, though
developed both the philosophical and the religious positions
the evolution of Platonism is not so linear and direct as it
that Iamblichus had defended. Most notable among these
was supposed in the nineteenth and twentieth century, such
was Proclus (c. 412–485), whose Elements of Theology and
as in Eduard Zeller’s strong Hegelian interpretation of the
Commentary on the Timaeus are monuments to the learning
history of ancient philosophy. Plotinus wasn’t the “school-
and dialectical skill of the Academy in its last days. Proclus
master of Neoplatonism,” and Platonism from the third to
saw his task as carrying Iamblichus’s principles to their logi-
sixth century had many peculiarities not derived from Ploti-
cal conclusion and filling any gaps he left in the metaphysical
nus. The essays Plotinus wrote for circulation among his pu-
hierarchy. Therefore Proclus admitted within the First Hy-
pils were collected by his disciple Porphyry (d. c. 305) in six
postasis a series of Unities (Henads) in addition to the One
sets of nine texts known collectively as the Enneads. In these
itself. He establishes complete symmetry between that Hy-
terse and often difficult papers, Plotinus sets out a system ac-
postasis and lower orders by extending to it Iamblichus’s dis-
cording to which all reality issues spontaneously, coordinate-
tinction of Unparticipated and Participated Terms. The
ly, and timelessly from a single transcendent and inexpress-
Henads thus constitute the Participated intermediaries link-
ible source called the One or the Good. This process of
ing lower realities to the One, which now becomes the First
emanation produces a hierarchical world order in which each
Hypostasis Unparticipated Monad. But the Henads are not
successive form of reality (hypostasis) images its superior at
simply aspects or attributes of the First Cause, but substan-
a lower level of unity. Thus Intellect—the unity of intuitive
tial, self-subsistent entities derived from the One and depen-
awareness with its intelligible objects (the Forms)—images
dent on it. Hence arise their functions—one metaphysical,
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PLATONISM
the other religious. The former function was that of bridging
works as well as Porphyry’s Introduction to Aristotle’s Catego-
the gulf between Unity and Plurality. In particular, although
ries, the book that originally stimulated medieval philosophi-
the One is absolutely unknowable, the Henads, unknowable
cal debate. His Consolation of Philosophy, widely read during
in themselves, can be known by analogy from their products.
the Middle Ages, presented a simplified Neoplatonist out-
Fundamental is the basic Neoplatonic doctrine that the same
look consistent with the structures of Christian doctrine.
attribute can exist under an appropriate mode on successive
levels. Proclus emphasizes that such attributes are present
It was largely through Augustine, whose influence is
perfectly only on the level of the Henads. Each order of reali-
seen in thinkers as diverse as Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–
ty, even the Henads, represents an appropriate combination
1109), Hugh of Saint–Victor (c. 1096–1141), the School of
of Limit and Infinity, whose cosmogonic roles can be traced
Chartres, the Franciscan Bonaventure (c. 1217–1274), and
back to early Pythagoreanism and to Plato’s Philebus.
the Dominicans Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) and Jo-
hannes Eckhart (c. 1260–1327?), that Platonist themes in-
In the Latin West, Platonism and Neoplatonism were
fluenced medieval Latin philosophy and spirituality. Of the
transmitted through Marius Victorinus (end of third centu-
works of Plato, only the Timaeus was known (in the fourth-
ry–360) and Augustine of Hippo (354–430). “Victorinus
century Latin version of Calcidius). Plotinus and his succes-
shows how lively, how original, how pulsating, how stimulat-
sors were scarcely known at all, save through Boethius’s
ing and, yea, how attractive was Platonism in the fourth cen-
translation of Porphyry’s Introduction to Aristotle’s Categories.
tury. Together with Augustine, Victorinus represents the
What the Latin Middle Ages eventually harvested from the
best example that, for an intellectual, the reception of Chris-
work of the late Platonists were the writings of Aristotle on
tian doctrines was possible only through Neoplatonism, the
natural philosophy, ethics, and metaphysics, which, during
dominating spiritual trend at the time” (Baltes, 2002,
and after the thirteenth century, became standard texts in the
p.125). Victorinus’s theology develops a rich metaphysical
liberal arts curricula of medieval universities.
system, attributing to the Father the majority of the qualifi-
cations characterizing the Neoplatonic One, which are, of
MUSLIM NEOPLATONISM. Parallel to the Platonic tradition
course, negative ones, according to apophatic trends widely
during the Middle Ages is the spread of Platonic thought
developed by Greek philosophy and Christian culture (one-
among Muslims. Indeed, medieval Western interest in, and
ness, pureness, simpleness, invisibility, unutterability, mo-
knowledge of Plato was stimulated and in part made possible
tion, passions, corruption, and lack of body). Moreover, Vic-
by the labors of Islamic philosophers who worked on ninth-
torinus’s deep philosophical background shows in the
and tenth-century Arabic versions of the works of Aristotle,
majority of his doctrines. For example, his Trinitarian specu-
Plato, and their Neoplatonic commentators. But Neoplaton-
lation is an attempt to join the triadic schemes already attest-
ic thought didn’t reach the Arabs only through translations
ed in Platonic texts, particularly in the Enneads. The relation-
from the Greek; Syriac translations of Greek texts were an-
ship between the three Persons of the Trinity is in fact
other major source. A major role was played by a remarkable
explained by means of Neoplatonic schemes, thus equating
forgery, the so-called Theology of Aristotle, which in fact con-
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to the hypostatical moments of
sists of extracts from Plotinus’s Enneads IV–VI augmented
being-life-intellect (or being-intellect-life, in a reversed
by supplementary or explanatory material perhaps derived
order), or introducing the more complex concept of predom-
from Porphyry’s lost commentary. In 832 CE in Bagdad,
inance, according to which each Person of the Trinity is best
Califf al-Mamoun founded the “House of Wisdom,” whose
characterized by the prevalence of one of these aspects
direction was committed to famous and clever translaters, in-
(being-life-intellect), in order to preserve and reassert their
cluding Honayn ibn Ishaq (809–873 CE), who was famous
mutual relationship. The Son’s generative process is de-
for translating Greek books into Syriac and Arabic. There-
scribed in philosophical terms, such as stillness and move-
fore the whole terminology of Arabic theology and philoso-
ment, form and act, dynamis and activity, to which must be
phy was prepared during the ninth century, and the “helle-
added the conversion, represented by the Spirit.
nistic philosophers” (falasifa is the Arabic word for
philosophos) could use the translation of Aristotle and his
Augustine’s conversion to Christianity accompanied his
commentators, Plato and Galen. The “peripatetic reaction”
discovery of Neoplatonic thought, as represented by writings
by Averroes opposed the Neoplatonism of these thinkers. Al-
of Plotinus and Porphyry (writings probably translated into
Kindi (796–d. after 870) was interested not only in mathe-
Latin by Marius Victorinus). His doctrine was permeated by
matics and geometry, but also in metaphysics, astronomy,
Platonic themes, however revised and recast in the light of
and music. He tried to reconcile philosophy with prophetic
his Christian beliefs. Boethius (c. 480–c. 524), a Roman aris-
revelation and distinguished between human science (which
tocrat in the service of the Ostrogothic king Theoderic, and
included logic, the arts of quadrivium and philosophy) and
an orthodox Christian, did as much as Augustine to transmit
a divine science, which was the prophetic revelation. He ac-
the heritage of Hellenic philosophy to the medieval West.
cepted the creatio ex nihilo, which he interpreted as an act
Aiming to provide Latin versions of the major works of Aris-
of God’s will, not as an emanation. God creates the first In-
totle and Plato, he succeeded, before his execution at the
telligence, from which the other are derived, as Neoplatonists
hands of Theodoric, in rendering certain of Aristotle’s logical
taught. The structure of his worldview was essentially that
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of later Neoplatonism, and his thought derived from John
Dillon, John. The Golden Chain. Studies in the Development of Pla-
Philoponus’s works and the Neoplatonic school in Athens.
tonism and Christianity. Aldershot, U.K., 1990.
This Arab philosophical enterprise was continued by
Dörrie, Heinrich. Platonica Minora. Munich, 1976.
al-Fa¯ra¯b¯ı (872–950), a great religious and mystical thinker.
Dörrie, Heinrich, and Matthias Baltes. Der Platonismus in der An-
He wrote a work to demonstrate the agreement of Plato and
tike. Stuttgart and Bad Cannstatt, 1987–2001.
Aristotle. In his opinion, wisdom began among the Chal-
Donini, Pier Luigi. Le scuole, l’anima, l’impero. La filosofia antica
daeans in Mesopotamia and then spread to Egypt and
da Antioco a Plotino. Turin, 1982.
Greece. According to his teaching, the cosmic Intelligences
Ferrari, Franco. Dio, idee e materia. La struttura del cosmo in Plu-
are derived from the One, but only through the first Intelli-
tarco di Cheronea. Naples, 1995.
gence, because ex Uno non fit nisi unum. The works of Ibn
Festugière André-Jean. La révélation d’Hermès Trismegiste. Paris,
S¯ına¯ (Avicenna, 980–1037), and al-Ghaza¯l¯ı (1058–1111)
1944–1953.
were also influenced by Neoplatonism.
Frede, Michael. “Numenius.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der
PLATONISM IN THE RENAISSANCE. It was not until the fif-
römischen Welt, Volume II, 36,1, edited by Hildegard Tem-
teenth century and the work of Nicholas of Cusa (1401–
porini and Wolfgang Haase, pp. 1034–1075. New York and
1464), Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), and others that Plato
Berlin, 1987.
himself, read through the eyes of his Neoplatonic interpret-
Gersh, Stephen. Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism: The Latin
ers, was rediscovered. Nicholas, in On Learned Ignorance,
Tradition, I–II. Notre Dame, Ind., 1986.
presents a view of the world that owes much to Proclus, as
Gersh, Stephen, and Charles Kannengiesser, eds., Platonism in
well as to certain Platonic dialogues. Ficino translated Plato
Late Antiquity. Notre Dame, Ind., 1992.
and Plotinus’s Enneads into Latin and made a start on Por-
Gioè, Adriano. Filosofi medioplatonici del II secolo d.C. Naples,
phyry and Iamblichus. Even Aristotle, in this new age, began
2002.
to be read as the ancient Neoplatonists had read him. Platon-
Glucker, John. Antiochus and the Late Academy. Göttingen, 1978.
ic writings and ideas accompanied the spread of Renaissance
Ivánka, Endre von. Plato Christianus. Einsiedeln, 1964.
humanism and went on to influence modern philosophy.
Jonas, Hans. The Gnostic Religion, Boston, 1958.
SEE ALSO Dualism; Fa¯ra¯b¯ı, al-; Gnosticism, article on
Klibansky, Raymond. The Continuity of the Platonic Tradition
Gnosticism from Its Origins to the Middle Ages; Hellenistic
during the Middle Ages. London, 1950; reprint, New York,
Religions; Hermetism; Neoplatonism; Plato; Socrates.
1982.
Krämer, Hans J., Der Ursprung der Geistmetaphysik. Amsterdam,
BIBLIOGRAPHY
1964.
Andresen, Carl. Logos und Nomos. Die Polemik des Kelsos wider das
Christentum. Berlin, 1955.
Lilla, Salvatore R.C., Clement of Alexandria. A Study in Christian
Platonism and Gnosticism. Oxford, 1971.
Armstrong, A. Hilary, ed. The Cambridge History of Later Greek
and Early Medieval Philosophy. Cambridge, 1967.
Moreschini, Claudio. Apuleio e il platonismo. Florence, 1978.
Armstrong, A. Hilary. “Dualism: Platonic, Gnostic and Chris-
Mansfeld, Jaap. Heresiography in Context. Hippolytus’ Elenchos as
tian.” In Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, edited by R.T. Wallis
a Source for Greek Philosophy. Leiden, New York, and Köln,
and J. Bregman, pp. 33–54. New York, 1992.
1992.
Baltes, Matthias. Die Weltentstehung des platonischen Timaios nach
Merlan, Philip. From Platonism to Neoplatonism. The Hague,
den antiken Interpreten, Leiden, 1976.
1968.
Baltes, Matthias. Dianoemata. Kleine Schriften zum Platon und
Prächter, Karl. Kleine Schriften. Hildesheim, 1973.
zum Platonismus. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1999.
Rist, John M. “Monism: Plotinus and Some Predecessors,” Har-
Baltes, Matthias. Marius Victorinus. Zur Philosophie in seinen
vard Studies in Classical Philology 70 (1965): 329-344.
Theologischen Schriften. Munich, 2002.
Runia, David T. Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato. Lei-
Barnes, Jonathan. “Antiochus of Ascalon.” In Philosophia Togata
den, 1986.
I. Essays on Philosophy and Roman Society, edited by Myriam
Tarrant, Harald. Scepticism or Platonism? The Philosophy of the
Griffin and Jonathan Barnes, pp. 51-96. Oxford, 1989.
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Bianchi, Ugo. Selected Essays on Gnosticism, Dualism and Misterio-
Theiler, Willy. Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur. Berlin,
sophy. Leiden, 1978.
1970.
Bianchi, Ugo. Il dualismo religioso. Saggio storico ed etnologico.
Rome, 1983.
Wallis, R.T., Neoplatonism, 2d ed. London, 1995.
Cherniss Harald. Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato and the Academy.
Whittaker, John. Studies in Platonism and Patristic Thought. Lon-
Baltimore, 1944.
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Corbin, Henri. Histoire de la philosophie islamique . . . avec la col-
Whittaker, John. “Platonic Philosophy in the Early Centuries of
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the Empire.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt
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gang Haase, pp. 81–123. New York and Berlin, 1987.
Dillon, John. The Middle Platonists. A Study of Platonism 80 BC
to AD 220. London, 1977.
CLAUDIO MORESCHINI (2005)
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PLAY
PLAY. The idea of play may be embedded in the very
the acts of creation, as in Hinduism. For since the idea of
metaphysics of certain cosmologies (Handelman and Shul-
play requires the existence of forms that can be differently
man 1997), as well as in particular ritual contexts. Although
modeled, how can this idea be present prior to the creation
the idea of play has widespread currency in religions with dif-
of form? Nonetheless, if the Hindu cosmos comes into being
fering epistemologies, the profundity of its presence corre-
as the adumbrated dream of the all-encompassing universal
sponds to the level of premises at which it is lodged in a given
principle, brahman, then this attribute of play is not obviat-
religious system. The more abstract and encompassing the
ed, since original form itself is imaginary and illusory.
premises of a religion imbued with the ideation of play, the
A fourth attribute of play is that it brings into being
more pervasive and fateful are its systematic expressions in
something that had not existed before by changing the shape
religious life.
and positioning of boundaries that categorize phenomena
ATTRIBUTES OF THE IDEA OF PLAY. The idea of play is uni-
and so altering their meaning. One may state simply that cre-
versal among humankind, whether or not particular cultures
ation, destruction, and recreation occur and recur because
have terms to denote such a conception. A first attribute of
those boundaries that demarcate the coherency of phenome-
play is that its assumptions are preeminently conditional, for
na are altered. Therefore play is associated intimately with
play is a medium through which the make-believe is brought
creativity and with creation, as Johan Huizinga (1938) and
into being and acquires the status of a reality.
Arthur Koestler (1964) have maintained, as well as with its
Especially human is the capacity to imagine and, so, to
converse, destruction. In the most limited case of creation,
create alternative realities. In question, however, are the truth
that of the inversion of a phenomenally valid form, it is only
values of such realities, that is, the extent to which, and under
the reflection of such form, still constrained by the original
which conditions, they are accorded validity. In the logic of
positioning of boundaries, that is brought into being. For ex-
modern Western culture, the imaginary is not accorded any
ample, the inversion of gender is constrained by finite per-
ultimate status of validity or truth. Gregory Bateson (1972)
mutations, as is the overturning of a clearly defined hierar-
has argued that the messages that signify the existence of play
chy, as long as gender and hierarchy remain the respective
are “untrue” in a sense, and that the reality that such mes-
terms of reference of these inversions. On the other hand,
sages denote is nonexistent. This, of course, holds in a culture
cosmologies that strongly feature trickster figures also tend
whose religious cosmology is predicated in part upon a com-
to be characterized by lengthier series of transformations of
paratively immutable boundary between the divine and the
these types, so that it becomes difficult to state which form
human, with the former accorded the status of absolute
is the original and which the playful copy.
truth, while the latter is perceived in no small measure as sin-
A fifth attribute of play is that it is an amoral medium,
ful and as a profanation of the former. Given its imaginary
one that is marked by plasticity, by lability, and by flexibility
character, the idea of play in much of modern Western
in ideation—qualities closely related to those of imagination
thought often is rendered as pretense and is relegated to the
and creativity. In play, these qualities have the potential to
domain of the culturally “unserious,” like the world of fiction
meddle with and to disturb any form of stability and any
and that of leisure time activities, or to the realm of the “not
conception of order.
yet fully human,” like the play of little children. Yet to equate
the imaginary universally with the frivolous is to render the
A sixth attribute of play is a penchant for questioning
essential powers of play impotent and to obscure their roles
the phenomenal stability of any form that purports to exist
in religious thought and action, especially in cosmologies
as a valid proposition and as a representation of “truth.” The
where a state of existence is also a condition of untruth.
idea of play is amoral in its capacities to subvert the bounda-
ries of any and all phenomena and so to rock the foundations
A second attribute of play is the necessity of a form of
of a given reality.
reference that can be altered in systematic ways. Play changes
the known signs of form into something else by altering the
Whether, and to what degree, these qualities of play are
reified boundaries that define and characterize the phenome-
integral to the metaphysics of a given religious system should
non. What is changed still retains crucial similarities to its
illustrate how that system works. For example, whether the
form of foundation and so remains intimately related to it.
boundaries that divide the paranatural and human realms are
For example, the medieval European Feast of Fools, a rite of
quite absolute or are matters of continuous gradation and
inversion, required the form of a traditional Christian Mass
whether the character of a cosmology’s population (deities,
that could be altered. The play-mass would have no signifi-
spirits, demons, tricksters, and so forth) is one of positional
cance for participants were it not derived from and contrast-
stability or of ongoing transformation should be illuminated
ed with its everyday analogue, the traditional Mass.
by the relative presence of the attributes of play in a particu-
lar religious system.
A third attribute of play is that any phenomenal form
can be transformed through a sense of imagination that itself
THE IDEA OF PLAY AND PREMISES OF COSMOLOGY. The
remains constrained to a degree by the composition of the
embeddedness of the idea of play does not appear to be asso-
“original” form. This attribute may be problematic for ontol-
ciated, in particular, either with great religious traditions or
ogies that strongly implicate the active presence of play in
with local ones, either with so-called tribal societies or with
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7195
more complex ones. Hence the examples adduced here are
ed through the use of ma¯ya¯, commonly translated as the force
of a tribal people and of Hinduism.
of illusion, that is, as another aspect of the idea of play as it
is used here. All phenomena rest and shift on the premise of
The Iatmul of the Sepik River area in New Guinea are
illusion. Their most abstract of purposes is to cease to exist
a tribal people whose culture values monistic and yet dualis-
as phenomena.
tic conceptions of the cosmos. Both coexist, each continu-
ously transforming into the other. For the monism of the Iat-
Among the products of ma¯ya¯ is the cosmos that gods
mul view of cosmic order fragments into a multitude of
and humans inhabit. This can be rendered as sam:sa¯ra, a gloss
competing principles that explain that order. In turn, these
for all phenomena that exist in the cosmos. Sam:sa¯ra, too, is
recombine into an elementary synthesis, only to multiply
understood as flux, as the processual flow that shapes all
once again and to flow together once more.
forms, and not as phenomena whose reification is absolute
in any sense. Sam:sa¯ra is also related to the idea of play and
Thus the character of the Iatmul cosmos is one of imma-
refers to the cycle of birth and rebirth of all beings. One can
nent transmutability, of plays upon phenomenal form. This
attain salvation, and so escape sam:sa¯ra, only by dissipating
reverberates throughout the institutions of Iatmul society
the forces of illusion that render deep flux as superficial form.
and parallels a conduciveness to paradox in Iatmul thought.
For gods and humans, for renouncers and antigods, aspects
This proclivity of paradox highlights ongoing disjunctions
of the ideation of play are both their confinement, through
among phenomenal forms. Therefore strong tendencies to-
illusion, in the bounded phenomenal trap and their escape
ward fragmentation lurk within numerous cultural traditions
from it through the dissolution of fixed forms. As named be-
that declare the validity of a coherent synthesis of differing
ings, deities are not ultimate forms in and of themselves.
principles in Iatmul society. Thus Iatmul men, in the heat
Rather they are signposts on the way to salvation, just as
of argument, were to display their most sacred ceremonial
other figures point in contrary directions. Without begin-
objects before the profaning gaze of women and uninitiated
ning to overcome the forces of illusion, thereby gaining in-
boys, thereby completely destroying for years to come the rit-
sight into both creation and destruction, one is caught end-
ual efficacy of these collective representations. Superficially
lessly in the paradoxes of a world that appears stable but is
this behavior could appear simply as uncontrolled and de-
in flux. Yet perceptions that are paradoxical on one level of
structive. Yet further consideration would reveal that such
abstraction become merely ironical on a higher one.
behavior was quite consistent with those premises of an Iat-
mul worldview that denied to boundaries a fixedness of form
The logic of these ideas permeates numerous aspects of
for lengthy durations.
Hindu cosmology. Ideally, the creative role of the sam:nya¯sin,
the renouncer, which is dedicated to the penetration of illu-
In such cosmologies, as of course in others, boundaries
sion, is also built into the Hindu life cycle as the final stage
of form are brought into being through change. Yet in such
of living in this reality. Therefore, in a theoretical sense, the
cosmologies both phenomenal form and the agencies of
desirability of piercing the force of illusion that makes the
change are, in a sense, illusory: though they persuade that the
world possible is integral to living in that world.
solidity of reification is their state, this masks the more pro-
found observation that impermanence is their condition.
Like humans, Hindu gods and antigods are not con-
Here play, as illusion in action, is crucial. The ideation of
structed culturally as unitary and homogeneous figures. In-
play is processual: it can bring into being forms that signify
stead they are self-transforming types whose logic of compo-
the existence of the cosmos. Yet these forms themselves must
sition depends on the alteration of hierarchical and lateral
be transcended through their own negation in order to reveal
boundaries within and around themselves. In their transfor-
those deeper truths that are masked by the very force of illu-
mations these figures bear witness to the ultimate imperma-
sion. Therefore the processuality of play, of imagination, also
nence of illusion and also to the necessity of this force upon
effaces its own creation.
which they, like humankind, depend for existence. The only
final stability in the Hindu cosmos is that of motility; the
Aspects of Hindu cosmology exemplify this abstract
only final coherence in classification is its mutation.
sense of play as cosmic process. The Hindu concept of l¯ıla
commonly is translated as the “play” of forces and energies
Such paranatural types, like other facets of Hinduism,
that are continually in motion. These spontaneously create
often seem paradoxical to Western thinking, in which stabili-
and destroy the possibility of a phenomenal world in an un-
ty is believed to be truly real and flux is both a secondary and
ending process. L¯ıla, as play, is a metaphor of flux, of move-
a deficient reality. In the South Indian S´aiva Tamil tradition,
ment, from which the cosmos emerges and into which it will
for example, S´iva is composed as a self-transforming figure.
eventually disappear. Any reification of form, implying in-
He is creator, protector, and destroyer. He is, in Wendy
herent solidity and stability, denies this basic premise. Yet the
O’Flaherty’s felicitous phrasing, the erotic ascetic. He tran-
premise itself cannot be realized without the creation of
scends and contains the cosmos, yet also appears within it
form, which is then the opposite of nonform, of flux. Mo-
through synecdoche, the relationship of part to whole. He
mentarily (in cosmic terms) the premise of l¯ıla¯ must create
is trickster and tricked. He creates the antigods, the asuras,
phenomena in order to revalidate itself by then subverting
and, by the terms of their compact, is helpless before them
and destroying them. The creation of phenomena is activat-
as they wreak havoc. But he also transcends himself in creat-
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PLAY
ing his son, Murukan, who destroys the antigods. There are
cense and the erasure of social boundaries prepare the way
hints that Murukan at once is greater than S´iva, is S´iva, and
for the ascetic restrictions of the days of Lent. In either in-
is reabsorbed into S´iva. In this example the power of imagi-
stance the ideation of play is crucial to establish a compara-
nation, intimately associated with illusion, has the capacity
tive degree of social homogeneity among participants, per-
to expand upon, to extend, and to transform phenomenal re-
mitting them to receive and to experience the power of sacra,
ality beyond those boundaries that previously had contained
individually and collectively. During carnivalesque occasions
it in an ongoing play of generative forces. This potential is
the indeterminacy of play serves as a mediating prelude to
actualized since reality and the fixedness that gives it defini-
the transcendence of a social collective, preparing it to be re-
tion are illusory.
cast as a religious community.
Like the permutations of malleability in Iatmul cosmol-
Still, the heyday of the European Carnival was during
ogy, that of Hinduism, although operating in terms of a radi-
the medieval period, when the metaphysics of Christianity
cally different epistemology, emphasizes the fragmentation
may have been quite different from their present-day coun-
of unitary principles that flow together in synthesis only to
terparts. Then, the boundaries between the divine and the
divide once again. In both of these cosmologies the idea of
human were more mutable and interpenetrable, and the
play would seem to inhere in their abstract conceptualiza-
themes of the effervescent grotesque, itself a likely product
tions of phenomenal reality that, on the one hand, perch and
of the mingling of domains, were pervasive. This more trans-
teeter precariously on the border between cosmos and chaos
formative cosmology was more similar in certain general re-
and, on the other, conceive of processuality as a condition
spects to that of Hinduism than to its modern offsprings.
of existence.
And it is this kind of cosmology that encourages the genre
of the religious festival. Here the playful celebration of the
PREMISES OF PLAY IN RITUAL OCCASIONS. As the focus of
dissolution of boundaries creates the grounds for their recon-
play shifts to the positioning of this idea in religious or quasi-
stitution with renewed vigor.
religious occasions, it becomes more constricted, since its
The idea of play within ritual occasions, the boundaries
presence threatens the validity and the stability of the occa-
of which are strongly and unequivocally reified, has a much
sion in which it is located. Nonetheless the idea of play does
narrower scope. Such occasions, unlike numerous festivals,
accomplish certain kinds of work in particular ritual con-
tend to be organized as a clear-cut sequence of phases that
texts.
follow one another in cumulative progression. Hierarchy is
Within ritual contexts the notion of play has perhaps
prominent; there are social distinctions among those who
the most embracing mandate in that category of occasion
take part and between participants and others. Order is prev-
termed festival. As the etymology of the English word de-
alent throughout, as is the measured progression to messages
notes, a festival is an occasion of celebration, of joyous atti-
of the sacred. Where play is present, it rarely questions either
tudes, and of rejoicing, marked by moods of cheer. In Euro-
the external boundaries that circumscribe the occasion or its
pean tradition it has affinities with the carnivalesque and
internal distinctions. Instead, the mutability of play is bent
with certain liturgical periods in the Christian calendar. In
to more specific purposes.
the Hindu tradition it encompasses annual occasions that
Across cultures the most characteristic of these opera-
celebrate the powers of particular deities, and such times
tions is found in inversions that are featured in the common-
often are indistinguishable from pilgrimages to the deities in
ly termed “rituals of reversal.” These are not usually rituals
this culture.
in their own right but more often occur in a particular phase
in a ritual sequence. Inversions are marked frequently by the
Of especial significance here is that festival approxi-
mockery, the mimicry, and the ridiculing of one category of
mates a total collective performance, one that celebrates a ho-
person or theme by another, or of a category in relation to
listic unity of cosmic and social order on the part of a rela-
itself. This tends to occur in a spirit of play, that is, through
tively homogenized population of participants. This implies
the subversion of one form and its substitution by another.
that many of the distinctions between social categories of
Here the validity of existing social categories or roles is not
persons—whether based on hierarchy, status, occupation, or
questioned. These remain the same; only their valences
age—may be temporarily subverted and dissolved in a play-
change, so that access to them is temporarily altered. More-
ful spirit. Thus people, ordinarily separated by moral edicts
over, the inversion of form often seems to carry connotations
and social rules, are brought together to experience the redis-
of an unnatural condition so that the morally correct version
covery of the significance of sacra that apply to all of them
of form lies in the converse of what is inverted. Therefore,
as a comparatively undifferentiated community of believers.
inversions revert to the foundation-for-form, from which the
In part this may be done through inversions of social
inverted image was derived. Furthermore, an inverted form
identity that reverse the relationships among everyday social
remains a refraction of its usual image, and this suggests that
distinctions, so that the high are made low and more periph-
inversion maintains the very domain of discourse that is de-
eral positions become more central. This is the case in the
fined initially by the original form. This effectively restricts
North Indian holiday Krsnalila, or Feast of Love. Or, as in
the transformative force of play and strictly limits the possi-
the European tradition of Carnival, the spirit of festive li-
ble permutations of its plays-upon-form.
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Nonetheless such constricted mutability may perform
mons are proved to be laughable savages who are ignorant
significant work within ritual occasions. In the Booger
of the very rudiments of correct human action, etiquette, and
Dance of the Cherokee Indians of the southeastern United
morality. The assertions of demonic reality are dissolved
States, as this was practiced during the first decades of this
through play, and the demons are ejected from the human
century, an alternative reality that was experienced as threat-
realm to reassume their inferior cosmological position. These
ening by the community of believers was proposed in play
tests of the validity of demonic reality, through the medium
and destroyed through it. The Booger Dance itself was pre-
of play, prepare the grounds for the revelation of the reemer-
ceded and succeeded by dances associated with the dead and
gence of correct cosmic order and free the possessed from the
the defunct. The Cherokee who were disguised as Boogers
demonic grip.
inverted their everyday identities and took on those of
This brief survey of certain of the relationships among
strangers with obscene names, exaggerated features, and
the idea of play and aspects of the organization of religion
strange speech. They burst noisily into the dwelling where
and ritual leads to a final point that is of widespread concern
the ritual-dance series was performed. Their behavior was ag-
to religious experience. The presence of play induces and en-
gressive and boisterous, and they were perceived as malignant
courages reflection on the part of believers upon the elemen-
and menacing creatures. As each Booger danced he was
tary premises of their religious systems. Playing with bounda-
mocked, mimicked, and laughed at by the onlookers. Fur-
ries and therefore with the coherency and verity of ideation
thermore by their moral demeanor the onlookers quieted
and form emphasizes that every taken-for-granted proposi-
and tamed the Boogers and eventually ejected them from the
tion also contains its own potential negation. In turn, the ex-
ritual space. Outside, they unmasked, and then, as Cherokee,
perience of such challenges deepens and strengthens belief in
they rejoined the others in further ritual dances.
the truths of cosmology and ritual once their validity is rees-
The Boogers, familiar men inverted as fearsome strang-
tablished.
ers, represented all that was frightful and evil beyond the
SEE ALSO Carnival; Chaos; Cosmology, overview article;
boundaries of the moral community. Their intrusion under-
Games; L¯ıla¯; Ma¯ya¯; Performance and Ritual; Tricksters.
lined and reinforced these boundaries rather than threaten-
ing them. By their mockery and laughter, members of the
moral community queried the valid presence of these charac-
BIBLIOGRAPHY
ters within the community, expelled these symbols of evil
The classic work on the role of play in the evolution of society re-
mains that of Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: Versuch einer
from within, and so reasserted the correctness of the moral
Bestimmung des Spielelements der Kultur (Haarlem, 1938),
and social orders. In this example the alternative order pro-
translated by R. F. C. Hull as Homo Ludens: A Study of the
posed by the Boogers does not appear to have been enter-
Play-Element in Culture (London, 1949). The most compre-
tained seriously by the other participants. The reality of the
hensive study of the role of play in modern philosophies is
Boogers was inauthentic from the outset, and therefore the
that of Mihai I. Spariosu, Dionysus Reborn: Play and the Aes-
make-believe of play was contrasted throughout with the ver-
thetic Dimension in Modern Philosophical and Scientific Dis-
ities of ritual, reaffirming them.
course (Ithaca, 1989). Don Handelman and David Shulman,
in God Inside Out: Siva’s Game of Dice (New York, 1997)
In other orchestrations of ritual occasions, play is used
offer a radical perspective on the formative role of play in the
to falsify alternative realities that are proposed as authentic
constitution of Saiva cosmology. That play is integral to cre-
and that deny sacred verities. In the following example, of
ativity is explored by, among others, Arthur Koestler in his
Sinhala Buddhist exorcisms on the southern coast of Sri
The Act of Creation (London, 1964). Susanne Langer, in
Lanka, the alternative reality is adumbrated in seriousness
“The Great Dramatic Forms: The Comic Rhythm,” includ-
and falsified through play. This permits the correct order to
ed in her Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art (New York,
1953), argues for an intimate association of the spirit of com-
reemerge with a sense of revelation and in sharp contradis-
edy with that of life-renewing forces. In a contrasting vein,
tinction to the illusory character of play. In the Sinhala cos-
Henri Bergson’s Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the
mology demons are inferior to humankind, as is humankind
Comic (New York, 1912), translated by Cloudesly Brereton
to deities and to the Buddha. A person possessed by a demon
and Fred Rothwell from three articles of Bergson’s that ap-
is understood to invert the hierarchical superiority of the
peared in Revue de Paris, persuades that the comic exposes
human in relation to the demonic: the possessed is thought
the disjunction between the presumptions of rigidity of form
to perceive reality as one dominated by demons and not by
and the vitality of human spirit. His work is best read in con-
deities. The problem of the exorcists is to destroy the super-
junction with a more semiological approach, like that of
ordinate demonic reality of the possessed and to reestablish
G. B. Milner, who, in “Homo Ridens: Towards a Semiotic
the moral superiority of deities and humans. To accomplish
Theory of Humour and Laughter,” Semiotica 5 (1972):
1–30, discusses the shift to the ideation of play as a change
this, exorcists first reify the validity of a superior demonic re-
in paradigm. Gilles Deleuze’s Logique du Sens (Paris, 1969),
ality. The demons then appear in the human realm, confi-
translated by Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, as The Logic
dent of their superiority there. However their assertion of au-
of Sense (New York, 1990), begins with an extended analysis
thentic ascendancy is subverted and destroyed through
of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and seeks the shifting
comic episodes that show this status to be illusory. The de-
locations where sense and nonsense collide. The seminal
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PLOTINUS
essay on the paradoxical character of such a cognitive shift,
Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy
at least in Western thought, is Gregory Bateson’s “A Theory
(Cambridge, Mass., 1969); and Josef Pieper maintains that
of Play and Fantasy,” in his Steps to an Ecology of Mind (New
festivity without religious celebration is artifice, in his In
York, 1972). Mary Douglas, in “The Social Control of Cog-
Tune with the World (1965; Chicago, 1973). Brenda Danet
nition: Some Factors in Joke Perception,” Man: The Journal
has done pioneering work on playfulness in internet commu-
of the Royal Anthropological Institute, n. s. 3 (September
nication in Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online (Oxford,
1968): 361–376, brings to the fore the plasticity of indeter-
2001).
minacy that the ideation of play introduces into social reality.
DON HANDELMAN (1987 AND 2005)
The most comprehensive cross-cultural overview of theories
of play, among both children and adults, is Helen B. Sch-
wartzman’s Transformations: The Anthropology of Children’s
Play
(New York, 1978). This volume contains an excellent
PLOTINUS (205–270), founder of Neoplatonism. The
bibliography. Game, Play, Literature, Yale French Studies,
no. 41 (New Haven, 1968), a special issue edited by Jacques
Life of Plotinus, philosopher and mystic, was written by his
Ehrmann, contains provocative studies on the assumptions
pupil, Porphyry, who edited his master’s lectures into six
of playful ideation. Brian Sutton-Smith, in his The Ambigu-
groups of nine treatises (Enneads). Completed in 309, the
ity of Play (Cambridge, Mass., 1997), uses an original and in-
work comprises ethics, physics, the human and world souls,
sightful approach in discussing theories of play in terms of
the Three Principal Hypostases (the One, the Nous, the
the different varieties of rhetoric through which these theo-
Soul), and logical categories.
ries are constituted. An explicit comparison of the idea of
play with that of ritual is my “Play and Ritual: Complemen-
Plotinus was born in Lycopolis, now Asyut, in Upper
tary Frames of Meta-Communication”; in It’s a Funny
Egypt. He studied in from 232 to 243 under Ammonius in
Thing, Humour (Oxford, 1977), edited by Anthony J. Chap-
Alexandria where a revival of interest in metaphysics and
man and Hugh C. Foot. My, Models and Mirrors: Towards
human non-bodily destiny had been influenced by Philo, the
an Anthropology of Public Events (New York, 1998, 2d ed.),
Middle Platonists, and the Neo-Pythagoreans in contrast to
discusses the constituting roles of play in a variety of rituals
stoicism, epicureanism, and skepticism. Longing to study
and proto-rituals. Galina Lindquist discusses the role of play
Persian and Indian thought, Plotinus joined an expedition
in neo-shamanic ritual in, Shamanic Performances on the
of the Emperor Gordian against Persia. When the emperor
Urban Scene: Neo-Shamanism in Contemporary Sweden
was assassinated by his soldiers, Plotinus escaped to Antioch,
(Stockholm, 1997). A diverse collection on the relationships
then to Rome, where in 244 he began to teach what he
between religion and playful ideation is Holy Laughter (New
learned from Ammonius. After ten years he was urged by stu-
York, 1969), edited by M. Conrad Hyers. His Zen and the
Comic Spirit
(London, 1974) is an in-depth study of such re-
dents to write the treatises that have come down to the pres-
lationships in one Eastern religious tradition. Useful general
ent. They are responses to students’ questions and to teach-
considerations of festival are found in Roger Caillois’s Man
ings of Plato, Aristotle, their commentators, the Middle
and the Sacred (Glencoe, Ill., 1959), pp. 97–127, and in
Platonists, Stoics, Epicureans, and Gnostics. Although he
René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred (Baltimore, 1977). An
claimed to be merely an interpreter of Plato, the need to re-
insightful and varied collection on the relationships of play
spond to the objections of non-Platonic philosophers, and
to power is the special issue of Focaal: European Journal of
his openness to whatever truth he found in their philosophy
Anthropology 37 (2001): 7–156, entitled Playful Power and
resulted in Plotinianism, called Neoplatonism in the modern
Ludic Spaces: Studies in Games of Life, edited by Galina Lind-
period. Some main students were Amelius, Porphyry, the
quist and Don Handelman. The most intensive, subtle, and
Emperor Gallienus, his wife, and Eustochious, a physician
nuanced study of socialization through play in a non-
Western culture is that of Jean Briggs, Inuit Morality Play:
who was with him when he died and who reported his last
The Emotional Education of a Three-Year-Old (New Haven,
words: “I am trying to bring back the divine in myself to the
Conn., 1998). The North Indian Kr:s:n:a L¯ıla is described
divine in the All.”
most evocatively by McKim Marriott in “The Feast of Love,”
Convinced of transcendent truth in Platonic Forms,
in Krishna: Myths, Rites and Attitudes (Honolulu, 1966), ed-
Plotinus nevertheless agreed with Aristotle on the priority of
ited by Milton Singer. Medieval European worldview and
thinking to the Forms, as well as with the Middle Platonic
the tradition of Carnival is discussed with imagination and
insight, if with a modicum of exaggeration, in Mikhail Bakh-
position that Forms are Ideas within the Divine Mind, ad-
tin’s Rabelais and His World (Cambridge, Mass., 1968). Iat-
ding his own conviction that Forms are living intelligences.
mul cosmology is analyzed by Gregory Bateson in Naven, 2d
Opposing Aristotle, he insisted that complexity of thinking
ed. (Stanford, Calif., 1958). The Booger Dance of the Cher-
must be preceded by a One, totally simple. Unity is needed
okee is described by Frank G. Speck and Leonard Broom,
for anything to exist, and the degrees of unity establish a hier-
with the assistance of Will West Long, in Cherokee Dance and
archy of ontological value. Influenced by Numenius, Ploti-
Drama (Berkeley, Calif., 1951). The elements of play in Sin-
nus departed from Plato’s oral teaching on the forms arising
hala exorcism are analyzed richly by Bruce Kapferer in A Cel-
from unity imposed on the Indefinite Dyad and adopted a
ebration of Demons: Exorcism and the Aesthetics of Healing in
radical metaphysical Monism.
Sri Lanka (Bloomington, Ind., 1983). Among modern
Christian theologians, Harvey Cox argues for the value to
The Plotinian First Principle, called the One or the
Christianity of a renewed interest in the spirit of play, in The
Good, wills itself to be as it is. Thus it is from itself, and its
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goodness diffuses itself. Everything is a natural overflow from
the source of negative theology and mystical theology, which
the One. The One is “all things and none of them” (V.2.1).
through the works of the fifth century theologian Dionysius
Plotinus does not assume the existence of the One but argues
the Areopagite, influenced Thomas Aquinas and the Rhine-
for it.
land mystics, Eckhart, Suso, and Tauler. Direct knowledge
of the Enneads in the modern world came through the Latin
From the One, actively self-contemplating, proceeds in-
translations of Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499). By its refusal
telligible matter; converting and contemplating the One it
to confuse myths and rituals with religious philosophy, the
becomes Nous, the Primal Intellect, and produces Essential
work of Plotinus led intellectual Christians to recognize how
Soul. According to its capacity this Hypostasis, Soul, con-
far reason could go toward establishing divinely revealed
templates the Forms, and there proceeds World Soul or Na-
truths, as well as how limited reason is with respect to a his-
ture from which proceeds the most limited and faintest trace
torically revealed and achieved salvation that requires faith
of the One, namely, matter. Unable to contemplate, matter
in addition to reason.
is given forms by World Soul, and the physical world comes
to be. Here Plotinus makes use of Aristotle’s matter-form
SEE ALSO Neoplatonism.
theory but only for sub-human things. The existence of the
Three Principal Hypostases in the Intelligible World is
BIBLIOGRAPHY
eternal.
Armstrong, A. Hilary, and Robert A. Markus. Christian Faith and
Greek Philosophy. London, 1960. The tension and interplay
Whence human souls? They come from Essential Soul.
of revealed doctrine and philosophical ideas, a dialogue that
Their individual archetypes are forms within Nous
continues.
(V.9.12).The individual soul’s descent into its body is both
Armstrong, A. Hilary, ed. The Cambridge History of Later Greek
a fall and a necessity for carrying the governance of Essential
and Early Medieval Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K., 1957,
Soul in parts of the world. But the soul does not wholly de-
1970.
scend. Its intuitive intellect, its true self, aspiring for union
Blumenthal, Henry J., and Robert A. Markus, eds. Neoplatonism
with the One, remains in the intelligible world. It may be-
and Early Christian Thought: Essays in Honor of A. H. Arm-
come satisfied with living on its two earthly levels, discursive
strong. London, 1981. Emphasis on Plotinus’s dialogue with
reason and perception, by over-occupation with the sensible
his contemporaries, the Neoplatonic background of Augus-
world. The soul is a continuum of levels, the undescended
tine, and the encounter between later Neoplatonism and the
Intellect intuiting the One the reason deliberating on earthly
Christian tradition.
affairs, the perception of sense objects, the vegetative soul
Dodds, E. R. Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety. Cam-
managing bodily appetites and emotions. The human soul
bridge, 1965. Two different responses to the breakdown of
can live on any level. Plotinus urges a return to one’s true
classical culture and imperial government.
self by philosophical reflection, discipline, and a moral life
Gersh, S. Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism: The Latin Tradi-
leading to contemplation of one’s transcendent Source, the
tion. 2 vols. Notre Dame, 1986.
One (V.3.3; VI.7.36). Living on this level means no return
Hadot, Pierre. Porphyre et Victorinus. Paris, 1970.
to an earthly body after death.
Harris, R. Baine, ed. The Significance of Neoplatonism. Albany,
Contemplation, as productive, is the linchpin of the In-
N.Y., 1976.
telligible World and of the sensible world, as well as of the
Harris, R. Baine, ed. Neoplatonism and Indian Thought. Albany,
return of the human soul to its true undescended self. This
N.Y., 1982.
is made explicit in Ennead III.8.8.
Lloyd, A. C. The Anatomy of Neoplatonism. Oxford, 1990.
Plotinus’s views on the human body were influenced by
O’Meara, Dominic J., ed. Neoplatonism and Christian Thought.
Norfold, Va., 1981.
Plato’s Phaedo and Timaeus. Against the Gnostics (possible
Sethians), he affirms the material world’s goodness and beau-
Smith, A. Porphyry’s Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition. The
ty (Enn. II.9.8); yet he calls matter Absolute Evil (I.8.10)
Hague, 1974.
only because it lacks all form (Timaeus 48e–52d). But never
Wallis, Richard T. Neoplatonism. London, 1972. Discusses the in-
existing alone, matter somehow is involved in physical evils
terrelationships of all the Neoplatonic schools of thought.
and immoral human actions.
Wallis, Richard T., and J. Bergman, eds. Neoplatonism and Gnosti-
cism. Albany, N.Y., 1982.
The Plotinian system is derived from the Classical Tra-
Whittaker, Thomas. The Neo-Platonists: A Study in the History of
dition, human reasoning, and everyday experience, not ex-
Hellenism. 4th ed. Hildesheim, 1928, 1968. Before Wallis’s
cluding religious experience. Through the Cappadocian fa-
book, this was the only survey of Neoplatonism.
thers by way of the translations and writings of John Scottus
Eriugena, Plotinus reached the medieval West. Augustine,
MARY T. CLARK (1987 AND 2005)
freed from Manichaeism by reading treatises of Plotinus and
Porphyry, also transmitted Plotinian concepts to Western
philosophical theory. As founder of Neoplatonism, devel-
PLUTARCH (L. Mestrios Ploutarchos, before 50–after
oped by Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus, Plotinus became
120 CE) was born at Chaironeia near Thebes. He spent much
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PLUTARCH
time at Athens but in later life seems to have resided mostly
the blessed vision. Plutarch is a firm believer in divine provi-
at Chaironeia and at Delphi, where he held a priesthood. He
dence and the basic goodness of the divine order, but he al-
was a good friend of many eminent Greeks and Romans and
lows punishment for the sins of ancestors to be inflicted on
accordingly had considerable political influence, advocating
their descendants (The Delay of Divine Vengeance).
a partnership between Rome (the power) and Greece (the ed-
Emphasis on Plutarch’s demonology (better “dai-
ucator). Late authorities report that he received high distinc-
monology”) has been much exaggerated. His writings reflect
tions from the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. The extant
the vast range of meaning carried by the words daimon, dai-
work of Plutarch, an extremely prolific writer, surpasses that
mones, or daimonion (i.e., spirit, demon, lesser god, a god,
of almost every classical author up to his time, while many
the divinity, God) in Greek. His interest, however, may indi-
nonauthentic works have survived under his name. The Par-
cate the growing influence of Near Eastern and perhaps even
allel Lives, written in an idealistic but critical style, represents
New Testament–type demonology. In The Obsolescence of the
a vast and masterly achievement that has had enormous in-
Oracles and the Lives of Dion and Brutus, Plutarch introduces
fluence. Modern scholarship has also concentrated on his
daimones similar to New Testament demons but without
Moralia, treating Plutarch seriously as a creative thinker and
seeming to be aware of possession and exorcism.
writer whose views deserve respect and study.
Dualism. Scholars are divided over dualism in Plutarch.
LIFE, WORKS, AND RELIGIOUS OUTLOOK. Plutarch wrote
In The Generation of the Soul in the Timaios, Plutarch posits
on religious, ethical, philosophical, rhetorical, and antiquari-
a “world soul,” which existed in a precosmic state as a source
an subjects called Moralia or Moral Essays (Ethika in Greek),
of cosmic evil before this soul obtained an intellect (Logos).
but he is most famous for his Parallel Lives of the Greeks and
Elsewhere he suggests that Zoroastrian dualism may be re-
Romans. As a youth he studied Platonism at Athens under
sponsible for the doctrine of daimones (415D), and he dis-
an Alexandrian named Ammonios, and Plutarch’s own
courses on the struggle between good and evil forces in Zoro-
works in general belong to philosophical and religious
astrianism—for example, as a tentative explanation for the
Platonism.
battle between Osiris and Seth in Egyptian myth (Isis and
Plutarch traveled to Egypt, Asia Minor, and Rome (sev-
Osiris 369D–370C). But dualism in the strict sense (a world
eral times), but his religious knowledge and interpretations
equally balanced between good and evil—that is, between
usually depend on standard works, such as those of the early
equal spiritual beings, one good, one evil) is rarely in ques-
Hellenistic authors Manethon and Hekataios of Abdera
tion and certainly inconsistent with his belief in a benevolent
(Egyptian religion) and Varro (late Roman Republic). Plu-
and providential God ruling a basically good world.
tarch’s veiled criticism of imperial cult may reflect a distaste
Eschatological myths. Some of Plutarch’s afterlife
for the Roman emperors Nero and in particular Domitian.
myths (found in The Sign of Socrates, The Face on the Moon,
As a priest at Delphi and a devout believer in the “ancestral
and The Delay of the Divine Vengeance), while modeled on
faith,” Plutarch played a notable part in the revival of the
those of Plato, are more focused on the personal experience
shrine. This interest and his own role is reflected in his Pythi-
of the visionary, and a “blessed vision” seems more clearly
an Dialogues (The E at Delphi, The Oracles at Delphi, and The
to be the ultimate destiny of the soul. Horrors are more indi-
Obsolescence of the Oracles), in the first of which he prefers
vidually described and gripping, and at least at the end of The
Apollo(n) as the name to designate God.
Divine Vengeance, where Nero appears, one finds an out-
standing contemporary figure undergoing punishment. This
Walter Burkert has noted in “Plutarco: Religiosità per-
is an exception but foreshadows Dante Alighieri’s Inferno
sonale e teologia filosofica” (1996) the personal and optimis-
(fourteenth century). Moreover in some myths the moon be-
tic dimension of Plutarch’s attitude toward religion. In two
comes a place of transition for the souls, and in general the
essays, probably early, On the Eating of Flesh I and II, Plu-
daimones (generally treated as former or potential human
tarch attacked the killing of animals for food, but elsewhere
souls) have a much more important role than in Plato. In
he treats religious festivities, which included sacrifice, as joy-
contrast to the pessimistic myth of eternal rebirth in Plato’s
ous occasions. He believed in prophecy and, following the
Republic or the more optimistic version of recycling souls in
Platonic tradition, speaks of its transmission through inter-
the Timaios, Plutarch seems to envisage release and a blessed
mediate spirits (daimones), especially in The Sign [Daimon-
vision as the normal process for truly virtuous souls, though
ion] of Socrates. However, in general Plutarch treats daimones
these are few in number.
as former or potential human souls. Though drawing inspi-
ration from Plato’s afterlife myths and the Timaios, Plutarch
Religious Platonism. Plutarch avoided more extreme
speaks in The Face on the Moon of a “second death,” the sepa-
positions, such as a first, second, or even third God (the
ration of intellect (nous) from soul (psyche), on the moon.
world) or a God above being and knowledge. He identifies
In his eschatological scenes and comments, he proposes that
God with the highest Platonic entities—Being, One, the
virtuous souls, apparently limited in number, after passing
Form of the Good, Intellect—even though this is usually
through the state of daimones and undergoing purification,
stated only indirectly. One of Plutarch’s most important
become gods—that is, pure immortal intellects without pas-
contributions is his literal interpretation of the Demiurge
sions or attachment to this world—and are rewarded with
(craftsman, creator God) in Plato’s Timaios. Another is his
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Middle Platonic allegorical interpretation of “Egyptian” reli-
with respect. He presumes there is a reasonable or edifying
gion (Isis and Osiris). His intention probably was to domesti-
rationale for something, even if strange. Plutarch had an out-
cate and neutralize the Isis religion through Platonic exegesis.
standing knowledge of Greek and a comprehensive knowl-
Against Herodotos, he champions the purity of Greek reli-
edge of Roman religion, and he used excellent sources, such
gion and its independence from the Egyptian. Plutarch thus
as Varro for the Roman Question.
affirms the superiority of Greek culture. However, the exten-
sive explanation of the rites and myths, a sympathetic treat-
Fritz Graf, however, in “Plutarco e la religione romana”
ment, the importance given Osiris, and the addition of
(1996), notes both Plutarch’s failure to see an essential differ-
Greek eschatology probably gave more meaning to the
ence between Roman and Greek religion and his tendency
“Egyptian” cult and helped popularize it.
to give theological and moralistic explanations. A case is that
of the Flamen Dialis, where modern scholars would see socio-
Dying and rising gods. In Isis and Osiris (356B–359C)
religious taboos. The answers in the Greek Questions are au-
Plutarch treats at great length the death and resurrection, or
thoritative and often short, like encyclopedia entries, nor-
resuscitation, of Osiris. Osiris is identified on occasion with
mally without theoretical explanations. But the responses in
Dionysos (e.g., 356B, 362B), who in turn is identified with
the Roman Questions, frequently more than one, are actually
Adonis (Table Talk, 671B–C). As Giovanni Casadio notes
open-ended questions. In these, often described as “Greek
in “The Failing Male God” (2003), Plutarch prefers to treat
answers for Roman questions,” though not always such, Plu-
the dying and rising Osiris as a daimon rather than a god
tarch seems unable to resist giving several theoretical answers.
(360E–361F). To fit Plutarch’s allegorical interpretation,
Apparently spun out of his own head, he sometimes intro-
however, Osiris ends up not as king of the dead as in the tra-
duces them with “Is it as Varro says, or . . .?” Moreover Re-
ditional Egyptian religion but belonging to the ethereal
becca Preston, in “Roman Questions, Greek Answers: Plu-
regions.
tarch and the Construction of Identity” (2001), observes
Plutarch’s tendency to avoid explicit reference to contempo-
Judaism and Christianity. Plutarch’s knowledge of
rary religious practice, such as imperial cult.
Jewish religion, some of it reporting Egyptian anti-Jewish
propaganda from the Hellenistic period, is limited and su-
Plutarch was surprisingly well-informed about Egyptian
perficial. His ignorance is surprising, considering that the
religion, making use of good, early Hellenistic sources, in
Jewish revolts brought Jews to the attention of the Greek and
particular the Egyptian priest Manethon. In general, as a reli-
Roman world. His knowledge is presumably derived from
gious historian he tries to let the reader into his decision-
earlier non-Jewish authors and represents an outsider’s view
making process. He interprets other religions in Greek terms,
of the religion. For example, the use of wine, tents, and palm
deeming practices or beliefs worthy if they can be reconciled
branches in the feast of the Tabernacles demonstrates that
with Greek ideas. Typical in a sense is his derivation of the
the Jewish god is Dionysos (Table Talk 4.4–4.6). Still in
Egyptian or Greek transmission of the Egyptian name Isis,
these Table Talk “questions,” the only passages exclusively
from the Greek word “to know.” One of his guiding princi-
dedicated to Judaism, he treats it with respect and some sym-
ples is interpretatio graeca, the identification of foreign gods
pathy. Thus he differs from Tacitus (e.g., Histories 5.6.4),
with Greek gods, an identification often based on external
who admired the Jews for not representing the divinity in
resemblances in rites and attributes. Plutarch mostly used old
images (something Plutarch ignores) but otherwise treats
sources, but because of the prominence given Osiris in them,
them with contempt. Plutarch’s respectful attitude, though
his work harmonizes with the growing importance of Osiris
consistent with his general procedure, is noteworthy, consid-
in the early imperial period. In Plutarch’s appropriation or
ering the hostile climate toward Jews during his lifetime.
domestication of the religion through shifting Platonic exe-
Christianity is never mentioned in Plutarch’s works. Since
gesis and the allegorical method, Osiris becomes Plato’s Eros,
the Christian persecutions had started and Plutarch was ac-
or the Form of the Good, while Isis is the Platonic “recepta-
quainted with high Roman officials, its absence may repre-
cle,” or the individual soul longing for the Form of the Good
sent a “conspiracy of silence.”
(or Beautiful).
Historian of religion. Plutarch, an extraordinary
PLUTARCH’S INFLUENCE. From his own age to modern
source for Greek religion, was probably its most outstanding
times, Plutarch has been widely read for his religious views,
historian and comparativist in his day. In the dialogues,
partly because his ideas on creation and God could be recon-
which permit him to introduce often radical and contradic-
ciled with Christian thought. His influence can be seen in
tory opinions, his personal view is often difficult to assess.
such Middle Platonists as Attikos and in the Neoplatonists,
In other works, such as Isis and Osiris (a treatise) and The
though the latter disliked his metaphysics. Christians such
Face on the Moon (more a treatise than a dialogue), he pres-
as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebios of Caesarea,
ents several interpretations, usually moving from a less-
Basil of Caesarea, Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoretos, Isidore
probable opinion to a more-probable one, as, for example,
of Pelousion, and Ioannes Philoponos read and admired Plu-
when discussing dualism. As a scholar of comparative reli-
tarch, in particular for his description of the unique creation
gion (especially in Isis and Osiris, Greek Questions, Roman
of the world by God in time. The Delay of the Divine Ven-
Questions, and Table Talk), Plutarch treats religious practices
geance—greatly admired throughout the ages, even if not
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PNEUMA
necessarily for the best reasons—was transcribed and adapted
Burkert, Walter. “Plutarco: Religiosità personale e teologia filoso-
in large part by the Neoplatonist Proklos, and it received
fica.” In Plutarco e la religione, edited by Italo Gallo,
many editions and translations, especially during the six-
pp. 11–29. Naples, 1996.
teenth to twentieth centuries.
Casadio, Giovanni. “The Failing Male God: Emasculation,
Death, and Other Accidents in the Ancient Mediterranean
Plutarch was overlooked by medieval scholars in the
World.” Numen 50 (2003): 231–268.
West, but in the early humanist period Greeks like Planudes
Dillon, John. “Plutarch and God: Theodicy and Cosmogony in
and Ioannes Mauropos admired him. In the fifteenth centu-
the Thought of Plutarch.” In Traditions of Theology: Studies
ry only Aristotle and Plato among prose writers were better
in Hellenistic Theology, Its Background and Aftermath, edited
represented in Italian libraries, but Plutarch’s ethical writings
by Dorothea Frede and André Laks, pp. 223–237. Leiden,
were favored over his religious writings. Montaigne praised
Netherlands, 2002.
Plutarch’s nondogmatic approach to religious questions.
Donini, Pierluigi. “L’eredità academica e i fondamenti del pla-
Though Erasmus translated several of the Moralia, once say-
tonismo in Plutarco.” In Unione e Amicizia: Omaggio a
ing they were inferior only to the Bible in spirituality, and
Francesco Romano, edited by Maria Barbanti, Giovanna
Plutarch was admired by Melanchthon, Martin Luther does
Giardina, and Paolo Manganaro, pp. 247–273. Catania,
not mention him. Already in the seventeenth century Isis and
Italy, 2003.
Osiris had become an important source for scholars of Egyp-
Ferrari, Franco. Dio, idee e materia: La struttura del cosmo in Plu-
tian religion; the work helped fuel the Egyptomania of the
tarco di Cheronea. Naples, 1995.
late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, and it
Froidefond, Christian. “Plutarque et le platonisme.” In Aufstieg
remains an important source for Egyptologists. Though Plu-
und Niedergang der römischen Welt (ANRW), vol. 2, no. 36.1,
tarch fell somewhat out of favor in the nineteenth century,
pp. 184–233. Berlin and New York, 1987.
his Platonism found a home among the New England tran-
García Valdés, Manuela, ed. Estudios sobre Plutarco: Ideas religio-
scendentalists (Ralph Waldo Emerson). He was a favorite of
sas. Madrid, 1994.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Mary Shelley, while
Goldhill, Simon. “Why Save Plutarch?” In Who Needs Greeks?
George Bernard Shaw oddly labeled his work “a revolution-
Contests in the Cultural History of Hellenism, pp. 246-293.
ists’ handbook.” In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries
Cambridge, U.K., 2002.
scholars have found Plutarch’s works to be an indispensable
Graf, Fritz. “Plutarco e la religione romana.” In Plutarco e la relig-
source for the mentality of his time, a time that produced
ione, edited by Italo Gallo, pp. 269–285. Naples, 1996.
such profound changes in the religious history of the West-
Griffiths, John Gwyn, trans. and ed. Plutarch’s “De Iside et Osi-
ern world.
ride.” Cardiff, U.K., 1970.
Hani, Jean. La religion égyptienne dans la pensée de Plutarque. Paris,
SEE ALSO Delphi; Demons; Dualism; Hellenistic Religions;
1976.
Isis; Orpheus; Osiris; Plato; Platonism.
Hirzel, Rudolf. Plutarch. Leipzig, Germany, 1912.
Klauck, Hans-Josef. The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions. Translated by Brian Mc-
Babut, Daniel. Plutarque: Oeuvres morales 72: Sur les notions com-
Neil. Edinburgh, 2000; reprint, Minneapolis, 2003.
munes, contre les Stoïciens. Paris, 2002.
Preston, Rebecca. “Roman Questions, Greek Answers: Plutarch
Baltes, Matthias. “Plutarchos [2] III: Philosophisches Werk.” In
and the Construction of Identity.” In Being Greek under
Der Neue Pauly: Enzyklopädie der Antike, edited by Hubert
Roman Rule: Cultural Identity, the Second Sophistic, and the
Cancik and Helmuth Schneider, vol. 9, pp. 1166–1173.
Development of Empire, edited by Simon Goldhill,
Stuttgart, 2000.
pp. 86–122. New York and Cambridge, U.K., 2001.
Betz, Hans-Dieter, ed. Plutarch’s Theological Writings and Early
Tsekourakis, Damianos. “Pythagoreanism or Platonism and An-
Christian Literature. Leiden, Netherlands, 1975.
cient Medicine? The Reason for Vegetarianism in Plutarch’s
Bianchi, Ugo. “Plutarch und der Dualismus.” In Aufstieg und
Moralia.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt
Niedergang der römischen Welt (ANRW), vol. 2, no. 36.1,
(ANRW ), vol. 2, no. 36.1, pp. 366–393. Berlin and New
pp. 111–120. Berlin and New York, 1987.
York, 1987.
Boulogne, Jean. “Les ‘Questions Romaines’ de Plutarque.” In Auf-
Ziegler, Konrat. Plutarchos von Chaironeia. Stuttgart, 1964. Rev.
stieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (ANRW), vol. 2, no.
and enl. version of Paulys Realencyclopädie, vol. 21,
33.6, pp. 4682–4708. Berlin and New York, 1992.
pp. 636–962. Stuttgart, 1951.
Brenk, Frederick E. In Mist Apparelled: Religious Themes in Plu-
FREDERICK E. BRENK (2005)
tarch’s “Moralia” and “Lives.” Leiden, Netherlands, 1977.
Brenk, Frederick E. “An Imperial Heritage: The Religious Spirit
of Plutarch of Chaironeia.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der
PNEUMA SEE SOUL, ARTICLE ON GREEK AND
römischen Welt (ANRW), vol. 2, no. 36.1, pp. 248–349. Ber-
HELLENISTIC CONCEPTS
lin and New York, 1987; Indices, vol. 2, no. 36.2,
pp. 1300–1322. 1987.
Brenk, Frederick E. Relighting the Souls: Studies in Plutarch, in
Greek Literature, Religion, and Philosophy, and in the New
POBEDONOSTSEV, KONSTANTIN (1827–
Testament Background. Stuttgart, 1998.
1907), procurator of the Holy Governing Synod of the Rus-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

POETRY: POETRY AND RELIGION
7203
sian Orthodox church. Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev
years, convinced that his work of twenty-five years as procu-
was the last procurator effectively to control the administra-
rator was being destroyed and that both the Russian church
tion of the church according to the stipulations of the Eccle-
and the Russian state were doomed to collapse. He had been
siastical Regulation of Peter the Great. Although this regula-
unyielding in his opposition to parliamentary forms of gov-
tion remained on the statute books until the collapse of the
ernment, believing that they were the cause of the decadence
tsarist regime in 1917, the upheavals of 1905–1906 in the
of the West and that their introduction into Russia in any
church and the government necessitated adaptation in its ap-
form would lead to corruption and disintegration.
plication during the final decade of the old order.
Pobedonostsev’s voluminous writings reflect his train-
Pobedonostsev served as procurator from 1880 to 1905,
ing as a lawyer. Among them are Lectures on Civil Judicial
during which time he oversaw a major restructuring of eccle-
Procedures (Moscow, 1863), History of the Orthodox Church
siastical education and an impressive expansion of the parish
until the Schism of the Churches (Saint Petersburg, 1896), His-
school system. His purpose was twofold: to provide basic ed-
torical Juridical Acts of the Epoch of Transition of the Seven-
ucation to the Russian masses as they emerged from the
teenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Moscow, 1887), Course of
shadow of serfdom and to ensure that that education firmly
Civil Law, 3 vols. (Saint Petersburg, 1868–1880), The Ques-
supported the tsarist political system. Within the seminaries
tions of Life (Moscow, 1904), Annual Report of the Over-
and theological academies under his control he both raised
Procurator of the Holy Synod concerning the Administration of
the general level of education and tried to maintain control
the Orthodox Church (Saint Petersburg, 1881–1909), and a
of its content. Unintentionally, he stimulated a major con-
number of articles published in journals during his public
troversy over reform in the church and spent the later years
career.
of his career attempting to contain and stifle this controversy.
Among the forceful personalities Pobedonostsev dealt
BIBLIOGRAPHY
The definitive biography of Pobedonostsev in English is Robert
with in the controversy over church reform were Antonii
F. Byrnes’s Pobedonostsev: His Life and Thought (Blooming-
Vadkovskii, metropolitan of Saint Petersburg (1898–1912),
ton, Ind., 1968). In German it is Gerhard Simon’s Konstan-
Sergei Witte, chairman of the Committee of Ministers
tin Petrovic Pobedonoscev und die Kirchenpolitik des Heiligen
(1903–1905) and prime minister (1905–1906), and Antonii
Synod, 1880–1905 (Göttingen, 1969). Other useful books
Khrapovitskii, bishop and archbishop of Volhynia (1902–
are John S. Curtiss’s Church and State in Russia: The Last
1914). The bishops were determined reformers, seeking to
Years of the Empire, 1900–1917 (1940; reprint, New York,
free the church from the bondage of the Ecclesiastical Regu-
1965), Igor Smolitsch’s Geschichte der russischen Kirche,
lation. During debates in the Committee of Ministers on
1700–1917 (Leiden, 1964), Russian Orthodoxy under the Old
proposed changes in legislation affecting non-Orthodox reli-
Regime, edited by Robert Nichols and Theofanis Stavrou
gious groups in the Russian empire, Witte was persuaded by
(Minneapolis, 1978), and my Vanquished Hope: The Church
in Russia on the Eve of the Revolution
(New York, 1981).
Vadkovskii and others that termination of the Petrine regula-
tion and restoration of autonomy of administration (possibly
JAMES W. CUNNINGHAM (1987)
reviving the patriarchate of Moscow) were essential for good
government of the church.
Pobedonostsev attempted to halt the momentum for re-
POETRY
form and abolition of the Petrine system by having Tsar
This entry consists of the following articles:
Nicholas II transfer deliberation of the question from the
POETRY AND RELIGION
Committee of Ministers to the synod itself, where the procu-
INDIAN RELIGIOUS POETRY
rator’s agents would be able to control the debate. Vad-
CHINESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
JAPANESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
kovskii, Khrapovitskii, and their allies outmaneuvered the
CHRISTIAN POETRY
synodal bureaucracy, however, and the synod itself declared
ISLAMIC POETRY
for reform. As a result of the synod’s decision, the procurator
NATIVE AMERICAN POETRY AND RELIGION
ordered the polling of all the bishops of the church in the
hope that they would be opposed to a sobor (council) of the
POETRY: POETRY AND RELIGION
church and to the restoration of the patriarchate. But when
The language of religion, like the language of love, is persis-
the bishops had completed their replies, the overwhelming
tently poetic, if by no means exclusively so. The reasons why
majority were found to favor a sobor and a sweeping reform.
religious expression is so often poetic are complex, however,
During the months that the poll was being taken, Russia
and not always transparent. They can best be adduced by
was wracked by violence and revolution. From the turmoil
considering the principal ways in which poetry functions in
came the October Manifesto (1905), which granted a limited
different religious contexts and traditions. It will be useful,
constitutional government. Pobedonostsev resigned as proc-
however, to begin by examining the overall features of poet-
urator, protesting against the manifesto, against Witte’s hav-
ry, and its corresponding religious potential.
ing been appointed prime minister, and against the tsar’s
POETRY AS PERFORMANCE AND EXPRESSION: BASIC ELE-
promise to summon an all-Russian sobor. He died within two
MENTS. Poetry has been described as heightened speech. In-
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POETRY: POETRY AND RELIGION
tensified and ordered through rhythm, sound, and image,
ter upon multiple readings than in a single oral performance.
such language is designed to be expressive or beautiful, and
And though the English poet John Milton (1608–1674) was
memorable. Poetic diction varies widely from style to style,
blind when he dictated the blank verse of his Christian epic
and from culture to culture. Yet the language of poetry typi-
Paradise Lost, the extended structure and density of the
cally departs from both common sense and plain speech,
work’s often Latinate syntax favors readers more than mere
being often figurative or metaphoric in the broad sense.
listeners. Again, the interlinked sequences of poetic stanzas
in Japanese renga of the fifteenth and sixteenth century CE,
Poetry can be divided into three large genres: narrative,
which often touch lightly on Buddhist themes, allow poets
dramatic, and lyric. Narrative poetry includes epics, myths,
to respond to one another in writing. There are even devo-
sagas, fables, ballads, romances, and the like. Dramatic poet-
tional poems by the Anglican priest George Herbert (1593–
ry includes verse forms of tragedy, comedy, and plays of an
1633) that are arranged on the page in such a way as to create
explicitly liturgical or ritual sort. As for the numerous kinds
a two-dimensional visual image of the primary subject of the
of lyric poetry, some of the more familiar are odes, hymns,
poem—as in “The Altar” and “Easter Wings.”
elegies, laments, haiku, love sonnets, and meditative verse.
Such features of poetry, even when seemingly of minor
Many of the traits normally associated with poetry—
consequence in themselves, are reminders that the medium
meter, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance, for
of poetry is never merely words in the abstract. Rather, poet-
instance—become most vivid in oral expression. Religions
ry depends on imagination and a kind of embodiment. As
have traditionally made much of the very orality of poetry.
with ritual and arts in general, the meaning of poetry regis-
Thus the markedly poetic text of the Qur’a¯n (literally, “reci-
ters on the whole self, appealing to head and heart, mind and
tation”), which Muh:ammad delivered orally, lends itself to
body.
beautiful modes of chanting out loud rather than to silent
reading. Even in poetry that is unrhymed and irregularly me-
Despite that sort of immediacy, poetry distances itself
tered, various salient features may come out more fully in
from the merely mundane. In a variety of ways poetry es-
oral performance. In the poetry of the Hebrew Bible, for ex-
tranges itself from the familiar and creates a measure of cre-
ample, oral rendition calls attention to a combined rhythm
ative disorientation—something evident in modern poetry
of meaning, syntax, and stress—something clearly audible in
in particular. For instance, while Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
the celebrated parallelisms of the Psalms, a liturgical song-
(1888–1965) is far removed from actual ritual practice or
book.
from prayer or other spiritual exercises in the usual sense, the
structure of each of the quartets bears some resemblance to
Most of the poetry associated with religion and ritual
classic stages of the mystical path or, more particularly, of the
is actually meant to be sung or chanted, taking the form of
spiritual progress of what Eliot elsewhere calls the “intellectu-
hymns, invocations, ritual incantations, and the like. Indeed,
al soul.” The highly metaphoric language, the deferral from
virtually all of the poetry in ancient Greece—not only epic
plain sense, and the attentiveness to sonic texture all contrib-
and lyric poetry but also dramatic—was accompanied by in-
ute to the spiritual evocativeness of such poetry, influenced
struments, and often by dance. The same can be said of tradi-
in part by the French symbolist tradition of the late nine-
tional poetry in Africa, India, Bali, and elsewhere.
teenth century. Again, the works of the Welsh poet Dylan
The connection between poetry and music was so inti-
Thomas (1914–1953), far more extroverted in character,
mate in Western antiquity that when Augustine of Hippo
have a virtually incantatory quality that is only heightened
(354–430), the most influential of the Christian church fa-
by the fact that the literal sense can be hard to fathom. It
thers, wrote his only treatise on music, he approached the
could be argued that creative dissonance likewise results from
topic by dwelling at length on matters of number and meter
the often shocking lyrics of the highly rhythmic and rhyming
associated with prosody. Unfortunately, no one knows for
popular music known as rap—originally an urban ghetto
sure how the musical settings of ancient poetry sounded—
genre of African American musical verse but one that, since
even the hymns that Augustine confessed moved him to
the late twentieth century, has begun to spread widely
tears. The works of much later Christian hymn-writers—
around the world and even to be employed in worship.
such as Paul Gerhardt (1606–1676), Isaac Watts (1674–
POETRY, PROPHECY, AND REVELATION. In religious life, the
1748), Charles Wesley (1707–1788), and Fanny Crosby
means of poetry serve particular ends, beyond providing
(1820–1915)—were, of course, set to music that remains
purely aesthetic delight. Two of the most important religious
easily accessible; but such verse, however widely sung in
purposes of poetry can be termed prophecy and revelation.
churches, is rarely classified now as poetry.
Two other religious purposes, which will be discussed subse-
quently, are devotion and mysticism.
In due course, religious poetry nonetheless came to ex-
ploit the possibilities of the written text. The epic narrative
Prophetic utterance is concerned with communicating
of the Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri (1265–1321),
divine messages, whether about the future or about condi-
which traces the pilgrim Dante’s progress from hell to heav-
tions of self or society that need to be changed, possibly for
en, employs an elaborate rhyme scheme (terza rima), com-
the sake of justice and righteousness. Thus poetry in many
plex allegory, and convoluted similes that are all savored bet-
parts of the world has been a medium of spiritual ecstasy or
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POETRY: POETRY AND RELIGION
7205
“madness” in the service of prophecy. Plato (c. 428–348 or
Nevertheless, being regarded as revealed or inspired,
347 BCE) and many other ancient Greeks thought of poets
those ancient texts of Hinduism were not received as poetic
not as knowledgeable artists in full control of their craft but
art or literature (ka¯vya) in the usual sense. Although, as time
rather as seers and prophets mediating mysterious truths and
passed, one system of classification did recognize epics such
divine directives that the poets might not fully grasp them-
as the Maha¯bha¯rata and the Ra¯ma¯yan:a as ka¯vya, a second sys-
selves.
tem maintained that the truthful story-telling of such epic
poems or of the popular but nonetheless sacred Pura¯n:as
In Latin, one venerable term for poet is vates, or “proph-
should be distinguished from the mere fictions of literature.
et.” Similarly, in Arabic, the word for poetry, shi Dr, is derived
And none of the epics themselves were so self-consciously lit-
from a verb denoting a special kind of knowledge associated
erary as the classical Sanskrit poetry that began to be com-
with divination. Although the prophet Muh:ammad’s critics,
posed around 200 CE, and that culminated in the work of
in the seventh century CE, dismissed his recitations as mere
the poet Ka¯l¯ıdasa in the fifth century.
poetry, Muslims themselves soon came to regard the suprem-
acy of the QurDa¯n as audible in that very poetry, with a truth
Thus, as these examples indicate, when it comes to the
and beauty beyond compare.
revelatory quality of religious poetry, there is often a tension
between a religious community’s desire to recognize or ac-
The aura of divine possession or prophetic inspiration
claim the poetic art of sacred texts and the contrary desire
has never completely departed from the role of poet, though
to distance such elevated or supremely truthful texts from
in later times, especially in the West, it has become less visi-
merely human poiesis, or poetic making, and from what oth-
ble. The prophet’s call for righteousness and justice survives,
erwise might be seen as creative representation, or mimesis.
for example, in poetry of protest, as exemplified by the war
Indeed, the difference between divine revelation and human
poems of England’s Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) or the long
expression can be interpreted at times in terms of a divine
poem Babi Yar by the Russian Yevgeny Yevtushenko
disregard for the lesser delights of mere poetry. While it is
(1933–), who, in mourning the Nazi massacre of thousands
true that, in the West, Augustine and other church fathers
of Ukrainian Jews, also attacks Soviet anti-Semitism.
were struck by the symbolism, figurative discourse, and rhet-
oric of the Bible, they were pleased to point out how fre-
In addition to having a prophetic function, poetry serves
quently Scripture seems to disdain the lofty language and the
as a medium of revelation—which, in the sense relevant here,
polished poetry perfected by the pagans. Jerome (c. 342–
is the inspired disclosure of deep wisdom or of holy presence.
420), for instance, thought that the language of the Scrip-
In a specifically religious sense, revelation can take place as
tures was “harsh and barbaric” compared with the pagan
epiphany or theophany: that which is divine or holy appears
classics. Christians of the patristic era saw the very roughness
in an awe-inspiring form that is nonetheless accessible to
of scriptural language as serving a higher wisdom and (as Au-
human senses and awareness. Whereas prophecy employs ex-
gustine would argue) a higher, invisible beauty not to be
hortation and proclamation, revelation employs vision and
compared with human ornament and decorum.
manifestation, or sacramental embodiment. At a less lofty
level, prophecy and revelation take the form of preaching and
At other times, sacred texts are valued by their devotees
teaching, which likewise can employ poetry. Thus, in the
or believers as the very model of poetic excellence and most
sixth century CE, Romanos the Melodist, the most famous
worthy of emulation. Thus, while an elevated view of the po-
liturgical poet of the Orthodox Church, chanted his narra-
etry of the Qur’a¯n has sometimes functioned to cast all other
tive verse sermons in a form known as kontakia, with the
poetry in a comparatively negative light, the Qur’a¯n has also
congregation joining in a repeated refrain.
helped inspire the extensive repertoire of Islamic poetry, in
Persian as well as Arabic. Similarly, in medieval Europe, bib-
In India, the most ancient sacred Hindu texts, revered
lical figurative language and the corresponding typological
as the original revelations, are the Vedas, the earliest portions
and allegorical approach to reading Scripture gave impetus
of which became canonical by 1000 BCE. Those primary re-
to poetic allegory more broadly—and, eventually, to the poet
velatory utterances are classified as ´sruti: that which is heard.
Dante’s adoption of the four commonly acknowledged levels
Subsequent sacred texts (including the Dharma´sa¯stras and
of interpreting sacred texts, which he had the seeming audac-
the epics) are classified as smr:ti: that which is remembered.
ity to apply to his own extra-biblical epic narrative, the Di-
Both kinds of texts are, in many cases, composed in verse.
vine Comedy. Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century,
Indian commentators have long spoken of r:s:his (“seers” and
such as Martin Luther, engaged in tirades against medieval
“poets”) as in some sense the transmitters and composers of
allegorizing; but Protestants themselves often looked on the
the Vedas—whose sacred hymns and largely non-narrative
figurative language of Scripture not only as exemplifying the
verses use vivid imagery and memorable sound and phrasing.
Bible’s poetic excellence but also as providing divine sanction
The great epics are also attributed to poets—the
for poetic simile, metaphor, metonymy, catechresis, and so
Maha¯bha¯rata to Vyasa (a “collector”) and the Ra¯ma¯yan:a to
forth.
Valmiki. The Maha¯bha¯rata, indeed, refers to itself as a ka¯vya,
or great poem, and contains the Bhagavadg¯ıta¯, which is ac-
Accordingly, in England, Philip Sidney (1554–1586)
knowledged worldwide as a masterpiece of poetry.
defended poetry not only by citing the Psalms of David as
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POETRY: POETRY AND RELIGION
divine poems but also by claiming that the poet’s imagina-
ous shapers of culture that, if anything was going to remain
tion is analogous to the creativity of “the heavenly maker”
of religion at all, it would be its “poetry.” Now that fact and
who “made man to his owne likenes . . . which in nothing
dogma were failing religion, wrote Matthew Arnold (1822–
sheweth so much as in Poetry.” The seventeenth-century An-
1888), people would increasingly need to turn for consola-
glican poet and divine John Donne (c. 1572–1631) likewise
tion to poetry, which he thought of as the “breath and finer
found in scripture ample evidence that the Holy Spirit is the
spirit of knowledge” that could sustain humanity in the ab-
supreme poet. God is not only a “direct God,” he said, but
sence of secure creeds. At times, in the hands of theorists
also a “figurative, a metaphorical God too.” Such convictions
such as Walter Pater (1839–1894) and, later, Clive Bell
inspired much Protestant lyrical poetry of the seventeenth
(1881–1964), poetry—or art in general—became virtually
century. And though the use of figurative language had as
a surrogate for religion.
much to do with moving and delighting readers as with con-
veying higher truths, in the seventeenth century those func-
Even the so-called New Critics of the mid-twentieth
tions of poetry were closely intertwined.
century, for all their preoccupation with the formal and self-
reflexive features of poetic art, carried forward certain of
During the eighteenth century, by contrast, the increas-
these tendencies. For they viewed poetic language not simply
ing prevalence of empirical or scientific standards of truth in
as constitutive of its own world but also, paradoxically, as re-
Western culture spawned, in many settings, a relatively ratio-
velatory of a unique kind of knowledge unavailable to other
nalist approach to religion. Since the language of poetry con-
modes of discourse.
formed neither to the clear and distinct ideas of science nor
to the kind of self-evident or revealed absolutes required in
Meanwhile, in the work of philosophers and theologians
different ways by both deist and dogmatic religion, poetry
such as Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), Hans-Georg Ga-
lost some of its esteem as a serious medium of either truth
damer (1900–2002), Paul Tillich (1886–1965), and Paul
or revelation, though it was still thought suitable for edifying
Ricoeur (1913–), truth and symbolic imagination were treat-
instruction.
ed as intimately interrelated. Truth that is most important
to human life and meaning, according to such thinkers, is
During this era, particularly under the influence of the
not subject to propositional logic but appears in the simulta-
philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), poetry and the
neous veiling and unveiling inherent in symbolic or poetic
other arts were granted a large degree of autonomy, apart
thought. In a related vein, the Roman Catholic theologian
from science, morality, or religion. Ironically, however, the
Karl Rahner (1904–1984) suggested that, ideally, the priest
price was that the beauty of poetry was often conceived of
and poet should become one, though that fusion of roles is
not as participating in divine beauty but as delighting in an
likely to remain an eschatological hope more than a present
ornamental way or as providing simply an appealing guise
reality. To other theologians such as Hans Urs von Balthasar
in which to clothe social commentary or instruction in mat-
(1905–1988), that kind of hope would seem to transgress the
ters of morality.
necessary boundary between artistic inspiration and God’s
During the revolutionary age of European Romanti-
self-revelation. Yet Balthasar himself wanted to reclaim beau-
cism, which commenced near the end of the eighteenth cen-
ty as a transcendental, essential attribute of whatever is real
tury and continued well into the nineteenth, poets and critics
and true, and he acknowledged that divine beauty can, by
such as Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843), Samuel Taylor
way of analogy, graciously manifest itself in artistic beauty
Coleridge (1772–1834), and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–
as well.
1882) reacted against both scientific rationalism and reli-
All along, however, one whole line of modernist poetics,
gious dogmatism, partly by taking a very high view of works
associated with formalism in particular, had resisted any at-
of poetic genius. Poetic imagination, according to many of
tempt to think of poetry as concerned with truth at all, or
the Romantics, transcends both scientific fact and religious
with anything other than itself and the sheer play of lan-
dogma, becoming in a real sense revelatory of the highest
guage. In the latter part of the twentieth century, postmod-
truths available to human beings. William Wordsworth
ern theorists such as the deconstructionist philosopher
(1770–1850), for instance, could be found referring to the
Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) took such skepticism about
poet or bard as the “holiest of men.” The Romantics, often
poetic truth and applied it to language as a whole, wherein
enamored with the cult of the artist as genius, made the poet-
they found all meaning to be in some degree deferred, and
ic Muse an ally of, or occasionally even substitute for, the
all representation to be artificial and unreliable to an indeter-
Holy Spirit. “A Poet, a Painter, a Musician, and Architect:
minate degree. But even then, Derrida appeared to leave
the Man or Woman who is not one of these is not a Chris-
room for something more—something still related to reli-
tian,” wrote the English poet and artist William Blake
gion—to emerge from language and symbol and to entice
(1727–1857). Imagination, he said, “is the Divine Body of
belief. Truth might be elusive, but there was still something
the Lord Jesus, blessed for ever.”
worth trusting in the darkness of unknowing, as Derrida
In the Victorian era, when the creeds and prescribed rit-
would hint from time to time. Not surprisingly, this open-
uals of religion further weakened under the assault of social
ended, postmodern approach, pushing to the limits of lan-
change and scientific revolution, it began to appear to vari-
guage and beyond, sounded to some students of theology
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POETRY: POETRY AND RELIGION
7207
and religion like a kind of negative theology—a via nega-
man Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), and the Welsh Angli-
tiva—and sometimes almost like poetry, itself.
can priest R. S. Thomas (1913–2000). Americans such as
POETRY, DEVOTION, AND MYSTICISM. Religion has to do
Robinson Jeffers (1887–1962), Anne Sexton (1928–1974),
not only with prophecy and revelation, but also with devo-
Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997), and Gary Snyder (1930–)
tion and spirituality: the response and expression of personal
composed poetic exhortations and confessions, both lyric
or corporate piety. In intense forms, that can entail mysti-
and narrative, that are still further removed from conven-
cism—seeking and celebrating an experience of union (or in-
tional Western religious norms—being panentheistic, femi-
timate communion) with the divine or with ultimate reality
nist, “Beat,” and Zen in their respective spiritualities. The
transcending all imaginable qualities. Devotion that is corpo-
works of the Jewish poet Paul Celan (1920–1970) constitute
rate and public is usually termed worship. When private, de-
some of the most evocative and shattering uses of poetic lan-
votion is known more often as personal prayer, meditation,
guage to have emerged in response to the Holocaust.
or contemplation.
