OAC Online Seminar 13-24 October: Cosmetic Cosmologies in Japan

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There is a computing expression, What You See Is What You Get (pronounced ‘wiziwig’ for short) that refers to the aim of showing on the screen what the end-product will actually look like, as opposed to a string of numbers and letters. It was borrowed from a TV comedy catch phrase meaning “I am who I am, take it or leave it”. The idea that the truth is not what appears on the surface is endemic in western civilization and is especially favoured by academic intellectuals who often like to think that their own shambolic appearance conceals real depth. They may even cultivate being scruffy in order to suggest hidden depths that aren't there! Beauty is only skin deep after all. It is not hard to find in all this Christian notions of the soul and of heaven being vastly superior to this life. The hedonistic riposte is to say that, other things being equal, it is better to be rich, beautiful, successful and happy than not or, in Gordon Gecko’s words, “greed is good”.

Philip Swift’s entertaining and erudite essay takes off from ethnographic reports of Japanese praying at Shinto shrines. It seems that going through the motions of prayer is all that matters there and this causes problems for academic interpreters (anthropologists included). Surely there has to be more to the ritual than that? Philip asks rather what might happen if we treat superficiality not as a problem but as a resource. He also tackles a common claim that Japanese ritual does not evoke cosmology, the theories and stories that explain how our universe was made. He suggests rather that forms and surfaces – the artificial and the superficial -- might themselves be understood as being cosmologically efficacious in Japan.

Philip Swift lives in London where he taught in the history and anthropology departments at University College London for five years. Philip carried out fieldwork with the members of a Japanese religious group. An article based on this research ('Touching Conversion: Tangible Transformations in a Japanese New Religion') was awarded the Curl Essay Prize for 2009 by the Royal Anthropological Institute. OAC regulars already know Phil for his fantastic blog post The Octopus: Eight Footnotes.

You can read or download the present paper, Cosmetic cosmologies in Japan: Notes towards a superficial investig... here. This online seminar will last twelve days, so there is plenty of time to read and reflect, even to do some impromptu fieldwork! This is not just a specialist paper on Japanese religion. It touches on issues that affect us all. And to prove it, Philip’s argument starts with a scene from a James Bond novel. Now is that superficial or what?

In the movie, Last year at Marienbad, a stranger tries to persuade a married woman to go away with him, but she doesn’t seem to remember that they already met a year ago. It’s a pretty inscrutable movie. I once saw its writer, Alain Robbe-Grillet, being interviewed by journalists on French TV. One of them said to him. “I have a theory about what is going on in the film: they were killed together last year at Marienbad and are now ghosts!” Robbe-Grillet replied “What I find interesting is that you need to know what really happened.” Enjoy. And please feel free to join the discussion!

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Wonderfully interesting paper and discussion. A few comments below:

I am bothered by the elementary epistemology it presupposes; for why, in this particular case, should the observer suppose any degree of association between such acts and certain inner states (such as beliefs) that might authorise them? Certainly, nothing in Nelson’s own data suggests that ‘belief’, whether present or absent, has anything to do with the activities that take place at Shinto shrines... Of course, none of this is to suggest that Japanese practices do not involve the ideational, the conceptual, etc. Rather, to chime in with the findings of Inge Daniels (2003; 2010), relations with divinities in Japan are neither established by means of belief nor are they conceptualised in these terms.

I recognize that Japanese religious practice is the focus of this discussion, and so I suppose that the issues you raise about belief should be seen in light of how the notion of belief has been deployed in discussions about religion. Yet, that is not my background, and I am inclined toward belief rather than Belief, belief in little things like the belief that the location of the Shinto temple is two blocks past my favorite coffee shop; the kinds of beliefs that Keith Hart called our attention to.

I am willing enough to believe that "relations with divinities in Japan are neither established by means of belief nor are they conceptualised in these terms" but far less willing to accept that beliefs have no role in the conduct of Japanese religious life, or indeed Japanese cultural life in general: surely it is not being suggested that Japanese have no beliefs about anything at all? It is one thing to say that belief (or its reificiation as Belief) is not a significant pillar of Japanese religious thought and behavior, and another to assert that belief is nowhere to be found: perhaps, its just not where people have been looking.

