Accepted paper:

From an anthropology of religion to an anthropology of truth


Thomas Boylston (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

When does truth matter, in religious debate or otherwise? Discussing Orthodox Christian preaching movements in Addis Ababa, I ask how much of public discourse is dependent on ascertaining what is true, and in what contexts it even matters.

Paper long abstract:

The fossilised remains of Lucy the australopithecus lie in the national museum in Addis Ababa, next door to the headquarters of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This presents a contradiction, and yet this has not developed into anything like the magnitude of American debates about creationism. A lively public religious debate exists in Ethiopia, and yet, in the home of many of the earliest hominids, creationism has not come to the forefront. Therefore I ask, what part of public debate, religious or otherwise, is devoted to ascertaining what is true? This paper begins from the contemporary Orthodox Christian preaching movement in Ethiopia, and Orthodox Christians' beliefs and ideas about science, to ask: when do statements about truth and belief matter? Preaching (like most other forms of rhetoric) just as often serves to entertain, to win supporters to a faction or denounce its enemies, or to outline a moral vision, as to describe what the world is like. Science, meanwhile, is recognised more for its power than its truth - neither of which matters much if they don't address people's needs. This paper argues for a greater comparative focus not just on particular cultural notions of truth, but of when and how truth is understood to matter.

panel P36
What is (religious) Enlightenment? Kant, freedom and obedience in religion today