Outside the West, and many centuries earlier, in ShiDa
As noted earlier, the greater portion of poetry that has
Islamic circles under the Sunni Umayyad dynasty (661–
played a role in public worship has been accompanied by
750), remarkable religious odes and laments were composed
music. Some of that musical poetry is narrative in kind, recit-
in order to praise and mourn martyrs. A very different form
ing stories of the acts of deities, avatars, and exemplary
of lyric verse flourished during a golden age of poetry in the
human beings. Mostly, however, the poetry of worship is lyr-
Tang dynasty of China (618–907). Many Tang lyrics, com-
ical. Among the more complex and formal lyrics are odes
posed by civil servants and aristocrats for whom the making
praising or petitioning the divine, as occurs in cult hymns
of poetry was often a daily exercise, manifest a Daoist interest
from the Alexandrian period in Greek literature (c. 300–30
in nature, especially the harmonies and quiet surprises of sea-
BCE). In the Christian New Testament, the letters of Paul
sonal change. Other poems, like those of Wang Wei (c. 699–
make reference to the singing of “hymns, psalms, and spiritu-
761), contemplate landscapes in such a way as to suggest an
al songs”—seemingly imprecise terms that nevertheless em-
insubstantiality corresponding to the Buddhist metaphysical
phasize the lyrical mode, including canticles such as Mary’s
idea of “emptiness.” In seventeenth-century Japan, Matsuo
Magnificat, found in the book of Luke. Original lyric verse,
Basho¯ (1644–94) composed haiku that, in their extreme
once it has been set to music, has also been employed widely
brevity, likewise observed nature with care, exhibiting Zen
in public prayer, as one sees in the poems of the now-
mindfulness and suggesting the interplay between the mo-
celebrated Symphonia of Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179).
mentary and the timeless.
The extra-biblical church hymns of the twelfth and thir-
By contrast with such essentially quiet (though some-
teenth centuries, such as the Stabat Mater and the Dies Irae,
times gently humorous) forms of verse, expressions of reli-
are among the high marks of liturgical poetry. In Judaism,
gious awe, affection, and ecstasy abound in the lyrical modes
similarly, there is an extensive tradition of piyyutim, or litur-
of Indian poets and singers associated with the popular
gical poems and prayers, mostly composed between the early
movement known as bhakti. In the sixth century CE, South
centuries of the Common Era and the eighteenth century.
Indian poet-saints associated with this movement began to
While religious poetry that is not sung or chanted has
compose extensive Tamil hymns to S´iva or Vis:n:u; others ori-
not generally found a major place in liturgy or corporate
ented their poetry toward the ultimate reality brahman, re-
worship, such poetry has served as a medium of private devo-
garded either as personal divinity with qualities, or as ulti-
tion and personal religious expression. The works of one of
mately ineffable and beyond qualities. The movement spread
the greatest Hebrew poets of the medieval period, Judah ha-
to other parts of India. Later poets in the bhakti line include
Levi (c. 1075–1141), generally fall into that category. In
the female poets Akka Mahadevi (a twelfth-century devotee
Christian circles, from the late sixteenth century through
of S´iva) and M¯ıra¯ (a sixteenth-century devotee of Kr:s:n:a).
much of the seventeenth, meditative or metaphysical lyric
The tradition continues, with modifications, into modern
poetry was in many instances deeply informed by the Spiritu-
times, manifesting itself, for instance, in the poetry of Rabin-
al Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556). Other lyric
dranath Tagore (1861–1941), whose poetic art entails mysti-
poetry of the same period, especially in Protestant England,
cal self-realization and indeed joy, yet is not untouched by
was shaped—as already noted—by the poetry of the Bible
suffering.
itself, which at that time was thought to have been composed
In Islam as well, particularly in the Su¯f¯ı tradition, the
in regular meters.
more fervent forms of religious lyricism exhibit a recurrent
Modern counterparts of such poetry can be found, but
tendency to become mystical, and often, in becoming mysti-
are seldom so openly devotional in character, and rarely so
cal, to employ erotic metaphors to express intense longing
explicitly prayerful. Particularly notable examples in the
for, or union with, the divine. Such poetic mysticism reaches
West include lyrics composed by the American Emily Dick-
a peak in the famous Persian Su¯f¯ı poet Jala¯l al-D¯ın Ru¯m¯ı
inson (1830–1886), the Russian Anna Akhmatova (1889–
(1207–1273), whose narratives and lyrical couplets express
1966), the English Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–
a longing for God in both veiled and explicitly sexual imag-
1889), Ireland’s William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), the Ger-
ery. Long before Ru¯m¯ı’s time, the Iraqi poet Ra¯biEah
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7208
POETRY: POETRY AND RELIGION
al-DAdaw¯ıyah (d. 801) explored her love of God in terms of
etic medium, if less often poetry itself, still plays a role in
divine-human reciprocity, helping inspire a whole genre of
public. Popular songwriters such as Bob Dylan (1941–), Paul
Islamic mystical poetry in which God and the human self are
Simon (1942–), Bob Marley (1944–1987), and the Indigo
imaged as beloved and lover.
Girls (first recorded in 1989) have had a communal role with
discernible moral and religious dimensions that go beyond
The poetic traditions of Christianity and Judaism are
entertainment per se. At a less popular level, but with a size-
generally less rapturous and mystical than those considered
able multinational audience, the morally engaging films of
above, and are mostly inclined to seek communion with
the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) and the
God, rather than union. But notable examples of the mysti-
Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941–1996) are cer-
cal poetic impulse can be found. The poems of the Spaniard
tainly not without poetic qualities. Meanwhile, in their wide-
John of the Cross (1542–1591) are classics of mysticism,
ly acclaimed contemporary operas and large-scale choral
known for tracing the path to God through the dark night
works, composers such as John Adams (1947–), Philip Glass
of the soul. Many works of Jewish mystical poetry reflect the
(1937–), and Tan Dun (1957–) employ poetic texts from
influence of medieval Qabbalah. Other Jewish poetry has
Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Mayan traditions, partly in
been inspired by the Hasidic tradition of pietism and mysti-
an attempt to recover a global sense, however mysterious, of
cism originating in the eighteenth century.
purpose and hope.
The mystical, and even the devotional, strands within
In a postmodern culture, then, it appears that the larger
religious poetry receive relatively little attention in the major
social and communal dimension of moral and religious
Western theories of poetry. Although Western theories have
imagination is still being conveyed poetically, but more often
sometimes related the poetic sense of the sublime to the reli-
by the poetic qualities of media such as music and film than
gious experience of the holy, they have generally valued poet-
by poetry.
ry as instruction and delight, as creative or beautiful making
(poiesis) and artful representation (mimesis), and as self-
SEE ALSO Bhagavadg¯ıta¯; Dante Alighieri; Deconstruction;
expression. By contrast, Indian poetic theories have more fre-
Film and Religion; John of the Cross; Maha¯bha¯rata;
quently discerned a genuinely religious and potentially mys-
QurDa¯n, overview article; Ramayana; Rumi, Jalal al-Din; Ta-
tical purpose inherent within the experience of poetry itself.
gore, Rabindranath.
Thus various ancient theorists in India discuss eight or nine
B
major aesthetic rasas (core sentiments or moods), one of
IBLIOGRAPHY
Two invaluable reference sources for the study of poetry and poet-
which they commonly identify as profoundly peaceful
ics, religious and otherwise, are The New Princeton Encyclope-
(santa) and, as such, also religious. No later than the six-
dia of Poetry and Poetics, edited by Alex Preminger and
teenth century, a specifically devotional rasa is identified,
T. V. F. Brogan (Princeton, N.J., 1993), and Encyclopedia
which is called simply bhakti. Centuries before then, the
of Contemporary Literary Theory: Approaches, Scholars, Terms,
great eleventh century theorist Abhinavagupta had said that
edited by Irena R. Makaryk (Toronto, 1993).
a rasa produced by a drama (normally in verse and dance)
The following studies, although centered on one particular period,
can afford a kind of metaphysical bliss integral to, though
genre, or text, provide insights into the overall relation be-
not identical with, the experience of utmost spiritual libera-
tween poetry and religion: M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernat-
tion, or moks:a.
uralism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature
(New York, 1971), Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry
THE LARGER CONTEXT: RELIGION, POETRY, AND SOCIETY.
(New York, 1985), Guy L. Beck, Sonic Theology: Hinduism
As the preceding discussion has shown, poetry serves a vari-
and Sacred Sound (Columbia, S.C., 1993), Giles B. Gunn,
ety of religious purposes, even as it heightens awareness of
The Interpretation of Otherness: Literature, Religion, and the
the power, beauty, and figurative play of language itself.
American Imagination (New York, 1979), O. B. Hardison,
Prior to the modern era, the poetry with the widest sphere
Jr., Christian Rite and Christian Drama in the Middle Ages
of influence was mythical, epic, or quasi-historical, in the
(Baltimore, 1965), David Lyle Jeffrey, ed., Dictionary of Bib-
manner of the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, the Indian
lical Tradition in English Literature, (Grand Rapids, Mich.,
Ra¯ma¯yan:a, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise
1992), Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and the
Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric
(Princeton, N.J., 1979),
Lost. Such poetry speaks for and to the wider community,
Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English
in both religious and moral terms. Poetry in that public sense
Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century, rev. edition
of establishing and exploring core communal values has
(New Haven, Conn., 1962), Vijay Mishra, Devotional Poetics
largely been eclipsed in contemporary life, especially in the
and the Indian Sublime (Albany, N.Y., 1998), Stephen Pri-
West. Some cultural critics have wondered whether theatre
ckett, Words and the Word: Language, Poetics, and Biblical In-
and prose fiction may also be fading from public significance
terpretation (Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1986), John
in a phase of culture that seems preeminently visual and
Renard, Seven Doors to Islam: Spirituality and the Religious
musical.
Life of Muslims (Berkeley, Calif., 1996), James H. Sanford,
William R. LaFleur, and Masatoshi Nagatomi, eds., Flowing
Nevertheless, if one includes song itself in the category
Traces: Buddhism in the Literary and Visual Arts of Japan,
of poetry—something for which there is historical prece-
(Princeton, N.J., 1992), and Nathan A. Scott, Jr., Visions of
dent—then it can be said with some justification that the po-
Presence in Modern American Poetry (Baltimore, 1993).
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POETRY: INDIAN RELIGIOUS POETRY
7209
These studies reflect more broadly on religious dimensions of po-
works. This article focuses mainly on short verse forms (lyrics
etry and poetics: Vincent Buckley, Poetry and the Sacred
and couplets) and on Hindu vernacular poetry, though there
(London, 1968), Frank Burch Brown, Transfiguration: Poetic
are brief sections on Sanskrit, Buddhist, and Jain materials
Metaphor and the Languages of Religious Belief (Chapel Hill,
as well.
N.C., 1983), Giles B. Gunn, ed., Literature and Religion
(New York, 1971), Hans Küng and Walter Jens, Literature
HINDU POETRY IN SANSKRIT. The most ancient texts of In-
and Religion (New York, 1991), Justus George Lawler, Celes-
dian civilization, the Rgvedic hymns (1200–900 BCE), can
tial Pantomime: Poetic Structures of Transcendence (New
be seen as remote first ancestors of the long tradition of devo-
Haven, Conn., 1979), Paul Mariani, God and the Imagina-
tional poetry in India. These poems include paeans to vari-
tion: On Poets, Poetry, and the Ineffable (Athens, Ga., 2002),
ous Aryan gods, many of whom assumed places in the late
William T. Noon, Poetry and Prayer (New Brunswick, N.J.,
Hindu pantheon.
1967), Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (New York,
1982), Nathan A. Scott, Jr., The Poetics of Belief (Chapel
The body of Sanskrit verse most relevant to this survey
Hill, N.C., 1985), Gerardus van der Leeuw, Sacred and Pro-
is the vast assortment of Hindu stotras—hymns of praise, ad-
fane Beauty: The Holy in Art, translated by David E. Green
oration, and supplication—with examples ranging over two
(New York, 1963), and Robert Wuthnow, Creative Spiritual-
millennia, from before the common era to the present day.
ity: The Way of the Artist (Berkeley, Calif., 2001).
These poems are found imbedded in epics, Pura¯n:as,
While there is no truly representative reader in the poetry of the
ma¯ha¯tmyas, Tantras, other sacred texts, and occasionally sec-
world’s religions, three collections that cross traditions are
ular texts; or as independent works attributed to various dev-
Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa,
otees and teachers. The period in which stotras were most
America, Asia, and Oceania, edited by Jerome Rothenberg
abundantly produced corresponds largely to that of the bhak-
(New York, 1968), The Penguin Book of Religious Verse, ed-
ti movement. Composed in all parts of India, the hymns are
ited by R. S. Thomas (Harmondsworth, U.K., 1963), and
addressed chiefly to forms of S´iva, Vis:n:u, and Dev¯ı (the god-
Modern Religious Poems: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by
dess), but they are also dedicated to other deities, such as
Jacob Trapp (New York, 1964). A major, two-volume an-
Gan:e´sa and Su¯rya. Their subjects extend further to sacred
thology in English combining Jewish and Christian poetry,
cities, rivers, shrines, plants; to gurus and ancestors; and to
along with poetry from the margins of those traditions, is
Chapters into Verse: Poetry in English Inspired by the Bible, ed-
the impersonal Absolute. Many stotras are anonymous or of
ited by Robert Atwan and Laurance Wieder (New York,
dubious attribution. Among numerous named composers, a
1993). Similar in nature, but focusing on modern poetry and
few famous examples are the philosophers S´an˙kara and
the Hebrew Bible alone, is the anthology Modern Poems on
Ra¯ma¯nuja, the Kashmiri S´aiva devotee Utpaladeva, the Ben-
the Bible, edited by David Curzon (Jerusalem, 1994). For
gali Caitanyite Ru¯pa Gosva¯min, and the South Indian poet
what is possibly the most religiously diverse collection of po-
N¯ılakn:t:ha D¯ıks:ita.
etry about any one religious figure, see Divine Inspiration:
The Life of Jesus in World Poetry,
edited by Robert Atwan,
Sanskrit stotras are used widely in both temple and do-
George Dardess, and Peggy Rosenthal (New York, 1998).
mestic worship. Their contents typically include detailed de-
scriptions of a deity’s form and accoutrements, praise of his
FRANK BURCH BROWN (2005)
or her attributes, references to mythological episodes, strings
of names and epithets, prayers for grace and assistance, and
testimonials to the devotee’s grief, helplessness, love, and
faith.
POETRY: INDIAN RELIGIOUS POETRY
The most popular and influential devotional poetry in India
A. K. Ra¯ma¯nujan (1981, p. 109) comments on the rela-
is that associated with the bhakti, or popular devotional,
tion between Sanskrit and vernacular bhakti literature. “The
movement—a wave of religious fervor that swept over India
imperial presence of Sanskrit,” he writes, “was a presence
from South to North, beginning around the sixth century in
against which bhakti in Tamil defines itself, though not al-
the Tamil area and flourishing in the Hindi region between
ways defiantly.” While vernacular bhakti poets often defy
the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was a grass roots
Sanskritic norms, there is also a continuity between the two
movement, protesting against formalism and priestly domi-
traditions. For example, in the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas of Tuls¯ıda¯s
nation; insisting on the direct accessibility of God to every-
there are many praise poems in highly Sanskritized Hindi,
one; attacking purely external practices and hypocrisy; and
set apart in diction and form, obviously meant to echo the
stressing the importance of inner experience, which generally
style of Sanskrit stotras. The Saundaryalahar¯ı, a stotra popu-
meant establishing a bond of fervent personal love with the
larly attributed to S´an˙kara, describes the experience of one-
deity. Bhakti is also associated with the rise of vernacular lit-
ness with the divine in terms that later turn up almost identi-
erature and with a group of poet-saints whose works are in
cally in the Kabir tradition. An important transitional work
many instances the classics of their respective languages.
between North Indian Sanskrit and vernacular bhakti litera-
Much of this literature was composed orally, and all of it has
ture is Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda, composed in Bengal around
been transmitted largely through singing. Written versions
1200.
have typically been recorded and collected after the poets’
SOUTH INDIAN VERNACULAR POETRY. Partly in reaction to
lifetimes, though some poets did write down their own
the strength of Buddhism and Jainism in the South, a great
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POETRY: INDIAN RELIGIOUS POETRY
surge of faith in Vis:n:u and S´iva was touched off by poet-
while the conclusion of a vacana by Basavan:n:a has a note of
saints in the Tamil region between the sixth and ninth centu-
biting criticism:
ries. S´aiva and Vais:n:ava saint-poets—at one level rivals, at
Gods, gods, there are so many
a deeper level, collaborators in this awakening of faith—
there’s no place left
shared common themes and styles. They roamed the coun-
for a foot.
tryside reaching audiences of all classes and included among
There is only
their number peasants, aristocrats, Untouchables, priests,
one god. He is our Lord
women, and men. Tradition has preserved the names of
of the Meeting Rivers. (trans. Ra¯ma¯nujan, 1973, p. 84)
sixty-three S´aiva poets, known as Na¯yana¯rs, and twelve
¯
Vais:n:avas, or A¯lva¯rs. Namma¯lva¯r is often singled out as the
Vais:n:ava poetry emerges in the sixteenth century with
¯
¯
greatest A¯lva¯r poet, Ma¯n:ikka¯vacakar as the greatest Na¯yana¯r.
Purandarada¯sa Vit:t:hala, who is remembered as the founder
¯
¯
Around the tenth century Na¯thamuni compiled the Divya-
of the southern (Karnatak) style of classical music. The great-
prabhandam, containing four thousand A¯lva¯r compositions
est composer of Karnatak music, Tya¯gara¯ja (1767–1847), ac-
¯
for use in S´r¯ı Vais:n:ava worship. Similarly Nampi A¯nta¯r
knowledges his debt to Purandaradasa. A devotee of Ra¯m,
Nampi, at the request of a tenth-century king, is said to have
Tya¯gara¯ja composed many devotional songs in Telugu, often
compiled most of the Tirumurai, which includes eleven vol-
praising music as a pathway to God. Another well-known
¯
umes of Na¯yana¯r poetry (a twelfth volume, of hagiography,
Telugu saint-poet is the seventeenth-century Ra¯mda¯s of
¯
was added later). S´aivas often call the Tirumurai, as
Bhadra¯calam, also a worshiper of Ra¯m.
¯
Vais:n:avas call Namma¯lva¯r’s Tiruva¯ymol:i, “the Tamil Veda.”
¯
NORTH INDIAN VERNACULAR POETRY. Four names stand
The siddhas (Tam. cittar) are part of an ancient pan-
out among a rich array of Maharashtrian singers between the
Indian movement characterized by its use of yogic practices
thirteenth and seventeenth centuries: Jña¯ne´svar, also called
and Tantric symbols. Important siddha poets in Tamil range
Jña¯ndev (fl. late thirteenth century), Na¯mdev (c. 1270–
from the seventh to the eighteenth centuries and include
1350), Ekna¯th (1548–1600), and Tuka¯ra¯m (1598–1650).
Civava¯kkiyar, Pattirakiriyar, and Pa¯mpa¯ttic Cittar. Siddha
Jña¯ne´svar is best known for his long Marathi exposition of
poetry is both linked to and distinguishable from main-
the Bhagavadg¯ıta¯, the Jña¯ne´svar¯ı. Na¯mdev composed pas-
stream bhakti poetry. Both tend to denigrate caste, mechani-
sionate devotional songs and consolidated the cult of the
cal ritual, and sterile intellectuality. But while the bhaktas
Va¯rkaris (“pilgrims”) to the important pilgrimage center at
continue to adore their images of Vis:n:u and S´iva, the siddhas
Pandharpur. Ekna¯th translated and interpreted important
favor an interior, impersonal Lord and unequivocally attack
Sanskrit works. He also poured out his own feelings in lyric
idol worship. Stylistically, too, the siddhas differ from the
poems and in a remarkable series of dramatic monologues,
generally more refined devotional poets. Their verse, which
putting the most profound teachings of bhakti into the
often utilizes folksong forms and meters, is colloquial, force-
mouths of characters generally despised by society—
ful, and simple often to the point of being crude.
Untouchables, prostitutes, ropedancers, demons, the blind,
and the deaf. Tuka¯ra¯m, perhaps the most beloved of the
“Like a lit fuse, the passion of bhakti seems to spread
four, was a ´su¯dra (member of the lowest of the four broad
from region to region, from century to century, quickening
categories of caste) pressed by misfortune to reject worldly
the religious impulse,” says Ra¯ma¯nujan (1973, p. 40). In the
values and devote himself to God. His lyrics run from harsh
tenth to twelfth centuries the flame burned brightly in
contempt of self-serving religious specialists (“the wretched
Karnataka with the Kannada verses of the V¯ıra´saiva saint-
pandit stewed in dialectics . . . a fool among fools / wagging
poets, the four greatest of whom were Basavan:n:a, De¯vara
a sage beard”) to the most tender humility (“May I be, Lord,
Da¯simayya, Maha¯de¯v¯ıyakka, and Allama Prabhu. They
a small pebble, a large stone, or dust / on the road to Pand-
composed vacanas, short free-verse utterances expressing in-
harpur / to be trampled by the feet of the saints”).
tense personal experience and sometimes trenchant criticism
of what the poets regarded as superstition and hypocrisy. A
Nasim:ha Mehta (fifteenth or sixteenth century), the
vacana by Allama Prabhu, for example, is a purely lyric out-
major bhakti poet of Gujarat, composed songs that were in-
pouring:
corporated into the rituals of the Vallabha¯ca¯rya sect. The
Kashmiri Lal Ded (fourteenth century) was a woman devotee
Looking for your light,
of S´iva whose poetic utterances are famous throughout Kash-
I went out:
mir and beyond. The earliest and still most important devo-
it was like the sudden dawn
tional poetry associated with the Punjab, that compiled in
of a million million suns,
the Sikh A¯di Granth (1604), is largely in an old form of
a ganglion of lightnings
Hindi. True Panjabi literature, beginning in the seventeenth
for my wonder.
century, is almost entirely by Muslims.
O Lord of Caves,
if you are light,
The leading figures of Hindi bhakti poetry are Tuls¯ıda¯s,
there can be no metaphor. (trans. Ra¯ma¯nujan, 1973,
S´u¯rda¯s, Kab¯ır, and M¯ıra¯ Ba¯ı, followed closely by Raida¯s,
p. 168)
Na¯nak, and Da¯du¯. Tuls¯ıda¯s (1543–1623), who wrote in the
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POETRY: INDIAN RELIGIOUS POETRY
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Avadhi dialect, is the author of the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas, a highly
strand of several traditions come together: secular erotic verse
devotional version of the ancient Ra¯maya¯n:a epic. Popularly
in Sanskrit, Tantrism, and orthodox Vais:n:avism.
known as the Tuls¯ı Ra¯ma¯yan, it is probably the most influen-
The name Can:d:¯ıda¯s was used by at least two important
tial single literary work in North India. Tuls¯ıda¯s also wrote
Bengali poets whose dates can only be guessed (guesses range
many lyrics.
from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century). The enor-
S´u¯rda¯s (sixteenth century) is the most illustrious mem-
mously influential saint, Caitanya (1486–1533), though he
ber of the as:t:aca¯p, or eight Kr:s:n:aite poets associated with
composed very little himself, encouraged the development of
Vallabha¯ca¯rya and the sect he founded in Vr:nda¯vana. He is
Bengali song literature by establishing the widespread prac-
most famous for his evocations of Kr:s:n:a’s idyllic childhood,
tice of k¯ırtan, or meeting for ardent group singing.
but recent scholarship suggests that Su¯r’s often emotionally
Ra¯mprasa¯d Sen (1718–1785) was a powerful poet of the
harrowing personal supplications to God and his poems of
S´a¯kta (Goddess-worshiping) tradition. The Bauls, unique to
grief-stricken separation may be closer to the authentic core
Bengal, are iconoclastic wanderers who hover between
of his work than the popular songs of the youthful deity. Ac-
Hindu and S:u¯f¯ı mysticism and worship exclusively through
cording to legend Su¯r was blind, and “S´u¯rda¯s” is today wide-
singing.
ly used as a title for any blind singer of religious songs. Thou-
Vidya¯pati (c. 1352–1448) was one of the earliest poets
sands of lyrics attributed to the poet are collected in the
to compose religious lyrics in Maithili—a border language
Su¯rsa¯gar (Ocean of Su¯r). He composed in Braj bha¯s:a¯, the
between Bengali and Hindi. The outstanding figure of As-
most important literary dialect of medieval Hindi.
samese devotional literature is S:an˙karadeva (c.1489–1568),
M¯ıra¯ Ba¯ı was a Rajput princess who became a wander-
who introduced a devotional dance drama form still widely
ing saint. Although she is believed to have spent the later part
used today. A unique bhakti institution in Assam is the satra,
of her life in Dwarka, Gujarat, and a considerable body of
a religious center with a leader, lay members, and facilities
poetry ascribed to her exists in Gujarati, she is more closely
for musical and dramatic performances. Another prominent
linked to her native Rajasthan and to its regional form of
poet of the same period is Ma¯dhavadeva (1489?–1596). The
Hindi.
best-known medieval bhakti poet in Oriya was a disciple of
The leading poet of the Sant (or nirgun:a, “without qual-
Caitanya named Jaganna¯thada¯sa (fifteenth century).
ities”) school in North India is Kab¯ır (c. 1398–1448). Born
BUDDHIST POETRY. Remarkable early examples of Buddhist
of a Muslim family in Banaras, Kab¯ır was influenced more
poetry are found in the Ther¯ıga¯tha¯ and Theraga¯tha¯ (Songs
by Hindu than by Muslim traditions and is popularly be-
of the venerable women and Songs of the venerable men) of
lieved to have been a disciple of Ra¯ma¯nanda. He is known
the Pali canon, recorded around 80 BCE. The women espe-
particularly for his iconoclasm and for his rough, colloquial
cially describe vivid personal experiences that led to their
style. Kab¯ır called on the name of Ra¯m as a sound that re-
choice of a renunciant’s life.
vealed ultimate reality, but he rejected the mythology of the
Two great Sanskrit poets appear in the second century
popular avata¯ra Ra¯m, insisting that God was beyond form.
of the common era. A´svaghosa is most famous for the Budd-
Guru¯ Na¯nak (1469–1539), the founder of Sikhism,
hacarita, a biography of the Buddha in the form of a
composed poems revering the formless God and criticizing
maha¯ka¯vya (lyric narrative). Ma¯tr:cet:a, perhaps an older con-
superstitious practices. The same is true of Da¯du¯ (1544–
temporary of A´svaghosa, wrote beautiful Sanskrit hymns to
1604), in whose name a sect was founded in Rajasthan.
the Buddha. The seventh-century Chinese pilgrim Yi Jing re-
Raida¯s, an Untouchable leatherworker and Sant poet of the
ported, “Throughout India everyone who becomes a monk
fifteenth century, is respected by all classes but has a particu-
is taught Ma¯tr:cet:a’s two hymns as soon as he can recite the
lar following among his own caste, the cama¯rs.
. . . precepts.”
Mention should also be made of the poetry of the North
Over the centuries Buddhist poets, such as the seventh-
Indian yogins called Na¯th Pan:t:his, who belong to the same
century monk S´a¯ntideva, produced many stotras praising the
broad tradition as the Tamil siddhas. The most significant
Buddha and bodhisattvas and expressing fervent dedication
collection is attributed to Gorakhna¯th (eleventh century?),
to the Buddhist path. Like Hindu stotras, these are found in-
semilegendary founder of the Na¯th Pan:t:h, whose teachings
corporated into larger texts (such as su¯tras and Ja¯taka tales)
pervaded North Indian religious thought in the medieval
as well as in independent form with attribution to particular
period.
authors. In one such hymn S´a¯ntideva expresses his vow to
save all beings:
The story of Bengali bhakti poetry begins with a San-
skrit poet, Jayadeva, whose late twelfth-century masterpiece
I am medicine for the sick and
G¯ıtagovinda sets the mood for the efflorescence of Kr:s:n:aite
weary may I be their physician and their nurse
verse in the following four hundred years. In a series of subtle
until disease appears no more . . .
and sensuous lyrics, the G¯ıtagovinda unfolds the drama of
may I be a protector for the unprotected
love between Kr:s:n:a and Ra¯dha¯, which became the major
a guide for wanderers
theme of devotion in medieval Bengal. In this poetry the
a bridge: a boat: a causeway
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POETRY: CHINESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
for those who desire the other shores. . . . (trans.
God: Structures and Strategies in the Poetry of S´u¯rda¯s (Berke-
Stephan Beyer)
ley, Calif., 1978) and in John Stratton Hawley’s Su¯r Da¯s:
Poet, Singer, Saint
(Seattle, 1984). Tuls¯ıda¯s’s lyrics are avail-
Finally mention must be made of Tibet’s powerful and origi-
able in reliable if not sparkling translations by F. R. Allchin
nal contributions to Buddhist lyric poetry. Especially note-
in Kavita¯val¯ı (London, 1964) and his The Petition to Ra¯m
worthy are the many songs of the twelfth-century teacher
(London, 1966).
Milaraspa (Milarepa).
An exceptionally lovely book of translations from Bengali is In
JAIN POETRY. Like Hindus and Buddhists, the Jains have
Praise of Krishna (1967; Chicago, 1981), a collaborative ef-
produced a large stotra literature. Their hymns, composed
fort of the scholar Edward C. Dimock, Jr., and the poet De-
since at least the earliest centuries of the common era in San-
nise Levertov. Lively translations of Ramprasad Sen are pro-
skrit and later in Prakrit, praise chiefly the twenty-four jinas
vided in Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Selected Poems
as well as some ancient teachers of the Jain tradition. There
to the Mother Goddess (Boulder, 1982) by another poet-
also exists a body of vernacular Jain poetry, largely in Hindi
scholar team, Leonard Nathan and Clinton Seely. Jayadeva’s
and Gujarati. One of the most famous Jain hymns is the
G¯ıtagovinda is splendidly translated by Barbara Stoler Miller
in Love Song of the Dark Lord (New York, 1977).
Bhakta¯mara Stotra of Ma¯natun˙ga, whose dates have been es-
timated to be as early as the third and as late as the ninth
A good source for examples of Buddhist poetry is Stephan Beyer’s
century. Several Jain authors composed both philosophical
The Buddhist Experience: Sources and Interpretations (Encino,
Calif., 1974). On the carya¯g¯ıti, see Per Kvaerne’s An Antholo-
works and devotional poems. These include Siddhasena
gy of Buddhist Tantric Songs (Oslo, 1977; Bangkok, 1985).
Diva¯kara, Samantabhadra, Vidya¯nanda, and the great
twelfth-century sage Hemacandra.
A multivolume, English-language History of Indian Literature, ed-
ited by Jan Gonda (Wiesbaden, 1973–), is in progress. Indi-
Many Jain stotras are organized around the sequential
vidual volumes have been published on literature in Sanskrit
praise of all twenty-four jinas, the best known being the
and the vernacular languages as well as on the literatures of
highly ornate S´obhana Stuti of the tenth-century poet
particular religious traditions. Maurice Winternitz’s A Histo-
S´obhana. As the repeated glorification of the jinas made for
ry of Indian Literature, 2 vols. (Calcutta, 1927–1933) covers
monotonously similar content, poets made great efforts to
ground not covered elsewhere, particularly in volume 2, Bud-
achieve originality of form, and thus the stotras contain the
dhist Literature and Jaina Literature.
most ornate verse in Jain literature.
New Sources
Guptara, Prabhu S., ed. The Lotus: An Anthology of Contemporary
SEE ALSO A¯di Granth; A¯lva¯rs; Bhakti; Caitanya;
Indian Religious Poetry in English. Calcutta, 1988.
¯
Gora¯khna¯th; Jayadeva; Kab¯ır; Maha¯siddhas;
Ramanujan, A. K., Velcheru Narayana Rao, and David Dean
Ma¯n:ikkava¯cakar; Mi la ras pa (Milarepa); M¯ıra¯ Ba¯¯ı; Na¯nak;
Shulman, ed. and trans. When God Is a Customer: Telugu
Ra¯ma¯nuja; S´aivism, articles on Na¯ya¯n:a¯rs, V¯ıra´saivas;
Courtesan Songs by Ksetrayya and Others. Berkeley, Calif.,
S´an˙kara; S´a¯ntideva; S´u¯rda¯s; Tuls¯ıda¯s.
1994.
Rao, Velcheru Narayana, and David Dean Shulman, ed. and
BIBLIOGRAPHY
trans. Classical Telugu Poetry: An Anthology. New Delhi and
A good introduction to the bhakti movement is Eleanor Zelliot’s
New York, 2002.
“The Medieval Bhakti Movement in History: An Essay on
Shulman, David Dean. The Wisdom of Poets: Studies in Tamil, Tel-
the Literature in English,” in Hinduism: New Essays in the
ugu, and Sanskrit. New Delhi and New York, 2001.
History of Religions, edited by Bardwell L. Smith (Leiden,
1976), pp. 143–168. Zelliot provides accounts of the region-
LINDA HESS (1987)
al movements and bibliographies. Missing from her lists,
Revised Bibliography
however, are important recent translations.
Superb translations from Tamil and Kannada are given in A. K.
Ramanujan’s Hymns for the Drowning: Poems for Vis:n:u by
POETRY: CHINESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
Namma¯lva¯r (Princeton, N.J., 1981) and Speaking of S´iva
To speak of religious poetry in the Chinese context is to beg
(Harmondsworth, 1973). Kamil Zvelebil’s survey of Tamil
several questions. First, in classical Chinese there is no exact
literature, The Smile of Murugan (Leiden, 1973), includes
equivalent to the word religion: Confucianism, Daoism, and
chapters on both bhakti and siddha poetry. Zvelebil has also
Buddhism are traditionally known as the Three Teachings
written a book on the siddhas, The Poets of the Powers (Lon-
don, 1973), which includes a number of translations.
(sanjiao). Second, it is debatable whether Confucianism is a
religion and whether ancestral worship is a kind of religious
Charlotte Vaudeville’s numerous contributions in the Hindi field
ritual. (The latter question was the subject of the so-called
include her monumental Kab¯ır, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1974),
Rites Controversy among Catholic missionaries to China in
which combines a 150-page introduction with extensive
translations and painstaking scholarly apparatus. The B¯ıjak
the early eighteenth century.) Finally, although Daoist and
of Kab¯ır (San Francisco, 1983), translated by Shukdev Singh
Buddhist liturgies both contain verses, these are generally not
and me, conveys a vivid sense of Kab¯ır’s forceful style and
considered worthy of description as poetry. With these reser-
includes essays on his style and use of symbols. S´u¯rda¯s is rich-
vations in mind, we may nonetheless survey what may be
ly represented in Kenneth E. Bryant’s Poems to the Child-
called religious poetry in Chinese.
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POETRY: CHINESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
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The earliest anthology of Chinese poetry, the Shi jing
hymns existed in later dynasties. They usually show a stilted
(The Book of Songs), consisting of three hundred and five
style and have no great poetic merit. It was during the Han
poems dating from about 1100 to about 600 BCE, contains
period that Daoism evolved from its early philosophic ori-
some hymns to royal ancestral spirits, eulogizing their virtues
gins into an organized religion. At this time too, Buddhism
and praying for their blessing. These hymns are believed to
was first introduced into China, although it did not become
have been sung to the accompaniment of dance. In these and
popular at once. Following the Han period, Chinese poets
some other poems in the anthology, references are made to
were mostly either eclectic or syncretic, and might express
a supreme supernatural being known sometimes as Di
Confucian, Daoist, or Buddhist views in different poems or
(“emperor”) or Shangdi (“emperor above”), and at other
even all of them in the same poem. However, in the works
times as Tian (“Heaven”). The first term, which is often
of some poets, the propensity to one of the three major ideol-
translated as “God,” appears to denote an earlier and more
ogies is fairly pronounced. The following are some of the
anthropomorphic concept than does Tian. For instance, in
most famous examples.
the poem Shengmin (The Birth of Our People), which re-
counts the myth of the miraculous birth of Hou Ji (“King
Cao Zhi (192–232 CE) wrote several poems about Dao-
Millet”), the reputed ancestor of the Zhou people, Hou Ji’s
ist immortals, but it is difficult to say whether he really be-
mother, Jiang Yuan, is said to have conceived him after
lieved in them. The same may be said of Ruan Ji (210–263),
treading in the print of Di’s big toe. By contrast, Heaven is
who in some of his poems expressed a wish for immortality
generally depicted as a vague presence without specific physi-
but in others showed frank skepticism. Scholars disagree
cal attributes, sometimes wrathful but usually benevolent.
about the religious and philosophical beliefs of Tao Qian
(365?–427), whose withdrawal from officialdom was proba-
Some shamanistic songs from the kingdom of Chu,
bly motivated by both Confucian ideals of integrity and
which flourished in the central Yangtze Valley from the sev-
Daoist wishes for simplicity and spontaneity. Although his
enth to the third century BCE, are preserved in the next oldest
poetry expresses both Confucian and Daoist views, his em-
anthology of Chinese poetry, the Chuci (Songs of Chu),
phasis on following nature and his acceptance of death as a
compiled in the second century CE. These songs are dedicat-
part of the eternal flux are more Daoist than Confucian. The
ed to various deities, such as the Lord of the East (the sun
landscape poetry of Xie Lingyun (385–433) evinces both
god), the Lord of Clouds, and the Lord of the Yellow River.
Buddhist and Daoist influences. To him, natural scenery is
In these songs, the relationship between the male shaman
a manifestation of spirituality, yet the self-conscious philoso-
and the goddess or between the female shaman and the god
phizing in his poems suggests an inability to transcend
is described in terms of erotic love. The sex of the speaker
worldly concerns.
is not always clear: we cannot always be sure whether it is
a male shaman addressing a goddess or a female shaman ad-
During the Tang dynasty (618–907), the golden age of
dressing a god. The shaman may also speak in the voice of
Chinese poetry, Daoism and Buddhism flourished, except
the deity. Traditionally, these and other poems in the Chuci
during the reign of Emperor Wuzong (846–859), who perse-
are attributed to Qu Yuan (343?–278
cuted the Buddhists. Many Tang poets were influenced by
BCE), said to have been
a loyal courtier of Chu who was unjustly banished and who
Daoism or Buddhism or both, although none openly reject-
committed suicide by drowning himself in the Milo River.
ed Confucianism. By coincidence, the three greatest Tang
He is generally believed to be the author of the longest poem
poets, Wang Wei (699?–761), Li Po (701–762), and Tu Fu
in the anthology, the Li-sao, whose title is usually translated
(712–770), are considered to represent Buddhism, Daoism,
as “Encountering Sorrow,” although the term may simply
and Confucianism respectively in their poetry, albeit not ex-
mean “complaints.” In this poem the speaker sets out upon
clusively. Wang Wei, known as the Buddha of Poetry, wrote
a journey through the cosmos, in a carriage drawn by drag-
some explicitly Buddhist poems as well as others that em-
ons and heralded by phoenixes, attended by the gods of the
body a Buddhist vision of life without specific Buddhist ref-
winds and of thunder. He also courts certain goddesses with-
erences. In addition, he wrote court poems and social poems.
out success, and finally resolves to “follow Peng Xian,” an
His best poetry conveys a sense of tranquillity tinged with
ancient shaman. Chinese commentators have generally taken
sadness as he quietly contemplates nature; the poems explic-
this to mean a resolution to commit suicide but the modern
itly preaching Buddhism are less satisfactory as poetry. Li Po,
scholar David Hawkes interprets it as a desire to study the
the Immortal of Poetry, received a Daoist diploma and took
occult. Although it is difficult to be sure how far the mytho-
“elixirs of life,” which may have contributed to his death.
logical figures in the poem are intended to be taken literally
Many of his poems express a yearning for the realm of the
and how far allegorically, the poem certainly derives some of
immortals and a wish to transcend this world, although they
its imagery from a shamanistic cult; it has even been suggest-
show him also to be far from indifferent to sensual pleasures
ed that Qu Yuan was a shaman.
such as wine, women, and song. Whether he succeeded in
attaining Daoist transcendence or not, Li Po certainly found
During the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), the court’s
Daoist mythology a source of poetic inspiration and a stimu-
Bureau of Music (Yuefu) composed ritual hymns to be used
lus to his exuberant imagination. Tu Fu, the Sage of Poetry,
at the sacrifices made to imperial ancestral spirits. Similar
wrote mainly poetry with a Confucian outlook, although
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POETRY: JAPANESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
some of his poems refer to Daoist elixirs of life and others
Waley, Arthur. The Poetry and Career of Li Po, 701–762 A. D.
evince admiration for Buddhism. Perhaps, however, these are
New York, 1950. Contains discussions of Li Po’s interest in
only signs of wishful thinking or polite expressions of respect
Daoism.
for the beliefs of others.
Watson, Burton, trans. Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the Tang
Poet Han-shan (1962). Reprint, New York, 1970. Selected
Among late Tang poets, Han Yu (768–824), the self-
poems attributed to the monk Han-shan.
appointed champion of Confucianism, attacked Buddhism
Yu, Pauline. The Poetry of Wang Wei. Bloomington, Ind., 1980.
and Daoism, yet befriended some Buddhist monks. Bo Jui
Contains translations and discussions of Wang’s Buddhist
(772–846) was strongly influenced by Buddhism and also
poems.
experimented with Daoist alchemy. The calm and bland
JAMES J. Y. LIU (1987)
tone of his typical poems may result from Buddhist influ-
ence. Li Ho (791–817) wrote much about spirits, ghosts, and
shamans, but it is difficult to ascertain whether he believed
in these literally or used them figuratively. Li Shang-yin
POETRY: JAPANESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
(813?–858) studied Daoism in his youth and was converted
Poetic language has long had a special prestige in Japan. The
to Buddhism toward the end of his life. There are many allu-
earliest extant written texts, including the Kojiki (Record of
sions to Daoist mythology in his poetry, which is, however,
ancient matters; 712), Nihonshoki (Chronicle of Japan; 720),
seldom of a religious nature.
and Man’yo¯shu¯ (Collection of Ten Thousand Years; late
eighth century), all preserve examples of ancient oral poetry
The best-known corpus of Chinese Buddhist poetry is
or song, as well as later written verse. The ancient inhabitants
that attributed to Han-shan (“cold mountain”), a legendary
of the Japanese archipelago, like many traditional peoples,
figure of whose historical existence we have little knowledge.
believed that ritual song or recitation had a magico-religious
Indeed, some scholars believe, on the basis of internal lin-
power. Special ritual and poetic language possessed the abili-
guistic evidence, that the poems bearing Han-shan’s name
ty to move the deities or spirits to act in specific sorts of ways.
were by two or more hands and that they range in date from
The term kotodama (koto, “words”; and tama, “animating
the late seventh to the ninth centuries. The best among these
spirit”) refers to this magico-religious power. Man’yo¯shu¯
poems are quietly meditative with a touch of gentle melan-
1:27, for instance, is an example of incantational praise poet-
choly, and the worst are short sermons in doggerel. Apart
ry. When recited by a ritual and political leader while survey-
from Han-shan, some Chan masters wrote ga¯tha¯ (a kind of
ing the land, the incantation was believed to assure the vitali-
hymn) in verse. These were intended as triggers to enlighten-
ty and fertility of the land by praising and appealing to the
ment, to be discarded as soon as enlightenment was attained,
local deities and ancestral spirits:
not as poetry to be read and cherished.
yoki hito no
The good ones [of the past]
During the Song dynasty (960–1279), considered sec-
yoshi to yoku mite
looked well and found it good,
ond only to the Tang in poetic achievements, such major
yoshi to iishi
proclaimed it good.
poets as Wang Anshi (1021–1086), Su Shi (1037–1101),
Yoshino yoku miyo
Look well on Yoshino,
and Huang Tingjian (1045–1105) all wrote poetry chiefly
yoki hito yoku mi
O good ones, look well!
expressing Buddhist views. In subsequent periods, the literati
Man’yo¯shu¯ 1:2 is another example of declarative ritual poetry.
continued to write poetry reflecting Confucian, Daoist, and
The emperor recited this verse, praising the land and its gods
Buddhist attitudes, and Buddhist and Daoist priests contin-
(kami) as he surveyed his realm from atop Kagu-yama. In
ued to use verses in their respective rituals and sermons, even
myth, this is the hill to which the kami had originally de-
though such verses were not regarded as poetry. As for con-
scended from the high heavens. As was the case in China,
temporary Chinese poetry, in the People’s Republic of China
the prosperity of the land (the verse uses Yamato, the ancient
there is hardly any poetry that can be called religious, where-
name of the country) was attributed to the emperor’s role as
as in Taiwan a few poets show Buddhist or Christian tenden-
ritual mediator between heaven and earth:
cies, but they are only a small minority.
Sumeramikoto Kagu-yama Poem by the Sovereign when he
ni noborite
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Kunimishi tamau toki no
climbed Mount Kagu to view
Chen, Kenneth. The Chinese Transformation of Buddhism. Prince-
o
¯mi-uta

the land.
ton, 1973. Contains a chapter on Buddhist influence on
Chinese poets, especially Bo Jui.
Yamato ni wa
Many are the mountains of
Yamato,
Hawkes, David, ed. and trans. Chuci, The Songs of the South
murayama aredo
but I climb heavenly Mount
(1959). Reprint, Boston, 1962. Complete translation of the
Kagu,
anthology of chiefly shamanistic songs.
toriyorou
cloaked in foliage,
Karlgren, Bernhard, ed. and trans. The Book of Odes (1950). Re-
ama no Kagu-yama
and stand on the summit
print, Stockholm, 1974. Literal translation of the Shi jing.
norboritachi
to view the land.
See the ritual hymns to ancestral spirits.
kunimi o sureba
On the plain of land,
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POETRY: JAPANESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
7215
kunihara wa
smoke from the hearths rises,
Iwashiro no
are determined by the grass
rises.
Oka no kusane o
on Iwashiro Hill.
keburi tachitatsu
On the plain of water,
Iza musubitenu
Come, let us bind them together!
umahara wa
gulls rise, rise.
(trans. Levy, 1981, p.43, adapted)
kamame tachitatsu
A splendid land
umashi kuni so
is the dragonfly island,
The Shinto¯ prayers of the imperial court (norito) include
akizushima
the land of Yamato.
similar elements, such as rites and prayers to pacify the impe-
Yamato no kuni wa
rial tama, to reinvigorate it, and to guarantee its presence in
(trans. Levy, 1981, p. 38, adapted)
the imperial body and shrine for another year (tamashizume
no matusuri
and mi-tamashizumeno ihai-to no matsuri).
Poetry served numerous other ritual functions as well. Funer-
Magico-religious verse was also employed to control inter-
ary verses (banka) were recited by women to praise the de-
personal relations (e.g., to attract or keep the attention of a
ceased and to attract his or her tama back into the body.
loved one, to calm the anger of another human or divine
Man’yo¯shu¯ 2:155 is an example of a ritual lament performed
being). Similar uses of recited verse or song were central to
by women in the temporary burial palace for a deceased male
the ritual and cultural life of the Ainu, an “indigenous” peo-
member of the imperial family, in this case the Emperor
ple of northern Japan, down to the early twentieth century.
Tenji (r.662–671):
The belief in the magical efficacy of recitative verse sur-
Yamashina no mi-haka
Poem by Princess Nukata when
vived long after the introduction of writing and literacy. Ki
yori soki
the
no Tsurayuki (884–946), an aristocratic poet, wrote the
arakuru toki, Nukata
mourners withdrew from the
most famous statement on the magical power of Japanese po-
no o¯kimi no
etry in his preface to the Kokinshu¯, the first imperially spon-
tsukuru uta isshu
Yamashina tomb and dispersed
sored anthology of waka, the thirty-one syllable verse form:
yasumishishi
In awe we serve the tomb
Waka has its origins in the human heart and flourishes in
wago o¯kimi no
of our Lord, sovereign
the myriad leaves of words. . . .Without physical exertion,
kashikoki ya
of the earth’s eight corners,
poetry moves heaven and earth, awakens the feelings of kami
mi-haka tsukauru
on Kagami Mountain
and invisible spirits, softens the relations between men and
Yamashina no
in Yamashina.
women, and calms the hearts of ferocious warriors.”
Kagami no yama ni
There through the night,
yoru wa mo
each night,
Much of classical and medieval Japanese poetry was in-
yoru mo kotogoto
through the day,
fluenced by Buddhist ideals and values. Ku¯kai, or Ko¯bo¯ Da-
hiru wa mo
each day,
ishi (774–835), the founder of the esoteric Shingon school
hi no kotogoto
we have stayed,
of Buddhism, wrote that the absolute truth of Buddhism was
ne nomi o
weeping and crying aloud.
available only through the body, language, and thought, and
nakitsutsu tsukarite ya
Now have the courtiers
this through three forms of esoteric practice—mudra¯ (hand
momoshiki no
of your great palace,
gestures), dha¯ran:¯ı (mantras), and yoga (meditation), respec-
o
¯miyabito wa

its ramparts thick with stone,
tively. Numerous medieval poetic treatises identified waka
yuki-wakarenamu
left and gone apart?
poems with mantras; others, in an instance of mystical nu-
(trans. Levy, 1981, p. 109)
merology, claimed that the thirty-one syllables of the waka
form (5-7-5-7-7), plus one for the verse as a whole, were the
Recitative poetry was also used in a ritual performed to pacify
same as the thirty-two marks of the Buddha. Thus, compos-
the spirit of the dead. In the case of grave illness or on under-
ing or reciting a waka could accrue the same religious merit
taking a dangerous journey, ritual verse was used to call back
as carving a statue of the Buddha or reciting a mantra.
the patient’s vagrant spirit and to “tie” it to the patient’s
body (tamamusubi) or, alternatively, to “tie” the traveler’s an-
Japanese religious poetry was not all composed in Japa-
imating spirit in absentia into an object that was to be care-
nese, however. Buddhist priests studied Chinese poetry and
fully guarded in order to guarantee the traveler’s safe return.
literature, as well as Buddhist su¯tras and commentaries. Aris-
Man’yo¯shu¯ 1:10, an example of this, also involves a critical
tocratic males in the Nara and Heian periods also used Chi-
moment of political intrigue. Reputedly, it was recited by the
nese in official matters, much as Latin functioned for centu-
empress as her brother (later the Emperor Tenji) set off to
ries in Europe. Thus, from the seventh century on, one finds
initiate a coup d’état against the Emperor Ko¯toku (r. 645–
Buddhist poems being composed in Chinese by Japanese
654):
monks and other members of the educated elite. As one
Nakatsu sumeramikoto,
Poem by the August
would expect, these poems were informed by Chinese aes-
Ki no ideyu
Intermediate
thetics.
ni idemashishi no mi-uta
Sovereign Nakatsu when she
Even after writing had been introduced into Japan,
went to the hot springs of Ki
however, oral forms of religious song and verse continued to
kimi ga yo mo
The span of your life
flourish. In medieval Japan, numerous different types of
waga yo mo shiru ya
and the span of my life, too,
popular religious figures sang or chanted religious verse
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7216
POETRY: JAPANESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
around the country. For example, from the Heian period
of a monk or nun. In general, however, poetry was embraced
(794–1185) through the Kamakura period (1185–1333),
as an effective form of religio-aesthetic and meditative prac-
asobi or asobime (itinerant female singers and dancers) per-
tice. Fujiwara no Shunzei (1114–1204), one of the leading
formed songs called imayo¯. Some of these carried explicit
poets of his age, was not alone in practicing a form of Tendai
Buddhist teachings; others portrayed the vicissitudes of life.
Buddhist meditation, known as shikan (concentration and
Imayo¯ served as vehicles to convey Maha¯ya¯na Buddhist
insight), as a part of his poetic discipline. The way of poetry
teachings to the masses, including the claim that all dualisms
(kado¯), like the way of tea and other arts, was first and fore-
(e.g., high/low, sacred/profane, reality/illusion) were ulti-
most a discipline, in the old-fashioned religious sense of the
mately false. Asobi were often affiliated with specific temple-
term. The Chinese character do¯ in kado¯ is also read as
shrine complexes, and through their travels and songs they
michi—a path, way, or discipline.
spread tales of the miracles associated with them. Asobi had
Not all poets pursued the religio-aesthetic discipline of
a mixed reputation, however. Not unlike gypsy women in
kado¯, to be sure, but those who did undertook it as a rigorous
Europe, they were associated in the popular imagination
form of self-discipline and ritual praxis. The works of the
with prostitution. Thus, Retired Emperor Go Shirakawa
Chinese poet Bai Juyi (772–846) were extremely influential
(1127–1192) scandalized some members of the aristocracy
in medieval Japan and provided one model of practicing
when he apprenticed himself for many years to an elderly
kado¯. Comparing his own verse to the Buddhist su¯tras, Bai
asobi in order to master the religio-aesthetic art of imayo¯. He
Juyi called his poems little more than “wild phrases and flow-
preserved many imayo¯ in a work known as Ryo¯jin hisho¯, along
ery language” (Jap., kyo¯gen kigo), yet he offered them to Bud-
with personal testimonies to their ritual power and efficacy.
dhist temples throughout his life. This practice of offering
Go Shirakawa frequently engaged in all-night rituals of su¯tra
poems to temples and shrines has continued in Japan over
recitation, meditation, and the singing of imayo¯ as a means
the centuries.
of achieving religious insight.
Blind lay priests (biwaho¯shi) also performed religious
Those who study the poems of medieval Japan as litera-
songs and tales in the medieval period. Biwaho¯shi were orga-
ture tout court risk missing the diverse religious functions that
nized into loose associations and were affiliated with temple-
many of them served, as well as the religious practices out
shrine complexes. They were found at many mountain passes
of which they were created. Although numerous medieval
and pilgrimage centers, where they played a lute (biwa) and
poetic treatises describe the poetic act as a spontaneous affec-
chanted oral tales and verses about the ephemerality of life,
tive response on the part of the poet to the world around
the vicissitudes of fame and fortune, and so on. The famous
him, such rhetorical claims do not reflect historical reality.
oral epic, Heike monogatari (The tale of the Heike), which
Rather than passively responding to the world or to events,
recounts the contestation and warfare between the Minamo-
Japanese poets often consciously sought to evoke specific
to and Taira or Heike clans, was performed and transmitted
mental and affective states that were deemed spiritually effi-
by biwaho¯shi down through the centuries. Today only a few
cacious. That is, through acts of disciplined imagination or
such reciters remain, and they preserve only parts of the
meditational techniques, they envisioned scenes and situa-
Heike monogatari performative tradition.
tions precisely in order to provoke specific stylized psychoso-
matic and affective states. Many medieval aesthetic terms,
Many of the best-known poets of medieval Japan were
such as mono no aware, yu¯gen, wabi, and sabi, must be under-
poet-monks. Of these, perhaps the most famous is Saigyo¯
stood in these religio-aesthetic terms.
(1118–1190). He spent time in ritual retreat in the hills of
Yoshino in a grass hut (so¯an), yet he also actively participated
If the poetry of poet-monks has long been the object of
in poetry contests and other aspects of the literary life of the
study, the poetry composed by Buddhist nuns and Shinto¯
capital. Saigyo¯ became a major figure in the poplar imagina-
shrine maidens has only recently begun to attract scholarly
tion down to the modern period. Modern scholars have
attention. With the recent release of archival materials long
coined the phrase “grass hut literature” (so¯an bungaku) to
held out of sight by female religious institutions, however,
refer to the literary works produced by such “reclusive” poet-
we may anticipate that new perspectives on the religious lives
monks. Yet it must be understood that they were not com-
of women will be opened. Similarly, these studies will help
pletely separated from the mundane world. Rather, they
us to fill out more fully the religio-aesthetic milieu of medi-
sought to find the Buddhist truths that were to be found in
eval Japan.
the world as such. The cry of a cicada or the tolling of a tem-
Numerous other forms of religious poetry bear men-
ple bell at dusk equally spoke to the ephemerality at the heart
tion. The unique linked verse form (renga) flourished from
of all existence (mujo¯). For those with eyes to see, ears to hear,
the fifteenth century. Renga was performance art before it
and heart-minds (kokoro) cultivated to feel the pathos of the
was a literary one—that is, the compositional or recitative act
emptiness of all things in the material world (mono no
itself was originally the ritual art form. A renga sequence was
aware), the phenomenal world itself revealed soteriological
composed by a group of poets, who “linked” verses of seven-
truths.
teen and fourteen syllables in sequences of thirty-six, one
Still, as was the case in China, some Buddhists felt that
hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, or even one hundred
the pursuit of poetry was incompatible with the religious life
thousand linked verses. (A single-poet form, dokugin renga,
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POETRY: JAPANESE RELIGIOUS POETRY
7217
also existed, but was relatively rare). Although renga originat-
ritual lives of the Japanese today, concomitantly it plays a
ed as a Buddhist ritual performative form, it was soon adopt-
larger role in the collective remembered past as a national
ed and adapted as a parlor game in elite circles of the court
cultural heritage.
and in samurai circles. Renga sequences were often per-
formed on temple and shrine grounds, while the written re-
BIBLIOGRAPHY
cords were presented as offerings to the buddhas and kami.
Aoki, Takako. Man’yo¯ banka-ron. Tokyo, 1984.
Sequences were sometimes performed by priests and samurai
Aston, William G., trans. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the
soldiers before battles and on battlefields after an engage-
Earliest Times to 697 (1896). Rutland, Vt., and Tokyo, 1972.
ment in order to pacify the spirits of the dead. Renga se-
Ebersole, Gary L. “The Buddhist Ritual Use of Linked Poetry in
quences were also performed, like su¯tra recitations, in order
Medieval Japan.” The Eastern Buddhist 16, no. 2 (1983):
to restore the health of someone. Itinerant Buddhist priests
50–71.
sometimes performed renga under the blossoms of weeping
Ebersole, Gary L. Ritual Poetry and the Politics of Death in Early
cherry trees (known as Saigyo¯ zakura, “Saigyo¯’s cherry trees”)
Japan. Princeton, 1989.
in order to pacify the kami who caused the plague and, thus,
Ebersole, Gary L. “The Do¯ka of the Founder in Historical Per-
to ward off the disease.
spective.” In Studies on Kurozumikyo¯, edited by Willis M.
Stoesz, pp. 156–171. Chambersburg, Pa., 1991.
By the seventeenth century, haikai no renga, a more
Hoff, Frank, trans. The Genial Seed: A Japanese Song Cycle. Tokyo
popular and democratic form of linked verse, emerged. This
and New York, 1971.
form was practiced by people across the social spectrum of
Kamens, Edward. The Buddhist Poetry of the Great Kamo Priestess:
Tokugawa Japan, including samurai, merchants, and traders.
Daisaiin Senshi and Hosshin Wakashu¯. Ann Arbor, Mich.,
This was the genre practiced by Matsuo Basho¯ (1644–1694),
1990.
perhaps the most translated Japanese poet in the West. Basho¯
Kim, Yung-Hee. Songs to Make the Dust Dance: The Ryo¯jin hisho¯
is popularly known as a haiku poet, although this character-
of Twelfth-Century Japan. Berkeley, 1994.
ization is anachronistic. The opening seventeen-syllable verse
LaFleur, William R. “Saigyo¯ and the Buddhist Value of Nature.”
of a sequence (hokku) only emerged as an independent verse
History of Religions 13, no. 2 (1973): 93–128, and 13, no.
form in the late nineteenth century. Basho¯ is an important
3 (1974): 266–274.
transitional figure, however, with one foot in the medieval
LaFleur, William R. “The Death and the ‘Lives’ of Saigyo¯: The
world and the other in the emerging modern world. He
Genesis of a Buddhist Sacred Biography.” In The Biographi-
dressed in the garb of a lay Buddhist priest, styled himself
cal Process: Studies in the History and Psychology of Religion,
in part on Saigyo¯, lived at times in a grass hut, and regularly
edited by Frank E. Reynolds and Donald Capps,
went on religious pilgrimages. These pilgrimages doubled as
pp. 343–361. The Hague and Paris, 1976.
business trips, though, for Basho¯ made his living by charging
LaFleur, William R. The Karma of Words: Buddhism and the Liter-
students for training in poetry. His travels both enabled him
ary Arts in Medieval Japan. Berkeley, 1983.
to visit notable religious and poetic sites and to meet with
Levy, Ian Hideo, trans. The Ten Thousand Leaves: A Translation
and compose linked verse with his students, or to gather ad-
of the Man’yo¯shu¯, vol. 1. Princeton, 1981.
ditional ones. Like Saigyo¯ before him, Basho¯ has become a
Matisoff, Susan. The Legend of Semimaru: Blind Musician of Japan.
significant figure in the popular, as well as the scholarly,
New York, 1978.
imagination. The scholarly study of this popular imagery,
Morrell, Robert E. Sand and Pebbles (Shasekishu¯): The Tales of
even when inaccurate in terms of the historical Basho¯, can
Muju¯ Ichien, A Voice for Pluralism in Kamakura Buddhism.
provide important insight into the religious needs and nos-
Albany, N.Y., 1985.
talgias of later generations in Japan and the West.
Philippi, Donald L., trans. and ed. Kojiki. Tokyo, 1968.
Philippi, Donald L., trans. Norito: A Translation of the Ancient
Just as the central cultural role of religion has dimin-
Japanese Ritual Prayers. Princeton, 1990.
ished in the modern world, explicitly religious poetry as a
genre has also declined in importance. It has not disappeared,
Plutschow, Herbert E. Chaos and Cosmos: Ritual in Early and Me-
dieval Japanese Literature. Leiden, 1990.
however. The founders and leaders of new religions some-
times use poems as a vehicle for spreading their teachings or
Rotermund, Hartmut O. Majinai-uta: Grundlagen, Ihalte und
Formelemente japonischer Majischer Gedichte des 17.–20.
proffer poems as revelatory statements, while some Buddhist
Jahrhunderts. Tokyo and Hamburg, Germany, 1973.
temples and Shinto¯ shrines continue to maintain their poetic
Tsuchihashi, Yutaka. Kodai kayo¯ to girei no kenkyu¯. Tokyo, 1965.
traditions. In a recent “invented tradition,” the emperor an-
nually offers a New Year’s verse—a tanka (once called
Watson, Burton. Ryo¯kan: Zen Monk-Poet of Japan. New York,
waka)—that is reprinted in all the national newspapers.
1977.
Moreover, hundreds of thousands of Japanese participate in
Watson, Burton, trans. Grass Hill: Poems and Prose by the Japanese
haiku and other poetry clubs, millions of tourists visit histori-
Monk Gensei. New York, 1983.
cal sites associated with poets of the past, and offertory verses
Watson, Burton, trans. Saigyo¯: Poems of a Mountain Home. New
are still sometimes hung above the entranceway of new
York, 1991.
homes. If religious poetry plays a smaller role in the religious
GARY L. EBERSOLE (2005)
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7218
POETRY: CHRISTIAN POETRY
POETRY: CHRISTIAN POETRY
Tales (begun in 1386 and incomplete at the poet’s death in
Any consideration of the interplay between the predominant
1400). Set within the popular medieval framework of a pil-
religion of European culture and the poetry that developed
grimage, this collection of Middle English poems represents
within its influence should properly begin with the textual
a wide panorama of character types and narrative forms that
legacy of sacred scripture. For in the Bible there is a fund of
draw heavily on French and Italian models. The work as a
images, narrative reference, rhetorical formulas, and mythic
whole is an intriguing blend of sacred and profane, contain-
patterns that for centuries has served as a powerful source for
ing traditional saints’ legends, as recounted by the Prioress
Western poetry, no matter whether a specific work is explic-
and the Second Nun, as well as romances, as told by the
itly religious (or devotional) in nature or whether it is simply
Knight and the Squire, and bawdry, as employed by the Mil-
presumptive of a Christian interpretative context.
ler and the Wife of Bath. Contemporary criticism has argued
over the extent to which the Tales should be given a Chris-
ORIGINS: THE HYMN. The earliest example of Christian po-
tian reading; D. W. Robertson, Jr.’s Preface to Chaucer
etry, the hymn, is also the most immediately expressive of
(Princeton, 1962) offers the most eloquent case for doing so.
doctrine and tradition. Its biblical precursors can be traced
Suffice it to say that whatever the case in this or that particu-
to the Hebrew psalms and the Lucan canticles (e.g., Magnifi-
lar poem, Chaucer’s work, as a whole, is unthinkable outside
cat and Nunc dimittis), in addition to fragments of apostolic
a Christian context.
hymns found both in the Pauline letters (e.g., Eph. 5:19, 2
Tm.
2:15) and in the Book of Revelation (5:13–14). Like the
The same might be said for the dominant form of early
Christian liturgy itself, Christian poetry was first composed
French vernacular poetry, the chansons de geste, which date
in Greek. By the mid-fourteenth century, however, there ex-
from the eleventh and twelfth centuries and signal the begin-
isted compilations of Latin hymns by Hilary of Poitiers
ning of French literature. Following the conclusions of Jo-
(d. 367) and Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), both of whom
seph Bédier’s Les légendes epiques (1926–1929), most scholars
composed their texts for liturgical use. Prudentius (d. 410),
consider that these narrative works, set in the ninth-century
best known for the allegorical poem that was to have such
Age of Charlemagne, actually originated in churches and
influence on medieval portrayals of the struggle between vir-
monasteries whose monks linked their own shrines to events,
tue and vice—the Psychomachia—also wrote many didactic
at once historical and legendary, that were associated with
hymns in a variety of meters not intended specifically for
Charlemagne. The Chanson de Roland, set against the back-
worship. The Latin hymnic tradition continued with works
ground of war with the Saracens for control of Spain and tell-
that were to have great influence on subsequent Christian lit-
ing in particular of the battle of Roncevaux, presents charac-
erature: the Vexilla regis of Venantius Fortunatus (d. 610),
ters who have become classics in Western literature: the
the hymns of Peter Abelard (d. 1142) and Thomas Aquinas
impetuous warrior Roland (the “Orlando” of later romance-
(d. 1274), and most important of all, the Dies irae, ascribed
epic); the patriarchal monarch Charlemagne; the sage coun-
to Thomas of Celano (d. 1260). To the Franciscan Jacopone
selor Olivier; the priest-warrior Turpin; the traitor Ganelon.
da Todi (d. 1306) is attributed not only the Stabat mater dol-
The twelfth-century Oxford manuscript of the poem, which
orosa, but also over one hundred hymns, or laudes, written
is its earliest extant version (c. 1170), reflects a Christianiza-
in Italian. This tradition of vernacular poetry was nurtured
tion of materials coming from earlier, less religious sources.
in Franciscan circles and traditionally begins with Francis of
It extols Christianity, chivalry, and patriotism; for even
Assisi (d. 1226) and his still renowned Canticle of the Sun.
though it portrays the folly of Roland’s pursuit of personal
MIDDLE AGES. In England Christian poetry in the vernacu-
fame and glory at the expense of Christian empire and the
lar was inaugurated by Cædmon (d. around 680), whose
common cause, nonetheless, when Archbishop Turpin gives
Anglo-Saxon hymn to God the Creator is also the first extant
the fallen Roland his blessing and commends his soul to the
poem in the English language. Also attributed to him (if not
safekeeping of Saint Gabriel, the errant hero is sufficiently
to Cynewulf, a poet of the ninth century) is The Dream of
absolved to become a kind of epic saint in subsequent han-
the Rood, a visionary work in which the cross confronts the
dling of the legend, known as the matière de France.
poet with an account of Christ’s passion and resurrection,
The inaugural work of Spanish literature, the Cantar de
bidding him to follow the path of the rood thereafter in his
mio Cid (c. 1140), shares with the Chanson de Roland not
own life. The culmination of Anglo-Saxon poetry, however,
only certain literary models but the memory of feudal Ger-
is the epic Beowulf (dated between 675 and 750), wherein
manic custom as well as a substratum of historical event. The
pagan Germanic heroic traditions show signs of adaptation
poem, based on the life of an eleventh-century military lead-
to the newer Christian sensibility.
er, relates the misfortunes and ultimate triumph of Rodrigo
The flowering of Christian medieval poetry in England
Díaz de Vivar, who, although unjustly exiled by the sover-
occurs in the latter part of the fourteenth century. Both the
eign of Castile, remains a faithful vassal, one who continu-
Pearl and Piers Plowman, two anonymous Middle English
ously sends back booty from battle with the Moors; when
poems, combine dream vision and allegory, a sense of spiritu-
grossly misused by perfidious noblemen, he leaves the retri-
al crisis and the hope of victory in heaven. The most impor-
bution of justice to King Alfonso, the monarch who has ban-
tant work of this period, however, is Chaucer’s Canterbury
ished him. In the course of the poem (and subsequently in
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POETRY: CHRISTIAN POETRY
7219
Spanish mystique) Díaz, or “el Cid,” becomes a paragon of
found religious depth. Set against a typology of Exodus and
justice and bravery. A pious deathbed scene, attributed by
Deliverance, which is enhanced by the story’s unfolding be-
scholars to a later (and monastic) hand, attempts to bring the
tween the evening of Good Friday and the Wednesday of
poem more resolutely within a Christian framework. And
Easter Week in the year 1300, the poem recounts Dante’s
yet, like the Chanson de Roland, Spain’s epic is more a cele-
exploration of the state of the soul after death in a journey
bration of battle against “the Infidel,” as well as of loyalty to
that takes him from hell through purgatory to paradise, and
the anointed lord, than it is a seriously Christian poem.
culminates in the beatific vision (left undescribed, of course,
at the close of the final canto). In the course of this experi-
A later development in narrative poetry, which turned
ence, which unites the journeys of Aeneas and the apostle
its attention from battlefield to court, is the romance. Critics
Paul even as it surpasses them with its own totality, he is
disagree over whether it arose as a sentimentalization of earli-
guided first by Vergil, the paragon of poetry, natural reason,
er epic materials such as the chansons de geste or whether, on
and the dream of empire, and then by Beatrice, the woman
the other hand, it represents a hearkening back to late classi-
who in life represented for Dante the transforming love of
cal models. In any event, it concerns itself with the characters
God in Christ and on whose behalf the poet promised earlier
and events of King Arthur’s court (known as the matière de
in the Vita nuova (1295) to offer such praise as no other be-
Bretagne) and has at its center an ideal of chivalry and a pre-
loved had ever received. Critics have noted Dante’s debt to
occupation with love, which it portrays as ennobling when
classical poets (whom, indeed, he draws on extensively—
sublimated in the chaste pursuit of excellence, but disastrous
especially Vergil, Ovid, Lucan, and Statius—at the same
(both personally and socially) when acted out in adultery. Al-
time that he transforms them for his own Christian pur-
though Chrétien de Troyes (d. around 1180) was certainly
poses), as well as his connection to medieval accounts of
not the originator of romance poetry, it is he who brought
earthly pilgrimage and heavenly vision. Theologically, he
the genre to flower in French with his poems Erec, Yvain,
unites Thomistic clarity with the ardor of Augustinian and
Lancelot, and the unfinished Perceval—the story of a simple
Franciscan traditions. And yet what remains astonishing is
knight whose feudal service, transcending that owed to king
the sheer originality of the work, which mixes what the four-
or lady, is given to the pursuit of the Grail, a complex symbol
teenth century knew about the ancient world with a very
of religious mystery associated with Christ’s passion and res-
contemporary appraisal of the poet’s own time—all of it fil-
urrection.
tered through the personal experience of Dante Alighieri
A fuller and far more profound working of this material
himself (who, like Augustine in the Confessions, is both the
is offered by Wolfram von Eschenbach (d. around 1220),
wise author and the developing subject of the same work).
whose Parzival, written between 1200 and 1210, introduced
The sixteenth century was to call the Commedia “divine,” an
the Grail theme into German literature and brought both
adjective that later centuries have continued to find appro-
epic and romance to a new level of spiritual profundity that
priate. Indeed, in the intricately constructed plan of the hun-
places Wolfram in the same lofty sphere as Dante. Building
dred cantos of this epic, Christian poetry attains a scope of
on Chrétien’s tale of the “guileless fool” who through inno-
reference and a depth of resonance that are rivaled (if at all)
cence and faithful commitment attains a goal that evades
only by John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
those who are wise in the ways of the world, Parzival de-
THE RENAISSANCE. With the exception of the fourteenth-
scribes a quasi-allegorical pilgrimage through error, pride,
century English works noted above, the great religious move-
despair, and repentance, undertaken in order to attain the
ments and controversies of Europe did not after Dante pro-
most distinctive of Christian virtues, humility. In its posses-
duce poetry of major significance until the mid-sixteenth
sion, Parzival is able not only to be keeper of the Grail—a
century. In the latter years of that century there is unmistak-
paradisiacal stone representing the love of God—but also to
ably evident a Christian poetic renaissance in the form of
assume the role of king among a circle of knights whose
both long narrative works and meditational, or devotional,
ideals are set infinitely higher than the loves and adventures
lyrics. Within the former category is found the Portuguese
that characterize the traditional Arthurian court. The poem
Os Lusíadas (1572), a Vergilian celebration of the voyage of
is notable for its inauguration of the Bildungsroman, which,
Vasco da Gama to India and of his return via the Cape of
along with the Grail story itself, has had such a powerful im-
Good Hope. This national epic, composed by Luis de
pact on subsequent German literature. Parzival also shares
Camo˜es (d. 1580), tells its near-contemporary tale in mythic
some of the essential qualities (though none of the superfi-
terms, mingling together history, Catholic religion, and the
cial) that distinguish the greatest medieval poem of pilgrim-
pagan Roman pantheon of the Aeneid. In this poem West
age and vision, Dante’s Commedia.
meets East and attempts to conquer a paradise otherwise lost
to Europe. Within its epic machinery, moreover, there is the
Written between the time of Dante’s exile from Flor-
working of Camo˜es’s own curious syncretism: his blending
ence in 1302 and his death in 1321, the Commedia is an un-
of Christianity with Neoplatonism and of pagan religion
paralleled synthesis of theological reflection and literary
with Portuguese national (and religious) piety.
form, in which hymn and allegory, epic and romance, spiri-
tual pilgrimage and personal Bildungsroman are all brought
Writing at almost the same time, but closer to the censo-
together in a narrative of enduring appeal, as well as of pro-
rious arm of the Counter-Reformation, Torquato Tasso
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POETRY: CHRISTIAN POETRY
(d. 1595) published his Gerusalemme liberata in 1581. Al-
Traherne (d. 1674), and Henry Vaughan (d. 1695). With
though he was heir to the secular romances of Boiardo and
the exception of the Welsh doctor Vaughan, all were or-
Ariosto, with their reworking of the old Arthurian material,
dained priests in the Anglican church (but Crashaw later be-
Tasso set out instead to produce a truly Christian epic, and
came a Roman cleric). To a greater or lesser extent, all drew
for this purpose he chose the subject of Godfrey of Bouillon’s
upon the techniques of religious meditation that mingle a
retaking of Jerusalem from the Saracens during the First Cru-
vivid reimagining of biblical scenes, intense self-scrutiny, and
sade. Although replete with the requisite battle scenes and
an orientation of the self toward God. In this group Crashaw
amatory interludes of the romance-epic, he intended the
is in every way the anomaly, drawing as he does on the more
poem to be read allegorically as the struggle of the soul to
extravagantly Baroque continental sensibility typified by the
overcome every sort of temptation (and perhaps especially
convolution and artificiality of, for example, Giambattista
those of the flesh) in order to achieve salvation. Whatever his
Marino (d. 1625). But even among the more thoroughly En-
noble intentions, the text caused him difficulties with the In-
glish Anglicans, there is a wide range of feeling: the splendid
quisition; consequently he republished it in revised form
self-absorption of Donne as he worries about his own salva-
under the title Gerusalemme conquistata (1593), thereby
tion; the artful self-diminution of Herbert, with his exqui-
achieving the requisite piety, but only at the cost of poetic
sitely wrought lyrics of surrender to a loving Master; the mys-
interest and integrity.
tically esoteric Traherne; the meditations of Henry Vaughan
upon nature, a preoccupation that links him in anticipatory
The epic poem (like the Renaissance itself) came rela-
ways to William Wordsworth and the High Romantics.
tively late to Protestant England, but found its belated poet
in Edmund Spenser (d. 1599), whose Faerie Queene (pub-
John Milton (d. 1674) tried his hand at this sort of
lished in parts between 1590 and 1609), although unfinished
meditational poetry in the early ode entitled On the Morning
according to its original plan, nonetheless succeeded in real-
of Christ’s Nativity. But the religious lyric was never to engage
izing its partial goals: the incorporation of Vergilian epic into
his poetic imagination. To be sure, religious controversy and
medieval (as well as Italian) romance, a multileveled allegory,
theological reflection preoccupied him his entire life and
an expression of the Reformed religious sensibility, and a cel-
filled many volumes of prose as well. But it was not until his
ebration of Elizabethan England and its Virgin Queen (the
political hopes in Cromwell’s Commonwealth had been frus-
model for that Gloriana who, while never seen in the poem’s
trated and the monarchy subsequently restored in 1660 that
Faeryland, motivates all virtuous action). Book 1, the “Leg-
the “sacred muse” returned—and then with an astonishing
end of Holiness,” is the most explicitly theological of the six
afflatus of poetry that took its “graver subject” from mo-
books that Spenser lived to complete. Its Red Cross Knight
ments of scriptural history: the fall of Adam and Eve, the
struggles against the various avatars of wickedness in order
death of Samson, Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. Fol-
to champion Una, the true (English) church, and in so doing
lowing the example of the Huguenot Guillaume du Bartas
to realize his identity as England’s patron, Saint George. The
(d. 1590) in the composition of a biblical epic, Milton made
rest of the poem is preoccupied with the vicissitudes of the
in Paradise Lost (1667) a deliberate decision to turn away
moral life and the cultivation of the virtues of temperance,
from classical or romance themes, at the same time, of
chastity, friendship, justice, and courtesy, each of which is
course, as he incurred openly a vast debt to Vergil on the one
championed by a representative knight and exercised in a
hand and Spenser on the other. (His later works, Paradise Re-
successful combat with evil. Pervading the entire work, how-
gained and Samson Agonistes, both published in 1671, draw
ever, is the sense of incomplete victory and of an unfulfilled
upon Greek dramatic form.) At the center of all three poems
longing, the desire for a vision of peace that can never be at-
there stands an individual “sufficient to have stood, though
tained in this life, whether in the Faeryland of the poem or
free to fall,” and in each case Milton undertakes an explora-
in the sixteenth-century world to which its “dark conceit” re-
tion of exactly what this sufficiency consists of: the exercise
fers. In the end, in the fragmentary “Mutabilitie Cantos,” the
of right reason over against the appeal of lesser appetites. As
poet places his sole faith in a heavenly city built “upon the
in his prose writings against monarchy and episcopacy and
pillours of Eternitie.”
as in those advocating freedom of speech and of divorce, the
S
author of the poems assumes the role of prophet. This voice
EVENTEENTH CENTURY. In the first half of the seventeenth
century there is evident an enormous and rich outpouring
is especially audible in Paradise Lost, where again and again
of religious verse, lyric rather than epic, which is commonly
he claims the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in his articulation
characterized, after Samuel Johnson, as “metaphysical” or,
of what scripture has chosen to say little (or nothing) about.
since Louis Martz (1954), as “the poetry of meditation.” It
Dante too claimed enormous authority for his poetic under-
is distinguished by its delight in wit, learning, and paradox,
taking, but while he dared to speak prophetically to his age,
and most especially by its cultivation of farfetched metaphors
he did so as a Roman Catholic, as a loyal (if contentious) son
or “conceits.” Examples can be drawn from the poetry of
of the “universal” church; Milton, by contrast, was in the
Italy, Spain, France, and Germany, but it is in England that
composition of his great poems a denomination of one, a sol-
the metaphysical poem found its fullest Christian expression;
itary church.
its foremost exponents were John Donne (d. 1631), George
Milton’s poetic enterprise is strangely Janus-faced. Late
Herbert (d. 1633), Richard Crashaw (d. 1649), Thomas
in the seventeenth century, almost as if he were resolutely
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POETRY: ISLAMIC POETRY
7221
looking backward, he chose unfashionable biblical subject
Newman, Barbara. God and the Goddesses: Visions, poetry, and Be-
matter and an epic genre so played out that by the end of
lief in the Middle Ages. Philadelphia, 2003.
the century it could only be mocked in satire. On the other
Troeger, Thomas H. Borrowed Light: Hymn Texts, Prayers, and
hand, his portraits of divinity (and perhaps especially of God
Poems. New York, 1994.
the Father in Paradise Lost) have an Enlightenment chill, as
PETER S. HAWKINS (1987)
if they had passed over into a pantheon of deities no longer
Revised Bibliography
believed in. But perhaps the authentically religious note in
Milton’s poetry is rather to be found in his magnificent evo-
cation of the physical beauties of heaven and earth as well
as in the poignancy of his presentation of humanity itself—
POETRY: ISLAMIC POETRY
poised between innocence and experience and between obe-
Since its emergence in the Middle East early in the seventh
dience and rebellion, engaged in the process of choosing a
century, Islam has been practiced in many different cultural
self to become. It is in such emphases as these that one can
and linguistic areas throughout the world. As a result, Islamic
anticipate the Romantic movement that was to follow upon
religious poetry has been composed in a wide variety of lan-
Milton’s death by a century, arriving at a time when poetry
guages. Among these, Arabic and Persian are distinctive for
throughout Europe seems to have cut loose from the moor-
their transnational, or cosmopolitan, nature. Alongside these
ings of Christian tradition in order to explore new unortho-
two classical languages, Islamic poets have employed a host
doxies of the spirit and imagination.
of other languages, ranging from Bengali and Chinese to
Swahili and Urdu. This article will summarize the develop-
SEE ALSO Arthur; Dante Alighieri; Drama, articles on Euro-
pean Religious Drama, Modern Western Theater; Grail,
ment of Islamic poetry in Arabic and Persian, the important
The; Literature, article on Religious Dimensions of Modern
languages for classical Islamic literature, and will also com-
Western Literature.
menti briefly on the nature and character of Islamic poetry
in the regional vernacular traditions.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
ARABIC. Since the QurDa¯n was revealed in a culture that
Christianity is so interwoven into the fabric of European poetry
prized the poetic arts and the beauty of oral expression, these
up through the seventeenth century that any worthwhile
values affected the role of poetry in many Muslim societies,
study of Dante, Chaucer, or Milton will of necessity explore
both Arab and non-Arab. In pre-Islamic Arabian society,
the interconnection between poetry and belief. In The Great
poets (sha Dirs) enjoyed a special status, along with soothsayers
Code: The Bible and Literature (New York, 1982) Northrop
(kahins); they were believed to be inspired in their utterances
Frye begins with the Christian ur-text and suggests the de-
by their relationship with spirits and jinns. As a result, their
gree to which scripture informs literary culture in the West.
Ernst Robert Curtius in his European Literature in the Latin
words had a particularly powerful spiritual potency. Not sur-
Middle Ages (Princeton, N. J., 1953) and Erich Auerbach in
prisingly, when Muh:ammad began to recite the particularly
his Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Litera-
beautiful verses that eventually came to comprise the QurDa¯n
ture (Princeton, 1953) have produced classic studies of the
(which means literally “the Recitation”), his opponents ac-
foundations and development of European poetry, which
cused him of being a poet. In response to such accusations,
also offer invaluable insight into the interaction of Christian-
the QurDa¯n (for example, in Chapter 26) clearly distinguishes
ity with its pagan inheritance. Helen Flanders Dunbar’s Sym-
between a poet, who is driven by egotistical desire, and a
bolism in Medieval Thought and Its Consummation in the Di-
prophet, who utters the truth that is revealed to him or her
vine Comedy (New Haven, Conn., 1929) establishes a
by the one God. Although the Islamic scripture criticizes
religious and cultural context not only for Dante but for me-
poets who compete with the Divine Word, the QurDa¯n dis-
dieval poetry in general. Sensitive study of the role of Chris-
tianity in the formation of European poetry is also offered
plays an acute sensibility to the spoken word, both for its aes-
in R. S. Loomis’s The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian
thetic qualities and for the ethical values espoused in pre-
Symbol (New York, 1963), C. S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love
Islamic Arabic poetry (such as generosity, valor, and hospital-
(Oxford, 1936), Louis L. Martz’s The Poetry of Meditation
ity), albeit in a new religious framework. Indeed, for the
(New Haven, 1954), Helen Gardner’s Religion and Literature
believer, the inimitability of QurDanic eloquence serves as
(Oxford, 1971), and A. D. Nuttall’s Overheard by God: Fic-
proof of the scripture’s divine origin.
tion and Prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante, and St. John (New
York, 1980).
Many poets ranked among Muh:ammad’s most danger-
ous opponents, including KaEb (d. c. 630). His father Zuhayr
New Sources
had composed one of the “Hanging Odes,” the seven most
Atwan, Robert and Laurence Wieder, eds. Chapters into Verse: Po-
celebrated poems of pre-Islamic Arabia. According to tradi-
etry in English Inspired by the Bible. Oxford and New York,
tion, these odes, because of their polished eloquence, were
1992.
embroidered in gold and hung from the walls of the KaEbah.
Bradley, Ian C. The Book of Hymns. New York, 1989.
When KaEb eventually decided to convert to Islam, he of-
Curzon, David, ed. The Gospels in Our Image. New York, 1995.
fered his allegiance to Muh:ammad by presenting him a poem
Keyte, Hugh, and Andrew Parrott, with Clifford Bartlett. The
of praise. In response, the Prophet gave KaDb his cloak
New Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford, 1998.
(burda); consequently, the poem came to be known as the
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POETRY: ISLAMIC POETRY
Burda, or Mantle Ode. This poem ushered in a new genre
agery from being read literally by opponents determined to
of panegyric poetry in praise of the Prophet that was to be-
accuse him of moral corruption, Ibn EArabi wrote a commen-
come ubiquitous in all Islamic literatures.
tary highlighting the esoteric meaning of the work.
