“Otherworldly” States: Reimagining the Study of (Civil) “Religion”

“Otherworldly” States: Reimagining the Study of (Civil) “Religion” Abstract Sociologists since Durkheim have known there is nothing essential about the category “religion,” so why does the category persist? If we can begin to understand why it is still necessary in the twenty-first century for critical theorists to remind us that “religion” is without a vital differentiating element, then perhaps we might begin to imagine more, rather than less, expansive epistemological frameworks. Even as sensitive scholarship works to deconstruct the Enlightened secular typologies that gloss historical inequities, it often misses the cross-cultural patterns of signification that have shaped post-tribal hierarchies for millennia. Critically expanding Robert Bellah’s earlier arguments surrounding American Civil Religion, I argue for the role of the immaterial imagination in the establishment of trans-local, supra-kin communities—both nationalist and religious. Drawing on Philo of Alexandria, Isocrates, and Rousseau, I contend that an expansive theory of otherworldliness is necessary to understand the “modern” world. jamais État ne fut fondé que la religion ne lui servît de base —Jean Jacques Rousseau, Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique I WOULD LIKE TO BEGIN by offering a brief summation of my argument and an explanation of its methodology. My argument is this: otherworldliness is the essence of the “modern” world, and “modern”-minded men and women have been at work imagining that world since at least the time of Isocrates. Moreover, what we call “nations” and “religions” are both manifestations of this otherworldliness. To advance that thesis I offer unique and functional definitions of both “nation” and “religion,” and bring particular literatures to bear to illustrate modernity’s hoary features. However, in what follows I do not explicitly define “otherworldliness,” relying instead on a variety of iterations to expand its more familiar usage. Let me remedy that omission now. Otherworldliness is a subject or social network’s orientation towards a “world” that would cease to exist without that orientation. Given this definition, the Platonic world of forms, historical periodization, race, inalienable rights, not to mention the more obvious “religious” and less obvious “secular” typologies, are all otherworldly. The otherworld may be capricious, cruel, or aloof, but it is not indifferent to human struggle. Whereas this-world, the world of material circumstances, of ephemera, of colliding bodies and humid comets…well, this world’s indifference to us is well known. My methodology is cross-cultural figuration and historical intermediacy. I begin with Robert Bellah’s thesis on American civil religion because its radical implications are largely underappreciated, and because it is roughly contemporary with our own (brief) historical moment. After Bellah, I draw two ancient examples, Philo of Alexandria and Isocrates, towards the intermediate figure, Rousseau, because Philo and Isocrates each exemplify the inadequacy of parceling the world into modern “nations” and ancient “religions,” and Rousseau is largely responsible for innovating the contemporary “secular” understanding of “religion.” These exempla are sufficiently atomized to suggest theoretical scope, but more importantly, their variety is an attempt to remedy the sclerosis that has locked the field of religious studies into subdisciplinary postures, each debating [or bracketing] religion’s status as historical anachronism, vital human concern, or epistemological obfuscation. By the end, I hope it is clear that the same “civil-religious” dynamics Bellah exposed in 1967 have been at issue for centuries. A REASSESSMENT OF THE CIVIL RELIGION THESIS The idea that we can understand something salient about the American experience, about what it means to be an American, by positing an “American civil religion” that binds the nation in a common code (if not creed) (Albanese 1981), is now almost fifty years old. The genesis for this idea is most often attributed to the late sociologist Robert Bellah, whose now classic “Civil Religion in America,” published in Dædalus in 1967, accomplished two incongruous outcomes: it conjured a new discourse, even as it prophesied its troubled future. In his analysis, Bellah not only finds foundational historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address overflowing with soaring sacralizing rhetoric, he also discovers in John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address a similar evangelism: “The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God” (quoted in Bellah 1967, 1). The divine mandate, according to Bellah, was not the purview of the churches solely; it was immanent in American secular-political rhetoric and he wondered why it had taken so long for someone to spot it. As it stands today, this reading of the “religious” nature of prominent American ascriptions is so apparent as to appear nearly pedestrian. In most academic circles, to suggest that there is something called the “American civil religion” is not at all provocative: whether or not the suggestion is contested, the thesis is taken for granted. But is the idea of a “civil” religion taken seriously? Despite the idea’s dissemination, I think the answer is obvious. “Civil” religion is taken seriously enough to be explored through simile—like a religion, as a scripture, similar to a cult, in the manner of a holy site; it is taken seriously enough to be analogized, enough to be used as an analytical tool, the way comparitivist tools are often used: the Pure Land nembutsu is like the Jesus prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example (Unno 2002, 93–99). But the idea is almost always qualified, self-consciously defended, assiduously credited to Bellah, or Rousseau, or de Tocqueville.1 Despite landmark works like Charles Reagan Wilson’s Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920—who argued that the mythology of the Lost Cause established a “Southern religious-moral identity… as a chosen people” (Wilson [1980] 2009, 1)—the idea has not been much expanded beyond its conventional institutional and historical typologies. Instead, the thesis is most often used to add religious color to established frames of reference: the Civil Rights Movement; Southern identity; the rituals of Super Bowl Sunday and presidential inaugurations; the fourth of July and Thanksgiving; the cults of Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington; the flag; the War on Terror; national parks; and the Constitution (Bellah [1975] 1992; Novak 1993; Schmidt 1997; Manis 2002; Blum 2005; Marsh 2008; Haberski 2012; Gardella 2013). But Bellah’s argument that an enlightened “secular” formation, like the United States, was actually a religious formation should have inspired more than a scholarly Easter egg hunt for other American civil reliquaries. The implications of Bellah’s argument, if taken seriously, would have destabilized the entire field. As a point of comparison, we might ask how much the study of Christian origins has changed since 1967. The writings of the earliest Gnostics, and the speculative recreations of Q each reshaped the study of the early church (Meyer 2007; Daley 1991; Kloppenborg 1987). South Asian Buddhism? The role of commercial transactions amongst the early Mahayana emerged as a serious object of study, and upended the orientalist tendencies of the early and mid-twentieth century (Schopen 1996; Clarke 2014). What of the formation of Islam? The well-documented instability of traditional accounts and customary reliance upon isnād has forced Islamists to use source-critical strategies in their arguments, and led the most contrarian to seriously question even sophisticated textually based narratives of Islamic origins (Noth and Conrad 1994; Crone 2003). Jewish mysticism? The divine, rather than kabbalistically feminine, has been reinterpreted as a masculinely inflected hermaphroditic androgyne, and Jewish theurgical speculation has taken historical priority against Christian Gnosticism (Wolfson 1997; Idel 1990). Theology? There were appeals to poetry, an embrace of the postmodern, and black liberation (Tracy 1975, 1981; Cone [1970] 2010). And in the last half-century the cognitive science of religion was not only born, it matured—its rapid ontogenetic development colonizing the entire field (Watts and Turner 2014). But beyond a few notable exceptions, there has been no such advancement of the civil religion thesis.2 The same cannot be said for the critical study of “religion,” which has been thoroughly, if not widely, pursued. “Religion” as a category has been attacked as a reification at best, and a hegemonic Western invention at worst (Arnal and McCutcheon 2013, 28; Masuzawa 2005, 21). Indeed, the instability of the term “religion” and its complicated relationship to “politics” and “power” is a topic of deep concern within the field, and has been for quite some time (Asad 1993, 2003; Mahmood 2005; McCutcheon 2003, 2012; Satlow 2005; Schilbrack 2010).3 But well before these critiques, religion was vivisected by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Leopold von Ranke, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and many other enthusiastic continentals, who found anthropic explanations for its genesis and resilience. Far from vanquishing the category, however, their efforts only reified it for a new generation of scholars, such as Heinrich Zimmer, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Clifford Geertz, Bernard Lonergan, and Huston Smith, who cast “religion” in the role of embattled but earnestly misunderstood antagonist to the modern “secular” moment (Lincoln 2012, 131–36). Although the critical theoretical approaches alive in the field today are continuous with this rough genealogical sketch, they are most intimately motivated by a particular kind of epistemological anxiety. Unleashed in the second half of the twentieth century, this anxiety is often referred to as “the linguistic turn,”4 and its consequences were succinctly characterized by Richard Rorty in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity:5 “To drop the idea of languages as representations, and to be thoroughly Wittgensteinian in our approach to language, would be to de-divinize the world” (Rorty 1989, 19). For his part, Rorty accepts the demystification of language, advances its deconstruction, explores its most problematic conclusions, then reconstructs a viable argument for universal “human” solidarity out of the spare parts. Critical religious studies, however, has not yet succeeded in such a reconstruction. It is still sussing out the implications of the linguistic turn, and as a result has not illuminated much beyond the structural supports exposed by its various historical excavations (i.e., it makes explicit the implicit power relations that sustain post-tribal hierarchies). It must be noted that these critical theoretical approaches are highly valuable in an age that fetishizes the sciences. The demystification of language, and the epistemological anxiety that follows, is an uncomfortable but important reminder that the analytic categories we take for granted have definitive material histories, shaped by competing political and personal relations; indeed, we would be poorer scholars if we read history without them. But these criticisms, as they are typically deployed, have a weakness. They give the impression that lopsided material relations, and the categorical abstractions that buttle for them, originate primarily from Western colonial frameworks. But this is, ironically and unintentionally, a form of Eurocentrism. Western colonialism was (and is) the hemispheric symptom of a technologically advanced hegemonic order, but colonialism and its rhetorical strategies are not a sui generis expression of power. This does not make Western colonialism a less terrible thing—symptoms often kill—but it does mean that essentializing Western colonial history obscures the various other forms of “colonialism” and cosmopolitanism that have been with us for thousands of years,6 just as much as it obscures what is particular about the West.7 Tomoko Masuzawa’s The Invention of World Religions, for example, persuasively argues that the cosmopolitan and democratic “world religions” discourse that emerged in the early twentieth century was an anxious intellectual response to a dangerously interconnected and unstable Western colonial hegemony (Masuzawa 2005, 39–40). However, in illuminating the ways in which the “world religions” discourse marginalized other peoples and their “outdated” traditions by ossifying non-Christian religious practices (Masuzawa 2005, 82–84), she obscures the universal nature of this rhetorical trick. How different, really, was the national-secular boosterism of the “world religions” discourse from the Islamic strategy of casting into the benighted, pre-Mohammedan past other Abrahamic faiths, or Christianity’s anteriorizing fulfillment of Judaic messianism, or the more expansive bodhisattva doctrines of later Mahāsāṃghika schools that opened the way for new interpretations of the dharma? Claiming that our “modern” way is the new, better way is not new at all; it is the oldest trick in the (proverbial) book. Moreover, imperial conquests are often attended by celestial docents. This is a notion implicit in the Buddhist and Jain narratives of the cakravartin (“wheel-turner,” or universal sovereign), whose destiny it is as the dharma’s adjutant to annex the whole earth to establish one harmonious ethical domain. In the case of the expansion of the “world religions” discourse within the academy, it is scholars following colonial soldiers rather than monks following Mauryan warriors (sometimes, of course, the marching order is reversed), but the pattern is the same. Works like Masuzawa’s, and critical religious studies in general, have given us the tools to reflect on the social construction of our own reality, but they have not yet given us the tools to perceive more diverse historical kinships. Continentally inspired critical theorists, however, were not the only ones to notice the instability of the category “religion.” It was already implied in Bellah’s thesis, as he himself said when remarking that “Civil religion in America came into existence in the Winter of 1967 [when he published his essay],” because it was, like every other interpretation of place, “a social construction of reality” (Bellah 1974, 255–56). Leaving aside Bellah’s overweening certainty that he engineered a new “social construction of reality,” what remains is his understanding that no analytic category is essential. This assumption is not a radical one. In the modern West, the most complete and famous expression of epistemological typologies is Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (Kant [1787] 1968), with its well-known synthetic/analytic, a priori/a posteriori mashups. Bellah was not reaching quite so far back, but he was nonetheless on firm philosophical and sociological ground. Certainly if Kant, and David Hume before him, could question the a priori status of cause and effect in the eighteenth century, then “civil religion,” and thus “religion,” as an essential category of human experience must not trouble us too much. In fact, one would not think that categories that are so obviously constructed should cause quite so much handwringing amongst those whose job it is to interrogate these assemblages, but they do. Because of that, it is worth stating, in the clearest possible terms, the implications of Bellah’s argument before we depart from it: in short, religion-making is not just shaping or