Accepted paper:

Is the concept of the 'sacred' a fundamentalist type of 'sympathy'? Reflections on morality in Hume, Durkheim, and the 'anthropology of religion'


Michelangelo Paganopoulos (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

Paper short abstract:

The paper compares the contrasting approaches of Hume and Durkheim to morality and religion, in order to reflect upon methodological and historical issues regarding the anthropology of religion.

Paper long abstract:

Hume's 'moral atheism' was based on a distinction between the spheres of morality and religion. The paper compares the contrasting approaches of Hume and Durkheim to morality and religion, the 'science of man' against the science of the 'sacred', in order to reflect upon the Durkheimian moral concept of the 'Church' as a religious step too far from Hume's emancipating concept of 'natural religion'. The paper asks if the concept of the 'sacred', embedded throughout the history of the 'anthropology of religion' in various ways and contexts (Asad 1973/1993), constitutes a Christian fundamentalist way of thinking, ideologically manifested as a kind of naturalized enthusiasm for the sacred. By liberating Durkheim's approach to the 'sacred' from its moral implications, when associated with the evolution of the morality of purity and pollution (Douglas 1966/1970), the paper proposes for a return to the field of the 'anthropology of religion' as a daily practice(s). At the same time, however, it asks if this secularized approach to the 'sacred' is limited in terms of the emotional and subliminal feelings religion brings to people. In this context, the paper expands on the question of morality as intuition or as a habitus, and consequently, it wonders if the Human is naturally a fundamentalist animal, motivated by sacred delusions, passions, and self-centrism, as manifested in the Dialogues through the characters of Philo, Demea, and Cleanthes, emotions which challenge the Christian ideals of transgression and unity as expressed in numinous 'sacred' experiences.

panel P05
'True religion' and the anthropology of the Scottish Enlightenment