The transaction between the poet and prophet simulta-
PERSIAN. By the time of its renaissance in the thirteenth cen-
neously rejects some pre-Islamic values and transforms other
tury, however, Arabic mystical poetry had begun to be over-
values in the new religious worldview that was heralded by
shadowed by works composed in Persian, which was rapidly
the coming of Islam. As Michael Sells points out in Ap-
becoming the major language of religious poetry in many
proaching the Qur Da¯n, instead of being draped with the
Muslim lands. The spread of Persian as a literary vehicle was
Hanging Odes, the KaEbah, the most sacred site of Islam, was
facilitated by the rise of dynasties of Persianized Turks who,
adorned with a black cloth embroidered with verses from the
by the fifteenth century, controlled a vast territory, stretching
QurDa¯n. Most importantly, poetry, which had once been
from Anatolia in modern Turkey, through Iran and Central
shunned for representing the ideals of paganism, was brought
Asia to southern India.
into the service of Islam. Indeed, later Muslim poets pro-
Although Persian poets adopted the form of the Arabic
claimed that their work was the “heritage of prophecy,” refer-
qasida for the religious panegyric in Persian, their forte lay
ring to a tradition that calls the tongues of poets “the keys
in the refinement of two other genres: the masnawi and the
of the treasures beneath the Divine Throne.”
ghazal. A distinctively Persian form, the masnawi, a lengthy
poem with rhymed couplets, was initially used to compose
The tradition that had begun with pre-Islamic poetry
epics recounting the heroic deeds of Iranian rulers and cham-
continued to develop throughout the history of Arabic and
pions. In a religious context, Persian Sufis favored the mas-
other Islamic literatures. Muslim poets adapted the pre-
nawi as a vehicle for explicating ethical and mystical concepts
Islamic genre of the qasida, the monorhyme praise poem, for
through anecdotes, tales, and romances. Among the early
religious purposes. Instead of praising a ruler or a poet’s pa-
poets who employed this form was EAttar (d. c. 1221), the
tron, the qasida was now used to praise God, to eulogize the
author of the Mantiq at-Tayr (The Bird’s Conversation). Os-
Prophet, or to laud and lament the martyr-heroes of Sh¯ıEah
tensibly a narrative concerning a group of birds on a quest
Islam. In the ninth century, as the focus of Sufism or Islamic
for their mythical king, the Mantiq at-Tayr has come to be
mysticism shifted from extreme asceticism to an emphasis on
regarded as one of the classic Islamic expositions of the mys-
an intimate and loving relationship between devotees and
tical journey and spiritual development of the soul. The most
God, mystics began composing exquisite mystical love poet-
famous masnawi ever composed, however, was the Math-
ry in Arabic. Drawing upon the qasida’s amatory prelude
nawi-yi ma Dnawi (Spiritual Couplets), by the most beloved
(the nasib), with its themes of remembering and longing for
of Persian mystic poets, Jala¯l al-D¯ın Ru¯m¯ı (d. 1273). This
a lost beloved, this poetry depicted the many aspects and
monumental work, consisting of some thirty-five thousand
phases of love—the anguish of separation, blissful union,
couplets, has been called the “QurDa¯n in the Persian tongue,”
endless striving to be worthy and faithful, and longing for
since later generations have considered it to be an encapsula-
physical death and spiritual union with the Divine. Promi-
tion of the spiritual and esoteric teachings of the Arabic scrip-
nent poets included the Iraqi woman mystic RabDia
ture for Persian speakers.
al-EAdawiya (d. 801), the Egyptian Dhu al-Nun (d. 859),
and the Baghdad natives Sumnun “the Lover,” (d. c. 900),
In addition to the Mathnawi, Ru¯m¯ı also composed a
Shibli (d. 945), and the great “martyr of love” al-Hallaj, exe-
collection of ecstatic poems called the Divan-i Shams-i Ta-
cuted in 922.
briz. As its name indicates, this work was dedicated to the
memory of his spiritual mentor and soul mate, the enigmatic
After a period of decline in quality and quantity from
Shams-i Tabriz. Tradition holds that Shams’s mysterious dis-
the mid-tenth century onwards, Arabic mystical poetry expe-
appearance caused Ru¯m¯ıto become a poet, pouring out in
rienced an efflorescence in the thirteenth century with the
the poems of the Divan his heartbreak at the loss of his be-
emergence of two great writers, the Egyptian Ibn al-Farid
loved friend. For the Divan, Ru¯m¯ı chose the most important
(d. 1235) and the Andalusian Ibn al-EArabi (d. 1240). Ibn
form of lyric poetry in Persian—the ghazal—a short poem
al-Farid drew upon the heritage of the traditional qasida to
with loosely arranged couplets united by a single rhyme and
compose exquisite odes on mystical love, including the
common meter.
Khamriyya (A Wine Poem) in praise of the primordial wine
of divine love that intoxicates everything created, and the
By convention, the ghazal’s central theme is unfulfilled
Ta Diyya (a qasida rhyming with the letter “t”), which recounts
love. The rules governing the ghazal’s prosody exercise such
in high-flown imagery the soul’s journey to God. Though
tight constraints on poets that they must resort to a vast stock
more renowned in the history of Islamic mystical literature
of conventional images and motifs—wine and tavern, night-
for his dense prose works, Ibn al-EArabi, inspired by his love
ingales and roses, attractive young boys and veiled ladies, di-
for the daughter of a Persian Sufi, composed a collection of
sheveled tresses and ruby lips—to draw analogies. Skillful
mystical poems entitled Tarjuman al-Ashwaq (The Interpret-
ghazal poets effortlessly interweave these images together
er of Ardent Longings), whose imagery recalls the pre-Islamic
while engaging in intricate verbal acrobatics, making it diffi-
qasida. In order to prevent the work’s amatory and erotic im-
cult to grasp the real meaning of their poetry, as it subtly os-
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7223
cillates between the spiritual and the sensual. Is the lover
the Persian background. The form of the Arabic qasida was
drunk with wine, wild with passion for a handsome boy, or
adopted into a wide range of languages, often with adjust-
intoxicated with God? Although the meaning intended by
ments in meter and imagery to suit local tastes. Indeed, in
the poet can be vague, audiences nevertheless delight in this
some instances, the qasida inspired the development of en-
ambiguity, thus accounting for the popularity of the ghazal
tirely new literary genres. For example, the madah is the reli-
in Persian and Persian-influenced cultures.
gious praise poem in Sindhi, the syair is used in Malay for
The supreme master of the ghazal in Persian was Hafiz
composing poems providing instruction on mystical themes,
(d. 1390). Generations of Persian speakers have regarded his
and the qasidah moderen in Indonesia is a genre of didactic
collection of ghazals, known as the Divan-i Hafiz, as a source
religious poems set to popular music.
of wisdom to consult when making important life decisions.
Islamic vernacular traditions also reflect an astounding
Like Ru¯m¯ı’s Mathnawi, the Divan-i Hafiz is believed to con-
array of poetic forms derived by various literary cultures
tain the wise voice of the mystic who has been fortunate
around the world. Although these are too numerous to be
enough to commune with the transcendent reality. And like
discussed in detail, Muslim poets co-opted many forms of
Ru¯m¯ı’s poetry, the verse of Hafiz and other Persian mys-
secular poetry, often in the form of songs, in order to com-
tics—such as SanaDi (d. 1131), EAttar, and Jami
pose different types of religious poetry. For instance, in the
(d. 1492)—has inspired and informed seekers on the spiritu-
region around Bijapur in southern India, Sufi ideas were
al quest. As a result, Sufis have commonly regarded the in-
transmitted by songs sung in Dakhini Urdu by women as
corporation of verses of poetry in rituals such as the sama D
they performed daily tasks, such as spinning cotton or grind-
(spiritual concert of music and poetry) as a means of trigger-
ing grain, while in Tamilnadu, poets adopted the kappiyam,
ing a mystical experience.
a long narrative poem that traditionally had related the sto-
POETRY IN THE REGIONAL VERNACULARS. Arabic and Per-
ries of gods and the exploits of human heroes. In Senegal,
sian were the dominant languages for Islamic poetry until the
odes retelling the history of prophets or praising Sufi masters
fourteenth century; at that time, poets in other regions began
employed forms traditional to Wolof praise-poetry. Hindi-
adopting local languages for composing religious poetry.
speaking poets in North India used romantic ballads to
Many of these poets pioneered the development of literary
create lengthy mystical allegories in verse; the most impor-
traditions in these regional languages. In her book As through
tant example is the Padmavat of Malik Muh:ammad JaDisi
a Veil, Annemarie Schimmel compares the role of these Mus-
(d. after 1570). Along with vernacular forms, poets also
lim poets, many of them Sufi, to that played by Christian
adopted local literary conventions and adapted Islamic reli-
mystics, nuns, and ascetics in the development of European
gious concepts and ideas to local cultural contexts. These ad-
vernaculars such as German, Dutch, and Italian.
aptations helped Islam spread rapidly throughout many re-
To be sure, Muslim poets hesitated at first to experi-
gions of the world.
ment with composing religious verse in the vernacular. In
some areas of South Asia, for example, anxiety about using
Since vernacular poetry mediates between the commu-
a local language ran so deep that poets thought it necessary
nity of believers and their religious tradition, much of this
to apologize to readers. Many of these pioneer poets would
poetry tends to be didactic in character, addressing topics
have agreed with the Afghan poet Bayazid Ansari (d. 1585)
such as beliefs, fundamental rituals, ethics and morality, and
when he commented: “God speaks in every language, be it
the transitory nature of the world. Poems praising God, the
Arabic, Persian, Hindi, or Afghani. He speaks in the lan-
prophets, and important religious personalities in Islamic
guage which the human heart can understand.” Love for
history are also ubiquitous. Poetry composed under the in-
their mother-tongues, as well as the growing popularity of
fluence of the Sufi tradition, particularly in Turkey and
vernacular poetry among populations who could not access
South Asia, tends to attack barren intellectualism and rote
literature in the Arabic and Persian traditions, eventually re-
ritualism as paths that cannot lead to salvation. Instead, these
sulted in a blossoming of regional vernacular poetic tradi-
poems laud the path of love, in which the believer develops
tions from the eighteenth century onwards. Significantly, in
a loving relationship with the Divine Beloved, as an interio-
the case of those languages which lacked a standard alphabet,
rized form of religious practice that leads to the spiritual de-
poets used the Arabic script or adaptations of it to write their
velopment of the soul. As expected, many Sufi poems also
compositions.
extol the virtues of the Sufi shaykh whose guidance helps the
believer to traverse the spiritual path.
Arabic and Persian poetry continued to exercise varying
degrees of influence on the development of regional poetic
POETRY IN HONOR OF THE PROPHET. One subject common
traditions, however. Thus, Ottoman Turkish and Urdu
to all Islamic poetry, whether in the classical Arabic and Per-
poems are so heavily steeped in the Persianate tradition—
sian traditions or in the regional vernaculars, is praise and
from the appropriation of genres, such as the ghazal and mas-
love for the Prophet Muh:ammad. As devotion to the Proph-
nawi, to the wholesale adoption of conventional Persian
et Muh:ammad binds together Muslims from diverse cultural
symbols and imagery—that it is impossible to truly appreci-
and national backgrounds, this subject provides an appropri-
ate poetry in these two languages without an awareness of
ate summation for this survey of Islamic religious poetry.
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POETRY: NATIVE AMERICAN POETRY AND RELIGION
The tradition of composing poetry honoring the Proph-
POETRY: NATIVE AMERICAN POETRY AND
et began in his lifetime, when his companions, KaDb ibn
RELIGION
Zuhayr and Hassan ibn Thabit, glorified him in verse. In
More than any other genre of Native American contempo-
subsequent centuries, innumerable poets have composed
rary writing, poetry most closely reflects the Native American
na Dts, or poems in praise of Muh:ammad, in practically every
oral tradition. Traditional prayers, songs, and chants, first
language of the Islamic world. Since poets have employed a
performed orally and later “preserved” by non-Natives who
variety of styles, genres, and literary conventions, the figure
anticipated the demise of Native cultures in the nineteenth
of the Prophet is indigenized to different literary contexts.
century, serve as a bridge between the oral tradition and the
A Sindhi poet, for example, following the conventions of
work of contemporary Native poets. This early poetics was
Sindhi mystical literature, may address him as a bridegroom
an inherent part of ceremonial life for the tribes of North
and portray him in Sindhi garb, while a Tamil poet, influ-
America, and it continues to inform contemporary American
enced by the pillaitamil (baby poem), imagines him as a baby
Indian poetry. Broadly defined, Native American poetry is
within a Tamil landscape. Notwithstanding these cultural
“religious” in the sense that “[e]very factor of human experi-
differences, however, the poetry shares certain themes: extol-
ence is seen in a religious light as part of the meaning of life,”
ling the Prophet’s character, virtues, and beauty; recalling the
as the Lakota author Vine Deloria Jr. explains in God Is Red
events in his life, such as his birth and his ascension to heaven
(p. 195). Spirituality pervades the genre: poets incorporate
(the Mi Era¯j), or describing the various miracles he per-
mythic figures and stories, contemplate their relationships to
formed; expressing hope for his intercession on the Day of
sacred places, draw upon the rhythmic and performative as-
Judgment and beseeching his assistance in difficult circum-
pects of the oral tradition, describe tribal ceremonies and
stances; and exalting the esoteric aspect of association with
healing rituals, and in some cases respond to experiences with
the light of prophethood. The leitmotif of this poetry, how-
Christian missionaries and conversion, as well as social jus-
ever, is love. Poets fervently express in different languages
tice issues related to colonization.
their powerful, all-consuming love for the Prophet, the Be-
POETRY IN TRANSLATION. The first American Indian poetry
loved of God as he is frequently called, using a range of sym-
in print consisted of ceremonial chants and songs collected
bols and ideas. The twentieth-century Urdu poet
by ethnographers and linguists in the late nineteenth and
Muh:ammad Iqbal hints of the theme’s power and universali-
early twentieth centuries. These transcriptions were com-
ty when he declares, “Love for the Prophet runs like blood
piled in anthologies, including George W. Cronyn’s The
in the veins of the community.”
Path on the Rainbow (1918), Mary Austin’s The American
Rhythm: Studies and Reëxpressions of Amerindian Songs

SEE ALSO H:alla¯j, al-; Ibn al-EArab¯ı; Ibn al-Fa¯rid:; Iqbal,
(1932), and Margot Astrov’s The Winged Serpent: An Anthol-
Muh:ammad; Literature, article on Literature and Religion;
Ra¯biEah al-EAdaw¯ıyah; Ru¯m¯ı, Jala¯l al-D¯ın.
ogy of American Indian Prose and Poetry (1946). One must
approach these texts with some caution. As the Anishinaabe
poet and critic Kimberly M. Blaeser points out, “many early
BIBLIOGRAPHY
works were sifted from their cultural context, displayed in
Asani, Ali, and Kamal Abdelmalek. Celebrating Muh:ammad: Im-
a textual and secular nakedness that ignored the performed
ages of the Prophet in Popular Muslim Poetry. Columbia,
quality or distorted the sacred layers of ceremonial poetry”
S.C., 1995.
(p. 413). Beginning in the 1960s, the new field of ethnopoe-
Brown, Edward Granville. A Literary History of Persia. Cambridge,
tics revived interest in Native American songs and chants, at-
U.K., 1957.
tempting this time to present it in a more “authentic” form.
De Bruijn, J. T. P. Persian Sufi Poetry. An Introduction to the Mys-
Collections such as John Bierhorst’s In the Trail of the Wind
tical Use of Classical Poems. Richmond, U.K., 1997.
(1971), Jerome Rothenberg’s Shaking the Pumpkin (1972),
and Brian Swann’s Wearing the Morning Star (1996) pres-
Lewis, Franklin. Rumi: Past and Present; East and West: The Life,
Teaching and Poetryof Jalal ad-Din Rumi. Oxford, 2000.
ented new translations of many of the same “texts” in an at-
tempt to include Native perspectives in world poetics. Most
Renard, John. Seven Doors to Islam: Spirituality and the Religious
of those connected to ethnopoetics did not know the lan-
Life of Muslims. Berkeley, Calif., 1996.
guage of these traditions, with the exception of the linguists.
Schimmel, Annemarie. As Through a Veil: Mystical Poetry in Islam.
So again, content was often distorted.
New York, 1982.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY. The first American Indian
Sells, Michael. Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Qur Da¯n, Mi Era¯j, Poet-
poets writing in English included the Ojibwa (or Chippewa)
ic and Theological Writings. Mahwah, N.J., 1996.
writer George Copway (The Ojibway Conquest, 1850), the
Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qur Da¯n: The Early Revelations.
Cherokee poet and novelist John Rollin Ridge (Poems,
Ashland, Ore., 1999.
1868), the Mohawk poet and performer E. Pauline Johnson
(The White Wampum, 1895), and the Creek writer and activ-
Sperl, Stefan, and Christopher Shackle, eds. Qasida Poetry in Is-
ist Alexander Posey (The Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey,
lamic Asia and Africa. 2 vols. Leiden, 1996.
1910). These poets were educated in the Western tradition,
ALI S. ASANI (2005)
and because the Catholic Church controlled a majority of the
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POETRY: NATIVE AMERICAN POETRY AND RELIGION
7225
boarding schools they attended, much of their poetry is
Charlie Coyote wanted to be governor and he said that
closely aligned with Christianity. The tenets of Manifest
when he got elected he would run the other men off the
Destiny are likewise often apparent in the poetry of this era.
reservation and keep all the women for himself.
Some writers adopted Western modes of thought and
Silko demonstrates how traditional stories are remembered
verse—often for the purpose of educating a white readership
and reconfigured to reflect modern-day concerns.
about their Native cultures. E. Pauline Johnson and Alexan-
REMEMBERING THE TRADITIONS. American Indian poets
der Posey incorporate elements of Greek mythology in their
often describe tribally specific rituals and ceremonies in their
work. In “The Flower of Tulledega,” for example, Posey par-
work. In “The Gourd Dancer,” the Kiowa author N. Scott
allels two musicians, a Creek figure named Stechupco and
Momaday relates the story of how his grandfather, Mamme-
the Greek god Pan. Ridge’s poetry favors “progress” and
daty, became a traditional dancer. Even though Momaday
thereby reflects the Christian principle of dominion over na-
never met his grandfather, he highlights the importance of
ture. Johnson’s poem “A Cry from an Indian Wife” expresses
maintaining connections to the ancestors, via more immedi-
a deep, ironic devotion to Christian beliefs, even as Indians
ate elders. The Mesquakie poet Ray A. Young Bear describes
lands are lost and Native people suffer. “What white-robed
a male religious society in “Always Is He Criticized”:
priest prays for your safety here[?],” Johnson asks.
There was this dance procession I was a part of, and we
CONTEMPORARY POETRY AND THE ORAL TRADITION. The
were all males following one another, demonstrating
first major anthology of Native American poetry, Carriers of
our place in Black Eagle Child society with flexed chest
the Dream Wheel, appeared in 1975. The Native American
muscles and clenched fists.
Renaissance, said to have begun in 1969 when N. Scott Mo-
maday won the Pulitzer for House Made of Dawn (1968), saw
Young Bear, too, places tradition in the present, as he goes
a flourishing of Native poetry. The themes and stylistics of
on to reflect on the ironic position of warrior men, who
this poetry connect back to early poetic modes, to the oral
would have traditionally supported their families but are now
tradition. In particular, poets of this era employ anaphora
“perennially unemployed” and supported by their women.
(repetition) and pay special attention to cadence, as well as
Several Native poets have written “prayer poems” that
to sound and language. For example, the Muskogee (or
reflect traditional religious beliefs. An example is Joy Harjo’s
Creek) poet Joy Harjo uses repetition in a wide variety of
“Eagle Poem,” which begins,
poems. In “Woman Hanging from a Thirteenth Floor Win-
dow,” for example, some form of the title phrase begins near-
To pray you open your whole self To sky, to earth, to
sun, to moon To one whole voice that is you.
ly every stanza, creating a sense of suspense and anxiety over
the fate of the title character, whose life so precariously tee-
Harjo likens the eagle’s flight to the circle of life. One of
ters on the edge. Her poem “She Had Some Horses” enacts
Simon Ortiz’s earliest poems, “This Preparation,” describes
a rhythmic chant of words and sounds, demonstrating the
the poet’s preparation for prayer. He cuts prayer sticks in the
belief that language is creation.
traditional Acoma way and listens to the creek “speaking to
the world.” The poem ends with the affirmation that
Another way contemporary poets draw upon the oral
“prayers / make things possible.” The Abenaki poet Joseph
tradition is by incorporating tribal cosmologies and stories.
Bruchac’s “Blessing the Waters” also describes the sacredness
In “People from the Stars,” the Osage poet Carter Revard re-
of water and the ancient ritual of blessing it and being blessed
counts the creation story of the Wazhazhe or Osage people,
by it. He writes, “There is no blessing older / than the bless-
who “come from the stars” and will “go back to the stars”
ing of the waters.” Bruchac’s poem acts as both a reminder
at death. Other poets tell trickster stories in their poems. The
of the prayer and as the prayer itself.
figure of Coyote, the most common trickster in tribal stories,
appears in a great number of contemporary poems. Simon
The connection to nature in the prayer poems appears
Ortiz uses Coyote to recount the Acoma Pueblo origin story,
in other poems as well. Whereas Christianity purports do-
in which the people emerged from the earth. In “The Cre-
minion over the natural world, Native worldviews seek to
ation, According to Coyote,” Ortiz writes,
maintain a spiritual connection between humans and their
environment. Poets such as Linda Hogan (Chickasaw) have
My uncle told me all this, that time. Coyote told me
explored this connection. Her “Elk Song” begins,
too, but you know how he is, always talking to the gods,
the mountains, the stone all around. And you know, I
We give thanks to deer, otter, the great fish and birds
believe him.
that fly over and are our bones and skin.
Ortiz’s affirmation of belief in the Acoma creation story re-
Even though animals provide sustenance for humans, Hogan
flects the renewal of traditional belief systems that occurred
insists that we must never forget to give thanks for their sacri-
in late 1960s and early 70s. Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna
fice. She makes the connection between humans and other
Pueblo) catalogs a number of Coyote tales in “Toe’osh: A La-
animals even clearer in “Morning: The World in the Lake.”
guna Coyote Story,” some of which tell of contemporary
In this poem, the flight of a red-winged blackbird reminds
manifestations of the trickster, a powerful force in the Lagu-
the poet that we are “daughters, all of us.” The Alaska Native
na creation story:
poet Mary TallMountain takes this idea a step further in
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“Coyotes’ Desert Lament.” The narrator lies on a hill listen-
I told him to stop mumbling over the sick children, that
ing to coyotes and wondering what their memories hold,
the duties of curing belonged to our doctors who have
when
centuries of service and the herbs to heal.
Suddenly I am coyote too, Nose a wet black tremble.
Both poets resist conversion to Christianity, while expressing
Hound and I bunch together Among warm grey bodies
their faith in traditional healing practices.
Calling our brother home.
CONTEMPORARY RESPONSES TO CHRISTIANITY. Numerous
In exploring the possibility of actually becoming the coyote,
Native poets have responded similarly to forced conversion
TallMountain reinforces the view that all creatures are in
and missionization. In “Captivity,” Louise Erdrich (Ojibwa,
some sense related.
or Ojibwe) writes an imagined interior monologue of Mary
Rowlandson, a Puritan woman taken captive during King
Reverence for the environment extends to the landscape
Philip’s War (1675–1676), who then wrote the first “captivi-
itself. Native poets speak of sacred places, which might in-
ty narrative.” Erdrich questions the Puritan contempt for
clude ancient homelands and reservation spaces. Leslie Mar-
Natives as “savage” and “soulless” creatures, insinuating that
mon Silko’s “Slim Man Canyon” is a contemplation of an
perhaps Rowlandson felt an attraction toward her captor and
awe-inspiring place on the territory of the Navajo Nation:
wanted to become Indian herself. Erdrich grapples with Ca-
700 years ago people were living here water was running
tholicism in a number of poems, including “Fooling God,”
gently and the sun was warm on pumpkin flowers.
“Saint Clare,” and “Rez Litany.” In the last, Erdrich parodies
She describes “cliffs with stories and songs / painted on
the availability of Christian saints to Native converts, creat-
rock.” Silko repeats the phrase “700 years” throughout the
ing such satirical figures as Saint Assimilus, “patron of resi-
poem, giving reverence to the place and the long association
dential and of government / boarding schools”; Saint Quan-
between it and the Native peoples who have lived there for
tum, “Martyr of Blood / and Holy Protector of the Tribal
so long. Simon Ortiz’s poem “A Story of How a Wall
Rolls”; and Saint Bingeous, “who fell asleep upside down on
Stands” begins with a description of a four hundred-year-old
the cross / and rose on the third day without even knowing
wall at Acoma, “which supports hundreds of tons of dirt and
he had died.”
bones.” In the poem, Ortiz’s father explains how the wall was
The Blackfoot writer James Welch contemplates hypoc-
made and why it continues to hold together, at the same time
risy in the Catholic Church in “The Last Priest Didn’t Even
demonstrating how the people who built it have endured. In
Say Goodbye.” The narrator finds the priest’s study empty,
“This Is How They Were Placed for Us,” the Navajo poet
but smelling of “incense and bourbon.” “The saints all / dis-
Luci Tapahonso reflects on four sacred mountains, now
approved,” Welch continues. Sherman Alexie (Coeur
called Blanca Peak, Mount Taylor, the San Francisco Peaks,
d’Alene/Spokane) expresses a cynical and sarcastic view of
and Hesperus Peak, which correspond to the four directions,
Catholicism in many of his poems. In “Rise,” for example,
four seasons, four colors, and four cycles of Diné (Navajo)
he muses on the church’s doctrine of transubstantiation, by
life. She writes, “These mountains and the land keep us
which bread becomes the body of Christ, drawing a contrast
strong. / From them, and because of them, we prosper.” At
to the worldview of the Spokanes, for whom “salmon is sim-
the center is Huerfano Mountain: “This is where our prayers
ply salmon.” In other words, salmon is already sacred—no
began,” writes Tapahonso.
transformation is necessary. In “Drum as Love, Fear, and
As Janice Gould (Maidu/Konkow) explains in the intro-
Prayer,” Alexie asks, “how / do we say Indian prayers in En-
duction to Speak to Me Words, “We respond to pain and suf-
glish / and which God will answer? Is God red / or white?”
fering by seeking a healing, a healing that cannot be complet-
And in “How to Remodel the Interior of a Catholic
ed in the human world but must be completed by
Church,” he suggests, among other things, that the “priest’s
understanding our ties to the spirit world” (p. 11). Many
pockets are heavy with change.” The Hopi/Miwok poet
poets focus on traditional healing practices in their work. For
Wendy Rose takes her critique even further. Her poem “Ex-
example, the Mohawk poet Peter Blue Cloud reflects on the
cavation at Santa Barbara Mission” ends: “They built the
conflict between traditional healing and Christianity in “To-
mission with dead Indians.” The line is repeated four times,
ta Ti-om (For an Aunt).” He writes,
as if the poet herself cannot fathom that such massacres oc-
curred. Natives suffered at the hands of missionaries, alleged-
my aunt was an herb doctor, one-eyed with crooked
ly men of God. Rose’s use of the number four points to
yellow teeth the Christians called her pagan witch and
Pueblo ceremonial chants based on the cycles of life; she
their children taunted her or ran in fear of their bible
places it in opposition to the Christian sacred number, three,
lives at her approach
based on the Trinity. Poets like Erdrich, Welch, Alexie, and
Blue Cloud’s aunt is unaffected by their criticism, however,
Rose weigh Christian beliefs against their respective tribal be-
and she teaches the narrator how to collect and dry onanoron
liefs, and their poems act as reminders of both the effects of
roots, “to preserve their sacred power.” Another Mohawk
colonization and the endurance of traditional religions.
poet, Maurice Kenny, recounts the story of a “Blackrobe”
who is killed for his missionary activities in “Wolf ‘Aunt.’”
SEE ALSO Cosmology, article on Indigenous North and Me-
Kenny writes,
soamerican Cosmologies; Ecology and Religion, overview ar-
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POINT LOMA THEOSOPHICAL COMMUNITY
7227
ticle; Fiction, article on Native American Fiction and Reli-
Rose, Wendy. Bone Dance: New and Selected Poems, 1965–1993.
gion; Native American Christianities; North American
Tucson, Ariz., 1994.
Indian Religions, article on Mythic Themes; Oral Tradi-
Rothenberg, Jerome, ed. Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry
tion; Performance and Ritual; Politics and Religion, article
of the Indian North Americas. Garden City, N.Y., 1972.
on Politics and Native American Religious Traditions;
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Laguna Woman: Poems. Greenfield Center,
Tricksters, articles on North American Tricksters.
N.Y., 1974.
Swann, Brian, ed. Wearing the Morning Star: Native American
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Song-Poems. New York, 1996.
Primary Sources
TallMountain, Mary. The Light on the Tent Wall: A Bridging. Los
Alexie, Sherman. The Summer of Black Widows. Brooklyn, N.Y.,
Angeles, 1990.
1996.
Tapahonso, Luci. Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories. Tucson,
Alexie, Sherman. One Stick Song. Brooklyn, N.Y., 2000.
Ariz., 1997.
Astrov, Margot. The Winged Serpent: An Anthology of American In-
Welch, James. Riding the Earthboy 40: Poems. New York, 1971.
dian Prose and Poetry. New York, 1946.
Young Bear, Ray A. The Invisible Musician: Poems. Duluth,
Austin, Mary. The American Rhythm: Studies and Reëxpressions of
Minn., 1990.
Amerindian Songs. New York, 1932.
Bierhorst, John, ed. In the Trail of the Wind: American Indian
Secondary Sources
Poems and Ritual Orations. New York, 1971.
Blaeser, Kimberly. “The Possibilities of a Native Poetics.” In
Nothing but the Truth: An Anthology of Native American Lit-
Blue Cloud, Peter. Clans of Many Nations: Selected Poems 1969–
erature, edited by John L. Purdy and James Ruppert,
1994. Fredonia, N.Y., 1995.
pp. 412–415. Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2001.
Copway, George. The Ojibway Conquest. New York, 1850.
Bruchac, Joseph. “Many Tongues: Native American Poetry
Cronyn, George W., ed. The Path on the Rainbow: An Anthology
Today.” North Dakota Quarterly 55, no. 4 (Fall 1987):
of Songs and Chants from the Indians of North America. New
239–244.
York, 1918.
Deloria, Vine, Jr. God Is Red: A Native View of Religion. Rev. ed.
Erdrich, Louise. Jacklight. New York, 1984.
Golden, Colo., 2003.
Erdrich, Louise. Baptism of Desire. New York, 1989.
Fast, Robin Riley. The Heart as a Drum: Continuance and Resis-
Erdrich, Louise. Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. New York,
tance in American Indian Poetry. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1999.
2003.
Hogan, Linda. “The Nineteenth Century Native American
Harjo, Joy. She Had Some Horses. New York, 1983.
Poets.” Wassaja: The Indian Historian 13, no. 4 (November
1980): 24–29.
Harjo, Joy. In Mad Love and War. Middletown, Conn., 1990.
Hymes, Dell H. Now I Know Only So Far: Essays in Ethnopoetics.
Hogan, Linda. Seeing Through the Sun. Amherst, Mass., 1985.
Lincoln, Nebr., 2003.
Hogan, Linda. Savings: Poems. Minneapolis, 1988.
Lincoln, Kenneth. Sing with the Heart of a Bear: Fusions of Native
Johnson, E. Pauline. The White Wampum. London and Boston,
and American Poetry, 1890–1999. Berkeley, Calif., 2000.
1895.
Rader, Dean, and Janice Gould, eds. Speak to Me Words: Essays on
Johnson, E. Pauline. Flint and Feather. Toronto, 1917.
Contemporary American Indian Poetry. Tucson, Ariz., 2003.
Milton, John R., ed. The American Indian Speaks. Vermillion,
Swann, Brian. “Introduction: Only the Beginning.” In Harper’s
S.D., 1969. Contains poems by Simon Ortiz.
Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry, edited by
Momaday, N. Scott. House Made of Dawn. New York, 1968.
Duane Niatum, pp. vi–xxxii. San Francisco, 1988.
Momaday, N. Scott. The Gourd Dancer. New York, 1976.
Wilson, Norma C. The Nature of Native American Poetry. Albu-
Niatum, Duane, ed. Carriers of the Dream Wheel: Contemporary
querque, N.M., 2001.
Native American Poetry. New York, 1975.
Womack, Craig S. Red on Red: Native American Literary Separat-
Niatum, Duane, ed. Harper’s Anthology of Twentieth-Century Na-
ism. Minneapolis, Minn., 1999.
tive American Poetry. New York, 1988. Contains poems by
LAURA FURLAN SZANTO (2005)
Maurice Kenny.
Ortiz, Simon J. Going for the Rain. New York, 1976.
Posey, Alexander Lawrence. The Poems of Alexander Lawrence
POINT LOMA THEOSOPHICAL COMMU-
Posey. Collected and arranged by Mrs. Minnie Posey. Tope-
NITY was an organization of American Theosophists that
ka, Kans., 1910.
was based at Point Loma, California, from 1900 to 1942.
Purdy, John L., and James Ruppert, eds. Nothing but the Truth:
The site for the Point Loma Theosophical Community was
An Anthology of Native American Literature. Upper Saddle
located on the western side of San Diego Bay, on the north-
River, N.J., 2001. Contains poems by Joseph Bruchac.
ern end of a peninsula also used by the U.S. military. Much
Revard, Carter. Ponca War Dancers. Norman, Okla., 1980.
of the site for the Point Loma Theosophical Community is
Ridge, John Rollin. Poems. San Francisco, 1868.
now occupied by Point Loma Nazarene University.
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POINT LOMA THEOSOPHICAL COMMUNITY
The Point Loma Theosophical Community’s origins
oriented their affiliations, associating with one another in
can be found in the history of the American Theosophical
local lodges that sprang up in dozens of American cities dur-
movement. Helena P. Blavatsky (1831–1891) and Henry
ing the last two decades of the nineteenth century. In these
Steel Olcott (1832–1907), along with William Q. Judge
lodges, members held regular meetings in which Theosophi-
(1851–1896) and several others interested in Spiritualism,
cal topics were discussed, distributed literature, and instruct-
comparative religions, and the occult, began the Theosophi-
ed children in Theosophical Sunday schools called Lotus
cal Society in New York City in 1875. Until 1878 Blavatsky
Circles. Judge was the president of the American Section of
and Olcott supervised regular meetings in which participants
the Theosophical Society until 1895, when he led the Ameri-
heard lectures on and discussed various matters related to the
cans in convention to declare their independence from the
occult, world religions, Spiritualism, and other topics of in-
rest of the Theosophical Society worldwide after a series of
terest to urban middle-class individuals who gravitated away
disputes involving Judge, noted British Theosophical leader
from traditional religions and toward the late-nineteenth-
Annie Besant (1847–1933), Olcott, and others.
century alternatives available from a growing body of printed
literature, as well as from leaders like Blavatsky. In 1878 Bla-
Shortly before Judge’s death, Katherine Tingley (1847–
vatsky and Olcott sailed for India to take up Theosophical
1929) assumed an increasingly important role in Judge’s
work there. The movement in the United States experienced
leadership circle in New York City. Her origins as a Theoso-
a period of decline. In 1883 Judge revived the Theosophical
phist are difficult to determine. She was a middle-class social
organization by conducting public meetings and publishing
reformer, like many women in her class at that time, who fed
a monthly magazine, the Path, that appeared regularly from
the poor and supported other charitable works. After Judge’s
1886 to 1896. Through Judge’s efforts as a lecturer and a fre-
death, many of those closest to him were convinced that
quent contributor to the Path, an increasing number of mid-
Tingley should succeed him. This succession was ratified by
dle-class Americans found Theosophy to be a viable alterna-
a pro-Tingley convention of the American Theosophical So-
tive to the religious cultures in which they were raised.
ciety in 1898, in which the organization adopted a new
name, Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society.
Numerous conversion accounts printed in Theosophi-
During this period, Tingley led Theosophists in New York
cal magazines beginning in the late 1800s recount a similar
City and other American cities to engage in activities consis-
story: the individual became dissatisfied with doctrines
tent with the priorities of women reformers and the emerg-
preached and taught in their churches, wandered among reli-
ing political and cultural ethos of Progressivism, activities de-
gious institutions and movements (often finding a temporary
signed to improve the quality of life and living conditions
home among Spiritualists), then heard a lecture about The-
of the urban poor (e.g., training and socializing children,
osophy, read a Theosophical book or magazine, or was be-
feeding the hungry, offering job instruction, providing hous-
friended by a Theosophist. Theosophy resolved their doubts
ing and support for prostitutes, and caring for orphans).
and challenged their imaginations. It provided a satisfactory
During the Spanish-American War of 1898, Tingley and
explanation for the structure of the universe, relying upon
other Theosophists worked in a hospital camp on Long Is-
many of the scientific notions of the day, but still reserved
land at one of the disembarkation points for returning Amer-
a place for the religious teachings of the world.
ican soldiers. Many of these soldiers were weak and ill from
tropical diseases contracted while in Cuba, and they required
Theosophy claims that humanity evolves through vari-
food and medical treatment. Because the U.S. Army was
ous stages across eons of time, reincarnating as waves of souls
slow to organize adequate facilities to receive the influx of
or sparks of divinity in progressively more advanced forms.
returning troops, the care provided by the Theosophists—as
The worlds on which these waves of evolution occur are
well as by other organizations like the Red Cross—was cru-
themselves evolving, with each evolutionary cycle ultimately
cial in saving many lives. In recognition of her organization’s
reaching a point of greatest material density and then slowly
work, President William McKinley provided transport for
working toward heightened spiritual glory and maturity be-
Tingley and other Theosophists to journey to Cuba to estab-
fore the waves of human souls move on to other worlds.
lish relief work there. This led to the eventual foundation,
Watching, and to some extent overseeing, these grand cos-
during the first decade of the twentieth century, of four
mic developments are a class of beings called masters who
Theosophical schools in that island nation.
have advanced intellectually and spiritually many levels be-
yond most souls. Theosophists claimed that Blavatsky fre-
Meanwhile, Tingley and other leaders among her inner
quently communicated with certain masters. The masters
circle were increasingly interested in relocating to California.
were supposedly responsible for much of the information
The reasons for this move are not entirely clear, but Califor-
contained in some of her most important published works,
nia was attractive to many Americans in the East and Mid-
especially her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine (1888). The
west at the beginning of the twentieth century. It provided
Theosophical version of the universe, then, offered to late-
a mild climate, geographical diversity for agriculture and in-
nineteenth-century Americans a stimulating vision of the
dustry, and freedom from the cultural, social, and economic
cosmos and their place in it. Those who embraced this vision
constraints characteristic of the more settled areas of the
sometimes cut off ties to family and friends. Theosophists re-
United States. During a worldwide tour of Theosophical
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POINT LOMA THEOSOPHICAL COMMUNITY
7229
lodges in 1896 called the Crusade, Tingley, with the assis-
boarding school. A few Cuban children were brought to
tance of Gottfried de Purucker (1874–1942), her eventual
Point Loma during the early years, but several of them pres-
successor, learned of the exact location of available land on
ented discipline problems and were sent back to Cuba. Criti-
the Point Loma peninsula and directed her agents to pur-
cism of Raja Yoga education, raised by some Theosophical
chase it.
parents and echoed in the press, focused on the children’s
separation from their parents and strict control of eating hab-
When she returned to the United States in 1897, Ting-
its, among other techniques used to control the children’s
ley gathered American Theosophists for a dedication cere-
living environment. Later in life, a number of these former
mony at the Point Loma site. But Theosophists did not take
Raja Yoga pupils would recall their childhood experiences
up residence in substantial numbers at Point Loma until
with dismay. But others considered their upbringing to be
1900 and after. In the early days of the Point Loma Theo-
beneficial, even inspirational. Although the quality of care-
sophical Community, several hundred adults lived in tents
giving was uneven, those children who had loving adult care-
and other temporary structures that eventually gave way,
givers generally had positive experiences and memories of
over the years, to houses and bungalows, as well as buildings
their childhoods at Point Loma.
containing facilities for various activities supported by the
community, including a printing press, medical clinic, class-
During the first three decades of the twentieth century,
rooms. From the beginning, children were central to Point
Tingley traveled across the United States and around the
Loma’s existence. Tingley and others justified the creation
world many times. On most of these trips, she took selected
of Point Loma as a home for souls then entering the world
Point Loma adults and adolescents with her. During a tour
as children who were morally and spiritually advanced.
for world peace in 1913, she was accompanied by over twen-
Given the proper environment and training, these children
ty young men and women, who provided musical and dra-
could become superior world citizens whose lives would be
matic entertainment at a Theosophical peace conference in
devoted to the service of humanity. Taking their cues from
Sweden. These young people, most of whom had grown up
comments made by Blavatsky in print, Point Loma Theoso-
at Point Loma, embodied the ideals of Raja Yoga education.
phists believed that they lived at the beginning of a new cycle
Many of them married one another, often due to Tingley’s
in human evolution. If they did not do everything possible
matchmaking choices, although some Point Loma youth
to raise an exceptional generation of souls, they believed hu-
married persons outside the Point Loma Theosophical Com-
manity might delay or even miss the opportunity to advance
munity. During the 1920s many young adults left Point
spiritually.
Loma. The reasons for their departure varied. Some wanted
to continue their education in colleges and universities else-
The educational approach at Point Loma was called
where. Others wanted to live outside the protected, insular
Raja Yoga, a term borrowed from Hinduism that described
world of Point Loma and found employment in San Diego
the holistic educational philosophy held by Tingley and oth-
or other locations.
ers. Under Raja Yoga, children were challenged to grow in
all ways that mattered: intellectually, physically, culturally,
Tingley and others from her generation brought to
spiritually, and emotionally. The curriculum of the Raja
Point Loma a Victorian decorum popular among their social
Yoga schools emphasized the fine arts and humanities, al-
classes in the late nineteenth century. This decorum was
though instruction in business skills, engineering, mathemat-
transmitted to the children of Point Loma. A moral and di-
ics, and the sciences was available, depending upon the ex-
dactic tone infused the language and relationships at Point
pertise of Theosophical adults on the teaching staff. As
Loma during Tingley’s tenure. By the 1930s the Raja Yoga
children grew to adulthood at Point Loma, many of them
school program had a higher percentage of paying students
became teachers and served in other capacities in the Point
who lived in San Diego and attended during the daytime
Loma Theosophical Community. One outstanding example
only than in earlier decades The older Victorian cultural sen-
was Judith Tyberg (1902–1980), who was born and raised
sibility among young people raised at Point Loma contrasted
at Point Loma. Tyberg taught young children when she be-
with the choices in music and other aspects of popular cul-
came a young adult, and later, when the Theosophical Uni-
ture, as well as daily customs, of the students who did not
versity was founded at Point Loma in 1919, she took ad-
live at Point Loma and were influenced by larger culture far
vanced degrees and ultimately became a teacher and
more.
administrator in that university.
Tingley died as a result of an automobile accident in
At its largest, the Point Loma Theosophical Communi-
1929. Her successor, de Purucker, was a self-taught poly-
ty numbered in the hundreds of adults and at least as many
math who specialized in ancient languages and religious
children. Many of the latter were the progeny of adult mem-
texts. Over the years his duties as a community member at
bers, but they were not permitted to live with their parents
Point Loma permitted him to devote considerable attention
on the Point Loma site. Instead, they were housed in collec-
to scholarly pursuits. By the time he assumed leadership re-
tive homes, segregated according to age and sex. Other chil-
sponsibilities, his immersion in Theosophical literature and
dren were sent to Point Loma by their Theosophical parents
related areas of study enabled him to give numerous lectures
or guardians, so that Point Loma served as a Theosophical
that were later published as collections of essays. De Puruck-
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POLEMICS: JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMICS
er’s articulation of complex Theosophical ideas is known
MUSLIM-JEWISH POLEMICS
among Theosophists and students of the Theosophical
CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM POLEMICS
movement as technical Theosophy because of his sophisticated
presentation of Theosophical teaching going back to Blavat-
POLEMICS: JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMICS
sky and carried forward, in the Point Loma Theosophical
[This article focuses primarily on Jewish polemics against Chris-
tradition, through Judge and Tingley. De Purucker altered
tianity.]
the organization’s name to the Theosophical Society, drop-
ping the older appellation of the Universal Brotherhood and
The intensity, persistence, and significance of Jewish-
Theosophical Society. By the time of his death in 1942, the
Christian polemics are in large measure a function of the pe-
community had moved from Point Loma to Covina, near
culiar combination of intimacy and divergence that marks
Los Angeles, to avoid the military activity occurring at Point
the relationship between the two faiths. It is not merely the
Loma after the United States entered World War II. De
fact that Christianity emerges out of Judaism; it is, further,
Purucker’s successor was not clearly identified. During the
the combination of the continuing centrality of the Hebrew
war years a group of leaders ran the organization. In 1945
Bible for Christians together with the profundity of the theo-
a retired U.S. Army officer, Colonel Arthur L. Conger
logical differences that separated Christians from Jews. In
(1872–1951), was brought in as leader. Some lifelong Theos-
these respects, a comparison with Islam is particularly in-
ophists objected to Conger, but their party failed to carry the
structive. It too arose in large measure out of Judaism, but
day. Many of these individuals left the Theosophical Society.
because it lacked the other crucial characteristics, polemic be-
Conger was succeeded by James A. Long (1898–1971) in
tween Jews and Muslims, however important it may some-
1951. He was succeeded in 1971 by Grace F. Knoche
times have been, never played the same role as did the Jew-
(b. 1909), who served as leader of the Theosophical Society,
ish-Christian debate. Muslims revered the Hebrew Bible;
Pasadena, the organizational descendant of the Point Loma
Muslims did not, however, elevate it to the position that it
Theosophical Community. Their principal activities include
held in Christianity, and they expressed the most serious res-
the publication of Sunrise, a bimonthly magazine, as well as
ervations about its textual accuracy. Moreover, Islamic mo-
Theosophical classics by Blavatsky, Judge, Tingley, de
notheism left no room for the creative rancor that produced
Purucker, and others.
the philosophical dimension of Jewish-Christian discussions,
which addressed such issues as trinitarianism and incarna-
SEE ALSO Besant, Annie; Blavatsky, H. P.; Judge, William
tion. Moses Maimonides (Mosheh ben Maimon, 1135/8–
Q.; Olcott, Henry Steel; Theosophical Society; Tingley,
1204), who has sometimes been accused of inconsistency in
Katherine.
his attitude toward the two other faiths, was accurately por-
traying a complex situation. On the one hand, he described
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Islam as a religion of “unblemished monotheism,” an acco-
Ashcraft, W. Michael. The Dawn of the New Cycle: Point Loma
lade he would not bestow upon Christianity; on the other
Theosophists and American Culture. Knoxville, Tenn., 2002.
hand, he maintained that teaching Torah to Christians can
Blavatsky, Helena P. The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science,
be a fruitful enterprise, while doing the same for Muslims
Religion, and Philosophy. 2 vols. London and New York,
is, from a Jewish point of view, an exercise in futility.
1888; reprint, Pasadena, Calif., 1988.
Greenwalt, Emmett A. California Utopia: Point Loma: 1897–
The dispute between Judaism and Christianity, then,
1942. Rev. ed., San Diego, Calif., 1978.
revolved around both doctrine and exegesis. To Christians,
Judge, William Q. The Ocean of Theosophy. London and New
Jesus was the Messiah, the ritual law was abrogated, and the
York, 1893; reprint, Pasadena, Calif., 1973.
church was the true Israel, not only because Christian scrip-
Knoche, Grace F. To Light a Thousand Lamps: A Theosophic Vi-
ture and tradition said so but because the Hebrew scriptures
sion. Pasadena, Calif., 2002.
themselves supported such claims. Beginning with the New
Purucker, Gottfried de. Fountain-Source of Occultism. Pasadena,
Testament and continuing with the earliest church fathers,
Calif., 1974.
Christian ingenuity was mobilized to uncover references to
the full range of Christian beliefs in the Hebrew scriptures.
Tingley, Katherine. The Gods Await. Point Loma, Calif., 1926;
rev. ed., Pasadena, Calif., 1992.
The Jewish polemicist was required to undertake the onerous
task of point-by-point, verse-by-verse refutation, and the
Waterstone, Penny. “Domesticating Universal Brotherhood:
sparse Talmudic references to debates with minim (a term for
Feminine Values and the Construction of Utopia, Point
Loma Homestead, 1897–1920.” Ph.D. diss., University of
heretics that surely embraces many early Christians) describe
Arizona, Tucson, 1995.
precisely such conflicts in biblical interpretation.
W. MICHAEL ASHCRAFT (2005)
The institutional separation of the two religions was fur-
thered when a curse against the minim was inserted into the
rabbinic prayer book, and doctrinal developments made it
POLEMICS
increasingly difficult even for “Jewish” as opposed to “genti-
This entry consists of the following articles:
le” Christians to remain a part of the Jewish people. The
JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMICS
Jews, it was said, had been replaced by a new Israel, and their
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POLEMICS: JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMICS
7231
defeats at the hands of the Romans were a just punishment
nance uncertain; MeDir of Narbonne, Milhemet mitsvah
for their rejection of the Messiah; moreover, by the middle
(The obligatory war), southern France; Mordekhai of
of the second century there were few Christians who did not
Avignon, Mahaziq emunah (Upholder of Faith), south-
believe in some form of Jesus’ divinity, and this was a doc-
ern France; Shelomoh de Rossi, EEdut ha-Shem
trine that remained beyond the pale of even the most flexible
ne Demanah (The testimony of the Lord is perfect), Italy;
definition of Judaism.
The Epistle of Rabbi Jacob of Venice, Italy; The Disputa-
tion of Rabbi Yehi Del of Paris,
northern France; Yosef Of-
In the wake of these developments, early Jewish sources
ficial, Sefer Yosef ha-meqanne D (The book of Yosef the
record hostile perceptions not only of Christianity but of
zealot), northern France; The Disputation of Nahma-
Jesus as well. In the Talmud itself, clear references to Jesus
nides, Spain; Sefer nitsahon yashan (The old book of po-
are exceedingly rare, but those that exist do include the asser-
lemic), Germany.
tion that he was a sorcerer who led his followers astray (cf.
Goldstein, 1950). Outside the Talmudic corpus, there devel-
• Fourteenth century: Moses ha-Kohen of Tordesillas,
oped a more elaborate series of early Jewish folk tales that go
EEzer ha-emunah (Aid of faith), Spain; Yitshaq Polgar,
by the name Toledot Yeshu and can probably best be de-
EEzer ha-dat (Aid of religion), Spain; Hasdai Crescas,
scribed as a counter-Gospel. The various versions of Toledot
Bittul Eiqqrei ha-Notsrim (Refutation of Christian doc-
Yeshu trace Jesus’ life from his birth as a result of Mary’s liai-
trines), Spain; Shem Tov ibn Shaprut, Even bohan
son with a Roman soldier through his checkered career as a
(Touchstone), Spain; Profiat Duran, Al tehi ka-avotekha
sorcerer and on to his ignominious hanging between two
(Do not be like your fathers) and Kelimat ha-goyim (The
thieves on a massive stalk of cabbage. Although such stories
shame of the Gentiles), Spain.
did not constitute binding Jewish doctrine, they colored Jew-
ish views of Christianity and enraged Christians who became
• Fifteenth century: Yom Tov Lippman Mühlhausen,
familiar with them in subsequent periods.
Sefer ha-nitsahon (The Book of polemic), Bohemia;
ShimEon Duran, Qeshet umagen (Bow and shield),
From the Jewish perspective, these early responses to
Spain; the Tortosa Disputation, Spain; Shelomoh
Christianity remained episodic and peripheral. Before Chris-
Duran, Milhemet mitsvah (The obligatory war), Spain;
tianity became the official religion of the Roman empire,
Hayyim ibn Musa, Magen va-romah (Shield and spear),
there was little reason for Jews to confront its religious claims
Spain; Mattityahu ben Mosheh, The Book of Ahituv and
systematically; after that point, Jewish literary activity in the
Zalmon, Spain; Binyamin ben Mosheh, Teshuvot ha-
Christian world was on the wane, and before the high Mid-
Notsrim (Answers to the Christians), Italy; Eliyyahu
dle Ages, Jewish arguments against Christianity were pre-
Hayyim of Genezzano, Vikkuah (Disputation), Italy.
served primarily in Christian works. The only significant ex-
ceptions are a little book of eastern provenance called Sefer
POLEMICS ON BIBLICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES. Many
Nestor ha-komer (Book of Nestor the Priest), which was writ-
of the issues addressed by the authors of the aforementioned
ten by a convert to Judaism, and a handful of passages in Jew-
works remained relatively unchanged from late antiquity
ish philosophical works composed in the Muslim world.
through the end of the Middle Ages and beyond. To Jews,
the fundamental Christian assertion that Jesus was the Messi-
In the second half of the twelfth century, this situation
ah had been massively refuted by the evidence of history.
began to change. Partly because the inner dynamic of Chris-
Since the essential characteristic of the biblical Messiah in-
tianity required a confrontation with Judaism, the “renais-
volved the inauguration of an age of peace, virtually all Jew-
sance” of Christian literature and thought associated with the
ish polemicists pointed to the persistence of war and misery
twelfth century included a renewal of anti-Jewish polemics.
as a formidable refutation of Christianity. Moses Nahma-
At this time Jewish literature too was in the midst of a vigor-
nides (Mosheh ben Nah:man, c. 1194–1270), in fact, reports
ous revival, and Jews throughout western Europe began to
that he went so far as to tell James I of Aragon how diffi-
engage in a literary polemic that was to remain active
cult it would be for him and his knights if war were to be
through the end of the Middle Ages.
abolished.
Although this polemic extends to works of exegesis, phi-
Christians, of course, argued not only that scriptural evi-
losophy, homiletics, and even liturgy and law, a list of explic-
dence demonstrates that the Messiah had already come but
itly polemical works through the fifteenth century can serve
also that it points to a first coming that would end in appar-
as a useful introduction to the scope and intensity of this ac-
ent failure. The key citations demonstrating these proposi-
tivity.
tions were probably the most extensively debated biblical
• Twelfth century: Yosef Kimhi, Sefer ha-berit (Book of
passages in the entire literature: Genesis 49:10 on the first
the Covenant), southern France; YaEaqov ben ReuDven,
point, and Isaiah 52:13–53:12 on the second.
Milhamot ha-Shem (The Wars of the Lord), southern
“The scepter shall not pass away from Judah, nor shall
France.
a legislator pass away from among his descendants until Shi-
• Thirteenth century: Vikkuah le-ha-Radaq (The disputa-
loh comes and to him shall the nations gather.” This transla-
tion of Rabbi David Kimhi), pseudonymous, prove-
tion of Genesis 49:10, with Shiloh understood as Messiah, ap-
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POLEMICS: JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMICS
peared to lend powerful support to the Christian position:
Jewish law, and here the issue of allegorical interpretation of
since there was now no scepter in Judah, the Messiah must
the Bible became crucial. Christians argued that, at least in
already have come. For this passage Jews did not have a par-
the postcrucifixion era, only a nonliteral meaning is to be as-
ticularly attractive alternative interpretation, but they did
signed to the legal sections of the Pentateuch, and they but-
have a persuasive argument against the Christian position.
tressed their position by raising questions about the rationali-
That position, they said, cannot be valid because the scepter
ty and consistency of biblical law. This challenge added a
(understood by Christians as kingship) had passed from the
polemical dimension to Jewish speculations about “the rea-
Jews well before the time of Jesus; during the Babylonian
sons for the commandments.” While some Jews argued
exile there was no Jewish rule, and even during the second
against any attempt to fathom the divine intent or even de-
commonwealth there were no kings from the tribe of Judah.
nied the very existence of rational explanations, others pro-
Although alternative explanations of this passage were beset
vided both hygienic and spiritual reasons that sometimes
by difficulties, they were nonetheless abundant: Shiloh in-
seemed so persuasive that they became the basis for questions
deed refers to the Messiah, but the verse is merely asserting
about the Christian failure to observe such evidently benefi-
that whenever there will be a Jewish king, he can legitimately
cial injunctions. Christian allegorization did not stop with
come only from Judah; scepter and legislator refer not to king-
the law; consequently, Jewish insistence on literal, contextual
ship but to exil-archs and patriarchs or even to ongoing com-
reading of biblical verses is a central theme of polemical liter-
munal autonomy; Shiloh is not the Messiah but a place-
ature, and some scholars have even suspected an underlying
name, and the verse refers to a past event, most likely the
apologetic motive for the radical insistence on straightfor-
schism after Solomon’s death.
ward exegesis advocated by several significant medieval com-
mentators such as Rashbam (Rabbi ShemuDel ben MeDir, c.
With respect to Isaiah 53, which can be read as a de-
1080–1158) who were not primarily polemicists.
scription of an innocent servant of the Lord who will suffer
and die for the sins of others, the situation of the Jewish po-
While Christian questions about the rationality of the
lemicists was reversed: they had an excellent alternative inter-
law were a minor theme in medieval polemics, Jewish ques-
pretation, but some of them expressed disappointment at the
tions about the rationality of Christian dogma were at center
absence of a crushing refutation of the christological exegesis.
stage. Many Jews were unable or unwilling to see trinitarian-
Despite a messianic understanding of this chapter in early
ism as anything but tritheism. Those who did come to grips
rabbinic sources, medieval Jews overwhelmingly saw the ser-
with the full complexity of the doctrine maintained that it
vant as the exiled people of Israel, and strong arguments
violates logic and that multiplicity in God inevitably implies
could be adduced for this identification. At the same time,
corporeality in God himself (i.e., not just in the temporary
Jews were sharply divided concerning the presence of a con-
form of the historical Jesus). Most important, sophisticated
cept of vicarious atonement in the passage; to some exegetes
Jewish polemicists maintained that any truly monotheistic
and polemicists, such a concept was too Christian to be read-
understanding of trinitarianism—in which three divine per-
ily discerned in the Bible even if applied to Israel rather than
sons are identified with attributes of God or understood in
the Messiah. Finally, specific refutations of the christological
light of the perception of God as thought, thinker, and ob-
interpretation were proffered: aside from the inappropriate-
ject of thought—fails because of the second, crucial doctrine
ness of the term servant for a divine figure, this servant, un-
of incarnation. If only one of three divine persons took on
like Jesus, “will see his seed and live a long life,” will experi-
flesh, then true unity was irretrievably compromised.
ence ongoing affliction and disease, and will suffer as a result
of the sins of many rather than for the purpose of removing
Jewish objections to incarnation were not confined to
the original sin of Adam and Eve.
the troubling light that it shed on the Christian concept of
a divine trinity. Not only did the attribution of divinity to
It has already been seen that Christians considered the
a human being raise the ugly specter of idolatry; it also
Jewish rejection of the Messiah to have resulted in the sup-
seemed vulnerable to definitive philosophical refutation.
pression of “carnal Israel” and its replacement by the church.
Jewish polemicists argued that since infinity and immutabili-
Initial Jewish bewilderment at this perception gave way to
ty are essential characteristics of God, incarnation could not
a charge of Christian arbitrariness in defining biblical refer-
take place even miraculously. Moreover, they said, it is equal-
ences to Israel, and Jews pointed to a number of citations in
ly impossible to unite a human and a divine nature in a single
which favorable eschatological references that Christians
person with each nature retaining its distinctiveness. Finally,
took as descriptions of the church seemed inextricably linked
even if all this were possible, it is hard to imagine that God
to pejorative passages that Christians referred to the Jews. By
could find no way to redeem humanity without subjecting
the thirteenth century, Jews had even begun to cite their own
himself to the filth and indignity of spending nine months
retention of the Hebrew language as evidence that they had
in a womb and then passing through all the stages of a life
not been exchanged by God for people who knew the Bible
that culminated in a humiliating death.
only in translation.
Virginal conception, although denied by Jews, was not
It was not only the Jewish people, however, who were
vulnerable to the charge of philosophical impossibility.
supposed to have been superseded. The same was said about
However, the specific doctrine that Mary remained a virgin
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POLEMICS: JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMICS
7233
during childbirth did appear to violate the principle that two
observed and authenticated the “Old Testament,” the very
bodies cannot take up the same space simultaneously. More
existence of Jews in the Christian world could have been
important, the miracle of transubstantiation also seemed im-
jeopardized by Christian acceptance of such an assertion.
possible, partly because Jesus’ body would have to have been
YehiDel argued that the Talmud was, rather, an indispensable
in many places at the same time.
interpretation of the Bible. Ultimately, although various Do-
minicans and Franciscans toyed with the delegitimation of
There was, of course, also a scriptural dimension to
Jews on grounds related to the “other law” argument, it was
these philosophical issues. Christians attempted to demon-
the accusation of blasphemy that predominated, and this
strate trinitarianism by citing verses that contain plural verbs
could be satisfied by the censorship of a handful of Talmudic
in connection with God, as, for example, “Let us make man
passages.
in our image” (Gn. 1:26); or a threefold repetition of a key
word, as, for example, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of
The second approach to the Talmud is usually associat-
Hosts” (Is. 6:3); or a repetition of the names of God, as, for
ed with another convert to Christianity. In the third quarter
example, “Hear O Israel, the Lord [is] our God, the Lord is
of the thirteenth century, Pablo Christiani (Cristia) began to
one” (Dt. 6:4). For the incarnation, they cited the eschato-
emphasize a very minor theme in some earlier Christian po-
logical king in Jeremiah 23:5, whose name they translated as
lemics: that the Talmud demonstrates the truth of Christian-
“the Lord our Righteousness,” and, most effectively, the
ity. Pablo and his successors did not have a positive attitude
child in Isaiah 9:5–6, whose name they translated as “Won-
toward the Talmud, but they believed that the rabbis had
drous Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of
preserved evidence of Christian truth. One of the earliest ex-
Peace.” Jews had to respond by providing alternative expla-
amples of this sort of argument is one of the best. The Tal-
nations or, in some cases, alternative translations. Thus the
mud says that the world will last six thousand years: two
plural verb in Genesis 1:26 is either a plural of majesty or
thousand years of chaos, two thousand of Torah, and two
God’s statement to the earth, which would provide the body
thousand of the messianic age (B. T., San. 97a). This, said
into which he would place a soul. The name in Jeremiah,
Christian polemicists, proves two crucial Christian asser-
they said, should be translated “the Lord is our Righteous-
tions—that the Messiah has already come, and that with his
ness,” and the child in Isaiah, at least according to most me-
arrival the age of Torah has come to an end. When Nahma-
dieval Jews, was named only “Prince of Peace” by God, who
nides was forced to confront Pablo in the Barcelona disputa-
is himself the “Wondrous Counselor, Mighty God, [and]
tion of 1263, he insisted, of course, on the implausibility of
Eternal Father.”
finding Christian doctrines in a work produced by uncon-
The scriptural evidence for virgin birth gave Jews their
verted Jews, but he also made the striking assertion that mid-
best opportunity to use the argument from context. The evi-
rash is not dogmatically binding and that Jews are therefore
dence, Christians said, is to be found in Isaiah 7:14, in which
free to reject certain rabbinic statements. This issue became
the prophet promised King Ahaz the birth of a child from
a cause célèbre in the next two or three centuries, largely be-
an Ealmah. Jews not only argued that Ealmah does not mean
cause of the popularity of Raymund Martini’s monumental
“virgin” but also pointed to Isaiah’s promise to Ahaz that de-
Pugio Fidei, and the rabbis at the Tortosa disputation had
liverance would come before the child would know how to
to confront it under particularly trying circumstances. Gen-
distinguish good from evil as decisive refutation of any iden-
erally, Jewish polemicists attempted to refute each argument
tification of the child with Jesus.
individually, and they fell back on Nahmanides’ position re-
luctantly and only as a last resort.
POLEMICS ON THE TALMUD. In its classic form, the Jewish-
Christian debate centered on the Hebrew Bible. Beginning
JEWISH POLEMICAL USE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. At about
in the twelfth century, however, and especially in the thir-
the same time that Christians began to examine the Talmud
teenth, Christians became intrigued with the possibility of
for polemical purposes, Jews began to scrutinize the New
utilizing the Talmud for polemical purposes, and Jews found
Testament. Here too the sacred text peculiar to the other
themselves confronting two distinct but overlapping chal-
faith could simply be attacked, and here too it could be used
lenges from Christians quoting Talmud. Nicholas Donin, a
for more sophisticated polemical purposes. Jews pointed out
Jewish convert to Christianity, began a campaign in the
contradictions in the New Testament, such as the differing
1230s that led to a virtual trial in which Yeh:iDel ben Yosef
genealogies in Matthew and Luke, but they also argued that
of Paris had to defend the Talmud against charges of blas-
the Gospels themselves support the Jewish position concern-
phemy. Pointing to what would otherwise have been an
ing the nondivinity of Jesus and the eternality of the law. The
anachronism in a Talmudic account of Jesus, Yeh:iDel made
polemical usefulness of both approaches led to a sometimes
the novel assertion that there were two Jesuses and that any
ambivalent attitude toward Jesus himself. On the one hand,
pejorative Talmudic references are to the first, who had no
he was denounced for abrogating the Torah and turning
connection whatever to Christianity. Potentially even more
himself into a divinity; on the other, his words were cited as
serious was Donin’s assertion that the Talmud constituted
testimony that later Christians distorted a message that was
“another law” that was entirely different from that of the He-
in large measure authentically Jewish. This last approach,
brew Bible. Since Jews were tolerated in part because they
which was to be particularly influential in the modern peri-
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POLEMICS: JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMICS
od, was developed most notably in Profiat Duran’s impres-
dieval views. The major works of this period include the
sive and sophisticated Kelimat ha-goyim.
following.
THE ISSUES OF JEWISH EXILE AND THE ROLE OF CHRIS-
• Sixteenth century: Avraham Farissol, Magen Avraham
TIANITY. The effect of increased Jewish familiarity with the
(Shield of Abraham), Italy; YaDir ben Shabbetai of Cor-
New Testament and growing Christian awareness of the Tal-
reggio, Herev pifiyyot (Double-edged sword), Italy;
mud is but one example of the way in which a largely static
Meshullam ben Uri, Zikhron sefer nitstsah:on (Com-
debate could undergo dynamic transformation under the im-
memoration of the Book of Polemic), provenance un-
pact of historical change. Debates about interest taking, the
certain; Kevod Elohim (Glory of God), author and prov-
blood libel, heresy, icons, worship of the saints, confession,
enance uncertain; Yitshaq of Troki, H:izzuq emunah
priestly celibacy, the Crusades, and more all made their way
(Faith strengthened), Poland.
into the polemical literature. Perhaps the most fundamental
• Seventeenth century: EAzriDel Petahiah Alatino, Vikkuah
effect of the historical situation lay in the Jewish need to ex-
(Disputation), Italy; Yehudah Aryeh de Modena, Magen
plain exile and suffering on grounds other than God’s rejec-
va-herev (Shield and sword), Italy; Yitsh:aq Lupis, Kur
tion of the Jews. Since Jewish polemicists insisted on the
matsref ha-emunot u-mar Deh ha-emet (The crucible of be-
moral superiority of Jews to Christians, the standard explana-
liefs and demonstrator of the truth), Syria.
tion of exile as punishment was especially uncomfortable in
this context. Consequently, there is found a whole array of
Perhaps the most striking example of a more positive attitude
efforts to turn the fact of suffering to polemical advantage:
toward Christianity is Avraham Farissol’s remark that Jesus
the Bible says that the truth would be hurled to the ground
might well be regarded as a messiah for the Gentiles. Despite
(Dn. 8:12); God is prolonging the exile so that the sin of the
Maimonides’ assessment of Christianity’s place in the divine
Christian oppressors should accumulate to a point where
scheme, this assertion, highly unusual even around 1500,
their utter destruction will be appropriate (cf. Gn. 15:16);
was virtually unimaginable in the high Middle Ages. In the
God is punishing the Jews not for crucifying Jesus but for
sixteenth century, Shelomoh de Modena denied the idola-
producing him. In a striking naturalistic argument, Yitshaq
trous character of Christianity by equating incarnation with
Polgar noted that Jewish suffering demonstrates that Chris-
anthropomorphism and noting that the latter doctrine had
tians and Jews stand in the same moral relationship as a bully
been declared nonheretical (although also not true) by the
and his victim.
twelfth-century authority Avraham ben David of Posquières.
There was also a shift in the Jewish attitude with respect to
Pressures ranging from the physical and economic to the
certain moral questions. In the Middle Ages, for example,
moral and intellectual also led to transformations in the tone
most Jews vigorously denied that there was anything unethi-
of Jewish polemics as well as to a reexamination of the role
cal about taking interest on loans; in seventeenth-century
and religious standing of Christianity itself. This last devel-
Italy, both Simone Luzzatto and Yehudah Aryeh de Modena
opment took place largely outside the context of medieval
insisted that Jewish—and not just Christian—morality
polemics, but its impact on later Jewish thought, including
frowns on this activity, but that there is no avoiding cruel
apologetic literature, was exceptionally significant. Medieval
economic necessity. Closer Jewish-Christian contacts in Italy
Jews generally regarded Christianity as an idolatrous religion.
also led to greater Christian familiarity with Jewish literature,
Nevertheless, in certain narrow legal contexts phrases such
including the increasingly popular qabbalistic texts, and Jews
as “the gentiles among us do not worship idolatry” were used
now found themselves confronted with not only Talmudic
as an ad hoc justification for Jewish business dealings with
but also qabbalistic passages that were supposed to demon-
Christians that were pursued despite injunctions against such
strate Christian doctrines.
interactions with idolaters. Menah:em ha-MeDiri of Perpi-
Initially Jewish reactions to the Reformation were posi-
gnan (1249–1316) created a new legal category that can
tive and hopeful. Aside from messianic hopes that were brief-
roughly be characterized as “civilized people” in order to dis-
ly kindled at the prospect of division in what Jews considered
tinguish Christians from ancient idolaters. Without address-
the biblical fourth kingdom (cf. Dn. 2:41), there was a feel-
ing the issue of idolatry in this context, Maimonides and
ing that many doctrinal points in the various forms of Protes-
other authorities had assigned to Christianity and Islam the
tantism seemed rather “Jewish”: the rejection of papal au-
positive role of spreading knowledge of Torah and thus pre-
thority, indulgences, transubstantiation, and clerical
paring the world for the Messiah. By the sixteenth century,
celibacy, as well as a return to the authority of the Bible.
some major Jewish figures had begun to misread a statement
Moreover, there was the early work of Luther, Dass Jesus ein
of the medieval French tosafists to mean that Noahides are
geborener Jude Sei (That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew; 1523),
not forbidden to associate another divinity with the true
which appeared to portend an amelioration of the Jewish
God; hence, although Christianity is surely idolatry for Jews,
condition under Protestant rule. When Luther later dashed
it is not so regarded for gentiles.
these hopes, Jewish attitudes changed, and Jews living in
LATER DEVELOPMENTS. Some polemical works of the six-
Roman Catholic countries now looked to Catholic doctrines
teenth and seventeenth centuries reflect the aforementioned
that could demonstrate the affinity of Judaism to Catholi-
and other changes, while others remain true to standard me-
cism: the emphasis on works, the combination of scripture
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POLEMICS: JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMICS
7235
and tradition, the affirmation of free will and rejection of
into a Jewish society beset by dry, narrow legalism. This issue
strict predestinarianism, and the retention of the traditional
exploded into controversy after Adolf von Harnack pro-
language of prayer. Needless to say, both Protestants and
pounded such views in his lecture series on the essence of
Catholics continued to affirm the central Christian beliefs
Christianity in the winter of 1899–1900, but Jews were
that Judaism rejected, and when the Karaite Yitsh:aq of Troki
upset not only with Harnack but with a number of Christian
wrote his summa of the traditional anti-Christian arguments
historians whose scholarly work revealed the same sort of bias
the work became a standard reference even in the majority
against Talmudic religion. The Jewish response was swift,
Rabbinite community.
vigorous, and international. In Germany, Leo Baeck’s Das
Wesen des Judentums,
Joseph Eschelbacher’s Das Judentum
The next, even more crucial turning point took place
und das Wesen des Christentums, and Moritz Güdemann’s
in the eighteenth century, when Jewish history moved into
Jüdische Apologetik denounced this Christian approach as
the modern period and Jewish-Christian relations underwent
motivated by considerations that had little to do with objec-
fundamental transformations. Even outside the orbit of the
tive scholarship. In England, the articles of Israel Abrahams,
Jewish Enlightenment, YaEaqov Emden of Germany main-
Claude Montefiore, and Solomon Schechter pursued the
tained that Jesus and even Paul were perfectly good Jews
same arguments. Somewhat later, Gerald Friedlander’s The
whose purpose was to spread the seven Noahic laws to the
Jewish Sources of the Sermon on the Mount reflected a system-
gentiles; like Farissol’s stance, this is a highly idiosyncratic
atic apologetic effort to compare rabbinic morality with that
position that nonetheless reflected a broader phenomenon.
of Jesus, and Joseph Bloch’s Israel und die Völker was one of
The central figure, however, who both foreshadows and ex-
several efforts to counter Christian attacks on Talmudic mo-
emplifies modern Jewish attitudes to Christianity, is Moses
rality.
Mendelssohn.
A Christian theologian named Johann Kaspar Lavater
This last work really addressed arguments of a more me-
publicly challenged Mendelssohn to refute a defense of
dieval sort, and it should not be assumed that such polemic
Christianity that Lavater had translated, or to do what Socra-
simply disappeared in the modern period. Vigorous Chris-
tes would have done had he read the book and found it irre-
tian missionary efforts in late eighteenth-century England in-
futable. Mendelssohn, who for reasons of ideology, practical-
spired David Levi’s rebuttals, Letters to Dr. Priestly and Dis-
ity, and temperament was not inclined to engage in polemic,
sertations on the Prophecies of the Old Testament; nineteenth-
responded reluctantly and cautiously. He had indeed ex-
century challenges led Isaac Ber Levinsohn to write his
pressed respect for Jesus in light of a conviction that the latter
Ahiyyah ha-shiloni and other apologetic works. As recently
had made no claims to divinity. This did not mean that he
as the 1970s, the activities of the “Jews for Jesus” and similar
was inclined to abandon Judaism, which is in perfect harmo-
groups led the Jewish Community Relations Council of New
ny with natural morality and religion, for a faith that con-
York to commission Jews and “Jewish Christianity” by myself
tains irrational dogmas. Nevertheless, not all “prejudices” are
and Michael Wyschogrod. The tone and occasionally the
equally harmful, and Judaism’s teaching that righteous gen-
content of such works can reflect modern developments in
tiles have a portion in the world to come renders missionary
scholarship, argumentation, and civility; some of them, how-
activity unnecessary and undesirable. This emphasis on Juda-
ever, deal with arguments that are largely unchanged since
ism’s tolerance, rationality, morality, and respect for Chris-
the Middle Ages.
tianity became the hallmark of modern Jewish discussions of
In the wake of the Holocaust, and especially since the
Christianity, but these developments were not without ironic
Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s, a concerted ef-
potential for reviving tension and polemic along new and un-
fort has been made to replace polemics with dialogue. Even
expected lines.
in such discussions, however, there are subtle pressures that
Nineteenth-century Reform Judaism and liberal Protes-
produce the sort of advocacy that is not altogether alien to
tantism arose out of the same environment and shared the
polemics. Before Vatican II, Jules Isaac and other Jewish
fundamental conviction that the central message of religion
leaders asked Christian groups to reevaluate, on moral as well
is ethical. Reform Jews did away with much of the ritual
as on more narrowly theological grounds, the traditional as-
component in Judaism, while liberal Protestants had grave
cription of ongoing guilt to Jews for their role in the crucifix-
misgivings about much of the dogmatic component of
ion. This time Jewish arguments fell on receptive ears, and
Christianity. What remained in each case was ethical mono-
precisely such a reevaluation took place.
theism. This sort of agreement, however, can lead to discord,
With the passage of time, however, some Christian par-
since in the absence of a religious merger, each faith must
ticipants in dialogue have begun to inquire about the possi-
claim that it is the quintessential bearer of the ethical message
bilities of a Jewish reevaluation of the standing of Jesus and
whose basic content is endorsed by both sides.
the role of Christianity. These inquiries are rooted in the
And precisely such discord developed. Christians com-
awareness that twentieth-century Jewish scholars like Joseph
plained about the “tasteless gibberish” spouted by Jews who
Klausner, Claude Montefiore, David Flusser, and Pinchas
claimed that theirs was the ethical religion par excellence, and
Lapide have provided—with varying degrees of enthusi-
they insisted that Jesus had introduced an advanced ethic
asm—a positive portrait of a fundamentally Jewish Jesus.
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POLEMICS: MUSLIM-JEWISH POLEMICS
Moreover, Franz Rosenzweig spoke of Christianity as a man-
(New York, 1977), Bernhard Blumenkranz’s Juifs et Chré-
ifestation of a divine covenant with the gentiles. Even Jewish
tiens dans le monde occidental, 430–1096 (Paris, 1960), and
ecumenists, however, are often wary of far-reaching revisions
Jacob Katz’s Exclusiveness and Tolerance (New York, 1961).
in their evaluation of Jesus, and it is unlikely that dialogue
On Toledot Yeshu, see Samuel Krauss’s Das Leben Jesu nach
will produce a perception of Jesus as a quasi messiah or miti-
jüdischen Quellen (Berlin, 1902); on Genesis 49:10, Adolf
gate the historic Jewish distaste for the central dogmas of tra-
Posnanski’s Schiloh: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Messiasle-
hre
(Leipzig, 1904); on Isaiah 53, Adolf Neubauer and Sam-
ditional Christianity.
uel R. Driver’s The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According
Finally, a uniquely contemporary dimension has been
to the Jewish Interpreters, 2 vols. (1876–1877; reprint, New
injected into Jewish-Christian discussions by the establish-
York, 1969).
ment of the state of Israel. On the one hand, the establish-
Jewish reactions to the Reformation are described in H. H. Ben-
ment of Israel has undercut the old Christian argument
Sasson’s The Reformation in Contemporary Jewish Eyes (Jeru-
based on the Jewish exile; on the other hand, it fits perfectly
salem, 1970). On the modern period, see Uriel Tal’s Chris-
tians and Jews in Germany in the Second Reich: Religion, Poli-

into some scenarios of the second coming of Jesus that are
tics and Ideology, 1870–1914 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1975), Jacob
popular among Christian fundamentalists. In the context of
Fleischmann’s Be Eayat ha-Natsrut ba-mah:shavah ha-Yehudit
dialogue, Jews have often attempted to explain the theologi-
mi-Mendelssohn Ead Rosenzweig (Jerusalem, 1964), and A.
cal centrality of the Land of Israel in Judaism, and they have
Roy Eckardt’s bibliography, “Recent Literature on Christian-
sometimes argued that Christian theology itself should lead
Jewish Relations,” Journal of the American Academy of Reli-
to a recognition of the significance of the state of Israel in
gion 49 (March 1981): 99–111.
the divine plan. This delicate balance of politics and theology
New Sources
has produced both understanding and tension. It is but the
Abulafia, Anna Sapir, ed. Religious Violence between Christians and
most recent example of the effect of historical events on a re-
Jews: Medieval Roots, Modern Perspectives. Basingstoke and
lationship that reflects the unchanging disputes of two vener-
New York, 2002.
able traditions as well as the dynamic interplay of two com-
Aumann, Moshe. Conflict and Connection: The Jewish-Christian-
munities acting and reacting in an ever changing world.
Israel Triangle. Hewlett, N.Y., 2003.
Ben-Shalom, Ram. “Between Official and Private Dispute: The
SEE ALSO Christianity; Jesus; Judaism; Paul the Apostle.
Case of Christian Spain and Provence in the Late Middle
Ages.” AJS Review 27 (2003): 23–71.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Braybrooke, Marcus. Christian-Jewish Dialogue: The Next Steps.
There is no good survey of Jewish polemics from late antiquity to
[Concluding chapter by Tony Bayfield]. London, 2000.
the present. A sketchy overview is provided in Hans Joachim
Melnick, Ralph. From Polemics to Apologetics: Jewish-Christian
Schoeps’s The Jewish-Christian Argument (New York, 1963);
Rapprochement in 17th Century Amsterdam. Assen, the Neth-
and Morris Goldstein’s Jesus in the Jewish Tradition (New
erlands, 1981.
York, 1950) surveys some Jewish discussions of Christianity
Nickelsburg, George W. E. Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins:
through the Middle Ages. Frank Talmage’s Disputation and
Diversity, Continuity, and Transformation. Minneapolis,
Dialogue: Readings in the Jewish-Christian Encounter (New
Minn., 2003.
York, 1975) is a valuable collection of brief translated selec-
tions from the sources.
Porter, Stanley E., and Brook W. R. Pearson, eds. Christian-Jewish
Relations through the Centuries. Sheffield, U.K., 2000.
Judah Rosenthal provided a thorough bibliography of polemical
DAVID BERGER (1987)
works in his “Sifrut ha-vikkuah: ha-ant:i-Notsrit,” Areshet 2
Revised Bibliography
(1960): 130–179; 3 (1961): 433–439. The most compre-
hensive collection of such works remains J. D. Eisenstein’s
edited volume Otsar vikkuh:im (1928; reprint, New York,
1964), but the texts are unreliable and must always be
POLEMICS: MUSLIM-JEWISH POLEMICS
checked against superior editions. For English translations of
Down to the eighteenth century the majority of Jews lived
polemical texts, see Oliver S. Rankin’s Jewish Religious Polem-
in countries under Muslim rule, where they shared with
ic of Earlier and Later Centuries (1956; reprint, New York,
Christians the status of “protected” minorities, tolerated on
1970); Hyam Maccoby’s Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian
sufferance and subject at times and in certain areas to dis-
Disputations in the Middle Ages (Rutherford, N.J., 1982);
crimination, ill will, abuse, and assault.
Yosef Kimh:i’s The Book of the Covenant, translated by Frank
Talmage (Toronto, 1972); and Yitsh:aq Troki’s Faith
Arabic literature, the classical repository of theological
Strengthened, translated by M. Mocatta (New York, 1970).
lore in Islam, expresses and reflects the situation over centu-
See also my study, The Jewish-Christian Debate in the High
ries. While most of this lore is of Muslim origin, Jews and
Middle Ages: A Critical Edition of the Niz:z:ah:on Vetus with an
Christians have contributed to it upon occasion with Arabic
Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Philadelphia,
writings added to their literary output in Hebrew and Syriac,
1978); the introduction and commentary trace the major ar-
respectively.
guments through the thirteenth century. Other important
studies of the medieval period include Daniel Lasker’s Jewish
The vast Arabic literature that developed in the early
Philosophical Polemics against Christianity in the Middle Ages
centuries of Islam included works on religion, sectarianism,
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7237
the treatment of the minorities, and so forth. Historians and
repeatedly and is the only major figure of Arabic letters to
travelers seeking to sketch the development of faiths, the rise
treat it.
of Islam, and its victorious march through countries and
Ibn H:azm apparently felt that his road to political suc-
continents also threw light on the non-Muslims and their be-
cess in the kingdom of Granada was blocked by the preemi-
liefs. Scholarly discussion concerning non-Muslims inevita-
nence of the Jews, and in particular by their leader, Ibn Na-
bly tended to indicate the miscreants’ errors. Thus polemics
grela (known in the Jewish community as Shemu’el ha-
appeared, and, as disputations took place, polemics gave rise
Nagid, 993–1056), a successful administrator, diplomat, and
to defensive apologetics.
military commander. Both Ibn H:azm and the Nagid wrote
MUSLIM POLEMICS. Indeed, Muslims knew from their own
on theology, and both were poets, one writing in Arabic, the
scripture that Islam is a continuation of earlier dispensations,
other in Hebrew. They met when they were in their early
and they were familiar with the Prophet’s attitude toward
twenties, but the meeting was not conducive to mutual re-
their carriers—the Jews and Christians. According to the
spect and appreciation.