inflecting modern geopolitics (a tepid claim at best); rather, religion-making is modern geopolitics (from “manifest destiny” to a “man on the moon”). Hopefully, stripped of its similes and “for instances,” the radical nature of Bellah’s claim is made clear. RELIGIONS, NATIONS, AND THE IMAGINATION With or without a reassessment of Bellah, we now know that “religion” as an organizing framework emerged from Western colonial discourses. Following works like Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (Nongbri 2015) and David Chidester’s Empire of Religion: Imperialism and Comparative Religion (Chidester 2014), it would be difficult to argue otherwise.8 So let us acknowledge, without qualification, that “religion” is a product of the Western imagination. Unfortunately, that only gets us so far. Arguing, for example, that nations are “imagined communities,” as Benedict Anderson does (Anderson 1983), does not mean that nations lose their orienting powers. That nations are “imagined” does not mean, in other words, that nations are without substance—some semiotic con that has ensorcelled the masses. Unlike a magic trick, understanding the way a nation is conjured does not dispel its effect. Likewise, elaborating upon the ways in which “religion,” and “world religions” are a colonially motivated discourse does not mean that these categories will cease to exist for scholars, let alone laypeople. So rather than add my voice to the chorus declaring that “religion,” and thus “civil religion,” is an indefensible analytic category, I would ask a different question: Why has this category persisted? Sociologists since Durkheim have known these categories are not essential, so why do they persist? If we can understand that, then perhaps we might have the opportunity to imagine more expansive epistemological frameworks. As I have already said, Bellah’s argument for an American civil religion implies that the American “nation” is an expression of the American “religion.” What Bellah did not see, however, was that in a post-Enlightenment context, “nation” and “religion” are terms of art, signifiers that denote the flawed politics of this-world and the transcendent hope of a forever-possible otherworld. Because of this, the full force of his argument was not easily absorbed. When we discuss Rousseau’s Social Contract, it will become clear that both “nations” and “religions” are interdependent, otherworldly social formations—“imagined communities” oriented along transcendental axes. Indeed, regardless of what kind of trans- local, supra-kin community we are analyzing—country, empire, or bourgeois-oppressed-proletariat—otherworldliness is at work: not as an unrecognized “dimension,” but as the very thing itself. It is in this way that America is as otherworldly as any other “religion” is, and why attempts to parse the political and religious dimensions of these categories remain indeterminate. As critical historical studies of the last fifty years have driven home, “America” is a violent reification, a Western political portmanteau, and the American “way of life” is a military footnote, a legacy of racial animus and arbitrarily applied legal codes. Yet in spite of its sanguinary historical legacy, America remains a hopeful imaginary. Even though it is ritualized, policed, and possessed of Olympian powers, it is still a contingent system of social significations—a work of the immaterial imagination that projects a better world. This may seem like a point too obvious to belabor, but I would remind the reader that we are not inclined to think in such terms. Everything in our socialization contrives to reinforce what Mary Douglas calls “structural amnesia” (Douglas 1986, 10). This amnesia is a kind of epistemological constraint that conceals the aporia at the heart of our contingent social identities. It convinces us over and over again that what is manifestly artificial is, in fact, given, and like the Lernaean Hydra, when we struggle against it we augment it. Perhaps the most relevant example of this mechanism in the American context is race, what Stewart Hall calls the “floating signifier” (Hall 1996). Critical studies and radical progressive politics, for all their admirable intentions, often inadvertently reify and obscure racial significations by dwelling on the material circumstances of hegemonic discourses, while leaving the prosocial aspirations of oppressed communities unexplored. But this does not only apply to race. Concealment (or amnesia) of the immaterial imagination in the secular frame defines the process of secularization, as well as its critiques, and leads to analyses that overemphasize material power dynamics in their assessment of ancient and contemporary social formations. This overemphasis has several consequences, some of which include the abjuration of human agency and the inability to properly read inter-cultural exchange, but most importantly for this analysis, a blindness to the presence of otherworldliness in nation formation. As I mentioned previously, Benedict Anderson was the first to describe nation-states as “imagined communities,” and although I will be discussing Anderson’s theory, it is not his use of the imagination I would model. To intertwine the varying registrations of otherworldliness that will be presented into a singular analysis, I would rather follow the American poet Wallace Stevens’s more expansive understanding of the imagination,9 described here in a letter he wrote to the English professor and linguist Leonidas Warren Payne Jr. in 1928: To the One of Fictive Music: … It is not only children who live in a world of the imagination. All of us do that. But after living there to the degree that a poet does, the desire to get back to the everyday world becomes so keen that one turns away from the imaginative world in a most definite and determined way… after too much midnight, it is pleasant to hear the milkman, and yet, and this is the point of the poem, the imaginative world is the only real world, after all. (Stevens 1966, 251–52) For Stevens, the whole human world is imagined: not just poems—or nation-states, for that matter. He understood that the imagination is more than a human faculty; it is the human faculty—homo imaginari—and he spent his entire career exploring in verse the extent of its domain.10 In contemporary usage, “imagination” is often tethered too tightly to our evolutionarily inherited capacity for “creativity.”11 This gives the term a kind of unfocused ubiquity that counter-intuitively obscures its scope. Creativity is a sophisticated biological urge that very likely contributes positively to an animal’s chances of reproductive success (Reader and Laland 2003, 92), but imagination is a learned tekhne. Certainly the imagination is a creative process, but its etymological connection through the Latin imago to “copy,” “mask,” “ghost,” and “echo,” is more descriptive of our peculiar human capacity to re-present the world to ourselves—to conjure what is lost and invoke what has never been. Through mimetics we can bring the dead back to life, wander through past lives, and sling probes past Jupiter’s well into the darkness between stars.12 By signifying the world, we have mastered the world…or, by sinister inversion, we have enslaved it. I am certainly not the first to claim the imagination’s terrific powers—nor was Stevens. Immanuel Kant, for one, took the role of the imagination seriously in the construction of knowledge. In his formulation, vorstellung is an indispensable linkage in the creation of empirical consciousness—dependently linked to sense and apperception. The imagination’s “reproductive synthesis” Kant claimed, is the “transcendental ground of the possibility of all cognition” (Kant 1998, 230). One hundred years later, and closer to home, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay “Beauty,” praised the imagination’s metamorphic powers: “The feat of the imagination is in showing the convertibility of every thing into every other thing… All the facts in Nature are nouns of the intellect, and make the grammar of the eternal language. Every word has a double, treble, or centuple use and meaning” (Emerson [1876] 1983, 1102). The imagination for Emerson is closely linked to his thinking about the fundamental “correspondence” between nature and mind (Emerson [1876] 1983, 645), the exploration of which is the (often misread) foundation of his entire body of work. However, in spite of the long history of the “imagination” in Western discourse, it is Benedict Anderson and his still influential Imagined Communities (1983) who made the term a respectable member of the contemporary social sciences. With that said, although the power I ascribe to the imagination throughout my analysis is indebted to Wallace Stevens, Kant, and Emerson’s expansive understanding, and I am following Anderson in his description of the nation-state, it is my particular inflection that emphasizes its materiel,13 its deep history, and its role in the creation and maintenance of otherworldly relations. Anderson’s work was the first to theorize “the nation” as a modern historical phenomenon, and in doing so he made a simple but sweeping claim: the nation “is an imagined political community,” because most of its members will never in any intelligible sense come to know one another, yet will nevertheless believe themselves to be part of “a deep, horizontal comradeship” (Anderson 1983, 7). Furthermore, this community of the mind is both “inherently limited,” possessing borders and frontiers (i.e., it does not aspire to universality), and inherently “sovereign,” beholden to no other power than its own unique mandate to realize its destiny. His argument relies on the historical developments of widespread literacy, mass communication, and the dissolution of the “divine right” theory of political legitimacy. Anderson, as we will discuss, finds the “nation” to be a much more recent social development than I, following scholars like Shmuel Eisenstadt and Azar Gat,14 believe it to be, but his emphasis on the “imagined” nature of this trans-local social structure is crucial for my argument. By my reckoning nations are not an outcome of the Enlightenment, but they are in fact unimaginable without the otherworldly registrations Anderson describes. In fact, if we accept Gat’s argument that “nations” are the institutional and geographic representation of ethnic and/or cultural identities, then it would seem that the nations that have proliferated in this secular age are more otherworldly than they have ever been. Consider, for example, the ethnic and cultural diversity of the United States, China, Mexico, or India. These “national” social networks are not only geographically extensive and ethnically diverse, they are historically aspirational: Mao Zedong imagined an ascendant China by invoking a revolutionary continuity with the third-century BCE emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, during the Cultural Revolution (Schram 1989, 177–81); Mexico on its coat of arms uses Aztecan iconography to imagine the continuity between its precolonial past and its postcolonial future (Vaughan 2006, 51, 289); and India has long imagined the nation as contiguous with its great mythological epics (Pollock 1993). This is not to suggest that ethnic and linguistic politics do not roil these nations, only that their narratives of civic inclusivity and transcendental citizenship rely on an intensification of otherworldliness less common in earlier iterations of the nation—an imagined otherworldliness exemplified in the American Pledge of Allegiance: “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” The “imagined” nation, as Anderson argues using less “religious” terminology, is not a power of this world, though it is certainly in this world;15 this-world is the arena in which its otherworldly power manifests; where it becomes known; where it problematically incarnates. It is not, however, of this-world in the way our bodies are, or trees and rivers and rocks are. It lives in maps and monuments, scriptures and signs, ideas. Ironically, however, its otherworldly residence is precisely the source of its potency. Elleke Boehmer, for example, in analyzing the elusive cultural and military power of the British empire under Queen Victoria, finds not only technological advantages, but perhaps more importantly, a vast “textual enterprise” whose imaginative potency far exceeds the empire’s material power: “The Empire in its heyday was conceived and maintained in an array of writings… The triple-decker novel and the best-selling adventure tale, both definitive Victorian genres, were infused with imperial ideas of race pride and national prowess (Boehmer 2005, 13). And though a nation can motivate and mobilize men and women to its defense, and inspire them to war, it is not of this world, and can only be invoked by various forms of ascesis—rituals, blood sacrifices, scriptures (Marvin and Engle 1999; Wimbush 2012). Without these ascetic practices the nation has no power. What power, after all, does a Roman edict have in the twenty-first century? The code of Hammurabi? Their material persists but their potency is gone. “Nations” are, as “religions” are, imagined correspondences between this-worldly praxis and other-worldly orders—though each is oriented towards different, even divergent transcendental axes. This is not Anderson’s language, but it fits well with his argument of “deep” and “imagined” comradeship. For Anderson’s part, one of the key differences between religiously imagined communities and nationally imagined communities is that one, the religious, relies on an essentially “vertical” conception of time, and the other, the nation, relies on a “horizontal” conception of time. As Anderson explains, “What has come to take the place of the mediaeval conception of simultaneity-along-time is, to borrow again from Benjamin, an idea of ‘homogenous, empty time,’ in which simultaneity is, as it were, transverse, cross-time, marked not by prefiguring and fulfillment, but by temporal coincidence, and measure by clock and calendar” (Anderson 1983, 24–25). Anderson, following Benjamin, has struck upon an important aspect of secular otherworldliness and one of the peculiar ways in which it maps this-world. It imaginatively collapses space (e.g., “the global village”) and turns time into an empty but infinite sequence. This is the essence of modern communal anxiety. Everything is too close together. Someone, somewhere else in the world right now (terrorist, immigrant, other) is threatening our home. Alternate social worlds are terrifyingly intimate, the political proximity of others always too close, while time is only a banal concatenation of meaningless events—one day after another after another. This is the angst of globalization, of an interconnected world upon which we depend, as we once depended on God’s grace. It is the inverse of nonsecular time, which collapses time rather than space. At any moment history will be redeemed, made meaningful. When the messiah returns, when all sufferers are enlightened, when every being is judged by the Almighty, history will show itself to be what it always-already is—a sacred cosmogony. I extend and briefly elaborate Anderson’s analysis to make the point that both categories, whether secular or non, are imagined correspondences with an otherworldly order. Whether time or space is imaginatively collapsed, an otherworldly order is used to map this-world’s concrete specificities. Perhaps the secular conceptualization of time has fostered the proliferation of nations—perhaps—but it seems to me that Anderson relies too much on this schema when theorizing the nation. Nations do not necessarily require secular time nor do religions always