In the following research paper I am going to discuss the statement of Robert Orsi as the following: “The materialization of religious worlds includes a process that might be called the corporalization of the sacred. I mean by this the practice of rendering the invisible visible by constituting it as an experience in a body – in one’s own body or in someone else’s body – so that the experiencing body itself becomes the bearer of presence for oneself and for others.”
This statement will be discussed in the scope of three major world religions namely, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. One will explore each religion from the right perspective to understand what the statement of Orsi might mean for different religious groups.
Christianity, Islam and Hinduism represent world’s major religions that account for the greatest number of followers on the face of the earth than any other religion or the sum of all other religions. The concept of the corporalization of the sacred in simpler terms means that religions all alike strive to work on the ways of improving faith in the followers and believers. The only way to improve faith is to give some facts and justifications of god. Since there is no way to show god in person or on pictures, these religions develop practices that would contribute to bodily experiences and changes thus creating in the minds and bodies of the followers the belief that this altered state was created by God. This is the very way of making the invisible-visible, i.e. by making people feel or hear it rather than see it .
The first religion I am going to speak about is Islam. Allah of the Koran is the main deity of one of the world’s most popular religions Islam. Islam was founded in Arabia and is based on the teachings of Muhammad, who is called the Prophet. One who practices Islam is a Muslim. The holy book of all Muslims is the Koran, the written revelation brought by Muhammad. The Muslim world population is estimated at more than 1 billion. Islam is the quickest growing religion. In the following essay I am going to speak about the Islam and what it has to offer to the modern day citizen.
In order to properly understand the life of Muslims let me summarize Islam by presenting several points as shown below:
- There is only one true God (father). Jesus or Holy Spirit should not be worshiped.
- Muslim faith does not have a concept of Holy Spirit (Armstrong, 20).
- Allah also expressed his words, commandments and instructions for life in the Holy Bible but could not (did not want to) save the other religions that use the Bible from corruption
- Besides expressing his will in the Bible, Allah also granted the humanity the book of Koran (that was never created and is eternal).
- People are born as good, yet with the help of Satan are separated from God (even babies are influenced by Satan.) (Spencer 90).
- Allah chooses who to punish and who to forgive-punishment and rewards are arbitrary and random.
- Followers of Islam can get their sins forgiven by prayer to Allah and by cursing their enemies. In these prayers and curses the followers of Islam engage in this corporalization of the sacred. During prayers or curses they have different experiences of conscience which one can relate to one’s own body or to the bodies of the enemies and thus develop additional proof for the existence of Allah.
- Jesus did not die on the cross. Allah substituted Jesus for another person.
- Jesus was a regular prophet just like prophets from the Old Testament (Emerick 30).
- In order to be saved, believers must not oppose Islamic teachings. They should spread the word that There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is the prophet.
- Jesus by being a regular prophet will not rise from the dead until the Judgment day when God will raise all the dead.
- Islamic believers can receive salvation and grace through various means created by Allah.
- True believers of Islam should practice the five pillars of Islam (belief in one God, prayer, pilgrimage, fasting, monetary and personal sacrifice) in order to comply with Allah’s requirements.
Once again by praying, pilgrimages, fasting and monetary and personal sacrifice Muslims engage in corporalization of the sacred as in these acts they indeed develop different bodily experiences. Travel will create tiredness and new experiences, fasting will create some uncomfortable experiences, monetary and personal sacrifices will work with person’s emotions of greed or generosity-all of which are present in the body.
The religion of Islam apparently is against other religions and the ‘infidels’ who follow religions other than Islam. The dominant movement of Islam is religious fundamentalism which stresses the importance of punishing the infidels. At the same time modern Islam becomes more liberal and seeks various alternative ways to reconcile the Islamic faith with the modern tolerant world. All countries in the Arab world as a matter of fact accepted the liberal Islamic transformation and are tolerant to other religions. Many Islamic countries initiate the separation of church and state movement. It is usually the outcast sects that practice fundamentalist Islam and consider it their duty to engage in violence and acts of terrorism.
Islam is based on the following sources: Koran, the hadiths, the interpretations of Koran and Hadiths by scholars. It is of importance to note that historically, Islam had a general tendency towards fundamentalism which is viewed as immutable and complementary to the Islamic folk religions which may not necessarily be traced to the Islamic prophet Mohammad.