QurDa¯n, the Jews (identified there as Yahu¯d or Banu¯ Isra¯D¯ıl,
“Children of Israel”) were an ancient people, descended from
In Ibn H:azm’s major work, Kita¯b al-fis:al wa-al-nih:al
Abraham and later led out of Egypt by Moses. Favored by
(Book of groups and sects), a survey of theology, a section
the Lord, who sent prophets to teach and guide them, they
of nearly 130 pages is devoted to a critique of Jewish beliefs
nonetheless became enmeshed in sin and disobedience, wor-
and texts. Passages from the Hebrew scriptures, quoted to re-
shiping the golden calf, killing prophets, and rejecting Jesus,
veal their deficiencies, are followed by counterparts from the
and were finally punished by destruction, exile, and dispers-
QurDa¯n, which are cited to demonstrate their excellence by
al. Further, the QurDa¯n indicated that the Prophet had not
comparison. Ibn H:azm displays a good knowledge of Gene-
only fought the pagan Arabs but also clashed with the Jews
sis, but his knowledge of the rest of the Hebrew scriptures
living in Arabia, especially those in Medina, and that the
is weak, and he is unable to distinguish biblical data from
struggle had turned into a military clash when the Jews re-
later legends. It is possible that he used a list of suitable pas-
fused to accept the Prophet and his revelation.
sages (“testimonies”) culled for the purpose by others. He
even cites a few items of Talmudic lore. He displays an inter-
These data were extended and embellished in the vast
est in the origins of Hebrew words but here too falls prey to
collections of traditions (h:ad¯ıth) that arose in early Islam and
misinformation: quoting an informant, he explains, for ex-
were further enriched by an exegetical turn, as QurDanic allu-
ample, that the name Israel was derived from Asar Eel (“he de-
sions to biblical stories gave rise to commentaries on ancient
tained God,” Gn. 32:25–31, where Jacob wrestles with di-
Hebrew lore. Although the Jews had been instructed about
vine beings and prevails), thus confusing the Hebrew roots
the coming of Muh:ammad, the Muslim commentators ex-
Esr and srh.
plained, they ignored these allusions or sought to interpret
them away or to conceal them. They also fabricated stories
In his view, the Hebrew scriptures are replete with con-
among the Isra¯ D¯ıl¯ıya¯t (narratives set in the era of the Banu¯
tradictions, absurdities, anthropomorphisms, and objection-
Isra¯D¯ıl) that were apt to mislead true believers. Jewish con-
able and irrelevant matter. The Muslims should feel no rever-
verts to Islam also supplied information—albeit mislead-
ence toward the scriptures of the Jews and Christians, he
ing—on Hebrew lore and the Jewish past. KaEb al-Ah:ba¯r is
argues, and should reject these faulty, distorted remnants of
the prototypical figure among them: a Jew from Yemen, he
the true scripture. Reverence is due only to the inimitable
embraced Islam half a dozen years after the Prophet’s death
truth and beauty of the QurDa¯n.
and was considered an expert on earlier scriptures. And pre-
Ibn H:azm is particularly eager to point out discrepan-
sumably the anti-Jewish animus of the Near Eastern Chris-
cies in the biblical text, especially where numbers are in-
tians percolated into Islamic circles following the Christians’
volved, as with varying statements on the length of the bond-
conversion to Islam.
age in Egypt or the population of the Israelites during the
wilderness period. Other contradictions he claims to find in
The earliest polemics, which can be traced to the eighth-
the text include the report in Exodus 7:20–22 that after all
and ninth-century disputations at the Abbasid court in Bagh-
the water in Egypt turned into blood, the native magicians
dad, are usually directed against both Jews and Christians.
repeated the deed: where, he asks, did they get the water to
Only gradually does a polemical literature directed specifical-
prove their skill? Likewise, citing Exodus 12:38, he asks where
ly against Jews emerge, beginning with special chapters on
the Hebrews obtained the multitude of cattle in the desert,
Jews and Judaism and with the writings of Jewish converts
and further, if they had such cattle, why did they complain
to Islam. Although such works are mentioned early on by
of lack of meat? Among the anthropomorphisms he cites are
Arab historians, the earliest surviving examples date only
passages such as “The Lord is a man of war” (Ex. 15:3); “And
from the eleventh century.
they saw the God of Israel, and there was under his feet, as
Ibn H:azm. The earliest preserved substantial work of
if it were a pavement of sapphire stone” (Ex. 24:10); and the
Islamic polemics against Jews and Judaism comes from the
Lord’s various pronouncements in Exodus 33 where he
pen of Ibn H:azm (d. 1064), a leading figure of Islamic learn-
“spoke unto Moses face to face. . . . And he said, ‘You can-
ing and Arabic literature in Spain. He dealt with the subject
not see my face. . . . And I shall take away my hand and
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you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen’” (vv.
after they fraudulently exacted a treaty from Joshua (Jos. 9).
11, 10, 22–23).
God’s wrath was about to consume the Israelites, but Moses’
fervent appeal made the Lord repent (Ex. 32:10–14). Abra-
Unlike the QurDa¯n, Ibn H:azm argues, the Hebrew scrip-
ham offered curd and milk and meat to the angels (Gn. 18),
tures are devoid of data on reward and punishment in the
but this was not a kosher diet (as set forth in Deuteronomy
life to come. Yet the QurDa¯n itself refers to biblical revelation,
14:3–21 and elsewhere).
especially to that of Moses. How is this possible? Because,
he claims, there was a true revelation of the divine word to
Ibn H:azm is quick to notice irregularities attested in the
Moses, but it was not preserved. The numerous civil strifes,
lineage of biblical figures and points with gusto to the extent
wars, invasions, and defeats in ancient Israel destroyed not
of bastardization among them. The lineage of the patriarchs,
merely the Hebrew kingdoms but also their archives and
prophets, and kings is sullied with incest and fornication:
with them, the scriptures, which went up in flames. There
Abraham married Sarah, his sister; Lot was seduced by his
was no continuous tradition of learning. Indeed, there was
daughters; Reuben had relations with Bilhah, his father’s
merely one copy of the scriptures remaining in the hands of
concubine; from Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar
the priests, who knew only chapters, fractions of it. In Baby-
sprang the line of David, Solomon, and the expected
lon, Ezra the priest concocted the Hebrew scriptures from
Messiah.
remnants of the revelation as it was remembered by other
priests and from his own additions.
The few samples of postbiblical lore that he knew, possi-
bly through the Karaites, horrified him as “old wives’ tales”:
Here Ezra is denounced as a master of deception lacking
data for example, from the ancient treatise Shi Eur qomah on
reason and conscience (as well as a knowledge of arithmetic).
the measurement of the divine body; the Lord’s grieving
Yet, Ibn H:azm points out, it was Ezra who shaped the new
about the destruction of the Temple; reference to the angel
religion during the Babylonian captivity by substituting the
Met:at:ron as “the lesser Lord.” He also recounts that, accord-
synagogue service for the ruined Temple of Solomon. Since
ing to the Jews, Paul was sent to the disciples of Jesus in order
the days of Moses, he says, Deuteronomy 32 (Ha Dazinu, The
to mislead them into the belief in Christ’s divinity. Thus Ibn
Song of Moses) is the only chapter of the Hebrew scriptures
H:azm concludes that the Jews are liars and tricksters. This
that has been taught to the people, and even this chapter—
trait begins with Jacob filching Esau’s birthright (Gn. 25:29–
which he quotes in full—is replete with passages that cannot
34) and Isaac’s blessing (Gn. 27). Though I have seen many
be of divine origin, such as verses 20–22: “God is their fa-
of them, he reports, I found only two who were devoted to
ther.” Anyone who knows the Jews, continues our author,
truth.
knows they are a filthy and witless rabble, repulsive, vile, per-
fidious, cowardly, despicable, mendacious. Hence Muslims
Although he holds that the Hebrew scriptures are for-
should seek guidance about the children of Israel not from
geries and harps on the necessity of rejecting them complete-
the Ezra-produced scripture but from the QurDa¯n, which also
ly and relying instead on the QurDa¯n, he cannot refrain from
includes data about the prophets (such as Hu¯d and S:a¯lih:)
quoting some passages that seem to fit Muslim notions. Thus
who were unknown to the Jews.
he accepts Deuteronomy 33:2 (“The Lord came from Sinai
and rose from Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount
Ibn H:azm maintains that the Jews reject abrogation of
Paran”) as an “annunciation” of the advent of Jesus (via Seir,
their scriptures and any suggestion of a post-Mosaic dispen-
in Edom, later identified with Christendom, while Paran was
sation, to either Jesus or Muh:ammad. For them the omni-
taken to be a reference to Mecca). Likewise he finds in Deu-
scient God’s decree is immutable, and any change or caprice
teronomy 18:18 (“I will raise them a prophet from among
in divine will is not feasible. Without such a sudden change
their brethren like unto thee”) an annunciation of
(bada¯ D) in divine pleasure, however, a new dispensation
Muh:ammad’s ministry, since the Arabs, the progeny of
would not be feasible and thus, they assert, would contradict
Isma¯E¯ıl (Ishmael), are the brethren among whom a prophet
divine omniscience. But this is wrong, Ibn H:azm counters.
was to arise.
Precepts are commands to perform certain acts over a limited
period, beyond which time they may turn into their oppo-
Ibn H:azm also wrote a treatise against a pamphlet al-
sites. Circumstances in space and time are known to God,
leged to have been composed by Ibn Nagrela (or his son)
and it is his pleasure to grant life, death, and resurrection,
against the QurDa¯n. Although he was unable to find a copy
power, decline, restoration, virtue, and evil, belief and devia-
of this text and knew of it only from a Muslim author’s refu-
tion. For the Jews, work is permissible on Friday, but prohib-
tations, he nonetheless proceeded to attack the Jewish leader
ited on Saturday, only to become permissible again on
and the rest of the infidels who had become so arrogant. In
Sunday.
this treatise he also inveighs against the Muslim rulers, who
enjoy their luxurious palaces and forget their duty to preserve
Indeed, the Jews recognize that the law of Jacob differs
strict Muslim domination over the infidels.
from the law of Moses. Jacob married Leah and Rachel, who
were sisters, yet the law of Moses (Lv. 18:18) proscribes such
The impact of Ibn H:azm’s polemical writings is unclear.
a marriage. The people of Gibeon escaped annihilation to be-
He is not quoted by later writers, and it is possible that his
come hewers of wood and drawers of water for the sanctuary
adherence to the Z:a¯hir¯ı school of theology—a distinct mi-
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POLEMICS: MUSLIM-JEWISH POLEMICS
7239
nority within Sunn¯ı Islam—may have limited the spread of
ers; likewise, the literature of the Muslims is overwhelmingly
his views. At least one brief Hebrew tract, Shelomoh ben
superior.
Avraham Adret’s thirteenth-century Ma Damar Eal Yishma EeDl
The key issue of abrogation is demonstrated both logi-
(Treatise on Ishmael), reproduces and refutes passages of Ibn
cally and historically. Jewish legists, he says, offered discor-
H:azm’s argument on forgery, however. In any case, the full
dant views on problems; how can they all be of divine origin?
scope of the Muslim-Jewish controversy was given its first
Indeed the law itself abounds in contradictions: in Exodus,
systematic exposition in Ibn H:azm’s work: abrogation
for example, all the firstborn are consecrated to worship
(naskh), distortion or forgery in the scripture (tah:r¯ıf), an-
(13:2); in Numbers, only the Levites (8:18). As purification
thropomorphism (tajs¯ım), the preserved annunciation of
with the ashes of the red heifer (Nm. 19:11, 19:16, 19:17)
Islam and its prophet (a Dla¯m).
is no longer available, he contends that the Jews must consid-
SamauEal al-Maghrib¯ı. The pamphlet Ifh:a¯m al-Yahu¯d
er themselves impure. Prayers on exile, dispersion, and hope
(Silencing the Jews), written in 1163 in Mara¯gha (northern
of restoration are clearly of late origin, yet they should not
Iran), is the most important and influential work of Muslim
have been introduced at all in view of the injunction against
polemics against Judaism. Its author was SamauEal
adding to or diminishing from the divine word (Dt. 13:1).
al-Maghrib¯ı (c. 1125–1175), a Jew who converted to Islam
An array of arguments is cited to prove that Jesus and
and penned the pamphlet to mark his conversion. (It is not
Muh:ammad were announced in the scriptures: Deuteronomy
to be confused, however, with the Arabic pamphlet of Samu-
18:15 announces a prophet from among their brethren; in
el Marrocanus, a convert to Christianity, which was translat-
Genesis 17:20, God promises to multiply Ishmael (here the
ed into Latin and later into many Western languages.)
letters of the Hebrew words for “exceedingly,” bi-m Dod
SamauEal’s father was a minor Hebrew poet who had
me Dod, numerically equal 92, which is the numerical value
presumably fled Morocco during a wave of persecution, set-
of the name Muh:ammad); Genesis 21:21 deals with three rev-
tled in Baghdad, and married a woman of a distinguished
elations, the last in the abode of Ishmael, which is that of the
family. SamauEal, who studied under the eminent philoso-
Arabs.
pher Abu¯ al-Baraka¯t (also a Jewish convert to Islam), won
The critique of the scripture follows. According to Sam-
fame as a mathematician and physician. His Jewish training
auEal, it perished long ago owing to the vicissitudes in the his-
seems to have been limited. In an autobiography added to
tory of the Hebrews. King Saul (1 Sm. 22:16–20) massacred
his pamphlet in 1167, he claims that he was moved to con-
the line of Aaron. Centuries passed before Ezra, of the priest-
vert by rational thinking along mathematical lines. Although
ly Aaronids, reconstructed the scripture. As the priests be-
he also describes visions of the prophets Samuel and
grudged authority to royalty, he added two stories derogatory
Muh:ammad, he still insists that purely logical arguments
to the lineage of David. One, that of the daughters of Lot
prevailed in his mind. A note of self-admiration is evident
(Gn. 19), establishes the origin of Moab and thus the illegiti-
throughout:
macy of Ruth, the ancestor of the House of David, nay, of
the expected messiah. The other story (Gn. 38) indicates that
Then, after I had trained my mind on mathematical
Boaz, husband of Ruth, was born of the union of Judah with
studies, especially geometry with its demonstrations, I
Tamar.
asked myself about the differences in religious faiths
and tenets. . . . I realized that reason is the supreme
Among other criticisms, SamauEal also charges that the
arbiter and that its rule should be established generally
law is oppressive and a burden (is:r), as demonstrated by the
in . . . our world. . . . We realize that reason does not
dietary rules that separate Jews from non-Jews. Jews, he
oblige us to accept ancestral tradition without examin-
points out, call Muh:ammad a fool and a raving madman
ing it as to its soundness. . . . Mere reference to fathers
(meshugga E, cf. Hos. 9:7) and also “unfit” (Heb., pasul, rhym-
and ancestry, however, is no proof. . . . I realize that
the Jews had no proof . . . about . . . Moses other
ing with rasu¯l, Arab., “messenger,” a name for the Prophet
than the evidence of the chain of transmission, which
as Messenger of God); likewise they refer to the QurDa¯n as
is available for Jesus and Muh:ammad just as it is for
“dishonor” (qalon).
Moses . . . then all three are true prophets. . . . I have
No doubt there is a similarity between the arguments
not seen Moses . . . nor have I witnessed his miracles,
of Ibn H:azm in the eleventh century and those of SamauEal
nor those of any other prophet. . . . A sensible person
cannot believe one and disbelieve another of these
in the twelfth. Here it is probable that both were reproducing
prophets. . . . Rather, it is rationally incumbent either
older material concerning the scriptural passages and the the-
to believe all of them or to reject all of them. . . . As
ory that Ezra authored the Pentateuch (the hypothesis of
for disbelieving all, reason does not dictate that either.
Ezra’s role in the history of the scripture goes back to late
For we find that they all preached lofty morals, advocat-
Hellenistic texts; see Edmund Stein’s Alttestamentliche Bi-
ed the virtues and fought the vices, and regulated the
belkritik in der späthellenistischen Literatur, Lwów, 1935).
world in a fashion beneficial to mankind.
SamauEal’s tract in turn proved very influential as a
In SamauEal’s view, the record of the Jews in scientific ad-
quarry for Muslim authors over the centuries. His arguments
vancement cannot compare with that of the Greeks and oth-
reappear in Al-ajwibah al-fa¯khirah (The Perfect Replies),
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7240
POLEMICS: MUSLIM-JEWISH POLEMICS
written by the Egyptian al-Qara¯f¯ı (d. 1285), and in works
teous king, nay, a Muslim believer, and presented the He-
by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawz¯ıyah (d. 1350). In copying SamauEal’s
brew phrase “The gentile is like a dog” as an authentic text.
original pamphlet, which contained Hebrew passages in He-
JEWISH APOLOGETICS. Jewish writings, in Arabic and in He-
brew characters followed by Arabic transliteration and trans-
brew, attempted to present a defense against Islamic attacks.
lation, later scribes omitted the alien Hebrew characters. The
They were apologetic replies to Muslim arguments and to
tract was printed in Egypt in 1939 and again in the 1960s.
an extent constituted an effort to reinterpret the Jewish cause
Al-Ra¯qil¯ı. From somewhat different circumstances
in the light of the new intellectual atmosphere under Islam.
came Abu¯ Zakar¯ıya¯D Yah:ya¯ al-Ra¯qil¯ı’s tract TaDy¯ıd al-millah
Maimonides. Although Moses Maimonides (Mosheh
(Support of the Faith), written in Huesca in 1360 and direct-
ben Maimon, d. 1204) warned against engaging in disputa-
ed against Jews and Christians. Living in the Spanish king-
tions with the Muslims, because they did not accept the He-
dom of Aragon after the Christian reconquest, he expressed
brew Bible as a revealed text and thus shared no common
bitterness over the degradation of Islam, as Muslims fell from
ground, his Epistle to Yemen is virtually a polemical treatise.
a position of domination to that of a tolerated minority, and
Its purpose was to prepare the synagogue public to counter
especially over the treatment of Muslim peasants by Jewish
Muslim arguments: “Some hearts have gone astray . . . faith
officials and tax agents on behalf of the crown. Reading the
weakened,” he tells his readers. “Ours is the true and authen-
biblical texts in translation, he “extracted from them passages
tic divine religion revealed to us through Moses. . . . In as-
and evidences with which to refute the Jews.” God had chas-
saults upon us some use brute force; others, controversy.
tised them, he observes, with permanent dispersion
Christianity and Islam combine the two methods.”
(al-ghalu¯th al-da¯ Dim) and humiliation. He mentions disputa-
The Muslim polemicists, he continues, claim to have
tions and arguments (al-muna¯z:ara¯t wa-al-ih:tija¯j) and hopes
found Muh:ammad’s name and country in Hebrew scriptures
that God “may take us out of the country of polytheism to
(Gn. 17:20; Dt. 33:2, 18:15). Jewish converts to Islam (pre-
the lands of the Muslims.”
sumably SamauEal) quoting these verses cannot really believe
The Hebrew scriptures, he says, show that the Jews were
in them; their true purpose is to win favor in the eyes of the
a rebellious, unfaithful, ungrateful, accursed breed. They
gentiles. Muslims, unable to indicate a single verse, accuse
transgressed against every one of the Ten Commandments.
the Jews of having altered or concealed the text. In fact, he
According to al-Ra¯qil¯ı’s historical reconstruction, Hagar, the
points out, the scriptures had been translated into Greek, Ar-
mother of Ishmael, was Abraham’s wife, not his concubine.
amaic, and Latin centuries before Muh:ammad appeared.
She was not a mere slave but the daughter of an Egyptian
On account of . . . our sins God has hurled us into the
prince, and in any case, even a slave could be a prophet, as
midst of this people, the Arabs, who have persecuted us
with Joseph, who was Potiphar’s slave. God ordered Abra-
severely and passed baneful and discriminatory legisla-
ham to sacrifice his son, then prevented the patriarch from
tion against us. . . . Never did a nation molest, de-
doing so. This, al-Ra¯qil¯ı concludes, is an evident case of ab-
grade, debase, and hate us as much as they. . . . No
rogation. But even though the Jewish scriptures are not reli-
matter how much we suffer and elect to remain at peace
able, he cites Isaiah 21:7 (“a troop of asses, a troop of cam-
with them, they stir up strife and sedition, as David pre-
els”) as an annunciation of the prophethood of Jesus and
dicted (Ps. 120:7): “I am all peace, but when I speak,
Muh:ammad, respectively.
they are for war.”
Al-Ra¯qil¯ı’s pamphlet belongs to a lower level of disputa-
He concludes with a warning about the danger involved in
tion conducted between two oppressed communities under
reading his epistle, but he hopes that “the secret of the Lord
Christian domination. Also within this category of less so-
may be entrusted to those who fear him (Ps. 23:14).”
phisticated works, appealing more to the common Muslim
Ibn Kammu¯nah. In a class by itself stands Tanq¯ıh:
reader, are two pamphlets by fourteenth-century Jewish con-
al-abh:a¯th f¯ı al-milal al-thala¯th (Critical Inquiry into the
verts to Islam. One came from the pen of SaE¯ıd ibn H:asan
Three Faiths), written in Baghdad in 1280 by SaEd ibn
of Alexandria, who, in 1320, while living in the Great
Mans:u¯r ibn Kammu¯nah. With the caliphate under Mongol
Mosque of Damascus, wrote an account of his conversion.
rule, Islam could no longer be regarded as the faith of the
Dangerously ill and expecting to die, he suddenly heard a
ruler but remained the predominant faith of the masses. A
voice urging him to read a surah of the QurDa¯n. He complied
review of Ibn Kammu¯nah’s book in a sermon before a Friday
and was miraculously saved. He became such a fervent be-
mosque audience produced an angry mob assault, and the
liever that he turned against the Jewish and Christian unbe-
author had to be carried out of town hidden in a trunk.
lievers and in his tracts, which quote biblical texts, demon-
The work begins with a brief discussion of religion in
strates no qualms about distortions and absurdities.
general, followed by chapters on the three monotheistic
Such is also the case with EAbd al-H:aqq al-Isla¯m¯ı from
faiths. Two-thirds of the book is devoted to Islam and is
Ceuta, who wrote toward the end of the century. In addition
based on Muslim texts; it is written in an unusually dispas-
to relying on gimat:riyyah, the argument from the numerical
sionate spirit. Nonetheless, while Islam and its prophet
value of names and words, he accused the Jews of fire wor-
receive a fair treatment, the cumulative impression is not
ship, considered Ahab the transgressor (1 Kgs. 16–18) a righ-
favorable.
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7241
The chapter on Judaism contains a brief survey of bibli-
avoid heavy taxation, or to escape humiliation, or if
cal data and Jewish beliefs, followed by seven objections
taken prisoner, or because of infatuation with a Muslim
culled from SamauEal al-Maghrib¯ı. These are rebutted in
woman, or for some similar reason. Nor do we see a re-
turn with arguments reflecting the views of Yehudah ha-Levi
spected, wealthy, and pious non-Muslim well versed in
and Maimonides.
both his faith and that of Islam, going over to the Islam-
ic faith without some of the aforementioned or similar
Ibn Kammu¯nah points out that communities may
motives.
live side by side for centuries and yet know each other only
slightly:
Likewise, he rejects the argument that victory and power are
proof of divine support:
But the contact of Muslims with Jews does not necessi-
tate a Muslim inquiry into what the Jews assert, espe-
How, since the dominion of idol-worshipers and fire-
cially since the Jews are prevented from declaring their
worshipers continued for thousands of years in number-
creed, and their [canonical] books are in a tongue the
less countries throughout the world, can a multitude of
Muslims do not understand. The contact of a minority
followers be proof of a claim? I found they had no re-
with a majority affects the majority and the minority
buttal to these arguments beyond the claim that the Is-
differently. Thus, when a linguistic minority is in con-
lamic faith obviously excels over other faiths, and that
tact with a linguistic majority, the minority learns the
it combines a maximum quantity and quality of perfec-
language of the majority while the majority does not
tion not attained by any other known faith. But he
learn the language of the minority or, at best, learns it
who, in rancor, makes this claim will never be able to
much later. Moreover, despite numerous contacts of the
present proof of it.
bulk of the Jews with the Muslims, many Jews still do
DECLINE OF THE GENRE. After 1400, Muslim polemics were
not know the basic Islamic tenets known by the rank-
largely reiterations of earlier arguments presented in insignif-
and-file Muslims, let alone the elite. It is even more nat-
ural that a similar situation should obtain on the Mus-
icant pamphlets. One noteworthy exception is a disputation
lim side, or, at the very least, that both sides should be
conducted in 1796 by a Persian scholar, Sayyid Muh:ammad
equal [in mutual ignorance].
Mahd¯ı T:aba¯t:aba¯D¯ı; known through an account in Arabic,
Moreover, the Muslims are split into various factions ana-
this event appears to have been characterized by uncommon
themizing one another. He lists the Christians’ internal dis-
mildness and magnanimity. Within the Ottoman empire,
sensions and remarks:
probably from Christian circles, it was charged from time to
time that the Jews used (Christian) blood to bake the unleav-
I did not find most of these retorts in discussions by
ened bread for Passover. This “blood libel” emerged in Da-
Christians; I supplied these retorts on behalf of the
mascus in 1840 and resurfaced repeatedly thereafter.
Christians, and in supplementation of the investigation
into their belief.
In the nineteenth century, anti-Jewish moods and argu-
This evoked the admiration of a Christian opponent.
ments began to penetrate the Muslim world from Western
In discussing the Muslims’ factions and their respective
sources, at first especially through French anti-Semitism. In
claims, he notes:
the twentieth century, the conflict in Palestine and the rise
of Zionism were bound to rekindle the embers of the medi-
There is room for speculation in this matter. Namely,
eval controversy as a religious appendage to the conflict. But
many a person will, for worldly goals and motives, do
the literature of the religious aspect has proven extremely
things for which, as he most assuredly knows, the
founder of his respective religion has threatened severe
poor in content, confined to reiteration of arguments from
punishment in the hereafter. This belief will not pre-
the eleventh and twelfth centuries: passages from the QurDa¯n
vent a man from perpetrating that forbidden evil. Such
and the traditions, a flood of epithets characterizing the Jews
is the case of the adulterer, wine-imbiber, and slanderer.
as eternally vicious fiends against the Muslims, against Mus-
In the quest for victory over opponents, human nature
lims and Christians, and indeed, against all humanity, as ene-
will urge the fabrication of reports favoring one’s reli-
mies ever plotting against what is human and good, for the
gion. Ignoring the prohibition against lying, a man will
sake of world domination by Jewry and Israel.
sometimes fabricate such a report in the [mistaken] be-
lief that he will merit reward therefor. It may also be
All in all, Islamic polemics directed against Jews are an
fabricated by one who joined a faith opportunistical-
arid area of insubstantial writing, of minor interest to the
ly—without inner conviction but rather in the quest for
Muslims themselves. For their part, the Jews kept a low pro-
success, like many who nowadays join the faith of Islam
file and preferred not to retort. But many allusions to the
in order to prevail over rivals, although they are not be-
Muslim arguments can be found in medieval prayers, as well
lievers by conviction. If your assertion were true, no
as in exegetical and theological works.
Muslim would ever have fabricated a false tradition; the
contrary, however, is the case.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Summarizing the arguments for Muh:ammad’s prophethood,
The classic compendium on Arabic-language polemics among
he contends that they remain unproven and remarks:
Muslims, Christians, and Jews is Moritz Steinschneider’s
That is why, to this day, we never see anyone converting
Polemische und apologetische Literatur in arabischer Sprache,
to Islam unless in terror, or in quest of power, or to
zwischen Muslimen, Christen und Juden (1877; reprint, Hil-
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

7242
POLEMICS: CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM POLEMICS
desheim, 1965). Other early studies include several by Ignácz
MUSLIM POLEMIC. Christians long remained a majority
Goldziher in his Gesammelte Schriften, 3 vols. (Hildesheim,
under Muslim rule, but they began to attack Islam as soon
1967–1970), and Martin Schreiner’s “Zur Geschichte der
as they realized that it had come to stay; however, it is conve-
Polemik zwischen Juden und Muhammedanern,” Zeitschrift
nient here to consider first the Muslim attack on tah:r¯ıf. One
der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 42 (1888):
of the first Muslims to argue that Christians had misunder-
591–675.
stood rather than falsified their scriptures was a Zaydi Sh¯ıE¯ı
Salo W. Baron addresses the subject, with extensive bibliography,
from the Yemen, al-Qa¯sim ibn Ibra¯h¯ım (d. AH 246/860 CE).
in A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 2d ed., rev. &
Until the severe reaction against the colonialism of the last
enl., vol. 5 (New York, 1957), pp. 82–108. I have also writ-
century, most Muslim polemic was purely doctrinal. In his
ten a survey, “The Medieval Polemics between Islam and Ju-
daism,” in Religion in a Religious Age, edited by S. D. Goitein
Book of Religion and Empire, EAl¯ı ibn Sahl al-T:abar¯ı (ninth
(Cambridge, Mass., 1974).
century), a former Nestorian, aims, perhaps to justify his
conversion, to show that the Christian scriptures foretell
For specialized studies, see Jacob Mann’s “An Early Theologico-
Muh:ammad and enjoin Islam, and his Answer to Christians,
Polemical Work,” Hebrew Union College Annual 13/14
(1937–1938): 411–459; Emilio García Gomez’s “Polémica
concerned with Christology, is again based on his knowledge
religiosa entre Ibn H:azm e Ibn al-Nagrila,” Al-Andalus 4
of Christian sources. Supposedly earlier (c. 820) is the Apolo-
(1936): 1–28; Miguel Asín Palacios’s “Un tratado morisco
gy of al-Ha¯shim¯ı, but we know it in conjunction with its ref-
de polémica contra los Judios,” in Mélanges Hartwig Deren-
utation by the pseudonymous EAbd al-Mas¯ıh: ibn Ish:a¯q
bourg (Paris, 1909), pp. 343–366, reprinted in his Obras es-
al-Kind¯ı, attributed to Yah:ya¯ ibn EAd¯ı (d. 974), and it is like-
cogidas, vols. 2–3, De historia y filogogia arabe (Madrid,
ly to be at most a revised and Christian-edited Muslim argu-
1948); Joseph Perles’s R. Salomo ben Abraham ben Adereth:
ment. Although it abuses Christianity, attacks the doctrine
Sein Leben und seine Schriften (Breslau, 1863); and EAf¯ıf EAbd
of the Trinity, despises the Cross, and deprecates Christian
al-Fatta¯h: T:abba¯rah’s Al-Yahu¯d f¯ı al-Qur Da¯n (Beirut, 1966).
fasting, it plays into the hands of the refuter and has a con-
An Israeli view of modern developments is Yehoshafat
Harkabi’s Arab Attitudes to Israel, translated by Misha Lou-
trived air. More typical is the writing of al-Ja¯hiz: (d. 869),
vish (New York, 1972).
who is aware of arguments actually used by Christians (e.g.,
that the QurDa¯n misrepresents their beliefs), but his knowl-
A number of the original sources are also available in translation.
edge is superficial, and he is much put out by the existence
Among the Muslim writers, Ibn H:azm’s Kita¯b al-fis:al
wa-al-nih
:al, 5 vols. in 2 (1903; reprint, Baghdad, 1964), has
of different Christian orthodoxies.
been translated by Miguel Asín Palacios in volume 2 of his
The Muslim critique of Christianity increased rapidly
Abenházam de Córdoba (Madrid, 1927), and I have edited
in knowledge and sophistication. The attack by Abu¯ E¯Isa¯
and translated SamauEal al-Maghrib¯ı’s Ifh:a¯m al-Yahu¯d: Si-
al-Warra¯q on the contradictions inherent in orthodox Chris-
lencing the Jews (New York, 1964). The early formulations
of the debate from the Jewish perspective are reflected in the
tology seems to have made a considerable impact and was re-
third treatise of Sa’adyah Gaon’s The Book of Beliefs and
futed at length by Yah:ya¯ ibn EAd¯ı. Ibn H:azm (d. 1064) un-
Opinions, translated by Samuel Rosenblatt (New Haven,
derstands tah:r¯ıf in the literal sense and devotes most of his
1948). Other Jewish texts include Moses Maimonides’s Epis-
Discernment of the Confessions and Sects to scriptural dispute
tle to Yemen, edited by Abraham S. Halkin and translated by
and to the defects of the Gospels and other books of the
Boaz Cohen (New York, 1952), and Ibn Kammu¯na’s Exami-
Bible. Al-Ghaza¯l¯ı (d. 1111), in his Excellent Refutation of the
nation of the Three Faiths: A Thirteenth Century Essay in the
Divinity of Jesus Christ, uses Christian scripture (known, says
Comparative Study of Religion (Berkeley, 1971), which I have
his Christian editor, from Muslim sources) to criticize in
edited and translated.
turn the christological positions of the Chalcedonian, non-
MOSHE PERLMANN (1987)
Chalcedonian, and Nestorian churches. Muslims were now
at grips with Christian apologists. Shiha¯b al-D¯ın al-Qara¯f¯ı
(d. 1285), answering the brief Letter to a Muslim by Paul
(al-Ra¯hib, i.e., the Monk) of Antioch, Melkite bishop of
POLEMICS: CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM POLEMICS
Sidon (fl. 1160), shows a sound knowledge of Christian
The QurDa¯n itself determines the polemic area between Mus-
scripture and discusses such varied doctrines as the Eucharist
lims and Christians, because it states the terms and sets the
and QurDanic abrogation (na¯sikh, mansu¯kh). Ibn Taym¯ıyah
limits of Christian error. The issues it defines have been dis-
(d. 1328) also answered Paul, as a courteous address to the
puted ever since: God is not three; Jesus is not the Son of
king of Cyprus, contrasting the QurDa¯n and the Bible in au-
God; he was not crucified (cf. surah 4:157, 171), and the
thenticity and expounding long arguments against the Trini-
Bible has been falsified and misinterpreted. This “corrup-
ty. These disputes are quite inconclusive on both sides.
tion” (tah:r¯ıf) includes suppressing forecasts of the Prophet.
Christians have similarly sought to discredit the QurDa¯n, but
Toward the end of the European Middle Ages we begin
they have been under no comparable restraint in choosing
to find Western writers converted from Christianity in the
their themes, and they have often attacked the reputation of
course of the Ottoman advance. EAbd Alla¯h al-Turjuma¯n
the Prophet in order to argue that his revelation was con-
(early fourteenth century), a former Franciscan, discussed the
trived and fictitious.
authenticity of the holy books again in his Intelligent Man’s
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POLEMICS: CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM POLEMICS
7243
Gift in Reply to Christians. Mura¯d Bay Turjuma¯n, a Hungari-
by later Western polemicists: the Prophet is accused of ag-
an serving at the Porte, wrote a defense of Islam in Turkish
gression and libertinism; the QurDa¯n is ridiculed; much is
and Latin (1556) and praises of the Prophet in Turkish,
made of the disappointed resurrection; the Arabs of the
Latin, and Hungarian; he writes devotionally, often using the
Hejaz are described as brutish. Eulogius was the pupil of the
terminology of Western religious philosophy. The forged
abbot Speraindeo, who had written a short polemic, now
Gospel of Barnabas, in an unexplained sixteenth-century Ital-
lost, in which he attacked the QurDanic Paradise as a brothel
ian manuscript, an evangelium Muhammadanum intended to
(lupanar), but perhaps Eulogius derived from him his fairer
accord with the QurDanic Jesus, has been conjectured to have
knowledge of the QurDanic theology of Jesus. Eulogius’s
a Morisco or convert background.
friend and fellow student Alvarus attacked Islam along the
C
same general lines in almost hysterical rhetoric based on Old
HRISTIAN POLEMIC. Early polemic is at its best in the dia-
logue, notably that of the catholicos Timotheos I with the
Testament parallels.
caliph al-Mahd¯ı in about 781 and that of Timotheos’s coreli-
Except for this use of the Old Testament, all these at-
gionist Ilya¯s of Nisibis with the vizier Abu¯ al-Qa¯sim
tacks were renewed at the Spanish Reconquest. Most medi-
al-Maghrib¯ı in 1026. These Nestorians naturally exploited
eval polemic derived from Spanish sources, supplemented,
a Christology that was at least superficially more understand-
but not extensively, from the literature of the Latin states in
able to Muslims. Such dialogue may not always have taken
the East. Peter of Alfonso contributed Jewish folklore to the
place as recorded, or even at all, but their conciliatory tone
polemic pool, but the next important step was taken when
offers a Christian apologetic intended to be inoffensive to a
Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, visited Spain from
Muslim audience. Timotheos’s presentation of the Prophet
1142 to 1143 and commissioned translations from the Ara-
as “in the way of the prophets” is effective, without conced-
bic, including a version of the QurDa¯n (little better than a
ing any Christian essential.
paraphrase) and one of the pseudo-Kind¯ı. This QurDa¯n cir-
This was not the usual pattern, even in the form of dia-
culated widely in manuscript until it was printed in the six-
logue. Muslim polemic was often contemptuous, but it was
teenth century. Al-Kind¯ı reinforced the libels on the Prophet
never as virulent as Christian abuse of Islam and the Prophet,
with circumstantial detail of which the West had no other
and much matter that was largely ridiculous or irrelevant,
knowledge, and his work was circulated widely in the abbre-
and always offensive, cannot have been used to impress Mus-
viated form that appears in Vincent de Beauvais’s encyclope-
lims, unless imposed by force in regions reconquered by
dic Speculum historiale. Generally, the main polemic heads
Christians. It may be assumed that polemic develops out of
were luxuriosus (voluptuous) and bellicosus (aggressive), but
widespread previous discussion, and that much remains at
Abbot Peter’s own polemic, apparently never translated into
a low level of oral culture. Even in intellectual criticism of
Arabic, is consciously accommodating (on the information
the QurDanic text, writers forced it to mean what they chose,
available to him) and much concerned with the authentica-
including, in some Byzantine cases, the worship of Aphrodi-
tion of scripture. The invalidation of the QurDa¯n is a main
te. The Byzantine tradition includes authors writing in
theme of the mysterious Contrarietas elpholica, which Mark
Greek from within Islam or from outside, among them John
of Toledo translated early in the thirteenth century from an
of Damascus (d. 749), Theodore Abu¯ Qurrah (eighth-ninth
unknown Arabic original. He also made a much better trans-
century), George Hamartolus (“the Monk”), Nicetas of By-
lation of the QurDa¯n, but it was generally ignored.
zantium (both ninth century), and the pseudonymous au-
The Dominican Ricoldo da Monte Croce (c. 1243–
thor of the Letter to the Emir of Damascus (c. 920–940). Ni-
1320) traveled to Baghdad (he was there about 1291), but
cetas is hypercritical in his treatment of the QurDanic text;
the discussions he claims to have had with amiable Muslim
all these tend to attack the Prophet, especially his wars and
divines left no mark on his polemic, derived from the Con-
his marriage to Zaynab bint Jah:sh, the influence on him of
trarietas and other inherited material. He attacks the QurDa¯n
a suppositious Arian adviser, and the doctrine of a material
as confused and obscure in ways equally applicable to the
Paradise. The pseudo- Kind¯ı (mentioned above), writing in
prophetic books of the Old Testament. The Quadruplex re-
Arabic, is the most consistently unscrupulous in distorting
probatio, perhaps by another Dominican, Ramón Martí
every episode of the Prophet’s life as self-indulgence (mostly
(c. 1220–1285), shows a detailed knowledge of genuine
sexual) and aggression (banditry, assassination). He deliber-
sources, such as al-Bukha¯r¯ı and Muslim ibn al-Hajja¯j, which
ately ignored the sense of the Prophet’s holiness in the
he must have combed to find instances of Islamic jurispru-
sources he must have used, and he supported the gratuitous
dence objectionable to Christians as “contrary to reason” or
notion that the Prophet expected the resurrection or ascen-
“contrary to the public good,” while ignoring the rest.
sion of his dead body.
Ramón Lull (1235–1315), “proving” the Trinity by “com-
These themes had already entered the West by the mid-
pelling reasons” in a number of works, had little impact,
dle of the ninth century. The miniature polemic found in
however. Peter Paschasius, a Mercedarian (c. 1227–1300),
Pamplona by Eulogius of Cordova (d. 859), archbishop elect
used authentic knowledge from the life of the Prophet by Ibn
of Toledo, and encapsulated in his Liber apologeticus mar-
Ish:a¯q (d. 767) in a forlorn attempt to justify the more absurd
tyrum, contains nearly all the elements used by al-Kind¯ı and
of the Christian libels on the Prophet then circulating.
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POLITICAL THEOLOGY
These, many of them originating in the East, enjoyed a great
The English annotations to editions of the QurDa¯n by
vogue, not only in two Latin poems and a French paraphrase
Mawla¯na¯ Muh:ammad EAl¯ı (Ah:mad¯ı version, 1917) and by
but also in many fragments and in chronicles, annals, and
EAl¯ı Yu¯suf EAl¯ı (Sunn¯ı version, 1946) put forward arguments
various occasional works: an assortment of recurring legends
unfamiliar to Western readers; in a general way, Muslims felt
of how a fraudulent holy book was “revealed” by a pigeon
that contemporary biblical criticism supported the accusa-
or a calf, of how Muh:ammad was the dupe of a renegade
tion of tah:r¯ıf, though Sayyid Ahmad Khan had minimized
Christian monk, or was even himself a frustrated cardinal.
this. The Muslim Brotherhood saw itself as simply defending
The chansons de geste describe a pantheon of Saracen gods,
Islamic civilization. Rejected by most Muslim opinion at the
but it is doubtful if they were intended as more than a joke.
time, EAbd al-EAz¯ız Jaw¯ısh (1876–1929) attacked Coptic
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) advised against po-
Christianity as colonialist, in his paper Al-liwa¯, but the mili-
lemic that could not be based on shared premises. Nicolas
tant Islam of the later twentieth century, preoccupied with
of Cusa (1400–1464), although his polemic method shows
the struggle against the moderates, has yet to produce major
no real advance, seems to be sincerely seeking conciliation
polemic against post-Christian neocolonialists; it may be ex-
in his De pace fidei. Gradually the refinement of scholarly
pected, when it comes, to have large social content. The
method eliminated the worst absurdities. The greatest of the
jama¯ Ea¯t (fundamentalist groups) already hark back to Ibn
seventeenth-century QurDanic specialists, Ludovico Maracci
Taym¯ıyah. On the Christian side, some fanatics remain, but
(1612–1700), was scrupulously exact, but rigidly critical on
the tendency among Western Christians (e.g., Louis Mas-
traditional lines; his English imitator, George Sale (c. 1697–
signon, 1883–1962, and Kenneth Cragg, b. 1913) is to
1736), was more sympathetic, although he is regarded by
shake free of inherited bias.
Muslims today as anti-Islamic. The old polemic lines were
SEE ALSO Modernism, article on Islamic Modernism.
merely re-oriented toward the general critique of religion by
the Enlightenment (e.g., Bayle’s Dictionnaire, 1696–1697,
B
s. v. Mahomet; Boulainvilliers’s Vie de Mahomed, 1730; Gib-
IBLIOGRAPHY
For a conspectus of much of the field, Georges C. Anawati’s
bon; Voltaire).
“Polémique, apologie et dialogue islamo-chrétiens,” Euntes
THE MODERN PERIOD. Polemic revived in the nineteenth
Docete 22 (1969): 380–392, is invaluable, but it is short and
century but was profoundly modified on both sides by the
does not cover all. For medieval Islamic polemic, see Erd-
colonial experience. Orientalists and missionaries alike con-
mann Fritsch’s Islam und Christentum im Mittelalter (Bres-
sidered themselves the intellectual and social superiors of na-
lau, 1930). A short, useful account of Byzantine polemic is
tions ruled by Europeans. Improved historical methods in-
Alain Ducellier’s Le miroir de l’Islam: Musulmans et chrétiens
troduced a new precision without necessarily changing old
d’Orient au Moyen Age, septième-onzième siècles (Paris, 1971).
For Arabic polemic, the writings of Armand Abel are crucial:
prejudice. Protestant missions, from the polemicist Carl
L’apologie d’al-Kindi et sa place dans la polémique islamo-
Pfander (1803–1865) to a culmination in the World Mis-
chrétienne “L’oriente christiano nella storia della civiltà,” no.
sionary Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910, never es-
62 (Rome, 1964), and many other monographs. For medi-
caped intellectually from the medieval polemic, but they
eval Christian polemic, see Richard W. Southern’s Western
added some contemporary social criticism, especially of the
Views of Islam in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass., 1962)
status of women in Islam. On the Catholic side we may com-
and my own Islam and the West: The Making of an Image, 2d
pare Cardinal Lavigerie (1825–1892), archbishop of Algiers,
ed. (Edinburgh, 1980). For modern Christian polemic,
and his alliance with the mission civilisatrice of France. Politi-
Youakim Moubarac’s Recherches sur la pensée chrétienne de
cal subordination forced Muslims to take the defensive.
l’Islam: Dans les temps modernes et à l’époque contemporaine
(Beirut, 1977) spreads a fine net widely. For academic ten-
A nineteenth-century aggiornamento led by Sayyid
dencies, see Jacques Waardenburg’s L’Islam dans le miroir de
Ahmad Khan (1817–1898), Jama¯l al-D¯ın al-Afgha¯n¯ı
l’Occident, 3d ed. (Paris, 1962), which studies five major
(1838–1897), and Muh:ammad EAbduh (1849–1905) was
scholars. There is no general survey of modern Muslim po-
followed by a series of apologists rather than polemicists,
lemic against Christianity, but for India, see Aziz Ahmed’s
modernists influenced in different degrees by Western Chris-
Islamic Modernisation in India and Pakistan, 1857–1964
tian, and post-Christian attitudes; among these were Mu-
(London, 1967).
hammad Iqbal (1876–1938), T:a¯ha¯ H:usayn (1889–1973),
NORMAN DANIEL (1987)
Sala¯h al-D¯ın Khuda¯ Bakhsh (1877–1931), and Ka¯mal
H:usayn (1901–1977). The use by EAbba¯s Mah:mu¯d
al-EAqqa¯d (1889–1964) of the historical techniques of the
day to refute Western Orientalism has been very influential;
POLITICAL THEOLOGY is one in a series of at-
he respected Christ as prophet, which Taw¯ıq S:idq¯ı (1881–
tempts made by Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians
1920), in violent reaction against the missionaries, did not.
since the 1960s to come to grips with the foundations of
Widely read by an English-language public, Ameer Al¯ı
Christianity in light of the twentieth-century crisis of cul-
(1849–1928) skillfully reversed the Christian sociohistorical
ture. After World War I, theology had reached a kind of
attack on Islam, notably in his Spirit of Islam (1891) and his
equilibrium wherein the Protestants were constellated about
Short History of the Saracens (1899).
the three giants, Karl Barth (1886–1968), Rudolf Bultmann
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POLITICAL THEOLOGY
7245
(1884–1976), and Paul Tillich (1886–1965), and the Cath-
to emerge of the spiritual impoverishment arising from what
olics were still operating under the auspices of the scholasti-
were cynically labeled state-controlled monopolies in the
cism evoked by Pope Leo XIII in 1879, when he called for
East and monopoly-controlled states in the West. In the de-
a renewal of Thomism. By the close of the Second Vatican
veloping nations, dissatisfaction spread at the popular, grass-
Council (1962–1965), however, these liberal and neoortho-
roots level in opposition to the dependence engendered by
dox solutions to the mediation between Christianity and
colonialist and imperialist policies of advanced industrial so-
modern cultures had suddenly become irretrievably passé, for
cieties. In brief, the stage was set for theology to shift from
it was widely felt that none of the dominant theologies, esti-
hermeneutical methods of mediating Christianity with con-
mable as they might be, had really come to terms with the
temporary cultures to new approaches known as political or
crisis of modern culture in ways that were sufficiently pro-
liberation theologies.
found or adequately differentiated.
By 1970 it was already manifest that there were two dis-
These deficiencies were registered within the mainly ac-
tinct originating points for political theology: from within
ademic context of European and North American theology
an academic context in advanced industrial societies, and
through the increasing influence of the nineteenth-century
from what have come to be called “basic communities” (from
“masters of suspicion,” Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Frie-
the Spanish comunidades de base) in developing nations. It
drich Nietzsche (1844–1900). Nietzsche’s critique of moder-
is clear that both styles of theology are seeking to come to
nity had probed the enervating effects upon life in the West
terms with the universal hermeneutic problem as portrayed
caused by the invasion of other cultures and the various
by Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, and Paul Ricoeur. But
forms of reflection upon culture by historical consciousness
it is no less evident that they mean to follow Marx’s impera-
in terms of nihilism and the death of God. In his unforgetta-
tive of changing, rather than merely interpreting, history.
ble image of the “last man,” Nietzsche had limned the out-
The leading exponents of political theology in Europe,
come of the liberal democratic and socialist solutions to the
the German Catholic J.-B. Metz and the German Protestant
political problem. This radical crisis of meaning and value
Jürgen Moltmann, might justly be characterized as asserting
was explored during the mid-1960s in a variety of Christian
that interpretation of God is a practical and political issue.
theologies: the God-is-dead theologies of Thomas Altizer,
There is no split between change and interpretation: Human
Gabriel Vahanian, and Paul van Buren; the universal-
and even revolutionary change is at root interpretative; and,
historical theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg; the post-
especially when it comes to the reality of God, interpretation
Bultmann hermeneutical theologies of Gerhard Ebeling,
is primarily a matter of practical reorientation (conversion)
Ernst Fuchs, and Heinrich Ott; and the post-Heidegger the-
and concrete action (transformation of individual and collec-
ology of Karl Rahner. Philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer,
tive life). Moltmann at first depended upon Ernst Bloch’s
whose Truth and Method became required reading for theo-
philosophy of hope but later moved on, using motifs from
logians in the 1960s and 1970s, resumed the meditation of
the critical theory developed by the Frankfurt School to rein-
Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) upon the crisis indicated by
terpret Luther’s theology of the cross in terms of its revolu-
Nietzsche and formulated the issue as follows: Since all nor-
tionary social implications. Metz, ever a disciple of Rahner,
mative traditions have been rendered radically questionable,
was challenged by the experience of the Holocaust and by
hermeneutics (the auxiliary science of interpretation) has be-
the writings of the enigmatic Jewish-Marxist satellite of the
come a universal issue. However, the challenge of hermeneu-
Frankfurt School, Walter Benjamin (1892–1940), to refor-
tics to theology is usually diffused in one of two ways. In aca-
mulate Rahner’s theological anthropology in terms of less
demic theology hermeneutics is trimmed down to
idealist and more concrete notions such as “dangerous mem-
conventional scholarly dimensions, whereafter theology is
ory,” “religion as interruption,” and “narrative theology.”
subjected to subdisciplines that divide up the data on Chris-
Both Metz and Moltmann have used the “dialectic of en-
tian religion for ever more minute and critical study. Alterna-
lightenment” (that is, the secularist thesis that the progress
tively, hermeneutics may be subsumed within a transcenden-
achieved by modern science and technology and by the bour-
tal-metaphysical reflection (as in Rahner) or a wholly
geois and communist revolutions has been perverted by the
ontological reflection (as in process theology). These re-
dominance of instrumental reason and the “iron cage” of bu-
sponses to the issue of a universal hermeneutic as formulated
reaucracy) as it was formulated by Max Horkheimer, Theo-
by Gadamer—fragmenting on the one hand, and totalizing
dor W. Adorno, and Georg Lukács. Metz and Moltmann
on the other—bore the earmarks of that sort of interpreta-
transpose that dialectic of progress and decline into the ten-
tion that Marx, in his famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach,
sion now being lived out between the pole of liberal demo-
said needed to be supplanted by practice. It became a real
cratic and Marxist “ideologies of winners” and the opposite
question whether theology was anything more than either a
pole of redemption with the radical evangelical challenge to
species of intellectual history or an academically domesticat-
solidarity with history’s outcasts and victims.
ed speculation without any practical bearing or importance.
Liberation theologies emanate less from the academic
During the 1960s and 1970s this question became ines-
superstructure than from basic communities at the popular
capable. At the same time a common awareness was starting
level. They reach public discourse in the writings of teachers
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POLITICAL THEOLOGY
like Gustavo Gutiérrez (Peru), Juan Segundo (Uruguay),
degger only to return to premodern authors (Xenophon,
José Miguez-Bonino (Argentina), Jon Sobrino (El Salvador),
Plato, Maimonides, al-Fa¯ra¯b¯ı) as an alternative to the media-
Leonardo and Clodovis Boff and Rubem Alves (Brazil), and
tions of the social sciences in the mold of Marx or Max
so on. But they are also published in documents emanating
Weber (1864–1920). Straussians bring out the tension be-
from bishops’ conferences as well as in the writings and polit-
tween Christianity and liberal and socialist democracies.
ical activity typified by the Nicaraguan priest-poet-
They tend to render Christianity as utterly apolitical; as a re-
revolutionary Ernesto Cardenal. In liberation theology the
sult, whereas liberation theology tends to flatten out into
experiences of political and social oppression and of massive
Marxism, Straussian political theory is perhaps too content
poverty have provoked a reading of the Bible and a celebra-
with Platonic or Aristotelian reasons for espousing liberal de-
tion of ecclesial sacraments that are immediately political in
mocracy at the cost of solidarity with the poor.
the sense of being directly linked to the issue of emancipation
The work of political scientist Eric Voegelin (1901–
from “structural” sin. Bourgeois social, political, and eco-
1985), as demonstrated by his multivolume Order and Histo-
nomic theories do not adequately explain the institutional-
ry (1956–), makes the tension of human existence—lived out
ized schemes of recurrence that define the Latin American
in “the in-between” (“metaxy”) as expressed paradigmatically
experience of oppression. Thus, liberation theology debunks
in noetic and pneumatic differentiations of consciousness—
bourgeois notions of “development” in favor of hypotheses
normative for practical and political thought and action.
like “dependency” and “national security state” in which
Voegelin’s ideas provide an antidote to the tendency of some
Lenin’s ideas about imperialism are applied anew. This is just
political theologians to collapse that tension, and his ecu-
one instance of the theology of liberation’s penchant to have
menical and transcultural comprehensiveness adds scope to
recourse to Marxism (especially the humanist strands) and
conventional political theology. Nevertheless, by its very
Leninist or Maoist strategies in order to diagnose and remedy
power and genericness, Voegelin’s enterprise has a tendency
structural sin. This approach places liberation theologians
to be too global to do justice to the particular problems of
under a double constraint since, on the one hand, genuine
political practice.
evangelical experience of God and faith in Jesus Christ Liber-
Metz’s American student Matthew Lamb has recently
ator is for them the wellspring and motive for social critique
called attention to the relevance for political theology of the
and action in a way that neither Marx nor Lenin could envis-
work of Bernard Lonergan (1904–1984). Lonergan, by de-
age, and, on the other hand, the theoretical weaknesses in
manding that the criteria of authentic performance in sci-
Marxist analysis and practice sometimes threaten liberation
ence, in scholarship, and in ordinary living be reconnected
theology with collapse back into the posture of the secularist
with the criteria for being authentically human (thematized
dialectic of enlightenment. Added to this, liberal democratic
in his notions of religious, moral, and intellectual conver-
and orthodox Christian misunderstanding and opposition
sion), has given political theologians a useful framework for
perhaps unwittingly force the practitioners of liberation the-
the mediation of saving meaning and value in history. His
ology into increasing partisanship with secularist Marxist-
stance toward the future in the light of the past, along with
Leninists.
his germinal but still little-known work in economics, Lamb
Both European political theology and Latin American
suggests, provides Christians with the first genuine alterna-
liberation theology have the Marxist orientation toward
tive to either Marxist or liberal democratic political and eco-
overcoming specifically bourgeois biases. In other advanced
nomic theory. Whatever may be the fate of political theology
industrial countries like the United States and Canada, the
as we know it, its reintegration of earlier forms of theology—
Marxist analysis of structural sin in terms of class yields to
emphasizing retrieval of past meaning and doctrinal and sys-
three other emphases: racism (black and other ethnic theolo-
tematic restatement—into foundational, practical, and polit-
gies), sexism (feminist theologies), and issues of ecology. Like
ical questions about the right way to live can only be salutary
the liberation theologies of Latin America, each of these ori-
for the practice of faith in society both now and in the future.
entations struggles with the ambivalence between its roots in
Many contemporary theologians believe that political theol-
Christian religious experience and the terms of power and
ogy is, in fact, the chief symptom and response to the para-
legitimacy as these terms were first formulated by secularist
digm change theology is undergoing.
Enlightenment thinkers. Miscomprehension and unfavor-
S
able criticism force them, too, into stances ever more indis-
EE ALSO Christianity, article on Christianity in Latin
America; Heidegger, Martin; Lonergan, Bernard; Marx,
tinguishable from their secularist counterparts. But then, re-
Karl; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Rahner, Karl.
actions to such extremes among their cohorts have also led
to recoveries and discoveries of Christian meanings and
values.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
European Political Theology
Another increasingly prominent aspect of political the-
Metz, J.-B. Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Funda-
ology is being explored by Ernest Fortin and James V. Schall,
mental Theology. Translated by David Smith. New York,
students of political philosopher Leo Strauss (1899–1973).
1980. A nuanced statement of Metz’s mature position, with
Strauss took up the hermeneutic challenge laid down by Hei-
an account of the genesis and aims of political theology, his
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POLITICAL THEOLOGY
7247
differences with Karl Rahner, and a basic elaboration of
142–177. Brief, lucid, and reliable, this is the best overview
major concepts and themes.
of the development of the notion of political/civil theology
Moltmann, Jürgen. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the
in the West from antiquity to the present.
Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Translated
Lamb, Matthew L. Solidarity with Victims: Toward a Theology of
by Robert Wilson and John Bowden. New York, 1974. Uses
Social Transformation. New York, 1982. A difficult yet re-
themes from critical social theory as transposed into the per-
warding look at the possibilities of a comprehensive, differ-
spective of the interaction between Father and Son in the
entiated, yet committed framework (for the tasks articulated
crucifixion.
by Metz, the Latin Americans, and the critical social theo-
rists) to be found in the thought of Bernard J. F. Lonergan.
Latin American Liberation Theology
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Translated by Myra B.
Lonergan, Bernard J. F. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding
Ramos. New York, 1970. An extended commentary on the
(1957). Reprint, San Francisco, 1978. An invitation and
intrinsic nexus between language and life-form as the key to
phenomenological maieutic toward an appropriation of
initiating a reflection upon and transformation of life-
one’s rational self-consciousness and an intellectual conver-
practice and to our becoming subjects instead of objects of
sion of the heart of concrete practice.
history.
Lonergan, Bernard J. F. Method in Theology. New York, 1972.
Gutiérrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and
The best elucidation to date of the foundations of theology
Salvation. Translated and edited by Caridad Inda and John
as practical and political in a differentiated society.
Eagleson. Maryknoll, N.Y., 1973. Probably the classic text
embodying the demarche of liberation hermeneutics, it cor-
Strauss, Leo. Natural Right and History. Chicago, 1953. The best
relates biblical texts on emancipation with the contemporary
available account of the moral and political revolution from
social situation as brought to light through Marxist social
the classic tradition of natural right and natural law to the
theory.
modern horizon of natural and human rights, along with its
profound ambiguities.
Feminist Liberation Theology
Plaskow, Judith, and Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, eds. Journal of
Strauss, Leo. Political Philosophy: Six Essays by Leo Strauss. Edited
Feminist Studies in Religion. Chico, Calif., 1985; Decatur,
by Hilail Gildin. Indianapolis, 1975. An expression of the
Ga., 1985–. A semiannual journal devoted to feminist re-
core of Strauss’s orientation, of which perhaps the most
search, discussion, and dialogue in all areas of religious
beneficial statement is the essay “The Three Waves of
studies, with articles regularly by all the leading theorists as
Modernity.”
well as newcomers.
Voegelin, Eric. Order and History, vol. 4, The Ecumenic Age. Baton
Ruether, Rosemary Radford. New Woman, New Earth. New York,
Rouge, La., 1974. An extended expression of Voegelin’s
1975. Here one of the most solid theorists not only retrieves
most mature position, but especially pertinent reflections on
many feminist motifs centrally important to secular femi-
the context of political theology in what he calls “historio-
nism but goes on to use them to show how the concerns of
genesis.”
feminist social critique are of intrinsic value to other empha-
ses related to racism, ecology, and so forth.
New Sources
Cone, James H. God of the Oppressed. rev. ed. Maryknoll, N.Y.,
Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theo-
1997.
logical Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York, 1983.
A superb critical historian and a tough-minded and sane
Donovan, Oliver. The Desire of Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of
thinker, Schüssler-Fiorenza is able to document clearly how
Political Theology. Cambridge, U.K., 1996.
patriarchalism is not integral to Christianity, how the Chris-
Ellis, Marc, and Otto Maduro, eds. The Future of Liberation The-
tian community got derailed from its own meanings and val-
ology; Essays in Honor of Gustavo Gutiérrez. Maryknoll, N.Y.,
ues, and how these meanings and values can be recovered in
1989.
the present to the benefit of all Christians.
Gottwald, Norman K., and Richard A. Horsely, eds. The Bible
Black Political Theology
and Liberation: Political and Social Hermeneutics. Maryknoll,
West, Cornel. Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolution-
N.Y., 1993.
ary Christianity. Philadelphia, 1982. A brilliant work from
the second generation of black theologians that brings the
Hennelley, Alfred T., ed. Liberation Theology: A Documentary His-
emancipatory thrust of black theology into dialogue with a
tory. Maryknoll, N.Y., 1990.
large number of influential “discourses,” including those of
Peterson, Anna L. Martyrdom and the Politics of Religion: Progres-
Jacques Derrida.
sive Catholicism in El Salvador’s Civil War. Albany, N.Y.,
Wilmore, Gayraud S., and James H. Cone, eds. Black Theology:
1997.
A Documentary History, 1966–1979. Maryknoll, N. Y.,
Smith, Christiana. Disruptive Religion: The Forces of Faith in Social
1979. An excellent “backgrounder” with all the most influ-
Movement Activism. New York and London, 1996.
ential statements and figures, along with bibliography.
Tabb, William K., ed. Churches in Struggle: Liberation Theologies
Miscellaneous Works
and Social Change in North America. New York, 1986.
Fiorenza, Francis S. “Political Theology as Foundational Theolo-
gy: An Inquiry into Their Fundamental Meaning.” Proceed-
FREDERICK G. LAWRENCE (1987)
ings of the Catholic Theological Society of America 32 (1977):
Revised Bibliography
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
POLITICS AND RELIGION
rationally ordered civil society. Consequently, in the eyes of
This entry consists of the following articles:
most European scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, cultures that had not yet risen to this level of ratio-
AN OVERVIEW
POLITICS AND BUDDHISM
nal society were typically regarded as either “primitive” (i.e.,
POLITICS AND CHINESE RELIGION
most non-industrial indigenous traditions) or rooted in a
POLITICS AND JAPANESE RELIGIONS
despotic confusion of religion and political power (e.g.
POLITICS AND ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN RELIGIONS
POLITICS AND CHRISTIANITY
Islam).
POLITICS AND ISLAM
Yet such a separation often makes little sense when ex-
POLITICS AND AFRICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
POLITICS AND OCEANIC RELIGIONS
amining non-Western and non-industrialized cultures in
POLITICS AND NATIVE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
which the political and religious spheres are not only closely
entwined, but typically indistinguishable. In fact, it is per-
haps more accurate to say that the very act of defining reli-
POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
gion, by demarcating it as a separate category distinct from
In his autobiographical account, Mohandas Gandhi (1869–
social structure, art, economics and other aspects of human
1948) made the now famous observation that “those who say
activity, is itself an inherently political act. It necessarily en-
religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what
tails the questions of what counts as legitimate religion, as
religion is” (Gandhi, 1940, p. 371). The history of twenti-
opposed to heresy, blasphemy, idolatry, savagery or “primi-
eth-century India—and, indeed, the entire modern world—
tive” beliefs and practices.
would surely seem to have confirmed the mahatma’s state-
ment, as religion has clearly emerged as a powerful force in-
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the expansion
spiring nationalist identity, anti-colonial movements for
of European colonialism and the conquest of the Americas,
independence, and revolutionary violence. While many soci-
India, Africa and other parts of the world. Just as Western
ologists had predicted that religion would gradually wane as
nations were conquering new worlds, they were also catego-
a cultural force in the face of the increasing rationalization
rizing and classifying newly discovered cultures in terms of
and “disenchantment” of the modern world, it would seem
their beliefs, superstitions and their distance from a rational,
that quite the opposite has occurred. Since the mid-
modern, “civilized” state. To cite just one of many examples,
twentieth century, religion has re-emerged as a powerful,
the rites of most Native American tribes were not initially
often violent and revolutionary force, with profound impli-
recognized by U.S. government officials as legitimate reli-
cations for global politics, social structure and transnational
gious forms on a par with Christianity or Judaism. Rather,
economics. The 1979 Sh¯ıE¯ı revolution in Iran, the rise of lib-
their “primitive” and savage character was a symptom of the
eration theology in South America, the political success of
Native Americans’ need to be governed, converted or simply
Hindu fundamentalism in India, the conflicts in Bosnia and
removed. Many rites, such as the Sun Dance and Ghost
Kosovo, the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine, the at-
Dance were banned altogether. Others, such as the use of
tacks on the World Trade Center Towers in 2001, and the
peyote as a sacrament, had to be contested legally throughout
rise of various forms of religious nationalism throughout the
the twentieth century, facing state prohibitions and congres-
globe all offer ample evidence that religion has by no means
sional bills banning its use, before finally being recognized
become a minor force on the periphery of global political and
as a religious rite. Ironically, the use of peyote was only recog-
economic issues. On the contrary, it is often at the heart of
nized as a legitimate form of religious expression once it was
them.
institutionalized in 1918 as the “Native American Church,”
dedicated “to teach the Christian religion with morality, so-
One could, however, go a great deal further than Gan-
briety, industry, kindly charity and right living”—in other
dhi’s assertion of the intimate relation between the religious
words, with the appearance of something more recognizably
and political realms. For the very idea of separating the terms
“Church-like” in the eyes of the government.
politics and religion is itself a fairly recent invention, since
Similar examples can be found throughout the history
these are both in a sense “imagined” categories that are large-
of the colonization of Africa, South America, and India,
ly the product of the European Enlightenment and the rise
where the act of defining “religion” was often intimately
of modern Western nations. Just as European intellectuals
bound to political conquest, colonial knowledge and control
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries began to “imag-
over indigenous populations. Increasingly since the nine-
ine religion” as a distinct and bounded category of human
teenth century, moreover, the act of defining religion has also
activity (Smith, 1982), so too, they began to imagine the sep-
become tied to explicitly political movements, such as reli-
aration between religious and political domains as a necessary
gious nationalism (e.g. India, Sri Lanka) and revolutionary
condition for a rational, secular society. Rejecting the reli-
extremism (e.g. Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan).
gious hegemony of the medieval Catholic Church, and re-
coiling from the wars of religion that tore Europe apart after
It is therefore perhaps more helpful to use a term like
the Protestant Reformation, many Enlightenment philoso-
religio-political power” to refer to the complex ways in which
phers like John Locke insisted upon a separation of religious
this-worldly relations of power, domination and social con-
belief and political power as a necessary precondition for a
trol are inevitably intertwined with appeals to otherworldly,
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
7249
transcendent or supra-human sources of authority (Chid-
scendent authority (Lincoln, 2003, p. 6–7). Politics, history,
ester, 1988, p. 2). Even in the contemporary United States—
economics, art, and other forms of cultural discourse, con-
ostensibly founded on a “clear wall of separation between
versely, tend to speak in a fallible human voice about this-
Church and State,” and yet still committed to the ideals of
worldly, temporal and finite affairs; to the degree that they
“in God we trust” and “one nation under God”—it is not
begin to speak with a more than human voice, we could say,
difficult to see complex intersections between the secular
they begin to move into the realm of religion.
and the spiritual in the construction of a collective national
In most cultures, the religious and political domains are
identity.
bound in an intimate, symbiotic, but also tense and conflict-
This article will first suggest some basic ways of distin-
ed relationship. Religious discourse might be said to repre-
guishing between religious and political power in a practical
sent the ultimate motivator, that is, the most persuasive force
or provisional way, and then examine seven modern theoreti-
used to mobilize individual and collective action. With its
cal approaches. Finally, it will outline eight basic modes of
appeal to supra-human and transcendent authority, religious
interaction between religion and politics, and conclude with
discourse can lend the ultimate legitimation to temporal po-
some remarks on the role of religio-political power in the
litical power. Indeed, even Niccolò Machiavelli, in his classic
context of globalization and transnationalism.
work on political pragmatism, recognized this legitimizing
power. Thus he advised that the prince should “appear a man
HUMAN AND SUPRA-HUMAN SOURCES OF AUTHORITY. De-
of compassion, a man of good faith, a man of integrity, a
spite the fact that the very idea of separating religion and pol-
kind and a religious man,” adding that the last quality is the
itics is a relatively recent product of post-Enlightenment Eu-
most important (Machiavelli, 1999, p. 58). In turn, religious
ropean discourse, it is arguably still useful to distinguish
institutions typically rely upon the patronage, financial sup-
between them as a heuristic device or practical tool in order
port and physical protection of political powers. Yet at the
to understand how power works in particular cultures. Vari-
same time, the supra-human authority of religious discourse
ous authors have suggested ways of defining and distinguish-
can also be invoked to critique, challenge, or subvert the
ing the two terms. Perhaps the most common way has been
dominant political order; and conversely, the “legitimate vio-
to identify religion and politics, respectively, with the sacred
lence” of political power can be used to silence, suppress or
and profane aspects of human experience. Thus, according
crush dissident religious voices.
to historian George Armstrong Kelly, “politics is the ultimate
control system of the profane, and religion is the ultimate
MODERN WESTERN THEORIES OF RELIGION AND POLITICS.
control system of the sacred” (Douglas and Tipton, 1983,
Sophisticated reflection on the nature of spiritual and politi-
p. 208).
cal power is not, of course, a modern phenomenon. Plato’s
Republic and Aristotle’s Politics in classical Greece,
However, perhaps a more nuanced way to understand
Kaut:ilya’s’s Artha´sa¯stra in ancient India, the works of Arab
the distinction between religious and political phenomena
theologians in early Islam, the works of medieval theologians
lies in the sorts of authority to which they appeal in order
like Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, etc., all represent seri-
to justify their power. In broadest terms, politics could be
ous analyses of the ideal polity and its relation to the divine.
said to refer to the “network of power relations in society”;
Yet the idea of clearly defining religion and politics as two
it consists of the “lines of authority, instruments of control,
distinct spheres of human activity—spheres that should ide-
strategies of domination, and the enforcement of order that
ally have as little to with one another as possible—is a rela-
all contribute to a certain distribution of power within a set
tively modern idea with a history that is itself not free of
of social relations” (Chidester, 1988, p. 5). And a key part
political implications. Indeed, it was not until the Enlighten-
of political power is the right to exercise violence. Indeed,
ment that religion itself emerges as a distinct category in
as Max Weber (1864–1920) observed, the State is simply a
Western discourse and politics emerges as a category against
community that “claims the monopoly on the legitimate use
which it is contrasted. The relationship between these two
of physical force” and the “‘right’ to use violence” within a
categories has, moreover, been theorized in many different
given territory (1946: 78).
ways over the last 300 years. For the sake of simplicity, six
What most distinguishes specifically religious forms of
major models will be discussed that have emerged in Western
discourse from political and other sorts of discourse, howev-
discourse since the Enlightenment.
er, is their appeal to a particular kind of authority—namely,
The European Enlightenment, from Locke to Kant.
to a transcendent, supra-human or eternal source of authori-
The European Enlightenment can be read as, among other
ty believed to lie beyond the temporal, fallible, human realm.
things, a critique of the powerful religious hegemony held
“Religion,” Bruce Lincoln observes, “. . .is that discourse
by the medieval Catholic Church, which had asserted the
whose defining characteristic is its desire to speak of things
spiritual and temporal supremacy of the Papacy over all
eternal and transcendent with an authority equally transcen-
human domains, often including that of kings and emperors.
dent and eternal” (Lincoln, 1996, p. 225). And this discur-
By the end of the Middle Ages, and particularly after the
sive appeal to a supra-human authority is in turn tied to a
Protestant Reformation and the ensuing violence of Europe’s
set of practices, to a community, and to an institution, all
wars of religion, that religio-political hegemony had been se-
of which serve to reproduce and reaffirm this claim to tran-
riously called into question and attacked on many sides.
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
Arguably the most influential modern author to argue
fruits of their own labor. This alienation is the spiritual ana-
for a clear separation of religious and political affairs was the
logue of the alienation suffered by the laborer in a capitalist
English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704). In his “Letter
economy, separated from the fruits of his own labor which
Concerning Tolerance” (1667), Locke distinguishes religion
becomes the profit of the boss or factory owner. As such, reli-
and politics as two separate and legitimate spheres of human
gion is itself the by-product of the social and political order;
endeavor; the former primarily concerns individual belief
it is the “spiritual aroma” of the state, masking the domina-
and personal conviction, and the latter civil law and public
tion of the powerful and the wealthy over the weak and the
action. As such, religious belief should not be restricted by
poor, and making oppressive social conditions appear at once
political control, and conversely, political discourse should
agreeable and divinely ordained. Thus, “the criticism of
not be affected by religious conviction. Religion is for Locke
heaven turns into the criticism of earth, the criticism of reli-
an inward and private affair—indeed, “all the life and power
gion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology
of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of
into the criticism of politics” (Raines, pp. 171–172).
the mind”—which means that it cannot be governed by ex-
ternal political power: “the whole jurisdiction of the magis-
Yet contrary to many popular interpretations, Marx is
trate reaches only to these civil concernments. . . . [I]t nei-
not entirely negative or dismissive in his evaluation of reli-
ther can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the
gion. Religion reflects a genuine need for meaning and con-
salvation of souls” (Cahn, p. 508). In the process, however,
solation in the face of oppression, offering at once “the ex-
Locke also effectively reduced religion to a kind of disem-
pression of real suffering and protest against suffering.” Yet
bodied, internal affair between the individual and God,
it is a protest that is misdirected, seeking imaginary ideals
something fundamentally removed from the political do-
rather than real material happiness. In sum, the “abolition
main and thus of no practical importance for civil society.
of religion as illusory happiness is necessary for real happi-
ness” (Raines, p. 171).
By the late eighteenth century, philosophers like Im-
manuel Kant (1724–1804) would render judgment on the
Toward the end of his life, Marx would return to the
legitimate place of religion “within the limits of reason
question of religion as not simply a source of oppression, but
alone” (Kant, 1793). For Kant, religion was acknowledged
also as a potential source of a kind of apocalyptic hope for
to have a privileged place, engaged as it is in lofty metaphysi-
radical transformation. The religious cry of protest could also
cal issues such as the existence of God or the immortality of
perhaps articulate the voice of the oppressed seeking exodus
the soul; but it was deemed inappropriate for all other more
toward a totally new world, as a kind of early, undeveloped
practical affairs, including polity and governance.
prefiguration of genuine political revolution. This revolu-
tionary potential of myth and religious ideology would later
This intellectual definition of—and clear demarcation
be taken up and developed by various later Marxists, from
between—the appropriate domains of religion and politics
revolutionary nationalists in India to Liberation theologians
set out by Locke, Kant and other Enlightenment philoso-
in South America. As more recent authors like Bruce Lincoln
phers would provide the theoretical basis for many modern
have shown, religious discourse can indeed be used to but-
Western nations, such as the early United States. Yet, as vari-
tress the existing political order and status quo. However, it
ous scholars have observed, this definition of religion and
can also be used to challenge, subvert and overthrow that
politics as two separate domains of activity in rational, civi-
same order by appealing to a transcendent source of authori-
lized society was itself part of a larger political agenda; it pro-
ty that contests the status quo and provides the inspiration
vided the basis for a hierarchical ranking of cultures from
for rebellion or revolution.
“primitive” to “modern,” as well as the legitimation for rul-
ing those who were incapable of distinguishing between
If Marx sees the criticism of religion as necessary for a
proper rational governance and oppression of religious des-
criticism of politics, he does not, however, hope for a simple
potism.
replacement of religious authority by state power. On the
contrary, the ultimate goal would be the “withering away of
Karl Marx and Neo-Marxism. If Locke and other En-
the state” altogether. In a truly egalitarian community, the
lightenment intellectuals critiqued the dangerous mixture of
specialized functions once held by political offices would be
religion and politics, many nineteenth century authors cri-
gradually turned over to the self-management of the proletar-
tiqued the very nature of religion itself as a mask or mystifica-
iat, and finally class society itself would be transformed into
tion of underlying economic and political interests. For Karl
a classless society in which hierarchical distinctions collapse
Marx, the criticism of religion is in fact the “prerequisite of
altogether. In this sense, one might say that the criticism of
all criticism”; for religion represents the most extreme form
religion and the abolition of its illusory promise are only the
of ideology and “alienation.” It involves the human being’s
first steps toward the larger criticism of politics and the aboli-
own self-deception and mystification, which is the basis of
tion of the illusory promises of the State. The great irony in
all other sorts of alienation, including the more developed
the later history of Communist thought, of course, is that
forms of modern capitalism. For Marx, God does not make
Marxism would itself be reinterpreted, transformed and used
human beings; rather, human beings make gods and then
to create some of the most powerful state apparatuses, politi-
deny that they have done so, alienating themselves from the
cal ideologies, and some would say quasi-religious systems
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7251
ever known, such as the former Soviet Union and Commu-
impeded the growth of capitalist accumulation and sup-
nist China.
ported very different political and economic systems.
Religion, society and politics: Émile Durkheim and
In contrast to Durkheim, Weber was more interested in
Max Weber. While Marx saw religion primarily as a negative
the role of individual agents, particularly extraordinary, char-
social force, imposing political conformity and resignation
ismatic agents such as prophets, reformers and founders who
to suffering, other modern theorists like Émile Durkheim
provide alternative sources of authority that shatter estab-
(1858–1917) had a more positive regard for religion’s role
lished patterns of traditional and legal authority. Indeed,
in society. Durkheim’s classic Elementary Forms of the Reli-
charismatic religious power can erupt into a force of intense
gious Life (1912) defines religion primarily as a system of be-
change, reform, even revolution against the established polit-
liefs and practices relative to sacred things which “unite into
ical order.
one single moral community . . . all those who adhere to
However, as he observed in his classic lecture on “Poli-
them” (Durkheim, p. 62). Religion is primarily a source of
tics as a Vocation,” the political realm also involves inherent
social cohesion, binding individuals into a whole that seems
ethical paradoxes that pose special problems for all religious
to them larger than the sum of its parts—indeed, sacred. The
traditions. Above all, politics demands the necessary use of
sacred is, in sum, society writ large. Using as his primary ex-
force—indeed, “the decisive means for politics is violence”—
ample the system of “totemism” among Australian aboriginal
which means that politics can never be the place for those
communities, Durkheim suggests that the totem symbol is
who seek the salvation of souls or an “acosmic ethic of love”
nothing less than the “flag” of the clan (Durkheim, p. 236).
(1918, pp. 119, 121). The moral paradox of politics and vio-
For the intense emotions generated by religious rites are at-
lence is one with which every religion must struggle, yet al-
tached to the totem, which then becomes a sacred object em-
ways with limited success.
bodying the cohesion of individuals with the larger whole of
the social group.
Mircea Eliade and the history of religions. In the
middle of the twentieth century, a number of European and
It is not difficult to see the relevance of Durkheim’s
American scholars began to react against what they saw as
analysis of religious totemism for modern politics and the
the reduction of religion to various other, non-religious sorts
“flag-totem” of the modern state. Indeed, Durkheim was
of explanations, such as materialist critiques, social function-
concerned that the social cohesion once provided by tradi-
alism and Freudian psychoanalysis. Instead, they sought to
tional religious institutions like the Church were waning in
reaffirm the independent, autonomous nature of religious
the face of an increasingly complex and scientific modern
experience prior to and beyond any other social, psychologi-
world. The result of this loss of social unity was the growing
cal or political phenomena.
sense of anomie, the isolation, fragmentation and suicidal de-
spair felt by the modern individual. The decline of tradition-
The most influential figure in this regard—and indeed
al religious institutions, did not, however, necessarily signal
arguably the most influential historian of religions in the
the dissolution of society altogether. Rather, Durkheim was
twentieth century—was the Romanian born émigré to the
hopeful that even as the “old gods are growing old or already
United States, Mircea Eliade (1907–1986). For Eliade, reli-
dead,” new kinds of rituals would emerge to affirm society’s
gious phenomena are fundamentally sui generis or “of their
basic values, “keeping alive their memory by means of cele-
own origin”; in other words, they are irreducible to anything
brations which regularly reproduce their fruits” (Durkheim,
else. A religious phenomenon must be taken seriously “on
1961, p. 475).
its plane of reference,” and not reduced to one of its “second-
ary aspects or its contexts,” such as economic, social struc-
But clearly, religion is not only and always a source of
ture, psychology or politics. Even seemingly highly politi-
social unity, cohesion and stability; rather, as Max Weber ob-
cized phenomena such as the so-called cargo cults that
served, religious ideas could act as forces of both the legitima-
emerged in Melanesia in the wake of western contact and
tion of established political structures and as forces of change
colonization cannot be explained by their sociopolitical cir-
and transformation. Religion was for Weber a separate insti-
cumstances; rather they must be treated as genuine “spiritual
tution inevitably involved in an ongoing process of interac-
creations” (Eliade, 1969, pp. 98–99). This respect for the au-
tion with other social institutions, assuming different mean-
tonomous value of religious phenomena, Eliade believed,
ings in specific social, economic and political contexts.
could provide the basis for a kind of “new humanism” on
Rejecting the historical materialism of orthodox Marxism,
a global scale. Unlike the social and political visions of Marx
Weber saw religion not simply as a mask for underlying eco-
or Durkheim, Eliade’s new humanism would demand an ap-
nomic and political forces; rather, religious ideas could also
preciation for the religious worldviews of all cultures, as legit-
transform the economic and political domains. In his best-
imate encounters with the sacred that cannot be explained
known example of Protestant Christianity, the Calvinist eth-
away as masks for political interests or mere products of so-
ics of hard work, thrift, and inner-worldly asceticism had a
cial structure.
kind of elective affinity with the rise of modern capitalism
and with the politics of modern European states. Other reli-
Although Eliade would become arguably the single most
gious systems, such as Hinduism and Confucianism, instead
influential voice in the comparative study of religion in the
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
latter twentieth century, he would also come under severe
by authors like Grace Jantzen in her work on medieval Chris-
criticism—in part for his attempt to define religion as an au-
tian mysticism. As Jantzen argues, the ways in which legiti-
tonomous sui generis phenomena distinct from history, soci-
mate religious experience is defined—and also contrasted
ety and politics. Thus he has been charged as the “leading
with heresy, delusion or demonic inspiration—is inherently
anti-historian of religion” (Dudley, 1977:148) whose univer-
tied to political interests and relations of power between the
salist approach does not so much interpret as it “manufac-
sexes. For it is inevitably bound to questions such as who has
tures” religion (McCutcheon, 1997). While many of these
the authority to speak with divine sanction? Who has the le-
criticisms may be unfair, Eliade’s attempt to avoid the pitfalls
gitimation to support or challenge existing religious and po-
of reductionism did lead him to de-emphasize the political
litical institutions? Who, and which sex, is considered more
contexts, consequences and complications of religious phe-
naturally open to mystical experience, yet also more suscepti-
nomena in favor of their a-political or trans-political themes
ble to delusion? In sum, mysticism—like the category of reli-
(see Wasserstom, 1998; Strenski, 1977).
gion itself—is a constructed category that is inevitably tied
to both gender and politics.
Feminist critiques. If Marx made the criticism of reli-
gion the foundation for the criticism of all other forms of
The micropolitics of power: post-structuralist ap-
material oppression, many feminist theorists would also
proaches. It is perhaps worth noting at least one of the alter-
make the criticism of religion the foundation for a critique
native approaches to the analysis of religion, politics and
of gender politics and asymmetries of power between the
power that emerged in the second half of the twentieth cen-
sexes. The more extreme version of the feminist critique
tury, particularly in the wake of movements like postmod-
emerged out of the second wave and radical feminist move-
ernism and post-structuralism. Arguably the most influential
ments of the 1960s, with theorists like Mary Daly. In Daly’s
figure for the theorizing of power in the latter twentieth cen-
view, the entire imagery of God the Father as divine judge
tury is the French historian, Michel Foucault (1926–1984).
and patriarch has served as the justification for a male-
Contrary to most earlier analyses of power, which begin from
dominated hierarchy of power on the religious, social and
the top down, viewing power primarily as an oppressive and
political levels alike. For the past 2000 years mainstream
dominating force wielded by the few, Foucault views power
western religious institutions have supported a fundamental-
from the bottom up. Rather than viewing power on the
ly patriarchal social and political structure, built upon the
“macro-political level” of nations and states, Foucault turns
oppression of female power. What is now needed, Daly sug-
instead to the micro-politics or “capillary circuits” of
gests, is a kind of divine rage in order to deconstruct and
power—the ways in which power operates in the lives of all
move beyond the “biblical and popular image of God as a
individual members of a given social order, in the most mun-
great patriarch in heaven;” indeed, they need to “castrate
dane details of daily life such as dress, bodily comportment,
God,” in order to free themselves from an icon that has for
physical practices, and diet (Foucault, 1978). Thus Foucault
millennia justified a patriarchal political system, and to real-
was particularly interested in a specifically embodied kind of
ize instead the inherent divinity of the female body (Daly,
power—bio-power or bio-politics—through which power is
1973, pp. 13–32).
exercised upon individual human bodies and thereby human
subjects. One of the most crucial fields for the operation of
Most later feminist theorists of religion distanced them-
bio-power, for example, is sexuality; for sexuality lies at the
selves considerably from the extreme rhetoric and essentialist
pivot of two key axes: power over individual bodies and
gender politics of radical feminists like Daly. More moderate
power over social bodies or the body politic (Gutting, 1994,
theorists have tried to find ways to apply a serious feminist
p. 144). Control of individual sexual activity and reproduc-
critique of particular religious institutions, while still salvag-
tion, in other words, is the key to the larger control of popu-
ing the meaningful dimensions of religious experience itself.
lations and governance of society as a whole.