collapse time, as we will see. Contra Anderson, Azar Gat argues that religions were often complicit in the growth of premodern nationalism. “Rather than conflicting with the national idea, as it is conventionally and erroneously assumed to have been, religion was one of its strongest pillars. It was, in fact, the most powerful and all-pervasive mass medium of the premodern ‘imagined community,’ which Benedict Anderson has failed to recognize” (Gat 2013, 11). I am partial to Gat’s analysis on this issue, but Anderson is an astute reader of the modern moment, and rather than discard him, I would extend his use of the imagination to include institutionalized otherworldliness in general. As we will see, otherworldliness is an indispensable aspect of nationalism, or proto-nationalism in the case of the Greeks, and runs from the Athenians, through Judaea, right up to Rousseau’s advocacy for a civil religion in The Social Contract. CULTURAL HYBRIDITY AND THE CASE FOR AN EXPANSIVE OTHERWORLDLINESS Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE–50 CE) Philo Judaeus of Alexandria stands within our scholarly pantheon as the embodied consummation of Hellenism and Judaism. According to Karl-Gustav Sandelin, Italian scholar Roberto Radice claimed that “Philo believed only in those principles which are true according to both Moses and Plato” (Sandelin 2014, 19). Roughly contemporaneous with Paul and Jesus, Philo was, like most educated elites in the Levant, a product of cultural hybridization: platonic philosophy filtered through Alexander’s imperial conquests, inflected by Egyptian Ptolemaic cultural traditions, and circumscribed by Roman political realities. Yet he was firmly committed to his Jewish “national” identity.16 So committed to this identity, as he recounts in The Embassy on Gaius, that he, along with the entire Jewish “nation” (έθνος),17 was willing to die rather than accept the installation of the emperor’s effigy in the temple in Jerusalem. In fact, most of Philo’s account in The Embassy on Gaius is an elaboration of the unjust persecutions suffered by the Jews at the hands of the Alexandrians and the reprobate emperor Gaius Caligula, who elevates himself above the law, and comes to believe himself a god.18 As Philo reports it, when it comes time for Caligula’s legate, Petronius, to execute his command to renovate the temple, the entire nation appears before Petronius like a Greek chorus and their lamentation achieves a singular lugubrious pitch: “When the multitude of the Jews suddenly descended like a cloud and occupied the whole of Phoenicia… the first thing to be observed was the great shouting which arose mingled with weeping and smiting of breasts, so great that it was more than the ears of those present could contain” (Philo 1962, 119). After the entire nation makes supplication before Petronius and he bids them come nearer, its elders offer their gory bargain: One thing only we ask in return for all, that no violent changes should be made in this temple and that it be kept as we received it from our grandparents and ancestors. But if we cannot persuade you, we give up ourselves for destruction that we may not live to see a calamity worse than death. We hear that forces of cavalry and infantry have been prepared against us if we oppose the installation… But what need of an army! Ourselves will conduct the sacrifices, priests of a noble order: wives will be brought to the altar by wife-slayers, brothers and sisters by fratricides, boys and girls in the innocence of their years by child-murderers… Then standing in the midst of our kinsfolk after bathing ourselves in their blood, the right bathing for those who would go to Hades clean, we will mingle our blood with theirs by the crowning slaughter of ourselves. When we are dead let the prescript be carried out; not God himself could blame us who had a twofold motive, respectful fear of the emperor and loyalty to the consecrated laws. And this aim will be accomplished if we take our departure in contempt of the life which is no life. (Philo 1962, 121, 123) Rather than surrender the temple to “violent change,” Philo offers up himself and his entire nation as paschal rams to be sacrificed. If the temple is defiled, then life for the Jews is literally “no life” (ἀβιώτου). Their nation will cease to exist. Martyrdom, for Philo, is the preferred consequence to an existence without essence. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a clearer expression of religious-nationalism, or otherworldliness, than this existential irony. Slavery does not threaten the nation. As Roman vassals, the abjuration of autonomous political power is acceptable, and continued persecution is preferred even to anonymity, but to do “violence” to the temple is to suffer a calamity worse than death—meaninglessness. But what does it mean to call a first-century philosophically trained Jewish aristocrat a “nationalist”? Even given Gat’s more expansive schema we should be cautious with this attribution. The term’s ubiquity in contemporary identity politics begs qualification in the ancient context. It is likely, for example, that all those “ethnic” Jews that Philo summons from the dust to plead with Petronius were little more than rhetorical golems. What would it mean, for example, for a poor, marginalized, and illiterate “Jewish” family on the outskirts of Alexandria circa 40 CE to have “national pride”? That communities were identifiable by common ritual, language, and shared sacrifice is undeniable, but this is not the same thing as coherent Jewish nationalism. Jerusalem and its loosely associated diasporic communities were, as large-scale social formations have always been, an amalgam of social castes—a barely coherent compilation of competing creeds, sects, and significations. Gerd Theissen summarizes the social tensions alive during Philo’s time: “The moderate attitude of the inhabitants of Jerusalem was based on the common interest of the populace and the aristocracy in the status quo of the city and the temple. By contrast, all the renewal movements with roots in the country were inevitably in opposition to the temple, which represented the existing social and religious system” (Theissen 1978, 54). The kind of nationalist commitments that Philo advocates take time and vested material interests: time that only elites can manage, interests only they possess. In her last book, the late Islamicist Patricia Crone attempts to recover the long-obscured history of Zoroastrianism within the early Islamic republics, and in doing so she offers a succinct, qualified assessment of the kind of early state nationalism we are discussing. She argues that “members of the ruling elite, such as aristocrats and priests, might well have seen the kingdom or empire that defined their roles in life as central to their identity.” As a result of this relationship, she suggests it is not unreasonable to conceptualize these ancient empires and kingdoms as nations, or proto-nations (Crone 2014, 161). Philo’s relationship to his people and their institutions is, mutatis mutandis, reasonably analogous to Crone’s nationalist specimen, the Iranian king Ardashir I (180–242 CE).19 Given Philo’s social status,20 “nationalist” commitments, and political networks, it would seem that nationalism appears to arise when the institutional interdependency of elites reaches the necessary critical mass rather than when, following Anderson, newspapers and representative governments flourish; in other words, the “nation” is not dependent on widespread literacy and the printing press, but on bureaucratic stability. If we accept, with appropriate qualifications, the possibility that Philo was expressing “nationalist” sentiments for which he was willing to sacrifice himself and others, then we must accept the possibility that the “civil” religion Bellah theorized is not simply the emergent property of a secular Enlightenment ideology. By this light, nation-states appear less like a discontinuous secular genesis rising out of Anderson’s “horizontal” time, and more like a rough but continuous social phenomenon. And even if we agree that secular time fosters nationalisms, we must withhold the privileged status afforded to the modern moment. To argue that the emergence of the nation-state is a miraculous but illegitimate child of techno-capital proliferations and papal decay, as Anderson does, requires that we ignore or strongly misread counter-examples like Philo of Alexandria and Crone’s Ardashir I. The effect of reading these examples in the way I am proposing is to bring Philo and his various cultural and philosophical commitments much closer to the modern-postmodern-posthuman world that many speciously insist is accelerating into some mutant future (Nayer 2014, 2). In this context, something like Gananath Obeyesekere’s “Protestant Buddhism”21—his somewhat disparaging term for the anti-Christian protest Buddhism that nonetheless mimicked Protestant Christian structures (Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988, 215)—does not look so uniquely “colonial” compared to Philo’s hybridization of Hellenism and Mosaic law. How different, really, was Philo’s task from Nelson Mandela’s? Gandhi’s? Aung San Suu Kyi’s? All of these figures were marginalized elites with nationalist agendas and spliced cultural commitments. Shmuel Eisenstadt calls these figures, and many others throughout history, peripheral or “secondary” elites (Eisenstadt 1986, 14). Still, although Philo presents a compelling example of nationalism in premodern times, it could be objected that the otherworldly aspects of his patriotism are too tightly tethered to “religion” in the traditional sense of the word (whatever that sense may be) to be counted: a pious Jew contesting Caligula’s venal political injustice. So let us look at another, more “worldly” Western example, one less susceptible to such an objection. Isocrates (436 BCE–338 BCE) Isocrates, the great Athenian rhetorician, was very likely a close companion and friend to Socrates, which puts him in company with the “father” of Western philosophy, Plato (Isocrates 1928, xvi). Regard for Isocrates and his contributions to Athens’s “golden age” has waxed and waned over time. Up until the Renaissance he was considered by scholars to have been central to Athens’s civic life, but the rise of Plato’s reputation as the progenitor of philosophy, and Plato’s well known disdain for rhetoric, gradually eroded Isocrates’s privileged position at the Grecian fount (Poulakos and Depew 2004, Kindle location 96–99). He has, however, moderately recovered since the 1990s with renewed scholarly interest (Too 1995; Vitanza 1997). That said, it should be noted that by sheer scope and ambition, Isocrates’s literary production cannot compare to Plato’s. He produced no works that can match The Republic, or Symposium, or Laws. Still, Isocrates’s influence during his lifetime was immense. His school of rhetoric was one of the most successful in fifth-century BCE Athens and his Panegyricus was widely disseminated and admired. Written for the one-hundredth Olympiad, the Panegyricus was an oral argument for the primacy of Athens in the leadership of a “culturally” unified Greece. I qualify “culture” in this context because although Isocrates expressed opposition to the internecine conflicts that were plaguing the city-states, his argument, like most rabble-rousing orations, does not delve into the messy particulars of political unification. It should not be glossed over that it is impossible to detach Athenian “cultural” supremacy from the “cultural” subordination of the other Greek polities. It is in this sense that his rhetoric was a vehicle for otherworldliness. In Isocrates’s oration, Hellenic unification is imagined, fashioned out of the ritual signs of the Olympiad. Indeed, in Isocrates’s argument we will recognize that uncanny Athenian orientation called “philosophy,” which many still profess possesses transcendent power. Moreover, [Athens] has established her polity in general in such a spirit of welcome to strangers and friendliness to all men, that it adapts itself both to those who lack means and to those who wish to enjoy the means which they possess, and that it fails to be of service neither to those who are prosperous nor to those who are unfortunate in their own cities… Now the founders of our great festivals are justly praised for handing down to us a custom by which… we come together in one place, where, as we make our prayers and sacrifices in common, we are reminded of the kinship which exists among us… and the multitude of people who visit us is so great that, whatever advantage there is in our associating together, this also has been compassed by our city, Athens… for the judgements pronounced by us command such great approbation that all mankind accept them gladly. But apart from these considerations, while the assemblages at the other great festivals are brought together only at long intervals and are soon dispersed, our city throughout all time is a festival for those who visit her [italics mine]. Philosophy, moreover, has helped to discover and establish all these institutions, which has educated us for public affairs and made us gentle towards each other, which has distinguished between the misfortunes that are due to ignorance and those which spring from necessity, and taught us to guard against the former and to bear the latter nobly—philosophy, I say, was given to the world by our city [italics mine]. (Isocrates 1928, 143–47) Clearly, Athens’s preeminence is the central theme of Isocrates’s rhetoric here. He thunders with patriotic verve for his city. Athens, he claims, draws even strangers (οικειως)22 into its gracious orbit, its culture a welcomed and preternaturally just sovereign—“for the judgements pronounced by us command such great approbation that all mankind accept them gladly [ἀγαπᾶσθαι]” (Isocrates 1928, 147). As suggestive as Norlin’s translation is, omitted from his rendering of this passage is the possibility that this form of αγαπαω (ἀγαπᾶσθαι) is in the future tense: “that all mankind will accept them gladly.” This does not substantively alter the translation in this context, but it does accentuate the aspirational quality of Isocrates’s rhetoric—his appeal to the promise of a better world. Moreover, it is Athenian “philosophy” that will make this wonder possible. Philosophy at this time in Greece’s history was a far more fluid locution than it would later become (Isocrates 1928, xxvi-xxvii; Jaeger 1967, 43); however, its preeminence is here already manifest (Poulakos and Depew 2004, Kindle locations 520–22). It is, in fact, a power that has been “given [κατέδειξε] to the world,” a method of salvation; it teaches us how to bear suffering, how to be compassionate; it even teaches us how to fashion an apparently eternal city that will endure “throughout all time [αἰῶνα],” an Elysium, a “city on the hill” for all. Isocrates’s proselytizing goes still farther; it is, in fact, Athens and its philosophy that makes us human: And Athens it is that has honoured eloquence, which all men crave and envy in its possessors; for she realized that this is the one endowment of our nature which singles us out from all living creatures, and that by using this advantage we have risen above them in all other respects as well… And so far has our city distanced the rest of mankind in thought and in speech that her pupils have become the teachers of the rest of the world; and she has brought it about that the name “Hellenes” suggests no longer a race but an intelligence, and that the title “Hellenes” is applied rather to those who share our culture than to those who share a common blood. (Isocrates 1928, 147–49) It is in this slippage between the