Wednesday, November 27, 2013

introductory book on US religious history

The book
Ahlstrom, Sydney E.: A religious history of the American people  / Sydney E. Ahlstrom. Foreword and concluding chapter by David D. Hall . - 2. ed. . - New Haven, Conn. [u.a.]  : Yale Univ. Press , 2004 . - XXIV, 1192 S. . - 0-300-10012-4
is available under signature KG-8088 at the FB Theology in Vienna.

A new research structure

Yesterday evening, my advisor and I tossed the basic setup of the research endeavor into early Mormon history and started over. We kept many of the parts, but he streamlined the process that I will have to go through to simplify the tasks. Of the key topoi that I had presented at the November colloquium, we tossed the question of the Book of Mormon and its connection to Gnostic, Hermetic, Romantic and philosophical concerns, the magical world view and the Second Great Awakening.

Instead, we opted to focus on the financial administration of the young Latter Day Saints congregation; on urbanization as communication in Nauvoo and its temple; and on the general principles of mobility during the time period. It is only when these topics are covered with a "naive" Braudelian tri-partite scheme of temporal structure that we match the interpretative structures to the Mediterranean, eliminating the need to reconstruct models that are unhelpful.

Having thus focused the palette based on contextual use, we can still apply the palette in a fifth chapter to the Mormon War of the 1830s and evaluate its helpfulness and/or omissions and insufficiencies.

With a good 50 pages for each chapter, 20+ pages for Introduction and Conclusion, this puts us at ~300 pages of effort. Furthermore, the approach disentangles the first three chapters on financial administration, urbanization and mobility from the model-theoretic framework, allowing them to stand on their own.

Finally, this approach eliminates a methodological straight-jacket and allows the sources to influence both the findings and the directions of the research, rather than fixing the validity and the schematics of the categories up front.

Rejecting the Ur-Matriarchat


The base problem of the Ur-Matriarchat, based on the shared religion of the Great Goddess, is the paralogism of a petitio principii; rather than showing that all of the various tribes and locales of the Paleolithic to the demise of the Cretan culture ~1250 bc shared a common notion of the Great Goddess, it presupposes that shared notion.

This is also the main, though not the only way, in which the theory of the Ur-Matriarchat exposes its roots in the 18th and 19th century mode of historical, sociological and anthropological research. Other aspects are:
  • Its dependence on patriarchical accounts of the main data points, such as Bachofen and Engels for the idea of the matriarchy, or James Mellaart and Sir Arthur Evans for the excavation and interpretation of Çatalhöyük and Knossos.
  • Its dependence on simple process models of historical change, such as the conquest account of the matriarchical tribes through patriarchical Indo-Europeans.
  • Its focus on the Western part of Eurasia to the exclusion of all other parts of the world for telling a definitive story of civilization.
Core archaeological components of this story are limited to selected subsets of the evidence of
  • paleolithic female statuettes and French cave paintings
  • the Cretan palace of Knossos
  • the neolithic site of Çatalhöyük 
  • the paleolithic and neolithic sites excavated by Marija Gimbutas
which ignore the steadily increasing other forms of evidence--settlement sites for the paleolithic, other statuettes from paleolithic, non-Knossian sites from Crete--for the time period under question that do not readily point toward a Matriarchy of the forms described.
The evidence is especially problematic when looking at the physical anthropology for the interred at Çatalhöyük, which reveals the population to have been on the brink of starvation, severely undernourished and suffering from all forms of nutritional deficiencies--hardly a paradise in any sense of the word.

Ute C. Schmidt has labelled this type of assimilation of the present condition to the past while ignoring the historical evidence as "illusionäre Vergangenheitsaneignung" (illusionary appropriation of the past) [p.142] and warns against it, because it obscures the view for analyzing the actual problems, pinning women down with an immobile conception of a past paradise that is unfortunately lost.

Finally, the lack of reflection of the historiographical setup causes unintended consequences; for example, the Ur-Matriarchat hypothesis is unintentionally racist and anti-semitic: Since the duality is either patriarchy (bad) and matriarchy (good), and there is no argument for matriarchy in the South-East of Çatalhöyük, Israel and the majority of Asia, Africa and the Americas must by necessity be counted on the patriarchical side.