Anyway, if beliefs are kinds of mental states that a person can be in, it seems plausible to me that a person could be in such a state and yet either a) be unaware that he or she is in that state, b) be aware of being in a particular believing state, but conceptually individuate and register that state in a manner that ontologically cross-cuts Western notions of belief, or c) is aware of being in a state of belief, but counts it of so little importance that it is not worth mentioning, or considers it too private to discuss. I'm even not sure that that sincere denial of belief is sufficient evidence against the presence of beliefs. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Last year I blogged about Patrick Maher's analysis of belief. He identified two sorts of evidence for belief: willingness to act as if something is sufficient probable, and sincere assertion of the truth of a proposition. Maher concludes that, "the folk concept of belief appears to regard belief in H as a single mental state that is expressed both by a willingness to act as if H were true and also by sincere intentional assertion of H; and these are in fact two distinct states," ('folk concept' of course being a philosopher's designation of an item of conventional wisdom being disagreed with). In other words, Maher holds that these are two different kinds of belief, two kinds of mental states.

In light of this distinction, Bohr's unwillingness to acknowledge his belief in the efficacy of a horseshoe in bringing good luck only counts for a denial of the second kind of belief. Could Bohr's willingness to hang a horseshoe over his door indicate a willingness to act as if it were true that it would bring good luck, even if he would never assert the truth of that belief? Perhaps his assessment of its probability of being true is too low to assert its truth, but not too low to act upon it, given the low cost of "the bet" relative to the potential effective reward and the aesthetic value of doing so. After-all: all activities have more than one measure of their value. It seems to me that this could be readily applied to the case of Japanese relationship to religion, especially with respect to some of John McCreery's recent remarks.

Having said that, I readily admit that the ascription of mental states, such as belief, to the people we observe is always problematic. I'm not sure that ascription of belief states is any more difficult that the ascription of subjective meanings and interpretations to the individuals or groups we observe. To eschew mental states altogether is to risk retreating into a behaviorist line of thinking that denies the efficacy of mental states altogether-- and which the cognitive revolution in psychology has rejected.

Mental states matter (they matter in computer programs too...). Assertions and actions can be observed, and mental states inferred (perhaps backed up with neuro-imaging studies...). The mental states of being willing to act upon a piece of information, and of being willing to sincerely assert the truth of a piece of information, seem basic and almost universal to any cognitive system: in fact, in some sense, all the routers routing your internet traffic have items of information that they are willing to act upon, and which they will assert the truth of when queried (and its all just mechanical...). Those routers don't conceptualize their behavior in terms of belief however- belief is implicit and unremarked.

Anyway, those are my late night thoughts.


Steph Spittle said:
the act of reproducing these rituals on a daily basis

There has been so much talk about what goes on inside and outside, about form and content, that perhaps we have lost sight of prayer as action, something Steph reminds us of here. Whatever Mauss may have said in islolated sound bites, his motive in studying prayer was that oral ritual, as he paraphrased prayer, has at its centre speech. He was interested in speech because it is the unity of thought and action.

Mauss did most of his work on the unfinished doctorate around 1908, long before the postwar period when he launched his idea of studying total social facts. But his interest in prayer anticipates that later method of approaching social phenomena in their totality rather than through the lens of an analytical discipline. He wanted to know what makes a Parisian or a Melanesian of a particular island or at another level how socialism might be achieved by a combination of cooperatives, professional associations and mutual insurance brought together in a united economic movement.

This orientation to his anthropological work raises issues in relation to prayer like what is the point of silent prayer? what if the action is apparently thoughtless? what is the difference between individual and collective performance? and so on. But Mauss should not be enrolled in identifying a strand of anthropology that is preoccupied with form at the expense of everything else. As a bystander at, victim of and sympathizer with the latest general strikes, where the point of political ritual (manifestations, always very vocal) is to take physical possession of the streets, I am forcibly reminded of the power of total social facts in French society today.
Thanks Philip for sharing such a great paper.

A couple of things spring immediately to mind from my trip to a very large temple in Nagasaki (I think). The whole thing seemed extremely cosmetic. There were a huge number of different shrines and you followed a trail of them around the temple, praying to this god and that. In fact it was the only temple I visited that encouraged tourists to have a go at praying. My favourite shrine was to the god of weather (or the sea, or something, the story holds either way). A gargoyle (or some sort of grotesque creature) which turned on a pedestal had been placed in front of the shrine. People moved the gargoyle to try to determine what happened to the merchants that had come by ship. A plaque by the side of the shrine said that people deliberately turned the gargoyle so that its rear-end was facing the god, that way the god would be angry, create a storm, and the merchants would have to stay in the town and spend their money.
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The different plaques around the temple also had a "deeper" story to tell. They said that the influence of different strands of buddhism in the region made this temple very important as a focal point for the struggle for power. Eventually the strand of buddhism most closely associated with the state took control of the temple and thus the region.