abstract, pedagogical power of “philosophy,” and the local, elect community of “Athens”—the rhetorical interdependency of the universal and the particular—that gives the Athenians, the chosen of the “Hellenes,” the power to teach their “culture” (παιδεύσεως) to the world; it bestows upon them the responsibility to convert others to their (superior) way of life—to anoint the uninitiated. This universalization of the particular, the transubstantiation of “common blood” (κοινῆς) into uncommon “intelligence” (διανοίας), is a hallmark of what we like to call “world religions.” “Intelligence” here is that otherworldly orientation that literally, according to Isocrates, transcends this-worldly kinship. Moreover, the verb Isocrates uses to expresses this “intelligence” is a form of the verb δοκέω (δοκεῖν), “to think, suppose, imagine, expect,” as opposed to Plato’s privileged form of “knowing,” ἐπίσταμαι, which implies a concrete material apprehension, quite different from Isocrates’s nearly subjunctive δοκέω—“imagined,” “seeming.” Isocrates is, in other words, rhetorizing an “imagined community” of culturally unified Hellenes. Of course, Isocrates’s position is the inverse of Philo’s. One rising, the other in decline, Philo trying to hold onto a diminished religio-political identity in the face of cultural domination, and Isocrates inciting his fellow Athenians to extend theirs. Yet their objectives would be as recognizable to one another as they are to us. They were each cultural elites invested in a large-scale social formation that we could defensibly call “nationalist” as well as “religious.” Isocrates’s aesthetic invocation of philosophy as a transcendent Hellenic principle—the hope of every man (though certainly not woman)—sounds a familiar call: to rise above the helter-skelter arena of politics and contested desires into the welcoming light of equality and fellowship requires only our fidelity to a common transcendent principle. For Isocrates that was philosophy, but different epochs and langues invoke different themes. For Mosaic scribal elites of the first century, such as Philo, that principle was God’s law, as well as its earthly iterations. But for every cultural hybrid there is an inevitable plot complication in the story of universal transcendence—how to reconcile antagonistic universal orders. This complication remains, but it has been somewhat obscured in the post-Enlightenment discourse by Jean Jacques Rousseau’s innovative approach to the problem of competing otherworldly orders. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) Rousseau, who Bellah argues first articulated the need for a civil religion, recognized the problem of conflicting social mythologies, and in response strongly advocated for the necessity of communal assent, or tolerance, in an Enlightened democracy. In chapter 8 of The Social Contract he supports the view that “‘each man is perfectly free with regard to that which does not harm others’” (Rousseau 1988, 172). In the pursuit of that principle, however, Rousseau has been roundly criticized for his prosecution of “totalitarian” methods: Without being able to obligate anyone to believe [the articles of the civil faith] the sovereign can banish from the state anyone who does not believe them; it can banish him not for being impious but for being unsociable, for being incapable… of sacrificing his life, if need be, for his duty. If, after having publicly acknowledged these same dogmas, someone behaves as though he does not believe them, let his punishment be death. (Rousseau 1988, 172) It is this claim to the state’s power over life and death, and the necessity of sacrifice, that gives Rousseau’s defenders so much trouble. How could this trenchant critic of the Enlightenment, who was so suspicious of the inflated claims of reason, so skeptical of civilization’s benign progress, so unwavering in his defense of freedom and the inherent nobility of man,23 how could this archetypal philosophe advocate so unselfconsciously for state power? This question, however, does not trouble us, because Philo has already elaborated, in ghoulish detail, what might be required to defend the “nation,” and the Enlightenment’s nomenclatures do not change this.24 For Rousseau’s part, his “civil” religion was a solution to a very concrete problem—the accelerating erosion of papal political power, and the spread of a pluralizing, vernacular otherworldliness. In arguing for a civil religion, Rousseau offers an interpretation of European history that legitimizes the rising power of the state over and against the declining power of Catholic institutions. It has become our habit to describe the principles of the Enlightenment as “secular,” and however broadly we might like to define that category, it is clear that, in chapter 8 of Rousseau’s The Social Contract at least, secularity has nothing to do with a diminished otherworldliness. On the contrary, Rousseau’s objective at the conclusion of The Social Contract is proper religious alignment, not abrogation. The true Christian is politically gelded in order to promote, as his argument goes, civic piety. The church and the state require discrete domains; this was the precondition for and handmaid to the nascent power of the modern European nation-state. In his historical revision, Rousseau goes so far as to retroactively excommunicate medieval crusaders from Christian ranks: Without disputing the valor of the crusaders, I shall point out that far from being Christians, they were soldiers of the priest, they were citizens of the church; they were fighting for its spiritual home, which the church, we know not how, had made temporal. Rightly understood, this should be accounted as paganism; since the Gospel established no national religion, holy war is impossible among Christians. (Rousseau 1988, 171) Undoubtedly, the Jews who were murdered by crusaders in the Rhineland massacre of 1096, and the Muslim Turks who battled them later on the Anatolia plane in 1097 would have disputed Rousseau’s characterization of “the Christian.” This proprietary realignment, however, is a common strategy in apologetics: these behaviors are a misrepresentation of our true beliefs; this is not the real Gospel; these are not our people. Alternate interpretations of the otherworldly order require subordination to advance the “proper” political arrangements.25 Rousseau establishes the free-market tenants of the “true” Christian faith, tenants that are—conveniently for this proto-Jacobin Protestant—divorced from such terrestrial proclivities as acquisitiveness and bellicosity, for the same reason that Isocrates claimed the Athenian elite had become “teachers of the rest of the world” for their “eloquence” (λόγους), without waxing poetic about the military power of the Athenian navy:26 legitimate political power requires an otherworldly disinterest in power. “Christianity is a completely spiritual religion,” Rousseau writes, “concerned solely with heavenly matters; the Christian’s homeland is not of this world… If the state is flourishing, he [the Christian] hardly dares to enjoy the public happiness… if the state is in decline, he blesses the hand of God which weighs heavily on his people” (Rousseau 1988, 170). From our contemporary vantage this seems an overly idealized interpretation of “the Christian,” but it has a long history. Think, for example, of Augustine’s conception of Christian humility in the face of worldly consequences in the City of God (Augustine 1957, 510) or the early martyrs’ canonical temporal failures, or Jesus’s famous rendering unto Caesar (Matt. 22:21). The pattern is familiar: the true religion of Christ is one unsullied by material want, untethered from worldly aspirations. It is a very old refrain, one side of the long pas de deux between asceticism and worldliness that shaped early Christian church history (Wimbush 1987, 96). More importantly, however, it is a fantastic misreading of that history. Christianity’s 1,500-year history of war, aggressive territorial expansion, and commercial coercions is not the either/or world of the radical prophet (i.e., the “spiritual” church corrupted by the “venal” state), but the both/and reality of actual material human history. To be clear, no polemic is intended in my breezy assessment of Christian history. No political unity larger than a kibbutz is unblemished by violence—though territorial expanse is probably correlated to cruelty. Of course many complicated mercies and orderly compassions closely attended the church’s expansive history (Prieto 2011, 63), but Rousseau’s description of the church’s otherworldly disinterest serves a purpose, and that purpose is worldly. His summation of the Christian faith is a distillation of the Protestant narrative that gave birth to the Enlightenment: namely, the centralized authority of the Catholic church was corrupt, venal, indulgent, and un-Christian, and only vernacularization could bring the true Christian back to the principles of the earliest church. In other words, the Catholic Church declined because it was deeply compromised by worldly concerns, because it was not functioning in accord with God’s will. Reciprocally, another church could rise (or fall) by those very terms—by man’s propinquity to God. “Thus, what remains is the religion of man or Christianity, not the Christianity of today but that of the Gospel, which is altogether different,” Rousseau says, claiming true religion binds all people in proper relation. “Through this religion which is holy, sublime, and true, men, as children of the same God, all acknowledge each other as brothers, and the society that unites them is not dissolved even by death” (Rousseau 1988, 170). Divorcing Christianity’s fortunes from its political history and tethering it (implicitly) to divine providence, as Rousseau does, is one of the Enlightenment’s most enduring and consequential errors. Indeed, it abides in the teleological narrative of liberal democratic progress, a story in which the virtuous shall rise, the most rational reign, and democracy’s kingdom come. It is upon the proper relations of Rousseau’s Christian to this-world that the otherworldliness of the civil religion rests, and out of which our confusion about the nature of “religion” and “politics” has grown. In the secular frame, stripped of its Christian specificity, this looks like the effort to recover the authentic intent of germinal religious movements, properly interpret their “scriptures,” sanctify diversity (i.e. vernacularism), and reveal the numinous unity that binds antagonistic social networks to “religion’s” invisible desmesne.27 And though Rousseau is often understood to be one of the progenitors of the modern “secular” nation-state, I think it is clear at this point that we cannot understand “secular” to be the binary pole of “religion,” or an articulation of its absence: the “civil religion” and the “Christian religion,” for Rousseau, are both otherworldly registrations. The “Christian religion,” in its various Protestant iterations, engenders the tolerance (i.e., communal ascent) necessary to guarantee the highest principle of the civil religion, namely liberty, by placing Christian or what we now simply call “religious” concerns within a world constantly deferred (e.g., “the Christian’s homeland is not of this world”). Furthermore, Rousseau adds that “it is of great importance to the state for each citizen to have a religion that makes him love his duties, but the dogmas of this religion interest neither the state nor its members” (Rousseau 1988, 172). Indeed, as we saw in the previous paragraph, its dogmas are of concern only as they relate to death, since it is to this hopeful community that men are mutually bound after the corruptions of this world are borne. I would go so far as to suggest that the religion of Rousseau’s The Social Contract is better understood as henotheistic. His “privatization” of worship, and his reimagination of Christianity’s historical development turns the plethora of vernacular Christianities (i.e., sectarian Christian practices) that flourished on the other side of the Reformation into what are effectively European “household gods,” closer in function to Hebrew tërâpîm (Hoffner 1967, 230–38; Flynn 2012, 694–711; Torn, Becking, and Horst 1999)28 than to mutually antagonistic but unified disputations about the King-of-Kings and His only son. This relationship between household gods and the chief (or “national”) God or gods well describes the expressions of otherworldliness we have witnessed in all of our examples—Philo, Isocrates, and Rousseau—and also closely resembles our own contemporary Western situation: the members of secondary otherworldly networks (Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, spiritualists, etc.) find communal unity by orienting themselves towards another more pristine world, one devoid of this-world’s bloody (but nonetheless otherworldly) political orders; and by properly aligning themselves to this other-world, they become better citizens of this one. CONCLUSION I hope it is now clear that there is a pattern to the otherworldly relations that large-scale social formations, and their scholarly paladins, rely upon to orient their collectives to common purpose. The ethnos (i.e., nation), as manifestation of an imagined order, provides a point of reference around which competing forms of otherworldliness arrange themselves—even if that ethnos is subordinate, as in Philo’s case. Rousseau had some insight into this dynamic when he wrote, “jamais État ne fut fondé que la religion ne lui servît de base” (“never has a state been founded without religion as its basis”) (Rousseau [1762] 1963, 112). As we have seen, both religions and nations are rooted, like the Kabbalistic tree, in an otherworld, but if that is so, how then do they differ, and why do these categories persist in our scholarship? As to how they differ, let me suggest that the more intensely an otherworldly social formation manifests terrestrial concerns (e.g., territorial sovereignty, ethno-linguistic hierarchies), the more unproblematically we refer to that formation as “nationalist,” and the more intensely an otherworldly social formation manifests temporal concerns (e.g., proper ancestral relations, actionable destinies), the more unproblematically we refer to that formation as “religious.” Of course, in truth, all trans-local supra-kin communities fall along a spectrum, and just because they are somewhat distinct in the secular frame does not mean they must remain so. Indeed, given the evidence presented in this analysis, I think it is safe to draw a more comprehensive conclusion regarding the mutability of these social formations: namely, the frustration of spatial power engenders temporal ambition,29 and any given “modern” social formation can be sustained by either. As for why scholars continue to be seduced by the drama of these false binaries, I think the answer is simple if unglamorous. We are children of the Enlightenment, and we have been conditioned by its institutions. These institutions tell us there are two worlds: one authentic, the other transactional. There is the scripture behind its interpretations, the power behind its fabulations, the possible world behind its political realities. Even more radical critical analyses seem bound by this binary.30 Hopefully, acknowledging the institutional tensions that shape our thinking will eventually allow us to imagine a more expansive otherworldly order, rather than retreat into the comforts of an ivoried idealism. It is a common strategy amongst mathematicians and logicians when solving difficult problems to “work towards the middle.” The point to be proven is known. The starting point is chosen, then by inference and rule the scientist labors towards common brace. 