Rita Gross, for example, suggests that it is possible to re-read
religious history from a feminist perspective, critiquing op-
Religions, too, employ a variety of bodily and sexual
pressive gender relations, and so recovering women’s reli-
techniques—such as chastity, penance, fasting, confession—
gious voices and a feminine dimensions of the sacred. This
in order to discipline the body and create certain kinds of
requires a fundamental paradigm shift away form the current
subjects. The role of confession in the medieval Catholic
androcentric model of humanity to an androgynous or bisex-
church, for example, was a particularly effective form of “pas-
ual model of humanity (Gross, p. 20). As Wendy Doniger
toral power,” which gave the church intimate knowledge and
suggests, the frank recognition that religion is intimately tied
individualized control over its subjects, while at the same
to both political power and sexual oppression does not mean
time interiorizing a sense of sin, guilt and moral conscience
that one need jettison the spiritual baby with the patriarchal
within the individual believer.
bathwater. That is, one can still recover the meaningfulness
and value of religious narratives, while seriously critiquing
However, Foucault sees an important shift in the opera-
their political and sexual implications (1998: 109–35).
tions of power in modern Western societies, particularly
since the Enlightenment. Whereas the medieval Church ex-
Finally, in the wake of post-structuralism and French
ercised a kind of pastoral power, by monitoring and disci-
feminist thought, more nuanced critiques have been made
plining individuals through techniques like confession, mod-
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
7253
ern European states developed ever more effective means of
political orders that are not in accord with God’s will,” while
governing large populations through new sciences of the
in the “ontocratic” religions of Asia, “the harmonious state
body, medicine and sexuality. Ultimately, Foucault sees
is the supreme earthly embodiment of cosmic totality”
modern forms of power as a fusion of the individualizing pas-
(Stackhouse, 1986, p. 415). Others like William Scott Green
toral power once exercised by the Church and the modern
have tried to distinguish and compare six major traditions,
totalizing power of the state: “This is government with the
based on the core theological doctrines, which, he suggests,
motto ones et singulatum—of all and of each. It represents
naturally lead to distinct relations between religion and poli-
the modern, biopolitical, and daemonic fusion of pastoral
tics in each case (Neusner, p. 5).
and polis. . . . It is a power that both individualizes and to-
Yet all of these attempts to make sweeping comparisons
talizes” (Fabion, 2001, p. xxviii).
based on Abrahamic vs. Oriental or core theological doc-
Some have argued that Foucault’s work offers an ex-
trines ultimately seem superficial. One need not look far into
tremely useful new way to think about religion as a whole.
the history of any tradition to see that the relations between
Religion in this sense would be seen less as a matter of other-
religious and political authority shift dramatically in differ-
worldly faith than as a fundamentally embodied, corporal
ent historical contexts. Buddhism, for example, begins with
phenomenon concerned with physical practice and the disci-
Siddha¯rtha Gautama’s renunciation of his own royal status
plining of the self through bodily action. Finally, Foucault’s
and a general withdrawal from the political realm. Yet from
model of power also forces us to view religion as an inherent-
the time of Emperor A´soka (r. c. 270–230 BCE) onward,
ly political phenomenon, “taken out of its privileged realm
Buddhism as an institution gained the patronage of kings
and brought into the body politic and the heart of culture”
throughout Asia, from China and Japan to Tibet and mod-
(Carrette, 2000, p. xi). As Foucault put it in his comments
ern Thailand. Usually portrayed as a religion stressing peace,
on the Iranian revolution, this is a view of “religion which
non-violence and compassion, Buddhism has also become a
speaks less of a Beyond than of the transformations in this
powerful force in modern nationalist movements and even
world” (Foucault, 1994, p. 716).
religious violence in areas like Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Con-
versely, Islam begins with more or less complete fusion of re-
This brief overview of various theoretical approaches is
ligious and political power in the person of the Prophet and
surely not meant to be exhaustive. Yet it can be seen from
the early Caliphs. Yet in modern times, many Muslims have
these six models that the relationship between religion and
largely accepted a form of church-state separation in secular
politics can be construed in a variety of different, often con-
nations (e.g. Turkey, Bangladesh), while others have turned
tradictory ways, each of which is useful in understanding par-
to extremist fervor and a revolutionary return to the ideal
ticular historical cases, but none of which is by itself com-
polity of early Islam.
plete. In the end, the attempt to construct a single grand
theory that explains religion and politics on some universal
There are no easy generalizations regarding the balance
scale is not a very fruitful endeavor. Rather, it is perhaps
of religious and political power in different traditions. It may
more useful to think of religious discourse, with its appeal
be true that one can identify certain kinds of elective affini-
to a transcendent source of authority, as a unique and power-
ties, to use Weber’s phrase, between particular religious be-
ful kind of cultural resource. This is a resource that can be
liefs and particular socio-economic or political formations—
deployed strategically for a wide range of political interests,
such as the Protestant ethic and early modern capitalism, or
at once to reinforce a given political formation and to contest
certain forms of New Age spirituality and late capitalism. Yet
it, to forge powerful nationalist bonds and to tear those
even these examples show that every religious tradition has
bonds apart through revolutionary violence.
undergone radical change in different social and historical
S
contexts, in some cases wedding religious and political au-
TRATEGIC RELATIONS BETWEEN RELIGIOUS AND POLITI-
thority, in other cases, turning religious appeals for transfor-
CAL POWER: EIGHT PATTERNS. As the sub-entries that fol-
low this essay clearly demonstrate, the relations between reli-
mation into a radical challenge to the existing political order.
gious and political power are remarkably varied, not simply
In broadest terms, however, there are at least eight pri-
between different traditions but even within the same tradi-
mary strategic relations between political and religious
tion in different historical periods. These range from the
power. None of these is intended to represent a fixed or uni-
complete fusion of religio-political power, to the suppression
versal category, but simply a comparative pattern that recurs
of religion by political power, to the violent revolt of the for-
in various cultures and historical periods.
mer against the latter.
Religo-political synthesis: the religious as the politi-
Various authors have tried to make broad generaliza-
cal. One of the primary reasons modern Western scholars
tions about the relations between religion and politics in par-
have had such difficulty understanding (and tolerating)
ticular traditions or families of traditions. Some, for example,
Islam is its fusion of political and religious authority. For
have tried to contrast the “monotheistic” or Abrahamic reli-
scholars raised in a post-Enlightenment separation of
gions with the “ontocratic” or “Oriental” and “primal reli-
Church and State, the Prophet’s skillful combination of mili-
gions.” According to Max Stackhouse, the monotheistic tra-
tary prowess, political leadership and spiritual authority has
ditions “distinguish between God and the world and reject
long been dismissed as a vulgar manipulation of religion for
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
political ends. Yet this really misses the very point of Islam
curring tension between the religious and spiritual domains,
as a total worldview that does not separate the “religious”
with the constant threat that the superior strength of the king
from other spheres of life, but rather embraces the social, po-
might break its bounds and reassert itself.
litical, economic and military realms in one total attitude of
Religious and political power as separate (but inter-
submission to God. The Islamic system of holy law and juris-
dependent or rival) forces. Medieval Christian Europe pro-
prudence (shar¯ı Eah) provides rules for the conduct of all as-
vides some instructive examples of the political and religious
pects of life, including not only spiritual practice, but also
spheres in an ongoing relationship that was at once one of
family life, commerce, social activities, governance, and war.
tension, rivalry, competition and symbiosis. Like the authors
As John Esposito suggests, traditional Islam might be better
of the Vedas, medieval authors commonly imagined the so-
described not as a theocracy but rather as a kind of nomocra-
cial order as a hierarchical organism, usually a tripartite body
cy, that is, a community governed by divine law as the sover-
comprised of clerics, nobles and serfs. Yet there was some dis-
eign authority and embodiment of the Word of God.
agreement as to which of the first two classes, priests or nobil-
Such fusion of religious and political power is by no
ity, Pope or Holy Roman Emperor, was the true head of the
means unique to Islam. Another particularly clear example
social body. As Jacques Le Goff observes, “Christianity was
is the rise of the Dalai Lama in Vajraya¯na Buddhism, who
bicephalous: its two heads were the pope and the emper-
served as the combined religious and political leader of Tibet
or. . . [T]he relations between the two heads of Christianity
from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. Embodying both
displayed the competition at the top: the two dominant but
the highest Buddhist ideals of infinite compassion and the
rival orders, the clergy and the lay hierarchy—priests and
center of the socio-political man:d:ala, the Dalai Lama sur-
warriors, magical power and military might” (Le Goff,
vived as a powerful religio-political institution for 500 years
pp. 264-265).
until the Communist invasion of Tibet. Even into the twen-
Since the time of Pope Gregory I (c. 540–604), the Pa-
ty-first century, as a winner of the Noble Peace Prize and an
pacy had proclaimed itself the supreme leader of both secular
outspoken commentator on global issues, the exiled Dalai
and religious domains; yet throughout the history the medi-
Lama remains a potent religio-political symbol. He repre-
eval Church, bishops and kings, Popes and Emperors existed
sents the spread of the once esoteric system of Tibetan Bud-
in competitive and at times violent rivalry. Thus Pope Greg-
dhism to all points of the globe and the hope of freedom for
ory VII would challenge the power of Emperor Henry IV in
the Tibetan people.
German lands, finally excommunicating him; in England,
Religious authority above political power. At least in
Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket defended the
its ideal form, the classical Hindu varn:a system provides one
authority of the Church against King Henry II, leading to
of the clearest examples of a hierarchical ordering of society
his own death in 1170. Perhaps the most remarkable conflict
in which the religious or priestly (brahmana) class is at once
between religious and political authority was that between
spiritually and metaphysically superior to the royal or warrior
Pope Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France, which led to
(ks:atriya) class. While the king is recognized for his physical
the Pope’s arrest and death in prison in 1313, the “Babylo-
power and political authority, the brahmana is recognized for
nian exile” of the Church from Rome to Avignon (1378–
his purity, which marks him as spiritually superior to all
1417), and finally the schism of the Church into a puppet
other classes. Since the time of the earliest Indian scriptures,
Papacy in France and a series of rival Popes in Rome.
the Vedas, this hierarchical model has been given both a
In modern times, one of the most striking examples of
mythological and a cosmological justification. According to
the interdependence of religious and political authority is the
the creation myth found in R:gveda X.90, the universe was
rise of the Wahha¯b¯ı reformist movement in Saudi Arabia
born from the primal sacrifice of the first Person, purus:a,
since the eighteenth century. The result of an alliance be-
whose body was dismembered and divided to create both the
tween the reformist theologian Muh:ammad ibn Abd al-
hierarchy of the universe (heaven, atmosphere, earth) and the
Wahhab (1702–1792) and a tribal chief, Muh:ammad ibn
hierarchy of the four social classes. Here the priest emerges
Saud (d. 1765), the Wahha¯b¯ı movement sought to unite the
from the head of the cosmic man, while the ks:atriya emerges
tribes of Arabia under the religious banner of Islam. Com-
from his torso. Although the king may be greater in terms
bining strict religious purification with military action to en-
of power and material capital, the brahmana is always superi-
force religious precepts, the Wahha¯b¯ıs used religious ideology
or in sacredness and spiritual capital. The two are bound in
to inform and guide political activity. This powerful alliance
an intimate relationship of reciprocity. Thus the Vedic sacri-
of religion and politics remains largely intact today in the
ficial ritual was, in many ways, an elaborate exchange be-
kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while also powerfully influencing
tween religious and political power, in which the brahmana
recent regimes such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.
received gifts and fees while the ks:atriya received status and
legitimacy.
Political power over religious authority. With its ap-
peal to a transcendent supra-human and otherworldly source
Of course, this superiority of the brahmana over the
of authority, religious discourse always poses a potential
ks:atriya was probably always more an ideal than a practical
threat to political power; as such, it is often tightly con-
reality. There would remain throughout Indian history a re-
trolled, restricted, at times entirely suppressed by political re-
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
7255
gimes. Various Chinese emperors, for example, perceived
cans and whites, Jones preached a socialist brand of Chris-
Buddhism to be a subversive force within their domain; thus
tianity that fiercely attacked the United States government
during the Huichang suppression under the Tang Emperor
as the “antichrist” and American capitalism as the “antichrist
Wuzong (r. 840–846) purged monasteries, banned pilgrim-
system.” After facing intense attacks from government agen-
ages, and finally seized Buddhist property for the state.
cies, the media, and white supremacist groups, Jones and his
Perhaps the most extreme example of the exertion of
followers withdrew from the U.S. to Guyana in 1977. When
secular political power over religious institutions occurred in
the anti-cult group, Concerned Relatives, and Congressman
modern communist countries, such as China after the rise
Leo Ryan continued to pressure the movement, Jones decid-
of the Communist Party and particularly during the Cultural
ed it was time to withdraw from the world altogether. Over
Revolution (1966–1976). Targeting Buddhism, Daoism,
nine hundred of his followers drank or were forced to drink
and Confucianism as part of the “four olds” (old ideas, old
Kool-aid laced with cyanide, while Jones himself died of an
culture, old customs, old habits), the Communist Party put
apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. As Jones put it in
an end to all public displays of religion, damaging temples
his farewell audio tape, “we didn’t commit suicide, we com-
and purging churches of religious symbols. Even more ex-
mitted an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the condi-
treme state repressions of religion took place under other
tions of an inhumane world” (Wessinger, 2000, p. 51).
Marxist-inspired regimes, such as Albania under Enver
Religion in the service of political power: Religious
Hoxha (1908–1985). Between 1947 and 1990, religion was
nationalism in the modern state. Among the most striking
not only stifled but simply abolished.
features of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is the rise
It is by no means only communist regimes that have
of a new form of religious nationalism in more or less all parts
been known to suppress religious movements. Already noted
of the colonial and post-colonial world. As new national
is the U.S. government’s suppression of various Native
“imagined communities” emerged out of the demise of Euro-
American rituals such as the Sun Dance and Peyote religion.
pean colonization (Anderson, 1983), a redefined and nation-
A more recent example is the assault on the Branch Davidian
alized religious identity has often provided the foundation
compound at Waco Texas by the BATF and FBI from Feb-
for this re-imagining of political communities. Indeed, it
ruary to April of 1993. In this case government agencies not
would seem that much of the world simply does not share
only secretly infiltrated and monitored the movement, but
the western ideal of a secular modern nation based on a clear
mounted a large scale siege of the compound using heavily
separation of church and state. Instead, many national iden-
armed officers and tanks, resulting in the death of seventy-
tities have been born out of deep religious roots, shaped by
five people, including twenty-one children. If post-
ritual performance and mythic narratives. A reformed reli-
Enlightenment nations like the U.S. are founded on a separa-
gious and national identity has been an integral part of the
tion of church and state, then cases like the Waco disaster
rise of modern India, Sri Lanka, Israel, various parts of the
make it clear that religious power is still, in the end, subordi-
Muslim world, Kosovo, Bosnia, and even the United States,
nate to the political power and military strength of the state.
as the rise of the new Christian right suggests. The modern
Religious withdrawal from the political sphere. Par-
state of Israel provides perhaps the clearest example of a new
ticularly during periods of oppressive rule, many religious
political entity emerging out of the collapse of European co-
groups choose the option of general disengagement or with-
lonial power, and founded on a uniquely religious identity;
drawal from the political realm. Turning to a supra-human,
thus the Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised European Zi-
eternal source of authority, religious leaders can always claim
onists “a national home for Jewish people” (Farsoun and Za-
to transcend any merely human government, and so ignore
charia, 1997). In the process of nationalization, however,
or treat as secondary the demands of worldly politics. The
these religious traditions have often been purged of their het-
sayings of Jesus Christ and the life of the early church under
erogeneous or divisive elements, re-packaged in a more ho-
Roman rule provide some of the clearest examples of this
mogenous form to attract the broadest number of devotees,
withdrawal from politics. Christ’s assertion that his “king-
and so used to define religious practice as a kind of patriotic
dom is not of this world,” while advising his disciples to “ren-
duty.
der unto Ceasar” what is owed to the Empire at once ac-
The case of modern Hinduism is a particularly instruc-
knowledges the reality of alien political power and yet also
tive example of the complex nature of religious nationalism.
denies it any ultimate significance. As an eschatological reli-
Indeed, the modern imagining of Hinduism itself —which
gion, early Christianity on the whole focused on the divine
is not an indigenous term but a construction of nineteenth
kingdom to come, not the world as it was; thus it delegiti-
century Indian elites and European scholars—went hand in
mized the latter with the promise of a more perfect rule in
hand with the rise of the Indian nation as an imagined com-
the heavenly kingdom.
munity. For early religious nationalists like Swami Viveka-
A more recent and more disturbing example of this reli-
nanda (1863–1902), the young Aurobindo Ghose and many
gious withdrawal from the political is the case of the Peoples
others, the revival of a strong and vigorous form of Hindu-
Temple led by Jim Jones (1931–1978) in the 1970s. With
ism was a crucial part of creating an autonomous Indian na-
a utopian vision of racial harmony between African Ameri-
tion, free of the shackles of British rule. Thus Vivekananda
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
called not just for the revival of his country but for the “con-
ry. Rejecting traditional religious institutions like Christiani-
quest of the whole world by the Hindu race”; indeed, “we
ty as divisive and in fact corrosive of social unity, Rousseau
must conquer the world through our spirituality . . . The
called instead for “a purely civil profession of faith whose ar-
only condition of . . . awakened and vigorous national life
ticles the sovereign is competent to determine, not precisely
is the conquest of the world by Indian thought” (Vivekanan-
as religious dogmas but as sentiments of sociability, without
da, 1984: 276, 277).
which it is impossible to be a good citizen or a faithful sub-
ject” (1762: Chidester, 1988, p. 82). The basis of Rousseau’s
This kind of Hindu nationalism is by no means a quaint
civil faith was fairly minimal, asking only belief in an all-
relic of colonial India; rather, it has continued as a powerful
powerful deity, the survival of the soul after death, the reward
force driving much of modern Indian politics. Thus, India’s
of the good and punishment of wicked, and above all a com-
first nuclear missiles have been named after Agni, the Hindu
mitment to the sanctity of the social contract.
god of fire, while Bharat Mata or “mother India” has
emerged as a powerful civil religious deity, usually portrayed
Arguably one of the most powerful examples of civil re-
as a Goddess much like Durga¯, riding a lion, circled with a
ligion in the modern era has emerged within the United
halo of flames and superimposed on a map of India. At the
States. As G. K. Chesterton observed, “America is the only
same time, religious nationalism has also fueled a number of
nation in the world that is founded on a creed” (Chidester,
extremist groups such as the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh
1988, p. 87). Despite its ostensible separation of the religious
(RSS)—a movement dedicated to the creation of a purely
and political spheres, the U.S. has also developed its own set
Hindu nation, with an open admiration for Nazi Germany.
of creation myths (Exodus from British tyranny, the first
The RSS became the ideological backbone for the Bharatiya
Thanksgiving, etc.), its founding fathers, and a system of
Janata Party (BJP), which rose to power in the 1980s in large
symbols and rituals. From the Annuit Coeptis (“God has
part due to its ideal of Hindutva and the goal of building a
smiled on our beginnings”) and Novus Ordo Seclorum
temple to the god Ra¯ma in the holy city of Ayodhya. One
(“New Order for the Ages”) on the dollar bill, the United
of the most striking examples of religio-political nationalist
States has been imagined in mythic terms as a nation formed
fervor exploded in Ayodhya on December 16, 1992, when
under divine providence and guided toward a sacred destiny.
mobs of Hindu extremists destroyed the Babri Masjid, a
The United States also gave birth to an array of civil reli-
mosque that had allegedly been built on the site of Rama’s
gious holy days, such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving
birthplace. The destruction of the Babri Masjid in turn un-
(both ritual reenactments of national creation myths), Presi-
leashed tremendous bloodshed between Hindus and Mus-
dents’ Day, Veterans Day, Flag Day, Memorial Day, among
lims throughout South Asia, and has since become a symbol
others. The celebration of Memorial Day in particular con-
of both Hindu nationalism and the alienation of non-Hindu
stitutes a kind of “cult of the dead which organizes and inte-
communities in modern India. As seen in the ongoing vio-
grates the various faiths, ethnic and class groups into a sacred
lence in Kashmir and the slaughter of 2000 Muslims in Gu-
unity” (Warner, 1959, p. 249). This deeply ingrained civil
jarat in 2002, the often horrific consequences of religious na-
religious faith only became more intense during the decades
tionalism in India have by no means lessened in the years
of the cold war, when the United States sought to distinguish
since Independence, but arguably grown more intense in a
itself as clearly as possible from the “godless communism”
new age of nationalism and terror.
of the Soviet Union. Thus in the 1950s, the phrase “In God
The political as the religious: civil religion. One of
we Trust” was added to the dollar bill, while “One Nation
the more interesting and ironic consequences of the rise of
under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, a vow
modern secular nation states is the emergence of powerful
of faith mandatory in every public school. This American-
new forms of civil symbolism, mythology and ritual practice.
style civil religion would find new, even more complicated
In a sense, the space opened up by the separation of religion
expressions after the destruction of the World Trade Towers
and politics seems to have been filled in many cases by a
in 2001, as religious rhetoric was marshaled in a variety of
modern state that now assumes a kind of quasi-religious
ways to insure that God would “continue to bless America”
power, invested with autonomy, disciplinary control and po-
against a new “axis of evil” (Lincoln, 2003, pp. 19–32).
tential violence, for which citizens are called upon to make
Religion in conflict with political power: Resistance,
the ultimate sacrifice. In contrast to a form of religious na-
rebellion, revolution and terrorism. Finally, as a form of
tionalism, however, a civil religion does not support any one
discourse that makes an appeal to an ultimate, supra-human,
particular tradition, but instead advocates a sufficiently am-
transcendent or eternal source of authority, religious dis-
biguous sort of divine authority (such as God) and a suffi-
course can also be used to mount a profound challenge to
ciently generic set of beliefs (a rational order to the universe,
political power. As the ultimate motivator, it can serve as the
the immortality of the soul and judgment for good and evil
most powerful source of resistance, rebellion, and revolution
actions) that can encompass many different faiths without
against the dominant order.
alienating too many minority groups.
This may take the form of a non-violent resistance
The idea of a civil faith was first suggested by Jean
against the dominant order, using religious authority as a
Jacques Rousseau in the second half of the eighteenth centu-
means of rejecting the legitimacy of existing political power,
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7257
yet without engaging in physical confrontation. Thus, even
powerful elements of religious rhetoric. The Declaration of
in the face of suppression by the U.S. government, Native
Independence itself could be said to express certain creedal
American communities began to revive traditional rites like
statements of “sacred and undeniable” truths and divine
the Sun Dance during the late nineteenth and early twenti-
rights, such as equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happi-
eth century. In spite of—or perhaps in part because of—its
ness, the social contract, and even the legitimacy of revolu-
suppression by the government, the Sun Dance would be-
tion against oppression. As Jefferson famously put it, “Rebel-
come one of the most powerful symbols of Native American
lion to Tyrants is Obedience to God” (Chidester, 1988,
identity, communal solidarity and personal power in the face
p. 61). Many revolutionaries would also describe their cause
of an alienating and oppressive political system. Religious re-
in almost millennial terms, with the vision of a new heaven
sistance can have profound political consequences, such as
and new earth created in America. As Thomas Paine wrote
Gandhi’s satyagraha (cleaving to the truth) and ahim:sa¯ (non-
in 1776, “We have it in our power to begin the world over
harming) as non-violent struggle against the British Raj, or
again . . . A situation similar to the present has not hap-
Martin Luther King’s (1929–1968) use of Christian rhetoric
pened since the days of Noah until now” (Chidester, 1988,
and disobedience during the Civil Rights movement. Yet re-
p. 61).
ligious resistance may also take the form of more spectacular
self-sacrifice like that of the Vietnamese monk, Thich
Terrorism has no doubt always been a tactic used in
Quang-Duc, who burned himself to death in 1963 in order
movements of resistance, rebellion, and revolution. Yet the
to bring global attention to the suffering of the Vietnamese
twentieth and twenty-first centuries have witnessed arguably
people.
the most intense forms of religious terrorism ever known—
indeed a global rise of religious violence. This in part due to
When nonviolence and self-sacrifice appear futile, how-
the rise of religious extremism and nationalism, often setting
ever, religious movements may turn to more aggressive forms
themselves violently at odds with the forces of secularism and
of rebellion. Chinese history, for example, witnessed a num-
capitalism, and in part due to the widespread availability of
ber of religious rebellions against imperial power: the Daoist
inexpensive weapons, bombs, chemicals and other means of
Yellow Turban rebellion at the end of the Han dynasty (206
terror. More or less anyone can now concoct a fertilizer-
BCE–220 CE), which was inspired by an apocalyptic vision of
bomb, as Timothy McVeigh did in the Oklahoma City
a Daoist utopia (second century); the White Lotus Societies
bombing, or disseminate sarin gas, as the Aum Shinrikyo¯
at the end of the Yuan dynasty (1206–1368), which looked
movement did in Tokyo subways. Perhaps the most disturb-
to the messianic prophecy of the coming of the future Bud-
ing form of terrorism in the modern era has come from ex-
dha, Maitreya; and the Taiping rebellion (1851–1864),
tremist Palestinian groups such as Hamas, which have
which used Christian messianic imagery and the hope for a
emerged since the first intifada against the Israeli occupation
Heavenly Kingdom to replace the Manchu regime.
in 1987. Unable to contain their anger or find any other so-
lution to an increasingly miserable situation, young Palestin-
In modern India, one of the most extreme examples of
ian men and women have turned themselves into human
religious rebellion against the secular state is the rise of Sikh
bombs, killing thousands of ordinary people and injecting
separatism in the Punjab region. In 1984, when militants
terror into daily life. Indeed, the charter document of Hamas
under the lead of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale took refuge in
is an overtly militant ideology, calling for violent self-
the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Prime Minister In-
sacrifice: “We will be its soldiers and the firewood of its fire,
dira Gandhi ordered a massive military assault (Operation
which will burn the enemies” (Farsoun and Zacharia, 1997,
Blue Star) that destroyed a large portion of the Temple and
p. 339).
unleashed intense violence across the nation. Shortly after
the operation, Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh
Similar kinds of revolutionary terrorist movements have
body guards—clear evidence that, in some cases, the higher
emerged throughout the Middle East and now globally, in-
authority of religious conviction can indeed supercede secu-
spired by radical leaders like Sayyid Qut:b (1906–1966) and
lar political loyalty, even to the Prime Minister one has
the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. With an explicitly politi-
sworn to protect.
cal agenda, Qut:b called for a violent revolution with the goal
of overthrowing the Egyptian state. In Qut:b’s view, the
Ultimately, under the right conditions, religious rebel-
world is essentially divided into a party of God and a party
lion and the appeal to a transcendent source of power can
of Satan, or those committed to God’s rule and those op-
also lead to successful political revolution. The Iranian revo-
posed to it. As such, Qut:b was attacking both the secular
lution led by Sh¯ıE¯ı Muslims against the Shah in 1979 was
modern West and those parts of the Arab world that did not
in many ways a surprise to the international community and
support his vision of Islamic society. In Qut:b’s interpreta-
to historians of religions alike. It offered perhaps the clearest
tion, jiha¯d is a call for immediate revolutionary struggle as
evidence that religion had by no means waned in importance
the only way to implement a true Islamic order.
in the face of globalization and transnational capitalism, but
had re-emerged as a powerful ideological alternative. Yet reli-
Although he was executed by the Egyptian government
gious revolution is not limited to the Muslim world. Even
in 1966, Qut:b’s radical vision and his revolutionary interpre-
the American Revolution, for example, was not without
tation of jiha¯d had a profound impact on many later Muslim
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
extremists. Among others, he helped inspire the activities of
of the networks of the global system, such as computers, tele-
Usa¯mah bin La¯din and the al-Qa¯Eidah network, who have
communications and international finance. Since the mid-
similarly turned to extreme acts of violence as the means to
twentieth century, moreover, a wide range of new interna-
restore a truly Islamic society in the face of Western imperial-
tional movements have emerged—such as So¯ka Gakai Bud-
ism. Indeed, al-Qa¯Eidah’s attacks on the World Trade Tow-
dhism, the followings of gurus like Sathya Sai Baba, and
ers—the supreme symbols and perhaps cathedrals of global
various forms of transnational Islam—that are quite at home
capitalism—might be viewed as the ultimate use of religious
amidst the rapid flows of human beings and resources in a
authority as a revolutionary force of struggle against a secular
global era. Far from waning in significance, religions contin-
economic and political power. As Lincoln suggests (2003,
ue to provide a sense of meaning, value and collective identi-
p. 18), their aim was to drop a kind of divine Hiroshima
ty that perhaps neither secular nations nor private corpora-
bomb upon what they regarded as a godless, materialist and
tions can offer. Calling as they do upon a transcendent
inherently anti-Islamic power.
source of authority, religious movements can also make de-
mands upon their believers that supercede those of the na-
CONCLUSIONS. Although early sociologists and proponents
tion or any other institution of merely human authority.
of modernization theory had predicted a gradual waning of
religious power amidst an increasingly rationalized, disen-
In sum, attempts to separate the imagined categories of
chanted modern world, it would seem that since the mid
religion and politics have not often resulted in the creation
-twentieth century quite the opposite has happened. If any-
of rationally ordered secular nations, as imagined by Locke
thing, religious power and appeals to supra-human authority
or America’s founding fathers. On the contrary, they have
have been reasserted in emotionally intense, globally influen-
given birth to even more complex kinds of religio-political
tial and spectacularly violent new ways. A striking number
power, in the form of civil religion, religious nationalism, ex-
of political conflicts of the late twentieth century have in-
tremism and terror. Gandhi himself could not have foreseen
volved religious identity as a central component: the nuclear
the role of religion in the post-colonial world, where it has
standoff between India and Pakistan, the violence between
had an even more dramatic impact on politics and national
Russia and Chechnya, Protestants and Catholics in Northern
identity than he dared imagine.
Ireland, bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims in
Indonesia and Nigeria, and civil war in Sudan, Uganda and
SEE ALSO New Religious Movements, overview article.
Sri Lanka. Indeed, some authors have expressed almost a nos-
talgia for the days of the Cold War, as we appear to be revert-
BIBLIOGRAPHY
ing to seventeenth century style wars of religion, but now
For good discussions of religion as a modern category and the
fought with twenty-first century weapons.
problem of distinguishing it from politics, see Bruce Lin-
coln’s, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September
Ironically, the relationship between religion and politics
11 (Chicago, 2003), and “Theses on Method,” Method and
has not become clearer or simpler in the context of modern-
Theory in the Study of Religion 8, no.3 (1996): 225–28; Talal
ization and the emergence of a global economy. On the con-
Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power
trary, it has become infinitely more complex, as a wide array
in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, Md., 1993); Jonathan
of religious movements adapt, transform or reject altogether
Z. Smith, Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown
the model of the modern secular nation and instead reassert
(Chicago, 1982); Russell McCutcheon, Manufacturing Reli-
gion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of

the power of religion in the political sphere. Some authors
Nostalgia (New York, 1997); Steven M. Wasserstrom, Reli-
have tried to analyze the post-Cold War global situation as
gion after Religion (Princeton, N.J., 1999); David Chidester,
a confrontation between major ideological forces—for exam-
Patterns of Power: Religion and Politics in American Culture
ple, Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations (1996), or
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1988); Derek R. Peterson and Dar-
Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld (1995), which de-
ren R. Walhof, eds. The Invention of Religion: Rethinking Be-
scribes a fundamental conflict between the forces of global
lief in Politics and History (New Brunswick, N.J., 2002);
capitalism and the reactionary “tribal” and religious forces
Richard King, Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory,
who reject global monoculture and reassert local culture and
India and the Mystic East (London, 1999).
identity.
More general works on religion and politics include Gustavo
Benavides and M.W. Daly, eds. Religion and Political Power
Yet the post-Cold War situation would seem far more
(Albany, N.Y., 1989); Jacob Neusner, ed. God’s Rule: The
complex and multi-faceted than these simplistic ideological
Politics of World Religions (Washington, D.C., 2003); John
clashes or binary oppositions between secular political forces
L. Esposito and Michael Watson, eds. Religion and Global
and religious extremism. One need only look to the case of
Order (Cardiff, 2000); Steven M. Cahn, ed., Classics of Politi-
the United States—with its powerful political forces on the
cal and Moral Philosophy (New York, 2002); Jeff Haynes, Re-
religious right and its unique brand of civil religion—to see
ligion in Global Politics (London, 1998); Max Stackhouse,
that religious authority can go hand in hand with political
“Politics and Religion,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, Mircea
power, economic influence and military might. Even the
Eliade, ed. (New York, 1987), v.11, pp. 408–422.
most extreme “maximalist” religious movements such as
For modern approaches to religion and politics, see Niccolò Ma-
al-Qa¯Eidah have no qualms about making sophisticated use
chiavelli, The Prince, George Bull, trans. (1513. Reprint,
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
7259
New York, 1999); Maurice Cranston, ed., John Locke on Pol-
Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the Ameri-
itics, Religion and Education (New York, 1965); Mark Gol-
can Flag (New York, 1999); Mary Douglas and Steven M.
die, ed., Locke: Politics Essays (Cambridge, U.K., 1997); Im-
Tipton, eds., Religion in America: Spirituality in a Secular Age
manuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (New
(Boston, 1983); Ernest Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea
York, 1960); Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpreta-
of America’s Millennial Role (Chicago, 1968); W. Lloyd War-
tion (New York, 1997); Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The
ner, The Living and the Dead: A Study of the Symbolic Life of
Communist Manifesto (1847. Reprint, New York, 1980);
Americans (New Haven, Conn., 1959).
“Die Revolution” (1852) in Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels:
On the role of religion in movements of resistance and revolution
Werke (Berlin, 1960), vol. 8; John Raines, ed., Marx on Reli-
see Bruce Lincoln, ed., Religion, Rebellion, Revolution (New
gion (Philadelphia, 2002); Émile Durkheim, The Elementary
York, 1985); Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of
Forms of the Religious Life (1912. Reprint, New York, 1961);
God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley, Calif.,
and Moral Education (New York, 1961); Max Weber, Econo-
2003); Stanley J. Tambiah, Leveling Crowds: Ethno-National
my and Society, 3 vols. (Berkeley, Calif., 1978), The Protestant
Conflict and Collective Violence in South Asia (Berkeley,
Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905. Reprint New York,
Calif., 1997); Vittorio Lanternari, The Religions of the Op-
2002); and “Politics as a Vocation” (1918) in H. H. Gerth
pressed (New York, 1963); Guenter Lewy, Religion and Revo-
and C. Wright Mills, trans., From Max Weber: Essays in Soci-
lution (New York, 1974); Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash
ology (New York, 1946), pp. 296–450.
of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New
On Eliade’s view of religion and his critics, see especially The
York, 1996); Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: How
Quest: History and Meaning in Religion (Chicago, 1969);
Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World (New York,
John David Cave, Mircea Eliade’s Vision for a New Human-
1995).
ism (New York, 1993); Bryan S. Rennie, Reconstructing
For religion and politics in specific religious traditions, refer to the
Eliade: Making Sense of Religion (Albany, N.Y., 1996); Guil-
sub-articles below. Works cited in this article include, on
ford Dudley III, Religion on Trial: Mircea Eliade and His
Hinduism: Mohandas Gandhi, Autobiography or the Story of
Critics (Philadelphia, 1977); Ivan Strenski, Four Theories of
My Experiments with Truth (1927. Reprint, Ahmedabad,
Myth in the Twentieth Century: Cassirer, Eliade, Lévi-Strauss
India, 1940); Romila Thapar, “Sacrifice, Surplus and the
and Malinowski (Iowa City, 1977).
Soul,” History of Religions 33 (1994): 305–324; Brian K.
For feminist critiques, see Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: To-
Smith, Classifying the Universe: The Ancient Indian Varna
ward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston, 1973) and
System and the Origin of Caste (New York, 1994); Lise Mc-
Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston,
Kean, Divine Enterprise: Gurus and the Hindu Nationalist
1978); Rita M. Gross, Feminism and Religion: An Introduc-
Movement (Chicago, 1996); The Complete Works of Swami
tion (Boston, 1996); Carol P. Christ and Judith Plashow,
Vivekananda (Calcutta, 1984), vol. 3.
eds.,Womanspirit Rising (New York, 1979); Grace M. Jant-
On Buddhism: Stanley J. Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion,
zen, Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism (Cambridge,
Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka (Chicago, 1992); John S.
U.K., 1995); Wendy Doniger, The Implied Spider: Politics
Strong, The Legend of King Ashoka (Princeton, N.J., 1983);
and Theology in Myth (New York, 1998).
Ian Harris, Buddhism and Politics in Twentieth Century Asia
On Foucault’s work, see The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An In-
(London, 1999); Geoffrey Samuel, Civilized Shamans: Bud-
troduction (New York, 1978), and “Le chef mythique de la
dhism in Tibetan Society (Washington, D.C., 1993).
revolte de l’Iran,” in Dits et ecrits 1948–1988, vol. 3, edited
by Daniel Defert and François Ewald (Paris, 1994); Jeremy
On Islam: John Esposito, Islam and Politics (Syracuse, N.Y., 1991)
R. Carrette, ed., Religion and Culture (New York, 1999) and
and Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York,
Foucault and Religion: Spiritual Corporality and Political Spir-
2002); Peter G. Mandaville, Transnational Muslim Politics:
ituality (New York, 2000); Gary Gutting, ed. The Cambridge
Re-imagining the Umma (New York, 2001); Samih K. Far-
Companion to Foucault (Cambridge, U.K., 1994); James. D.
soun and Christina E. Zacharia, Palestine and the Palestinians
Fabion, ed. Power: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984,
(Boulder, Colo., 1997).
volume 3 (New York, 2001).
On Christianity and Judaism: Jacques le Goff, Medieval Civiliza-
Good studies of nationalism and religious nationalism include
tion, 400–1500 (New York, 2000); Ernst Kantorowicz, The
Peter van der Veer, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Mus-
King’s Two Bodies (Princeton, N.J., 1957); Ernst Troeltsch,
lims in India (Berkeley, Calif., 1994); Mark Juergensmeyer,
The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches (Chicago,
The New Cold War (Berkeley, Calif., 1993); Partha Chatter-
1981); Alain Dieckhoff, The Invention of a Nation: Zionist
jee, The Nation and its Fragments (Princeton, N.J., 1993);
Thought and the Making of Modern Israel (New York, 2002).
Carlton Hayes, Nationalism: A Religion (New York, 1960);
On Native American, African and other indigenous traditions: Jo-
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the
seph G. Jorgensen, Sun Dance Religion: Power for the Power-
Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, 1983).
less (Chicago, 1986); James Mooney, The Ghost Dance Reli-
For studies of civil religion, see Robert Bellah, The Broken Cove-
gion and the Outbreak at Wounded Knee (New York, 1973);
nant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial (Chicago,
Huston Smith and Reuben Snake, One Nation under God
1992); Marcela Cristi, From Civil to Political Religion: The
(Santa Fe, 1996); Omer C. Stewart, The Peyote Religion: A
Intersection of Culture, Religion and Politics (Waterloo, Cana-
History (Lincoln, Neb., 1987); David Chidester, Savage Sys-
da,2001); Christel Lane, The Rise of Rulers: Ritual in Industri-
tems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa
al Society—-The Soviet Case (Cambridge, U.K., 1981).
(Charlottesville, Va., 1996).
On the complex question of secularism and civil religion in the
On new religious movements: Catherine Wessinger, How the Mil-
United States, see Carolyn Marvin and David W. Ingle,
lennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven’s Gate
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND BUDDHISM
(New York, 2000); James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher, Why
The religion has an institutional structure—for instance, the
Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America
monastic san˙gha (Sanskrit: sam:gha) for monks and nuns, as
(Berkeley, Calif., 1997); and Hugh B. Urban, Tantra: Sex,
well as various sects or Nika¯yas)—but in essence it is a reli-
Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion (Berkeley,
gion that teaches a state of mind, a way of being. Its doctrine
Calif., 2003).
is not primarily concerned with political systems or even so-
HUGH B. URBAN (2005)
cial reform, which are considered to be irrelevant to salvation
(Gombrich, p. 30). But history shows us that Buddhism has
nonetheless been used to further political or sectarian goals,
and some politicians have employed it as a vehicle to pro-
POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND
mote exclusivist, ethnically based nationalisms.
BUDDHISM
In those parts of the Asian world where Buddhism is the reli-
The relationship between Buddhism and politics, then,
gion of the majority, it continues to play a prominent role
has been and continues to be a complex one, and it varies
in many nations, not infrequently with consequences for na-
considerably among Asia’s very diverse Buddhist communi-
tional politics and destinies. Because Buddhism is so closely
ties. Politics in majority-Buddhist countries ranges from the
associated with cultural norms and worldviews, it cannot be
relative freedom of expression enjoyed in Sri Lanka, Thai-
isolated from politics, whether viewed historically or with re-
land, and Japan to the repressions imposed on the citizens
gard to current events. Buddhism is a living organism, feed-
of Myanmar, the People’s Republic of China, and North
ing off the political circumstances of a particular culture,
Korea. Notwithstanding the apolitical nature of the teach-
time, or place. Its history reflects the strains of adolescence,
ings of Gautama S˙a¯kyamuni, the fifth-century- BCE Buddha,
maturity, and old age, and it has metamorphosed on occa-
and despite the stereotype of a passivist, non-aggressive dhar-
sion to accommodate changes in its environment. Bud-
ma, it can be argued that the seeds of a political worldview
dhism’s history of synthesis and adaptation led it to divide
exist in the Pali Canon, a scripture composed of three “bas-
into three great branches (Therava¯da, Maha¯ya¯na, and
kets” or collections, which all Buddhists acknowledge as a
Vajraya¯na) and a myriad of schools and movements. This
primary source. Later Maha¯ya¯na texts also have political sig-
entry reviews the relationship between politics and Bud-
nificance; the Saddharmapundar¯ıka Su¯tra, for example,
dhism from four perspectives. It first asks how the Buddhist
served as the key text for the modern Japanese So¯ka Gakkai
tradition understands and defines political life and faith and
(Value Creation Society), while the Suvarnabhasottama Su¯tra
examines to what extent Buddhists see the two as separate
expounded on the duties of a righteous king. Additionally,
spheres. Second, it isolates historical developments in reli-
quasi-historical “chronicles” such as Sri Lanka’s Mahavamsa
gious and political power in the Buddhist tradition, showing
or Myanmar’s Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma,
the sometimes complementary, sometimes competitive in-
which purport to give further insight into the Buddha’s mis-
teraction of the two forces. Third, the article considers how
sionary travels, express an often deep religious conviction
this interaction still resonates in the Buddhist world at the
linking the dharma to a state.
beginning of the twenty-first century. The article ends with
a brief review of the impact of modernization and socioeco-
Although Buddhism’s primary scriptures do not set
nomic change on Buddhism’s intersection with politics.
down a precise political philosophy, a polysemous reading
Adapting to changing circumstances throughout history,
of the Pali Sutta Pitaka reveals a political ideal that comple-
Buddhism has sought to both protect and develop its place
ments the soteriological teachings of the Buddha. This sote-
in the world to which it ministers—including the often po-
riology rests on the central problem of painfulness (dukkha;
larizing and spiteful realm of politics.
Sanskrit duh:ka), to which Buddhism offers a practical solu-
tion, focused on life in the here and now. No eschatological
DEFINING RELIGION AND POLITICS IN A BUDDHIST CON-
dilemma or otherworldly goals preoccupy the Buddha; rath-
TEXT. This article will define politics as the science or art of
er, his teachings rely primarily on seeing the facts of life as
government and the management of state affairs, with the
they are (yathabhuta-dassana) and eradicating superstition
state in turn defined as an organized political community.
and useless social practices through reason (takka) and analy-
In many cases nationalism has played a significant role in
sis (vibhajja). Beyond this epistemological basis, however,
politics; this slippery concept may be defined as a sometimes
there is a definite social dimension to Buddhist teachings:
chauvinistic devotion to an ethnic, religious, or political
The Buddha not only asks how and what we know, but also
community, with a concomitant impetus to advance its in-
what we should do, not only for ourselves but for the com-
terests and traditions, often at the expense of other commu-
mon good.
nities. Turning to religion, we may venture that Buddhism,
in all its various forms, includes at least two features: in Pali,
The Buddha’s message against coarse craving (tanha¯)
one of its traditional classical languages (the other being San-
and the emotional cankers (a¯sava) of greed, hatred, and delu-
skrit), these are the “church” (sa¯sana) and doctrine (dhamma;
sion applies not only to the individual, but also carries impli-
Sanskrit: dharma). A third, more contemporary characteris-
cations for the collective well-being of the community. Ag-
tic is Buddhist “culture” (e.g., Sinhala: bauddha sanskrutiya).
gression (patighanusaya), indulgence (kamasukhalikanuyoga),
The aim of Buddhism is to help people find meaning in life.
and other spiritual hazards regularly upset the equilibrium
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND BUDDHISM
7261
of peoples, states, and the world at large. Several texts (e.g.,
ship in religious affairs. A. L. Basham indicates this when he
the Sigalovada Sutta and D¯ıgha-nika¯ya 3.180) set down a
writes: “In place of the traditional policy of territorial expan-
layperson’s code of conduct (gihivinaya) with regard to the
sion [A´soka] substituted conquest by Righteousness (as we
society in which he or she lives. Two of the most significant
here inadequately translate by the very pregnant word dhar-
su¯tras dealing with what might loosely be described as politi-
ma)” (1954, p. 54). The monarch’s conversion to Buddhism
cal responsibility are the Cakkavattisihanada-sutta and the
and the subsequent widespread propagation of its values, in-
Aggañña Suttas (D¯ıgha-nika¯ya 3.58, 80). These texts treat the
cluding respectful veneration and oversight of the sam:gha,
origin and development of the state and the rights and duties
produced an important model of a Buddhist state and its re-
of both monarch and citizen. The model society and polity
lationship with Buddhist monastic orders. In due course, the
they present fosters ethical conduct and embodies a strong
sam:gha sought to assume a position to grant legitimacy to
social ideal, which then guides the principal objectives of the
the state. And much later, a new three-fold “refuge” arose in
state. D¯ıgha-nika¯ya 3.62 describes the ideal world-ruler, the
parts of the Buddhist world to complement the traditional
“Celestial Wheel–turning king,” who uses his civil authority
refuges (´sa¯ran˙a) of the Buddha, dhamma and sam:gha. This
to promote righteousness and security. In this and other ca-
new, inescapably political “refuge” consisted of country, na-
nonical passages, the recommendations go beyond the caste-
tional identity, and religion—or as expressed in the state
based worldview behind Hindu statecraft and law codes
motto adopted by Cambodia’s 1993 Constitution, “nation,
(Artha´sa¯stra). The Aggañña Sutta in particular urges equal
religion, king.”
rights and opportunities for all people simply as fellow mem-
HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT. Historically, Buddhism is con-
bers of humanity, irrespective of caste or race (see also Majji-
sidered to have developed more in concert than in conflict
hima Nika¯ya 2. 85, 151, D¯ıgha-nika¯ya 1.99).
with political power. In fact, Trevor Ling has coined the term
Based on these texts, one could argue that Buddhism
“royal Buddhism”to describe the increasingly symbiotic rela-
charges the state and its citizens with the responsibility to
tionship between sam:gha and monarchy in the medieval peri-
maintain economic and social equality. Whether these texts
od (though it was of course not wholly devoid of antagonism;
can be seen as constituting a fully fledged political philoso-
see p. 133). By extension, the relationship between sam:gha
phy, however, is doubtful; nonetheless they do suggest that
and laity has been described as leading to a “mass politiciza-
the state must not impede human freedom, and that both
tion” of the Buddhist population (see Bechert, 1978, p. 16).
individual citizens and the polity as a whole should be al-
The Therava¯da polities of South and Southeast Asia provide
lowed to evolve and mature. This is consistent with the Bud-
good examples of this symbiosis of Buddhism and political
dha’s teaching that nothing is permanent, nor should any-
authority. In addition to the well-developed Mon kingdoms
thing rest on the basis of authority alone (An˙guttara-nika¯ya
of southern Burma and the central plain of the Chao Phraya
1. 189); both principles certainly apply to the state. More
(e.g., Dvaravati), Sri Lanka serves as an excellent example,
controversially, some scholars have tried to extrapolate from
with its celebrated story of the early Buddhist ideal “warrior-
the Buddha’s rule (vinaya) for his monastic order
king” Dutthagamini (c. 150 BCE). According to the story, he
(sam:gha)—citing such practices as the pooling of resources—
requested five hundred monks to accompany him as a “bless-
to arrive at a proto-socialistic interpretation of Buddhist po-
ing and protection” or “merit-field” in his efforts to repel
Tamil invaders; he is also said to have carried a relic of the
litical doctrine in general, in which similarly communal prin-
Buddha on his own spear as an amulet (see Alice Greenwald
ciples would guide the state as a whole. Others emphasize the
in Bardwell Smith, 1978, p. 13). The Khmer court in ninth-
sam:gha’s democratic character and argue that its traditions
through thirteenth-century Cambodia extravagantly en-
spilled over into various forms of assembly and village ad-
dorsed a cult of Hindu-Buddhist divine kingship, which
ministration (see Joshi, p. 33). Yet although the Vinaya
reached its apogee during the reign of Jayavarman VII
Pit:aka undoubtedly gives us a picture of an early Indian com-
(1181–c. 1215), who modeled his image of the Buddha in
munity of mendicants organized along “socialist” and even
the Angkor temple of Bayon after himself. At his death in
“democratic” lines, this cannot be taken as a political model
1218 he received the title Mahaparamasaugata, or “the great
for lay society. In sum, whereas the traditional Buddhist
and supreme Buddhist” (see Coedès, p. 172). Burma’s Pagan
sam:gha was not concerned with politics, the Pali Canon ar-
period (c. 800–1200 CE) was a golden age of the Buddhist
guably contains a political philosophy of a sort, derived from
monarchical ideal, represented by the Ananda temple (zedi)
the Buddha’s advice to rulers and citizens. The ideal of har-
built by King Kyanzittha (r. 1084–1113). Writing about this
monious coexistence between the two and among the latter
kingdom, which was centered around the upper Irrawaddy,
lies at the core of this philosophy, which also emphasizes the
Michael Aung Thwin observes
individual’s right to pursue his or her fortune, but not at the
expense of others (Anguttara Nika¯ya 2.95).
[T]he protective capacity of the state in twelfth and
thirteenth-century Burma was a strong one; it was not
Politics and Buddhism are acknowledged as distinct en-
a violent or chaotic society but an ordered and hierar-
tities in the canonical scripture, but with the rise of the
chical one, concerned not with individual political free-
Mauryan empire under A´soka (c. 250 BCE), the association
dom as a measure of happiness, but with social and po-
between religion and state shifted subtly toward state leader-
litical order, ruled not by independent lords and armies,
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND BUDDHISM
but by a sovereign and his officials, and pacified by a
iconography) between Buddhism and Hinduism, something
[Buddhist] primate and his monks. (p. 96)
remarked on as far back as the seventh century CE by Hsüan
Tsang. A sense of the contribution of Buddhism to Nepal’s
In the fourteenth- through eighteenth-century Lao kingdom
cultural and spiritual identity is everywhere apparent either
(Lan Xang), the san˙gha legitimized what was perceived as a
in great historic structures (e.g., the Swayambhunath Stupa
karmically justified kingly rule; in return they expected the
outside of Kathmandu), or in some of its contemporary lead-
king to meet their standards of just rule (dhammaraja). In
ing personalities, such as the role of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpo-
Sukhothai (middle Thailand, 1230–1378 CE), the respected
che, the Nyingmapa terton, “discoverer of holy treasure” and
king Rama Kamheng was a precursor of the royal Buddhism
founder of the Shechen temple.
associated with the great Ratnakosin dynasty (1782–
present), in which the monarchs are not only the foremost
Nonetheless, despite self-evident respect for Buddhism,
sponsors of the Buddhist faith, but also symbols of national
the government of Nepal is careful not to permit politiciza-
unity.
tion of the faith. Given the dominance of Tibetan forms of
Buddhism in Nepal (other sects are present but of modest
The function of the monarch. One feature common
significance), and the always-sensitive proximity to China,
to most of these examples is the function of the monarch
no promotion of Tibetan political rights, or public venera-
(clearly a “political” figure) as purifier and unifier of the Bud-
tion of the Dalai Lama for that matter, is permitted. Any sug-
dhist monastic order, as exemplified by the amalgamation of
gestion of a pan-Himalayan Buddhist renaissance is alarming
the Sinhalese san˙gha under Parakamabahu I (1153–1186
to the dominant Hindu communities and the regional super
CE). In Maha¯ya¯na Buddhist Asia, by contrast, Japan experi-
powers. Apart from the occasional anomaly (e.g., a Tibetan
enced the rise of powerful Buddhist temples and even armies
Buddhist exile guerrilla presence in Mustang), Buddhism has
of “priest-warriors” (sohei) from the time of Prince Regent
no political role to play in contemporary Nepal.
Taishi Sho¯toku (c. 600 CE). The Buddhist monk Nichiren’s
reforms (c. 1270 CE) and his promotion of the Saddharma-
Neighboring Sikkim is the smallest of the traditional
pun:d:ar¯ıka Su¯tra (Lotus Su¯tra) as an intrinsic aspect of na-
Himalayan Buddhist polities, ruled in recent centuries by an
tional identity—and of himself as something of a messiah—
absolute Buddhist monarchy associated with the Namgyal
resulted in a unique situation where “much religio-political
family, which in turn traced its roots to the ninth-century
capital was made of his inheritance in subsequent centuries”
Minvang dynasty of eastern Tibet’s Chumbi Valley. Nying-
(see Harris, p. 15). In Tibet, the concept of the Buddhist
mapa Buddhism was the faith of the early Tibetan migrants
monk (lama) as a political ruler originated with Sa skya
to Sikkim, the Bhutia people, and became the state religion.
Pan:d:ita, who was made vice-regent to the Mongol khan
In the seventeenth century, a Minvang prince, Phuntsok
Godan (1246 CE). This concept was reinforced when the
Namgyal, became Sikkim’s king (chogyal). The last of his lin-
head of the Dge lugs pa sect, the lama Sodnams Gyamtsho,
eage was the twelfth chogyal, Palden Thondup Namgyal, who
received the honorific Dalai Lama from the Altan khan in
died in 1982. In time, other indigenous communities (e.g.,
1578.
Lepcha, Gurung, Rai) accepted both Namgyal dynastic rule
and Buddhism. After years of interfering with its affairs, and
The Himalayan region. The traditional Himalayan
alarmed by continuing border problems with China, in 1975
Buddhist kingdoms of Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan are
India annexed Sikkim. Even before Sikkim became India’s
further interesting examples of the merging of religion with
twenty-second state, the era of Buddhist cultural dominance
political order over a period of many centuries. In this regard,
was already compromised by a longstanding migration of
Nepal’s polity has been dominated by a strong connection
Hindu Nepalis, which began in the British period and has
between the royal house and Hinduism for centuries. As re-
continued unabated. But Indian sovereignty has not crushed
cently as 1962, the Constitution referred to “the Hindu
Sikkim’s Buddhist spirit or cultural identity, and New Delhi
kingdom of Nepal,” and although the 1990 Constitution no
conscientiously supports the maintenance of chortens (stupas)
longer uses this language, the king (traditionally revered as
and sites of Sikkimese historical and spiritual importance.
an incarnation of Vis:n:u) is still identified as the “symbol of
Sikkim’s monarchial collapse has left Bhutan as the last Hi-
the nation.” The majority of Nepal’s diverse population
malayan Buddhist kingdom and, in a sense, curator of a once
being Hindu notwithstanding, Buddhism has also had a
widespread religio-political world view and civilization.
prominent place in Nepal’s unique culture and sociology for
over a millennium. Rose and Fisher (1970, p. 9) reflect on
Tradition claims that Bhutan (Druk Yul) was converted
the many migrations that have affected Nepal over the centu-
to Buddhism by the storied Indian saint Padmasambhava in
ries, their combined impact “encrusted with mythological
the eighth century CE. The faith was reinforced by the arrival
lore.” For example, the great Buddhist saint Milarepa (c.
of the great Nyingmapa teacher, Guru Rinpoche, from
1050 CE) is associated with several holy sites in Nepal. Tibet-
Tibet. A specific Buddhist polity emerged only in the seven-
an Buddhism has clearly dominated entire communities, no-
teenth century when a Tibetan Kagyupa monk, Ngawang
tably the high mountain peoples, Sherpas and Tamangs, and
Namgyal, took on the title Shadrung (“at whose feet one sub-
the Newar in the Valley of Nepal. What is remarkable is the
mits”). Apart from centralizing authority, he set down a legal
close theological connection (including yogic practices and
system and promoted the building of religious structures.
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND BUDDHISM
7263
Thus began a Buddhist state that functioned for 270 years
teenth century brought British incursions into the subconti-
based on a shared rule between a religious leader thought to
nent, while the next century saw the establishment of French
be the Shandung’s reincarnation (je khenpo) and a secular au-
hegemony in Indochina. Japanese colonial expansion into
thority (the Deb Raja). A British presence from 1864 was un-
Korea, Manchuria, and Formosa (1895–1945) brought dif-
obtrusive and the country essentially escaped an interfering
ferent forms of Buddhism into these countries. A takeover
colonial experience. In 1907, in response to the perceived po-
by Buddhist Japan created much less of a culture shock,
litical needs of the time by both religious and civil leaders,
though, than did Victorian Christian imperialism, which at-
a monarchial system was introduced. Hereditary kings from
tacked the emerging sense of national uniqueness and pur-
the Wangchuck family formed the basis of an erastian Bud-
pose in British-occupied Asian countries, and thereby also
dhist polity which is still in place. The kings have been capa-
disrupted the intimate and still developing connection be-
ble rulers, and although an advisory national assembly
tween Buddhism and political identity. In many cases reli-
(tshoghu) was introduced in 1951, when the prime minister
gious identity fuelled political reactions to imperialism (see
was assassinated in 1964, his office was never replaced. The
Pye, p. 91). In general, the faith retained its hold over the
present king, the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wang-
majority of believers, contributing to a religious revival that
chuck, was consecrated monarch by the je khenpo in 1972.
nurtured struggles for independence. Siam (Thailand) alone
As his predecessors, the king wears as part of his regal gar-
escaped foreign subjugation, largely through the capable
ments a saffron scarf (kabne), the mark of a Buddhist ruler,
statecraft of three perceptive monarchs who ruled the coun-
and an item shared only with the je khenpo.
try between 1851 and 1925: Mongkut (later Rama IV),
Chulalongkorn, and Vajiravudh. These monarchs were real-
Unlike the destabilized Nepal monarchy (ruinously cut
ists who acknowledged the need to modernize their country,
down in 2001 by a deranged crown prince), the Bhutan royal
to that end accepting those foreign values and technologies
house appears educated, and realistic about the pressures of
they deemed useful. At the same time, however, they central-
modernity. Bhutan isolated itself in the mid-twentieth cen-
ized both the polity and the san˙gha, bringing the religion di-
tury from the backpackers, counter-culture visitors, and
rectly under the control of what was quickly becoming a
other effects of globalization. It kept India at arm’s length
modern nation state (see Ishii, p. 47).
through prudent foreign policy, and has independently and
forcefully attacked various Indian secessionist organizations
By contrast, the government of Burma, long isolationist
that periodically seek refuge in Bhutan’s borders. Many chal-
and introverted, was completely unprepared to meet the
lenges remain, notably widespread illegal immigration and
ideological and intellectual challenges of colonialism and
imported political notions contrary to a traditional Buddhist
modernization. Burma-centrism, supported by a mythologi-
monarchy, no matter how progressive. Bhutan has shown the
cal cosmology, had given the Burmese “a disproportionate
benefits of this kind of rule. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck
overestimation of their own power” (Sarkisyanz, p. 99). Bud-
has, as one commentator notes, “enlightened but constrained
dhism emerged as the only foundation upon which to build
attitudes towards progress and development” (Crossette,
a Burmese national consciousness, as various nationalist
1995, p. 182). This, along with a san˙gha active in welfare and
groups, including “heritage protection” (wuthanu athin), and
development activities, suggests an ultimately successful and
monks such as U Wissera and U Ottama assumed quasi-
enduring Buddhist state.
political leadership roles. Buddhist millenarian expecta-
tions—centered around the set kya min or Restorer of the
Colonial experience. Another essential feature of this
Golden Age, the future Buddha who would reestablish the
formative historical period is Buddhist nationalism in the
perfect society—accompanied Burmese nationalism, as did
context of the colonial experience. Although nationalism is
elements of magic and sorcery such as the notion of yadaya
often associated with political events in eighteenth- and nine-
chay, or “outwitting fate by prompt action.” (In fact, these
teenth-century Europe, Buddhist nationalism in Asia arose
ideas have persisted into the twenty-first century, and they
very early. “In this way,” writes Heinz Bechert, “a form of
still resound in the corridors of political power in Myanmar).
nationalism originated in ancient Ceylon which was rather
In Ceylon (later Sri Lanka), the British initially found it po-
close to modern nationalism with its conceptions of a united
litically expedient to grant state protection to Buddhism, but
nation with common linguistic, cultural and religious tradi-
Christian missionary agitation led the crown to withdraw
tions” (1978, p. 8). Steven Kemper (p. 17) shows that a “full-
this protection in 1853. This created an immediate vacuum,
fledged set of identities” was in place in Sri Lanka a thousand
with which the san˙gha was unable to cope. Only in the latter
years before the colonial era, and that some of the same con-
part of the nineteenth century did Sinhalese Buddhism as-
ditions applied as well to the “theater states” and “galactic
sume a proactive posture, under such individuals as
polities” of premodern South and Southeast Asia. In virtually
Anaga¯rika Dharmapa¯la (1864–1933) and the American con-
all of these instances, Buddhism played a prominent role in
vert Col. Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), who inspired a
nurturing national identity and was thus implicated in the
Buddhist political renaissance.
political repercussions of the rise of nationalism.
BUDDHISM AND POLITICS IN THE POSTCOLONIAL ERA. The
With the advent of colonialism the autonomous Bud-
political position of Buddhism at the end of the colonial era
dhist world faced increasing confusion and doubt. The eigh-
created institutional arrangements and led to events that still
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resonated decades later. After Sri Lanka gained its indepen-
As Thich Nhat Hanh has noted, “in every Buddhist the
dence in 1948, its san˙gha directly entered into political life,
ideas of Buddhism and nationalism are intertwined and can-
issuing a declaration of intent via Vidya¯lankara, a leading
not be easily separated” (p. 45, 107). In Vietnam, however,
Buddhist seminary. The declaration broadly defined the ex-
Ho Chi Minh’s victorious Communist Party sought to har-
pectations for the san˙gha’s activity beyond the monastery,
ness Vietnamese nationalism to support its own ideology.
and the Ven. Walpola Rahula’s still much-cited work Bhiksu-
Their claim to a monopoly on both politics and Vietnamese
vage Urumaya (Heritage of the Bhikkhu, 1946) offered fur-
consciousness robbed Buddhism of any critical social or po-
ther guidance. Both maintained that the modern monk, alert
litical voice. Indeed, the government sought to bring Bud-
to the decline of Buddhist influence in national affairs,
dhism under its control by establishing a single, state-
should see political engagement as a responsibility. The ini-
sponsored Vietnamese national Buddhist san˙gha (Giao Hoi
tiative also promoted a doctrine of Sinhalese distinctiveness,
Phat Giao Viet Nam). Although communist governments in
leading to what Tessa Bartholomeusz has called a “marriage
Vietnam, China, and North Korea continue to tolerate Bud-
of religion and ethnicity” (p. 78). This marriage spurred the
dhism, they never invite it to play a role either in political
creation of a number of politicized Sinhala Buddhist societies
power or in defining official national ideology. Non-
and nationalist (deshapremi) groups, which at times have had
communist countries such as Thailand and Sri Lanka have
significant influence over state affairs. No Sri Lankan head
often enshrined Buddhism in their constitutions, but only
of state could afford to marginalize Buddhism without jeop-
to patronize or protect it or to secure its place in what
ardizing his or her power. Some couched their political aims
Bartholomeusz calls “Buddhist secularism” (p. 5). Here, as
in grandiose religio-political language, as did President J. R.
in the communist countries, the state does not envision an
Jayawardene in his 1978 dharmishta, or righteous policy ob-
active political role for Buddhism or its clergy.
jectives. Others, such as Ranasinghe Premadasa (1989), used
Sri Lanka’s royal past to legitimate their authority, symboli-
EFFECTS OF MODERNIZATION AND GLOBALIZATION. As
cally standing on the once-royal dais at Kandy’s Temple of
R. N. Bellah points out, modernization is not simply a mat-
the Tooth.
ter of adopting new technologies; it also involves a “modern-
ization of the soul” (1965, p. 196). In early-twentieth-
Religio-cultural issues also run deep in Myanmar, where
century Asia, Buddhists often adopted concepts imported
in 1962 a rogue military junta seized power from the pro-
from the West, such as social welfare or socialism, and adapt-
Buddhist government of Prime Minister U Nu, who had
ed them to their own countries’ circumstances, endowing
styled himself as the Mahathammada or true leader of Bud-
them with a distinctive, indigenous vigor. In Japan, the So¯ka
dhism. The new dictatorship forced the long-autonomous
Gakkai lay sect of Nichiren Buddhism exemplifies this pro-
san˙gha to conform to strict government control. As elsewhere
cess; through its influential leftist Clean Government Party
in Buddhist Asia, Burmese political rulers rewarded coopera-
(Ko¯meito¯, founded 1964), it pushes for the establishment of
tive monks, and the ruling junta frequently “makes merit”
a welfare state to secure the health and material well-being
through major public demonstrations of institutional sup-
of lower social classes. What is now referred to as “engaged
port for the faith, seeking to justify its rule to a skeptical and
Buddhism” has its roots in the late nineteenth century; in the
downtrodden society. Widespread but usually unvoiced
late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, “engaged”
sympathy among the san˙gha for the dissident leader Aung
Buddhist thinkers and activists such as Burma’s Aung San
San Suu Kyi periodically erupts into public demonstrations.
Suu Kyi, Tibet’s Dalai Lama, Thailand’s Sulak Sivaraksa,
For a month in 1990, for instance, monks “turned over the
and Sri Lanka’s A. T. Ariyaratna have used the faith to re-
begging bowl” (patta ni kauz za na kan) to military personnel
spond to a host of issues brought on by modernization and
in political protest, an extraordinary manifestation of Bud-
globalization. In a unique response to the devastation of their
dhism’s quiet influence, even under military tyranny. In
country’s environment, some Thai monks have “ordained”
Vietnam, where French colonialism led to a society divided
trees otherwise doomed to be cut down. Among the other
between Buddhists and Roman Catholics, the 1930s saw a
issues Buddhism must grapple with are rampant consumer-
Buddhist renaissance that accelerated with the struggle for
ism, the deluge of Western popular culture, and political tyr-
independence, particularly after the defeat of the French at
anny, often supported or simply ignored by the international
Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. President Ngo Dinh Diem’s
community. It is no exaggeration to claim that “Buddhism
overt partiality to Catholicism at a time of intense nationalist
in contemporary Asia means energetic engagement with so-
fervor alienated Buddhists, who were refused a public voice.
cial and political issues and crises at least as much as it means
Vietnam’s san˙gha never demanded a “Buddhist” govern-
monastic or meditative withdrawal” (Queen, p. ix).
ment, but through their actions they sought to awaken a hu-
manitarian and nationalist consciousness in their country.
Referring to Buddhism’s long association with a wide
Most famously, in June 1963 Ven. Thich Quang-Du’c
array of cultures, regimes, and governments, Thich Nhat
burned himself to death in Saigon to call attention to the suf-
Hanh is surely correct when he writes that “the forms of
ferings of the Vietnamese people. Other monks followed
Buddhism must change so that the essence of Buddhism re-
with similar ritual deaths, which devotees characterize as acts
mains unchanged” (p. 94). In principle, the religion remains
of heroism.
ready to offer political guidance and criticism, without seek-
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND BUDDHISM
7265
ing theocratic power or adherence to any type of dogmatic
Ling, Trevor. Buddhism, Imperialism, and War: Burma and Thai-
fundamentalism.
land in Modern History. London, 1979. A study of how Bud-
dhism in Southeast Asia has helped strengthen the political
SEE ALSO Colonialism and Postcolonialism.
aims of national rulers.
Lopez, Donald S., Jr. Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism
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of Buddhism and Polity in Thailand against a Historical Back-
ambivalence between governing bodies and religious groups
ground. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1976.
throughout Chinese history. Simply put, religion poses a
BRUCE MATTHEWS (2005)
counter-authority to that of the state, and as a result the state
must seek means of controlling or neutralizing the potential
threat of religious authority. The modern Communist gov-
POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND
ernment has chosen to do so by claiming the right to delimit
CHINESE RELIGION
the religious sphere. Yet the PRC’s appropriation of religious
Few would deny that politics has played an important role
authority is not a new phenomenon; Chinese governments
in the development of Chinese religion, yet the terms religion
of earlier periods have consistently sought to align, if not
(zhengzhi) and politics (zongjiao) were not used in premodern
unify, political and religious concerns. Further, traditional
China. Both of these words only entered into Chinese usage
Chinese concepts of sovereign power were founded on reli-
in the last century, as Japanese neologisms for modern West-
gious grounds or elaborated through religious language and
ern concepts. Prior to the twentieth century, it is often diffi-
imagery.
cult to distinguish between politics and religion: the imperial
THE IMPERIAL CULTS. One sees this most clearly in the long
court drew upon religious symbolism in its displays of politi-
history of imperial cults and state rituals that date from the
cal authority, and religious leaders often claimed authority
earliest historical period to the fall of imperial China in 1911.
usually reserved for the state.
In general, imperial cults consisted of devotions and rituals
While the following discussion will use the terms politics
that had to be performed by the ruler, or by an official surro-
and religion in describing the complex interactions of the sec-
gate, to ensure the continued well-being and prosperity of
ular and the sacred in Chinese history, it is worth bearing in
the empire. These included the sacrifices to the Altars of Soil
mind how modern analytical categories do not always fit pre-
and Grain and at the Hall of Light, as well as ritual obser-
modern conceptual landscapes. This article will address six
vances for the cults of Laozi (fl. 6th century BCE) and Confu-
main topics: (1) the politics of religion in China, (2) the de-
cius (Kongzi, 551–479 BCE). The most important of the im-
velopment of the imperial cults, (3) religious conceptions of
perial cults were those with the most ancient provenance: (1)
sovereignty and political power, (4) the analogy of the bu-
the imperial ancestral cult, and (2) the worship of a supreme
reaucracy, (5) religious persecutions and rebellions, and (6)
god known as variously as “Heaven” (Tian), “God” (Di), or
religious advisors and state patronage.
the “High God” (Shangdi).
THE POLITICS OF RELIGION IN CHINA. Following Western
models of the secular, modernized state, both the Nationalist
The imperial ancestral cult was related to other forms
(Guomindang, or GMD) and the Communist governments
of ancestor worship in China. Yet whereas ordinary ancestral
of China legislated the institutional separation of state and
spirits concerned themselves only with their own descen-
religion. Yet governmental policies that require the registra-
dents, the imperial ancestors watched over the dynastic house
tion and monitoring of civic religious activities have compli-
and, by extension, the entire empire. Scholars have noticed
cated this claim. The constitution of the People’s Republic
that the imperial ancestral cult often held a relatively low
of China (PRC) officially protects religious freedoms, but the
rank among the great sacrifices of state. Nevertheless, the
government nevertheless monitors and controls all religious
ruler’s ancestors possessed a significance that greatly ex-
activities through the State Bureau of Religious Affairs
ceeded the actual status of the sacrifice. Victor Xiong has
(SBRA). All major religions in China (Buddhism, Daoism,
noted how the placement of the ruler’s ancestral spirit tablets
Islam, and Christianity) are required to affirm their support
within the capital city transformed mere urban space into the
of the Communist Party and leadership, to register with the
sacred center of the empire.
SBRA, and to sever ties with foreign networks or organiza-
The imperial cult of Heaven provided the other crucial
tions (including parent organizations such as the Roman
source of political authority. Early political theory had con-
Catholic Church). In return, religious organizations receive
structed the analogy between Heaven and the human ruler:
official state recognition and protection.
just as Heaven asserted sovereignty over the pantheon of spir-
Yet as Stephan Feuchtwang has noted, religious organi-
its, so the human ruler asserted sovereignty over the empire
zations that maintain foreign ties, do not publicly support
and its people. Yet at the same time, the ruler derived his
the leadership, or do not register with the SBRA are consid-
(and, in the single exception, her) authority directly from
ered purveyors of superstition (mixin) rather than religion.
Heaven. He was referred to as the “Son of Heaven” (Tianzi),
Practitioners of this so-called superstition are often seen as
the one person charged by the “Mandate of Heaven” (Tian-
deceiving the people, and they may be punished for a num-
ming) to rule over all things. The idea of a Heaven-bestowed
ber of economic crimes, such as fraud. Here, what is note-
mandate complicated the authority of the emperor, since
worthy is how the state arrogates the power to define the cat-
Heaven did not unwaveringly favor one dynastic house
egories of religion and superstition—that is, the religious
above all others. In fact, a dynasty that had become morally
forms protected by the state and those punishable by the
bankrupt would lose the mandate to rule. The Zhou dynasty
state.
(c. 1150–256 BCE) first introduced the Mandate of Heaven
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as justification for overthrowing the Shang (sixteenth to elev-
al goals. In the medieval Daoist tradition, the deified Laozi
enth centuries BCE), and later dynasties continued to invoke
became the model of the perfect ruler. Rulers that drew upon
the doctrine in political rhetoric and discourse.
the image and rhetoric of Laozi could secure the support of
OTHER RELIGIOUS CONCEPTIONS OF SOVEREIGNTY. The
Daoist factions within the court, as well as of Daoist believers
imperial cults provided the most visible means by which rul-
throughout the empire. This was the case for Cao Pi (r. 220–
ers laid claim to sacred authority. Other religious traditions,
226 CE), also known as Wei Wendi. As Howard Goodman
however, played important roles in the imagination and con-
has shown, Cao Pi made use of a Celestial Masters prophecy
struction of political sovereignty. The following section will
to legitimate his establishment of the Wei dynasty (220–
discuss three traditions: (1) early immortality quests, (2)
265). Daoism also played a prominent role in the legitima-
Daoist models of kingship, and (3) Buddhist models of king-
tion of the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE). Because the Tang
ship. Of course, not all Chinese emperors were equally inter-
imperial house shared the same surname (Li) as Laozi, the
ested in alternative sources of sacred authority to the imperial
members of the Tang royal house could make the claim that
cults. Rather, these reflected the personal inclinations or as-
they descended from the Daoist sage. Actual interest in Dao-
pirations of particular rulers, as well as larger trends in Chi-
ism varied among the twenty-one Tang emperors. The sev-
nese religious history.
enth emperor, Tang Xuanzong (Li Longji, r. 712–756), was
fascinated by Daoism and was initiated by a Highest Purity
The most famous of the early immortality quests are
(Shangqing) Daoist master as an adept of the sect. In the
those undertaken by Qin Shihuangdi (r. 221–210 BCE), the
Song dynasty (960–1279), Emperor Huizong (Zhao Ji, r.
First Emperor of the Qin dynasty (221–207 BCE). The Qin
1101–1125) was even more involved in Daoist study and
succeeded in unifying China through its superior military ef-
training, to the extent that he was deified as “The Great Em-
ficiency and rigid code of laws. The First Emperor was fasci-
peror of Long Life.” In one of the most striking examples of
nated with the possibility of becoming an immortal in the
religious sovereignty, Huizong received cult worship as a god
flesh, and so he traveled throughout the empire in search of
in his own lifetime.
spirits or gods who might give him their secrets. He also paid
vast sums of money to magicians (fangshi) to seek out the
The adoption of Buddhist models of kingship could
mythical island of Penglai, upon which magical herbs of lon-
serve similar political ends. The perfect ruler of Buddhism
gevity were rumored to grow. The First Emperor even per-
was the cakravartin or “wheel-turning king.” Buddhism
formed the Feng and Shan sacrifices on altars at Mount Tai
spoke of the inevitable decline of Buddhist law (mofa), but
(the sacred Eastern Marchmount) and Liangfu, in the hopes
it also maintained that the cakravartin could arrest or even
of achieving self-deification. For Confucian intellectuals, this
reverse the decline. Therefore, the title of cakravartin was
was a distortion of the great sacrifices, which were supposed
often used to honor rulers who had been generous in their
to announce the establishment of the age of great peace to
patronage of Buddhist monasteries and their activities. Ex-
Heaven and Earth. In the end, not only did the First Emper-
emplary Buddhist monarchs included Emperor Wu of the
or fail to achieve personal immortality, but his dynasty only
Liang dynasty (Xiao Yan, r. 501–549), who received the title
survived him by about four years.
“Imperial Bodhisattva” for his intense devotion to Buddhist
learning. Emperor Wu famously ransomed himself on sever-
The Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) succeeded the
al occasions to monasteries in order to channel funds to the
short-lived Qin. The sixth ruler, Han Wudi (r. 141/140–87/
Buddhist community. On the other hand, there is the exam-
86 BCE), presided over one of the longest reigns in Chinese
ple of the Tang Empress Wu Zetian (r. 684–704). Empress
history. Wudi oversaw the political, economic, and military
Wu had her monk-lover fabricate the spurious Scripture of
stabilization of the empire, as well as the establishment of
the Great Cloud, which prophesied the imminent appearance
“state Confucianism” (the cultural ideology that later came
of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, in the form of a fe-
to encompass a sacred canon, state academies, and the exami-
male deity—that is, Wu Zetian herself.
nation system). At the same time, however, Wudi imitated
THE BUREAUCRATIC ANALOGY. A hallmark of Chinese reli-
Qin Shihuangdi in seeking the secrets of immortality
gion is the way in which the world of the gods parallels the
throughout the empire; he even re-performed the Feng and
human realm of officialdom: the supernatural realm, like this
Shan sacrifices at Mount Tai.
one, is ordered by bureaucracy. As Peter Nickerson has
Both the First Emperor and Han Wudi were heavily
shown, a fifth-century Daoist text of the Celestial Master tra-
criticized by the Han historian Sima Qian (c. 145–c. 85
dition describes the registers kept by each Daoist household,
BCE), who saw the rulers’ desire for immortality as a combi-
so that the gods would have accurate records when supernat-
nation of despotism and gullibility. Sima Qian’s critique did
ural intervention was required. By the seventh century, the
not prevent later rulers from seeking immortality, some of
Buddhist afterlife likewise was represented as a bureaucracy.
whom perished from ingesting large amounts of cinnabar
After death, one’s soul would travel through the ten courts
(mercury sulfide), following the instructions of their Daoist
of the underworld, each ruled by a king who sat in judgment
advisors.
over the deceased.
Generally speaking, however, the adoption of Daoist
Also, documents and papers akin to those necessary for
models of kingship often served more politically convention-
moving through government bureaucracy facilitated com-
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND CHINESE RELIGION
munication with the gods. Like the government of this
seized by the state. Buddhist statuary and ritual implements
world, the bureaucracy of the gods has roles and hierarchy;
made of metal were melted down and made into currency
in contemporary practice, those seeking help from the gods
or agricultural tools. The monastic population further de-
should first locate the god with the appropriate jurisdiction.
clined as the state laicized monks and nuns under forty and
But the bureaucratic analogy does have its limits. As Emily
set strict limits on the number of monasteries and clergy. The
Ahern notes, it is possible to appeal directly to the highest
Huichang suppression of Buddhism was part of a larger
deities in a way that is not possible within government bu-
xenophobic trend; other religions were also purged or sup-
reaucracy. Moreover, people do not relate to the gods solely
pressed. In 843, Uighur Manichaean priests in Chang’an and
on the model of supplicant and official; for believers, rank
Luoyang, as well as Nestorian and Zoroastrian priests, were
within the supernatural hierarchy may be a consideration
laicized, and their temple property was confiscated. Two
secondary to the efficaciousness of a given deity.
months later the government ordered the execution of all
Manichaean priests. The situation eased only after Wuzong’s
While throughout much of China’s history the govern-
death in 846.
ment occasionally granted deities honorary titles, this prac-
tice increased sharply during the late eleventh century. Local
Subsequent dynasties never employed such drastic mea-
elites recommended deities associated with their region and
sures, but modernizing movements in the twentieth century
with proven records of responsiveness. The granting of titles
led to efforts to weed out religion as a negative force. When
allowed the central government to extend its reach into each
the Communist Party came to power, Buddhist monastic
locality and simultaneously to share the accomplishments of
holdings were decimated by land reform, and monks were
these regional supernatural powers. However, as Robert
expected to become productive citizens. In the Cultural Rev-
Hymes argues, the titles granted to local gods were purely
olution (1966–1976), virtually all public displays of religion
honorific and based on archaic feudal titles; the government
came to a halt; Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism were
honored the gods but did not grant them functional posi-
attacked part of the “Four Olds” (old ideas, old culture, old
tions or assign them specific duties. In a related way, the gov-
customs, old habits). Temples were damaged, closed, or con-
ernment throughout history also issued ordination certifi-
verted to other uses. Muslims were made to eat pork, and
cates to monks and nuns and granted temples plaques that
Christian churches were purged of their religious symbols.
established imperial recognition. Over time, these activities
Much religious activity went underground during this time,
served to create a national, centralized religious network ad-
reemerging only after the Cultural Revolution ended and the
ministered by the state.
political mood shifted.
SUPPRESSION AND REBELLION. As discussed above, religion
The state was capable of acting against religion in the
frequently has been an alternate source of authority to that
kinds of suppressions discussed above, but religion often mo-
of the state. From time to time, this has led to religiously in-
tivated or guided rebellions against the state. Perhaps the ear-
fluenced rebellions and to the proscription and persecution
liest such example is that of the Daoist Yellow Turban revolt
of religion by the state. For example, Buddhism often has
at the end of the Han dynasty. Apocalyptic ideology and the
been perceived as a corrupting influence in times of political
desire to establish a Daoist utopia motivated this revolt,
or cultural crisis because of its foreign origins, and it thus was
which began in 184 CE. Similarly, at the end of the Yuan
a frequent target of state suppression. Anti-Buddhist atti-
dynasty (1264–1368), Red Turban armies grew out of mille-
tudes among officials were exacerbated by the perceived neg-
narian White Lotus societies, drawing inspiration from their
ative economic impact of Buddhist monasteries: monks and
belief in messianic prophecies that Maitreya, the Buddha of
nuns were not taxed, and monasteries also owned large tracts
the Future, would soon be reborn. The founder of the subse-
of untaxed land. Occasionally, these tensions resulted in at-
quent Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Zhu Yuanzhang, was af-
tempts to limit or eliminate Buddhist institutions. Emperor
filiated with this movement early in his rise to power.
Wu of the Northern Wei (Tuoba Tao, r. 423–452) ordered
one such large-scale suppression of Buddhism. Most monks
Toward the end of the Qing dynasty, rebellions that in-
survived in hiding, but many temples, scriptures, and works
corporated religious elements became more frequent. The
of art were destroyed.
Taiping Rebellion (1851–1864) was one of the most de-
structive. Its founder, Hong Xiuquan, was a convert to
The Buddhist persecution of the Tang Emperor Wu-
Christianity who had a vision in which he was identified as
zong (Li Yan, r. 840–846) was perhaps the most far-
God’s son and charged with driving the devils (i.e., the for-
reaching. This suppression is usually called the “Huichang
eign Manchu regime) out of China. He was then to establish
Suppression,” after Wuzong’s reign title. First, monasteries
the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (Taiping Tianguo).
were ordered to purge their ranks of unregistered monks,
Taiping forces managed to take a major city, Nanjing, which
along with those monks who failed to keep their vows, had
they declared the capital of their new kingdom. Around the
been convicts, practiced magic, or were otherwise question-
same time, Muslim rebellions broke out in both Yunnan
able. The government then banned pilgrimages and elimi-
province and in northwest China, lasting until the mid-
nated smaller Buddhist establishments, relocating monks to
1870s. Key background causes included Qing discriminatory
larger temples. Shortly thereafter, all Buddhist property was
laws and tension between minority and majority communi-
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7269
ties. Ethnic and cultural identities were as much an issue as
tives to sign the “Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of
religion in these insurgencies. To varying degrees, religion
Tibet.” As a consequence, central Tibet became an autono-
also played a role in other late Qing rebellions, such as the
mous region within China, while other Tibetan territories
1813 Eight Trigram Revolt and the Boxer Rebellion of 1899
were incorporated into neighboring Chinese provinces.
to 1901.
Under this agreement, Tibetans could continue to govern ac-
R
cording to their own traditions, leaving in place the theocra-
ELIGIOUS ADVISORS AND STATE SPONSORSHIP. Religious
figures often served as official and unofficial advisors to em-
cy led by the fourteenth Dalai Lama. However, land reform
perors, in which capacity they provided rulers with another
and other modernizations introduced by the PRC in the
source of personal or political power. Buddhist or Daoist
1950s were met with resistance, and tensions escalated to the
adepts advised emperors on the protection of the state and
point of military clashes. With concern growing that Chinese
personal cultivation. For example, in the Yuan dynasty, Khu-
forces would harm the Dalai Lama, he fled to India with an
bilai Khan (r. 1279–1294) employed the Tibetan lama Phags
entourage of government leaders and religious followers. A
pa (Phagpa; 1235–1280) as his liaison to Tibet and Bud-
Tibetan government-in-exile was established at Dharamsala,
dhists; Phags pa in turn provided the emperor with religious
while in Tibet the Communists replaced traditional institu-
legitimacy. The Mongol Yuan government made wide use
tions with socialist ones.
of Muslim officials, but their employment perhaps had more
As was true throughout China, the 1980s brought a
to do with ethnicity than belief. During the late sixteenth
more relaxed governmental stance toward religious and polit-
and seventeenth centuries, Jesuit missionaries worked in the
ical expression. Seeking to capitalize on this change in official
service of the emperor, providing guidance on Western sci-
attitude, the Dalai Lama brought the issue of Tibet and its
ence and culture. While their work at court was not religious
desire for autonomy to the global stage. Limited attempts at
in nature, their collaboration eased the way for the continued
negotiations between the two sides took place in the early
presence of Western missionaries.
1990s. The Chinese government also attempted to modern-
Throughout history, imperial patronage has also includ-
ize Tibet, which had lagged behind the rest of China in terms
ed the building and restoration of temples and the commis-
of economic and social development. Part of this new ap-
sion of religious art. Scriptural compilation projects were also
proach included increased state patronage of religion, usually
examples of major collaborations between religious orders
in the form of restoring temples; the government also hoped
and the state. In both the Tang and Song dynasties, the state
these efforts would attract tourists. But religious revival also
sponsored large-scale projects to translate Buddhist su¯tras
needed to be kept in check, and the Communist government
into Chinese. The Song dynasty sponsored the first printing
stepped up its efforts to control religious leaders. The con-
of the entire Buddhist canon, and later dynasties commis-
trast between traditional notions of religious leadership and
sioned reprintings. Early Song emperors ordered the collec-
Communist expectations clearly manifested itself in the con-
tion of Daoist texts, which were then published in an early
troversy over the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, whose
form of the Daoist canon (Daozang); in the Ming, the
tenth incarnation had died in 1989. When the eleventh
Yongle emperor (r. 1402–1424) ordered the compilation of
Panchen Lama was identified and approved by the Dalai
the present version of the Daozang.