Philip, do you think the "cosmetic" is in any way linked to the diverse range of gods?
If my initial replies where more like a leisurely martini, then I'll aim for brevity here - shot-glass answers.

John,

You're quite right to correct my hasty statement - made on a train - about kata. In terms of time and effort, there is a huge difference between the liquid fluency of bodily moves of which a karate expert is capable, compared to the hesitant gestures of a beginner. As far as everyday praying at shrines is concerned, the issue of kata, in this sense, might seem to be pretty distant. But, even so, the role of the body (and so, form, formality) in religious action is given especial emphasis in Japan. Hence, the argument of Mauss, that the efficacy of formality is particularly evident in prayer, is a thesis that may not work everywhere, but I think it works - has efficacy - as a description of the Japanese ethnographic problem I'm considering here.

My problem of prayer is a particular inflection of a general trend in Japanese religiosity. Speaking of seated meditation in Zen practice, Yasuo Yuasa proposes that this consists, in the first instance, of 'the placing of the body into a definite form'. It is, in part, by such initial corporeal means that the spiritual is elicited.

(None of this is to say, incidentally, that praying is merely posturing, posing the body in certain ways to no other purpose. For sure, people are in many cases praying for particular reasons: for success in exams, for health, love, luck, etc, as John rightly points out. My argument is more abstract: that these various reasons have nothing to do with belief. To be more courteous towards Kant, and borrow one of his expressions, I'm trying to argue about the 'conditions of possibility' of prayer in Japan, and these cannot be anchored in a deep space of 'beliefs'.)

Steph,

Your 'thrown-in' thoughts were very helpful and perceptive too. A number of scholars - in Europe and America, but also Japan - have found role-playing, and dramaturgical paradigms generally, to be particularly fitting for the description of Japanese sociality.

But I'm especially taken by your suggestion about how superficiality might contribute to identity. Turning this sideways, only slightly, let's call this a question of how the ephemeral relates to the durable - or, in my terms, how the cosmetic relates to the cosmic. To take a material instance, the Ise Shrine - the scene of James Bond's praying - is (famously) systematically rebuilt every twenty years; not just the buildings (there's a lot of them) but also all of the ritual paraphernalia (there's a lot of that as well). To give you an idea of the expense, all this reconstruction cost the equivalent of 327 million dollars in 1993, and none of it came from the state, for constitutional reasons. That's a lot of money to spend on something so ephemeral. But, as in this particular religious architecture, so too, I suggest, in prayer: the cosmetic is cosmic.

(Looking over my reply before I post it, I can see that it wasn't as short as a shot-glass, after all - more pint-sized, but it is Saturday night in the UK, so I hope you're all also enjoying yourselves, where ever you are!)
Curses! (Not prayers.)

For some inexplicable reason, when I added my post a moment ago, Jacob, Keith, and Nathan's responses didn't show up. Having seen them now, I'd like to give them proper consideration, which I will do tomorrow...

Apologies!
Phil, please forgive me. I am going to be a real nuisance, in, I hope, a constructive way.

You write,

But, even so, the role of the body (and so, form, formality) in religious action is given especial emphasis in Japan. Hence, the argument of Mauss, that the efficacy of formality is particularly evident in prayer, is a thesis that may not work everywhere, but I think it works - has efficacy - as a description of the Japanese ethnographic problem I'm considering here.

May I ask for some clarification of the claim that "the role of the body (and so, form, formality) is given especial emphasis in Japan." It seems to me that the body is pretty important in most religious traditions. E.g.,

*Christianity, "this is my body, this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me," a statement whose interpretation has occasioned both intense theological debates and bloody wars, or the example of Christ on the cross, which is literally imitated in places like the Philippines.

*Judaism, the importance of keeping kosher, obeying the rules analyzed by Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger, together with the rules governing appropriate attire when engaged in religious activity, especially if Hassidic, when the believer is religiously engaged in every aspect of life.

*Islam, the prescribed form for the five daily prayers, kneeling facing Mecca, head pressed to the ground, hands extended in supplication.

*Hinduism, how much more body-conscious can you get than when practicing yoga.

*Daoism, prescribed movements, e.g., "the steps of Yu" that are part of Daoist liturgies....

*Buddhism, the lotus posture, mudras, controlled breathing in meditation....

Given that prescribed gestures, careful control of the body, and bodily symbolism are characteristic of religious traditions from one end of Eurasia to the other, what, in particular, makes the Japanese a special case?