Speaking about the early Islamic shariah, I have to note that it has a rather flexible character that is associated with the Islamic jurisprudence where the modern Muslim scholars believe shariah should be renewed (Meredith, 66).
I find it important to note that the modern day Islamic world represents a vast land that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean. The Islamic world has important presence in both Europe and America and constantly strives for further spread. In spite of existing nationalism let alone secular Islamic ideologies in Islam, Muslims manage to quickly adopt the western style of management and economy and reconcile it with the Islamic religious movement. The Muslim world is peaceful towards the East and West, yet at the same time is somewhat worrisome about the domination and expansion of the western culture and religion as created by the USA and the European Union. Islam teaches its believers to devote their resources towards building a better life for the Muslims and not waste it on various conflicts. The modern day liberal Islam teaches its followers to accept the west and east and learn how to cooperate with it successfully.
Now I find it important to proceed with the description of one of the most important element of the Islam, the salah (or the prayer).
Muslims are obliged to pray at least 5 times a day at the prescribed time as shown below:
- Fajr. This prayer starts at sunrise, just when the hint of the new day starts. Apparently, depending on the season, Fajr, can take place at around 5:00am or 6:00am.
- Zuhr. This prayer can start from the time for the Asr prayer and must take place before the sunset.
- Asr. This prayer also takes place from midday and can take place at anytime before the sunset depending on the community.
- Maghrib. This prayer starts at sunset and finishes when one observes a reddish glow in western sky.
Isha’a. This prayer needs to be take at any time after twilight to assure that the sky is completely black. Sometimes It can take place at 3:00am (Bowker, 89).
One should remember that the Muslim prayers take place without certain time specified. This is what I found out was done to remind people, that everything on this earth is done according to the will of Allah. In Muslim countries, the time for prayer is routinely reminded by the mullah in the mosque or on TV and this is when the whole nation basically stops doing what they were doing and start praying. In other words, Allah wanted the Muslim community to stay prepared for something and remain vigilant. I found out that sometimes one can miss the prayers, which still need to be performed later if missed because of falling asleep or because of forgetting.
Abroad, or when traveling, a Muslim is able to shorten some prayers, or perform Kasr. Furthermore, one can concatenate several prayers in one (jama) and thus pray less than 5 times a day. Kasr allows the believer of Islam to shorten Zuhr, Ash and Isha prayers, while Jama allows to perform both Zuhr and Asr during one prayer regardless of be it Zuhr or Asr. By the same token Maghrib and Isha’a can be performed at one time (be it the time of Maghrib or Isha’a) according to Jama.
I have to add here that Muslims are required to pray as a community in a congregation that is called (jama’ah). By the way, I had visited the mosque on Friday and attended the special prayer called Al-Jumu’ah that was prayed in congregation and replaced Zuhr. This so called Jama’ah prayer is considered to be a more powerful prayer for social and spiritual reasons as compared to an individual prayer. The person who leads the Muslims in their jama’ah prayer is called Imam. In the communities that comprise both males and females, imam role can be assumed only by a male. A woman is allowed to serve as an imam only when the whole community is made of females. In the communities that comprise men, women and children, during the prayer time, children are placed between men’s and women’s rows. In a mosque that I attended, there had been a large veil/curtain called by the Muslims as Hijab that served as a separation between males and females so that there is absolutely not direct sight between males and females as ordered to all the Muslims by Koran 24:30-31. Imam is always the person who either is the eldest or has the greatest knowledge of Koran (Novak, 48).
One needs to remember that for Peter Berger, a famous sociologist, religion had been a human construction that represented a social universe of meaning projecting a sacred cosmos. Since religion was supernatural and against reality of every day life that one sees around us, one can only communicate in a religion through religions’ collective symbolizations. Berger added that sacredness is a special quality of power that is seen in various objects of that religion (Berger, 56). Thus, religion is but a canopy of sacred objects/artifacts in a universe of collective. Religion, according to Berger would promote relationship between institutions, work, life and inner meaning.