Lama in 1995, Beijing not only rejected this choice, but also
POLITICS AND RELIGION IN MODERN CHINA. Such exam-
removed the young boy from Tibet. Beijing then installed
ples demonstrate that the relationship between the state and
their own candidate for Panchen Lama through a process
religious groups was often a trade-off: the transactions,
controlled by the government. Because the Panchen Lama
whether intellectual or material, were most successful when
traditionally plays an important role in identifying and sanc-
both parties benefited, but the religious group did not overtly
tioning the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama, this decision
challenge secular authority. However, the negotiations be-
will have long-ranging effects.
tween religious and political claims to authority have been
In the government’s stance toward both the Roman
considerably more difficult in the late twentieth and early
Catholic Church and Tibetan Buddhism, the Chinese state
twenty-first century China. For example, the state-
has acted from concern over alternative sources to political
recognized Chinese Catholic Church (officially known as the
authority. This concern also manifests itself in the state’s ag-
Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association) has severed its rela-
gressive repression of the Falun Gong movement, also
tionship with the Vatican, bowing to pressure from the state
known as Falun Dafa. The group was founded by Li Hong-
which has frowned upon foreign influence inside China. The
zhi (b. 1952) in 1992. Li’s teachings incorporate elements
Roman Catholic Church does survive in China, but it has
of Buddhism, Daoism, and qigong practice, though he also
been forced underground.
claims that his teachings are superior to both Buddhism and
The government likewise has asserted the right to ad-
Daoism. There are three components to religious cultivation
ministrate Tibetan Buddhism as a corollary to its claim of
within Falun Gong: (1) members practice a simplified form
political sovereignty over Tibet. In 1950, the newly formed
of qigong; (2) they study Falun Gong teachings; (3) they seek
Communist government ordered the military invasion of
to develop the key moral qualities of truthfulness (zhen),
Tibet, and in the following year, coerced Tibetan representa-
goodness (shan), and forebearance (ren). The goal of such
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Angeles, 1961.
SEE ALSO Buddhism, article on Buddhism in China; Bud-
JACK W. CHEN (2005)
dhism, Schools of, article on Chinese Buddhism; Chinese
NATASHA HELLER (2005)
Religion, overview article; Confucianism, overview article;
Daoism; Emperor’s Cult.
POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND
BIBLIOGRAPHY
JAPANESE RELIGIONS
Ahern, Emily Martin. Chinese Ritual and Politics. Cambridge,
One of the most striking photographs of the twentieth cen-
U.K., 1981.
tury—a kamikaze plane crashing headlong into an Allied
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7271
ship during the last year of the Pacific war—illustrates dra-
some two to three centuries earlier, were supportive of this
matically an extreme version of the collusion of religion and
new religion, whereas native clans warned that its adoption
politics in Japan. The ideal of dying valiantly to defend or
would anger local kami.
preserve one’s sacred homeland is of course found in societies
Soon, with religious differences serving to focus other
all over the world. However, few societies have combined di-
conflicts over title and territory, these two opposing forces
verse religious traditions, political will, educational curricula,
met in battle in 587 CE. After the immigrant Soga clan de-
and coercive social controls to elevate and sustain an ideology
feated the native Mononobe, religious and political develop-
of personal self-sacrifice to the extent once found in Japan.
ment centered on Buddhism flourished during the seventh
Moreover all of these twentieth-century characteristics can
century. Some of the patterns established at that time have
be traced to earlier precedents within Japanese social and po-
continued throughout Japanese history: the emperor system,
litical history.
the idea of Japan as a sacred country, state support of Bud-
The practice of using religious traditions to enhance po-
dhism (and vice versa), regional temples and shrines (as well
litical power in Japan has a momentum of over eighteen hun-
as the rituals conducted there) designed to protect the state,
dred years. And yet the concepts of religion and politics have
and venerating (in order to pacify and control) the spirits of
only recently begun to acquire in Japan some of the same se-
the dead.
mantic and legalistic meanings with which they are regarded
Shortly after the temporary setback for the native clans
in Europe or North America. The Japanese Supreme Court
mentioned earlier, court nobles were commanded in 593 CE
ruled in 1997 on a case that for the first time clearly upheld
by Suiko, the first of a series of powerful empresses, to sup-
a 1947 constitutional distinction between religious and po-
port Buddhism. Two important precedents associated with
litical activities.
the religion in China and Korea were now to be established
The term for religion in Japanese, shukyo¯, consists of
in Japan. The first was the Golden Light Su¯tra (Suvarna-
two characters: shu, meaning “sect,” and kyo¯, or “teaching.”
prabhasa) and its message of protection for kings, their fami-
Originally used in Chinese Buddhism, it was first employed
lies, and countries. The other su¯tra was the Benevolent Kings’
in a treaty in 1869 to translate the German word Religionsü-
Su¯tra (Ka¯runika¯-ra¯ja-prajña¯pa¯ramita¯), which in a similar
bung (religious exercise). This conception of the word is ade-
vein assured rulers that by reading and explaining the su¯tra
quate for religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism—
they would enact the “Rite of Protecting the Country.” Thus
both with thousands of texts, teachings, and commen-
the reign of Buddhist law and that of a local king were seen
taries—but less appropriate for Japan’s premodern oral
to coincide, benefit, and legitimate each other.
traditions that venerate local deities connected with healing,
At the same time the regional deities and myths of con-
agriculture, fertility, defense, and control of the weather.
quered clans from the recent past were being consolidated
FORMATIVE PERIOD. The earliest recorded period in Japa-
into a systematic account, the Kojiki (712 CE), to legitimate
nese history shows clearly a symbiotic interaction of religion
what has since become the world’s oldest extant imperial sys-
and politics. Starting around the sixth century CE, correct
tem. King Tenmu (r. 673–686 CE) bolstered his imperial po-
governmental administration was based upon the principle
sition as emperor by co-opting the kind of authority tradi-
of saisei-itchi (a Chinese reading of the Japanese term mat-
tionally reserved for clan priests. A four-layered system of
surigoto), or “unity of ritual and government.” Any ruler
kami worship developed: imperial kami were superior to all
wanting his or her realm to prosper was obligated to formu-
others, the emperor as a “manifest kami” (akitsukami) direct-
late policies reflecting the will of the deities (kami), delivered
ly descended from the sun deity (Amaterasu) outranked clan
through oracles at certain ancient, powerful shrines (such as
chiefs, the most important rituals were conducted by the em-
Mount Miwa in the central region or at Usa Hachiman on
peror, and finally the imperial shrine at Ise stood above all
the island of Kyushu) and manifest also through omens and
other shrines. Tenmu also stationed an imperial princess at
natural phenomena. There is considerable but not conclusive
Ise to worship on his behalf and created the Council of Kami
evidence that powerful women shamans, one identified in
Affairs to supervise ritual activities of benefit to the state at
Chinese chronicles as Himiko, channeled the will of the
shrines. The concept of Japan as a “divine nation” (shinkoku)
kami as the basis of their rule in the second and third centu-
first appeared in a subsequent chronicle of 720 CE (the Ni-
ries CE.
honshoki) and then, as will be evident in a moment, emerges
again at various critical moments in Japan’s history.
When Buddhism first arrived in Japan in 538, it too be-
came a valuable resource in building a stable political and so-
Tenmu’s grandson Sho¯mu further developed Buddhism
cial order. The emperor Kinmei received a Buddha statue
as a tool of the state. In 741 CE he issued an edict requiring
and several volumes of scriptures from King Songmyong of
every province to build both a monastery and a nunnery,
Paekche (Korean Peninsula), who advised him that not only
where rituals aimed at protecting the regime (chingo kokka)
did great people of the past have full knowledge of the Bud-
could be held on a regular basis, conducted by priests and
dhist doctrine but also it had benefited those who built
nuns certified by the state. “Protect the country [through
strong states. Some of Kinmei’s vassals, who had been dis-
Buddhism] against all calamity, prevent sorrow and pesti-
placed and then immigrated from the Korean Peninsula
lence, and cause the hearts of believers to be filled with joy”
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND JAPANESE RELIGIONS
(Ko¯jiro, 1993, p. 255). At the center of power in what is now
climactic sea battle at Dan-no-ura, but also one of three im-
Nara in central Japan, Sho¯mu first consulted a kami oracle
perial regalia—a sword supposedly plucked from the tail of
(at Usa Hachiman in Kyushu) for approval, then constructed
a dragon and given by the kami to the imperial lineage—had
the To¯daiji temple, housing what was at that time the largest
also been lost at sea. Although the court held fast to the other
seated Buddha in the largest wooden building in the world,
two relics (a mirror and a magical jewel) and remained in
dedicated to the peace and prosperity of the state.
Kyoto with a newly installed emperor, political power moved
to Kamakura, far to the north. New and innovative align-
In many ways this early period of interactive religious
ments between religion and politics also ensued.
and political development created institutional precedents
for subsequent eras. Although the political power of emper-
The turmoil of clan warfare as well as the instability of
ors was soon usurped by regional clan chiefs, the structure
establishing military and administrative control provided an
of the imperial system, though buffeted by centuries of polit-
opening for radically different and highly popular religious
ical wrangling, would remain essentially unchanged until
movements—Pure Land, True Pure Land, Nichiren—to de-
1868. When the capital moved from Nara to nearby Kyoto
velop centers of political power during what was considered
in 793 CE (in part to escape the meddling influence of power-
a time of “degeneration of the Buddhist doctrine” (mappo¯).
ful Buddhist priests in Nara), its placement followed estab-
Though differing in religious emphasis (Amida’s Pure Land
lished “religious” designs strongly influenced by Chinese
paradise versus the magical effects of chanting the Lotus
Daoist principles that now are identified (with varying accu-
Su¯tra), all three movements were founded by charismatic
racy) as feng-shui, or geomancy. Before moving into the
monks (Ho¯nen, Shinran, and Nichiren, respectively) whose
Kyoto Plain, the court had to negotiate with powerful local
methods to reach salvation through chanting special prayers
shrines (such as Matsuo, Fushimi, and Kamo) and gain the
appealed to all social classes.
protection of their deities for the stability of the realm. It also
Nichiren in particular promoted his version of the Lotus
established temples (To¯ji, Saiji, Enryakuji) located at key di-
Su¯tra as an exclusive truth that, if adopted by the govern-
rectional quadrants of the capital (east, west, northeast, re-
ment, would save the nation from threats he predicted were
spectively) that would further enhance the court’s spiritual
immanent. Soon after this warning came the first Mongol
defenses.
invasion of 1274. Even though vastly outmanned by the
It would be safe to say that those in power during this
Mongol and Korean forces, a typhoon wrecked their fleet
time saw political and social change as well as calamities as
and forced a withdrawal in the first “divine wind” (kamikaze)
originating from the willful agency of meddlesome spirits,
intervention, attributed to the deity Hachiman. Incredibly
divine beings, and transhuman forces. For example, a belief
the second Mongol attack in 1281 also met the same fate,
in the power of departed spirits (goryo¯) gained considerable
but this was not enough to convince the state that Nichiren’s
influence during the Heian period (794–1192). These spirits
theocracy was correct.
were thought to be responsible for everything from epidem-
Although the new rulers of Japan were from the warrior
ics to earthquakes, as droughts, famines, stillbirths, pesti-
class, many of their religious affiliations followed established
lence, ominous dreams, and so on were “imbued with a
patterns. They rebuilt the clan shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachi-
strong political coloration: disasters of all kinds were a ba-
man, dedicated to the kami of military power and swift inter-
rometer of political injustices” (McMullin, 1988, p. 272).
vention. Also just as King Tenmu had done in the Nara peri-
When the Fujiwara clan rose to power through intrigue,
od, the next generation of rulers, the Ho¯jo¯, established a
assassinations, and exile, these moves left in their wake a
ranking system of regional temples as well as “temples for the
number of departed and potentially vengeful spirits. The first
peace of the nation” (ankokuji). An influential text by Kita-
rite to propitiate six of these spirits in particular, believed re-
batake (1293–1354) titled Chronicle of the Direct Descent of
sponsible for an epidemic of tuberculosis, was held in 863
Gods and Sovereigns argued that Japan is a “divine country”
CE, later developing into one of the nation’s three most fa-
(shinkoku) and helped to develop further a national con-
mous festivals, Kyoto’s midsummer Gion Festival. Likewise
sciousness among ruling elites.
a court official exiled to Kyushu around this same time, Su-
The Kamakura government promoted and patronized
gawara Michizane (845–903 CE), was later believed to have
both Zen and Pure Land Buddhism as favored institutions.
returned as a vengeful spirit to wreak havoc via lightning,
Major Zen temples, many of which had head abbots from
flooding, and fires upon the city and court. Shrines dedicated
China or who had studied in China, were organized by the
to his spirit, known as Tenjin or Tenmangu¯ shrines, are still
state into the gozan or “five mountain temple” system around
prevalent in Japan and are thought to be propitious for aca-
1298. Samurai warriors and their feudal lords found in Zen
demic success. Another vivid example of goryo¯ belief will be
Buddhism the discipline, self-negation, and nonostentatious
encountered in the contemporary period.
aesthetics amenable to their code of loyalty and service
MIDDLE PERIOD. Following a major battle between support-
(bushido¯). Should samurai die in service to their lord, the
ers of the court (Taira) and a rival faction (Minamoto) in
saints of Pure Land Buddhism (particularly one noted for
1185, political power again shifted both to a new clan and
compassion, Kannon) were ready to usher their souls into the
location. Not only had the infant emperor drowned in the
western paradise of the Amida Buddha.
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7273
The regional nation-protecting temples established ear-
Nobunaga’s successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was still
lier had become centers of enormous wealth and territory,
quelling rebellions against his rule and so had less tolerance
some of which rivaled the central government before and
for a faith thought to shift allegiance away from the shogun
during the Kamakura period. Because of ongoing political
toward a foreign notion of transcendent divinity. What had
conflict, these religious estates (sho¯en) became even more au-
been a system of lucrative trade (as “Black Ships” traveled
tonomous and powerful. Fearful of losing territory to rival
from Europe to Asia and back again) and a permissive atti-
estates, sho¯en administrators began a practice of turning low-
tude (allowing the building of churches in local fiefs) was
ranking monks into security personnel to defend their terri-
now curtailed in 1587 as Hideyoshi accused the missionaries
torial interests and policies. Over time, these “priest soldiers”
of preaching a “devilish law in the land of the kami,” again
(so¯hei) developed into fierce fighting units dressed in the garb
evoking the sacred nation concept. Throughout the coming
of mountain monks.
decades and after the Tokugawa clan seized firm control of
In Kyoto so¯hei monks at Enryakuji temple atop Mount
the country in 1600 after Hideyoshi’s death, Christianity was
Hiei, home to the Tendai sect of Buddhism, were notorious
both tolerated and reviled, with a final persecution and ex-
for descending into the city with sacred regalia at the front
pulsion of missionaries occurring in 1639. The military gov-
of their procession and intimidating the imperial court or
ernment then closed itself off from Western trade and diplo-
battling rival factions. They fought with and burned to the
macy for over two hundred years.
ground at least six times a temple (Mii-dera) north of Mount
The rise of the Tokugawa was credited to the cunning
Hiei whose founder had split from Enryakuji in the tenth
brilliance of its founder, Ieyasu, but he (as well as subsequent
century. They clashed with the great Nara temples (in partic-
Tokugawa leaders) was ably assisted by several Buddhist
ular Ko¯fukuji), battled against new Pure Land sects (includ-
priests (such as Hayashi Raizan and the abbot of Nanzenji
ing destroying the tomb of the founder of Pure Land Bud-
temple, Su¯den) as well as by neo-Confucian scholars. After
dhism in Japan, Ho¯nen), burned the headquarters of the
his death in 1615, he was deified (as had been all previous
Higashi Honganji Pure Land sect in 1465, and destroyed
military leaders) and later enshrined in the mountains at
twenty-one Nichiren temples in Kyoto in 1536.
Nikko¯ in a temple-shrine complex (the To¯sho¯gu¯) unsur-
For nearly five hundred years neither the military gov-
passed for its ostentatious extravagance.
ernment in faraway Kamakura, nor the imperial court in
As their predecessors had done, the Tokugawa used
Kyoto, nor fragile alliances of regional warlords could control
Buddhist temples throughout the land to promote the stabil-
the Enryakuji militias. But in 1571 they finally met their
ity of their regime. Not only were rituals held, but the tem-
match. Having angered Oda Nobunaga (who was soon to
ples themselves were organized into the terauke system to
become Japan’s first leader of a centralized state after nearly
serve as extensions of state administration: all those residing
three hundred years of internal wars) by siding with his op-
within a temple’s traditional precincts had to register as
ponents, he led twenty-five thousand samurai against the
members of that temple. By doing so the populace entered
mountain monks. His forces not only killed over three thou-
into a system of religiously based surveillance and moni-
sand priests and monks of all ranks but burned to ashes one
toring.
of the most sacred religious sites in Japan. After all, the tem-
ple was established in 788 CE first as a hermitage and later
Shrines were also part of the Tokugawa government’s
was reconsecrated for protecting the city from malevolent
system of control. Fearing a resurgence of Christian senti-
spirit forces issuing from the northeast. Shortly after No-
ments in the major port city of Nagasaki, the military gov-
bunaga was assassinated in 1582, the Enryakuji complex was
ernment sponsored a revitalization of kami-based rites and
slowly rebuilt in the same location.
institutions. The city’s main Shinto¯ shrine, Suwa Jinja, dates
T
from 1614 and enshrines a deity known for its military prow-
HE MODERN PERIOD. Despite Nobunaga’s razing of the
ess and vigilance. Like many others, the shrine also hosts on
Mount Hiei temples, he was not antireligious and contribut-
its grounds a subsidiary of the main shrine to the deified
ed to many important temples and shrines during his short
Tokugawa founder.
rule. He also permitted contact with foreign Jesuit Catholic
missionaries who had first appeared in southern Japan in
Beginning around 1825, more than two centuries after
1549. They followed three Portuguese adventurers who had
the Tokugawa clan gained control of the state, serious fis-
traveled aboard a Chinese ship and landed in 1543, making
sures in their administrative competence were becoming ap-
a favorable impression with their matchlock rifles, a technol-
parent. Critics of the inward-looking and increasingly cor-
ogy that would revolutionize clan warfare in Japan. Trade
rupt feudal system feared Japan would be invaded and
ensued over the next decade, although it was closely linked
colonized by more technologically advanced European and
to the missionaries as translators and middlemen. Through
American powers. To avoid a fate shared by China and India,
these relations, Christianity established a foundation in west-
samurai scholars and administrators began a discourse on re-
ern Japan for roughly sixty years, bringing with it European-
form, often at the cost of their careers and sometimes their
born missionaries who also conveyed to Japanese scholars
lives. Klaus Antoni noted in Religion and National Identity
ideas about science, engineering, cartography, anatomy, and
in the Japanese Context (2003) that this ideology of a national
medicine.
polity, or kokutai, began to emerge among scholars of “na-
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND JAPANESE RELIGIONS
tional” (rather than foreign) learning (kokugaku) who pro-
and rituals that promoted state ideologies. Only two years
moted a reexamination and revitalization of Japan’s ancient
after the revolution ended, an 1870 attempt to create a codi-
myths and the imperial system they legitimized. National
fied national religion based on kami worship failed. None-
learning scholars developed a “postulated common ethnici-
theless schools began teaching imperial and national mythol-
ty” that promoted a strong and unified imagined community
ogy as if it were history, effectively sidestepping the
under the emperor’s rule.
contentious issue of freedom of religion. Domestic and for-
eign critics of this policy were told that Shinto¯ was not a reli-
In ways similar to the formative period of civilization
gion but a matter of social etiquette and long-established
in the early fourth and fifth centuries, Japan was once again
custom.
exalted as a “land of the kami” whose emperor provided a
direct link to the nation’s founding deities. By extension the
By the late 1880s the Japanese state had the necessary
Japanese people, like one big extended family, were also priv-
ideologies, laws, and infrastructure to establish itself as a
ileged to have something termed the “soul of Japan” (yamato-
modern nation—which meant in part exploiting political
damashi) running through their blood. Sharing so many
weakness in surrounding countries (China, Formosa, and
commonalities—language, race, culture, ethnicity, respect
Korea) in order to appropriate their natural and human re-
for kami and buddhas, veneration of ancestors—and with
sources. With a war almost every ten years, soldiers killed in
the emperor as both father figure and “deity visible as a
service to the nation were honored at a special Shinto¯ shrine
human being” (arahitogami), the national learning scholars
built by the government—Yasukuni—where their spirits
attempted to influence political policy toward the establish-
could be propitiated, calmed, and then employed as guard-
ment of a state that could defend itself against colonizing
ians of the empire. Like the goryo¯ belief established in the
predators.
tenth century, the “peaceful nation shrine” incorporated po-
Over a decade after American gunboat diplomacy
tentially vengeful spirits and transformed them via pacifying
forced open Japan’s ports beginning in 1853, troops allied
rituals. Outside Tokyo large upright stones (chukonhi) served
with samurai reformers (who wanted a modern state based
as memorials to the military dead after the Russo-Japanese
on European parliamentary models but headed by an emper-
War (1906–1907) and were likewise sanctified through both
or) clashed with those of the feudal Tokugawa government,
Shinto¯ and Buddhist rituals. Community officials, school
with the former emerging victorious in 1868. This major
administrators, and citizen leaders were constantly engaged
transition in Japanese history ushered in an age of radical
in these and other plans to promote national ideologies and
change and innovation in many areas but none more striking
agendas. Helen Hardacre has shown in her important work
than the interaction of religion and politics. One of Japan’s
Shinto¯ and the State, 1868–1988 (1989) that alternate ver-
founding fathers, Fukuzawa Yukichi, observed, “There is
sions, espoused by new religious movements such as
only a government in Japan, but still no nation.” It would
Tenrikyo¯, Kurozumikyo, Konko¯kyo¯, So¯ka Gakkai, and
take a new and oftentimes coercive alignment of religion and
O
¯ motokyo¯, were seen as subversive “pseudo-religions,” with
politics to produce the national consciousness he sought.
some headquarters destroyed and founders harassed and im-
prisoned.
First, the new government legitimated the kokutai ideol-
ogy described earlier as central to their agendas of moderniza-
Even after the Pacific war ended with Japan’s defeat in
tion, industrialization, education, and socialization. Similar
1945, Yasukuni shrine (and the regional “nation-protecting”
to King Tenmu in the seventh century, the emperor’s divini-
shrines established in 1939) were permitted to continue ven-
ty was emphasized even as the country embarked on an am-
erating over 2.466 million spirits of the military dead, in-
bitious race to catch up with other industrialized world pow-
cluding (after 1978) officers deemed “class-A” war criminals
ers. Because of its association with the feudal regime,
by the Tokyo War Crimes tribunal. Although the Japanese
Buddhism suffered through a brief but destructive persecu-
constitution’s Article 20 specifically prohibits any govern-
tion in the 1870s and 1880s but recovered state patronage
mental sponsorship of religious activity or institutions, sever-
and influence in the early twentieth century. As in the past
al postwar prime ministers (Miki, Nakasone, Hashimoto,
Buddhist leaders once again promoted the “unity of royal law
Koizumi) have made official visits to the shrine to pay their
and the Buddha-dharma” (o¯bo¯ Buppo¯ furi) and actively par-
respects and to appease political supporters. As might be ex-
ticipated in Japan’s territorial and militaristic expansion.
pected after these visits, both public and diplomatic protests
erupt in countries once occupied and ravaged by Japan’s mil-
Of far more utility to the state was the ancient religious
itary. In 2000 a prime minister used the phrase “kami no
and ritual tradition of venerating local and regional kami,
kuni,” or “land of the kami,” to describe Japan and set off
known to scholars as Shinto¯ (way of the kami). Every village
a similar furor because of prewar associations fusing religion
had at least one Shinto¯ shrine that could be linked to the
and politics as the ideology of a nation fighting a divinely
state cult of the emperor and the sun goddess. Since Shinto¯
sanctioned war.
had no sacred texts or a centralized, organizational structure,
the Meiji government used shrines in much the same way
There is less ambiguity regarding the government’s atti-
the Tokugawa had used local Buddhist temples: to register
tude toward religious organizations, especially after the Aum
and monitor residents but also to involve them with festivals
Shinrikyo¯ group’s sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways in
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN RELIGIONS
7275
1995. With twelve deaths and over five thousand injuries,
Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nation-
the Japanese government moved quickly to revise laws on re-
alisms. Chicago, 2002.
ligious organizations. Increased reporting requirements and
Reader, Ian. Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case
monitoring, more financial transparency, and greater gov-
of Aum Shinrikyo¯. Honolulu, 2000.
ernmental powers to restrict activities were the result. Taking
Shimazono, Susumu. Posuto-modan no Shin Shu¯kyo¯ (Post-Modern
this case and state reaction as a precedent, one can surmise
New Religions). Tokyo, 2001.
that the coming years will increasingly reflect worldwide
Stone, Jacqueline. Original Enlightenment and the Transformation
standards among highly industrialized nations in treating re-
of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Honolulu, 1999.
ligious activity as a private, civil right but that religious orga-
Stronach, Bruce. Beyond the Rising Sun: Nationalism in Contempo-
nizations must be carefully monitored for antistate activities.
rary Japan. Westport, Conn., 1995.
At the same time one should not underestimate the historic
appeal of religious movements in Japan that promote within
JOHN K. NELSON (2005)
a rhetoric of democracy and peace both state stability and a
veneration of the imperial household.
S
POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND
EE ALSO Aum Shinrikyo
¯; New Religious Movements, arti-
cle on New Religious Movements in Japan; So¯ka Gakkai.
ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN RELIGIONS
A discussion of religion and politics in the ancient Mediterra-
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vinities and a system of rituals and sanctuaries that would or-
Ketelaar, James. Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan. Princeton,
N.J., 1990.
ganize the universe and the divine world in a religious
system. The system so constructed concerned itself with the
Kisala, Robert, and Mark Mulllins. Religion and Social Crisis in
proper performance of ritual actions to maintain the cosmic
Japan. New York, 2001.
order rather than with issues of belief or ethics—orthopraxy
Ko¯jiro, Naoki. “The Nara State.” Translated by Felicia Bock. In
rather than orthodoxy. In this type of system, religion and
The Cambridge History of Japan: Ancient Japan, edited by De-
lmer Brown, pp. 222–267. New York, 1993.
the state were fundamentally intertwined.
McMullin, Neil. “On Placating the Gods and Pacifying the Popu-
The interrelationship of religion and politics in these so-
lace: The Case of the Gion Goryo Cult.” History of Religions
cieties led naturally to a high degree of integration between
27 (1988): 270–293.
religious authority and political authority. Indeed, even to
Nakano, T., T. Iida, and H. Yamanaka, eds. Shu¯kyo¯ to National-
use the categories of religious authority and political authori-
ism (Religion and Nationalism). Kyoto, Japan, 1997.
ty with regard to the ancient world is anachronistic, for au-
Nelson, John. A Year in the Life of a Shinto¯ Shrine. Seattle, Wash.,
thority was not divided along these lines. Often the persons
1996.
whom most people would categorize as priests acted more
Nelson, John. Enduring Identities: The Guise of Shinto¯ in Contem-
as administrators, responsible for the upkeep of the sanctuary
porary Japan. Honolulu, 2000.
and its possessions and for the performance of rites. This is
Nelson, John. “Social Memory as Ritual Practice: Commemorat-
well illustrated by the Greek term conventionally translated
ing Spirits of the Military Dead at Yasukuni Shinto Shrine.”
as priest, hiereus, which literally means “the one in charge of
Journal of Asian Studies 62 (2003): 443–468.
the sacred things” (cf. the Latin sacerdos, “giver of the sa-
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cred”). None of these traditions possessed sacred texts or rev-
“private” they may seem to moderns, still fall within the
elations that might dictate human behavior, so priests never
realm of public religion as defined in the ancient world. “Pri-
formed a branch with specialized training completely sepa-
vate” religious actions did not focus on eschatological salva-
rate from the institutions of the state. It fell to the state to
tion but involved different subsets of the larger community,
develop mechanisms designed to appease the power of the
and in this way continued to be public; indeed this behavior
transcendent beings, and the role of the priests was not to
highlights the inadequacy of the terms “public” and “private”
explicate the system, but to perform the proper rituals.
when used with regard to the ancient world. Polis-religion
Though it will become clear below that priests functioned
made room for individual behavior—and welcomed it—
differently in each of these societies, the selection of priests
because such behavior was mediated through the state, which
in each society and the manner in which they fulfilled their
had approved the deities or cults to whom these “private” of-
duties mirrored the political structure and developments
ferings were made or had incorporated cults that involved
within that structure to a remarkable degree.
personal behavior into its religious structure. “Private” reli-
gion may have provided opportunities for the individual to
Part of the explanation for the close links between reli-
perform rituals rather than to be an observer at a state festi-
gion and politics in the ancient Mediterranean lies in the fact
val, but it cannot be seen as an activity completely separable
that, unlike in most modern traditions, the very purpose of
from political life. Despite the individual differences between
these systems was to safeguard and improve the welfare of
the societies of the ancient Mediterranean, there is no clear
the state. The very notion of separating religion and state
demarcation between the spheres of religion and politics—or
would have astonished these societies; religion and politics
between religious and political authority—in any of them,
could not be considered separate spheres of human activity
down to the end of the Western Roman Empire and beyond.
because both were directed toward the prosperity of the com-
MESOPOTAMIA. Because of their similarities and their influ-
munity. Each city had its own tutelary divinity, and with the
ence upon one another, the religions of the ancient Tigris
rise of centralized states, the tutelary deities of the leading
and Euphrates River valley will be treated together here,
city often became state deities. The success of the state was
though of course Assyrian and Babylonian religions differed
felt to depend on the favor of these deities, and its failure was
in some respects. For the ancient Mesopotamian, the divini-
interpreted as a sign that the deities had abandoned the state.
ties were responsible for creating order out of the chaos that
Thus one of the primary functions of the state authorities
existed before creation. The king, considered the earthly rep-
was to maintain the favor of the divine through the proper
resentative of the gods, was entrusted with maintaining order
performance of rituals, as noted above. Given the connection
on earth, and in this way the religious beliefs of ancient Mes-
between religion and state, political relationships and diplo-
opotamia buttressed the political system that developed in
macy between states might be expressed through religious ac-
the region. The interlocking nature of the political and reli-
tions. Such actions are not evidence of the manipulation of
gious authorities can be seen most clearly in the Assyrian
religion for political purposes; they bespeak rather the deep
Akitu ceremony, where the king’s right to rule for the next
interpenetration of religion within the life of these ancient
year was granted to him by the divine beings, while the
Mediterranean societies. Functions that many modern tradi-
princes and the nobility renewed their oaths of loyalty. That
tions consider to be the province of religion, such as the en-
religion was important to Assyrian kings throughout the year
forcement of ethical standards, were the responsibility of the
and not just at this ceremony can be seen from letters of the
community, while the well-being of the community and its
Sargonid period, many of which discuss the numerous reli-
members, which most people tend to imagine as the purpose
gious obligations of the king. While temples in the Near East
of politics, was the primary purpose of religion. In these cir-
tended to have their own hierarchies of personnel and to own
cumstances, religion was inherently a part of political life:
significant amounts of property, the kings still wielded sig-
every communal action had a religious aspect and every reli-
nificant authority over the priests. The head of the temple
gious action had a communal aspect.
was responsible to the king as the representative of the gods,
and many of these temple estates also derived income from
Late-twentieth-century scholarship, perhaps driven by
royal benefits as well as from their own property holdings.
an increasing focus on individualism in the modern world,
To the extent that the temples became dependent on royal
paid significant attention to the role of the individual citizen
grants rather than on their own holdings, they came under
within these traditions. On the one hand, this research em-
more direct control of the kings, further eradicating the dis-
phasized that the presence of ritual formalism did not mean
tinction between religious and political authority.
that ancient Mediterranean religion was devoid of spirituali-
ty and that its coldness left individuals unsatisfied. By partici-
The “rise and fall” of individual Mesopotamian divini-
pating in civic rituals individuals affirmed their membership
ties also provides a very clear example of the interdependence
in the community, while the lack of an official dogma left
of politics and religion at the level of city or state relations.
individuals free to conceive of the gods and the world as they
The history of Babylonia demonstrates how the rise of indi-
saw fit. Scholars have also noted the many religious actions
vidual cities to prominence brought their tutelary deities to
performed by individuals, in addition to their participation
the level of national gods; Marduk, the primary god of Baby-
as spectators in large state rituals. These actions, however
lon, became the national deity of the Babylonian empire and
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7277
with the decline of Babylonian power saw a concomitant loss
rulers of the New Kingdom (c. 1550–1100 BCE) joined
of worshipers. The process could also work in the opposite
Amun with Re and made the new deity the supreme god of
direction; the neo-Assyrian empire from the ninth to the sev-
Egypt. During the latter period especially, the priesthood of
enth centuries BCE destroyed temples and carried cult statues
Amun-Ra amassed great wealth due to royal generosity, and
into captivity to emphasize the weakness of those gods and
thus wielded significant political power, to the point of hav-
goddesses and of the peoples whom they were supposed to
ing influence on the selection of a new king. The celebrated
protect. In keeping with this ideology, shrines to Ashur, the
reforms of Akhenaton (c. 1350–1336 BCE), who attempted
eponymous god of the traditional first capital of the Assyrian
to install the sun-disk Aton as the sole god of Egypt and
empire, might be placed in some cities, but the Assyrians also
erected a new palace and temple complex for this purpose,
rebuilt temples or restored images as a means of conducting
may have been intended in part to break the power of the
imperial policy. Religion thus provided one means of taking
priesthood of Amun-Ra. The attempt ultimately failed, and
political action and marking political developments in both
when the centralized power of the New Kingdom gave way
Assyria and Babylonia.
at the end of the Twentieth dynasty, the priests of Amun-Ra
EGYPT. The relationship between religion and politics in
found themselves the effective rulers of southern Egypt. As
Egypt has many striking affinities with the situation in Meso-
in Mesopotamia, political and religious authority were inter-
potamia, despite some major theological differences. Because
locked and developed to the point where distinctions be-
the Nile River, the lifeblood of ancient Egypt, operated on
tween the two are difficult to make.
a much more regular cycle of flood and retreat than the Ti-
GREECE. The situation in ancient Greece presents some
gris and Euphrates, Egyptian divinities were considered guar-
marked differences to that in the Near Eastern kingdoms,
antors of a stable cosmic order rather than forces that might
though some similarities can be observed. Considering that
unleash chaos at any moment. The outstanding feature of
in Greece one does not find a unified polity ruled by a single
Egyptian society during its long history as an independent
king, but a plethora of independent polities usually governed
polity, from roughly 3000 BCE until the capture of Alexan-
by aristocracies, it should not be surprising to find differ-
dria by the Romans in 30 BCE, was that the king was consid-
ences in the relationship between religious and political au-
ered to be of divine essence, a god incarnate. Egyptians iden-
thorities. In Greece there was no separate class of priests, but
tified the king as Horus, king of the gods, and each successive
rather religious personnel were drawn from the citizen body
king took a Horus-name upon his succession. In the Egyp-
just as were civic officials, and indeed they were often select-
tian conception, the primary responsibility of the gods, and
ed and served in the same manner. For instance at Athens,
thus of the king as Horus, was to maintain the cosmic and
priests and priestesses were frequently chosen by lot and
timeless order of the Egyptian world, and in this way Egyp-
served a term of a single year; the number of hereditary and
tian religious belief supported the institution of kingship.
lifelong positions was always small and diminished over time.
In practice the existence of numerous local cults
This similarity underscores the fact that in ancient Greece
throughout Egypt complicated the situation. Each cult pos-
civic and religious authority were really two aspects of the
sessed its own temple and cult structures, as in Mesopotamia,
same power; both were charged to protect the well-being of
and was served by its own local priesthood, and each priest-
the state.
hood aimed at advancing the claims of its divinity toward
primacy. Egyptian ruling dynasties when they came to power
The fact that religion was so embedded in the life of
tended to raise their local cult to the status of supreme royal
every Greek city meant that considerations which most peo-
god, and the shifting importance of Ptah, Re, and Amun in
ple would label religious often played a major role in both
Egyptian history owes much to the changes in Egyptian
internal and external affairs. Public spaces, such as the agora
dynasties. But as in Mesopotamia, the relationship between
in Athens, were in fact consecrated religious spaces, and cities
kings and priests was not a one-way street; as Egyptian
might display their civic pride through religion. The temples
dynasties sought to raise individual cults to supremacy by
of the Acropolis in Athens, built in the second half of the
granting their priesthoods special favors, they ceded power
fifth century BCE, are the best-known example of a city’s self-
to those priesthoods as well. The supremacy of the kings may
promotion through religion, but other cities used religious
have been felt most strongly in the Old Kingdom, from
spaces in similar ways. Less significant states such as Sicyon
roughly 2700 to 2200
or Siphnos erected elaborately decorated buildings, filled
BCE, the period in which the great Pyr-
amids of Giza were constructed. By the end of this period,
with dedications, at Panhellenic sites such as Delphi in order
however, the kings had adopted the title “Son of Re,” per-
to boost their image among the other Greeks. While each
haps implying that they no longer held a status equal to the
city might promote its tutelary divinity, the fragmentation
sun-god. That fact, and the disappearance of the king’s rela-
of political authority throughout Greece meant that the tem-
tives from the higher ranks of priests, may indicate that the
porary predominance of one state, such as Athens, did not
kings had lost much of their power to the priesthoods, a
lead to the promotion of that state’s deity (in this case Athe-
trend that repeated itself throughout Egyptian history.
na) at the expense of others, as it did in the Near East.
The Theban princes of the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000–
Despite their political fragmentation, the Greeks recog-
1800 BCE) raised Amun to a position of primacy, whereas the
nized that they shared a common bond. Religion, especially
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in the form of shared practices and sanctuaries, served as one
the Roman religious system was quite open to the incorpora-
of the primary markers of Greek identity. Of the Panhellenic
tion of foreign religious traditions, including even the adop-
sanctuaries, the oracle at Delphi was one religious authority
tion of cults of defeated enemies, the imperial expansion of
in Greece that made itself felt in all of the Greek city-states.
Rome can be read in the expansion of her pantheon, as ele-
Delphi was customarily consulted prior to the foundation of
ments first from other cities on the Italian peninsula, then
a new colony, a declaration of war, and other momentous
from Sicily, Greece, Africa, and the Levant found homes
decisions; the Spartans’ decision to aid in the overthrow of
within the Roman state religion. Roman religious imperial-
the tyranny at Athens in 510 BCE, which ultimately led to
ism is scarcely separable from her territorial imperialism.
the establishment of Athenian democracy, was driven in part
In similar fashion the organization of political power
by a series of responses they had received from the oracle. But
and religious power at Rome proceeds from the same
even here the authority of the Delphic oracle was limited, for
sources. The same principles guided the selection of both
her ambiguous utterances needed interpretation, and this left
civic and religious authorities: during the Republic (c. 509–
sufficient room for politicians to pursue their chosen paths
31 BCE), the intent was to keep power in the hands of the
by interpreting the oracle in a manner favorable to their poli-
aristocracy while at the same time not allowing any one
cies. For example, during the Persian Wars, Themistocles fa-
member of the aristocracy to accumulate too much power.
mously interpreted an ambiguous, but largely negative, ora-
So while the records of membership in the religious colleges
cle to mean that the Athenians should pursue his policy of
at Rome are filled with the same prominent names of Rome’s
staking their all on a naval campaign at Salamis (480 BCE).
political history, tradition dictated that no person should
The fact that Greeks from many city-states consulted the or-
serve in more than one college. Furthermore, these colleges
acle at Delphi should therefore not be considered as evidence
in essence were advisory only: the civic magistrates them-
of religious authority external to the state; rather, the oracle
selves carried out the necessary religious rituals, with the aid
formed a part of the entire system of religion embedded with
of a priestly advisor, while the Senate needed to approve deci-
civic authority.
sions pertaining to the state religious system. As in other
The high degree of correlation between civic and reli-
Mediterranean societies, religious authority had no separate
gious authority in ancient Greece aids in understanding one
existence in Rome.
of the dominant religious trends in Greece during the Helle-
Just as Roman expansion can be seen in the expansion
nistic period (323–30 BCE): the development of ruler cult.
of the Roman pantheon, internal political change can be read
The rise of Macedon brought the inhabitants of Greece
in religious developments. For instance, as the non-
under the rule of kings, and the religious system naturally
aristocratic residents of Rome began to muscle their way into
changed to accommodate the altered political landscape. Un-
the political arena, the method of selection for the priestly
like their Near Eastern counterparts, Hellenistic kings were
colleges changed from co-option to election by secret ballot.
not worshiped as representatives of the divine on earth, but
On the other side, as individual Romans began to accrue
as divinities themselves. Scholars following the seminal work
greater power and amass a series of unprecedented offices,
of Simon Price (Rituals and Power, 1984) have moved be-
their religious behavior reflected their changed status. Indi-
yond asking whether rulers were really considered to be gods
viduals such as Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138–78 BCE) or Pom-
or whether this was simply a means of expressing their tran-
pey the Great (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, 106–48 BCE) in-
scendent political power. Rather, the two kinds of power
creasingly used religious actions or religious offices to further
were inseparable—the locus of political power was the locus
their careers or attempted to claim divine sanction for their
of religious power as well, whether that be a corporate body
activities. Though precedents existed in Rome for this type
of citizens or an individual. The absence of sharp distinctions
of behavior, it occurred more frequently and on a larger scale
between the religious and the political in earlier periods of
in the Late Republic and thus presented a challenge to the
Greek history meant that ruler cult could be grafted onto the
traditional Roman form of religion, just as these newly pow-
religious systems of the Hellenistic period without serious
erful individuals challenged the Roman political structure.
difficulty.
Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE), whose actions ultimately result-
ROME. The study of Roman religion has perhaps been most
ed in the end of the republican system of government, first
affected by the recognition that the entanglement of religion
drew attention to himself by unexpectedly winning (in 63
with politics signifies the health of the system, not its decay.
BCE) the election for pontifex maximus, the most important
Indeed it is scarcely possible to imagine a public action at
priestly office in Rome, even though it had limited authority
Rome that could be undertaken without religious approval:
even over religious affairs. Caesar also promoted himself by
declarations of war, decisions of when to offer battle, elec-
claiming a connection to the goddess Venus as his special di-
tions, judicial proceedings—all took place literally under the
vine patron. Rather than a sign of decay, as scholars looking
auspices of the divine. In these circumstances, it should be
to explain the emergence of Christianity long argued, these
expected that political developments, both external and in-
developments are a natural outgrowth of a society with a
ternal, would be reflected in religion. The Romans them-
high degree of integration between politics and religion. As
selves were quite aware of this connection; indeed Roman
the political structure underwent revolutionary changes, reli-
ideology ascribed their imperial success to their piety. Since
gious changes paralleled the political.
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND CHRISTIANITY
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The actions of Augustus (63 BCE–14 CE), as he effected
pp. 13–37. Oxford, and New York, 2000. The Oxford Read-
the transformation in Rome from a Republic to an imperial
ings collection includes several other essays of interest, in-
system, clearly reflect these changes. During the struggle for
cluding another discussion of polis religion by Sourvinou-
power, Augustus made effective use not only of claims to a
Inwood, as well as one by Robert Parker on Greek states and
special connection with Venus, but also, following the deifi-
oracles.
cation of Caesar in 42 BCE, of his status as the son of a god.
Woolf, Greg. “Polis-Religion and Its Alternatives in the Roman
In this regard he followed the pattern already laid down by
Provinces.” In Roman Religion, edited by Clifford Ando,
Caesar and others, but he also inaugurated a pattern of ruler
pp. 39–54. Edinburgh, 2004.
cult that closely approximated the Hellenistic model, even
ERIC M. ORLIN (2005)
if most Roman emperors were careful not to be openly wor-
shiped in Rome itself. The priesthoods provide perhaps the
best view of the revolution in Roman society: Augustus was
the first to serve on all the religious colleges at once, and after
POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND
scrupulously waiting for the death of the previous pontifex
CHRISTIANITY
maximus he assumed that position as well. As he consolidated
Although the relation of Christians to their governing politi-
political authority under his control, it was natural for him
cal power usually follows Jesus’s teaching, “Give to Caesar
also to consolidate religious authority. Subsequent emperors
what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” interpretations
followed his lead, so that henceforth when the titular head
of this command vary with different historical circumstances
of Roman religion spoke, the head of the Roman Empire
and traditions. In Jesus’s time, the relation of the Jews to
spoke at the same time. Ultimately, this combination of reli-
their Roman conquerors was different from the relation a
gious and political authority in the figure of the pontifex max-
thousand years later of Christians to Christian emperors. An-
imus outlived the Roman Empire in the West, as it came to
other thousand years later the relationship has become, for
be embodied in the Pope, who continues to reside in Rome.
the most part and particularly in democracies, one of separa-
tion of church and state.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Beard, Mary, and John North, eds. Pagan Priests: Religion and
THE PRE-CONSTANTINIAN CHURCH. The first followers of
Power in the Ancient World. Ithaca, N.Y., 1990. An outstand-
Jesus were Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the time of his cruci-
ing comparative collection, including essays on both My-
fixion, death, and—according to the Gospel of Luke and the
cenean and Classical Greece, Republican and Imperial
Book of Acts—his resurrection and ascension to the right
Rome, Ptolemaic Egypt, and sixth-century Babylonia.
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mand bishops continued in the Byzantine Empire, estab-
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lished in 330 when Constantine moved from Rome to By-
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND CHRISTIANITY
Gaul, Clovis, the ruler of the Franks, converted to Christian-
iarists,” a group of clergy and philosophers who wanted to
ity in 496 CE. The Franks became fierce defenders of their
reform the church by decentralizing it and convening coun-
Christian faith and lands. Another Frank, Charles the Ham-
cils every five years. They argued that the church should re-
mer (Charles Martel, c. 688–741), halted the advance of
turn to the methods of the first four centuries, when the peo-
Islam into Europe by defeating the Muslim army at Poitiers
ple elected their bishops. The pope’s role, they argued,
in 732. His grandson was Charles the Great (Charlemagne),
should be that of an executive secretary carrying out the deci-
who ruled from 768 to 814 and by 800 had conquered most
sions of a representative council consisting not only of clergy
of central Europe, from the Pyrenees to the Rhine River.
but of laymen and, according to Marsilius of Padua and Wil-
liam of Ockham, of laywomen as well—a remarkable idea
Charlemagne imposed as uniform a Christianity as his
in a time of male dominance. Although Pope Eugene IV
fine organizational skills could manage. He brought the
(r. 1431–1447) succeeded in defeating conciliarism, the con-
scholar Alcuin (c. 735–804) from Britain to Gaul and in
ciliarists had brought the West another step toward democra-
other ways fostered learning, leading to what is known as the
cy.
Carolingian Renaissance. Under Charlemagne monasteries
adopted the Benedictine Rule and became repositories of
At the council, Eugene disappointed a delegation from
learning; monks copied manuscripts, sometimes in the new,
the Byzantine emperor, John VIII Palaeologus (r. 1425–
flowing “Carolingian minuscule.” When rebellion threat-
1448), who sought military aid against the Turks. From
ened Pope Leo III, he appealed to Charlemagne, who thence-
Constantine on, the Byzantine emperor or empress ruled the
forth became the papal champion. On Christmas Day, 800,
Eastern church, whose patriarchs never gained the kind of
Leo crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans. Latin
power exercised by the Roman popes. When Constantino-
Christianity now had a strong emperor whose very success
ple, the “second Rome,” fell to the Turks in 1453, the Rus-
emphasized a latent problem: the relation of the pope to the
sian Orthodox church assumed leadership of Eastern Chris-
emperor.
tianity, and its main seat in Moscow became the “third
Rome.” Similar liturgies and hierarchies, barely changed
As a Christian Charlemagne was subject to the pope,
since the days of Constantine, united the Orthodox church-
but Leo depended upon Charlemagne for military protec-
es. Relative to the Latin church of the West, state-control
tion. So who was the more powerful, the pope who crowned
Orthodox churches offered fewer opportunities for rebellion
Charlemagne or the emperor whose army stood at the gates
by nobles, clergy, or philosophers. The lands of Eastern
of Rome during the coronation? The tug-of-war between
Christianity thus had no counterparts to the Magna Carta
pope and emperor continued until the Reformation of the
or the conciliarist movement, and they experienced nothing
sixteenth century split Western Christianity and established
like the splintering the Western church underwent in the six-
a new political-religious dynamic. A few salient encounters
teenth-century.
will clarify the nature of the continuing conflict. After Pope
FROM THE REFORMATION TO THE ENLIGHTENMENT. Mar-
Gregory VII (r. 1073–1085) stripped the secular power of
tin Luther began the Protestant Reformation in 1517, insist-
the right to invest bishops with the insignia of their pastoral
ing on the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the
office, Emperor Henry IV summoned a synod of bishops,
right of individual Christians to read the Bible in their own
who in 1075 voted to depose Gregory. Gregory retaliated by
languages and to interpret its meaning themselves. This
excommunicating Henry. Since excommunication dissolved
move toward individualism was another step toward the doc-
the feudal bond between rulers and their subjects, Henry re-
trines of human rights that developed during the subsequent
pented, kneeling in the snow outside the papal residence at
two centuries. Luther survived papal condemnation and the
Canossa. Gregory thus established a principle of papal free-
ire of Emperor Charles V (r. 1519–1556) only because he
dom from secular control. In 1208 Pope Innocent III placed
was protected by his own suzerain, Frederick the Wise, ruler
England under interdict and the next year excommunicated
of Saxony from 1486 to 1525 and one of the Holy Roman
its king. The consequent weakening of King John made
Empire’s seven electors. The empire, consisting mainly of
room for the revolt of the barons, who managed to force
German-speaking lands, comprised myriad territories whose
John to sign the Magna Carta, “The Great Charter of En-
lords, while jealous of their power in their own lands, were
glish liberty granted (under considerable duress) by King
sworn in fealty to the emperor. By 1529 three of the seven
John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215.” The rights obtained
electors had become “Lutherans,” and that year at the Diet
in Magna Carta constituted a significant legal step toward
of Speyer they protested for their right to chose preachers in
democracy.
their own districts (hence the term “Protestant”). Charles V,
In 1303 Philip IV of France captured Pope Boniface
fighting the Turks at Vienna, needed the support of all his
VIII, thereby reversing the power dynamic between sover-
lords and so yielded to their demands. Because Protestant
eign secular and ecclesiastic authority. Philip moved the pa-
preachers required the protection of their lords, the latter ex-
pacy to Avignon, a move that eventually led to schism
ercised considerable power over the churches in their terri-
(1378–1417) and scandal, as three popes claimed to be St.
tories.
Peter’s successors. The Council of Constance (1414–1418)
In Zurich, one of the cantons of the Swiss confedera-
resolved the schism, but only through the action of “concil-
tion, Huldrych Zwingli in 1518 began another phase of the
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Reformation. By 1525 the town’s council had accepted
stored Book of Common Prayer to death for attending a Cath-
Zwingli’s reforms, voting against Catholic objections. Other
olic Mass. This “Elizabethan Settlement” was reached only
republics and “free cities” within the empire that enjoyed the
after bitter debates between Henrician Anglicans and Ed-
chartered right to elect their own municipal governments fol-
wardian Protestants, many of whom had learned their theol-
lowed suit. In a sense, the Reformation’s success—through
ogy in the Reformed states of Zurich and Geneva. The lat-
the actions of locally elected magistrates and an elected em-
ter’s discontent over the retention of the office of bishop and
peror—stemmed from political systems developed in the
the sanctioning of elaborate liturgical practices led to rebel-
Middle Ages; the liberties guaranteed by medieval town char-
lion in the next century.
ters took on new relevance in the context of religious reform
and thus made possible another step toward democracy in
Among the Marian exiles who took refuge in Geneva
the West.
during the reign of Mary Tudor was the Reformed preacher
John Knox (c. 1514–1572). Upon his return to Scotland,
Luther’s principle of private interpretation of the Scrip-
Knox persuaded its great barons and other nobles to sign the
tures was carried further by the so-called Anabaptists, or “re-
First Covenant in 1557. In 1560 the Scottish Parliament
baptizers.” Originating in Zurich in 1520, the sect had
abolished the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church in
spread to the empire by 1525. An imperial edict read at the
Scotland, adopted a Reformed confession of faith, and orga-
Diet of Speyer in 1529 condemned them on the grounds
nized the Scottish church along Presbyterian lines. In 1707
that “no man, having once been baptized according to Chris-
the Treaty of Union required the English sovereign to swear
tian order (as an infant), shall let himself be baptized again
to protect the Church of Scotland, but merely as a member,
or for the second time.” With the activities of the “rebap-
not as its Supreme Governor. Church and state in Scotland
tizers” declared “forbidden on pain of death,” Protestants
continue to be thus divided; each year the General Assembly
and Catholics alike made martyrs of Anabaptists well into
of the Church of Scotland chooses its own head, the Mod-
the next century.
erator.
Politics played a major part in England’s revolt against
In the tiny republic of Geneva, which granted refuge to
the papacy, which occurred through a series of legislative acts
English Protestants fleeing Mary Tudor’s Catholic regime,
by Parliament. The new laws paved the way for King Henry
Guillaume Farel (1489–1565) began the Reformation in
VIII (r. 1509–1547) to divorce Catherine of Aragon (1485–
1532. In 1536 Geneva’s General Council swore “to live ac-
1536), who had borne him a daughter, Mary Tudor (1516–
cording to the Word of God.” Two months later Farel pre-
1558), but no sons. In 1531 Parliament declared Henry to
vailed upon a young Frenchman, John Calvin (1509–1564),
be “their only and supreme lord and, as far as the law of
to assist him. Earlier that year Calvin had published the first
Christ allows, even supreme head.” After his divorce from
edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, the definitive
Catherine and from Rome, Henry married the pregnant
Latin edition of which appeared in 1559, followed by a
Anne Boleyn (1507–1536) in 1533. That same year, Anne
French edition in 1560. The work presented a powerful,
bore a daughter, later Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603), one of En-
consistent theology that, together with the Genevan Confes-
gland’s greatest sovereigns. After the miscarriage of a son,
sion of Faith and the articles of church organization, both
Anne fell from favor and was beheaded in 1536. In 1537
introduced in 1537, formed the pillars of the Genevan Ref-
Henry married Jane Seymour, who five years later gave him
ormation. Calvin’s Geneva was ruled by a Council of Sixty
his long-desired son and heir, Edward VI (r. 1547–1553).
and a Council of Two Hundred. These councils annually
elected twelve lay elders to serve in the Consistory along with
Edward succeeded his father under the regency of Ed-
five pastors, whose position was more or less permanent. The
ward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Through Somerset and
Consistory therefore represented both state and church in
Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury and author
matters of church discipline. While it could neither judge
of The Book of Common Prayer (1549), England became
nor punish civil offenses, it could admonish or, in the worst
Protestant in theology and liturgy. In 1553 Edward died and
cases, excommunicate offenders. Genevan citizens had to
Mary Tudor, devoutly Roman Catholic, inherited England’s
sign the Genevan Confession of Faith, which created a mar-
throne. Through Parliament she reversed much of the Ed-
riage of church and state emulated by the settlers of the Mas-
wardian legislation. She had Cranmer executed for treason,
sachusetts Bay Colony, founded in 1630.
while other Protestant leaders fled abroad to form a powerful
group of “Marian exiles,” who returned when Mary’s half-
FROM THE REFORMATION TO THE ENLIGHTENMENT. From
sister Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1558. England’s
the Reformation on, the developing nations of Western Eu-
people suffered from the changing religious legislation,
rope had official state churches, a situation that led to bloody
which led to bitter divisions between Protestants and Catho-
and bitter religious wars. Rulers determined the religion of
lics. In 1559 Parliament passed a new Act of Supremacy that
their subjects, who had to convert or move to another territo-
required an oath affirming Elizabeth as the Supreme Head
ry to avoid dire consequences, including death. Territorial
of the Church of England. In the same year, the Act of Uni-
wars were ipso facto religious wars—Catholics fought Lu-
formity introduced a system of penalties ranging from fines
therans and Calvinists, Lutherans and Calvinists fought each
for not attending Sunday services as mandated by the re-
other, and all three persecuted Anabaptists. To bolster ar-
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mies, warring factions hired mercenaries, sometimes includ-
religion by preventing any federal or state agency to officially
ing Muslim Turks. The intermittent but frequent bloody
sanction any one religion to the exclusion of others. As the
chaos of the Thirty Years’ War (begun in 1618) ended only
wars of religion made clear, the Reformation itself did not
with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.
result in religious freedom. In one of the most influential
In the meantime, Christians living under Muslim rule
treatises on toleration, Sebastian Castellio (1515–1563) de-
in southern Spain, southern Italy, and along the shores of the
veloped a consistent argument for freedom of conscience, ar-
eastern Mediterranean enjoyed religious liberty; even though
guing against the execution as a heretic of Michael Servetus
their faith relegated them to second-class citizenship, they
by the Genevan magistrates, at Calvin’s urging. Castellio said
certainly fared much better than Muslims and Jews under
simply and forcefully that “to kill a man is not to defend a
Christian rule. When Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the
doctrine; it is to kill a man.” Doctrine, he argued, could be
Moors in the battle of the Alhambra in January 1492, they
defended by argument, by the pen and not by the sword. But
declared all Spain a Christian country. Muslims and Jews
his was a lonely position. Calvin’s stance derived from the
had either to convert to Christianity or to leave Spain. Some
teachings of Luther and indeed of the medieval church back
Jews signed onto the ships of Christopher Columbus, who
to St. Augustine, which saw unrepentant heretics as a threat
set sail in August 1492. Columbus welcomed Jewish crew-
to the spiritual health of the community. Castellio’s position
members, thinking that he might meet one of the lost tribes
began to gain a following only a century later, in a Europe
of Israel during his voyage and thus require Hebrew speakers.
exhausted by religious wars. The Treaty of Westphalia be-
tween the Holy Roman Empire and all adjacent nations
In the Americas, native populations learned painfully
cracked the age-old armor of intolerance, affirming “Liberty
what it was to be “discovered” by white Europeans. Spanish
of the Exercise of Religion” (paragraphs XXVIII, XLIX. A prac-
conquistadors killed and enslaved Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas,
tical necessity to assure peace, religious liberty was not, how-
contrary to orders of both the Spanish king and the Holy
ever, considered a matter of ethical principle.
Roman Emperor. But the conquistadors were a law unto
themselves; distance made royal and imperial mandates from
The uninspired scholasticism of the confessional
Europe ineffective. Missionaries either colluded with the
churches in place by the early seventeenth century bored
conquistadors or fought for the rights of the natives. Even
thinking minds and discouraged individuals looking for spir-
as Christian converts, the natives of Mexico and Central and
itual enlightenment. Two movements, both based primarily
South America had few rights, although the Spaniards al-
in France, emerged from this restlessness. The first was a re-
lowed intermarriage and did not confine natives to reserva-
markable spiritual resurgence, the “devout movement.” The
tions.
second, gathering strength from the systematic doubt of the
Natives of North America fared worse. Like those of
otherwise pious Catholic René Descartes (1596–1650), in-
Central and South America, they made friendly overtures
tellectually prepared the way for the next century’s Enlight-
and agreed to treaties, which the colonists then broke. The
enment. With Descartes’ rational dualism, reason increasing-
governments of the United States and Canada forced natives
ly asserted its independence from theology.
from their homelands onto reservations with inadequate
Among Descartes’ readers was John Locke (1632–
space and resources for tribes to support themselves. Deci-
1704), one of the strongest influences on the development
mated by starvation and disease and robbed of their dignity
of English and American democracy. Locke, a highly educat-
and rights, Native Americans on reservations were given over
ed Puritan, lived through some of England’s most tumultu-
to the influence of Protestant and Catholic missionaries.
ous years, from the beheading of Charles I in 1649, through
Missionaries took Indian children from their families and
Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth and the subse-
confined them in boarding schools, barring them from
quent Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1560, to the
speaking their own languages. Native American religious rit-
Glorious Revolution of 1688, which sent James II into exile
uals that expressed and supported traditional life-ways were
and brought William and Mary (r. 1689–1702) to England
forbidden. Not until 1978 did a joint resolution of Con-
from Holland. (William and Mary, both Stuarts and grand-
gress—the American Indian Religious Freedom Resolu-
children of Charles I, nonetheless countered the Catholiciz-
tion—assure that the U.S. government would “protect and
ing tendencies of Charles II or James II.) Locke therefore had
preserve for American Indians their inherent right of free-
ample material for his reflections on the relationship between
dom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions
religion and state. Initially defending the right of a ruler to
of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawai-
require religious obedience, he only later came around to
ians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and pos-
support religious tolerance. By 1689, returning to England
session of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship
after five years of exile in Holland, he published three major
through ceremonials and traditional rites.”
works: the classic philosophical treatise An Essay on Human
Thinkers and jurists in the United States and Europe
Understanding; Two Treatises on Government, which defend-
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries prepared the way
ed the English Revolution; and A Letter concerning Tolera-
for the unique experiment enshrined in the U. S. Constitu-
tion, written in Holland in 1685. He argued that faith went
tion and its First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of
beyond reason and so was not available to reason’s arguments
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in a conclusive fashion. Faith, therefore, could not be co-
In both the First Amendment and Jefferson’s letter, the
erced. Because love and good will were marks of a true Chris-
word “religion” included only forms of Christianity or
tian, tolerance should be the chief mark of the true church.
deism. Challenges to this narrow conception of religion
Further, argued Locke, there must be a distinction between
began to arise as the United States expanded. On April 30,
the business of religion, concerned with individual salvation,
1803, Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase, for the sum
and the public business of the commonwealth. He thus sepa-
of 15 million dollars in exchange for more than 800,000
rated the responsibilities and legal obligations of the church
square miles of land. Extending from the Mississippi River
and the state.
to the Rocky Mountains, this territory included the port of
New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi, and St. Louis,
Locke read not only Descartes, but also Castellio; non-
the “gateway to the west” at the confluence of the Mississippi
conformists like Hugo Grotius of Holland (1583–1645) and
and Missouri rivers. English was a foreign language along the
William Penn (1644–1718), founder of Pennsylvania; the
Mississippi, where francophone Haitians and Canadians
pantheistic Dutch-Jewish philosopher Barukh Spinoza
mingled with various Native Americans and English-
(1632–1677); and the French Huguenot and skeptic Pierre
speaking Americans from the east.
Bayle (1647–1706). Bayle, fleeing persecution in France fol-
lowing the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, settled
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
in Rotterdam, where he published his influential Diction-
the spread of Christianity continued, both in the western
naire historique et critique (Historical and critical dictionary,
United States and elsewhere around the world, as missiona-
1697) and met Locke. Both philosophers, raised as Calvin-
ries followed conquering flags. The labors of these missiona-
ists, argued that no one should try to coerce the individual
ries, in many cases, resulted in religious beliefs and practices
conscience. The argument for religious liberty from this time
far removed from the conceptions of Christianity they at-
forward became intertwined with the concept of individual
tempted to inculcate. At the beginning of the twenty-first
rights, especially the right to follow one’s own conscience.
century, many native peoples practice Christianity in tandem
No longer did shapers of public thought and policy argue
with their indigenous religions. In some areas, the two are
that the common good required the removal of unrepentant
so mixed that it is difficult to extract particular strands. And
heretics from society. Rather, wrote Bayle, individuals must
in the United States, the influx of people belonging to all the
be left to God, who gave them a conscience that was “the
world’s religions and the very belated recognition of Native
natural and true light of reason” and a “clear and distinct
American religions has brought new pressures to bear on the
conception.”
First Amendment and the interpretation of the word
“religion.”
FROM THE ENLIGHTENMENT TO POST-MODERNITY. The
works of Locke and Bayle influenced both the American
Throughout history and around the globe, religion has
(1776) and the French (1789) revolutions. Some of the
been used and abused as politicians cited scripture to justify
American colonies had established churches; all had citizens
war, slavery, and male domination of women. Pacifists, abo-
who had fled state-established churches in Europe. It was not
litionists, and the Woman Suffrage Movement, however,
difficult for the leaders of the American Revolution and the
have likewise used Christianity to advance their causes.
framers of the U.S. Constitution (1787) to see that tolerance
Women obtained the vote in most of Europe, New Zealand,
did not go far enough, as it implied that a state could main-
Australia, and North America between the end of the nine-
tain an established church and merely tolerate, or bear with,
teenth century and the middle of the twentieth. Some Swiss
other denominations. Disestablishment was therefore their
cantons, however, enfranchised women only in the 1970s,
goal, accomplished through the First Amendment to the
and religious arguments are still used to deny women the
Constitution (1791), which protected the colonists’ most
right to vote in some parts of the world. The relation be-
cherished freedoms, beginning with freedom of religion:
tween church and state remains relevant in the social and cul-
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
tural battles of the early twenty-first century In the United
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .” In a
States, the controversy over same-sex marriage tests how
letter dated January 1, 1802, Thomas Jefferson allayed the
thoroughly the country remains culturally “Christian” (and
fears of a Connecticut minority, the Danbury Baptists, stat-
what Christianity means to its very diverse practitioners); it
ing that the First Amendment’s declaration of religious free-
also reflects the wide spectrum of views regarding the desir-
dom amounted to “building a wall of separation between
ability of both religious influence on state policy and state
Church & State.” According to some interpreters, the intent
involvement in religious matters. Organized conservative
of Congress and of Jefferson’s letter was to assure the free ex-
Christians from various denominations use political means
ercise of different religions, which could not be inhibited by
to oppose same-sex marriage, seeking to amend both state
any contravening law or the establishment of a particular reli-
and federal constitutions to define marriage exclusively as a
gion: the state must remain neutral. Others understand Jef-
union between a man and a woman. “Secularists,” too, con-
ferson’s letter as interpreting the establishment clause of the
tinue their own fight against the privileged position of Chris-
First Amendment as a protection of citizens from the de-
tianity in their states. Beginning with Constantine, Christian
mands of any organized religion.
governments awarded churches tax-exempt status and of-
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fered their clergy exemption from compulsory military ser-
Fortin, Ernest L. Classical Christianity and the Political Order: Re-
vice. Both exemptions have been challenged in the United
flections on the Theologico-Political Problem. Edited by J.
States as contrary to the establishment clause of the First
Brian Benestad. Lanham, Md., 1996.
Amendment. In France, the government’s strict secularism
Gutiérrez, Gustavo. We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual
(especially, critics argued, vis-à-vis religious displays by non-
Journey of a People. Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell.
Christian, and above all Muslim, immigrants) led to a 2004
Maryknoll, N.Y., 1984.
law forbidding schoolchildren from wearing religious sym-
Hamburger, Philip. Separation of Church and State. Cambridge,
bols, including Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans, large
Mass., 2002. A clear and learned exposition of the history
crosses, or Stars of David.
and meanings of the First Amendment and Thomas Jeffer-
son’s sometimes abused phrase.
Twentieth-century pundits predicted that science and
Hastings, Adrian, ed. A World History of Christianity. London,
rational skepticism, the legacies of the Enlightenment, would
1999.
result in the triumph of secularism and a world in which the
Hatch, Nathan O. Democratization of American Christianity, New
pursuit of goods and power was balanced by a political con-
Haven, Conn., 1989.
cern for democratic values and human rights, without refer-
Hollenbach, David. The Common Good and Christian Ethics.
ence to any religious belief or practice. Except in Europe,
Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2002.
however, religion appeared to be gaining in influence at the
Inter-Parliamentary Union. For a list of countries and dates of
beginning of the twenty-first century, both culturally and
women’s enfranchisement see http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/
politically. While the European Union argued over whether
suffrage.htm.
its constitution should reference Europe’s Christian past, its
Johnson, Douglas, and Cynthia Sampson, eds. Religion, The Miss-
nations have become increasingly diverse in the wake of de-
ing Dimension of Statecraft. New York, 1994.
colonization and globalization, with respect to both ethnicity
Kaufman, Peter Iver. Redeeming Politics. Princeton, N.J., 1990.
and religion. Europe’s residents are Christian and Muslim,
Kingdon, Robert M. Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva.
Hindu and Buddhist. Governments based on a Christian Eu-
Cambridge, Mass., 1995.
ropean culture struggle to maintain their identity and at the
O’Donovan, Oliver, and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan. Bonds of
same time to understand that Christian hegemony is a thing
Imperfection: Christian Politics, Past and Present. Grand Rap-
of the past. In the United States, too, immigrants demand
ids, Mich., 2004.
an equal share in the liberties promised by the Constitution
Thiemann, Ronald F. Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for De-
and the Bill of Rights. Muslims ask to sound the call to
mocracy. Washington, D.C., 1996.
prayer in towns that previously heard only church bells,
Witte, John, Jr. Religion and the American Constitutional Experi-
whereas Christians must recognize that, for their neighbors,
ment: Essential Rights and Liberties. Boulder, Colo., 2000.
Sunday is an ordinary day. In the face of globalization and
Witte, John, Jr., ed. Christianity and Democracy in Global Context.
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Boulder, Colo., 1993.
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Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster.
S
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EE ALSO Anabaptism; Arianism; Liberation Theology; Ref-
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West. Princeton, N.J., 2003.
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Historically politics have often been a central vehicle by
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lished has been subject to many interpretations across time
Caliphs (632–661 CE) as a special normative period in which
and space. The QurDa¯n and h:ad¯ıth do not provide any specif-
God’s favor was clearly upon the Muslims.
ic format for an “Islamic state” or even prescribe one as nec-
One of the most contentious questions faced by reli-
essary. Instead, they contain general prescriptions or norms
gious scholars throughout Muslim history has been whether
about the function of the state as well as ethical consider-
the character of the ruler was a decisive factor in determining
ations. Early Islamic empires and sultanates developed sys-
that the state was truly Islamic. That is, if the ruler is known
tems that combined elements adopted from conquered socie-
to be immoral, did this necessarily render the state un-
ties with religious prescriptions and institutions. During this
Islamic, so that its citizens were obligated to overthrow the
time period most states, non-Muslim as well as Muslim, con-
ruler? The majority of religious scholars, or EulamaD, deter-
trolled or used religion as a source of legitimacy or to mobi-
mined that maintaining social order and avoiding anarchy
lize popular support.
were more important than the character of the ruler. The de-
Historically Islam’s role in the state reinforced a sense
cisive factor rendering a state or society “Islamic,” they con-
of common identity for Muslims as well as a sense of conti-
cluded, is its governance by Islamic law.
nuity in Muslim rule. The existence of an Islamic ideology
However, a minority of EulamaD, most notably the thir-
and system, however imperfectly implemented, both validat-
teenth-century scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taym¯ıyah, ruled
ed and reinforced a sense of a divinely mandated and guided
that the character of the ruler was in fact decisive. If a ruler
community with a unifying purpose and mission, giving the
was unjust or immoral, Muslims were bound to overthrow
Islamic state a divine raison d’être.
him. Ibn Taym¯ıyah’s enduring influence, direct and indi-
Belief in the divine mandate of the Muslim community
rect, on contemporary political thought and politics is also
gave Muslim rulers the rationale for spreading their rule and
reflected in several other doctrines: the necessary synthesis
empire over the entire Middle East and major portions of Af-
between religion and state (that Islam is din wa-dawlah, or
rica and South, Southeast, and Central Asia as well as into
religion and state); insistence that one who claims to be a
Spain and southern Italy on the European Continent. Islam
Muslim but does not act like one cannot be considered a true
served as the religious ideology for the foundation of a variety
Muslim; a bipolar view of the world in which only two
of Muslim states, including great Islamic empires: Umayyad
choices or sides existed, Muslim and non-Muslim, belief and
(661–750 CE), Abbasid (750–1258 CE), Ottoman (1281–
unbelief. These viewpoints have been appropriated in partic-
1924 CE), Safavid (1501–1722 CE), and Mughal (1526–
ular by extremist movements, past and present.
1857 CE). In each of these empires and other sultanate states
THE SH¯IE¯I IMAMATE. In contrast to Sunn¯ı Islam, Sh¯ıE¯ı Islam
from the seventh to the eighteenth centuries, Islam was used
teaches that Muh:ammad decreed that succession or leader-
by rulers to legitimate their governance, and it informed the
ship (the ima¯m or leader) of the Muslim community be-
state’s legal, political, educational, and social institutions.
longed to the family of the Prophet, beginning with Al¯ı, his
Sunn¯ı Muslims (85 percent of the Muslim community,
cousin and son-in-law. However, EAl¯ı’s caliphate began only
in contrast to Sh¯ıE¯ı, a 15 percent minority) see the success
after three other caliphs had ruled; EAl¯ı was assassinated by
and expansion of Islam as religion and empire as evidence
opponents and the caliphate was seized by his enemy,
of God’s favor upon Muslims when they fulfill their divine
MuEa¯wiya. Sh¯ıE¯ı regard the caliphs, in particular MuEa¯wiya,
mandate to spread God’s word, guidance, and governance,
as usurpers and believe EAl¯ı’s son, H:usayn, was EAl¯ı’s rightful
whereas the increasing decline and powerlessness from the
successor. H:usayn was persuaded by some of EAl¯ı’s followers
eighteenth century through the early twenty-first century are
to lead a rebellion against Yaz¯ıd, MuEa¯wiya’s son, in 680 CE.
understood to reflect their failure to adhere to God’s will. It
H:usayn and his army were slaughtered in battle at Karbala
is this worldview that has in part given rise to the Islamic re-
(in modern-day Iraq). The tragic death of H:usayn and his
vival that began in the eighteenth century and experienced
followers, commemorated by Sh¯ıE¯ıs every year during
a major resurgence and reformulation in the twentieth
EA¯shu¯ra¯, shaped the Sh¯ıE¯ı worldview and its view of history
century.
as one of disinheritance and oppression, suffering, protest,
and struggle against injustice and discrimination under
GOVERNMENT: THE SUNN¯I CALIPHATE. Sunn¯ı Muslims be-
Sunn¯ı Muslim governments.
lieve that Muh:ammad died without designating a specific
successor (caliph) and that the most qualified person should
In contrast to the Sunn¯ı caliphate, Sh¯ıE¯ı believe that
become the head of the Muslim community. The caliph suc-
leadership of the Muslim community belongs to the leader,
ceeded Muh:ammad as political leader, not as prophet. Be-
or ima¯m, a direct descendant of Muh:ammad who serves in
cause Muh:ammad was the last of the prophets, leadership of
a religious as well as political-military capacity. Although the
the Muslim community following Muh:ammad’s death
ima¯m is not considered a prophet, since the QurDa¯n states
ceased to be a religio-political position and became strictly
that Muh:ammad was the last of the prophets, the ima¯m is
political instead. Thus Sunn¯ıs believe that the leader (caliph)
nevertheless considered divinely inspired, infallible, sinless,
of the Muslim community possesses human and worldly,
and the final and authoritative interpreter of God’s will as
rather than divine, authority. They look to the rule of
formulated in Islamic law. After decades of rebellion against
Muh:ammad (610–632 CE) and of the Four Rightly-Guided
early Sunn¯ı rulers, Sh¯ıE¯ı found a formula for coexistence, a
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means to recognize de facto Sunn¯ı rule and participation in
Europe. Those who supported the continued existence of the
Sunn¯ı majority territories without acknowledging the legiti-
caliphate defined it as a combination of political and reli-
macy of the Sunn¯ı caliphate.
gious authority in its ideal form. Since then there have been
occasional calls among Islamic revivalists for a revival of the
Because Sh¯ıE¯ı existed as a disinherited and oppressed
caliphate as a means of maintaining unity of the broader
minority among the Sunn¯ı, they understood history to be
Muslim community, but such calls have not garnered signifi-
a test of the righteous community’s perseverance in the strug-
cant popular support.
gle to restore God’s rule on earth. Realization of a just social
order led by the ima¯m became the dream of Sh¯ıE¯ı throughout
POLITICAL ISLAM. Twentieth-century visions of the relation-
the centuries. Whereas Sunn¯ı history looked to the glorious
ship of religion to the modern nation-state varied. At one
and victorious history of the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs
end of the spectrum was the “self-described” Islamic state of
and then the development of imperial Islam, Sh¯ıE¯ı history
Saudi Arabia and at the other modern Turkey’s secular state.
traced the often tragic history of the descendants of EAl¯ı and
Most Muslim countries were states whose majority popula-
Fa¯t:imah. Thus whereas Sunn¯ıs can claim a golden age when
tion was Muslim and had some Islamic provisions, such as
they were a great world power and civilization, evidence, they
the requirement that the head of state be a Muslim, but that
believe, of God’s will and favor and historic validation of
adopted Western political, legal, and educational models of
Islam, Sh¯ıE¯ı see these same developments as an illegitimate
development. However, the mid-twentieth century also
usurpation of power by Sunn¯ı rulers at the expense of a just
brought the creation of modern Islamic movements, in par-
society.
ticular the Jama¯Eat-i-Isla¯m¯ı in Pakistan and the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt. Both called for the foundation of a
Sh¯ıE¯ı view history more as a paradigm of the suffering,
specifically Islamic state, a God-centered one run only by
disinheritance, and oppression of a righteous minority com-
true believers with the QurDa¯n and sunnah as guides. They
munity who must constantly struggle to restore God’s rule
believed Islam should inform all spheres of the state—
on earth under his divinely appointed ima¯m. In the twenti-
political, economic, and legislative as well as moral—and
eth century this history was reinterpreted as a paradigm pro-
called for the Islamization of society and state.
viding inspiration and mobilization to actively fight against
injustice rather than passively accept it. This reinterpretation
In the late twentieth century political Islam, often re-
had a significant impact during the Islamic Revolution of
ferred to as “Islamic fundamentalism,” became a dominant
1978–1979 in Iran, where the shah was equated with Yaz¯ıd
factor in Muslim politics, the primary language of political
and Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers with H:usayn.
discourse and mobilization. New Islamic republics were cre-
Thus the victory of the Islamic Revolution was declared the
ated in Sudan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Muslim rulers as well
victory of the righteous against illegitimate usurpers of
as mainstream opposition leaders and movements appealed
power.
to Islam to legitimate their rule or policies. Islamists have
VISIONS OF POLITICS AND THE STATE IN MODERN ISLAM.
been elected president, prime minister, or deputy prime min-
Classical definitions of the role of Islam and the state have
ister and to parliament, and they have served in cabinets in
undergone substantial revision in modern times. Up until
countries as diverse as Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Leba-
the nineteenth century Muslims generally thought of politics
non, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ma-
in terms of the Muslim ummah (the universal Islamic com-
laysia, and Indonesia. At the same time extremist organiza-
munity) and either a universal caliphate (in which its reli-
tions have used violence and terrorism in the name of Islam
gious character was emphasized) or diverse sultanates (in
to threaten and destabilize governments, attacking govern-
which its political character was emphasized). Politics was
ment officials, institutions, and ordinary citizens in Muslim
more a matter of dynasties and rulers (referred to as dawlah)
countries and in the West. Usa¯mah bin La¯din and al-Qa¯Eidah
than of popular participation.
have become a symbol of the threat of international terror-
ism, driven home by the September 11, 2001, attacks against
The proposition that Islam is both a religion and a state
New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
(din wa-dawlah) dates to the early twentieth century, when
Muslims were confronted with both the abolition of the Ot-
ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM OR POLITICAL ISLAM? Though
toman (Turkish) Caliphate and the territorial division of
convenient, the use of the term fundamentalism, which origi-
Muslim communities under the impact of European colo-
nated in Christianity, can be misleading when applied to a
nialism. Although the caliphate had in fact come to a forcible
diverse group of governments, individuals, and organiza-
end with the fall of the Abbasid dynasty to the Mongols in
tions. The conservative monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the radi-
1258, it remained a powerful religious symbol of political le-
cal socialist state of Libya, clerically governed Iran, the Tali-
gitimacy. The Ottoman sultans had adopted the title of ca-
ban’s Afghanistan, and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have
liph in order to lend religious legitimacy to their rule; their
all been called “fundamentalist.” The term obscures signifi-
claim to the caliphate was abolished in 1924. Desire to re-
cant differences in the nature of the governments (monarchy,
store the caliphate provided an alternative to fragmentation,
military, and clerical rule) as well as their relations with the
reasserting the unity of the Muslim ummah. It also provided
West. For example, Libya and Iran have in the past been re-
an alternative political vision to the territorial nationalism of
garded as anti-Western and enemies of the United States,
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND ISLAM
7287
while Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have often been close allies
strength during the 1980s and spawned its own Islamist
of the United States. Similarly Islamic activists are not mo-
movements, among them HAMAS and Islamic Jihad.
nolithic; they represent a broad spectrum: mainstream and
The failures of the West (both its models of development
extremist, progressive and conservative. Therefore political
and its role as an Arab and Muslim ally) and fear of the threat
Islam or Islamism are more useful terms than fundamental-
of westernization and its political, economic, and cultural
ism when referring to the role of Islam in politics and society
dominance were pervasive themes of the resurgence. Many
and the diversity of Islamic political and social movements.
blamed the ills of their societies on the excessive influence
ORIGINS AND NATURE OF POLITICAL ISLAM. The reassertion
of and dependence upon the West, in particular the super-
of Islam in politics is rooted in a contemporary religious re-
powers the United States and the Soviet Union. Moderniza-
vival or resurgence affecting both personal and public life
tion, as a process of progressive westernization and secular-
that began in the late 1960s and 1970s. On the one hand,
ization and increasingly globalization, have been regarded as
many Muslims became more religiously observant (empha-
forms of neocolonialism exported by the West and imposed
sizing prayer, fasting, dress, family values, and a revitalization
by local Western-oriented elites, undermining religious and
of Islamic mysticism or Sufism). On the other, Islam reemer-
cultural identity and values.
ged as an alternative religio-political ideology to the per-
ceived failures of more secular forms of nationalism, capital-
While most Islamic movements developed in response
ism, and socialism. Islamic symbols, rhetoric, actors, and
to domestic conditions, international issues and actors in-
organizations became major sources of legitimacy and mobi-
creasingly played important roles in Muslim politics: the So-
lization, informing political and social activism. Govern-
viet-Afghan War; the Arab-Israeli conflict; sanctions against
ments and Islamic movements spanned both the religious
S:adda¯m H:usayn’s Iraq; the “liberation” of Bosnia, Kashmir,
and political spectrums from moderate to extremist, using re-
and Chechnya; and Usa¯mah bin La¯din and al-Qa¯Eidah.
ligion to enhance their legitimacy and to mobilize popular
Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Libya as well as indi-
support for programs and policies.
viduals used their petrodollars and wealth to extend their in-
fluence internationally, promoting their religious-ideological
The causes of the Islamic resurgence have been many:
worldviews and politics and supporting government Islam-
religio-cultural, political, and socioeconomic. More often
ization programs as well as Islamist movements, mainstream
than not, faith and politics have been intertwined causes or
and extremist.
catalysts. Issues of political and social injustice (authoritari-
ISLAMIC MOVEMENTS: LEADERSHIP AND IDEOLOGY. Politi-
anism, repression, unemployment, inadequate housing and
cal Islam is in many ways the successor of failed nationalist
social services, maldistribution of wealth, and corruption)
ideologies and projects in the mid-twentieth century, from
combined with concerns about the preservation of religious
the Arab nationalism and socialism of North Africa and the
and cultural identity and values.
Middle East to the Muslim nationalism of postindependence
Among the more visible crises or failures that proved to
Pakistan. The founders of many Islamic movements were
be catalytic events in the rise of political Islam were:
formerly participants in nationalist movements: the Egyptian
Muslim Brotherhood’s founder, H:asan al-Banna; Tunisia’s
1. the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (Six-Day War) in which Isra-
Rashid Ghannoushi of the Renaissance Party; Algeria’s Ab-
el decisively defeated the combined Arab armies of
basi Madani of the Islamic Salvation Front (the FIS, or Front
Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, occupied Sinai, the West
Islamique du Salut); and Turkey’s Ecmettin Erbakan, found-
Bank and Gaza, and East Jerusalem, transforming the
er of the Welfare (Refah) Party.
liberation of Jerusalem and Palestine into a transnation-
al Islamic issue;
Islamic political and social movements proved particu-
larly strong among the younger generation, university gradu-
2. the 1969 Malay-Chinese riots in Kuala Lumpur reflect-
ates, and young professionals recruited from the mosques
ing the growing tension between the Malay Muslim ma-
and universities. Contrary to popular expectations, the mem-
jority and a significant Chinese minority;
bership of movements, especially in Sunn¯ı Islam, has not
3. the Pakistan-Bangladesh civil war of 1971–1972, her-
come from religious faculties and the humanities so much
alding the failure of Muslim nationalism;
as from the fields of science, engineering, education, law, and
4. the Lebanese civil war (1975–1990), among whose
medicine. Thus the senior leadership of many movements
causes were the inequitable distribution of political and
includes judges, lawyers, teachers, engineers, physicians,
economic power between Christians and Muslims,
journalists, and prosperous businesspeople. At the same time
which led to the emergence of major Sh¯ıEah groups:
leaders of militant movements like Egypt’s Islamic Jihad and
AMAL and the Iranian-inspired and backed Hizbollah;
Usa¯mah bin La¯din, al-Qa¯Eidah, and those specifically respon-
sible for the attacks of September 11, 2001, also included
5. the Iranian Revolution of 1978–1979, a pivotal event
many university graduates.
with long-term global impact and implications for the
IDEOLOGICAL WORLDVIEW. Islamists believe the Muslim
Muslim world and the West;
world’s state of decline is the result of corrupt authoritarian
6. the continued conflict in Palestine-Israel, which grew in
regimes and excessive political, economic, and cultural de-
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND ISLAM
pendence on the West. The cure is a return to the faith and
1990s failed economies and discredited governmental devel-
values of Islam. Islam, they assert, is a comprehensive ideolo-
opment policies led to political crises and mass demonstra-
gy or framework for Muslim society. It embraces public as
tions, resulting in limited political liberalization. Islamic can-
well as personal life. They believe the renewal and revitaliza-
didates or leaders were elected as mayors and
tion of Muslim governments and societies require the resto-
parliamentarians in countries as diverse as Morocco, Egypt,
ration or reimplementation of Islamic law, the blueprint for
Turkey, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, Malaysia, and
an Islamically guided and socially just state and society.