Given that "efficacy" is defined as "capacity or power to produce a desired effect," could the differences lie in which effects are desired by whom?

Stephi's and Jacob's remarks are very much to the point here. What are we to make of people going through the motions because it is expected of them or, as Huxley suggests, aesthetically pleasing to do so, while neither expecting a predictable effect (except, perhaps, a certain degree of calm or comfort) nor asserting sincere conviction that something is true?
John,

Thanks for the constructive intervention. In attempting to address the problems you raise, I'll try and arrive at a reply to some of the questions raised by Jacob and Keith, as well.

My position is most assuredly not that Japan in somehow unique in having discovered the efficacy of the body in religion. Such a claim strikes me as anthropologically indefensible, akin to arguing that rationality is an exclusive property of the metropolitan West. On the contrary, to the extent that religion - if we can assume for present purposes that such a domain is discriminable across all contexts - in so far as religion is materially mediated, then issues and problems arising from the brute fact of our embodiment would appear to be universal. After all, it is the case that everybody has a body, even if maybe not everybody 'has' religion. That religion is materially mediated is universal. But what most certainly isn't universal at all, is what gets thought about and done with mediation; how it is conceptualized, valued, talked about and practiced.

To advert to a historical example: in his tract 'On The Care of the Dead', Augustine wonders at one point how the convections of a body in prayer can have any effect on inner dispositions, especially since God already knows the 'intention of [our] heart' (intentio cordis) and therefore has no need of 'signs' (indicia) of this sort. Puzzled, all Augustine can say is that 'I do not know how it is' (nescio quomodo).

This is arguably an early and hesitant instance of a conceptual trajectory that is given further definition in Protestant theology: the suspicion of ritual practice. In this Augustinian example, as in the scheme much later elaborated in, say, Calvinism, there are particular notions of the relation between insides and outsides, and the order of priority between them. Now, I see no reason to suppose that diverse Japanese practices of prayer should be informed by the same premises, or should conceive of the relation between insides and outsides in the same way.

In my paper, I imagined a situation in which a foreign anthropologist, witnessing Japanese prayer, is led to ask the question, 'Are these people praying, or not?' What I should have made more explicit is that this is, I think, the wrong question, but I suggest that this is the very question that ethnography is implicitly asking. Otherwise, why worry about whether or not these Japanese actors 'believe' in what they're doing?

Regarding this issue of 'belief', Jacob contends that my argument might come close to behavourism. Well, I am interested in skins and surfaces, but I certainly don't want to be associated with B.F. Skinner! My argument doesn't entail the claim that Japanese people are incapable of entertaining beliefs. 'Belief' terms are not at all foreign to Japanese vocabulary. Shinjiru, 'to believe', is used in similar ways to the English verb, as in the common exclamation of incredulity: shinjirarenai!, 'it's unbelievable!' But the local concern of my little paper is the fact that activities at shrines are not generally expressed or articulated in terms of 'belief'. This is not to say that they cannot be so articulated, but merely that they tend not to be.

But there's more to this problem, because although Japanese do commonly associate the activity of 'belief' with 'religion' (shukyo), it is a matter well established in various surveys conducted over the years that the majority of Japanese claim not to be 'religious' or to have religious 'beliefs'. In sum, the investigator is presented with a paradox: the same informant who says that she is non-religious, very likely prays at shrines, buys amulets, etc. Hence, how to make sense of this?

One way out of this ethnographic paradox is to assume that, since religion consists, after all, of a system of beliefs to which people give assent, then our shrine-going informant must 'believe', in spite of what she says. But while perfectly commonsensical, this solution is, for the same reasons, a pretty poor attempt at anthropological translation, in so far as it assumes what needs to be established, i.e.: that religion is a system of beliefs to which people give assent.

From the point of view that religion does indeed comprise such a system (of beliefs or propositions assented to), differences in ethnographic data become cosmetic, in so far as - to recall Kant's example - the Tungus shaman, the bishop and the Connecticut puritan are all doing the same thing ('religion'), they just do it in different ways. But maybe they're not really engaged in the same 'thing' at all. Graham Hough suggests that 'the more we reflect on it, the more doubtful it becomes how far we can talk about different ways of saying; is not each different way of saying in fact the saying of a different thing?' It strikes me that what he says about saying can also be said about praying, and the interesting anthropological job is to think through these difficult differences.
Phillip, you are being most gracious and when you write,

Graham Hough suggests that 'the more we reflect on it, the more doubtful it becomes how far we can talk about different ways of saying; is not each different way of saying in fact the saying of a different thing?' It strikes me that what he says about saying can also be said about praying, and the interesting anthropological job is to think through these difficult differences.