  • Meret Fehlmann, Die Rede vom Matriarchat, 2011.
  • Brigitte Röder, Juliane Hummel, Brigitte Kunz: Göttinnendämmerung, 1996 (München : Droemer Knaur), ISBN: 3-426-26887-6.
  • Ute C. Schmidt, Vom Rand zur Mitte: Aspekte einer feministischen Perspektive in der Geschichtswissenschaft, Zürich-Dortmund (edition ebersbach), 1994.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Term Culture in Archaeology

In her book
Röder, Brigitte, Hummel, Juliane, Kunz, Brigitte: Göttinnendämmerung, 1996 (München : Droemer Knaur), ISBN: 3-426-26887-6
Juliane Hummel points out (p.172) that while culture is a concept that for existing societies includes non-material aspects such as belief systems or social conventions, while for archaeology the term is restricted to the material remains and is used in a very circumscribed sense.
Wie diese Beispiele [i.e. Linearbandkeramische Kultur, Horgener Kultur, etc] zeigen, ist der Kulturbegriff in der Archäologie sehr eingeschränkt. Er dient in erster Linie als Arbeitstitel für die fachinterne Verständigung und ist als Sammelbezeichnung für räumlich-zeitlich übereinstimmende archäologische Quellen zu verstehen, wobei der Grund der Übereinstimmung jeweils zu klären ist (Wotzka 1993, 25ff). [p.173]
As these examples show [e.g. Linear band ceramics culture, Horgener Kultur, etc], the term 'culture' is very restricted in archaeology. It serves primarily as a working title for internal communication and is a collective term for spatio-temporally agreeing archaeological sources, where the reason for the agreement requires explanation (Wotzka 1993, 25ff). [p.173]
Since the archaeological sources are restricted to material objects, the notion of culture cannot include "living things" such as conceptualizations.
Eine archäologische Kultur ist strenggenommen eine "tote Kultur" (Eggers 1986, 258). [p.173]
An archaeological culture is essentially a "dead culture" (Eggers 1986, 258). [p.173]
And this means that some of the questions laypeople are most interested in cannot be covered by the archaeological term of culture.
Da die archäologische Kultur ausschließlich über die materiellen Hinterlassenschaften einer Gemeinschaft verfügt, betrachtet sie lediglich einen Ausschnitt der ehemals "lebenden Kultur" .... Die "lebende Kultur" einer Menschengruppe umfaßt alles, was dort erdacht und geschaffen sowie sozial akzeptiert oder geduldet ist. Materielle Gegenstände, z.B. Werkzeuge, gehören ebenso dazu wie nicht-materielle Inhalte, etwa religiöse Vorstellungen, Rechtsnormen oder geschlechtsspezifische Verhaltensregeln (Rudolph 1988, 43). [p.173]
Since archaeological culture only has available the material remains of a society, the term only captures a slice of the then-existing "living culture" .... The "living culture" of a group of people includes everything that was conceived or created there, socially accepted or tolerated. Material remains, for example tools, belong into that as well as non-material contents, such as religious ideas, norms of law or gendered rules of conduct (Rudolph 1988, 43). [p.173]
This subtle distinction between "living culture" and "dead culture" foils some of the interpretative attempts that people make with respect to archaeological knowledge.
Ob die Menschen einer archäologischen Kultur, wie etwa Marija Gimbutas annimmt, sich selbst als Gemeinschaft verstanden, eine gemeinsame Sprache benützten, die gleichen religiösen Vorstellungen hatten -- kurz: ob sich die einzelnen Gruppenmitglieder als ein 'Volk' subjektiv zusammengehörig fühlten, darüber sagt der archäologische Kulturbegriff nichts aus. [p.174]
Whether the people of an archaeological culture, as Marija Gimbutas assumes, saw themselves as a society, used a common Language, shared religious conceptualizations -- in short, whether the individual members of the group felt subjectively as belonging together as a 'people', is a discussion that the archaeological sense of culture cannot contribute to. [p.174]