Indonesia. They served in cabinet-level positions and as
While westernization and secularization of society are con-
speakers of national assemblies, prime ministers (Turkey,
demned, modernization as such is not. Science and technolo-
Iran, and Pakistan), a deputy prime minister (Malaysia), and
gy are accepted; but the pace, direction, and extent of change
Indonesia’s first democratically elected president. The gener-
are subordinated to Islamic belief and values in order to
al response of many governments to this political power of
guard against excessive influence and dependence on the
Islam was to retreat from open elections, identifying their Is-
West.
lamic opposition as extremist or simply canceling or manipu-
lating elections, as in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan.
The majority of Islamists have worked to bring about
change through social and political activism within their so-
USA¯MAH BIN LA¯DIN AND GLOBAL TERRORISM. September
cieties, participating in electoral politics and civil society
11, 2001, was a watershed in the history of political Islam
where permitted. However, a significant and dangerous mi-
and of the world. Its terror and carnage signaled the magni-
nority of extremists, jiha¯d groups from Egypt to Indonesia,
tude of the threat of Usa¯mah bin La¯din and al-Qa¯Eidah. The
al-Qa¯Eidah, and other terrorists, believe that they have a man-
multimillionaire, seemingly devout, well-educated, wealthy
date from God to make changes and that the rulers in the
son of a prominent Saudi family had fought against the Sovi-
Muslim world and their societies are anti-Islamic. For these
ets in Afghanistan, a struggle that allied him with a cause
extremists, those who remain apolitical or resist—individuals
supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and
and governments—are no longer regarded as Muslims but
many others. However, after the war he became radicalized
rather as atheists or unbelievers, enemies of God, against
when faced with the prospect of an American-led coalition
whom all true Muslims must wage holy war (jiha¯d).
in the Gulf War of 1991 to oust S:adda¯m H:usayn from his
occupation of Kuwait and the prospect of the presence and
Extremists also believe Islam and the West are locked
increased influence of the United States in Saudi Arabia and
in an ongoing battle that stretches back to the early days of
the Persian Gulf. Usa¯mah bin La¯din was regarded as the
Islam, is heavily influenced by the legacy of the Crusades and
major godfather of global terrorism, a major funder of terror-
European colonialism, and is the product in the twenty-first
ist groups suspected in the bombing of the World Trade
century of a Judeo-Christian conspiracy. This conspiracy,
Center in 1993, the slaughter of eighteen American soldiers
they charge, is the result of superpower neocolonialism and
in Somalia, bombings in Riyadh in 1995 and in Dhahran
the power of Zionism. The West (Britain, France, and espe-
in 1996, the killing of fifty-eight tourists at Luxor, Egypt,
cially the United States) is blamed for its support of un-
in 1997 as well as the bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. He
Islamic or unjust regimes and biased support for Israel in the
threatened attacks against Americans who remained on
face of Palestinian occupation and displacement. Violence
Saudi soil and promised retaliation internationally for cruise
against such governments, their representatives, and citizens
missile attacks.
(Jews, Christians, and other Muslims, noncombatants as well
as combatants) is regarded as legitimate self-defense.
In February 1998 bin La¯din and other militant leaders
THE QUIET REVOLUTION. In contrast to the 1980s, when
announced the creation of a transnational coalition of ex-
political Islam was simply equated with revolutionary Iran
tremist groups, the Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and
or clandestine groups with names like Islamic Jihad or the
Crusaders. Al-Qa¯Eidah was linked to a series of acts of terror-
Army of God, the Muslim world in the 1990s saw Islamists
ism: the truck bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tan-
participate in the electoral process. A quiet revolution had
zania on August 7, 1998, that killed 263 people and injured
taken place. While a minority of religious extremists sought
more than 5,000, followed on October 12, 2000, by a sui-
to impose change from above through terror and holy wars,
cide bombing attack against the USS Cole, which killed 17
many others pursued a bottom-up approach, seeking a grad-
American sailors.
ual transformation or Islamization of society through words
Usa¯mah bin La¯din’s message appealed to the feelings of
and example, preaching, and social and political activism.
many in the Arab and Muslim world. A sharp critic of Amer-
Islamic organizations and associations emerged as part
ican foreign policy toward the Muslim world, he denounced
and parcel of mainstream society and institutional forces in
its support for Israel, sanctions against Iraq that resulted in
civil society, active in social reform and providing education-
the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and the sub-
al, medical, dental, legal, and social welfare services. The
stantial American (military and economic) presence and in-
number of Islamic banks, insurance companies, and publish-
volvement in Saudi Arabia that he dismissed as the “new cru-
ing houses mushroomed. Social activism was accompanied
sades.” To these were added other populist causes like
by increased political participation. In the late 1980s and the
Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, and Kashmir.
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7289
Usa¯mah bin La¯din and al-Qa¯Eidah represented a new in-
of God and the party of Satan. There was no middle ground.
ternational brand of Sunn¯ı militancy associated with the Af-
He emphasized the need to develop a special group, a van-
ghan Arabs, those who had come from the Arab and Muslim
guard, of true Muslims within this corrupt and faithless soci-
world to fight alongside the Afghan Muja¯hid¯ın against the
ety. Since the creation of an Islamic government was a divine
Soviets. It was also reflected in the growth of extremism and
commandment, he argued, it was not an alternative to be
acts of terrorism in Central, South, and Southeast Asia
worked toward. Rather it was an imperative that Muslims
(where it has often been referred to as Wahabism because of
must strive to implement or impose immediately.
its reported Saudi financial backing). Islam’s norms and val-
Given the authoritarian and repressive nature of the
ues about good governance, social justice, and the require-
Egyptian government and many other governments in the
ment to defend Islam when under siege are transformed into
Muslim world, Qut:b concluded that jiha¯d as armed struggle
a call to arms in order to legitimate the use of violence, war-
was the only way to implement the new Islamic order. For
fare, and terrorism. Their theology of hate sees the modern
Qut:b, jiha¯d, as armed struggle in the defense of Islam against
world in mutually exclusive, black-and-white categories, the
the injustice and oppression of anti-Islamic governments and
world of belief and unbelief, the land of Islam and of warfare,
the neocolonialism of the West and the East (the Soviet
the forces of good against the forces of evil. Those who are
Union), was incumbent upon all Muslims. Muslims who re-
not with them, whether Muslim or non-Muslims, are the
fused to participate were to be counted among the enemies
enemy and are to be fought and destroyed in a war with no
of God, apostates who were excommunicated (takfir) and
limits, no proportionality of goal or means.
who should be fought and killed along with the other ene-
SAYYID QUT:B: GODFATHER AND MARTYR OF ISLAMIC RAD-
mies of God. Sayyid Qut:b’s radicalized worldview became
ICALISM. It would be difficult to overestimate the role played
a source for ideologues from the founders of Egypt’s Islamic
by Sayyid Qut:b (1906–1966) in the reassertion of militant
Jihad to Usa¯mah bin La¯din and al-Qa¯Eidah’s call for a global
jiha¯d. He was both a respected intellectual and religious writ-
jiha¯d.
er whose works included an influential commentary on the
GLOBALIZATION OF THE JIHA¯D. In the late twentieth century
QurDa¯n and a godfather to Muslim extremist movements
and early twenty-first century the word jiha¯d gained remark-
around the globe. In many ways his journey from educated
able currency, becoming more global in its usage. On the one
intellectual, government official, and admirer of the West to
hand, jiha¯d’s primary religious and spiritual meanings, the
militant activist who condemned both the Egyptian and the
“struggle” or effort to follow God’s path, to lead a good life,
American governments and defended the legitimacy of mili-
became more widespread. It is applied, for example, to indi-
tant jiha¯d has influenced and inspired many militants, from
vidual struggles to be religiously observant as well as improve
the assassins of Anwar al-Sadat to the followers of Usa¯mah
one’s society through educational and social welfare projects.
bin La¯din and al-Qa¯Eidah.
The Soviet-Afghan War marked a new turning point as
Qut:b had a modern education and was a great admirer
jiha¯d went global to a degree never seen in the past. The
of the West and Western literature. After graduation he be-
Muja¯hid¯ın holy war drew Muslims from many parts of the
came an official in the Ministry of Public Instruction as well
world and support from Muslim and non-Muslim countries
as a poet and literary critic. Qut:b’s visit to the United States
and sources. In its aftermath jiha¯d became the common term
in the late 1940s proved a turning point in his life, trans-
for all armed struggles, used for resistance, liberation, and
forming him from an admirer into a severe critic of the West.
terrorist movements alike in their holy and unholy wars.
His experiences in the United States produced a culture
Most major Muslim struggles were declared a jiha¯d, from
shock that made him more religious and convinced him of
Palestine to Kashmir, Chechnya, Daghestan, and the south-
the moral decadence of the West.
ern Philippines. Those who fought in Afghanistan, called Af-
Shortly after he returned to Egypt, Qut:b joined the
ghan Arabs, moved on to fight other jiha¯ds in their home
Muslim Brotherhood. Qut:b quickly emerged as a major
countries and in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Central Asia. Others
voice in the brotherhood and its most influential ideologue
stayed on or were trained and recruited in the new jiha¯di ma-
amid the growing confrontation with the Egyptian regime.
drasahs (religious schools) and training camps, joining in
Imprisoned and tortured for alleged involvement in a failed
Usa¯mah bin La¯din and al-Qa¯Eidah’s global jiha¯d against
attempt to assassinate Nasser, he became increasingly mili-
Muslim governments and the West.
tant and radicalized, convinced that the Egyptian govern-
Although the distinction is often made between
ment was un-Islamic and must be overthrown. Qut:b’s revo-
QurDanic prescriptions about just war versus unjust war,
lutionary vision is set forth in his most influential tract,
many and conflicting interpretations of the verses have been
Milestones. His ideas have reverberated in the radical rhetoric
made over time. At issue are the meaning of terms like aggres-
of revolutionaries from Ayatollah Khomeini to Usa¯mah bin
sion and defense, questions about when the command to sac-
La¯din.
rifice life and property to defend Islam is appropriate, and
Qut:b sharply divided Muslim societies into two diamet-
how to define the “enemies” of Islam. For example, the
rically opposed camps, the forces of good and of evil, those
QurDa¯n speaks repeatedly of the “enemies of God” and the
committed to the rule of God and those opposed, the party
“enemies of Islam,” often defining them as “unbelievers.” Al-
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though other QurDanic verses appear to make it clear that
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ing Sayyid Qut:b’s militant worldview of an Islam under
Esposito, John L. Islam and Politics. 4th ed. Syracuse, N.Y., 1998.
siege, they ignore or reject Islamic law’s regulations regarding
Esposito, John L. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? 3d ed. New
the goals and means of a valid jiha¯d (that violence must be
York, 1999.
proportional and that only the necessary amount of force
Esposito, John L. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. New
should be used to repel the enemy), that innocent civilians
York, 2002.
should not be targeted, and that jiha¯d must be declared by
Esposito, John L., and J. O. Voll. Islam and Democracy. New
the ruler or head of state. As the Islamic scholars of the Islam-
York, 1996.
ic Research Council at al-Azhar University, regarded by
Fuller, Graham. The Future of Political Islam. New York, 2003.
many as the highest moral authority in Islam, forcefully stat-
ed in condemning bin La¯din’s calls for jiha¯d and terrorism:
Haddad, Y. Y., and John L. Esposito, eds. Contemporary Islamic
“Islam provides clear rules and ethical norms that forbid the
Revival since 1988: A Critical Survey and Bibliography. West-
port, Conn., 1997.
killing of non-combatants, as well as women, children, and
the elderly, and also forbids the pursuit of the enemy in de-
Huntington, S. P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of
World Order. New York, 1997.
feat, the execution of those who surrender, the infliction of
harm on prisoners of war, and the destruction of property
Kramer, M. “Islam vs. Democracy.” Commentary, January 1993,
that is not being used in the hostilities” (Al-Hayat, Novem-
pp. 35–42.
ber 5, 2001).
Lewis, B. “Islam and Liberal Democracy.” Atlantic Monthly, Feb-
ruary 1993, p. 89. Available from http://www.theatlantic.
POLITICAL ISLAM AND THE DEMOCRACY DEBATE. In the
com/issues/93feb/lewis.htm.
late twentieth century and early twenty-first century the call
Milani, M. M. “Political Participation in Revolutionary Iran.” In
for greater liberalization and democratization has become
Political Islam: Revolution, Radicalism, or Reform? edited by
widespread in the Muslim world, as diverse sectors of society,
John L. Esposito, pp. 77–94. Boulder, Colo., 1997.
secular and religious, leftist and rightist, educated and uned-
Norton, A. R. “Hizballah: From Radicalism to Pragmatism?”
ucated, increasingly use democratization as the litmus test by
Middle East Policy 5 (January 1998). Available from http://
which to judge the legitimacy of governments and political
www.mepc.org/public_asp/journal_vol5/9801_norton.asp.
movements alike.
Piscatori, J. P., and D. F. Eickelman. Muslim Politics. Princeton,
N.J., 1997.
A diversity of voices exists in debates over political par-
Rashid, A. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in
ticipation and democratization. Secularists argue for secular
Central Asia. New Haven, Conn., 2000.
forms of democracy, the separation of religion and the state.
Shahin, E. Political Ascent: Contemporary Islamic Movements in
Rejectionists maintain that Islam has it own forms of gover-
North Africa: State, Culture, and Society in Arab North Africa.
nance and that it is incompatible with democracy. Accom-
Boulder, Colo., 1996.
modationists, or Islamic reformers, believe that traditional
Voll, J. O., and John L. Esposito. “Islam’s Democratic Essence.”
concepts and institutions can be utilized to develop Islami-
Middle East Quarterly, September 1994, pp. 3–11, with ri-
cally acceptable forms of popular political participation and
postes, pp. 12–19. Voll and Esposito reply, Middle East
democratization. Maintaining that Islam is capable of rein-
Quarterly, December 1994, pp. 71–72.
terpretation (ittih:a¯d), traditional concepts of consultation
JOHN L. ESPOSITO (2005)
(shura), consensus (ijma¯E), and public welfare (maslaha) are
reinterpreted to provide the bases for the development of
modern Muslim notions of democracy, parliamentary gov-
ernment, and the like. While some would reinterpret tradi-
POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND
tional beliefs to essentially legitimate Western-generated
AFRICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
forms of democracy, others wish to develop forms of political
Africa is home to nearly 600 million people. Christianity and
participation and democracy appropriate to Islamic values
Islam are leading religious traditions—each has in excess of
and realities.
250 million followers in Africa. As a result, there are declin-
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND AFRICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
7291
ing numbers of followers of traditional indigenous religions
legislatures, executives, presidents), as well as focusing atten-
and very few atheists or agnostics. Both Islam and Christiani-
tion more generally on issues of authority, legitimacy, power,
ty were imported into Africa in the historical past. Islam
and equity.
gradually spread over the last thousand years, whereas Chris-
tianity was imported by and intimately associated with Euro-
In seeking to peel away the layers of interaction between
pean—especially British and French—colonialism begin-
religion and politics, it becomes clear that each issue has sev-
ning in the late nineteenth century.
eral dimensions in Africa. However, attempts to arrive at an
analytically precise definition of the term religion is fraught
SOCIAL DYNAMICS. The main analytical problem involving
with difficulties because no consensus exists as to the proper
an understanding of the relation between religion and poli-
understanding of what religion in Africa is. Theologians are
tics in Africa is the region’s astonishing multifariousness of
interested primarily in understanding the nature of its indi-
religious beliefs, ethnic divisions, cultural distinctions, and
vidual or collective spiritual significance. Anthropologists see
political modes. Africa is marked by a high degree of political
religion as one, albeit an important, component of the cul-
and religious heterogeneity, making a study of politics and
tural aspects of Africans’ social life. Sociologists seek to iden-
religion in the region complex but rewarding. To ascertain
tify and examine religion’s general and specific social imports
the nature of the contemporary relation between religion and
in the countries of the region. Political scientists look for
politics in Africa, it is necessary to take into account the im-
signs of political activity associated with religion, as they are
pact of European colonialism, especially from the 1880s, as
keen to assess religion’s political roles, especially in relation
it was the primary modernizing force throughout the region.
to specific groups and organizations. For example, they may
One of its key impacts was—theoretically, officially, and os-
question to what extent a certain religious group also serves
tensibly—to divide Africa’s religious world from its secular
as a vehicle of sociopolitical change. Such differing assess-
and, hence, political sphere.
ments of the nature of religion in Africa suggest that it would
be most constructive to note its combined spiritual and ma-
Within Western social sciences, theoretical dividing
terial dimensions. This involves both personal belief systems
lines between politics and other social actions are relatively
as well as group ideologies, which together help to motivate
clear cut. Such disciplinary divisions between, for example,
individuals and groups to behave in a variety of ways. Clear-
political science, sociology, and economics frequently lead to
ly, most Africans would regard themselves as religious peo-
assumptions that a complex reality can be neatly compart-
ple, believing in a God (or gods) who looks over them and
mentalized. However, the relation between politics and reli-
helps guide what they do. In addition, many believe that reli-
gion in Africa cannot be so easily compartmentalized. Not
gious worship, or involvement with religious organizations,
least of the problems is the difficulty in deciding where reli-
is an important means to try to improve their current earthly
gion ends and politics begins. For example, during the colo-
positions. In other words, it can be difficult to discern
nial period, religious movements were often simultaneously
whether an African’s individual religious motivations are pri-
anticolonial political movements and fundamentally con-
marily religious, political, or social.
cerned with both sociocultural and religio-spiritual reform.
As such, in looking at Africa’s colonial period it is difficult
Social dynamics in Africa may best be viewed as an en-
to be clear whether individual religious, political, or social
twined triple-stranded helix of state, class, and ethnicity. The
objectives—or a mixture of all three—were paramount when
metaphor of the triple strand is useful in understanding the
seeking to account for the motivations of certain groups and
political and social role of religion in Africa, with the three
organizations. Overall, it is more analytically satisfactory to
strands of the helix comprising religion, ethnicity, and poli-
perceive such movements as involving a combination of mo-
tics. Each appears to be a facet of most Africans’ individual
tivations that often defy easy or precise pigeonholing.
worldviews, and in certain situations and at certain times,
one element may, as least temporarily, dominate the others.
Generally, religion relates to politics in Africa in ways
For example, sometimes religious beliefs or solidarity will
that are themselves linked to the particular historical and de-
serve to form the main context for political action, with po-
velopmental trajectories of individual societies, whether tra-
litical concerns imbued with religious notions that help de-
ditional or modern. In traditional (i.e., precolonial) African
termine the nature of a particular group’s collective response.
societies, the relationship between religion and politics was
Examples in this regard include recent political develop-
always a close one, for religious beliefs and practices under-
ments in both Nigeria and Sudan, where interreligious con-
pinned political power, while political concerns permeated
flict—in both cases between Muslims and non-Muslims—
to the heart of the religious sphere. Rulers were not only po-
reflects an array of both spiritual and material concerns that
litical heads but also religious leaders whose well-being was
interact within very fluid boundaries.
closely linked to their people’s health and welfare. The mod-
ernization that accompanied European colonialism led to a
COLONIALIZATION. This points to how religious and politi-
secularization of public life and a practical separation of poli-
cal power have developed historically in and between African
tics and religion at the state level. As a result, the notion of
religious traditions. The nature and characteristics of the
politics not only involves general relations of power but also
contemporary African state are in large part a function of the
relates to the workings of formal political institutions (e.g.,
legacy of the colonial era, a period of time that ended in most
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cases, in the 1960s. During the main period of European col-
jority of local populations), were nevertheless ruled by Chris-
onization in Africa (1880s–1914), the two main colonizing
tian Europeans. As a result, the various traditional religious
countries, France and Britain, were themselves evolving their
activities had to function within the Europeans’ legal juris-
own democratic political systems. However, the political in-
diction. In addition, throughout much of Africa, Muslims
stitutions both countries created in Africa during colonialism
had to coexist with and be bound by European power, as
were little, if anything, more than naked instruments of
they were ultimately under the latter’s control.
domination. With administrative networks often grafted on
It is important to note that the role of mission Chris-
to preexisting institutions, European hegemony and security
tianity as an institutional force during the colonial period
were very closely linked.
was not simply one of undifferentiated support of temporal
Colonial administrations attempted to employ religion
political power. Whether or not the colony was settler-
as a tactic in their pursuit of political domination. Yet reli-
dominated was significant for an understanding of the rela-
gious interaction between ordinary Africans and the colonial
tionship between Christian missionaries and colonial author-
authorities was by no means a straightforward relationship
ities. If large numbers of settlers were present (e.g., Kenya,
between dominance and dependence. Africans often used
Algeria, and South Africa), then there was a complex rela-
their religious beliefs as a means to adjust the relationship be-
tionship that developed between the white settler communi-
tween themselves and colonial authorities in their favor (as
ty, Christian missionaries, and colonial authorities. On the
far as possible). Whether through the founding of indepen-
other hand, where substantive numbers of white settlers were
dent churches or via Africanized modes of Islam, religious
absent (as in most of West and west-central Africa, as well
leaders sought to create and develop socially and communal-
as Uganda), then Christian missionaries and the colonial au-
ly relevant and popular religious organizations. Such reli-
thorities tended to develop clearly mutually supportive rela-
gious organizations tended to function well during the colo-
tionships.
nial period because they served as appropriate focal points
Yet because various Christian churches (Roman Catho-
for ordinary people’s attempts to come to terms with and to
lic, as well as a variety of Protestant denominations) were in
adapt to the forces of change (summarized as moderniza-
direct competition for converts, there was rivalry between
tion), that were a result of the intrusion of European rule.
them. Sometimes, however, a truce would be declared in face
In other words, such religious organizations functioned as
of the common enemy of Islam. When Islam appeared as a
statements of social, political, and economic interaction as
key threat to Christian dominance and well-being, steps were
well as important foci of community aims and strategy.
taken to try to undermine its attraction by offering Western
education to putative converts. However, where Islam was
European mission churches, on the other hand, were an
already religiously and culturally dominant, as in vast
important facet of attempted colonial cultural domination.
swathes of North, northwest, and East Africa, then the temp-
They had both repressive and liberating functions as agents
tation of Western-style education and its attendant material
of European superiority and political domination. However,
rewards was usually insufficient in the face of cultural and
they were also purveyors of modernization, especially West-
community solidarity to win many, if any, converts to Chris-
ern education, the acquisition of which was quickly noted
tianity. However, sometimes after serious opposition (e.g.,
by many Christian Africans as the key route to advancement
in the West African empire of El Hadj Oumar against the
in colonial society. Preexisting Muslim communities, howev-
French, the Hausa-Fulani empire against the British, and in
er, reacted to European-inspired modernization by attempt-
much of Muslim Somalia prior to World War I) Muslim
ing to deal with its impact without compromising Islamic
leaders were generally pragmatic enough to reach a modus vi-
ideals. Other Muslim groups adopted armed struggle against
vendi with the colonial authorities. It is noteworthy that a
the Europeans, especially during the period from the 1880s
particular form of transnational Islam, or pan-Islamism, was
to 1914, when they were soundly defeated by the superiority
of great concern for colonial rulers in the early years of the
of the Europeans’ military technology.
twentieth century. Especially around the time of World War
The consequences of the colonial period for the relation
I, many European colonial administrations were worried that
between religion and politics in Africa were profound. Con-
both Germany and the Turkish Ottoman Empire were in
sequently, it is appropriate to regard the nature and charac-
tandem politically, seeking out and cultivating African Mus-
teristics of religion’s role in politics in contemporary Africa
lim leaders to be allies in their strategic rivalries with Britain
as a result of the multiple changes occasioned by European
and France. But in fact there was virtually no realistic chance
colonialism. The few territories that did not undergo en-
of a pan-Islamic movement developing in Africa at that time
trenched and formal foreign control (Liberia, Ethiopia, and
because African Muslims were—and still are—often funda-
several others) nevertheless absorbed European-led modern-
mentally divided, whether by ethnicity, nationality, area of
izing influences almost as though they had. Colonies, where
domicile (urban or rural located), their view of the role of
a majority of the population were neither Christian nor Mus-
Islam in both private and public spheres, or a combination
lim during the period of colonial rule (e.g., Guinea-Bissau,
of these factors.
Upper Volta [now Burkina Faso], and Sierra Leone, where
MODERNIZATION AND CHRISTIANITY. As in the early twenti-
traditional African religions were followed by the great ma-
eth century period in Africa, contemporary trends relating
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND AFRICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
7293
to the relation between religion and politics in Africa often
Christian, especially Roman Catholic, leaders were often
reflect not only what occurs locally, but are also connected
prominent in prodemocracy campaigns opposing, denounc-
to what takes place outside the region. As is often noted, over
ing, and frustrating authoritarian regimes and, in several
the last three decades of the twentieth century and into the
cases, these campaigns were successful in removing en-
twenty-first century, religion has generally had a considerable
trenched governments from power.
impact on politics in many regions of the world, not just in
Africa. One common explanation points to a resurgence of
It is significant that such Christian leaders were not, on
religion in the face of failed or flawed modernization. That
the whole, in the forefront of demands for similar political
is, the earlier widespread affirmation that modernization
reforms during the twilight of colonial rule in the 1950s and
(i.e., the growth and spread of urbanization, industrializa-
1960s. Why was this? The simple answer is that in the 1950s
tion, mass education, economic development, scientific ra-
and 1960s senior Christian leaders in Africa were almost al-
tionality, and social mobility) would combine to diminish
ways Europeans. Such people tended overwhelmingly to sup-
significantly the social position of religion in the region has
port the concept—if not always every aspect of the prac-
not been substantiated.
tice—of colonial rule for three main reasons. First, they
shared racial bonds with colonial administrators. Second,
In Africa, what are widely perceived as unwelcome
they believed that colonial rule had provided much-needed
symptoms of modernization, such as a perceived breakdown
law, order, and European civilization to Africa. Third, both
of moral behavior (especially among the young), educational
religious leaders and secular rulers were members of the same
overliberalization, and generally worsening social habits, are
socioeconomic elite, with a class stake in the status quo. In
frequently linked to persistent governmental failures
short, class, racial, and institutional bonds bound Christian
throughout the region to push through and consolidate ap-
leaders to the colonial regimes.
propriate programs of social improvement. Reactions in
many African countries not only to failed modernization but
During the 1960s and 1970s, mainline Christian
also to ideas such as democracy spread by globalization were
churches swiftly Africanized, with control shifting from Eu-
often focused in vociferous demands for incumbent govern-
ropeans to Africans. Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, leaders
ments to resign. In such protests, religious leaders were fre-
of mainline African Christian churches were significantly in-
quently well represented. In many African countries in the
volved in demands for democracy. For example, senior
1990s, mass protests occurred in which millions of ordinary
Christian figures were involved in national democratization
people took to the streets to protest at their venal and corrupt
conferences in seven francophone African countries in the
governments.
early 1990s; these were events held to ascertain the best ways
to deliver appropriate political reforms, notably democratiza-
A consequence of such protests was that, in the 1990s,
tion. At times, Christian leaders were very prominent in the
many African countries underwent at least a degree of de-
fight to oust nondemocratic governments. Such people tend-
mocratization. This involved a series of widespread political
ed to have prodemocracy convictions for three main reasons:
upheavals, focusing on demands for qualitative political
(1) because of personal conviction, (2) because their Chris-
change as well as more and better economic and human
tian beliefs encouraged this notion, and (3) because many
rights. This development reflected a reawakening of civil so-
among their followers were palpably suffering from the ef-
ciety’s political voice, with trade union officials, higher-
fects of poor governments, especially economically and in
education students, businesspeople, civil servants, and, in
terms of human rights abuses. Given their perceptions of
many African countries, Christian leaders coordinating and
their Christian leaders as spiritual guides, and in the custom-
leading protest efforts. Such demands were later focused by
ary absence of independent and effective political parties, or-
professional politicians as integral parts of political programs.
dinary Christians quite naturally turned to their religious
The hope was that following democratization elected leaders
leaders as appropriate figures to take action on their behalf.
would tackle—with energy, resourcefulness, and imagina-
In short, Africa’s recent democratization was linked to the
tion—the pressing economic, political, and social problems
individual and collective efforts of many Christian leaders
of the continent.
and was a testimony to their tenacity, clear-sightedness, and
lack of fear of the consequences of their actions in leading
African demands for both democratization and eco-
popular protests.
nomic change were the result of a rediscovery of political
voice by long quiescent interest groups who were encouraged
Such leaders were in a privileged position to head such
by international developments, most notably the shift away
protests because of the general, although not uniform, Chris-
from Communism in the former Soviet Union. Concerns
tian institutional independence and integrity throughout
were exacerbated by years of popular frustration and disap-
much of Africa. In the postcolonial period, African political
pointment, for the promises of independence had turned
leaders have generally accorded a high level of respect to lead-
out, almost everywhere, to be hollow. Frequently, senior
ers of the main religious institutions, both Christian and
Christian figures were instrumental in the clamor for politi-
Muslim. Because most mainstream expressions of both
cal and economic changes—for example, in South Africa,
Christianity and Islam tended to be unidentified with the
Kenya, and various francophone West African countries.
main interest groups, whether ethnic or class, their leaders
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND AFRICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
stood on relatively neutral ground and thus could serve as
or degraded form of Islam that must be reformed or purified.
a mediating element when social or political conflict oc-
Such fundamentalist interpretations of Islam are of particular
curred. Consequently, leaders of both religious traditions
political importance in Sudan (where it is the ruling ideolo-
were often key interlocutors between state and society. Many
gy) and in parts of northern Nigeria, where conflict (with
were highly respected figures whose own personal desires and
thousands of deaths since the late 1990s) between Muslims
preferences were believed to be subsumed by their concern
and Christians has long been an important politico-religious
to mediate disinterestedly between followers and the state.
issue.
ISLAM AND THE STATE. Regarding the relation between
Third, there is ambivalence in the way that many Mus-
Islam and temporal power in contemporary Africa, it is often
lims regard the concept of liberal democracy itself. Many
suggested that Muslims are less concerned with or interested
Muslims oppose Western interpretations of democracy, in
in democracy than are many Christians. Certainly, African
which sovereignty is said to reside with the people because
Muslim leaders were not, on the whole, in the forefront of
it is seen as a secularized system negating God’s own sover-
demands for political changes in the 1990s. It should be
eignty. The Eulama¯D are typically strong supporters of the sta-
noted, however, that two of the seven francophone coun-
tus quo, not least because it allows them integral involvement
tries—Mali and Niger, which held national conferences on
in running the affairs of Muslims in their state. They exert
new political arrangements in the 1990s—are both strongly
influence by controlling national Muslim organizations. As
Muslim countries. On the other hand, Islam is often regard-
a result, a partnership with state-level politicians is of crucial
ed by Western analysis as an authoritarian, even totalitarian,
importance.
religion whose proponents sometimes seek to impose funda-
mentalist visions as a putative means of purifying society.
SEE ALSO African Religions, overview article; Christianity,
What such fundamentalists are said to want, namely Muslim
articles on Christianity in North Africa and Christianity in
(shar¯ı Eah) law, is regarded as anathema by non-Muslims.
Sub-Saharan Africa; Islam, article on Islam in North Africa.
Three issues contextualize a contemporary discussion of
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eight states and dependencies in the region are Christians liv-
hensive discussion of religious fundamentalisms, including a
ing in circumstances markedly more secular than those
focus on Africa.
experienced by their ancestors. All the same, religion remains
Lan, David. Guns and Rain. London, 1985. This is a case study
a very strong and politically potent force in most places.
of neotraditional religion’s political involvement in Rhodesia
and Zimbabwe.
For convenience, it is useful to divide the consideration
Lapidus, Ira. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge, U.K.,
of Oceanic religions and their relationship to politics into
1988. Outlines the development of Islam in Africa from pre-
three rough historical phases: indigenous societies as they
colonial to present times.
were before extensive European contact; the colonial period,
Mayer, Anne. “The Fundamentalist Impact on Law, Politics, and
marked by intensified missionary efforts and a loss of local
Constitutions in Iran, Pakistan, and the Sudan.” In Funda-
political autonomy; and the postcolonial period, in which re-
mentalism and the State: Remaking Polities, Economies, and
ligion, like much of politics in the region, is increasingly
Militance, edited by Michael Marty and R. Scott Appleby,
shaped by global forces. A caveat is in order. With the excep-
pp. 110–151. Chicago, 1993. Comparative examination of
tion of the last period, these phases do not correspond neatly
the political role of Islam in three countries.
with calendar years. Some isolated groups in the interior of
Mbembe, Achille. Afriques Indociles. Christianisme, Pouvoir et Etat
New Guinea did not look upon a white face until the 1960s,
en Societé Postcoloniale. Paris, 1988. Traces the emergence of
and a good number of islanders continue to live under colo-
popular religion in Africa and outlines its socio-political
nial regimes. Many aspects of indigenous religions and politi-
roles.
cal arrangements have survived or been revived in all areas,
Oliver, Ronald. The African Experience. London, 1991. Locates
but especially those with relatively shallow histories of inter-
the role of religion in Africans’ anticolonial struggles.
actions with the outside world. Indeed, it is still possible
Ranger, Terence. Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zim-
today to observe all three of the phases described here, some-
babwe. Berkeley, Calif., 1985. A comprehensive overview of
times in the same place.
neotraditional religion’s political involvement in Rhodesia
and Zimbabwe during the anticolonial struggle.
THE POLITICAL FUNCTIONS OF INDIGENOUS RELIGIONS.
Oceanic languages possess no words corresponding to the
Stewart, C. C. “Islam.” In The Cambridge History of Africa, vol.
7, From 1905 to 1940, edited by A. Roberts, pp. 191–222.
concepts of “politics” or “religion.” Most cultures recognized
Cambridge, U.K., 1986. Historical account of the develop-
at least a degree of religious specialization in the forms of
ment of Islam in Africa during the first four decades of the
part-time magicians, healers, sorcerers, and priests; a much
twentieth century, as the faith came into competition with
smaller subset developed distinct places of worship and sacri-
Christianity.
fice and supported full-time priests. The elaboration of reli-
Walshe, Peter. “South Africa Prophetic Christianity and the Lib-
gious functionaries and institutions reached its apogee in
eration Movement.” Journal of Modern African Studies 29,
Hawai’i, where a priestly class periodically contested the in-
no. 1 (1992): 27–60. Examines the role of various Christian
fluence of the high chiefs. But even in this case one cannot
churches in the antiapartheid and prodemocracy movement
speak of a separation of religion and politics, as the chiefs,
in South Africa.
like the priests, were regarded as direct descendents of the
J
gods and themselves possessed godlike powers of life and
EFFREY HAYNES (2005)
death over commoners. Religious assumptions infused all as-
pects of life in Oceanic societies, not least those concerned
with the exercise of political power.
POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND
OCEANIC RELIGIONS

Across the region, the vast majority of people lived in
In the late eighteenth century, at the beginning of extensive
small political entities made up of several hundred to a few
European intervention in the region, Oceanic peoples spoke
thousand members bound by ties of kinship (real and ficti-
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND OCEANIC RELIGIONS
tious) and territory on the one hand, and hostility to neigh-
on by some apparently trivial breach of the rules of sharing
boring groups on the other. The daily round for most people
or respect toward others. This strongly sanctions conformity.
comprised subsistence activities, usually directed by house-
The political aspects of Oceanic religion become more
holds, and reciprocal exchanges of food, labor, and wealth
visible when one turns to patterns of leadership. Most socie-
items that cemented relationships with kin and neighbors.
ties in Melanesia lacked formal offices of leadership. While
Virtually everywhere, people assumed that the recent and
powerful leaders did emerge, they largely gained influence by
distant dead continued to take an interest in the community.
demonstrating their own abilities as warriors, managers of
People also generally assumed the existence of impersonal
exchanges, and orators. In several areas, men rose to promi-
spiritual forces possessing tremendous powers of transforma-
nence in the course of organizing initiation and mortuary rit-
tion and destruction. The specific conception of these two
uals, often involving years of careful coordination and spec-
notions of the spiritual and their elaboration varied tremen-
tacular forms of artistic expression. Melanesian leaders could
dously from place to place—from the rather simple, vague
also gain influence by gaining command over various forms
religious notions found in many Melanesian societies to the
of esoteric knowledge, such as garden and war magic or sor-
extremely complex religions of some parts of Polynesia, with
cery. Chiefs in the more hierarchical societies stretching from
their detailed mythologies, dedicated temples, and elaborate
eastern Melanesia through Polynesia and Micronesia, by way
ritual codes. All the same, Oceanic people conceptualized the
of contrast, were considered to be inherently sacred. In the
implications of divine intervention in the human world in
larger societies, chiefs were ranked according to their genea-
essentially similar ways. First, spiritual power was a necessary
logical closeness to a founding ancestral god, following a
component, often along with human skill, for success,
principle of primogeniture. Chiefs at different ranks pos-
whether as a gardener or a lover or in making the transition
sessed equivalent degrees of mana (spiritual potency), with
from child to adult or from life into death. Ancestors could
the highest chiefs approaching the level of the gods them-
intervene of their own accord, but everywhere people at-
selves. Polynesians often pictured their chiefs as the “fathers”
tempted to capture and channel spiritual forces to their own
and, less frequently, “mothers” of their communities. The
advantage through the practice of magic or by offering
chief was often also the highest priest, receiving first fruits
prayers and sacrifices. Second, spiritual entities were concep-
from commoners in various rituals meant to assure success
tualized as extremely powerful, dangerous, and ultimately
and fertility. The visible splendor and wealth of a chief corre-
autonomous. They had to be approached with great caution
sponded to level of his mana and, by extension, the success
and often elaborate ritual preparation. Even so, they had the
of the community he represented. By virtue of their mana,
potential of wreaking havoc upon the people if mishandled
chiefs demanded tribute from commoners and proclaimed
or angered—or simply because they could. Third, those who
tabu (ritual prohibitions) over economic resources. As sacred
interacted with the divine took on divine attributes them-
beings themselves, chiefs were often surrounded by a variety
selves.
of ritual restrictions and tabu. These were extremely elaborat-
ed in the most hierarchical Polynesian societies. The sanctity
In Oceania, as elsewhere, the spiritual could provide a
of the high chiefs of Tahiti was such, for instance, that they
source of revolutionary change but for the most part served
would not enter houses except those dedicated to their own
to maintain the existing order, first by making that order ap-
use or allow their feet to touch the ground outside of their
pear to members to be natural and inevitable, and, second,
own hereditary district. Violations of chiefly tabus in Tahiti,
by punishing those who deviated from the social norm. In
Tonga, and Hawai’i often resulted in execution of the of-
one particularly striking example, the deepest secret of many
fender.
of the elaborate male initiation cults that developed in parts
of Melanesia was that the power monopolized by men was
Contrary to romantic stereotypes of a South Seas para-
originally stolen from women. The cults served, in the men’s
dise, most areas of Oceania were subject to endemic warfare.
eyes at least, to assert their domination over women, who
Religious ideas both reflected and propelled the violence.
were barred from most rituals and cult houses under pain of
The ghosts of the dead in many Melanesian societies could
death. In many other places, supernaturally sanctioned food
only be satisfied by a revenge killing, and in areas of southern
taboos, fears of pollution, and purification rituals served to
New Guinea a boy’s initiation into manhood depended on
distinguish men and women and to assign them distinct roles
the acquisition of a human head. In Polynesia, success in
in society, usually with the men on top. By the same token,
warfare provided perhaps the main venue within which a
understandings of the workings of the supernatural tended
chief could demonstrate his mana in the face of challenges
from rivals. Continuing success in warfare required the prop-
to reinforce social conventions and morality. In many places,
er rituals and sacrifices to the ancestral gods. Aspiring chiefs
for instance, ancestors or sorcerers were assumed to attack
cultivated new gods with spectacular rituals, including
those who failed to live up to their social obligations by mak-
human sacrifices in some of the cults that developed in Tahiti
ing them or their loved ones sick or by destroying their gar-
and Hawai’i.
dens. To this day, parents in many parts of rural Papua New
Guinea commonly explain the death of a beloved aunt or
THE COLONIAL ERA. Although Ferdinand Magellan crossed
uncle to their children as the result of sorcery attacks brought
the Pacific Ocean in 1521, centuries passed before most is-
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7297
landers were disturbed by European intruders. Roman Cath-
very early date, prophets won followings with powerful com-
olic priests accompanied Spanish forces in the northwest
binations of Christian and indigenous themes that chal-
reaches of Micronesia, forcibly converting the Chamorros in
lenged white power. In New Zealand, for instance, the
the 1680s. The next wave of missionary activity did not get
prophet Te Ua Haumene taught that the Maori were the true
under way until 1797, when poorly equipped parties of En-
chosen people of Jehovah, whose mana would grant them
glish Protestants landed at Tahiti, Tonga, and the Marque-
immunity from European diseases and guns (a teaching that
sas. Far from outside support, pioneer missionaries to Poly-
had disastrous consequences in the Maori wars of 1864–
nesia and many parts of Micronesia were forced to rely upon
1865). The leaders of the so-called cargo cults of Melanesia
alliances with local chiefs in order to survive. Conversions,
skillfully wove together local mythology, prophetic visions,
when they came, tended to follow the baptism of chiefs, who
and borrowed elements of Christianity in ways that helped
in turn ordered their followers to enter the churches. The
explain to followers the reasons for their apparent inferiority
early missions entered the islands during a period of consid-
in the face of white power and wealth. The forms these
erable social turmoil caused in part by the increasing pres-
movements took often struck observers as bizarre, but they
ence of European whalers and traders, who introduced dev-
are best understood as attempts to gain a moral equivalence
astating diseases, alcohol, and guns. Whatever their
with whites through rituals meant variously to raise the stat-
understanding of the missionaries’ teachings, some aspiring
ure of indigenous followers or expel the whites while claim-
chiefs evidently saw many advantages in forming alliances
ing their power. Colonial regimes regarded indigenous reli-
with the powerful new god of the white man. In Tahiti,
gious movements with suspicion and often brutally
Tonga, and Fiji, chiefs allied with the missions managed to
suppressed them. Most of the movements did not last long,
conquer their enemies and to establish themselves as Chris-
brought down as much by disappointment in the lack of re-
tian kings. White missionaries, in turn, became councilors
sults as by state suppression. At their height, however, they
to the new rulers, helping them establish codes of law, courts,
temporarily brought together disparate communities in aspi-
and new customs based on a mix of traditional chiefly privi-
rations for a better life, leading some scholars to consider
lege and the Ten Commandments. The association between
them “proto-nationalist movements.”
chiefly rule and Christianity remains strong in many islands
THE PRESENT. With the exception of the Indonesian prov-
to this day, marked by the exalted social status of pastors in
ince of West Papua, which recognizes only the world reli-
Samoa, for instance, and the strict Sabbatarianism of Tonga.
gions present at the time of the country’s independence and
closely monitors the activities of churches and missions, resi-
By the time European powers took an interest in the
dents of the Pacific islands today formally enjoy the right of
South Pacific, missionary regimes were well established on
free religious association. Since all but a tiny minority are af-
the larger islands in Polynesia, and armies of Native evange-
filiated with a Christian church, religious freedom has
lists were taking the Word to smaller islands and into Mela-
meant, in effect, competition between established groups
nesia. Missionaries and indigenous clergy wielded consider-
and the mostly unfettered influx since the 1960s of a wide
able power for a time in southern Vanuatu, Mangareva,
range of primarily evangelical Protestant sects. The domains
Tuvalu, and elsewhere. By the end of the 1900s, however,
of politics and religion are more distinct than in the past, but
colonial rule had been established over the entire region, with
still overlap far more than in most Western countries. The
missionaries relegated to mostly nonpolitical roles. Still, co-
constitutions of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, for in-
lonial administrations everywhere depended very heavily
stance, formally recognize Christianity and indigenous tradi-
upon them for the provision of educational and medical ser-
tions as the twin foundations of the nation. Many of the
vices and, in Papua New Guinea, as a bulwark against tribal
most prominent politicians, including the first prime minis-
fighting. Through such operations, as well as the networks
ter of Vanuatu, Father Walter Lini (1942–1999), have come
they established, the missions played a fundamental role in
from the ranks of the clergy. In Papua New Guinea, as in
easing the integration of small autonomous communities,
several other former colonies, the state shares administration
often no larger than a village, into emerging states. In the ex-
of the school system with the churches.
tremely diverse linguistic context of Papua New Guinea, for
instance, mission schools introduced students to the idea of
As in earlier times, many ordinary people in the islands
a multicultural country as well as providing the tools to par-
tend to perceive their world through a spiritual lens. Some
ticipate in it, through the teaching of a common language
election campaigns in Papua New Guinea resemble revival
and literacy and by familiarizing students with European
meetings, punctuated by prayers and appeals to God and
concepts of time, work, and authority. The most senior grad-
posters in which Jesus appears as a politician’s effective run-
uates of the mission school system, when they did not be-
ning mate. From Samoa to the Solomon Islands, chiefs legiti-
come missionaries themselves, entered the nascent
mate their authority to followers by merging traditional sta-
bureaucracies of the colonial states and formed the seed of
tuses and customs with strong public declarations of
the elite classes that would eventually rule the new countries.
Christian faith. Many Pacific Islanders take this conception
one step further, viewing Christianity and ancestral tradi-
Christian ideas spread remarkably quickly, even in areas
tions as one and the same, merely different faces of a single
where people resented the presence of Europeans. From a
religious identity. In one of the uglier twists on this powerful
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synthesis, members of the Tukai (“land”) movement in Fiji
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A rare analysis of a traditional Polynesian chieftainship as ob-
ing rapid change in response to improved communications,
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Goldman, I. Ancient Polynesian Society. Chicago, 1970. An excel-
which work to undermine the former autonomy of local
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Lawrence, Peter, and Mervyn J. Meggitt, eds. Gods, Ghosts, and
some, the newer Fundamentalist and Pentecostal sects
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sweeping through the region provide a refuge from the con-
and the New Hebrides. Melbourne, Australia, and New York,
fusing changes undermining old certainties. But for others,
1965. A classic collection of articles on Melanesian religious
the churches and faith have provided a platform and venue
conceptions and experiences. K.O.L. Burridge’s contribution
to challenge given orders, including political arrangements.
on the Tangu of New Guinea is exceptionally good in teasing
Thus, churches have provided spiritual and organizational
out the religious, moral, and political dimensions of big-man
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support to the pro-democracy movement in Tonga, protest-
ing the autocratic power of the king, as well as to protests
Trompf, G. W. Payback: The Logic of Retribution in Melanesian
against continuing French colonial rule in New Caledonia
Religions. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1994. More
compendium than analysis, this massive work documents the
and French Polynesia. In Papua New Guinea and elsewhere,
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their lives, against rampant political corruption, the rape of
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precious natural resources for short-term profits, and the im-
Tuzin, Donald F. The Voice of the Tambaran: Truth and Illusion
poverishment of local peoples. The churches have been espe-
in Ilahita Arapesh Religion. Berkeley, Calif., 1980. One of the
cially important for women, as one of the few venues in
most detailed and sophisticated treatments of a Melanesian
which they can organize to improve the economic conditions
male initiation cult available, with a provocative reading of
for their families and to urge action against alcoholism, drug
the implications of such cults in the politics of gender.
abuse, and associated domestic violence. Finally, the church-
Valeri, Valerio. Kingship and Sacrifice: Ritual and Society in Ancient
es have provided a center of community life and a link to
Hawaii. Translated by Paula Wissing. Chicago, 1985. A
home for the vast and quickly expanding numbers of island-
challenging but fascinating ethnohistorical reconstruction of
ers from places like Samoa or much of Micronesia who now
a sacrificial cult that buttressed chiefly power in precontact
make their home in distant places like New Zealand or the
Hawai’i.
United States.
Studies Concerning Missionaries, Conversion, Cargo
It seems likely at the beginning of the twenty-first cen-
Cults, and Colonialism
Gunson, Niel. Messengers of Grace: Evangelical Missionaries in the
tury that increasing globalization will continue to diversify
South Seas, 1797–1860. Melbourne, Australia, and New
and fracture the religious choices and identities available to
York, 1978. The best account of early evangelical missiona-
Pacific Islanders. If so, the political potency of religion is
ries to the South Pacific, with a sophisticated treatment of
likely to decline, because it depends to a high degree on a
their political views and interactions with chiefs.
sense of shared community. Increasing numbers of Pacific
Howe, K.R. Where the Waves Fall: A New South Sea Islands History
Islanders are also likely to abandon religious affiliation en-
from First Settlement to Colonial Rule. Honolulu, Hawaii,
tirely, particularly in urban areas. Still, one cannot help but
1984. This lively history of the early contact period provides
be struck by the centrality of a spiritual outlook in the lives
detailed information on the political and cultural impact of
of most Pacific Islanders, a face they share with much of the
Christian missions in several Pacific societies.
so-called Third World peoples. As long as this is the case, re-
Jolly, Margaret, and Martha Macintyre, eds. Family and Gender
ligion and politics will form a potent mix in Oceania.
in the Pacific: Domestic Contradictions and the Colonial Im-
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. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1989. Includes case
SEE ALSO Afterlife, article on Oceanic Concepts; Cargo
studies examining the reconstruction of local political space
Cults; Colonialism and Postcolonialism; Cosmology, article
and notions of gender after conversion to Christianity in var-
on Oceanic Cosmologies; Gender and Religion, article on
ious Oceanic societies.
Gender and Oceanic Religions; Globalization and Religion;
Kaplan, Martha. Neither Cargo Nor Cult: Ritual Politics and the
Mana; Maori Religion; Melanesian Religions; Micronesian
Colonial Imagination in Fiji. Durham, N.C., 1995. An im-
Religions; Missions; Oceanic Religions; Polynesian Reli-
portant study of creative tensions between indigenous reli-
gions; Revenge and Retribution; Rites of Passage, article on
gious assumptions and the expansion of colonial institutions
Oceanic Rites; Taboo.
in Fiji.
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND NATIVE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
7299
Latukefu, Sione. Church and State in Tonga: The Wesleyan Meth-
POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND
odist Missionaries and Political Development, 1822–1875.
NATIVE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
Canberra, Australia, 1974. Studies the mutual reinforcement
The problem of determining the relationship between
of chiefly authority and missionary progress in Tonga, which
church and state, so prevalent in Western European history,
culminated in the creation of the Tongan kingdom and the
first independent church in Oceania.
is notably absent in the traditions and practices of American
Indian tribes. Although tribal traditions lack church and
Robbins, Joel. Becoming Sinners: Christianity and Moral Torment
state concepts, we can nevertheless find in tribal cultures
in a Papua New Guinea Society. Berkeley, 2004. This richly
detailed anthropological study investigates the implications
practices suggesting separate realms. American Indian reli-
of conversion on an indigenous group’s conception of com-
gion was characterized by rituals enabling individuals to at-
munity, personal morality and leadership.
tain a measure of extraordinary power bestowed by spirits in
Siikala, Jukka. Culture and Conflict in Tropical Polynesia: A Study
visions or dreams. Political leadership, meanwhile, demand-
of Traditional Religion, Christianity, and Nativistic Move-
ed a reputation for courage and a man’s continued good for-
ments. Helsinki, Finland, 1982. An exceptionally detailed ac-
tune in warfare. But no formal vesting of religious or political
count of early syncretic religious movements in Polynesia.
power in an institutional setting occurred. If an individual
Worsley, Peter. The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of “Cargo” Cults
had personal charisma, projected spiritual gifts or courage in
in Melanesia. New York, 1968. A classic survey of cargo cults
fighting, he became a leader and attracted a following.
from a neo-Marxist perspective, emphasizing their political
implications.
RELIGION. For most Indian societies no mediating structure
existed between the individual and the higher powers.
Studies on Religion and Politics in Contemporary
Through vision quests, puberty rituals, sweat lodges, dances,
Oceania
Barker, John, ed. Christianity in Oceania: Ethnographic Perspec-
and ceremonies welcoming the change of seasons or respond-
tives. Lanham, N.Y., 1990. Examines contemporary Chris-
ing to personal crises, people had unusual experiences that
tianity, including its political dimensions, from the perspec-
could be called “religious” or “mystical.” Most rituals were
tive of local indigenous societies.
designed to remind people of the existence of higher spiritual
Ernst, Manfred. Winds of Change: Rapidly Growing Religious
powers from which they might seek help. People remem-
Groups in the Pacific Islands. Suva, Fiji, 1994. The most com-
bered clearly an unusual event, they listened carefully when
prehensive review of the contemporary religious scene in
they heard unusual voices, and they heeded the content of
Oceania, with a great deal of information on the interface be-
their dreams. Sometimes it was not necessary to approach the
tween politics and the churches, new and old.
higher powers. They came in dreams or startling daytime
Garrett, John. Where Nets Were Cast: Christianity in Oceania Since
events, identified themselves, and gave instructions to the
World War II. Suva, Fiji, and Geneva, 1997. A regional sur-
person on how he or she should live thereafter. Almost al-
vey that provides information on politics within as well as
ways the individual received a song from the spirit and sang
without Christian denominations across Oceania.
it whenever he needed the assistance of the spirit.
Gibbs, Philip. “The Religious Factor in Contemporary Papua
New Guinea Politics.” Catalyst 28, no. 1 (1998): 27–51. A
The spiritual message in American Indian religion was
rare treatment of the prominent role of religious rhetoric in
culturally and geographically specific. There was little of the
contemporary political campaigns.
general feeling of universal acceptance reported by mystics
Keesing, Roger M., and Robert Tonkinson, eds. “Reinventing
of both East and West. People did not feel they were merging
Traditional Culture: The Politics of Kastom in Island Mela-
with a timeless universal essence. Spiritual gifts were always
nesia.” Mankind 13, no. 4 (1982). A stimulating and contro-
practical and specific. No one felt compelled to convince
versial collection of studies on political manipulations of tra-
others of the validity of his or her experience or to defend
dition, including traditional religion, in postcolonial
the knowledge received. Usually the person was given an
Oceanic societies.
herb or plant or taught a song to be used for specific purposes
Marshall, Mac, and Leslie B. Marshall. Silent Voices Speak: Women
and situations. With the gift came the warning that the use
and Prohibition in Truk. Belmont, Calif., 1990. One of the
of this power had limits.
few studies available detailing the political role of women’s
church groups.
A vision might impart prohibitions against killing cer-
Robbins, Joel, Pamela J. Stewart, and Andrew Strathern, eds.
tain creatures who assisted humans, although American Indi-
“Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity in Oceania.” Jour-
an people generally already recognized such prohibitions. A
nal of Ritual Studies 15, no. 2 (2001). Several of the studies
man having a relationship with a particular creature would
in this collection examine the growing influence of Pentecos-
buy or trade goods so that he might obtain skins and feathers
tal churches on local political perspectives and activities.
of his particular bird or animal. Thus members of the Fox
White, Geoffrey M. Identity Through History: Living Stories in a
society could not kill foxes but could trade with those who
Solomon Islands Society. Cambridge, U.K., and New York,
were permitted to kill them. People were sometimes told to
1991. An engaging study of the melding of tradition and
avoid certain foods. The food might be a part of a particular
Christianity in the contemporary construction of Oceanic
animal, and the prohibition might have nothing to do with
chieftainship.
an assisting spirit animal. The Cheyennes, for example, were
JOHN BARKER (2005)
forbidden to eat a little piece of meat found in the chest area
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of the buffalo, because it represented the flesh of humans that
owners. A sale was thus actually a loan, because the second
the giant carnivorous buffalo had eaten in the previous
owner did not have complete control over the stone. Women
world. Roman Nose (1830–1868), the great Cheyenne war-
had the primary knowledge of medicinal plants, and they
rior, was prohibited from eating food that had been touched
passed this information down to their daughters and grand-
by metal, because the metal would remain in his body and
daughters, so that a family could become noted for its medic-
attract bullets. He violated this prohibition at the battle of
inal knowledge. Prohibitions against misuse of a sacred ob-
Beecher’s Island and was mortally wounded. In general, spe-
ject also carried over through the generations. Even if people
cial powers were meant to be used on behalf of community
might no longer use the powers of a stone or pipe, it still kept
members, and witchcraft was forbidden and punished wher-
its potency and so had to be respected long after its original
ever it was identified.
owner had died.
Young people sought the advice of several spiritual el-
Young people often served under a medicine man or
ders before they engaged in rituals, so that they would know
spiritual leader in order to gain the knowledge and experi-
how to respond to the spirits when they came. Elders super-
ence necessary to become practitioners of certain rituals.
vising a vision quest or other ritual seemed to have the power
Their learning in some cases bound them to certain restric-
to monitor their protégé’s progress and knew what the initi-
tions; for instance, initiates learning star knowledge could
ate was experiencing. Stories abound that describe how elders
not use this knowledge until their teacher had passed on.
intervened when they saw the initiate endangered by a preda-
Some scholars have described this apprenticeship as a priest-
tor or an enemy. Following the ritual the initiate would be
hood of elders, but closer examination reveals no formal in-
cleansed in a sweat lodge and asked to share what he or she
stitutional practice comparable to the priesthood of Western
could discuss about the experience. No one revealed the
religions. With the development of the Native American
whole experience, because to do so would reveal the limita-
Church in the twentieth century, however, the Roadman (or
tions of the person and thus make him or her vulnerable to
ceremonial leader) played a role comparable to that of a
the powers of hostile people. As a protection against fakery,
priest. In general, however, people simply deferred to certain
though, the Plains tribes required the person performing the
individuals known to have power to perform certain rituals.
ritual or having a dream to demonstrate the powers they had
been given in front of the community.
POLITICS. When Europeans initially encountered Indian
tribes, they looked for familiar political institutions. Thus
In each generation a tribe had a number of people able
they dubbed Indian leaders “kings”; accordingly, the daugh-
to perform amazing feats with the powers granted them by
ters of these “kings” became princesses. Throughout Ameri-
the spirits. One man might be able to foretell the future and
can history, whites attempted to force the Indians to adopt
would always be consulted when people prepared for a hunt
Western political institutions. The period of initial contact
or went to war. Another man might have the power to care
occasioned many bitter lessons; for instance, a group of chiefs
for horses and dogs with special medicines, in order to en-
asked to cede lands might encounter opposition from anoth-
hance their abilities; in the case of the Appaloosa horse, such
er group, which would deny the sale and demand return of
medicines might actually change the coloring of a colt. Some
the land. Such incidents quickly gave rise to the custom of
people could break fevers or set bones. The Ponca leader Lu-
having both the chiefs and the headmen of smaller bands
ther Standing Bear (1829?–1908) said that he had never seen
sign treaties. The U.S. government thereby hoped to reduce
anyone with amputated limbs until the wars with the whites,
the chance that a dissident group would later challenge the
indicating that healing powers had served the people well.
legality of the transaction. Soon corrupted, however, the
An unusual gift was the ability to use remote seeing to locate
treaty system turned into a means of forcing land sales from
missing people and find lost things.
weak peoples with no legitimate representation. Presidential
The Lummi Indians, who live in the far northwestern
peace medals or certificates were given at treaty negotiations
United States near the Canadian border, had a person who
as a way of identifying Indians who were subject to the trea-
could perform a rain ceremony, which they needed despite
ty; Indians then had to present these tokens or documents
living in a very rainy climate. The rainmaker used his power
at the next gathering, in order to confirm their status.
when a heavy snowfall threatened to trap people in their
The traditional ways of organizing a community politi-
longhouses. His power would change the snow to rain and
cally differed significantly from Western forms. The Six Na-
prevent large drifts from trapping people inside their houses.
tions—which after 1722 comprised the Iroquois, the Mo-
This gift was restricted to a particular family, and everyone
hawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the
knew that each generation of that family would have the
Senecas, and the Tuscaroras—had a formal council of over
power to perform the ritual.
fifty chiefs who conducted the affairs of the Confederacy.
Spiritual leaders, without fear of retribution, could pass
Chieftain positions were distributed unevenly over the six
on—or sometimes sell—the powers given to them. In the
Nations, but none complained about the manner of their al-
Plains it was common to loan or give away small stones that
location. The Clan Mothers chose the chiefs, so that anyone
performed many functions for tribal elders. A primary loyalty
holding an office in the Confederacy had to respond to the
nonetheless existed between the stones and their original
concerns of the heads of families. The Red Lake Chippewa
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND NATIVE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
7301
(Ojibwa) had a council of seven chiefs who conducted busi-
cation was regarded as a magic wand to change the Indians
ness on behalf of everyone in their tribe. The Pueblos had
from hunters and farmers into staid English merchants. The
a formal council with specific responsibilities assigned to
British therefore established schools to educate Indian youth,
each member. When they came under Spanish domination
so that they might appreciate the benefits of “civilization.”
the Pueblos simply created additional offices to deal specifi-
Thus Dartmouth, Princeton, William and Mary, and other
cally with the Spanish. The Sioux had a general council con-
universities began as schools for Indian youth. With the in-
sisting of the important chiefs, but they also designated four
creasing prosperity of the colonists, however, these institu-
outstanding younger leaders to represent the whole nation
tions increasingly served middle- and upper-class whites
in dealing with the incursions of the white man.
rather than Indians. By the time Americans began to settle
According to custom and tradition, no formal political
the Illinois country, there was no pretense of founding col-
organizations existed, although there were some exceptions.
leges to educate the Indians; instead, treaty moneys designat-
Most Indian settlements and bands were small. Even the set-
ed for Indian education were often sent to churches to build
tlements of the Five Civilized Tribes (the Creeks, the Chick-
schools at Indian agencies. The Choctaw Academy in Ken-
asaws, the Cherokees, the Choctaws, and the Seminoles)
tucky was established in the 1820s for the leading families
were tiny in comparison with most rural communities.
of that tribe and later for children from the Five Civilized
Longhouses, used the by eastern woodland and Pacific
Tribes. The academy closed after an epidemic killed a large
Northwest peoples, often represented the basic political enti-
portion of its students.
ty. The task of governing relied heavily on cultural kinship
In mid-seventeenth-century New England, Puritan mis-
customs and the consensus of the community. Heads of fam-
sionaries—having deemed a sufficient number of Indians
ilies represented their relatives in informal meetings of the
ready to live a “civilized” and Christian life—gathered the
group. If a person showed strong leadership qualities, the
converts together and resettled them in villages known as
community might designate him as the primary spokesman
“Praying Towns.” These settlements consisted of Indians
in encounters with other groups.
from several different tribes who had in common only their
American Indian institutions became more formal as
conversion to Christianity. The towns had the same status
dangers from the outside escalated. In the 1820s the Chero-
as other political subdivisions, with landholdings equal to
kees, Creeks, and Choctaws modified their traditional coun-
those of the colonists’ townships. As land became more valu-
cils to resemble more closely the government of the United
able, however, the colonists assigned white trustees to the
States, eventually adopting written constitutions. After tribes
Praying Towns. These trustees gradually dissipated the Indi-
were confined to reservations in the 1870s, Indian agents
an estates. Over the years white settlers attempted similar ex-
tried to appoint reservation governments, including courts,
periments with different tribes, but, as with the New En-
so that the people could control their own civil and criminal
gland Praying Towns, the white man’s greed for land
jurisdiction. Generally tribal communities maintained their
undermined any initial religious or educational intentions.
allegiance to the old chief- or headman-based form of gov-
In one of the bloodier examples, a group of converted Dela-
ernment, and the traditional chiefs quite often became repre-
wares, convinced to move to western Pennsylvania before the
sentatives of the new governments.
Revolutionary War, established their own town, Gnadenhüt-
COLONIAL DAYS. From the first decades of colonization, rep-
ten. When frontier violence flared up in the Ohio country,
resentatives of various Christian denominations, with the aid
a white militia invaded this peaceful town and on March 8,
of colonial governments, worked to convert the natives.
1782 slaughtered the converts. During the Removal peri-
French colonial policy sought not only to convert Indian,
od—after the passage of the Removal Act in 1830—the mis-
but also to intermarry with them, in effect seeking to create
sionary Isaac McCoy attempted to set up an Indian state west
a new society composed of a mixture of French and Indian
of the Mississippi, and in the 1850s missionaries founded the
genes and culture. The fortunes of the various French mo-
short-lived Hazelwood Republic of the Minnesota Sioux.
nastic orders shifted back and forth, subjecting the Indians
But neither conversion to Christianity nor the adoption of
to different interpretations of the Christian religion. Thus
Western-style forms of government proved sufficient to save
the Jesuit and Recollect orders had varying success with the
American Indians from destruction.
different eastern tribes. So pervasive was the effort of the
Just prior to the passage of the Removal Act, rumors of
French that many tribes became strongly Roman Catholic
fantastic gold deposits on the Cherokee lands within its bor-
and insisted on securing funds and lands for their priests
ders led the state of Georgia to encourage its white residents
when the United States began making treaties with them.
to invade these lands. The conflict led to the two most fa-
English settlement was quite different. The British
mous Indian-related U.S. Supreme Court cases—Cherokee
sought to displace the Indians in favor of their own colonists,
Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia. In the latter case
and they discouraged mixed marriages. Various denomina-
Baptist missionaries insisted that their adherence to federal
tions sent missionaries to the tribes of New England; the em-
treaties gave them immunity from state penalties. Although
phasis, typically Protestant, was to win individual converts
the Supreme Court decided in their favor, they were none-
from local tribes or from people living on the frontier. Edu-
theless convicted under state law and sentenced to years of
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POLITICS AND RELIGION: POLITICS AND NATIVE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
hard labor. Thereafter missionaries ensured that they had
tice spread to Oklahoma and eventually to the northern
federal authorization to seek converts before investing in In-
plains and Great Lakes areas. Practitioners held night-long
dian missions.
singing ceremonies in which they ingested the peyote cactus
RESERVATION PERIOD. In 1869 the newly elected president,
button, a bitter herb (and hallucinogen), in order to aid in
Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877), sought the advice and sup-
the seeing of visions. They employed some elements of the
port of Christian churches in formulating policy toward In-
Christian ritual to explain the place of peyote in their reli-
dians on the western frontier. Popularly called the Peace Pol-
gious practice, making it roughly equivalent to the bread and
icy, the result of this church-state collaboration allowed
wine of the Christian mass. The attraction of peyote lay in
Christian denominations to nominate Indian agents for res-
its origins in traditional practices and in the idea that it could
ervations, gave churches primary responsibility for Indian
serve as the center of a new religion designed for Indians by
education, and in many cases also granted them exclusive
the Creator. The famous Comanche chief Quanah Parker
rights to establish missions on reservations. Here American
(1845?–1911) was one of the more prominent adherents to
hypocrisy reached its zenith. No white American questioned
this new religion; his prestige made it acceptable to tribes
the idea that a “full blood Christian” was most fit to impart
that had not practiced the ritual before.
religion and civilization to a full-blooded Indian. With a few
Some tribes welcomed the new religion, while others
exceptions, however, church-appointed agents exploited the
bitterly opposed it, favoring either the old religion or Chris-
Indians and established dictatorial rule on the reservations.
tianity. Missionaries condemned peyote rituals as the work
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, created in 1824, ordered that
of the devil, and religious conflict in some communities esca-
Indians who did not work or who failed to send their chil-
lated so much so as to disrupt families. In 1919 the U.S.
dren to school be denied rations. The use of tribal languages
Congress held hearings on the subject and considered a bill
was permitted only if they had written forms, and the only
to ban peyote use. Prohibitions against peyote had previously
materials available for reading were Christian religious writ-
been justified with reference to alcohol laws, but it was not
ings. On all counts the Peace Policy brought only turmoil
clear that these laws in fact applied. In spite of intense pres-
and despair to the tribes.
sure from the Christian churches, the congressional commit-
Because they lacked the complex bureaucratic organiza-
tee considering the matter refused to send the bill to the
tion of the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant churches
floor. Secular social scientists sided with the Indians in the
found it difficult to bear the financial burden of operating
hearings, arguing that peyote use was an integral part of tra-
schools. The Bureau of Indian Affairs therefore allowed them
ditional Indian culture. On the reservation level the struggle
to use secular tribal annuity funds for support of their
continued, and since Indians regarded the practice as authen-
schools. The Supreme Court upheld this practice in Quick
tically theirs, the hearings only served to publicize and spread
Bear v. Leupp (1908), on the transparently spurious ground
the religion. But practitioners realized that they would not
of providing religious freedom to the Indians. Eventually,
be protected unless their religion could mimic the institu-
however, the practice was discontinued. With no govern-
tional organization of the Christian churches. They therefore
ment funds coming to the Protestants, only the Catholic
incorporated “Native American Churches” in several states.
Church could afford to operate schools, which it continued
THE REFORM ERA. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New
to establish on Indian reservations until the 1960s.
Deal (1933–1939) brought about radical changes in Indian
Federal and state governments prohibited Sun Dances
religious life. The new Indian Commissioner John Collier
and ceremonies beginning in the 1880s, and the Courts of
(1933–1945), a strong supporter of traditional Indian cus-
Indian Affairs on the reservations rigorously enforced these
toms and practices, changed the directives of the Bureau of
regulations. Some tribes skirted this oppression by pretend-
Indian Affairs to support rather than suppress dances and
ing their dances celebrated American holidays such as the
peyote use. The Wheeler-Howard Act (or Indian Reorgani-
Fourth of July or presidents’ birthdays. As late as the 1920s
zation Act) of 1934, which authorized the creation of tribal
the government deliberately worked to isolate traditional re-
governments, allowed the tribes themselves to regulate reli-
ligious practitioners and began to punish participation in In-
gious practice on their own reservations. A few prohibited
dian dances with fines. Only when the Pueblos allowed some
the Native American Church. Whereas the Pueblos generally
visitors to view some of their more secular dances did they
struggled to convince their members not to join the new
find some relief from government interference. One can also
church, the Navajos formally passed a tribal ordinance ban-
perhaps credit the Fred Harvey restaurants, which sprang up
ning the use of peyote. The federal district court upheld the
on the route of the Santa Fe Railroad beginning in the late
ban on the basis that Indian tribes were sovereign nations
nineteenth century, with helping to ease the rigor of govern-
“higher” in political status than states and therefore not sub-
ment prohibition of dances—Indian dances provided spec-
ject to the Bill of Rights in religious matters.
tacular entertainment, and thus a source of profits, at the
THE PROTEST PERIOD. By the mid-1950s traditional dances
major stations along the line.
were held openly on most reservations. Other ceremonies,
The 1880s also saw the spread of peyote use in religious
however, had been neglected and could no longer be per-
practices. Originating with the southwestern tribes, the prac-
formed, and in some cases religious practitioners continued
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7303
to mistrust the government and kept their rituals hidden. As
to American Indians—that had been stolen from graves or
the Indian protest movement began to grow in the early
gathered as trophies after battles with the U.S. cavalry. Hear-
1970s, traditional spiritual leaders supported the activists
ings leading up to the bill revealed widespread wrongdoing
and often attended their rallies and gatherings. During the
by most U.S. museums, most of which had skeletal materials
occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in
and in some cases also sacred objects obtained through less
the fall of 1972 and the subsequent protest at Wounded
than ethical means. The law had three basic purposes: First,
Knee, South Dakota, during the winter of 1973, Sioux medi-
to protect against further grave desecration, second, to repa-
cine men were prominent participants, giving a sense of legit-
triate thousands of dead relatives housed in museum display
imacy to the protest. During the trials following the occupa-
cases and vaults, and finally, to restore stolen or improperly
tion of Wounded Knee, some Indian defendants insisted on
acquired religious and cultural property to their rightful
swearing oaths on the sacred pipe rather than the Bible,
owners.
thereby alarming white Christian juries.
Archaeologists and museums curators were at first ap-
The watershed event in raising the status of tribal reli-
palled by the scope of the bill and its broad and somewhat
gions, however, was the restoration of the sacred Blue Lake
confusing language. Eventually, however, they found their
to Taos Pueblo in 1970. The Pueblo had refused money for
position morally untenable and cooperated to help secure
this mountain area of forty-four thousand acres after it sued
final passage of the bill. Not surprisingly, the institution
the United States in the Indian Claims Commission, prefer-
most reluctant to engage in the process of repatriation was
ring to work toward restoration of lands through legislative
the Smithsonian, whose staff was doctrinally bound to out-
action. With the backing of a strong bipartisan coalition in
moded studies of human skulls to determine race, intelli-
Congress, the land was returned. Not only did this legislation
gence, and moral character. During the 1990s a significant
represent a major reversal of federal policy toward Indian
number of objects and skeletons were returned for reburial
lands, but it also placed the issue of sacred lands on the na-
and continued ceremonial use. Some tribes, abhorring the
tional agenda.
idea of receiving skeletal matter for fear that it might affect
MODERN ACHIEVEMENTS. In 1978 Congress passed the
their fortunes, asked the museums to preserve the materials
American Indian Religious Freedom Resolution, which or-
until a time when their people might feel differently about
dered federal agencies to make special efforts to cooperate
repatriation.
with tribes needing to use certain locations on federal lands
CONTEMPORARY ISSUES. The problem of ensuring American
for ceremonial purposes. Although the resolution contained
Indian religious freedom in modern times has been twofold.
no enforcement provisions, it did alert federal agencies, state
Because Indians had been forced onto small tracts of land to
governments, and museums that traditional Indian religions
make way for white settlers, many shrines and holy places
deserved respect. The more elevated legal status of traditional
were no longer accessible, as they now lay on federal land.
religion led to further reforms.
Traditional practitioners seeking entrance to certain loca-
The lack of enforcement provisions in the Religious
tions, such as the Bear’s Lodge (Devil’s Tower) in Wyoming,
Freedom resolution created great uncertainty in Indian
Zuni Heaven in Arizona, or Mount Shasta in California were
country. Litigation to stop various construction projects on
subject to strict regulation under multiple-use doctrines on
the basis of the resolution were usually turned aside by rhe-
federal lands. The trend at the beginning of the twenty-first
torical court decisions that failed to establish a clear interpre-
century has been to open more national lands to industry,
tation of the resolution. In 1988 the Supreme Court heard
changing forever the landscape of the American West and
Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, a
destroying many shrines. Although the Religious Freedom
case involving the construction of a logging road in northern
Resolution directs agencies to work with American Indians
California that compromised the performance of certain rit-
to avoid conflicts, rumors emanating from Washington indi-
uals. In spite of factual findings by lower courts in favor of
cated that some federal agencies had “war rooms” to prepare
the Indians, the justices ruled that Indian religious freedom
for conflict with Indians over possible claims.
could not stand in the way of the routine bureaucratic activi-
The use of peyote off the reservations and in the cities
ties of the federal government. This decision was a major set-
became an issue in 1990, when Employment Division, De-
back, because it meant that any activity by the federal gov-
partment of Human Resources of the State of Oregon v. Smith
ernment, no matter how trivial, had priority over Indian
came before the Supreme Court. Alfred Smith and Galen
religious practices.
Black, two Indians, were fired from their jobs at a private
Indians turned to Congress to change this situation, and
drug rehabilitation program because they ingested peyote in
in 1990 President George H. W. Bush signed into law the
private religious ceremonies. When they applied for unem-
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
ployment compensation from the state of Oregon, they were
The initial demand for such a law had been triggered by the
refused on the grounds that they had been discharged for
discovery by Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawai’i that the
work-related misconduct. On appeal they cited a well-
Smithsonian Institution held nearly twenty-five thousand
grounded constitutional doctrine that the government must
human skeletons—a substantial portion of which belonged
have a “compelling” interest in the enforcement of a law be-
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7304
POLLUTION
fore it can be invoked to infringe on or restrict freedoms
SEE ALSO Anthropology, Ethnology, and Religion; Conver-
guaranteed by the First Amendment. Sadly, the court over-
sion; Cosmology, article on Indigenous North and Me-
turned this test of constitutionality, leaving all religious prac-
soamerican Cosmologies; Drama, article on North American
titioners in a legal limbo regarding the application of general
Indian Dance and Drama; Ecology and Religion; Gender
statutes to religious activities.
and Religion, article on Gender and Native American Reli-
gious Tradition; Missions; Native American Christianities;
Following the Smith case, a coalition of religious bodies
Native American Church; North American Indian Reli-
sought clarification of the decision in Congress. Unfortu-
gions; North American Indians; Performance and Ritual;
nately this coalition refused to allow Indians to participate
Poetry, article on Native American Poetry and Religion;
in the reform movement, arguing out of ignorance that peyo-
Rites of Passage, article on North American Indian Rites.
te was merely a drug. Indians instead fought for the passage
of amendments to the Religious Freedom Resolution, and
BIBLIOGRAPHY
they succeeded in 1994. The amendments clarified much of
Deloria, Vine, Jr., and Clifford Lytle. The Nations Within: The
the confusion that the Smith case had engendered and of-
Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty. New York,
fered increased protection for the practices of the Native
1984.
American Church. Since 1994 these new protections have
Fritz, Henry E. The Movement for Indian Assimilation: 1860–
been tested in a number of cases, the outcomes of which have
1890. Westport, Conn., 1981.
not diluted the rights of Indians. These cases, however, raised
Irwin, Lee. The Dream Seekers: Native American Visionary Tradi-
novel questions regarding the manner in which the Native
tions of the Great Plains. Norman, Okla., 1994.
American Church authorizes, appoints, or anoints its cere-
Keller, Robert H., Jr. American Protestantism and United States In-
monial leader, the Roadman. Some non-Indians sought to
dian Policy, 1869–82. Lincoln, Neb., 1983.
become Roadmen, forecasting a major case some time in the
Smith, Huston, and Reuben Snake, comp. and eds. One Nation
future. The main problem faced by the Native American
under God: The Triumph of the Native American Church.
Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century was one
Santa Fe, N. Mex., 1996.
of self-definition: whether it was to be a church with no mis-
Thomas, David Hurst. Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology,
sionary responsibilities, which it certainly was on reserva-
and the Battle for Native American Identity. New York, 2000.
tions, or whether it should be a more universal church that
Walker, James R. Lakota Belief and Ritual. Edited by Raymond
can accept non-Indian members.
J. DeMallie and Elaine A. Jahner. Lincoln, Neb., 1980.
To understand the historical journey of American Indi-
VINE DELORIA, JR. (2005)
ans and their religious traditions one must place the develop-
ments of the modern era within a broader context. Christian-
ity, primarily through its involvement in Indian education,
POLLUTION SEE PURIFICATION; TABOO
made tremendous inroads into tribal cultures. As education
became a function of the secular federal government and
state educational institutions, religious instruction faded and
POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS
Indian children received the same tepid, occasional religious
This entry consists of the following articles:
instruction as non-Indians. Improved roads and modern
AN OVERVIEW
communications reduced the distance between reservation
MYTHIC THEMES
villages and outside society. With increased mobility, people
no longer felt tied to the old ways and looked for more mean-
POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW
ingful religious experiences. Traditional tribal religions and
Polynesia consists of several thousand islands contained
Pentecostal neighborhood churches became more attractive.
within an immense triangle in the central Pacific with its cor-
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Indian
ners at Hawai’i, New Zealand, and Easter Island. Polynesian
membership in the mainstream Christian churches declined
peoples also inhabit a few “outliers” to the west of the trian-
precipitously, as compared to the previous generation. Many
gle, such as Tikopia and Ontong Java in the Solomon Is-
reservation churches and chapels closed or consolidated.
lands. Polynesian islands range from the huge, continental
Membership was primarily made up of the elderly, who had
North and South Islands of New Zealand through the high,
grown up with church traditions. Some denominations have
volcanic islands found in the Hawaiian, Samoan, and Society
discussed merging their missionary activities for lack of cler-
(Tahitian) chains, to the tiny, low atolls of the Tuamotu ar-
gy and active members. The vast majority of Indians simply
chipelago. Although a good deal of cultural diversity does
lived secular lives or substituted secular cultural activities for
exist within Polynesia, even more noteworthy—given the
religious commitment. Traditional religions gathered more
vast distances between island groups and the striking ecologi-
followers, but practice of the old ceremonies, for the most
cal differences between the continental, volcanic, and coral
part, lost its supernatural capability; as with contemporary
islands—are the cultural consistencies that hold throughout
Christian ceremonies, the feeling of mystery faded. Whether
the region. These include closely linked languages, related
this experience can be restored in the world in which we live
forms of social and political organization, and similar reli-
is yet to be determined.
gious beliefs and ceremonies.
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7305
While numerous isolated beliefs and practices from the
some control over the visits of the gods to the physical world
pre-European period survive on many islands, the native
and what they do here; and (what is one of the most distinc-
Polynesian religion described in this essay no longer exists in
tive features of Polynesian religion) that the gods may be rit-
a pure state. Conversion to Christianity began in Tahiti at
ually induced to withdraw from the physical world in cir-
the beginning of the nineteenth century. The process was es-
cumstances where their influence is not, or is no longer,
sentially completed on most major islands by the middle of
desirable. At bottom, Polynesian religion is a story of gods
the century, although some remote islands, such as Tikopia,
who are immensely active in this world and of people who
were not fully Christian until a hundred years later.
attempt to control the activities of the gods by directing their
A CASE STUDY: KAPINGAMARANGI. Discussion begins with
influence into places where it is desired and expelling it from
a description of some religious practices on one island—as
places where it is not. The essence of Kapingamarangi’s daily
it happens, an island of little significance by most measures.
cycle—the entrance of the gods into the human world, ush-
But it will serve as an introduction to Polynesian religion
ering them into a place of human choosing, requesting their
generally, because it is possible to detect in the religious prac-
assistance in matters of human needs, and then dismissing
tices of that island patterns that are basic to religion through-
them to their own spiritual realm—was enacted in a thou-
out Polynesia.
sand ways throughout Polynesia.
Kapingamarangi is a tiny, isolated atoll located to the
COSMOS. The universe, with its spiritual and physical
south of the Caroline Islands in the western Pacific. It con-
realms, its myriads of gods, human beings, plants, and ani-
sists of an oval coral reef surrounding a lagoon six to eight
mals, was established by a series of creative acts. Myths from
miles in diameter, along the eastern edge of which are about
Samoa and the Society Islands tell of an uncreated creator
thirty islets. The total land area more than five feet above sea
god—Tangaloa or TaDaroa (elsewhere Tangaroa, Kanaloa,
level is less than one-half of a square mile; this is the living
etc.)—who was stirred to create the beginnings of a world.
space for about five hundred inhabitants. Although it is an
In other myths the first spark of creation is a series of abstract
outlier, located well outside the Polynesian triangle, the cul-
mental qualities and urges, existing and evolving in them-
ture and people of Kapingamarangi are distinctly Polynesian.
selves: thought, remembrance, consciousness, and desire. In
most Polynesian accounts of creation, existence was soon dif-
Every day, according to traditional beliefs, the gods
ferentiated into a male sky and a female earth. These were
would visit Kapingamarangi. They came from the sea,
joined together in copulation. The earth gave birth to a num-
emerging in mid afternoon off the southeastern portion of
ber of sons, the major gods of the Polynesian pantheon.
the atoll and making their way northward along the outer
Their numbers and identities differ among the various is-
reef toward an islet called Touhou. Shortly before sunset a
lands, but frequently the names Tane, Tu, and Rongo appear
priest would call out an invitation to the gods. They would
in one linguistic form or another among them. Tangaroa, the
come ashore at Touhou and proceed to a special cult house.
creator already mentioned for certain myths from Samoa and
They entered the seaward end of the house, which a pair of
Tahiti, often appears in other myths as another of the sons
priestesses had just opened for them by taking down the wall
of the earth and sky.
screens. The high priest stood outside the opposite (lagoon)
end of the cult house and delivered evening prayers, after
With the sky pressed so closely to his terrestrial mate,
which the priestesses replaced the wall screens. The following
the living space between them was dark and cramped, and
morning, just before sunrise, the high priest came again to
their sons could scarcely stand upright. They resolved to sep-
the house. This time he went to the seaward end, took down
arate their parents. After numerous fruitless efforts, one of
the wall screens, delivered morning prayers, and then re-
the sons succeeded in wrenching the lovers apart and raising
placed the screens. The gods, who had spent the night in the
the sky to the position it now occupies. Perhaps this is a
house, departed after the prayers had been addressed to
mythological source for the notion that existence is divided
them, retraced their path along the outer reef to the south-
into a spiritual and a physical realm, because on many islands
eastern part of the atoll, and, about mid-morning, returned
the gods were thought to dwell in the heavens. (The spiritual
to the sea. Several hours later they appeared again, and the
realm normally includes more than just the heavens, howev-
entire process was repeated.
er. As described already, the gods of Kapingamarangi came
from the open sea. The underworld, as the home of the dead,
These daily events on Kapingamarangi encapsulate, in
was also widely considered to be part of the spiritual realm.)
microcosm, many of the basic elements of religion through-
out Polynesia. Although numerous variations may be found
Further stages of creation are usually expressed in genea-
in different islands, Polynesians are unanimous in these be-
logical terms. In a Samoan myth, various sorts of rocks and
liefs: that the gods inhabit a realm distinct from the physical
plant and animal species are born and mate to produce still
world populated by human beings; that they are frequent vis-
other furnishings of the earth through many generations fol-
itors to the physical world; that the gods are responsible for
lowing the initial union of celestial and terrestrial rocks. In
a great deal of what happens in the physical world, including
the ninth generation, Pili, a lizard, mates with a tropical bird,
events both beneficial and detrimental to human beings; that
and their three sons and daughter are the first human beings.
humans may exercise, through properly executed ritual,
In the mythology of the Maori of New Zealand, the progeni-
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POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW
tor is the god Tane. Unable to create alone, he sought an uha,
visits of the gods to Kapingamarangi) they would frequently
or female partner. He found a great many of them, and from
enter the human world. Indeed, so extensive was their influ-
his unions with them were born water and the various species
ence deemed to be that Polynesians tended to attribute any
of insects, birds, and trees and other plants. Through all this,
condition or event for which a physical cause was not imme-
however, Tane was frustrated in his abiding desire to create
diately apparent to the work of the gods. Among a great
humankind. Finally he and his brothers, the sons of the sky
many other things, this included thunder and lightning,
and the earth, shaped a woman from the earth. Tane
shifts in the wind, and the growth of plants, animals, and
breathed life into her nostrils, mouth and ears. Unsure of
people. The gods were authors of dreams and human artistic
himself, he then copulated with the various orifices and crev-
accomplishments; they underwrote the rank and power of
ices of her body. This was the origin of the bodily excretions,
chiefs and success in love or war; and they generated courage
for the places fertilized by Tane gave birth to saliva, mucus,
and cowardice, illness and accidents, and even involuntary
earwax, excrement, and perspiration. Finally Tane tried her
twitches in the muscles.
genitalia, and she bore a daughter, whom they named Hine-
An indication of the variety of events that Polynesians
titama. Later Tane incestuously took his daughter as his
would attribute to the gods is recorded by the traveler and
mate, and she gave birth to the first human beings.
artist Augustus Earle. When he sailed from New Zealand to
It fell to a number of heroes, of whom the most famous
Australia in 1828, several Maoris also made the trip. Earle
throughout Polynesia was named Maui, to put the finishing
writes in his Narrative of a Residence in New Zealand (Ox-
touches on creation. In those earliest days the sun moved
ford, 1966):
rapidly across the sky, making night much longer than day.