Another interesting tradition that I have observed in the mosque was the ritual washing. According to the Muslim scriptures one should pray only after performing a symbolic washing called Wudu, during which a Muslim believer has to wash his hands, arms, face, hair, feet and all bodily orifices (nose, mouth, ears, genitals and anus) in a prescribed order and manner. When there is no water available, one can simplify the procedure and may use sand. Sand serves as a temporary cleansing that removes physical manifestation of sin and needs to be performed with water as soon as the Muslim believer is able to get to water (Breuilly, 43).
The prayer in a mosque starts with a formal intention to pray (called Niyyah) and by warm-up exercises reading Koran, the Al-Fatiha (“opening”) and short verses. Then, the whole prayer starts to resemble an exercise. The Muslims kneel down and say something right before standing up again, reach his/her mat and start sitting on their legs. Then I observed people place their hands and face on the mat and sit up, then repeating it again and again a few times during the prayer. The movement of what I called the ‘exercise’ is called ‘raka’ah’. Different types of prayers have different amount of raka’ah. For instance Fajr has 2 raka’ah, Maghrib has 3 raka’ah, while Zuhr, Asr, and Isa’a have 4 raka’ah. In any position of this exercise a believer is supported to say the words of prayer (Toropov, 23).
The sermon ends with a person looking to their right and left saying something like “peace be with you and in you” in Arabic to all the other believers in the congregation. I found out that if a Muslim prays on his/her own, she/he greets two angels sitting on the right and left shoulder. The angel on the left shoulder records all sins performed by a believer, while the angel on the right shoulder records all good deeds performed by a believer. Apparently, the prayer is done to remove the sins.
Ultimately I found out that besides the 5 mandatory prayers for every Muslim, there exist several of the so called Sunnah prayers, which take place between the mandatory 5 prayers, preferably between the midnight and sunrise during which one can perform several more raka’ah.
Another religion that had been in the news lately because of the death of a Pope is Roman Catholicism and this is the religion I will speak about in this essay.
I would say that Christian science is based on equal large parts as represented by religion and science and a small part as represented by magic. First of all one has to understand that Roman Catholicism attempts to prove scientifically the existence of god, other deities, paradise, hell etc. Thus, initially, it starts with the religious analysis of practices, rituals, habits etc in order to better grasp the essence of Christianity. Science is seen in meticulous analysis of facts, events, scriptures and testimonies that all make up Christianity. To the best of my knowledge there has been no 100% proof of god’s existence, just like there has been no proof of absence of God. Magic in Catholicism is oftentimes seen in what is called ‘leap of faith’, or necessity to believe a little in God in order to understand that he exists in addition to facts.
Christian rituals appear to be more religious than magical since they are all directed towards fulfilling god’s demands and prescriptions. Science is seen in analyzing the benefits of fasting on human organism. Also one learns about the benefits derived from abstinence from promiscuity and alcohol let alone other intoxicants. While religion explains them as god’s prescriptions, science proves that the both contribute to a more healthy lifestyle and longer life span. While prayer is considered a religious ritual, science also proved that people need to spend some time alone in mediation and self-analysis that prayer is about. The magic in these rituals is seen in the belief that once a person does everything god desires, he/she would be able to live a happy life on earth and in heaven. In fact, corporalization of the sacred, is also seen in these existing rituals and religious practices all of which are aimed at creating distinct feelings and impressions in the body.
K. Marx, one should remember believed that man makes religion, and not the other way round. Religion, according to Marx contributes to alienation, due to the exploitation of workers, since now the worker is objectified in the world of production and become corrupted and alien. As Marx noted “…the poorer he becomes himself in his inner life… the less he can call his own. It is just the same in religion. The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself.”(Marx, 5) .
Having talked to Catholics after the mass, I found out that it had been believed that The Catholic Church had been found directly by Jesus Christ, apostle Peter, and several other disciples of Jesus. The Catholic church thus is proud to claim direct and unbroken apostolic succession with religious grade being transferred through the laying on of hands of believers. So far, I was told that the catholic church is the world’s largest and oldest continuously operating institution and organization
As I found out the major important routine event of a catholic church is the liturgical service held weekly and called Eucharist or the Mass. Catholics participate in the Eucharist each Sunday and on the holy day of obligation. This service is a corporalization of the sacred as people would have to participate in these services and will have to stand or sit for long hours listening to monotonous voice and signing. Such routine will create natural trance in people and develop a new experience in their body which would then mean that there is god who contributed to that experience.
Now I would like to illustrate one of the catholic masses that I observed. From my observation the mass had possessed several stages that will be mentioned below.