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Analogy in Archaeology

The book
Röder, Brigitte, Hummel, Juliane, Kunz, Brigitte: Göttinnendämmerung, 1996 (München : Droemer Knaur), ISBN: 3-426-26887-6
suggests on p.168 that p.16 in Ian Hodder's 1982 book
Ian Hodder, The present past: An introduction to anthropology for archaeologists, London 1982. 
is helpful in thinking about archaeological analogy.
Analogien sind ganz allgemein eine Form des Informationstransfers von einem Objekt zum anderen, wobei verbindende Vergleichbarkeiten vorhanden sein müssen (Hodder 1982, 16). [p.168]
Analogies are generally speaking a form of information transfer from one object to another, where comparable features are present (Hodder 1982, 16). [p.168] 
Juliane Hummel, who contributed this chapter, continues
Jede analoge Schlußfolgerung ist an die sozialen und historischen Umstände der interpretierenden Person gebunden und spielt sich grundsätzlich vor dem Hintergrund des jeweiligen persönlichen Wissens und der individuellen Überlegungen über die Welt und die Menschen ab, .... [p.168]
Every analogical conclusion is tied to the social and historical circumstances of the interpreting person and essentially plays out in front of the backdrop of personal knowledge and individual musing about the world and humanity, .... [p.168]  
though she points out that the interpreting persons need not be aware of these limitations and cites Sir Arthur Evans of Krete fame as a good example.

All of this is fundamentally hermeneutic in the iterative deepening circle sense of the word.
Es kann nur das gefunden werden, was dem Interpreten oder der Interpretin bekannt ist. [p.168]
As interpreters, we can only find what we are familiar with. [p.168]
As a minor criticism, I would disagree with that conclusion in the limit case, as its truth would eliminate the possibility of ever learning about any new objects. We are quite capable of realizing that we have never seen anything like it and that a new term is in order.

But I am with Brigitte Röder when she observes that any act of identification is an act of interpretation already.
Schon allein die Feststellung, daß es sich bei ... [einem] ... Bronzeobjekt um ein Schwert handelt, ist eine Analogie auf dem Hintergrund heutigen Wissens. Letztendlich kann nämlich nicht mit endgültiger Sicherheit ge- [p.168] sagt werden, ob ein solcher Gegenstand, nur weil er eine Form aufweist, die uns als "Schwert" vertraut ist, wirklich als Waffe benutzt wurde (Sangmeister 1967, 202). Vielleicht diente er ja als Grabstock oder als Webschwert? [p.168f]
Even the mere identification of some bronze object as a sword is an analogy grounded in present day knowledge. In the limit no one can say definitively [p.168] whether such an object, just because it has a shape that is familiar to us as a "sword", was truly used as a weapon (Sangmeister 1967, 202). Maybe it was used to dig or during weaving? [p.168f]
Thus, analogies never amount to proofs, just as providers of plausibility.
Analogien ... sind der einzige Weg, über einen archäologischen Befund und über Funktion von Gerätschaften Hypothesen zu bilden und den Blick auf Aspekte und Strukturen zu lenken, die die Quellen von sich aus nicht verraten. [p.169]
Analogies ... are the only way to form hypotheses about an archaeological finding and about the function of tools and to put into view aspects and structures that the sources do not reveal by themselves. [p.169] 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Project Presentation Feedback

Here are my unvarnished notes from the feedback discussion after the presentation of my project.

  • Braudel is actually missing part three of his book on the Mediterranean, where the long and the middle duration meet the history of events
  • TRE4 should probably be RGG4; otherwise Markschies would be still in high school.
  • In his co-presentation, Berhard emphasized
    • the dualism of theory and content as positive, but worried about the balancing
    • worried that the title was showing that the interpretation is more important
    • missing the hypotheses that powered the theological part
    • was unclear as to the specifics motivating Fernand Braudel
  • in her comment, Elizabeth Morgan emphasized
    • the romantic slant of the book of Mormon
    • wondered whether the historiographical models of the book of Mormon itself might be interesting or helpful
  • in his contribution, Robert Schelander emphasized
    • the worry that the Archival material might be to heterogeneous to support the efforts intended

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reed Peck's sketch of Mormon history

Up to and including the Mormon War in Missouri, the historical sketch by contemporary Reed Peck gives an account, almost eyewitness-like, of the rise of Mormonism.