Reincarnation in Druze and Anangu societies: An exercise in comparative anthropology
(Brunel University London)
Robert Layton (Durham University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the ways cosmologies and death rituals become embedded in changing political discourses and social landscapes of the Syrian Druze and Australian Anangu, and how reincarnation may serve to constitute powerful political claims in times of crises.
Paper long abstract:
One of the striking similarities between the Druze communities in the Levant and the Anangu of the Western Desert in Australia is that their beliefs in reincarnation set them apart from their historically related neighbours. By comparing cosmologies and ritual practices, we explore the ways in which these become embedded in political discourses that articulate the changing social, economic and political demands of their communities vis-à-vis other communities, the state, and during crises. Reincarnation in relation to the Druze is analysed in terms of their history, theosophy, and their contemporary practices. Ethnographic examples detail the practices of death, recollection stories of past lives, and the role of reincarnation in reproducing but also in subverting endogamy. These ethnographic instances underline the social and political spectrum in which reincarnation is not only a religious metaphysical belief, outside of social action and political realities, but rather an active discourse in and through which social, economic and political claims are articulated, negotiated, and contested. For the Anangu of the Western Desert, reincarnation becomes a complex platform onto which metaphysical ideas about the cosmos are mapped, and connections between the past and the future embodied. The association of land, birth, and kinship provides a powerful framework for claims to land, band membership, and for the definition of the Anangu vis-a-vis their neighbours and the Australian state. In this way, similarities in the context of religious belief, ritual practices and politics in the two cultures that may explain why belief in reincarnation persists in both.
Changes in death rituals in the Middle East (IUAES Commission on Middle East Anthropology)