I find myself wanting to say, "Yes, yes." Then, however, I recall that you have also written,

'Belief' terms are not at all foreign to Japanese vocabulary. Shinjiru, 'to believe', is used in similar ways to the English verb, as in the common exclamation of incredulity: shinjirarenai!, 'it's unbelievable!' But the local concern of my little paper is the fact that activities at shrines are not generally expressed or articulated in terms of 'belief'. This is not to say that they cannot be so articulated, but merely that they tend not to be,

where I also found myself wanting to agree. On reflection, however, I still have a problem with the relationship between, Shinjiru, 'to believe', is used in similar ways to the English verb and Hough's is not each a [sic] different way of saying in fact the saying of a different thing? If read in terms of conventional scholastic logic, these two statements cannot both be true.

But perhaps we do not need to be so strict. If we recognize that the Japanese verb shinjiru and the English verb believe cover much the same ground, allowing the relationship between them to be conceived as a Venn diagram or, perhaps better yet, a pair of overlapping distributions of possible readings, then we can fruitfully get on with the ethnographic task of mapping the possibilities and explaining both overlaps and distinctions.

What do you think?
P.S. to my previous post

I note a strong connection between the content of this discussion and Huon Wardle's OAC Press working paper Cosmopolitics and Common Sense, which is nicely summarized in Keith Hart's reply to Nikos Gougounis's review of Ulrich Beck's A God of One's Own. I would like to draw particular attention to Huon's articulation of Kantian common sense, where he writes,

Kant construes a triadic process of reflexive refinement which consists in (1) knowing my own mind (2) considering fully (enough) the standpoints of the others (3) bringing this diversity into a kind of judicious consistency (back to 1).

This seems to me a recipe for successful and useful ethnography. In the case at hand, the ethnographer observing the Japanese businessman should (1) know what intellectual baggage construing what he sees as prayer brings with it, (2) consider fully the standpoint of the businessman—here I find the evidence too thin in the case as presented, and only then (3) bring the observed differences into a kind of judicious consistency—here I mentally underline the word "judicious," which I take to imply meticulous consideration of the evidence presented.

If I belabor this point, it is because I know too well my own academically trained disposition to respond to any theoretically contentious discussion by leaping first to recollections of potentially relevant authorities. It takes a deliberate effort to make myself look closely at the evidence before leaping off intellectual cliffs.
I regret my mention of Skinner and his radical behaviorism- it was not particularly well thought out and it was over-hasty. Looking back I think that perhaps there is not so much disagreement.

I think the confusion, or frustration, lays somewhere in the difference between actual situations, and types of situations, especially with how the latter are defined. I tend to think in terms of actual situations and their material and informational processes. In this respect, I think of how mental states, including beliefs, are causally relevant to what goes on in *any* kind of situation in which a person is involved, whether the activity is religious or not.

On the other hand, there are many overlapping ways in which we may define a type of situation. One definition might think one set of criteria crucial, and another ignore it entirely. This kind of problem is exacerbated when broad labels like religion are applied, or when one set of practices is defined in terms of another, or worse yet, when they share a common public interface but differ in some of their implementations (if I may trouble everyone with an object-oriented programming metaphor...)

why, in this particular case, should the observer suppose any degree of association between such acts and certain inner states (such as beliefs) that might authorise them?

What does it mean to say that an inner state such as belief authorizes (or does not authorize) an action? Do you mean something like: legitimizes an action relative to a system of meaning in which religious action is defined as legitimate provided that the performer of that action can accurately be described as possessing certain beliefs or being in a particular mental state? If so, where do you locate that legitimization: in the individual, the public, Japanese culture, or the anthropologist?

Or do you mean that an inner state like belief must play some causal role in the performer's performance of religious activity?

Is this a meta-property of this type of situation, or is it a property of concrete situations?

Certainly, nothing in Nelson’s own data suggests that ‘belief’, whether present or absent, has anything to do with the activities that take place at Shinto shrines.

Here we are entertaining a type of situation, those in which certain religious activities occur at a Shinto shrine. You are suggesting that while beliefs may be present in concrete situations of this type, we have no good reason to suppose that these beliefs have anything to do with the activities occurring in this type of situation, i.e. they are incidental to a concrete situation being this type. Put a little more plainly: whatever beliefs are present, the essential character of the situation is the same.