The mass starts with an exchange of greetings between the priest and the congregation during which one listens to the entrance hymn and watches the priest venerate the altar. Then in this penitential rite, the believers think and reflect on their personal thoughts and words, let alone deeds and omissions that caused them separate from Christ and break his code of conduct. The Catholics pray to the lord to have mercy on them, and listen to the priest invoking the Lord’s forgiveness on the mass.
During that Sunday mass, as I listened to and ultimately found out that this is a routine practice, one performed the joyful song of heavenly praise, called Gloria. Then, one hears the priest say the variable collect which ends the initial part of the Eucharist.
The next part of this catholic ceremony included the reading of three passages from the Bible which is performed by the priest, while the visitors of the Catholic church are able to read in the bibles. Immediately after the first reading one starts to sing a joyful psalm with a repeated response. Speaking about the origin of these three readings from the Bible, I have to say that the first was from the Old Testament. The second letter was taken from the letters of the apostles and as I had been told by the believers, they usually would take st. Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians. The final third passage was taken routinely form the Gospels (the first 4 books of the new testament) and in during my visit one read something from St.John. The Catholics that visit the catholic church weekly told me that the catholic church considers the Gospels as the most respectful readings. The respect was seen in the fact that the reading of the gospels was the prerogative of the deacon/priest which had to be preceded by the Halleluiah song. During the reading of the John’s gospel (and as I found out during all any gospel) the whole congregation would stand up showing its respect for the holy scriptures given by the son of god.
The Sunday readings which I heard during my visit to the catholic church are said to be arranged in a three-year cycle, meaning that these particular passages I heard in church would be read in that church only in 3 years. On weekdays outside Lent and Advent (major catholic holidays), the Bible passages are arranged in two-year cycle, while the Gospel is arranged in a one-year cycle.
After the reading of the passages one experiences a sermon (“homily”), a time during which a priest explains what the given biblical passages and verses might mean during the given time period in church’s or human life. Typically during this period the priest speaks about some major world events, and in my case one heard a lot about the Pope as well as about democratic changes in eastern Europe (Sparks, 102).
I should add that during the mass, one would recite altogether the Apostles Creed, and I learnt that in the past the catholic church was supposed to recite a much longer version, called the Nicene Creed which at present got abandoned.
The liturgy of the word, that was the second part of the mass ends up with intercessions, that also go by the name of the Universal Prayer. It is called universal because in the scriptures this prayer was offered to all people as illustrated in 1 Tim 2:1-2. This type of prayer does not have any algorithm or formula and after a brief introduction by the priest, the whole mass is free to choose what intentions to take as proposed by the priest. The congregation then responds to these intentions with a short prayer and it is the priest who ultimately ends up the Universal Prayer with a general prayer.
The third religion I will speak about is the so called Perennial Faith religion or the Hinduism. From the Hindu believers I found out that Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions and is the first religion depicting Dharma faiths. Here I immediately thought of the Catholics who claim the catholic church to be the oldest institution on earth (Halverson, 76).
What immediately impressed me with Hinduism is some aura or mysticism, enigma and philosophy that drastically differed from what I perceived as a command type and straight line Islam and Catholicism. My thoughts were corroborated by the proverb from the Rig Veda (book I, hymn CLXIV, ver.46) that stated that the truth is one, yet the sages know truth as many.
Unlike Catholicism or Islam that were against other faiths and insisted that no other faith is to be worshiped, Hinduism states that regardless of religion the same practices be they physical or spiritual followed with faith, love, and persistence will yield the same results and state of self-realization. Such tolerance, and understanding of one transcendental truth contributed to an innumerable number of different Hindu sects, cults and sub-religions.
Durkheim argues in his works hat human classification systems that comprise religion are based on various social models that humans develop. Durkheim noted that “logical hierarchy is only another aspect of social hierarchy, and the unity of knowledge is nothing else than the very unity of the collectivity, extended to the universe” (p. 84). Religion, according to Durkheim was but a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things”. As one can see Durkheim’s statements are similar to those of Orsi regarding corporalization of the sacred.
