Saturday, December 18, 2010

Culture, History and Language

For several years I collected books on religion. Whichever religion had intrigued me at the time, I had collected books on it. Over the years I amassed quite a library of books on religion, particularly, but not exclusively, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity (especially Mysticism), Judaism (especially Kabbalah), and Paganism. I had not come close to reading all the books I collected. I figured books were investments in the future, and that I would be reading and studying these books for years.

Then suddenly this past summer I woke up to realize that I did not know whether or not God exists, and that I would never know for sure one way or the other, and that I did not have the will nor the wherewithal to make myself have faith in God. I acknowledged my own agnosticism. And my interest in religion (insofar as I was trying to figure out the meaning of life) plummeted. All these books I'd amassed to help me study and understand the meaning of life no longer had that value for me.

This realization not only shifted my emphasis for my library, but shook my confidence in my studies. For a while there I really didn't know what to study. I tried studying philosophy for a while, to continue to search for meaning in life. But I rather quickly realized that any meaning my life would have would have to be made (rather than discovered) by me. Philosophy is still of interest, but it no longer is an indispensable study for me.

I decided I needed to find an emphasis for reading and study.

This weekend I realized that what interests me far above all else is the combined studies of History and Culture. History without Culture is merely a recitation of a series of events; Culture without History is merely an attempt to freeze life into a museum exhibit. Neither works without the other. My insight came from reading a very good book on the Cherokee ball game, anetso. Anetso is a cousin of lacrosse, and the author examines the history, culture and religion surrounding anetso's practice and exhibition. But one interesting point he makes is that Westerners tend to study European and Euro-American religions historically, while they tend to study non-European religions culturally (and therefore ahistorically). In other words, the study of religion in Europe is part of the fabric of European history; however, outside of Europe (and European America) it is viewed as the province of Anthropology, and thus more related to an attempt to see it statically, as part of a museum exhibit.

To remedy this all around, I feel that whether I'm studying religion, sports, the media or whatever, I would do well to view it as a study of Culture and History. In truth, one does not exist independent of the other.

I've acquired several good books recently that fall in line with this new emphasis in studies: one on the changing meaning of jihad, one on the War of 1812 in North America, and just today a history on the killing of Crazy Horse (a personal hero of mine). I'm also weighing studying the Cherokee language, as part of connecting to my family's history (but that is for another post).

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