I imagine two people, a Japanese priest and Protestant preacher observing the Shinto ritual being performed, first by a Japanese priest and then by Bond, with access to the mental states of the performers. They might disagree about whether what is going on is prayer. Perhaps the Protestant would say no, in both cases, because he observes that beliefs of the right kind are not involved, but the Japanese priest says yes, because the ritual was performed in the correct manner.

On the other hand, if you fix the conditions for a given situation a being a particular type, then both may well agree. If we fix our definition of a prayer-type situation as when such and such happens, irrespective of a performer's mental states, then both the Shinto priest and the Protestant preacher ought to agree that both were indeed situations of that type of situation.

If we fix our definition of a prayer-type situation as when such and such happens, and the performer must entertain particular beliefs, then both the Shinto priest and the Protestant preacher ought to agree that neither situation was of that type.

On the other hand, the way in which either of these situation types is defined ignores a lot of what is going on that may be causally relevant or associated with the rituals.
P.P.S. My ever so sagacious spouse remarks that shuukyou, the usual Japanese translation of the English word "religion" is a recent coinage applied originally only to imported systems of belief. Shuukyou is a combination of two Chinese characters, Shuu (宗), whose primary meaning is sect and kyou (教), whose primary meaning is teaching. Combined, the two characters can be literally read "sectarian teaching." Thus, the ethnographer who asks a Japanese informant shuukyou wo shinjiruka?, thinking that she is asking "Do you believe in religion?" is likely to be heard as asking, "Do you believe in some sectarian (probably foreign) teaching?" It is no surprise, then, that the usual answer is "No."

Precisely the same issue arises in the study of Chinese religion, since zongjiao, the Chinese equivalent of shuukyou and written with precisely the same characters is also a relatively recent coinage, both originally Christian missionary attempts to distinguish Christianity, a proper sort of religion, from the jumble of local deities, shrines, rituals, festivals, and, yes, sometimes, beliefs that, from a missionary perspective, were only popular superstition.

In both cases, only rarely did the locals seem to share the missionary preoccupation with matters of faith and belief. Most went along with local custom. Some thought it was all nonsense. Some elaborated cosmologies that proved to be more or less attractive to others. Given, however, that both Chinese and Japanese religions tend to be polytheistic, the urgency attached to the question "Do you believe?" in a monotheistic context was missing. Saying "no" wouldn't result in going to Hell for eternity.

That, anyway, is this anthropologist's take on the muddles we are addressing.
As we begin another week, I feel I should interject some reflection about the medium. After all, it is not every day that a trailer for a seminar is made and posted online during the event. Nor is it usual for the paper-giver to compose responses while steaming South from Scotland to London (made me think of Grierson's Night Mail in reverse).

What is different about this medium from the usual one shown in Rachel's clip? My sense is that the contributions can be longer here, perhaps better composed, but lacking the force of improvised speech and the potential drama of an actual confrontation. At times they read like exchanges in a journal's letter columns.

What we can dispense with here is the presumption that the event is circumscribed by the time and place in which it occurs, that the participants are compelled to use what they carry between their ears on the spot. We can go back and read the paper (again), read something else, even carry out a small controlled field experiment and report on our findings (as one of our more innovative members did during John's seminar). We haven't begun really to tap the resources of this form.

But we do have something unusual to draw on. Philip gave a talk in St. Andrews last week at Huon's invitation. We surely shouldn't pretend that the two events existed in parallel universes. Were they the same paper? If not, the topic was surely Japanese religion. Would we benefit from knowing about what transpired there? Some interesting questions to juice up our discussion?

Philip's paper overlaps with more than one that precedes it in this series. He explicitly makes reference to Huon's paper and that has been evoked not only here but elsewhere in the OAC at the same time. Time for some cosmopolitan reflexivity methinks.

Not that I wish to discourage the high standard of literary discussion we have had so far. Let's have a lot more of it. Just trying to mix it up a bit and reminding participants that we are not only a seminar room or a journal, but those and potentially a lot more besides.

If I were chairing a real time seminar, I would by now be doing my best to get the graduate students, hitherto sitting silently at the back, to take a more active part. I'll have to think some more about that one. In another thread, Nathan suggested that 'people get put off the site because they think that the discussions are too "high-brow" or "intelligent" '. I don't want to divert the discussion to one about its social mechanics, but merely to encourage some reflexivity in the audience.

And those of you holding your fire for a lull in the conversation, don't leave it too long!

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