The second day after we were at sea, I saw a group of
People found it difficult to accomplish their work in the brief
savages lying round the binnacle, all intently occupied
span of daylight. Ma¯ui (or, on some islands, a hero of anoth-
in observing the phenomenon of the magnetic attrac-
er name) journeyed to the place where the sun emerges from
tion; they seemed at once to comprehend the purpose
the underworld at dawn, and there he laid a snare. When the
to which it was applied, and I listened with eager curios-
sun appeared Maui caught it and gave it a drubbing with his
ity to their remarks upon it. “This,” said they, “is the
club (made, in some versions of the story, from the jawbone
white man’s God, who directs them safely to different
of one of his female ancestors). Thenceforth it could move
countries, and then can guide them home again. . . .”
only slowly and painfully across the heavens, and thus was
Nothing could exceed the delight manifested by our
New Zealanders as we sailed into Port Jackson [Sydney]
the day lengthened to equal the span of the night. Mythic
harbour; but above all, the windmills most astonished
heroes are also credited with fishing up many islands from
them. After dancing and screaming with joy at behold-
the depths of the sea. The North Island of New Zealand is
ing them, they came running and asking me “if they
known as Te-Ika-a-Ma¯ui, or Ma¯ui’s fish, because he caught
were not gods.” (pp. 196–197)
it with a fishhook (also made from the same jawbone), which
he baited by smearing it with his own blood.
Polynesians took great stock in omens. Belief in godly insti-
gation of events of all sorts, and that the gods had knowledge
GODS. The spiritual realm was thought to be populated by
superior to that of humans—knowledge of what was hap-
an indefinitely large number of beings, known in most is-
pening far away, or would happen in the future, for exam-
lands by some variant of the term atua. The term may be
ple—led Polynesians to think that many events could be read
translated as “god,” although it should be borne in mind that
as messages from the gods about matters of importance to
in Polynesia this is a remarkably broad category. Some gods
humans. Dreams were a particularly rich source of informa-
have never lived as humans (for example, the sons of the
tion from the world of the gods. One’s own spirit or soul
earth and sky), while others are spirits of deceased ancestors
could leave the body in sleep, traveling great distances as the
or of quasi-human entities such as stillborn babies and men-
gods do, and gathering all sorts of intelligence while out of
strual clots. Some gods are benevolent, others are mischie-
the body. Sometimes the message of dreams was straightfor-
vous or downright malicious, and still others have no partic-
ward, as when a Maori woman’s dream that raiders were
ular moral qualities at all. The gods have a diverse range of
gathering in the hills to attack her village was confirmed
occupations and interests. Their number includes creator
when scouts found that raiders were indeed in the hills.
gods; gods responsible for various “departments” of existence
Other dreams needed expert interpretation to reveal their
(such as the sea, the forests, cultivated plants, and so on);
meanings. If a Maori man dreamed of skulls lying on the
gods that concern themselves with particular places, particu-
ground, and decorated with feathers, it was a sign that his
lar tribes, or particular families; gods of warfare, fishing, car-
wife was pregnant; moreover, the color of the feathers fore-
pentry, and various other occupations; even gods that spe-
told the sex of the baby.
cialize in bringing on certain diseases or ravishing people
whose hair was a certain color. All in all, they are an extreme-
Diviner priests in Hawai’i and Tahiti would read the
ly numerous and varied lot.
outcome of a proposed battle in the entrails of sacrificial ani-
mals. The configurations of rainbows, clouds, and other
While the gods properly belong to the spiritual realm,
heavenly phenomena were everywhere understood as omens.
it was thought throughout Polynesia that (as with the daily
Should a Maori war party see the moon situated above the
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POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW
7307
evening star, for example, they would abandon plans to at-
which had proper names and unique qualities, as did the
tack a fortified village because the battle would go against
swords Excalibur and Nothung in European lore) that were
them. The moon situated below the evening star, on the
thought to be invincible in and of themselves.
other hand, was a sign that their attack would be crowned
with success.
Individuals who had distinguished themselves by out-
standing accomplishments as warriors, navigators, priests, or
An important way in which Polynesian gods were
artists were thought to have mana. At least as important,
thought to make their influence felt in the physical world was
mana characterized certain families and descent lines. Poly-
literally to enter and possess human beings. Often this was
nesian society on many islands (particularly on Tahiti and
an unwelcome situation, for the intruding god might be ma-
the other Society Islands, and on Samoa, Tonga, and
licious and proceed to bite, twist, or pinch the individual’s
Hawai’i) was highly stratified, with great gulfs of rank sepa-
internal organs—a common explanation for disease. On the
rating the chiefs and other nobles from the commoners. The
other hand, certain persons were particularly prone to spirit
rank of the nobility passed from generation to generation,
possession by which a deceased chief, ancestor, or some other
reaching its culmination in the line of firstborn children.
god would communicate with human beings. The medium
These lines traced their descent back to the high gods and
would go into a trance, during which his or her tone of voice
existed under their special protection. Their rank and posi-
might change drastically. That was thought to be the voice
tion was validated precisely by this relationship to the gods,
of the possessing god, conveying information about the cause
which was the source of their intense mana. In many respects
of some disease, the identity of a thief, the outcome of a mili-
the relationship was so close that those of exalted rank were
tary expedition, or some other matter of importance to the
considered to be very like gods themselves. In Tahiti high
human community.
chiefs were carried on the backs of servants whenever they
ventured out, because if their feet had touched the ground,
The gods also frequented animals of various species:
that spot would have been made so sacred that it could no
sharks, herons, lizards, owls, and so on. Because the indwell-
longer be used for ordinary purposes. All persons along the
ing gods were often malicious, and in any event had power
chief’s path had to bare their bodies to the waist as a sign of
enough to make them dangerous to ordinary people, such
deference. In Hawai’i the concern that nobles not marry
animals were regarded with fear, or, at least, with a great deal
spouses of standing lower than their own resulted in the ap-
of circumspection. Lizards were thought in many islands to
proval of brother-sister marriage for chiefs of the highest
be favorite earthly vehicles for particularly malevolent gods,
rank. The offspring of such unions were considered to be di-
rendering these animals objects of terror to people. In his
vine, and all persons were required to prostrate themselves
Journal of a Ten Months Residence in New Zealand (London,
in their presence.
1823), the early visitor Richard Cruise reported that when
a visiting ship’s officer in the early nineteenth century
Tapu, a form used in the Maori and Tahitian languages,
brought a lizard to a Maori women in order to ascertain the
is a term taken into English as “taboo,” and is close in mean-
local word for it, “She shrunk from him in a state of terror
ing to mana. It too is concerned primarily with the influence
that exceeded description, and conjured him not to approach
that the gods exercise over people, places, and things of the
her, as it was in the shape of the animal he held in his hand,
physical world. Tapu is often defined with reference to re-
that the Atua [god] was wont to take possession of the dying,
strictions or prohibitions, it being tapu to enter a certain
and to devour their bowels” (p. 320).
place, eat certain food, touch certain objects, or undertake
MANA AND TAPU. Persons, places, and things that were pos-
various other activities. The word, however, refers not so
sessed by or were otherwise under the influence of the gods
much to the sheer fact of restriction as to the reason for it:
were often referred to by one or the other of the two most
that the place, person, or object in question was possessed
well-known concepts in Polynesian religion: mana and tapu.
by or under the influence of the gods and therefore had to
While these terms have usually been understood by Western
be treated with extreme care.
observers to function as nouns—so that one might have a
It is tempting to translate tapu as “sacred,” but that term
certain amount of mana, infringe a tapu, or put tapu on or
has a consistently positive connotation that is by no means
remove it from something—some scholars think that they
always the case with the Polynesian concept. As has been
properly describe states of being rather than things. From
noted already, to be under the influence of a Polynesian god
this perspective, mana or tapu are similar to fame: One may
is not necessarily a desirable condition, for it may entail phys-
“have” fame, but that is not like having a concrete thing such
ical or mental illness, loss of courage, or any number of other
as a computer.
unwelcome states. All of these may be described in terms of
Mana (a form used in many Polynesian languages) refers
tapu. This points up one distinction between tapu and mana.
to the state of being that is enjoyed by those objects, places,
While both terms refer to states brought on by the influence
or persons that benefit permanently (or at least for an extend-
of gods, mana was limited to conditions characterized by
ed period) from the strengthening influence of the gods. A
outstanding effectiveness of action or elevated rank. Tapu
primary mark of mana is outstanding effectiveness in action.
might also be used in those circumstances, but it describes
Hence the term was applied to certain weapons (many of
detrimental or debilitating states as well.
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POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW
Again, both mana and tapu may refer to states of long
RITUAL. Polynesian ritual covered an extensive field of activi-
duration, but these were perhaps more commonly described
ty. It could be destructive, as in witchcraft rites that directed
in terms of mana. On the other hand, only tapu was used
gods to injure or kill their victims. Maori legend, for exam-
to describe conditions in which the influence of the gods was
ple, tells how a sorcerer bewitched a New Zealand tribe
experienced for relatively brief or defined periods—such as
called Maruiwi by calling upon the god Ira-kewa to confuse
during festivals or religious ceremonies, seasons for growing
their minds so that they began to wander about in the night,
crops, expeditions for hunting, fishing, or raiding, or times
walked over a high cliff, and fell to their deaths. Other rites
of tattooing or building a canoe or house. Because Polynesian
were performed for the more constructive purposes of secur-
rituals dealt primarily with such temporary influence of the
ing fertility of crops or success in voyaging, hunting, or fish-
gods, channeling it into areas of life where it was desired at
ing. Some rites consisted of no more than conventional in-
the moment and away from areas where it was not, they were
cantations that an individual might mutter to secure the
much more concerned with tapu than mana.
gods’ approval or avoid their wrath when crossing a forest
One reason that the tapu state tended to be of relatively
or a stream; others were elaborate festivals demanding im-
short duration was because it was easily transmitted. Mana
mense preparations and lasting for days, or even, as in the
could be diminished or lost by defilement of some sort, but
case of the Hawaiian festival called Makahiki, for months.
it was not easily communicated from one person or thing to
In all cases, however, Polynesian ritual had the same purpose
another, except from parent to child by descent. To the con-
as the daily rites on Kapingamarangi, that is, to move and
trary, tapu was considered to be a highly volatile state that
focus godly influence in accordance with human wishes.
was readily transmitted. This, indeed, is the primary reason
Understood in this way, it is possible to distinguish
why the term is so often translated as “forbidden” or as hav-
three phases in Polynesian ritual. The first is an invitation
ing to do with prohibitions: because it was necessary to hedge
to the gods to come to the place where the ritual is taking
someone or something in the state of tapu with all sorts of
place. The second is an attempt to induce the gods to lend
restrictions in order to prevent its unintentional communica-
their influence or support to whatever goal (fertility of crops,
tion to other persons or things to which it might be detri-
victory in battle, success in an interisland voyage, and so on)
mental. At this point it is well to recall that tapu refers not
the rite is designed to promote. While these two phases are
to a thing but to a state of being under the influence of gods.
found in the ritual process of many religions, a third phase
Should that influence pass from one person or thing to an-
receives particular elaboration in Polynesia. In this phase,
other, as Polynesians thought it commonly did, then the per-
after the purpose of the rite has been achieved, the gods are
son or thing newly brought under godly influence would
dismissed and their influence is terminated.
enter a state of tapu. If the godly influence should completely
leave the “donor” in this situation, then that person or thing
Invitations. Polynesian gods were conceptualized as be-
would be released from the tapu state.
having very much like human beings, so ritual invitations to
Transmission of tapu was normally by direct or indirect
them were similar in kind to the way one might invite
contact. In many parts of Polynesia menstrual blood was
human guests. In Tahiti this included preparing an attactive
thought to be dangerously tapu, and great precautions were
place for them. Tahitian rituals normally took place in rec-
taken to avoid contact with it. The Marquesan belief was that
tangular enclosures called marae. Between rituals very little
such contact produced leprosy. Throughout Polynesia food
attention was paid to the marae. The gods were not present,
was considered to be an excellent conductor of tapu. Today
so there was no danger, no particular tapu associated with the
women of Rapa, in the Austral chain, avoid preparing any-
marae at such times. When a ceremony was about to take
one’s food but their own while they are menstruating. In an-
place, however, a necessary prelude was to clear weeds and
cient Tahiti and Hawai’i men and women ate separately on
sweep the courtyard, to repair and scrape moss from the
a regular basis in order to insulate the male from the danger-
stone altar, to set up perches upon which the gods might set-
ous influences connected with the female.
tle, and in general to make the marae as attractive as possible
for the gods who were to be summoned to it. Before lineage
An intriguing example of how tapu may spread involves
gods were invoked in Tonga, special mats would be spread
an unfortunate dog at Ruatoki, New Zealand. The dog con-
out as places for them to sit.
tracted the extremely dangerous tapu associated with the
dead because it rooted in a grave and began to chew on the
Rituals normally began with an invitation to the gods
corpse of a recently deceased person. The situation deterio-
to attend. In Tahiti lesser gods might be dispatched as mes-
rated when the dog, chased by numerous enraged Maoris,
sengers to invite the greater gods, and priests would intone
tried to escape by swimming across the Whakatane River. It
long chants that described how each emissary had located the
was caught and killed in midstream, but by then the entire
god it had been sent to fetch and was leading it to the marae.
river had become tapu because the dog had been swimming
Other Tahitian chants inaugurating rituals were designed to
in it. After that its water could not be used for any purpose
awaken the gods from sleep. HawaiDians would sometimes
until a priest had performed a special ceremony to release the
appeal to the gods’ sexuality, attracting them to a ritual with
river from tapu.
an erotic hula dance.
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POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW
7309
New Zealand Maori invited the gods to certain places
of accomplishing either of these ends was to give the gods
by setting out material objects in which they could take up
gifts. In many places in Polynesia the gods were thanked for
residence. Rudely carved stone images, called “resting places
their assistance by offering them the first crops harvested, the
for the gods,” would be placed in fields after sweet potatoes
first birds snared, or the first fish caught. War gods might
had been planted. The intention was for gods to enter the
be given the first enemy killed; often a hook would be placed
images, whence they would establish a state of tapu over the
in his mouth and he would be announced as the first fish.
crop by lending their growth-stimulating power to it. Other
Human sacrifices were offered in many parts of Polynesia in-
special objects, either natural or human-made, were placed
cluding Hawai’i, Tahiti, Tonga, the Marquesas, Mangaia (in
in forests, near the sea, or in fortified villages. These consti-
the Cook Islands), and New Zealand. Human lives were sac-
tuted domiciles for the gods who ensured an abundance of
rificed for a variety of purposes, including the commemora-
birds and rats in the forest, fish of various species in the sea,
tion of significant events in the lives of high chiefs, the
or protection for the village. It was important to conceal
launching of important new canoes, or the opening of major
these objects carefully, lest they fall into the hands of some
houses. People in Tonga would strike off joints of their little
malefactor who would perform certain spells causing the god
fingers as sacrificial supplications to the gods to restore rela-
to depart and bringing disaster on the forest or village.
tives to health.
Priests in certain parts of New Zealand carried “god-
Another common means of influencing the gods on rit-
sticks”: small, carved wooden pegs that, when wrapped in a
ual occasions was by incantations. After a Maori priest had
certain way and stuck in the ground, would be entered by
induced a god to enter his godstick by wrapping it in the
gods. Idols or images were thought to provide housing for
proper way and sticking it in the ground, he would step back
the gods in many parts of Polynesia. In the early nineteenth
a few paces and intone his requests. Often the priest held a
century the several chiefs who were competing to become
bit of string that was tied to the stick and that he would jerk
king of a centralized Tahiti went to great lengths to secure
occasionally to prevent the god’s attention from wandering.
the image of the war god Oro. Where the image was, so the
The efficacy of an incantation, and, indeed, of a ritual
belief went, there Oro himself would come, bringing with
observance in its entirety, was thought to depend on the per-
him success in war and politics.
fection with which it was accomplished. This mispronuncia-
New Zealand Maori were particularly conscious of
tion of a word, a breath drawn in the wrong place, or any
boundaries between the human and the spiritual worlds. Fre-
disturbance of the general atmosphere surrounding the rite,
quently their rituals would be held at such places, where the
was thought to abort the whole ceremony. On many islands,
gods could readily pass from the spiritual realm into this one.
during a religious ceremony the people who were not partici-
One of the most intriguing of these boundaries had to do
pating in the rite were constrained to remain in their houses,
with the village latrine. This was commonly built on the out-
lighting no fires and making no noise. Cocks must not crow,
skirts of a village, often on the brow of a cliff or steep hill,
nor dogs bark; absolutely nothing was allowed to disrupt the
over which excreta would fall. The latrine consisted of a pair
highly tapu atmosphere of the rite. In the Society Islands,
of carved posts that supported a low horizontal beam where
should a woman or child wander near the place where a ritual
the feet would be placed while squatting. Handgrips to assist
was occurring, the intruder would be killed immediately
in preserving one’s balance were planted in the ground in
(perhaps by the husband or father) and offered to the gods
front of the beam. The beam was thought to be a boundary
as a sacrifice to amend for the disturbance. Perhaps such rules
between the realms of existence: The physical world was on
and practices, although far more severe, were not different
the village side of the beam, with all its human hustle and
in intent from a Maori priest tugging at the string tied to his
bustle, while the region behind the beam, where excrement
godstick in order to prevent the attention of the gods from
fell and where people never went, was the spiritual world. Of
being distracted by matters other than those addressed in the
the numerous rituals the Maori performed at the latrine,
ceremony.
none presents a clearer view of it as a point of emergence of
The emphasis on perfection of delivery of incantations
the gods into the physical world than the consecration of the
and performance of ceremonies indicates that Polynesians
Takitumu canoe. According to Maori lore, this was one of
believed their gods to be concerned with the outer form of
the canoes that brought their ancestors to New Zealand. The
worship. Inner feelings and convictions were not relevant is-
tradition relates how Takitumu was placed in a state of tapu,
sues in Polynesian religion. New Zealand provides the most
so as to enjoy the gods’ protection during the long and dan-
striking bit of evidence for this proposition. An imaginative
gerous voyage, by literally hauling the canoe up to the latrine
chief there arranged for the necessary incantations that ac-
and inviting the gods to embark.
companied the planting of crops to be delivered by a talking
bird!
Propitiations. Once the gods had arrived at the site of
the ritual, the next phase was to carry out the purpose for
Dismissals. The final phase of Polynesian ritual was the
which they had been invited. This might be to convince
departure of the gods and, with them, the termination of the
them to do something for the human community, or to
state of tapu. Occasionally this constituted not a phase but
thank them for services already rendered. A common means
the rite in its entirety. This would apply to rituals designed
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7310
POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW
to cure illness or to counteract witchcraft, where the god in-
of Samoa, the Marquesas, New Zealand, the Society Islands,
volved was malevolently inclined and the sole purpose of the
and HawaiDi would return to the noa state after participating
rite was to exorcise it. In other cases, as in the departure of
in war, rituals, funeral observances, and other activities. The
the gods from Kapingamarangi’s cult house each day at
rationale was doubtless that the water washed away the godly
dawn, the gods were excused in the final stage of ritual, after
influence responsible for the tapu.
prayers or thanks had been addressed to them or when the
Fire was another agent for releasing persons and things
beneficial results for which they had been summoned had
from tapu, because of its capacity to consume or drive out
been realized. Many Polynesians believed, for example, that
indwelling gods. In the Society Islands sickness or insanity
crops could grow, battles be won, or houses and canoes be
might be caused by a malicious spirit that dwelt in a stone
successfully built only with the assistance of the gods. Only,
buried by a witch near the victim’s residence. Should a divin-
that is, when the field, warriors, weapons, builders, tools, and
er ascertain where the stone was concealed, he would unearth
raw materials were in a state of tapu. But that very tapu, to-
it and throw it into the fire to destroy or expel the infecting
gether with the numerous restrictions designed to control its
spirit.
unintended spread, rendered it impossible for the crops to
be eaten once they were harvested, for warriors to take up
Probably the tapu-eradicating properties of fire account
normal activities after battle, for people to live in the house
for the fact that, in New Zealand, cooked food (that is, food
or to travel in the canoe when built. Therefore it was neces-
that has been exposed to high heat or fire) was one of the
sary to excuse the gods once their contribution had been
most common agents used in rituals concerned with the ex-
achieved—to release the crop, the warriors, the house, or the
pulsion or transfer of godly influence. Some scholars claim
canoe from the state of tapu.
the Maori view to have been that cooked food repelled the
A person, place, or thing that had been released from
gods, others that it attracted them. In any event, it was very
tapu entered a state of being known on many Polynesian is-
commonly a part of whakanoa rituals, such as that in which
lands as noa. Often translated as “common” or “profane” (in
the hands of someone who had been cultivating a garden,
contrast to views of tapu as “sacred”), noa may be understood
curing an illness, or cutting the hair of a chief were released
simply as the opposite of tapu—as the state of not being
from tapu by passing a bit of cooked sweet potato or fernroot
under the influence of the gods. Rituals or segments of rituals
over them.
designed to provide a release from tapu were often designated
The Maori were extremely careful in their direct or indi-
by words such as fa’anoa (in the Society Islands) or whakanoa
rect association with cooked food when they were in a state
(in New Zealand), meaning “to make noa.”
of tapu that they wished to preserve. They were most reluc-
Normally the dismissal of the gods was, as in Kapinga-
tant to enter European hospitals, where water to wash pa-
marangi, a temporary situation. They would be invited back
tients might be heated in pots previously used for cooking.
the next time their assistance was needed. Occasionally, how-
The same reasoning explains why some Maoris who had em-
ever, the lifting of the tapu state was intended to be perma-
braced Christianity and wished to purge themselves of the
nent. This of course applied to disease-dealing or otherwise
influence of the pagan gods would purposely wash their
malicious gods. People wanted to escape their influence for-
heads in water heated in cooking pots. One European trader
ever. But it might also be the case with a god from whom
engendered the wrath of a Maori chief when he joked that
assistance had been expected, if it became clear that the god
a cooking pot that he had for sale would make a fine helmet
was not performing satisfactorily. Tahitians had a special cer-
for the chief, and made as if to put it on his head.
emony for casting off a god. If a family found that it was re-
The Maori concern with thresholds between the spiritu-
ceiving few benefits from the god it venerated, the family
al and physical realms, discussed above in connection with
priest would address a special incantation to the god. He
ritual means of bringing the gods into this world, is also im-
would berate it roundly for its feeble support, and inform it
portant in rituals designed to send them out of it. One cure
that the family would have nothing more to do with it. Then
for illness was to bite the latrine beam, presumably with the
they would select another god that promised to be more
intention of repatriating the affecting god to the spirit realm
helpful.
by sending it over the threshold between the worlds. After
A variety of means were available to terminate the state
a session of training in sacred lore, which required that stu-
of tapu. One was simply to get away from the god. Many
dents be in a state of tapu if the learning process were to take
gods were restricted in their spheres of influence, so if a per-
place successfully, the students would bite the latrine beam
son were suffering from a disorder known to be caused by
in order to return to the noa state. Finally, a warrior who was
a certain god, the healer’s prescription might be for the pa-
afraid before battle might fortify himself by biting the beam,
tient to leave the area frequented by that god.
although it is not entirely clear in this case whether the pur-
pose was to be rid of a fear-producing god, or to take on the
The more common tactic, however, was to send the
influence of a courage-producing one.
gods or their influence away. One of the most common ritual
agents used for this purpose throughout Polynesia was water.
Unquestionably one of the most intriguing agents for
By sprinkling or immersion in salt or fresh water, Polynesians
the ritual release from tapu was the female. In New Zealand
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POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW
7311
and the Marquesas Islands new houses would be made free
His plan was to kill her by entering her vagina, passing
of tapu by having a woman enter them. Women participated
through her body, and emerging at the mouth. He cautioned
in the tapu-dispelling phase of the war ritual known as
his friends not to laugh if they found the sight amusing, for
Luakini in Hawai’i. In New Zealand women would eat the
fear of waking her. Then he stripped naked and, binding the
first tubers and thereby render a newly harvested crop of
thong of his club tightly about his wrist, he proceeded to
sweet potatoes noa. Maoris would rid themselves of the mali-
enter the sleeping woman. But predictably the birds found
cious spirit that might be lurking in a lizard by killing the
the sight hilarious and they burst out in raucous laughter.
animal and then having a woman step over it. Marquesans
That awakened Hine-nui-te-po who, discovering Maui at-
would exorcise the demon afflicting a sick person by having
tempting to enter her, clenched her thighs tightly together
a naked woman leap over or sit on the affected part of the
and crushed him to death. And such, opined a Maori com-
patient’s body. Women were not permitted to assist at major
mentator, is the fate of all humans: to be drawn at death into
rites in the Society Islands, for fear that their presence would
the genitals of Hine-nui-te-po.
expel the gods. For the same reason women were not allowed
Hence the female seems to constitute a two-way passage
to go near sites of canoe or house construction in New Zea-
between the spiritual and physical realms of existence, for
land or, in the Marquesas, to have any contact with men who
humans as well as for the gods. Moreover, the very distinc-
had been made tapu prior to turtle fishing or battle.
tion between human beings and the gods now begins to col-
The usual interpretation is that the gods found women
lapse. Humans, arriving at birth from the supernatural realm,
to be repugnant, particularly because of their connection
apparently were thought to have a spiritual existence before
with menstrual blood (a substance thought, on this interpre-
birth, and they definitely were thought to return to the spiri-
tation, to be more polluting than any other). Hence the gods
tual realm as ghosts and ancestral gods after death.
would withdraw upon the appearance of a woman, taking
For a final bit of evidence of a Polynesian belief that
their tapu with them. An alternative view is that the gods
human beings exist as spirits in the godly realm prior to
were attracted to women rather than repelled by them, and
birth, this article will return to where it began—the tiny atoll
that women therefore terminated tapu by absorbing the
of Kapingamarangi. After a woman had given birth, she and
godly influence into themselves. On this interpretation the
her infant would go for a set of birth ceremonies to the islet
female is understood, as is the Maori latrine, to represent a
of Touhou. That is the place, it will be recalled, where the
passageway between the godly and human realms of exis-
gods would come ashore every day. Therefore, while it might
tence. The rites in which women acted to dispel tapu would
actually have been born on another islet, the infant was ritu-
of course be examples of the movement of godly influence
ally introduced into Kapingamarangi on the islet of Touhou,
through the female from the human to the spiritual world.
just as the gods were. After a period of ceremonies on
Certain practices in New Zealand can be interpreted as the
Touhou, mother and child participated in a ritual that took
movement of godly influence in the opposite direction, as
place on Werua islet, located just to the north of Touhou.
when students about to be instructed in sacred lore would
After that, they would return to their home islet and to nor-
enter the state of tapu by eating a piece of cooked food that
mal life.
had first been passed under the thigh of a woman.
Interpreting this, it is seen that the child, like the gods,
The view of the female as a passage between the two
has come from the spiritual realm of Touhou. But whereas
realms leads to some possible insights into the Polynesian
the gods remain gods by leaving Touhou and traveling south,
view of birth and death. In New Zealand and the Society Is-
the same direction from which they came, the child becomes
lands incantations addressed to newborn infants of rank wel-
human by leaving Touhou to the north. From that point for-
comed them into the physical world from the world of the
ward the child becomes a full member of human society. In
gods. An infant, that is, was apparently viewed as an em-
essence this is not unlike ceremonies that release one from
bodied spirit that had passed from the spiritual realm to the
tapu in other parts of Polynesia, rites in which the removal
human realm. And, of course, the infant accomplished the
of godly influence enables a person to participate without re-
transit by being born of a woman.
striction in normal human existence.
Polynesians understood death as the passage of the soul
from the physical world to the spiritual realm, where it con-
BIBLIOGRAPHY
tinued to exist as a god or spirit of some sort. Most interest-
Two general books are E. S. Craighill Handy’s Polynesian Religion
ing is that, in New Zealand at least, this passage too was
(Honolulu, 1927) and Anthropology and Religion (1959; re-
thought to be made through the female. This is evident in
print, Hamden, Conn., 1970) by Peter H. Buck (Te Rangi
Hiroa). Both are written by acknowledged experts in the
the intriguing story of the death of the culture hero Ma¯ui.
field, although, as their dates imply, neither benefits from
Having fished up islands and slowed the sun, Ma¯ui resolved
contemporary methods of anthropological analysis. The
to bestow upon humankind the ultimate gift of eternal life.
same may be said for the larger but less influential compendia
He intended to accomplish this by killing Hine-nui-te-po,
by Robert W. Williamson, Religious and Cosmic Beliefs of
the female personification of death. Accompanied by his
Central Polynesia, 2 vols. (1933; reprint, New York, 1977),
friends, the birds, Ma¯ui came upon her while she was asleep.
and Religion and Social Organization in Central Polynesia
E N C Y C L O P E D I A O F R E L I G I O N , S E C O N D E D I T I O N

7312
POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: MYTHIC THEMES
(Cambridge, 1937). Katharine Luomala’s Maui-of-a-
gods in their own image, it is a truism that in Polynesia gods
Thousand-Tricks (Honolulu, 1949) is an interesting study of
and people are aspects of the same reality and form a contin-
myths, dealing with a single culture hero, drawn from all
uum of the sacred and the profane. Even as, in relative terms,
parts of Polynesia. The most thoroughly documented of tra-
the gods are sacred and the people profane, so also are the
ditional Polynesian cultures is New Zealand’s. George Grey’s
chiefs sacred and the commoners profane. This axiom under-
Polynesian Mythology (London, 1922) is a widely read collec-
lay the sociocultural organization of the Polynesians and gave
tion of Maori myths. Despite its forbidding title, J. Prytz Jo-
hansen’s The Maori and His Religion in Its Non-Ritualistic As-
religious justification to ranked social and kinship structures.
pects (Copenhagen, 1954) is a rich and fascinating analysis,
The mythological threads of Polynesian religions developed
as is his companion book, Studies in Maori Rites and Myths
an intimate association among gods, chiefs, priests, and peo-
(Copenhagen, 1958). More recent Maori studies are Jean
ple. High gods, demigods, ancestral gods, culture heroes,
Smith’s Tapu Removal in Maori Religion (Wellington, 1974),
spirits, elves, and people were intertwined in different ways
and F. Allan Hanson and Louise Hanson’s Counterpoint in
in each island group to create separate religions that were
Maori Culture (London, 1983). For the Society Islands, the
particularized and parochial while at the same time part of
most useful works are Teuira Henry’s Ancient Tahiti (Hono-
a homogenous religious fabric that was spread over a vast ex-
lulu, 1928) and, by Douglas L. Oliver, a three-volume com-
pilation of information from the sources plus analysis of his
panse of ocean containing hundreds of large and small Poly-
own, Ancient Tahitian Society (Honolulu, 1974). A good deal
nesian islands.
on religion may be found in E. S. Craighill Handy’s The Na-
Polynesia can be conveniently divided into western Pol-
tive Culture in the Marquesas (1923; reprint, New York,
ynesia (including Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, the Tokelau Is-
1971); William Mariner’s An Account of the Natives of the
Tonga Islands,
3d ed., 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1827); Edward
lands, Niue, the Futuna Islands, and Uvéa) and eastern Poly-
Winslow Gifford’s Tongan Society (Honolulu, 1929); and
nesia (Hawaii, the Society Islands including Tahiti, the
John B. Stair’s Old Samoa (1897; reprint, Papakura, New
Marquesas, the Cooks, the Australs, Mangareva, the Tuamo-
Zealand, 1983). Books with useful information on Hawaiian
tus, Easter Island, and New Zealand). A number of small is-
religion are Martha Warren Beckwith’s Hawaiian Mythology
lands lie outside the Oceanic region commonly designated
(1940; reprint, Honolulu, 1970) and David Malo’s Hawai-
as Polynesia, but they have Polynesian religious and cultural
ian Antiquities, 2d ed. (Honolulu, 1951). Religion of the
traditions (Rennell, Bellona, Tikopia, Anuta, Ontong Java,
Polynesian outliers has been well analyzed in Torben Mon-
Kapingamarangi, Takuu, Sikiana, and others). These “outli-
berg’s The Religion of Bellona Island (Copenhagen, 1966);
ers” are closely related to western Polynesia. Fiji, Lau, and
Raymond Firth’s The Work of the Gods in Tikopia, 2d ed.,
and Tikopia Ritual and Belief (both, London, 1967); and fi-
Rotuma, on the western fringe of Polynesia, are in some ways
nally, the source from which the information on Kapingama-
closely related to western Polynesia, although religiously Fiji
rangi in this essay is taken, Kenneth P. Emory’s Kapingama-
is probably more closely related to the Melanesian islands to
rangi: Social and Religious Life of a Polynesian Atoll
the west. The religion of each of these groups and its mytho-
(Honolulu, 1965).
logical basis formed a coherent whole with the social organi-
New Sources
zation. The connections between gods, ancestors, and hu-
Charlot, John. “Towards a Dialogue between Christianity and
mans were often made visually apparent and ritually
Polynesian Religions.” Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses
maintained through religious architecture and works of art
15, no. 4 (1986): 443–450.
including songs, dances, sculptured images, and, most fun-
Howard, Alan. “Cannibal Chiefs and the Charter for Rebellion in
damental of all, oral literature. Although it is difficult to sep-
Rotuman Myth.” Pacific Studies 10 (1986): 1–27.
arate sacred and secular in Polynesia, the emphasis in this ar-
Mageo, Jeannette Marie, and Alan Howard. Spirits in Culture,
ticle will be on the mythological themes that help to explain
History, and Mind. New York, 1996.
the religious element of the society with its emphasis on
McLean, Mervyn. Weavers of Song: Polynesian Music and Dance.
mana and tapu, rather than on the mythological basis of sec-
Honolulu, 1999.
ular storytelling. From a Polynesian point of view, the terms
Ralston, Caroline, and Nicholas Thomas, eds. “Sanctity and
mythic and mythological are not entirely appropriate because
Power: Gender in Polynesian History.” Journal of Pacific His-
these sacred traditions are considered historical and unques-
tory 22 (July–October 1987): 115–227.
tionable in much the same sense as is Genesis by many Chris-
Ritchie, James E. Sacred Chiefs and Secular Gods: The Polynesian
tians.
View of the World. Hamilton, N.Z., 1998.
Wallin, Paul. The Symbolism of Polynesian Temple Rituals. Oslo,
COSMOGONY. One of the most important and widespread
Norway, 1998.
mythic themes in Polynesia deals with the origins of the uni-
F. ALLAN HANSON (1987)
verse, the gods, and various aspects of nature. From the pri-
Revised Bibliography
mary void or chaos came heaven and earth, which lay close
together. The Sky Father (variously, Langi, Rangi, or Atea)
and the Earth Mother (Papa or Fakahotu) clung together in
POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: MYTHIC THEMES
a warm embrace and, in the cosmogonic myths of many of
Although one might argue whether the gods created the
the islands, were the progenitors of the gods, the land and
Polynesians in godlike form or the Polynesians created the
sea, the elements, and of plants, animals, and people. Rangi
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POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: MYTHIC THEMES
7313
and Papa were usually forcefully separated by gods or demi-
This cosmogonic story explains not only Tawhiri’s peri-
gods.
odic outbursts, but also the reasons for disagreements among
the other brothers. Tangaroa was upset that some of his prog-
In western Polynesia the most important agent in this
eny deserted him for the forests of Tane, and Tu took re-
separation was usually some form of the high god Tangaroa
venge on his brothers for deserting him in battle against
(Tangaloa) or the demigod trickster, Ma¯ui. In Tonga, for ex-
Tawhiri. Tane gives wood for canoes, spears, and fishhooks
ample, Ma¯ui-motua (the senior Ma¯ui) pushed up the sky;
to the children of Tu in order to destroy the offspring of
this let in the light and permitted humans, who had previ-
Tangaroa. The latter, however, overwhelms canoes, land,
ously crawled as crabs, to stand.
and trees with his relentless waves. Tu also traps the birds
Our land was created
of Tane’s forest, enmeshes the children of Tangaroa in fish-
Shrouded from above
nets, uproots the children of Haumia and Rongo, consumes
And we crawled as crabs.
all his brothers’ offspring as food and controls his brothers
The first and second skies
with incantations.
Tell to Ma¯ui-motua
Variations of this theme, especially the belief in a primal
To push them high
pair and their existence in a void or darkness (often called
So the breeze can come in, for it is hot
po¯), exist in other eastern Polynesian areas. In some locales,
And bring light to the land
Tangaroa was thought to be the originator of all things in
And then we stood up
the universe; in others his place was taken by Tane; while in
And walked about proudly.
others Tangaroa and Tane together serve this function. In
In Rotuma, Lagi and Otfiti (“heaven” and “earth”) were
the Society Islands, for example, a great octopus held the sky
joined together. The male and female principles of heaven
and earth together in his great arms. TaDaroa (Tangaroa) ex-
and earth, Lagatea and Papatea, were the progenitors of the
isted in the darkness of contemplation, and from this dark-
high god Tangaloa. When Tangaloa was born he rose to a
ness he called the other gods into being. When TaDaroa shook
kneeling position and pushed Heaven and Earth apart; he
himself, feathers fell and turned into trees, plantains, and
did not rise to his full height, however, because of the distress
other green plants. Ta’aroa then called the artisans to fashion
of his parents who did not want to be completely separated.
him into something beautiful—a carved wooden image in
most versions. Rua (the Abyss) killed the octopus by conjur-
In eastern Polynesia, especially among the Maori of
ing, but it did not release its hold, and, still in darkness, the
New Zealand, cosmogonic origins were more detailed. While
demigods Ru, Hina, and Ma¯ui were born. Ru raised the sky
Rangi and Papa clung together, they produced offspring; the
as high as the coral tree, but ruptured himself so that his in-
four great gods Tane, Tangaroa, Tu, and Rongo, known
testines floated away to become the clouds that usually hang
throughout Polynesia, as well as two specialized gods
over the island of Bora-Bora. Ma¯ui, the trickster, then used
Haumia and Tawhiri. These offspring felt cramped with
wedges to support the sky and went to enlist the help of
their dark close quarters and debated if and how they should
Tane, who lived in highest heaven. Tane drilled into the sky
separate from their father and mother. Except for Tawhiri,
with a shell until light came through. The arms of the octo-
who disagreed, each son attempted to separate the parents.
pus fell away and became the island of Tubuai. Tane then
Rongo, god of cultivated foods, tried; Tangaroa, god of fish
decorated the sky with stars and set the sun and moon on
and reptiles, tried; and Tu, god of destruction, tried. Tane,
their courses. The fish and sea creatures were given places
god of the forests, found that he was strong enough but that
and duties, and the god Tohu was given the job of painting
his arms were too short; so he placed his head against his
the beautiful color on the fish and shells of the deep. In Tahi-
mother and pushed his father up with his feet. Tawhiri, god
ti, Tane was symbolized by a piece of finely braided coconut-
of the winds, rose with his father. Upset by Tane’s success,
fiber sennit, while in the Cook Islands, Tane the artisan was
Tawhiri sent his own offspring—the four great winds, smal-
symbolized by beautifully made basalt adzes lashed to carved
ler but more violent winds, clouds of various kinds, and hur-
handles with braided coconut fiber.
ricanes—against him. Tawhiri’s brothers and their offspring
were terrified. Tangaroa’s fish offspring plunged deep into
In Hawaii, Ka¯ne (Tane) and Kanaloa (Tangaroa) were
the sea, but the reptiles sought safety in the forests of Tane,
not usually represented in tangible form. Ka¯ne, the ultimate
even though many of Tane’s trees were snapped and de-
ancestor of the other gods, was usually associated with the
stroyed. Rongo and Haumia hid themselves in Mother
upper atmosphere, while Kanaloa, in paired opposition, was
Earth. Only Tu withstood Tawhiri’s wrath and finally de-
associated with the sea and its creatures. Lono (Rongo) and
feated him. During the long storm Tawhiri’s progeny multi-
Ku¯ (Tu) were less distant and abstract and were concerned
plied to include rains of various kinds, mist, and dew. Final-
with agriculture, plants, rain, pigs, peace and war, forests, ca-
ly, light increased and the progeny of the other brothers
noes, houses, and crafts. Many attributes of Lono and Ku¯
increased. Rangi and Papa have never been reconciled to
were interrelated; they depended on each other both as nec-
their separation; and, to this day, Papa’s sighs rise to Rangi
essary opposites and as aspects of each other. Various attri-
as mist, and Rangi’s tears fall to Papa as dewdrops.
butes of Lono, Ku¯, Ka¯ne, and Kanaloa might be considered
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7314
POLYNESIAN RELIGIONS: MYTHIC THEMES
as separate gods. There were hundreds of these gods, each
the incumbent twenty-fourth TuDi Tonga appointed his
known by a compound name that coupled the god’s name
younger brother as a subsidiary ruler, the TuDi HaDa Ta-
with a specific attribute, such as Ka¯ne-hekili (Ka¯ne of the
kalaua. The TuDi HaDa Takalaua was given only temporal
thunder) or Ku¯ka¯Dilimoku (Ku¯ the snatcher of land, that is,
power, while the TuDi Tonga retained for himself high rank
the war god).
and spiritual status. The sixth TuDi HaDa Takalaua created a
similar split in authority, reserving for himself high rank and
In addition to the four major gods of eastern Polynesia,
giving to one of his sons the title of TuDi Kanokupolu and
other gods were often associated with specific aspects of na-
ture. Sometimes separate gods, such as Haumia and Tawhiri
the tasks of ruling and collecting tribute. All three lines de-
in New Zealand, were given the care of particular natural
scended from DAhoDeitu and were further linked by marriage.
phenomena, such as uncultivated food and the winds, that
The origins of Tangaloa, the sky, the island of Tonga, or the
were elsewhere part of the domains of the four great gods.
other elements of nature, however, are often not detailed.
Special gods appeared to meet special requirements of differ-
The gods were less important than was the way that the
ent natural environments, as did Pele the goddess of volcanos
chiefs traced their genealogies to them. Tangaloa (Tangaroa)
and PoliDahu the snow goddess in Hawaii. In short, the four
and Ma¯ui were the important male gods in western Polyne-
great gods, especially in eastern Polynesia, were usually con-
sia, while the female god Hikule’o was in charge of Pulotu,
cerned with the creation of the universe, of most of the ele-
the underworld (a concept undeveloped in eastern Polyne-
ments of nature, of the rest of the gods, and, ultimately, of
sia). Tangaloa was often considered the sole creator god,
human beings. Most of these cosmogonic stories begin in the
whose universe was the sky and a vast expanse of ocean. Ac-
po¯, or primal darkness, and tell how one of the gods alone
cording to a Samoan story, Tangaloa threw a rock into the
(often Tangaroa) or the Sky Father and Earth Mother to-
ocean, and it became ManuDa, one of the Samoan group of
gether created the other gods and, eventually, all their proge-
islands. Tonga was said to have been created when the gods
ny, each of which was a personification of a selected aspect
threw down chips of wood from their workshops. In Tonga,
of nature. Each island or island group had a slightly different
the first occupants were worms, a female of which cohabited
cast of characters and emphasized different plants, animals,
with Tangaloa to start the first ruling dynasty. Samoans be-
and natural phenomena. Whereas in the Cook Islands the
lieved Samoa had been created when Tangaloa threw down
creation of the universe was involved with a coconut shell
a rock as a place for his bird-daughter to live. He also sent
that was organized in layers with Vari or chaotic mud at the
vines to the island; the vines developed maggots, which in
bottom, in Hawaii a gourd and its association with Lono was
turn generated humans. Rather than being thrown down
more important. To maintain a connection with Lono, an
from the sky, or sometimes in addition to this type of cre-
ipu o Lono (“gourd of Lono”) was kept in a sacred area of
ation, a widespread mythic theme of island origin recounts
each household to receive offerings and prayers, which were
that the islands were fished up from the sea bottom by Ma¯ui
usually concerned with fertility and protection against sor-
or, occasionally, by Tangaloa or Tiki. In some areas of east-
cery. In other areas a local deity sometimes replaced or elabo-
ern Polynesia humans originated when the god Tane, or a
rated one or more of the four great gods. Thus, in New Zea-
separate character in the creation story, Tiki (TiDi), impreg-
land the existence of two gods of food, Haumia and Rongo,
nated a female form that had been shaped by the god from
indicates the importance of uncultivated food to the Maori,
sand and that held the essence of the female principle, Moth-
which was not the case in other Polynesian areas; and in Ha-
er Earth. In other areas Tangaloa created TiDi, the first man,
waii the existence of Pele and Ku¯, both gods of destruction,
for Hina, who was thought of as a goddess in some locales
suggests a philosophical distinction between destruction by
and as the first woman in others. In Tahiti the chiefs traced
nature and destruction by humans.
their genealogies to TiDi and Hina. Along with the creation
ORIGIN OF THE ISLANDS AND PEOPLE. In western Polyne-
of human life came the creation of death. According to the
sian creation myths more emphasis was given to the creation,
Maori, Hina-titama, an offspring of Tane and Hina the
genealogies, and interrelationships of human beings than to
Earth-Formed, mated with her father and had several chil-
the creation, genealogies, and interrelationships of the gods
dren. Her realization that this union was incestuous drove
from whom human beings descended. In Tonga, for exam-
her to the underworld; from there she snared their children
ple, the god Tangaloa ’Eitumatupu’a climbed down from the
one by one. This was the origin of death. The origin of
sky on a great casuarina tree and cohabited with a woman
human life is usually associated with the Sky Father and the
of the earlier Tongan population, which had descended from
male principle, while the origin of death is usually associated
a worm. The child of this union was DAhoDeitu. When
with the female principle. In some areas there are quite dif-
DAhoDeitu was old enough he went to the sky to visit his father
ferent accounts of the origins of humankind. On Easter Is-
and returned with several celestial inhabitants who became
land the most important god was the local deity Makemake,
his ceremonial attendants. Half man and half god, DAhoDeitu
who was not only the patron of the rituals of the bird cult
became the first TuDi Tonga (“paramount chief”). The suc-
but was also the creator of humans. In Tuvalu the male par-
ceeding TuDi Tonga descended from DAhoDeitu and were born
ent was the sun, the female parent a stone, altering the more
of the daughters of the highest chiefs in the land. Several TuDi
generalized sky and earth into more specific aspects of the
Tonga were assassinated, and in about the fifteenth century
upper and lower atmospheres. Although the origin of indi-
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POLYTHEISM
7315
vidual plants or animals may not be specified, items of local
The mythic themes of Polynesian religion are complex social
importance are often given stories of their own. For example,
metaphors that helped to justify rank and social stratification
in Tahiti one of the lovers of the demigoddess Hina was an
to a people concerned with genealogy, respect and disrespect,
eel named Tuna from whom the coconut plant originated
and aspects of nature that needed to be explained and ap-
after he was buried. Hina, who embodies the essence of femi-
peased. The gods and mythical heros were blamed for, and
ninity, is also credited with the origin of the banyan tree,
became part of, human vanity. Polynesian religion was an
which grew on earth after she dropped a branch of such a
outgrowth of Polynesian social structure that focused on ge-
tree from her abode in the moon. Similarly, in Tonga kava
nealogical connections and the integration of the gods with
and sugarcane originated from the head and body of a dead
nature and the human condition.
child who was killed as food for a visiting high chief. This
S
child was not eaten but buried, and the two plants grew from
EE ALSO Ma¯ui; Oceanic Religions, overview article.
her grave. A rat that had eaten from the kava plant staggered
BIBLIOGRAPHY
but regained its balance after eating from the sugarcane
Bibliographies on Polynesian mythology are very extensive, but
plant. This was the origin of the ritual drinking of kava and
they usually focus on specific islands or island groups. The
of the ritual eating of sugarcane that accompanies kava-
best bibliography, of more than three hundred entries,
drinking. In Hawaii an extremely complicated mythology re-
can be found in Katharine Luomala’s Ma¯ui-of-a-
veals the intimate relationships among gods, humans, and el-
Thousand-Tricks: His Oceanic and European Biographers (Ho-
ements of the natural environment. The order of the islands’
nolulu, 1949). As sources of first resort, the following works
origins is given in great detail—starting in the east with the
are recommended.
island of Hawaii, moving west through the major islands of
Alpers, Anthony. Legends of the South Sea. London, 1970.
the Hawaiian chain, and ending at Niihau (an afterbirth),
Beckwith, Martha Warren. Hawaiian Mythology (1940). Reprint,
Lehua, Kaula, and finally the low reef islands. The parents
Honolulu, 1970.
of the islands were primarily Wakea (Sky Father) with Papa
Best, Elsdon. Maori Religion and Mythology. Wellington, New
(Earth Mother). Wakea’s secondary mates were Kaula and
Zealand, 1924.
Hina while Papa’s secondary mate was Lua. In addition, the
Burrows, Edwin G. Western Polynesia: A Study in Cultural Differ-
Kumulipo chant sets out the origin and order of all plants
entiation. Göteberg, 1938.
and animals in the universe as well as the origin of gods and
Craig, Robert D. Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology. New York,
men. Kane and Kanaloa were the first gods to be born,
1989.
LaDilaDi was the first woman and KiDi the first man. Some gen-
Dixon, Roland B. The Mythology of All Races, vol. 9, Oceanic
erations later the goddess Haumea bore children to Kanaloa
(1916). Reprint, New York, 1964.
and then took a husband among men and became the god-
Emory, Kenneth P. “Tuamotuan Concepts of Creation.” Journal
dess of childbirth. In many forms, nature, gods, and people
of the Polynesian Society 49 (1940): 69–136.
interacted—not only to create, but also to change and
Firth, Raymond. Rank and Religion in Tikopia: A Study of Polyne-
destroy.
sian Paganism and Conversion to Christianity. London, 1970.
Fornander, Abraham. Fornander Collection of Hawaiian Antiqui-
MA¯UI. The demigod Ma¯ui was the trickster who upset the
ties and Folklore. 3 vols. Bishop Museum Memoirs, vols. 4–6.
status quo. Maui has been immortalized by Katharine Luo-
Honolulu, 1916–1920.
mala in her study, Ma¯ui-of-a-Thousand-Tricks (Honolulu,
Gifford, Edward W., comp. Tongan Myths and Tales. Honolulu,
1949). Ma¯ui’s most important deeds included fishing up is-
1924.
lands on his magic fishhook (taking the place of Tangaloa
Grey, George. Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional Histo-
in other areas), snaring the sun, and stealing fire from the
ry of the New Zealanders. London, 1922.
gods. He also had specialties in the traditions of some areas,
Luomala, Katharine. “Polynesian Mythology.” In Encyclopedia of
such as pushing up the sky in Tonga and Uvéa (taking the
Literature, edited by Joseph T. Shipley. New York, 1946.
place of Tane, who often performed this feat in eastern Poly-
Luomala, Katherine. Ma¯ui-of-a-Thousand-Tricks. Honolulu,
nesia), trying to overcome death in New Zealand, and in To-
1949.
kelau taking the place of the original male parent. Ma¯ui was
Luomala, Katharine. Voices on the Wind: Polynesian Myths and
often considered a magician, but his most admired character-
Chants. Honolulu, 1955.
istic was trickery against authority. In classic tales Ma¯ui usu-
Poignant, Roslyn. Oceanic Mythology: The Myths of Polynesia, Mi-
ally does not create, for this was the domain of the gods. In-
cronesia, Melanesia, Australia. London, 1967.
stead, as half man and half god, he transformed what had
Subramani. South Pacific Literature: From Myth to Fabulation.
already been created into something useful to man. Thus, he
Suva, 1985.
slowed down the sun, which previously had raced across the
sky, so that days would be long enough to beat out and dry
ADRIENNE L. KAEPPLER (1987 AND 2005)
bark cloth, grow and prepare food, and build temples to the
gods. Ma¯ui stole conveniences of the gods (such as fire to
cook food) for the comfort of men. Ma¯ui was the archetypal
POLYTHEISM. The term polytheism, derived from the
culture hero who could deal with both gods and humans.
Greek polus (“many”) and theos (“god”) and hence denoting
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7316
POLYTHEISM
“recognition and worship of many gods,” is used mainly in
mature philosophical reflection. There is an element of truth
contrast with monotheism, denoting “belief in one god.” The
in the latter assertion, for although there is no evidence what-
latter concept is considered by theological apologists and
soever of an evolution from polytheism to monotheism, it
nineteenth-century cultural evolutionists alike as a “higher”
seems true to say that monotheism appears either as a sud-
form of belief, to be superseded (at best) by modern, scientif-
den, revolutionary development (for example, no really poly-
ic atheism. To understand polytheism, one must look at the
theistic stage can be demonstrated in ancient Israelite reli-
base component theism, meaning the belief in “gods” as dis-
gion) or else as a monistic tendency (as in late Roman
tinct from other types of powerful or supernatural beings
antiquity or in certain forms of Indian religion), as a result
(ghosts, ancestor spirits, etc.). Unfortunately, no discussion
of which the multiplicity of gods (divine powers or manifes-
of polytheism can ignore the connotations implied by the
tations) are subsumed under one superior, all-embracing
Greek word theos, especially as it is the Greek term that has
principle (“the One,” “the All,” brahman, and so on.).
influenced most Western discourse on the subject. Clearly
THE NATURE OF POLYTHEISM. Turning from speculative
Japanese kami (whose number according to Shinto¯ tradition
historical guesswork to the phenomenology or morphology
is 800,000) and Greek theos are not quite the same; neverthe-
of polytheism, one is struck by the curious fact that polythe-
less this article shall, at the risk of oversimplification, stay
ism, while it is one of the major and most widespread phe-
with traditional Western usage.
nomena in the history of religions, has attracted less than the
attention it deserves. It seems to have fallen, as it were, be-
Historical (or rather, pseudo-historical) theories con-
tween the two stools of “primitive religions” and monothe-
cerning the origin of polytheism were closely related to the
ism. Or perhaps one should say three stools, if nontheistic
evolutionist views that characterized early Religionswissen-
religions such as Buddhism are also taken into account. Like
schaft. Primitive humanity was aware of its dependence on
all phenomenological ideal types (to borrow Max Weber’s
a variety of powers that were often conceived as individual
term), polytheism does not exist as a pure type. The histori-
nonmaterial (“spiritual”) beings—for instance, the spirits of
cal variety is not easily reducible to a common denominator.
departed humans, especially ancestors—or as supernatural
Greek polytheism is different from Japanese Shinto¯, and the
entities. One of the many modes of contact with this world
latter is different again from Maya religion. Nevertheless
of spirits was shamanism, a level of primitive beliefs and ritu-
some basic and characteristic features are discernible, even
al behavior that has also been referred to as “polydaemo-
though not all of them may be present in each and every case.
nism.” Sometimes more important figures emerge in these
systems, especially in connection with accounts of the origins
Perhaps the most striking fact about polytheism is its
and beginnings of all things (first ancestors, culture heroes,
appearance in more advanced cultures only. (This may, inci-
originator gods), but such figures are not always central in
dentally, be one of the reasons why the evolutionists saw it
the actual cultic life of the community. Even originator gods
as a post-primitive phenomenon.) In most cases, at least for
often remove themselves subsequently to the highest heavens
the purposes of this article, the phrase “advanced cultures”
and remain inactive. Although no longer generally accepted,
means literate cultures (e.g., China, India, the ancient Near
this account of things has been reproduced here because for
East, Greece, and Rome), though polytheism is occasionally
some time scholars have viewed it as a kind of initial stage
also found in nonliterate cultures (e.g., in Mesoamerican and
in religious development, the last and final stage being mo-
South American pre-Conquest religions, among the Yoruba
notheism. In this view, animism and polydaemonism be-
people of West Africa, or in Polynesia). Usually such cultures
come polytheism, and the latter evolves (how and why, no-
also practice a more sophisticated type of agriculture (for ex-
body seems to know) into monotheism.
ample, one in which the plow supersedes the hoe), although,
once again, this is not necessarily the case everywhere. In the
An opposing view known as the “Ur-monotheism
case of Polynesia it could be argued that the bountiful earth
school” (associated with Wilhelm Schmidt and the so-called
itself produced the surplus that rendered possible the social
Vienna School that defended also the Kulturkreiselehre) as-
and cultural background of polytheism (social stratification,
serted that monotheism was the original creed of humankind
division of labor, authority structures, and so forth), which
and that polydaemonism and polytheism developed as hu-
elsewhere depended on more advanced types of food produc-
mans degenerated from a more innocent state. The element
tion. “More advanced” cultures are those whose economy in
of theological apologetic in this theory is evident (though by
some way provides sufficient surplus to create a certain dis-
itself that fact constitutes no argument either for or against
tance between humankind and nature. Society no longer
its validity). In fact, it is an anthropological refurbishing of
lives with its nose to the grindstone, as it were. The result
the traditional theological doctrine that Adam and his de-
is increased division of labor (including bureaucracies and a
scendants were obviously monotheists, but that at some time
priesthood), social stratification (including warrior castes,
between Adam and Noah, and then again after Noah, a pro-
chieftains, royalty), and political structures (cities, city-states,
cess of corruption set in. The medieval Jewish version of this
temple establishments, empires). Greek polytheism flour-
process is spelled out in detail by Moses Maimonides
ished in city-states; Mesopotamia (Sumer, Assyria, Babylo-
(Mosheh ben Maimon). Polytheistic humanity was then re-
nia) and Egypt were kingdoms and at times empires, and the
introduced to monotheism by divine revelation or by more
same holds true of pre-Conquest Mesoamerica and Peru.
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POLYTHEISM
7317
The Indo-Aryan and pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religions cer-
gods that preceded the ones ruling at present (e.g., Greek
tainly were not primitive. Similarly, the Yoruba kingdoms of
Ouranos-Gaia; followed by Kronos, followed by Zeus; or, in
O:yo: and Ife: (present-day Nigeria), for example, clearly rep-
later Indian religion, the replacement of originally principal
resent a high though nonliterate culture, as does early Japan
gods like Indra, Varun:a, and Mitra by S´iva, Vis:n:u, and other
with its kami worship, practiced long before the infiltration
deities). These gods are personal (in fact, this personal char-
of Chinese culture and literacy.
acter is also one of the main features and constitutes one of
the main philosophical problems of monotheism), and here-
The above considerations are not meant to explain or
in resides their religious significance: They are accessible.
otherwise account for the appearance of polytheism. They
merely suggest the cultural and spiritual background against
Such a generalization must, of course, be somewhat
which the emergence of polytheism becomes intelligible. In
qualified in view of the phenomenon of “dying and rising”
every religion, society attempts to articulate its understand-
gods such as Adonis, Attis, Osiris, Dumuzi, also in polytheis-
ing of the cosmos and of the powers that govern it, and to
tic myths and rituals.
structure its relationship with these powers in appropriate
Most polytheistic religions possess, as has been indicated
symbolic systems. In the societies under discussion here, hu-
in the preceding paragraph, a highly developed mythology
mankind already faces the cosmos: closely linked to it but no
that is not restricted to theogony and cosmogony though it
longer inextricably interwoven in it. There is a sense of (at
is often used, or deliberately manipulated, to account for
least minimal) distance from nature and even more distance
things as they are and to legitimate the cosmic, social, politi-
from the powers above that now are “gods,” that is, beings
cal, and ritual order. But such is not always or necessarily the
that are superhuman, different, powerful (though not om-
case. Perhaps the best example of a highly developed polythe-
nipotent) and hence beneficent or dangerous—at any rate
ism with an elaborate ritual system but almost totally lacking
their goodwill should be secured—and to be worshiped by
a mythology is ancient Rome. In this respect the contrast
cultic actions such as sacrifices. These divine beings are per-
with ancient Greece is striking. Yet even when there exists
sonal but not material (although they can assume bodily
a rich body of mythology, its imagery reaches the present in
shape temporarily and for specific reasons); above all, their
comparatively late literary elaborations. Thus the mythology
behavior and motivations are similar to those of humans.
of ancient (pre-Buddhist) Japan is accessible only in literary
Their relevance to human life is due to the fact that, unlike
works composed after the absorption of Chinese (i. e., also
the primitive high gods (originator gods of the deus otiosus
Buddhist) influences.
type), they intervene in human affairs, either on their own
initiative or because called upon to do so in prayer, sacrifice,
Without implying commitment to any simplistic theory
or ritual.
about the divine order always and necessarily being a mirror
of the human and social order, one cannot deny that the two
One of the most distinctive characteristics of gods, as
are correlated. The polytheistic divine world is more differ-
compared to human beings, is their immortality. Though
entiated, more structured, and often extremely hierarchized,
not eternal in the abstract, philosophical sense, the gods, as
because the human view of the cosmos is similarly differenti-
the worshiper knows them, are the “immortals.” Herein lies
ated, structured, and hierarchized. There are many gods be-
the main distinction, not (as in monotheistic religions) in a
cause humans experience the world in its variety and mani-
fundamental difference of essence that then, on the philo-
foldness. Hence there is also specialization among the gods,
sophical level, becomes transcendence. Even when the differ-
of a nature that is either local and tribal-ethnic (gods of spe-
ence is emphasized, it is not a contrast between creator and
cific localities, cities, countries, families) or functional (gods
creature, but one of levels of power and permanence. The
of specific arts, gods of illness, cure, fertility, rains, hunting,
relation is one of bipolarity; humans and the gods, though
fishing, etc.). The highly developed Roman sense of order
different, are related. Hesiod (Works and Days 108) relates
could take things to extremes, and the early Christian fathers
“how the gods and mortal men sprang from one source.”
in their antipagan polemics made fun of the Roman indigita-
Even so, “one is the race of men, one is the race of gods, and
menta, or invocations of highly specialized gods. Each house-
[i. e., although] from one mother [i. e., Gaia] do we both
holder had his genius; women had their Junos; children were
derive our breath. Yet a power that is wholly separated par-
protected when going in, going out, or performing their nat-
teth us: In the one there is nought, while for the other the
ural functions by Educa, Abeone, Potin. In fact, there was
brazen heaven endureth as an abode unshaken forever” (Pin-
a goddess responsible for the toilet and sewage system: Cloa-
dar, Nemean Odes 6.1–5).
cina. (The Roman example illustrates another important
principle. Deities can be mythological beings of symbolic im-
Yet although the gods to whom humanity is related are
mediacy, to be subsequently “interpreted” or rationally alle-
durable and permanent, this does not mean that they do not
gorized; they can also be the personifications of abstract con-
have origins or a history. Unlike the biblical God who makes
cepts.)
history but himself has no history, let alone a family history,
their history is the subject of mythological tales, including
To cite another example of parallel hierarchy, few divine
accounts of their family relations, love affairs, offspring, and
worlds were as hierarchical as the Chinese; in fact, these
so on. Hence the mythological genealogies, stories of the
realms seem to be exact replicas of the administrative bureau-
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7318
POLYTHEISM
cracy of imperial China. Just as the illustrious departed could
Old Testament (e.g., Exodus 15:11, “Who is like unto thee
be deified by imperial decree, so gods too could be promoted
among the gods, O Yahveh,” or Micah 4:5, “For all nations
to higher rank. (Japan subsequently adopted this Chinese
will walk each in the name of its god” while Israel walks in
model, as it did so many others.) As late as the nineteenth
the name of Yahveh, their god for evermore). The fact that
century, these imperial promotions were announced in the
the most frequent Old Testament name for God, Elohim, is
Beijing Gazette.
an originally plural form is often mentioned in this connec-
tion, but the arguments are doubtful and perhaps influenced
The possibility of elevation to divine rank of living or
by lingering evolutionist patterns of thought. Henotheist
departed humans (in the Western world such was the case
tendencies are also evident in Vedic religion and, to a lesser
with Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors) calls for a quali-
degree, in the bhakti (“devotion”) directed toward a variety
fication of an earlier statement that polytheism displays an
of later Hindu deities.
unbridgeable difference (though not quite as radical as that
of monotheism) between humans and gods. For, much as
One problem that cannot be ignored is the disappear-
humans can occasionally attain to divinity, the gods can as-
ance (with a few exceptions) of polytheism as a result of ei-
sume human shape (as in the example of the Hindu avata¯ras)
ther monotheistic “revolutions” (e.g., ancient Israel, Islam)
or exist in human manifestation (as in the Japanese concept
or unifying tendencies. Indeed, too little scholarly attention
of ikigami).
has been paid to the strange fact that polytheism has gradual-
An important corollary of polytheism is that, though the
ly disappeared except in some East Asian religions. In most
major deities can be very powerful, no god can be omnipo-
contemporary philosophical discussions the alternatives con-
tent. Only a monotheistic god, being monos, can also be all-
sidered as available to society seem to be monotheism or
powerful. With growing moral differentiation, originally am-
atheism; polytheism is treated as an important phenomenon
bivalent gods split into positive (good) and negative (bad,
or stage in the history of religions but hardly ever, philosoph-
evil, or demonic) divinities. Thus the original Indo-Aryan as-
ically or theologically, as a live option.
uras (deities) became, in Vedic and post-Vedic India, de-
The quest of an overarching unity (one universe in spite
monic antigods, in opposition to the devas. The multiplicity
of the multiplicity of forms of existence; one natural law
of gods of necessity produced a hierarchy of major and minor
under which all other laws can be subsumed) is clearly one
gods and a pantheon, or overall framework in which they
factor that led to a view of the divine as one. By using imper-
were all combined. The more important gods have names
sonal language, it is relatively easy to speak of “the divine”
and a distinct personality; others form the plebs deorum, a
in the singular. A personal god is a more difficult matter. But
body often indistinguishable from the nameless spirits of ani-
at any rate unifying tendencies are discernible everywhere,
mism. Many gods are experienced as real though unidenti-
even in antiquity. The Greek dramatist Aeschylus speaks of
fied, and hence a Roman might invoke the deity si deus si
“the one with many names,” and the R:gveda says of the evi-
dea or distinguish between dei certi and dei incerti (rather like
dently one god that “men call him Indra, Mitra, Varun:a,
addressing a prayer “to whom it may concern”). There even
Agni.” The polytheistic paganism of the late Roman empire
is a reference to aius locutus “[the god] who has spoken [on
was syncretistic in the sense of evincing a tendency to identi-
a certain occasion, whoever he may be].”
fy the individual gods of the various (Greek, Roman, Orien-
When polytheism is superseded by monotheism, the
tal, Germanic) cultures. Hence it becomes possible to speak
host of deities is either abolished (theoretically), or bedeviled
of a “pseudo-polytheism,” a religious system that preserves
(i. e., turned into demons), or downgraded to the rank of an-
the traditional polytheistic terminology but considers the
gels and ministering spirits. This means that an officially mo-
many gods mere manifestations of what is ultimately one di-
notheistic system can harbor a functional de facto polytheism.
vine principle. This tendency is especially noticeable in many
No doubt for the urban masses in fourth-century Rome, the
modern types of Neo-Hinduism. For some Hellenistic writ-
cult of the Christian martyrs was merely a kind of transfor-
ers (e.g., Marcus Aurelius) the grammatical distinction be-
mation of the earlier polytheistic cults, and the same is prob-
tween theos (singular) and theoi (plural) has become practical-
ably still true of much Roman Catholic Christianity, espe-
ly meaningless.
cially in rural areas.
All monistic—even nontheistic—views on the higher
Some scholars consider henotheism (the exclusive wor-
and more sophisticated doctrinal levels notwithstanding, a
ship of one god only without denying the existence of other
de facto functional polytheism can continue to exist among
gods) as an intermediary stage between polytheism and mo-
the masses of devout believers. This is not the place for a psy-
notheism, the latter being defined as the theoretical recogni-
chological and sociological analysis of the role of the cult of
tion of the existence of one god only, all the others being (in
saints among many Roman Catholics. In India, no matter
the language of the Old Testament) sheer “vanity and noth-
what monist or nondualist doctrines are theoretically held,
ingness.” The terminology seems somewhat artificial (both
the religious life of the mass of believers is a de facto polythe-
hen and monos signify “one” in Greek), but it attempts to ex-
istic one. The case of Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism is even more
press a real distinction. Thus it has been claimed that heno-
striking. On the doctrinal and scholastic level, as well as on
theistic vestiges can still be detected even in the monotheistic
the level of higher mystical experience, there may be no god
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PONTIFEX
7319
or divine being, and the key terms are emptiness, nothing-
priests, even while defining him as the “judge and arbiter of
ness, and the like. Yet the ordinary Buddhist (and even the
things divine and human” (Festus, ed. Lindsay, 1913,
Buddhist monk) relates to the many Buddhas and boddhisat-
p. 198 L.). Indeed, the pontifex maximus (aided by the pon-
tvas that in fact constitute the Buddhist pantheon like a poly-
tifical college, which successively numbered three, nine, fif-
theist to his gods.
teen, and sixteen members) had become, from simple adviser
to the king, the true head of Roman religion. Under the re-
SEE ALSO Anthropomorphism; Apotheosis; Deus Otiosus;
public, it was he who sat in the Regia, which had become
Dying and Rising Gods; Gods and Goddesses; Henotheism;
the domus publica of the pontifical college. He was the one
Incarnation.
who named—more precisely, it was said that he “seizes”
(capit; Gallius, 1.12.15)—the rex sacrorum (“king of the sac-
BIBLIOGRAPHY
rifices”), the flamines, and the Vestals whenever a vacancy oc-
There is little, if any, systematic literature on the subject. Discus-
curred, and he had the right of supervision over all of them.
sions of polytheism can be found in articles on monotheism
He convoked and presided over the Comitia Calata, the as-
in the older, standard encyclopedias (the Encyclopaedia of Re-
sembly that witnessed the inauguration of the rex sacrorum
ligion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, Die Religion in
and the flamines maiores (“greater priests”). During that same
Geschichte und Gegenwart, and so on) as well as in accounts
assembly there also took place each month on the nones the
of specific polytheistic religions (for example, Germanic and
Celtic; ancient Near Eastern; Greek and Roman; Indian,
proclamation by the rex of the month’s holidays (feriae pri-
Chinese, and Japanese; Mesoamerican and South American).
mae menstruae; Varro, De lingua Latina 5.83).
Perhaps the first modern discussion of polytheism, in the
For a long time the pontiffs were the true regulators of
Western sense, is David Hume’s The Natural History of Reli-
time, in that the calendar was not published until 304 BCE,
gion (1757), though Hume’s account is obviously shaped by
when this was finally done at the instigation of the aedilis
eighteenth-century European Enlightenment attitudes. Sys-
curulis, G. Flavius (Cicero, Pro Murena 25). In their archives
tematic considerations can be found in Gerardus van der
Leeuw’s Religion in Essence and Manifestation, 2 vols. (1938;
the high priests kept all documents concerning the sacra
Gloucester, Mass., 1967); E. O. James’s The Concept of Deity
publica, the public religion: lists of divinities to invoke (in-
(New York, 1950); and Angelo Brelich’s “Der Polytheis-
digitamenta); prayer formulas (carmina) for the fulfillment
mus,” Numen 7 (December 1960): 123–136. On the rela-
of vows, dedications, and consecrations; cultic rules (leges
tionship of polytheism to more highly developed political or-
templorum); and prescriptions for expiatory sacrifices
ganization (e.g., the Greek polis), see Walter Burkert’s “Polis
(piacula).
and Polytheism,” in his Greek Religion (Cambridge, Mass.,
1985), pp. 216–275.
Fundamentally, pontifical activity was carried out on
two levels. On the liturgical level the high priests participated
R. J. ZWI WERBLOWSKY (1987)
actively in public ceremonies, as for instance the anniversa-
ries of temples. (The sacrificial utensils, the knife, secespita,
and the ax, sacena, are among the pontifical symbols; Festus,
op. cit., p. 422 L.) On the theological level the high priests
PONTIFEX. The Latin noun pontifex, designating cer-
provided decisions and responses (decreta and responsa),
tain Roman high priests, is thought of as deriving from pons
which came to constitute the ius pontificium (“pontifical
(“bridge”) and facere (“to make”). This etymology, held by
law”). The authority acquired by the pontifex maximus ex-
Varro (De lingua Latina 5.83), is accepted by the majority
plains why, following the example of Julius Caesar, Augustus
of modern scholars. Yet the discrepancy between this defini-
chose to add this dignity to his set of titles in 12 BCE. There-
tion of “bridge maker” and the broad extent of the pontifical
after it remained attached to the imperial function.
function has aroused some resistance among scholars both
ancient and modern. At the beginning of the first century
BIBLIOGRAPHY
BCE the pontifex maximus Q. Mucius Scaevola (cited by
Bleicken, Jochen. “Oberpontifex und Pontifikalkollegium.” Her-
Varro, ibid.) preferred to see in the word pontifices a corrup-
mes 85 (November 1957): 345–366.
tion of the word potifices (from posse, “to be able,” and facere,
Bouché-Leclercq, Auguste. Les pontifes de l’ancienne Rome. Paris,
“to do,” undoubtedly in the sense of “to sacrifice”). Today,
1871.
there are those who think that pons originally meant “path,”
even “obstacle path,” by reason of its likeness to the Vedic
Dumézil, Georges. La religion romaine archaïque. 2d ed. Paris,
1974. See pages 573–576. This work has been translated
pa¯ntha¯h.
from the first edition by Philip Krapp as Archaic Roman Reli-
Commentators since antiquity have been struck by the
gion, 2 vols. (Chicago, 1970).
contrast between the apparent specialization of the titlehold-
Hallett, Judith P. “Over Troubled Waters: The Meaning of the
er (Varro referred to the construction and restorations of the
Title Pontifex.” Translations and Proceedings of the American
bridge of Sublicius by the pontiffs) and the importance of
Philological Association 101 (1970): 219–227. A reconcilia-
the role. The contrast is transparent in Festus: In one and
tion of pons with the Vedic pa¯ntha¯h.
the same paragraph he points out the attribution to the ponti-
Rhode, Georg. Die Kultsatzungen der römischen Pontifices. Berlin,
fex maximus of the fifth and last rank in the hierarchy of
1936.
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POOR CLARES
Szemler, G. J. “Pontifex.” In Real-encyclopädie die Altertumwissen-
mass culture. In this sense elements of popular culture are
schaft, vol. 15. Munich, 1978.
presumed to be popular in that they are well liked by many
Wissowa, Georg. Religion und kultus der Römer. 2d ed. Munich,
people and they hold special meaning for certain groups of
1912. See pages 501–521.
consumers at certain points in history.
New Sources
Items of popular culture become important markers for
Campanile, Enrico. “Sulla preistoria di lat. pontifex.” Studi Classi-
identity construction in the context of a society increasingly
ci e Orientali 32 (1982): 291–297.
defined by differentiated lifestyle segments or taste cultures.
Champeaux, Jacqueline. “Pontifes, haruspices et decemvirs.
As such popular culture includes elements produced for con-
L’espiation des prodiges des 207.” Revue des Études Latines
sumption: (1) by the mass media industries, including prod-
74 (1996): 67–91.
ucts such as reading materials, music, visual images, photos,
Desnier, Jean-Louis. “Les débordements du Fleuve.” Latomus 57
film, television, advertising, video games, celebrity culture,
(1998): 513–522.
professional sports, talk radio, comics, and the World Wide
Draper, Richard D. The Role of the Pontifex Maximus and Its Influ-
Web; (2) by artistic and creative realms, such as live and per-
ence in Roman Religion and Politics. Ann Arbor, 1988.
formance theater, art, musical arrangements and perfor-
Dupuis, Xavier. “Pontifes et augures dans les cités d’Afrique: mod-
mances, and museum installations designed for popular con-
èle romain et specificités locales.” In Idéologies et valeurs
sumption; and (3) by manufacturers and other players within
civiques dans le monde romain. Hommages à Claude Lepelley,
global capitalism who seek to link certain taste cultures with
ed. by Hervé Ingelbert, pp. 215–219. Paris, 2002.
commercially available products. This latter category in-
Seguin, Roger. “Remarques sur les origines des pontifes romains.
cludes a seemingly endless variety of goods, including modes
Pontifex maximus et Rex sacrorum.” In Hommage a Henry
of transportation, fashion, toys, sporting goods, and even
Le Bonniec. Res sacrae, edited by Danielle Porte et Jean Pierre
food—in short, anything that can be successfully packaged
Néraudau, pp. 405–418. Brussels, 1988.
for consumers in response to their desire for a means to both
R
identify with some people, ideas, or movements and to dis-
OBERT SCHILLING (1987)
Translated from French by Paul C. Duggan
tinguish themselves from others.
Revised Bibliography
The phrase popular culture first came into use in the
English language in the early nineteenth century, when for
the first time it was possible to manufacture and widely dis-
POOR CLARES SEE FRANCISCANS; SOUL,
tribute cultural products with relative ease and speed. Prior
ARTICLE ON CHRISTIAN CONCEPTS
to the emergence of a capitalist market economy with indus-
trialization, the popular was a term with legal and political
meaning that derived from the Latin popularis, or “belonging
to the people.” The term was used as a way to draw distinc-
POPULAR CULTURE. The study of popular culture
tions between the views of “the people” and those who wield-
brings together three different yet related concerns: culture,
ed power over them. In the past therefore the term popular
the popular, and mass culture. Culture is the term used to
culture was used to reference the folk traditions created and
denote a particular way of life for a specific group of people
maintained by the people outside of the purview of cultural
during a certain period in history. It also references the arti-
authorities and away from the demands of labor. The term
facts, narratives, images, habits, and products that give style
is still used in this way among historians who examine prac-
and substance to that particular way of life. Mass culture is
tices and products that were in existence prior to a commer-
a term that highlights the profit motive that directs the pro-
cially dominated marketplace.
duction of certain products made available for commercial
sale. It refers to both these mass-produced products and the
By the late nineteenth century, however, the term popu-
consumer demand for them that justifies their widespread
lar culture had come to have a rather specific meaning in rela-
production and distribution. The popular makes reference to
tion to presumed distinctions between the elite and the peo-
“the people,” and as such there are in some discussions over-
ple that echoed presumed distinctions between superior and
laps between “folk” and “popular” culture. What usually dis-
inferior culture, between the artistic and the vulgar, or be-
tinguishes the two in the common use of these terms is that
tween the sophisticated and the banal. These distinctions
whereas “folk” culture is presumed to refer to cultural prod-
gained political importance as the industrial era progressed.
ucts and practices that emerge from the people, often having
THEORY, CRITICISM, AND THE STUDY OF POPULAR CUL-
a historical connection to a certain racial, ethnic, or geo-
TURE. As the working class that staffed the industrial land-
graphically located group, popular culture usually refers to
scape continued to grow in the late nineteenth century, con-
those commercially produced items specifically associated
cerns about both the influx of people in urban areas and the
with leisure, the mass media, and lifestyle choices. Whereas
popular culture they favored came to be closely entwined.
there is therefore a great deal of overlap between mass and
The bourgeoisie in industrialized Europe tended to view the
popular culture, the latter retains its populist impulse and
shared artifacts of working-class culture as evidence of both
thus tends to be less pejorative in tone than references to
their unity and their inferiority. Fearing an uprising similar
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POPULAR CULTURE
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to that of the French Revolution, early criticism of popular
ture through the workings of what they called the “culture
culture, known in the twenty-first century as the “culture
industries.” Bringing to their work a perspective informed by
and civilization” tradition, linked the growth of what critics
Hegelian philosophy, they articulated a critique of popular
viewed as inferior popular culture with concerns over the
culture known as critical theory. Although often dismissed
weakening of a social order that had been based on power
as overly pessimistic in that these scholars saw little potential
and privilege. This tradition had its beginnings in the writ-
for change in the relations between the privileged and the
ings of Matthew Arnold. In his book Culture and Anarchy
disadvantaged in society, the critical school inaugurated sev-
(1882), Arnold contrasted “culture” (now “high culture”)
eral important streams of thought regarding popular culture.
with what he viewed as the anarchic and disruptive nature
Particularly influential have been the ideas of the critical the-
of working-class or popular culture.
orist Walter Benjamin, whose attention to both the mass
production and ideological role of images in contemporary
Arnold believed that much of the problem of his genera-
society has been influential in debates of art, politics, and
tion lay in the emergent working class and its seeming refusal
postmodernism. Equally important, the critical school
to adopt a position of subordination and deference to the
spawned the scholarly tradition of cultural imperialism,
elite. Part of the problem, in Arnold’s view, was illustrated
which came to prominence in the 1970s as it explored the
in the refusal of the working class to adhere to the sugges-
flow of mass media across transnational borders.
tions of the elite in terms of which elements of “culture” to
consume. This presumed problem was echoed in the writings
Critiques of popular culture that grew out of cultural
and sermons of ministers and other religious leaders, who
imperialism tended to assume a central role for the media in
were particularly animated in their concerns about fiction,
the creation of popular culture. Similar to their predecessors
as will be discussed in a subsequent section.
in the critical school, popular culture was approached meth-
The “culture and civilization” tradition of popular cul-
odologically through an analysis of political and economic
tural critiques found renewed expression in the writings of
structures, with specific attention to the relations among
F. R. Leavis and Q. D. Leavis, who began writing about pop-
governments, policy makers, and development efforts as they
ular culture in the 1930s in England. Believing that popular
played out in relation to media. The theory was articulated
culture provided a dangerous distraction to responsible par-
among Latin American scholars of media and popular cul-
ticipation in democracy, they advocated that public schools
ture, such as Antonio Pasquali, Luis Ramiro Beltran, Fernan-
engage in education about the ill effects of popular culture
dez Reyes Matta, and Mario Kaplun. These scholars, as well
on young people. The Leavises promoted the idea of a myth-
as Herb Schiller in the United States and Dallas Smythe in
ic “golden age” of England’s rural past, in which they be-
Canada, were concerned about the ways multinational media
lieved a “common culture” (or “folk” culture) had flourished.
corporations were, through the organization of profit and
Their many treatises aimed to keep the expansion of popular
commerce, able to dominate the development of media and
culture’s influence under control so as to maintain what they
by extension popular culture in smaller and less-wealthy na-
believed were the truly valuable aspects of England’s cultural
tions.
tradition.
By the 1980s, however, a new school of thought regard-
A similar strand of thought has long been a part of U.S.
ing popular culture had taken root in the United States and
approaches to popular culture. In 1957 Bernard Rosenberg
Europe. There were several reasons for the emergence of a
and David Manning White published Mass Culture: The
critique that challenged the “high culture–low culture” and
Popular Arts in America, a collection of essays that bemoaned
cultural imperialist assumptions of the time. In the mid-
the supposed dehumanizing impact of popular culture.
1960s “pop art” had called into question the very definition
Other popular culture critics, such as Dwight Macdonald
of art and high culture, foregrounding meanings made by the
(who contributed to the Rosenberg and White volume) and
viewer of art rather than by the creator or the art critic. A
later Daniel Boorstin, Stuart Ewen, and Neil Postman,
similar revolution had begun with the emergence of reader-
voiced similar concerns about popular culture’s ill effects on
response theory in literary criticism, as theorists posited that
society. In the shadow of the cold war, the contributors to
what made for “classic” texts were assumptions often based
the Rosenberg and White volume feared that a passive audi-
in race, gender, and economic privilege and that literary criti-
ence in the sway of popular culture could be easily brought
cism would benefit from an examination of meanings readers
under the influence of a totalitarian government.
made of differing texts. With the advent of pop art and read-
er-response theory, along with the rising prominence of fem-
A fear of totalitarianism animated the writings of schol-
inism, black, and cross-cultural perspectives and the emer-
ars such as Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Leo Lowen-
gence of social analysis informed by cultural anthropology,
thal, and Herbert Marcuse of the Frankfurt school as well,
the cultural studies approach to popular culture coalesced in
although their intellectual roots were in Marxism rather than
Great Britain, Australia, the United States, and Latin
in the Romanticism that often informed the nostalgia-tinged
America.
desire for a culture untrammeled by popular culture. Expatri-
ates from Adolf Hitler’s Germany, the scholars in the Frank-
Much of the early scholarship in cultural studies ap-
furt school feared the manipulative potential of popular cul-
proaches to popular culture was motivated by a desire to
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POPULAR CULTURE
demonstrate that audiences were not passive consumers of
tions, religious popular cultural practices endured through
the products produced for them by the