I found out that Hinduism as such does not exist at all since it is but a compilation of various religious beliefs that range from monism, to dualism, to pantheism to monistic theism, or monotheism and polytheism. While the Hindu acknowledge the existence of one supreme God the existing aspects of one god include, Devi, Vishnu, Ganesh, or Siva. One famous Hindu saint monist called Ramakrishna preferred a form of God as Devi, stated that a believer can see God in whatever form they truly prefer as long as they believe and ask for his grace to attain Moksha, or the end of the cycle of rebirth and death as mandatory for every object on earth (Oxtoby, 264). By having this pluralism of sub-religions Hinduism effectively allows everyone on earth to have distinct experience “corporalization of the sacred”. Christianity and Islam have their own religion-specific practices that will make the invisible visible, yet apparently they cannot effectively meet the bodily needs and experiences of every human being due to their differences. Hinduism, on the other hand allows everyone to be Hindu.
Hinduism is extremely diverse, yet it effectively unites all Hindus for the quest of enlightenment and freedom from life and death. Another useful concept that I personally found out from the Hindu believers is the Ahimsa principle of ‘non-harm’. Ahimsa promotes non aggressive way of living and thus promotes vegetarianism and tolerance. Hindu believers know for certain that everything in the world is a part of another universal concept.
The major spiritual bedlock of Hinduism is the Vedas, the Upanishads, let alone individual teachings of various great gurus through ages. Hinduism gets the greatest development from the six major Vedic schools, bhakti sects, and Tanta agamic schools all of which make up Hinduism, which as I noted earlier encompasses all of these religions and is the first dharma religion (Smith, 211).
During a Hindu meeting that greatly focused on the discussion of the holy scriptures and existing sub-religions I learnt that there are 4 goals of life of every person on earth, namely: kama (physical and emotional pleasure), artha (power, fame and wealth), dharma (moral harmony in life), and moksha (end of cycle of life, death and duality, and achievement of total liberation).
According to the Hinduism teachings the human life thus falls into 4 major periods of life in which a person will meet his/her goals in life. The stages are called Brahmacharya, Grihasthya, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. During the first stage a person learns and grows from observation of his/her guru and gets his/her mind and soul ready for future responsibility in life. The second stage is called the householder’s stage and it involves leading a normal marital life, during which one satisfied his/her physical needs for pleasure, love, career and wealth. The third stage is gradual detachment form the material world by giving off the major duties to his/her children while spending more time in contemplation of truth and committing oneself to the pilgrimages. The final stage involves an individual seclusion, typically a forest or a desert where one is able to find God through meditation and preparation of one’s body for the next life (Matthews, 177).
Speaking about Max Weber and his attitude towards religion, one needs to remember that religion is a belief in active ascetism, or the adoption of various practical, rational, ethical rules to function in a civil society. According to Weber, active ascetism would later be the ground floor of developed capitalism (Weber, 76).
From the Hindu ceremony I attended where much contact with the Hindu God that is represented for simplicity and convenience by many other gods (so that it is easier for believers to pick something they like), I found out that one needs to sing special mantras to establish lines of communication with God. Much of the mantra yoga practice is done through repetition (japa). Mantras are said through their unique meaning , sound, combination of words, and chanting style. Mantras allow the practitioners to focus on the truth and love for the deity. Mantras apparently work as prayers in Catholicism and prayers in Islam since they also encourage the believers to improve their spiritual power, and invoke inner strengths. As I was told Mr. Gandhi’s last words were a short mantra to the Lord Rama, “Hai Ram”. During the meeting I personally learnt a famous Hindu mantra called Gayatri Mantra that stated something like the following: “May we attain that excellent glory of Savitar the God / so May he stimulate our prayers.”
This Gayatri Mantra is considered to be universal and probably is as important to Hindu followers as the Lord’s prayer to the Roman Catholics. This mantra should be performed as often as desired because it is the most condensed form of divine knowledge which had existed for at least 3000 years. Gayatri Mantra represents the knowledge of Saraswati goddess who was the mother of the Vedas (Noss, 204).
During the meeting we spoke of the healthy habits as prerequisites for normal worship and the four goals in life. One once again repeated that we need to achieve moskha (the end of life and death) through dedication to the universal truth, realization of the universal soul through meditation, and pure love. Love and meditation can lead a person from ignorance to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality as noted in the Upanishads scriptures. As the reader can understand these are the very practices of making the invisible visible, the thing pertinent to any religion.
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