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Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press. Novak, Michael. 1993. The Joy of Sports: End Zones, Bases, Baskets, Balls, and the Consecration of the American Spirit . Lanham, MD: Madison Books. Philo. 1962. Philo: Volume X . Translated by F. H. Colson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Pollock, Sheldon. 1993. “ Ramayana and Political Imagination in India.” The Journal of Asian Studies  52 ( 2): 261– 97. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   . 2006. The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India . Berkeley: University of California Press. Poulakos, Takis, and Depew David. 2004. Isocrates and Civic Education . Austin: University of Texas Press. Kindle. Prieto, Andres. 2011. Missionary Scientists: Jesuit Science in Spanish South America, 1570–1810 . Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press. Reader, Simon M., and MacDonald Katharine. 2003. “ Environmental variability and primate behavioral flexibility.” In Animal Innovation , edited by Simon M. Reader and Kevin Laland, 83– 116. New York: Oxford University Press. Rorty, Richard. 1989. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity . New York: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. [1762] 1963. Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique . Available at http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/Rousseau_jj/contrat_social/Contrat_social.pdf. Accessed December 10, 2016. . 1988. Rousseau’s Political Writings: New Translations, Interpretive Notes, Backgrounds, Commentaries . Edited and translated by Alan Ritter and Julia Conaway Bondanella. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Sandelin, Karl-Gustav. 2014. “ Philo as a Jew.” In Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria , edited by Torrey Seland, 19– 46. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Satlow, Michael. 2005. “ Disappearing Categories: Using Categories in the Study of Religion.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion  17 ( 4): 287– 98. 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Philadelphia: Fortress Press. Too, Yun Lee. 1995. The Rhetoric of Identity in Isocrates: Text, Power, Pedagogy . New York: Cambridge University Press. Torn, Karel, Becking Bob, and van der Horst Pieter W.. 1999. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible . Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Tracy, David. 1975. The Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology . New York: Seabury Press. . 1981. The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism . New York: Crossroad. Unno, Taitetsu. 2002. “ Jesus Prayer and the Nembutsu.” Buddhist-Christian Studies  22 ( 1): 93– 9. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Vail, Angus D. 2001. Review of Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag, by Carolyn Marvin and David W. Ingle. Canadian Review of Sociology & Anthropology  38 ( 1): 114– 6. Vaughan, Mary Kay, and Lewis Stephen,et al.  2006. The Eagle and the Virgin: Nation and Cultural Revolution in Mexico, 1920–1940 . 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Footnotes 1 The following examples are typical of this kind of hedge: “Of course, using religion as a metaphor for society is nothing new. The authors reference Durkheim’s analysis in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life as establishing the tradition” [my emphasis] (Vail 2001, 114–16); or “Confederates talked reverently about the Lost Cause, or the Southern way of life, almost as if it were a religion itself” [my emphasis] (Butler, Wacker, and Balmer [2000] 2011, 242). 2 Courtney Bender’s Divine Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination moves beyond and meaningfully corrects some of Bellah’s early theorizing on the character of “individual” spirituality. See also Chidester 2005; Marvin and Ingle 1999; and Albanese 1991. Albanese does not explicitly contend with the civil religion thesis, or what she calls “republican religion,” but she does leap beyond rehearsed religious typologies to suggest that various American nature religions have manifested throughout US history. 3 Michael Satlow’s “Disappearing Categories: Using Categories in the Study of Religion” offers a useful, if somewhat aging, assessment of the ways that contemporary scholars have parsed “religion’s” various analytic deployments. 4 Though the phrase was deployed often by Richard Rorty, it was first used—as he acknowledges—by the philosopher Gustav Bergman in his review of P. F. Strawson’s Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (Bergman 1960, 607). 5 See especially Derrida: “[The historian of writing’s] problems cannot be grasped except at the root of all sciences. Reflection on the essence of mathematics, politics, economics, religion, technology, law, etc., communicates most intimately with the reflection upon and the information surrounding the history of writing” (Derrida 1974, 96). This critical “linguistic turn” has a much-acknowledged genealogy going back, at least, to Nietzsche’s early essay, “Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn” (1873), but it really picked up steam in Anglo-American discourse with Wittgenstein and his continental cohorts. 6 For example, the role of “literary” or “sacred” languages in the expansion of trans-local hegemonies—both Western and non—is ripe for inclusion in these critiques. In the case of Sanskrit, see Pollock 2006; for English, see Wimbush 2001. As for earlier forms of colonialism and cosmopolitanism, the neo-Babylonian empire provides several analogs to the “modern” situation (see Dougherty 2008, 48, 164). In comparative sociology, with a particular emphasis on the role of “elites” and varieties of “otherworldliness” across time and place, see Eisenstadt 1986, 2000. 7 “Race” as a metaphysical category, for example. 8 As Chidester writes, “In the end, I remain convinced that we cannot simply abandon the terms religion and religions because we are stuck with them as a result of a colonial, imperial, and now global legacy” (Chidester 2014, 312). 9 Interestingly, Bellah credits Stevens with teaching him how “[to do] sociology” (Bellah 1974, 9). 10 One could draw relevant examples of this preoccupation from any portion of Stevens’s oeuvre, but I refer to his mid-career lyric “The Idea of Order at Key West,” because it is well known and remains accessible even in excerpt: It was her voice that made The sky acutest at its vanishing. She measured to the hour its solitude. She was the single artificer of the world In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea, Whatever self it had, became the self That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we, As we beheld her striding there alone, Knew that there never was a world for her Except the one she sang and, singing, made. (Stevens [1936] 1997, 106) 11 Indeed, the faculty of creativity may not be exclusively human. The biologist Allison Kaufman and her colleagues, among others, have argued for the presence of creativity in nonhuman animals: “We have offered a wide range of examples of the kinds of behavioral abilities that are argued to play an important role in creativity in animals. These behaviors include novelty recognition, novelty seeking, observational learning, including observational learning of tool use among conspecifics, and innovative behaviors ranging from male bower birds’ construction of elaborate and unique nests with which to attract females, to fashioning and using new tools by chimpanzees” (Kaufman et al. 2011, 267). 12 Calculus is a method for modeling change, representing multivariate systems using functional notations. Without the ability to signify the world, there is no Copernican revolution, no Newton; without mimetics, we are just graceful, hairless bonobos. 13 The English cognate of the French “matériel” has lost its multiple meanings. In French it is both noun and adjective and still carries the meaning of “worldly,” “practical,” and “concrete,” in addition to “equipment,” and “material”; hence my usage of the French in this context. 14 As Gat explains, “While fully acknowledging the tremendous growth of modern nationalism in response to the massive forces of transformation generated by modernity, I am closer to the view of those who criticize and reject the exclusive identification of the nation with modernity… Certainly, nations emerged at a certain (early) point in history, they form and disappear, and are therefore not ‘primordial’ in this sense… And yet, if one accepts modernist theorist Ernest Gellner’s definition of the nation as a rough congruence between culture or ethnicity and state, then nations are not confined to modern times” (Gat 2013, 2). 15 In the world, not of the world, is of course an oft-rehearsed ascetic signifier for Christ’s otherworldliness (John 15:18–19), which can be found throughout Western literature, most famously in Walter Benjamin’s elegiac readings of Charles Baudelaire’s discourse on the flâneur (Benjamin 1968, 1978, 2002). 16 As Sandelin explains, “There is no doubt that Philo considers himself a Jew who is committed to the Jewish nation and its traditions” (Sandelin 2014, 19). 17 In the sections discussed, “έθνος,” as well as its derivative, “ἐθνικός” is most often rendered as “nation.” This particular translation of ethnos as “nation,” or “national” is common, and explicitly defended by Gat (2013, 18–21), as well as Nongbri (2015, 54). 18 As Philo describes it, “Ὁ δὲ Γάιος ἑαυτὸν ἐξετύφωσεν, οὐ λέγων μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ οἰόμενος εἶναι θεός.” Philo, “ΦΙΛΩΝΟΣ ΑΡΕΤΩΝ ΠΡΩΤΟΝ Ο ΕΣΤΙ,” (Philo 1962, 82). F. H. Colson renders this line as, “But Gaius grew beside himself with vanity, not only saying but thinking that he was God.” However, of particular note is that the “vanity” in question is “τύφωσεν,” or “crazy vanity” as opposed to the more familiar version of “vanity” in the New Testament “ματαιότης,” (vanity, purposelessness). To install himself as a God is not an empty boast, but excessive, mad pride, and if Gaius Caligula replaces the Jewish God with his own visage, then the “Jewish” nation ceases to be. In other words, the destruction of the temple is not merely a humiliation; it is an existential threat. It is an anxiety that Philo explicitly articulates a bit further on, as he reflects upon the necessity of the delegation’s sacrifice. “For what religion or righteousness is to be found in vainly striving to show that we are Alexandrians, when we are menaced by the danger which threatens a more universal interest, the corporate body of the Jews? For it is to be feared that the overthrow of the temple will be accompanied by an order for the annihilation of our common name and nation from the man who deals in revolution on so great a scale” (Philo 1962, 101). 19 According to Crone, “The members of the Sasanian ruling elite were thus in a position to see the Sasanian kingdom as the political embodiment of a nation, the Iranians” (Crone 2014, 161). 20 As Seland explains, “Philo belonged to a rich and influential family in Alexandria. His brother Alexander Lysimachus was ‘alabarch,’ probably an office concerned with administration for the paying of taxes and customs” (Seland 2014, 50). 21 “We have labelled this value system Protestant Buddhism, not only because of its incorporation of Protestant values but also because of its radical protest against traditional Buddhism” (Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988, 215). 22 As the translator notes, “The word οικειως suggests μέτοικοι, the foreign residents, who numbered about one-third of the free population of Athens” (Isocrates 1928, n 143). 23 Unfortunately, for Rousseau, like Isocrates, “man” should be taken literally. 24 For an example in the American context, see Marvin and Ingle 1999. 25 This occurred with the Manichean-Gnostics, Donatists, and other “heretical” Christian sects following the establishment of “orthodox” Catholic practices in fourth-century Rome. 26 About the time of the publication of the Panegyricus in 380, Isocrates’s translator tells us, “Athens rose to a position of power and influence as the head of the new naval confederacy, and was, furthermore, acknowledged to be the intellectual capital of the Greek world” (Isocrates 1928, xxviii). 27 Reza Azlan’s recently canceled CNN show, Believer, is an example of this framework in practice, as is the collective hand-wringing that surrounds classification of the apocalyptic Islamic movement Daesh, whose territorial ambition (and barbarism) confounds our contemporary Western notion of righteous religious zeal. 28 Tërâpîm, of which very little is known, existed alongside the national Yahweh cults in the kingdoms of Samaria and Judah, and continued to be “worshiped” even as monotheism was gaining prominence, as is evidenced by the “later biblical texts” that cast teraphim in a critical light (Flynn 2012, 696). 29 And quite possibly the triumph of spatial power diminishes temporal ambition and presages cultural decay. 30 As Foucault remarks, “A good many people, I imagine, harbour a similar desire to be freed from the obligation to begin, a similar desire to find themselves, right from the outside, on the other side of discourse, without having to stand outside it, pondering its particular, fearsome, and even devilish features” (Foucault [1972] 2010, 215). © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of the American Academy of Religion Oxford University Press

“Otherworldly” States: Reimagining the Study of (Civil) “Religion”

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Abstract

