It is also important to note two further complicating factors: first, new religions may embrace a postmodern openness to interpretation when archaeological confirmation of their position fails to emerge, effectively mirroring the “multivocal” position of Post-Processualist archaeology; and second, scientific archaeology decries alternative archaeology with comparable ferocity to that observed in the repudiation of new religions by established religious traditions, thus creating a “feedback loop” in the interactions between archaeology and new religions.Cusack reminds us of the early relationship between archeology and religious studies as something to give historical understanding of the many religions discovered.
As the comparative study of religion developed, archaeology became important due to its role in verifying the pasts of many religions: Alexander Cunningham published the facsimile Inscriptions of Asoka (1879) which confirmed the Indian origins of Buddhism; Leopoldo Batres excavated Teotihuacan in 1905, enhancing knowledge of pre-Columbian religion; and in 1921-2 Sir John Marshall excavated Harappa in the Indus Valley, a city that might be evidence of the “forts” destroyed by Indra, the god of the invading Aryans, referred to in the Rig Veda (Breton 1908, pp.34-37; Insoll 2004, passim).During the twentieth century, there was both a de-coupling of archeology from the religions as well as a flourishing of religious formations and traditions. As a result, religious studies had to abandon its old approach of focusing on the few influential faiths and attend to the vast plurality of religious movements.
This is the situation in which present-day archeology finds itself.Further, the“world religions” approach has been exposed as an Enlightenment construct, implying a false comparativism (Jackson 1995, 276-278).
Before considering specific case studies, it is necessary to investigate scientific archaeology’s relationship with “pseudoarchaeology” or “cult archaeology”(Fagan 2006; Stiebing 1995).Though the delineation is not trivial, there are themes that separate academic archeology from its pseudo or cult forms.
Schadla-Hall argues that, although there is no hard line that can be drawn between “mainstream” and “alternative” archaeology, the core themes of the latter area focus on origins, hyper-diffusionism, ancient knowledge and power, astro-archaeology, and the truth of religion and mythology (Schadla-Hall 2004, pp. 257-258)
Further, the claims regarding each of these themes are always dramatic and propose revolutionary new understandings, rather than the gradual accretion of information that slowly advances knowledge.Cusack sees this taking place in the general context of the "buffet of identities" offered by modernity.
[I]n the contemporary West personal identity has undergone significant modification, with the consumption of products and the “trying-on” of roles displacing religion, family and community as the prime factors in how people determine who they are. This plastic sense of self is flexible and experimental, and identity is “amenable to infinite reshaping according to mood, whim, desire and imagination” (Lyon 2002, p. 92).
This has two effects with regard to the status of information; the individual can choose the explanation that suits him or herself, without concern for whether it is “objectively true,” and is free to discard it when it no longer satisfies. When this realisation is combined with the dense and non-user friendly nature of scientific publications and the degree of specialisation required to understand them, Pascale Boyer’s argument that humans have an evolutionary biological tendency to accept and trust narratives that operate through inference and attribute personal agency as the cause of events ... rather than explanations that posit impersonal forces or complex interrelated factors, receives additional support (Boyer 2001, passim).
Thus, the conventions of science are often perceived by non-scientists to be arcane and restrictive, and the attitudes of its practitioners are experienced as patronising and elitist. Other explanations of scientific phenomena are readily available and the modern individual is empowered to choose them.Cusack then gives a reasonable summary of early Mormonism and shows how it was a contribution to Indian origin discussions. [[RCK: She does not emphasis the antiquarian aspects of early Mormonism enough, for my taste.]]
Joseph Smith actively promoted the Book of Mormon as the missing link in the history of America, and revelations and diary entries from Smith’s followers indicate that by the 1830s he was claiming North America as the territory of the Lamanites and identifying archaeological finds at specific sites (Givens 2002, pp. 94-95).Citing (Givens 2002, p.112), Cusack points out that 1928 Elder Levi Edgar Young hoped that the successful validation of the Biblical texts in Palestine through archeology might be replicated in the Americas for the Book of Mormon.
During the 1950s, Wells Jakeman interpreted Izapa Stele 5 as a representation of the Tree of Life from the vision in 1 Nephi 8. In the 1960s, a latex cast was taken to BYU and became the origin of a little following of replicas. The interest in archeology waned in the 1970s as the first translations of the Egyptian papyri showed that these were fragments of the Book of the Dead, not a new Book of Abraham. Thereafter, as Armand Mauss had observed (Mauss 1994), the LDS church withdrew "from an increasingly liberal mainstream American society" which reduced interest in science.
At the same time, under Gordon B. Hinckley, the disdain for historical "shrines" turned into an appreciation for historic sites as "sacred ground" (Masden 2006, 58, 62),
This has clear consequences within the framework of modernity, as the validation function has turned ego-centric.This has implications for identity formation among Mormons: authentic experience of their faith may be attained by visiting historic sites, in a form of religious tourism which combines consumerism and the past being manifested through a specific place (Holtorf 2005b, p. 127).
That the Nauvoo Temple was destroyed in 1850 is unimportant; Gordon B. Hinckley’s $30 million reconstruction is experienced as “genuine”. This parallels a broader social shift, affecting all Western manifestations of religion, where the experience of the self has greater authority and reality than institutional pronouncements, and where affective rather than intellectual proofs are persuasive (Lyon 2002).[[RCK: Cusack does not realize how modern Joseph Smith Jr was in the regard to emotive validation.]]
For Mormons, there is no conflict between true religion and true science, and “when it comes to learning gospel truths, Mormons think with their hearts. The scripture conveys the idea that the final word on truth comes via feelings. This is now a fundamental tenet of Mormonism” (Southerton 2004, p. 44).
Cusack, Carole. 2011. “New Religions and the Science of Archaeology: Mormons, the Goddess, and Atlantis.” In James R. Lewis and Olav Hammer (eds.), Religion and the Authority of Science, Leiden: Brill, 765-796 (Academia.edu pre-print; eBrill link).
- Boyer, Pascale. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
- Holtorf, Cornelius. Archaeology is a Brand! The Meaning of Archaeology in Contemporary Popular Culture. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press Inc, 2007.
- Levitt, Norman. “The colonization of the past and the pedagogy of the future.” pp.259-284 in: Archaeological Fantasies: How pseudoarchaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public, edited by G. G. Fagan. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.
- Lyon, David. Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times. Oxford: Polity, 2002.
- Mauss, Armand. The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation.Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994.
- Nuckolls, Charles W. 2008. “Archaeology, Mormonism, and the Claims of History.” Marburg Journal of Religion 13,1.
- Southerton, Simon G. Losing a Lost Tribe: Native American DNA and the Mormon Church. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004.