Abstract Sociologists since Durkheim have known there is nothing essential about the category “religion,” so why does the category persist? If we can begin to understand why it is still necessary in the twenty-first century for critical theorists to remind us that “religion” is without a vital differentiating element, then perhaps we might begin to imagine more, rather than less, expansive epistemological frameworks. Even as sensitive scholarship works to deconstruct the Enlightened secular typologies that gloss historical inequities, it often misses the cross-cultural patterns of signification that have shaped post-tribal hierarchies for millennia. Critically expanding Robert Bellah’s earlier arguments surrounding American Civil Religion, I argue for the role of the immaterial imagination in the establishment of trans-local, supra-kin communities—both nationalist and religious. Drawing on Philo of Alexandria, Isocrates, and Rousseau, I contend that an expansive theory of otherworldliness is necessary to understand the “modern” world. jamais État ne fut fondé que la religion ne lui servît de base —Jean Jacques Rousseau, Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique I WOULD LIKE TO BEGIN by offering a brief summation of my argument and an explanation of its methodology. My argument is this: otherworldliness is the essence of the “modern” world, and “modern”-minded men and women have been at work imagining that world since at least the time of Isocrates. Moreover, what we call “nations” and “religions” are both manifestations of this otherworldliness. To advance that thesis I offer unique and functional definitions of both “nation” and “religion,” and bring particular literatures to bear to illustrate modernity’s hoary features. However, in what follows I do not explicitly define “otherworldliness,” relying instead on a variety of iterations to expand its more familiar usage. Let me remedy that omission now. Otherworldliness is a subject or social network’s orientation towards a “world” that would cease to exist without that orientation. Given this definition, the Platonic world of forms, historical periodization, race, inalienable rights, not to mention the more obvious “religious” and less obvious “secular” typologies, are all otherworldly. The otherworld may be capricious, cruel, or aloof, but it is not indifferent to human struggle. Whereas this-world, the world of material circumstances, of ephemera, of colliding bodies and humid comets…well, this world’s indifference to us is well known. My methodology is cross-cultural figuration and historical intermediacy. I begin with Robert Bellah’s thesis on American civil religion because its radical implications are largely underappreciated, and because it is roughly contemporary with our own (brief) historical moment. After Bellah, I draw two ancient examples, Philo of Alexandria and Isocrates, towards the intermediate figure, Rousseau, because Philo and Isocrates each exemplify the inadequacy of parceling the world into modern “nations” and ancient “religions,” and Rousseau is largely responsible for innovating the contemporary “secular” understanding of “religion.” These exempla are sufficiently atomized to suggest theoretical scope, but more importantly, their variety is an attempt to remedy the sclerosis that has locked the field of religious studies into subdisciplinary postures, each debating [or bracketing] religion’s status as historical anachronism, vital human concern, or epistemological obfuscation. By the end, I hope it is clear that the same “civil-religious” dynamics Bellah exposed in 1967 have been at issue for centuries. A REASSESSMENT OF THE CIVIL RELIGION THESIS The idea that we can understand something salient about the American experience, about what it means to be an American, by positing an “American civil religion” that binds the nation in a common code (if not creed) (Albanese 1981), is now almost fifty years old. The genesis for this idea is most often attributed to the late sociologist Robert Bellah, whose now classic “Civil Religion in America,” published in Dædalus in 1967, accomplished two incongruous outcomes: it conjured a new discourse, even as it prophesied its troubled future. In his analysis, Bellah not only finds foundational historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address overflowing with soaring sacralizing rhetoric, he also discovers in John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address a similar evangelism: “The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God” (quoted in Bellah 1967, 1). The divine mandate, according to Bellah, was not the purview of the churches solely; it was immanent in American secular-political rhetoric and he wondered why it had taken so long for someone to spot it. As it stands today, this reading of the “religious” nature of prominent American ascriptions is so apparent as to appear nearly pedestrian. In most academic circles, to suggest that there is something called the “American civil religion” is not at all provocative: whether or not the suggestion is contested, the thesis is taken for granted. But is the idea of a “civil” religion taken seriously? Despite the idea’s dissemination, I think the answer is obvious. “Civil” religion is taken seriously enough to be explored through simile—like a religion, as a scripture, similar to a cult, in the manner of a holy site; it is taken seriously enough to be analogized, enough to be used as an analytical tool, the way comparitivist tools are often used: the Pure Land nembutsu is like the Jesus prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example (Unno 2002, 93–99). But the idea is almost always qualified, self-consciously defended, assiduously credited to Bellah, or Rousseau, or de Tocqueville.1 Despite landmark works like Charles Reagan Wilson’s Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920—who argued that the mythology of the Lost Cause established a “Southern religious-moral identity… as a chosen people” (Wilson [1980] 2009, 1)—the idea has not been much expanded beyond its conventional institutional and historical typologies. Instead, the thesis is most often used to add religious color to established frames of reference: the Civil Rights Movement; Southern identity; the rituals of Super Bowl Sunday and presidential inaugurations; the fourth of July and Thanksgiving; the cults of Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington; the flag; the War on Terror; national parks; and the Constitution (Bellah [1975] 1992; Novak 1993; Schmidt 1997; Manis 2002; Blum 2005; Marsh 2008; Haberski 2012; Gardella 2013). But Bellah’s argument that an enlightened “secular” formation, like the United States, was actually a religious formation should have inspired more than a scholarly Easter egg hunt for other American civil reliquaries. The implications of Bellah’s argument, if taken seriously, would have destabilized the entire field. As a point of comparison, we might ask how much the study of Christian origins has changed since 1967. The writings of the earliest Gnostics, and the speculative recreations of Q each reshaped the study of the early church (Meyer 2007; Daley 1991; Kloppenborg 1987). South Asian Buddhism? The role of commercial transactions amongst the early Mahayana emerged as a serious object of study, and upended the orientalist tendencies of the early and mid-twentieth century (Schopen 1996; Clarke 2014). What of the formation of Islam? The well-documented instability of traditional accounts and customary reliance upon isnād has forced Islamists to use source-critical strategies in their arguments, and led the most contrarian to seriously question even sophisticated textually based narratives of Islamic origins (Noth and Conrad 1994; Crone 2003). Jewish mysticism? The divine, rather than kabbalistically feminine, has been reinterpreted as a masculinely inflected hermaphroditic androgyne, and Jewish theurgical speculation has taken historical priority against Christian Gnosticism (Wolfson 1997; Idel 1990). Theology? There were appeals to poetry, an embrace of the postmodern, and black liberation (Tracy 1975, 1981; Cone [1970] 2010). And in the last half-century the cognitive science of religion was not only born, it matured—its rapid ontogenetic development colonizing the entire field (Watts and Turner 2014). But beyond a few notable exceptions, there has been no such advancement of the civil religion thesis.2 The same cannot be said for the critical study of “religion,” which has been thoroughly, if not widely, pursued. “Religion” as a category has been attacked as a reification at best, and a hegemonic Western invention at worst (Arnal and McCutcheon 2013, 28; Masuzawa 2005, 21). Indeed, the instability of the term “religion” and its complicated relationship to “politics” and “power” is a topic of deep concern within the field, and has been for quite some time (Asad 1993, 2003; Mahmood 2005; McCutcheon 2003, 2012; Satlow 2005; Schilbrack 2010).3 But well before these critiques, religion was vivisected by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Leopold von Ranke, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and many other enthusiastic continentals, who found anthropic explanations for its genesis and resilience. Far from vanquishing the category, however, their efforts only reified it for a new generation of scholars, such as Heinrich Zimmer, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Clifford Geertz, Bernard Lonergan, and Huston Smith, who cast “religion” in the role of embattled but earnestly misunderstood antagonist to the modern “secular” moment (Lincoln 2012, 131–36). Although the critical theoretical approaches alive in the field today are continuous with this rough genealogical sketch, they are most intimately motivated by a particular kind of epistemological anxiety. Unleashed in the second half of the twentieth century, this anxiety is often referred to as “the linguistic turn,”4 and its consequences were succinctly characterized by Richard Rorty in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity:5 “To drop the idea of languages as representations, and to be thoroughly Wittgensteinian in our approach to language, would be to de-divinize the world” (Rorty 1989, 19). For his part, Rorty accepts the demystification of language, advances its deconstruction, explores its most problematic conclusions, then reconstructs a viable argument for universal “human” solidarity out of the spare parts. Critical religious studies, however, has not yet succeeded in such a reconstruction. It is still sussing out the implications of the linguistic turn, and as a result has not illuminated much beyond the structural supports exposed by its various historical excavations (i.e., it makes explicit the implicit power relations that sustain post-tribal hierarchies). It must be noted that these critical theoretical approaches are highly valuable in an age that fetishizes the sciences. The demystification of language, and the epistemological anxiety that follows, is an uncomfortable but important reminder that the analytic categories we take for granted have definitive material histories, shaped by competing political and personal relations; indeed, we would be poorer scholars if we read history without them. But these criticisms, as they are typically deployed, have a weakness. They give the impression that lopsided material relations, and the categorical abstractions that buttle for them, originate primarily from Western colonial frameworks. But this is, ironically and unintentionally, a form of Eurocentrism. Western colonialism was (and is) the hemispheric symptom of a technologically advanced hegemonic order, but colonialism and its rhetorical strategies are not a sui generis expression of power. This does not make Western colonialism a less terrible thing—symptoms often kill—but it does mean that essentializing Western colonial history obscures the various other forms of “colonialism” and cosmopolitanism that have been with us for thousands of years,6 just as much as it obscures what is particular about the West.7 Tomoko Masuzawa’s The Invention of World Religions, for example, persuasively argues that the cosmopolitan and democratic “world religions” discourse that emerged in the early twentieth century was an anxious intellectual response to a dangerously interconnected and unstable Western colonial hegemony (Masuzawa 2005, 39–40). However, in illuminating the ways in which the “world religions” discourse marginalized other peoples and their “outdated” traditions by ossifying non-Christian religious practices (Masuzawa 2005, 82–84), she obscures the universal nature of this rhetorical trick. How different, really, was the national-secular boosterism of the “world religions” discourse from the Islamic strategy of casting into the benighted, pre-Mohammedan past other Abrahamic faiths, or Christianity’s anteriorizing fulfillment of Judaic messianism, or the more expansive bodhisattva doctrines of later Mahāsāṃghika schools that opened the way for new interpretations of the dharma? Claiming that our “modern” way is the new, better way is not new at all; it is the oldest trick in the (proverbial) book. Moreover, imperial conquests are often attended by celestial docents. This is a notion implicit in the Buddhist and Jain narratives of the cakravartin (“wheel-turner,” or universal sovereign), whose destiny it is as the dharma’s adjutant to annex the whole earth to establish one harmonious ethical domain. In the case of the expansion of the “world religions” discourse within the academy, it is scholars following colonial soldiers rather than monks following Mauryan warriors (sometimes, of course, the marching order is reversed), but the pattern is the same. Works like Masuzawa’s, and critical religious studies in general, have given us the tools to reflect on the social construction of our own reality, but they have not yet given us the tools to perceive more diverse historical kinships. Continentally inspired critical theorists, however, were not the only ones to notice the instability of the category “religion.” It was already implied in Bellah’s thesis, as he himself said when remarking that “Civil religion in America came into existence in the Winter of 1967 [when he published his essay],” because it was, like every other interpretation of place, “a social construction of reality” (Bellah 1974, 255–56). Leaving aside Bellah’s overweening certainty that he engineered a new “social construction of reality,” what remains is his understanding that no analytic category is essential. This assumption is not a radical one. In the modern West, the most complete and famous expression of epistemological typologies is Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (Kant [1787] 1968), with its well-known synthetic/analytic, a priori/a posteriori mashups. Bellah was not reaching quite so far back, but he was nonetheless on firm philosophical and sociological ground. Certainly if Kant, and David Hume before him, could question the a priori status of cause and effect in the eighteenth century, then “civil religion,” and thus “religion,” as an essential category of human experience must not trouble us too much. In fact, one would not think that categories that are so obviously constructed should cause quite so much handwringing amongst those whose job it is to interrogate these assemblages, but they do. Because of that, it is worth stating, in the clearest possible terms, the implications of Bellah’s argument before we depart from it: in short, religion-making is not just shaping or inflecting modern geopolitics (a tepid claim at best); rather, religion-making is modern geopolitics (from “manifest destiny” to a “man on the moon”). Hopefully, stripped of its similes and “for instances,” the radical nature of Bellah’s claim is made clear. RELIGIONS, NATIONS, AND THE IMAGINATION With or without a reassessment of Bellah, we now know that “religion” as an organizing framework emerged from Western colonial discourses. Following works like Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (Nongbri 2015) and David Chidester’s Empire of Religion: Imperialism and Comparative Religion (Chidester 2014), it would be difficult to argue otherwise.8 So let us acknowledge, without qualification, that “religion” is a product of the Western imagination. Unfortunately, that only gets us so far. Arguing, for example, that nations are “imagined communities,” as Benedict Anderson does (Anderson 1983), does not mean that nations lose their orienting powers. That nations are “imagined” does not mean, in other words, that nations are without substance—some semiotic con that has ensorcelled the masses. Unlike a magic trick, understanding the way a nation is conjured does not dispel its effect. Likewise, elaborating upon the ways in which “religion,” and “world religions” are a colonially motivated discourse does not mean that these categories will cease to exist for scholars, let alone laypeople. So rather than add my voice to the chorus declaring that “religion,” and thus “civil religion,” is an indefensible analytic category, I would ask a different question: Why has this category persisted? Sociologists since Durkheim have known these categories are not essential, so why do they persist? If we can understand that, then perhaps we might have the opportunity to imagine more expansive epistemological frameworks. As I have already said, Bellah’s argument for an American civil religion implies that the American “nation” is an expression of the American “religion.” What Bellah did not see, however, was that in a post-Enlightenment context, “nation” and “religion” are terms of art, signifiers that denote the flawed politics of this-world and the transcendent hope of a forever-possible otherworld. Because of this, the full force of his argument was not easily absorbed. When we discuss Rousseau’s Social Contract, it will become clear that both “nations” and “religions” are interdependent, otherworldly social formations—“imagined communities” oriented along transcendental axes. Indeed, regardless of what kind of trans- local, supra-kin community we are analyzing—country, empire, or bourgeois-oppressed-proletariat—otherworldliness is at work: not as an unrecognized “dimension,” but as the very thing itself. It is in this way that America is as otherworldly as any other “religion” is, and why attempts to parse the political and religious dimensions of these categories remain indeterminate. As critical historical studies of the last fifty years have driven home, “America” is a violent reification, a Western political portmanteau, and the American “way of life” is a military footnote, a legacy of racial animus and arbitrarily applied legal codes. Yet in spite of its sanguinary historical legacy, America remains a hopeful imaginary. Even though it is ritualized, policed, and possessed of Olympian powers, it is still a contingent system of social significations—a work of the immaterial imagination that projects a better world. This may seem like a point too obvious to belabor, but I would remind the reader that we are not inclined to think in such terms. Everything in our socialization contrives to reinforce what Mary Douglas calls “structural amnesia” (Douglas 1986, 10). This amnesia is a kind of epistemological constraint that conceals the aporia at the heart of our contingent social identities. It convinces us over and over again that what is manifestly artificial is, in fact, given, and like the Lernaean Hydra, when we struggle against it we augment it. Perhaps the most relevant example of this mechanism in the American context is race, what Stewart Hall calls the “floating signifier” (Hall 1996). Critical studies and radical progressive politics, for all their admirable intentions, often inadvertently reify and obscure racial significations by dwelling on the material circumstances of hegemonic discourses, while leaving the prosocial aspirations of oppressed communities unexplored. But this does not only apply to race. Concealment (or amnesia) of the immaterial imagination in the secular frame defines the process of secularization, as well as its critiques, and leads to analyses that overemphasize material power dynamics in their assessment of ancient and contemporary social formations. This overemphasis has several consequences, some of which include the abjuration of human agency and the inability to properly read inter-cultural exchange, but most importantly for this analysis, a blindness to the presence of otherworldliness in nation formation. As I mentioned previously, Benedict Anderson was the first to describe nation-states as “imagined communities,” and although I will be discussing Anderson’s theory, it is not his use of the imagination I would model. To intertwine the varying registrations of otherworldliness that will be presented into a singular analysis, I would rather follow the American poet Wallace Stevens’s more expansive understanding of the imagination,9 described here in a letter he wrote to the English professor and linguist Leonidas Warren Payne Jr. in 1928: To the One of Fictive Music: … It is not only children who live in a world of the imagination. All of us do that. But after living there to the degree that a poet does, the desire to get back to the everyday world becomes so keen that one turns away from the imaginative world in a most definite and determined way… after too much midnight, it is pleasant to hear the milkman, and yet, and this is the point of the poem, the imaginative world is the only real world, after all. (Stevens 1966, 251–52) For Stevens, the whole human world is imagined: not just poems—or nation-states, for that matter. He understood that the imagination is more than a human faculty; it is the human faculty—homo imaginari—and he spent his entire career exploring in verse the extent of its domain.10 In contemporary usage, “imagination” is often tethered too tightly to our evolutionarily inherited capacity for “creativity.”11 This gives the term a kind of unfocused ubiquity that counter-intuitively obscures its scope. Creativity is a sophisticated biological urge that very likely contributes positively to an animal’s chances of reproductive success (Reader and Laland 2003, 92), but imagination is a learned tekhne. Certainly the imagination is a creative process, but its etymological connection through the Latin imago to “copy,” “mask,” “ghost,” and “echo,” is more descriptive of our peculiar human capacity to re-present the world to ourselves—to conjure what is lost and invoke what has never been. Through mimetics we can bring the dead back to life, wander through past lives, and sling probes past Jupiter’s well into the darkness between stars.12 By signifying the world, we have mastered the world…or, by sinister inversion, we have enslaved it. I am certainly not the first to claim the imagination’s terrific powers—nor was Stevens. Immanuel Kant, for one, took the role of the imagination seriously in the construction of knowledge. In his formulation, vorstellung is an indispensable linkage in the creation of empirical consciousness—dependently linked to sense and apperception. The imagination’s “reproductive synthesis” Kant claimed, is the “transcendental ground of the possibility of all cognition” (Kant 1998, 230). One hundred years later, and closer to home, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay “Beauty,” praised the imagination’s metamorphic powers: “The feat of the imagination is in showing the convertibility of every thing into every other thing… All the facts in Nature are nouns of the intellect, and make the grammar of the eternal language. Every word has a double, treble, or centuple use and meaning” (Emerson [1876] 1983, 1102). The imagination for Emerson is closely linked to his thinking about the fundamental “correspondence” between nature and mind (Emerson [1876] 1983, 645), the exploration of which is the (often misread) foundation of his entire body of work. However, in spite of the long history of the “imagination” in Western discourse, it is Benedict Anderson and his still influential Imagined Communities (1983) who made the term a respectable member of the contemporary social sciences. With that said, although the power I ascribe to the imagination throughout my analysis is indebted to Wallace Stevens, Kant, and Emerson’s expansive understanding, and I am following Anderson in his description of the nation-state, it is my particular inflection that emphasizes its materiel,13 its deep history, and its role in the creation and maintenance of otherworldly relations. Anderson’s work was the first to theorize “the nation” as a modern historical phenomenon, and in doing so he made a simple but sweeping claim: the nation “is an imagined political community,” because most of its members will never in any intelligible sense come to know one another, yet will nevertheless believe themselves to be part of “a deep, horizontal comradeship” (Anderson 1983, 7). Furthermore, this community of the mind is both “inherently limited,” possessing borders and frontiers (i.e., it does not aspire to universality), and inherently “sovereign,” beholden to no other power than its own unique mandate to realize its destiny. His argument relies on the historical developments of widespread literacy, mass communication, and the dissolution of the “divine right” theory of political legitimacy. Anderson, as we will discuss, finds the “nation” to be a much more recent social development than I, following scholars like Shmuel Eisenstadt and Azar Gat,14 believe it to be, but his emphasis on the “imagined” nature of this trans-local social structure is crucial for my argument. By my reckoning nations are not an outcome of the Enlightenment, but they are in fact unimaginable without the otherworldly registrations Anderson describes. In fact, if we accept Gat’s argument that “nations” are the institutional and geographic representation of ethnic and/or cultural identities, then it would seem that the nations that have proliferated in this secular age are more otherworldly than they have ever been. Consider, for example, the ethnic and cultural diversity of the United States, China, Mexico, or India. These “national” social networks are not only geographically extensive and ethnically diverse, they are historically aspirational: Mao Zedong imagined an ascendant China by invoking a revolutionary continuity with the third-century BCE emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, during the Cultural Revolution (Schram 1989, 177–81); Mexico on its coat of arms uses Aztecan iconography to imagine the continuity between its precolonial past and its postcolonial future (Vaughan 2006, 51, 289); and India has long imagined the nation as contiguous with its great mythological epics (Pollock 1993). This is not to suggest that ethnic and linguistic politics do not roil these nations, only that their narratives of civic inclusivity and transcendental citizenship rely on an intensification of otherworldliness less common in earlier iterations of the nation—an imagined otherworldliness exemplified in the American Pledge of Allegiance: “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” The “imagined” nation, as Anderson argues using less “religious” terminology, is not a power of this world, though it is certainly in this world;15 this-world is the arena in which its otherworldly power manifests; where it becomes known; where it problematically incarnates. It is not, however, of this-world in the way our bodies are, or trees and rivers and rocks are. It lives in maps and monuments, scriptures and signs, ideas. Ironically, however, its otherworldly residence is precisely the source of its potency. Elleke Boehmer, for example, in analyzing the elusive cultural and military power of the British empire under Queen Victoria, finds not only technological advantages, but perhaps more importantly, a vast “textual enterprise” whose imaginative potency far exceeds the empire’s material power: “The Empire in its heyday was conceived and maintained in an array of writings… The triple-decker novel and the best-selling adventure tale, both definitive Victorian genres, were infused with imperial ideas of race pride and national prowess (Boehmer 2005, 13). And though a nation can motivate and mobilize men and women to its defense, and inspire them to war, it is not of this world, and can only be invoked by various forms of ascesis—rituals, blood sacrifices, scriptures (Marvin and Engle 1999; Wimbush 2012). Without these ascetic practices the nation has no power. What power, after all, does a Roman edict have in the twenty-first century? The code of Hammurabi? Their material persists but their potency is gone. “Nations” are, as “religions” are, imagined correspondences between this-worldly praxis and other-worldly orders—though each is oriented towards different, even divergent transcendental axes. This is not Anderson’s language, but it fits well with his argument of “deep” and “imagined” comradeship. For Anderson’s part, one of the key differences between religiously imagined communities and nationally imagined communities is that one, the religious, relies on an essentially “vertical” conception of time, and the other, the nation, relies on a “horizontal” conception of time. As Anderson explains, “What has come to take the place of the mediaeval conception of simultaneity-along-time is, to borrow again from Benjamin, an idea of ‘homogenous, empty time,’ in which simultaneity is, as it were, transverse, cross-time, marked not by prefiguring and fulfillment, but by temporal coincidence, and measure by clock and calendar” (Anderson 1983, 24–25). Anderson, following Benjamin, has struck upon an important aspect of secular otherworldliness and one of the peculiar ways in which it maps this-world. It imaginatively collapses space (e.g., “the global village”) and turns time into an empty but infinite sequence. This is the essence of modern communal anxiety. Everything is too close together. Someone, somewhere else in the world right now (terrorist, immigrant, other) is threatening our home. Alternate social worlds are terrifyingly intimate, the political proximity of others always too close, while time is only a banal concatenation of meaningless events—one day after another after another. This is the angst of globalization, of an interconnected world upon which we depend, as we once depended on God’s grace. It is the inverse of nonsecular time, which collapses time rather than space. At any moment history will be redeemed, made meaningful. When the messiah returns, when all sufferers are enlightened, when every being is judged by the Almighty, history will show itself to be what it always-already is—a sacred cosmogony. I extend and briefly elaborate Anderson’s analysis to make the point that both categories, whether secular or non, are imagined correspondences with an otherworldly order. Whether time or space is imaginatively collapsed, an otherworldly order is used to map this-world’s concrete specificities. Perhaps the secular conceptualization of time has fostered the proliferation of nations—perhaps—but it seems to me that Anderson relies too much on this schema when theorizing the nation. Nations do not necessarily require secular time nor do religions always collapse time, as we will see. Contra Anderson, Azar Gat argues that religions were often complicit in the growth of premodern nationalism. “Rather than conflicting with the national idea, as it is conventionally and erroneously assumed to have been, religion was one of its strongest pillars. It was, in fact, the most powerful and all-pervasive mass medium of the premodern ‘imagined community,’ which Benedict Anderson has failed to recognize” (Gat 2013, 11). I am partial to Gat’s analysis on this issue, but Anderson is an astute reader of the modern moment, and rather than discard him, I would extend his use of the imagination to include institutionalized otherworldliness in general. As we will see, otherworldliness is an indispensable aspect of nationalism, or proto-nationalism in the case of the Greeks, and runs from the Athenians, through Judaea, right up to Rousseau’s advocacy for a civil religion in The Social Contract. CULTURAL HYBRIDITY AND THE CASE FOR AN EXPANSIVE OTHERWORLDLINESS Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE–50 CE) Philo Judaeus of Alexandria stands within our scholarly pantheon as the embodied consummation of Hellenism and Judaism. According to Karl-Gustav Sandelin, Italian scholar Roberto Radice claimed that “Philo believed only in those principles which are true according to both Moses and Plato” (Sandelin 2014, 19). Roughly contemporaneous with Paul and Jesus, Philo was, like most educated elites in the Levant, a product of cultural hybridization: platonic philosophy filtered through Alexander’s imperial conquests, inflected by Egyptian Ptolemaic cultural traditions, and circumscribed by Roman political realities. Yet he was firmly committed to his Jewish “national” identity.16 So committed to this identity, as he recounts in The Embassy on Gaius, that he, along with the entire Jewish “nation” (έθνος),17 was willing to die rather than accept the installation of the emperor’s effigy in the temple in Jerusalem. In fact, most of Philo’s account in The Embassy on Gaius is an elaboration of the unjust persecutions suffered by the Jews at the hands of the Alexandrians and the reprobate emperor Gaius Caligula, who elevates himself above the law, and comes to believe himself a god.18 As Philo reports it, when it comes time for Caligula’s legate, Petronius, to execute his command to renovate the temple, the entire nation appears before Petronius like a Greek chorus and their lamentation achieves a singular lugubrious pitch: “When the multitude of the Jews suddenly descended like a cloud and occupied the whole of Phoenicia… the first thing to be observed was the great shouting which arose mingled with weeping and smiting of breasts, so great that it was more than the ears of those present could contain” (Philo 1962, 119). After the entire nation makes supplication before Petronius and he bids them come nearer, its elders offer their gory bargain: One thing only we ask in return for all, that no violent changes should be made in this temple and that it be kept as we received it from our grandparents and ancestors. But if we cannot persuade you, we give up ourselves for destruction that we may not live to see a calamity worse than death. We hear that forces of cavalry and infantry have been prepared against us if we oppose the installation… But what need of an army! Ourselves will conduct the sacrifices, priests of a noble order: wives will be brought to the altar by wife-slayers, brothers and sisters by fratricides, boys and girls in the innocence of their years by child-murderers… Then standing in the midst of our kinsfolk after bathing ourselves in their blood, the right bathing for those who would go to Hades clean, we will mingle our blood with theirs by the crowning slaughter of ourselves. When we are dead let the prescript be carried out; not God himself could blame us who had a twofold motive, respectful fear of the emperor and loyalty to the consecrated laws. And this aim will be accomplished if we take our departure in contempt of the life which is no life. (Philo 1962, 121, 123) Rather than surrender the temple to “violent change,” Philo offers up himself and his entire nation as paschal rams to be sacrificed. If the temple is defiled, then life for the Jews is literally “no life” (ἀβιώτου). Their nation will cease to exist. Martyrdom, for Philo, is the preferred consequence to an existence without essence. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a clearer expression of religious-nationalism, or otherworldliness, than this existential irony. Slavery does not threaten the nation. As Roman vassals, the abjuration of autonomous political power is acceptable, and continued persecution is preferred even to anonymity, but to do “violence” to the temple is to suffer a calamity worse than death—meaninglessness. But what does it mean to call a first-century philosophically trained Jewish aristocrat a “nationalist”? Even given Gat’s more expansive schema we should be cautious with this attribution. The term’s ubiquity in contemporary identity politics begs qualification in the ancient context. It is likely, for example, that all those “ethnic” Jews that Philo summons from the dust to plead with Petronius were little more than rhetorical golems. What would it mean, for example, for a poor, marginalized, and illiterate “Jewish” family on the outskirts of Alexandria circa 40 CE to have “national pride”? That communities were identifiable by common ritual, language, and shared sacrifice is undeniable, but this is not the same thing as coherent Jewish nationalism. Jerusalem and its loosely associated diasporic communities were, as large-scale social formations have always been, an amalgam of social castes—a barely coherent compilation of competing creeds, sects, and significations. Gerd Theissen summarizes the social tensions alive during Philo’s time: “The moderate attitude of the inhabitants of Jerusalem was based on the common interest of the populace and the aristocracy in the status quo of the city and the temple. By contrast, all the renewal movements with roots in the country were inevitably in opposition to the temple, which represented the existing social and religious system” (Theissen 1978, 54). The kind of nationalist commitments that Philo advocates take time and vested material interests: time that only elites can manage, interests only they possess. In her last book, the late Islamicist Patricia Crone attempts to recover the long-obscured history of Zoroastrianism within the early Islamic republics, and in doing so she offers a succinct, qualified assessment of the kind of early state nationalism we are discussing. She argues that “members of the ruling elite, such as aristocrats and priests, might well have seen the kingdom or empire that defined their roles in life as central to their identity.” As a result of this relationship, she suggests it is not unreasonable to conceptualize these ancient empires and kingdoms as nations, or proto-nations (Crone 2014, 161). Philo’s relationship to his people and their institutions is, mutatis mutandis, reasonably analogous to Crone’s nationalist specimen, the Iranian king Ardashir I (180–242 CE).19 Given Philo’s social status,20 “nationalist” commitments, and political networks, it would seem that nationalism appears to arise when the institutional interdependency of elites reaches the necessary critical mass rather than when, following Anderson, newspapers and representative governments flourish; in other words, the “nation” is not dependent on widespread literacy and the printing press, but on bureaucratic stability. If we accept, with appropriate qualifications, the possibility that Philo was expressing “nationalist” sentiments for which he was willing to sacrifice himself and others, then we must accept the possibility that the “civil” religion Bellah theorized is not simply the emergent property of a secular Enlightenment ideology. By this light, nation-states appear less like a discontinuous secular genesis rising out of Anderson’s “horizontal” time, and more like a rough but continuous social phenomenon. And even if we agree that secular time fosters nationalisms, we must withhold the privileged status afforded to the modern moment. To argue that the emergence of the nation-state is a miraculous but illegitimate child of techno-capital proliferations and papal decay, as Anderson does, requires that we ignore or strongly misread counter-examples like Philo of Alexandria and Crone’s Ardashir I. The effect of reading these examples in the way I am proposing is to bring Philo and his various cultural and philosophical commitments much closer to the modern-postmodern-posthuman world that many speciously insist is accelerating into some mutant future (Nayer 2014, 2). In this context, something like Gananath Obeyesekere’s “Protestant Buddhism”21—his somewhat disparaging term for the anti-Christian protest Buddhism that nonetheless mimicked Protestant Christian structures (Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988, 215)—does not look so uniquely “colonial” compared to Philo’s hybridization of Hellenism and Mosaic law. How different, really, was Philo’s task from Nelson Mandela’s? Gandhi’s? Aung San Suu Kyi’s? All of these figures were marginalized elites with nationalist agendas and spliced cultural commitments. Shmuel Eisenstadt calls these figures, and many others throughout history, peripheral or “secondary” elites (Eisenstadt 1986, 14). Still, although Philo presents a compelling example of nationalism in premodern times, it could be objected that the otherworldly aspects of his patriotism are too tightly tethered to “religion” in the traditional sense of the word (whatever that sense may be) to be counted: a pious Jew contesting Caligula’s venal political injustice. So let us look at another, more “worldly” Western example, one less susceptible to such an objection. Isocrates (436 BCE–338 BCE) Isocrates, the great Athenian rhetorician, was very likely a close companion and friend to Socrates, which puts him in company with the “father” of Western philosophy, Plato (Isocrates 1928, xvi). Regard for Isocrates and his contributions to Athens’s “golden age” has waxed and waned over time. Up until the Renaissance he was considered by scholars to have been central to Athens’s civic life, but the rise of Plato’s reputation as the progenitor of philosophy, and Plato’s well known disdain for rhetoric, gradually eroded Isocrates’s privileged position at the Grecian fount (Poulakos and Depew 2004, Kindle location 96–99). He has, however, moderately recovered since the 1990s with renewed scholarly interest (Too 1995; Vitanza 1997). That said, it should be noted that by sheer scope and ambition, Isocrates’s literary production cannot compare to Plato’s. He produced no works that can match The Republic, or Symposium, or Laws. Still, Isocrates’s influence during his lifetime was immense. His school of rhetoric was one of the most successful in fifth-century BCE Athens and his Panegyricus was widely disseminated and admired. Written for the one-hundredth Olympiad, the Panegyricus was an oral argument for the primacy of Athens in the leadership of a “culturally” unified Greece. I qualify “culture” in this context because although Isocrates expressed opposition to the internecine conflicts that were plaguing the city-states, his argument, like most rabble-rousing orations, does not delve into the messy particulars of political unification. It should not be glossed over that it is impossible to detach Athenian “cultural” supremacy from the “cultural” subordination of the other Greek polities. It is in this sense that his rhetoric was a vehicle for otherworldliness. In Isocrates’s oration, Hellenic unification is imagined, fashioned out of the ritual signs of the Olympiad. Indeed, in Isocrates’s argument we will recognize that uncanny Athenian orientation called “philosophy,” which many still profess possesses transcendent power. Moreover, [Athens] has established her polity in general in such a spirit of welcome to strangers and friendliness to all men, that it adapts itself both to those who lack means and to those who wish to enjoy the means which they possess, and that it fails to be of service neither to those who are prosperous nor to those who are unfortunate in their own cities… Now the founders of our great festivals are justly praised for handing down to us a custom by which… we come together in one place, where, as we make our prayers and sacrifices in common, we are reminded of the kinship which exists among us… and the multitude of people who visit us is so great that, whatever advantage there is in our associating together, this also has been compassed by our city, Athens… for the judgements pronounced by us command such great approbation that all mankind accept them gladly. But apart from these considerations, while the assemblages at the other great festivals are brought together only at long intervals and are soon dispersed, our city throughout all time is a festival for those who visit her [italics mine]. Philosophy, moreover, has helped to discover and establish all these institutions, which has educated us for public affairs and made us gentle towards each other, which has distinguished between the misfortunes that are due to ignorance and those which spring from necessity, and taught us to guard against the former and to bear the latter nobly—philosophy, I say, was given to the world by our city [italics mine]. (Isocrates 1928, 143–47) Clearly, Athens’s preeminence is the central theme of Isocrates’s rhetoric here. He thunders with patriotic verve for his city. Athens, he claims, draws even strangers (οικειως)22 into its gracious orbit, its culture a welcomed and preternaturally just sovereign—“for the judgements pronounced by us command such great approbation that all mankind accept them gladly [ἀγαπᾶσθαι]” (Isocrates 1928, 147). As suggestive as Norlin’s translation is, omitted from his rendering of this passage is the possibility that this form of αγαπαω (ἀγαπᾶσθαι) is in the future tense: “that all mankind will accept them gladly.” This does not substantively alter the translation in this context, but it does accentuate the aspirational quality of Isocrates’s rhetoric—his appeal to the promise of a better world. Moreover, it is Athenian “philosophy” that will make this wonder possible. Philosophy at this time in Greece’s history was a far more fluid locution than it would later become (Isocrates 1928, xxvi-xxvii; Jaeger 1967, 43); however, its preeminence is here already manifest (Poulakos and Depew 2004, Kindle locations 520–22). It is, in fact, a power that has been “given [κατέδειξε] to the world,” a method of salvation; it teaches us how to bear suffering, how to be compassionate; it even teaches us how to fashion an apparently eternal city that will endure “throughout all time [αἰῶνα],” an Elysium, a “city on the hill” for all. Isocrates’s proselytizing goes still farther; it is, in fact, Athens and its philosophy that makes us human: And Athens it is that has honoured eloquence, which all men crave and envy in its possessors; for she realized that this is the one endowment of our nature which singles us out from all living creatures, and that by using this advantage we have risen above them in all other respects as well… And so far has our city distanced the rest of mankind in thought and in speech that her pupils have become the teachers of the rest of the world; and she has brought it about that the name “Hellenes” suggests no longer a race but an intelligence, and that the title “Hellenes” is applied rather to those who share our culture than to those who share a common blood. (Isocrates 1928, 147–49) It is in this slippage between the abstract, pedagogical power of “philosophy,” and the local, elect community of “Athens”—the rhetorical interdependency of the universal and the particular—that gives the Athenians, the chosen of the “Hellenes,” the power to teach their “culture” (παιδεύσεως) to the world; it bestows upon them the responsibility to convert others to their (superior) way of life—to anoint the uninitiated. This universalization of the particular, the transubstantiation of “common blood” (κοινῆς) into uncommon “intelligence” (διανοίας), is a hallmark of what we like to call “world religions.” “Intelligence” here is that otherworldly orientation that literally, according to Isocrates, transcends this-worldly kinship. Moreover, the verb Isocrates uses to expresses this “intelligence” is a form of the verb δοκέω (δοκεῖν), “to think, suppose, imagine, expect,” as opposed to Plato’s privileged form of “knowing,” ἐπίσταμαι, which implies a concrete material apprehension, quite different from Isocrates’s nearly subjunctive δοκέω—“imagined,” “seeming.” Isocrates is, in other words, rhetorizing an “imagined community” of culturally unified Hellenes. Of course, Isocrates’s position is the inverse of Philo’s. One rising, the other in decline, Philo trying to hold onto a diminished religio-political identity in the face of cultural domination, and Isocrates inciting his fellow Athenians to extend theirs. Yet their objectives would be as recognizable to one another as they are to us. They were each cultural elites invested in a large-scale social formation that we could defensibly call “nationalist” as well as “religious.” Isocrates’s aesthetic invocation of philosophy as a transcendent Hellenic principle—the hope of every man (though certainly not woman)—sounds a familiar call: to rise above the helter-skelter arena of politics and contested desires into the welcoming light of equality and fellowship requires only our fidelity to a common transcendent principle. For Isocrates that was philosophy, but different epochs and langues invoke different themes. For Mosaic scribal elites of the first century, such as Philo, that principle was God’s law, as well as its earthly iterations. But for every cultural hybrid there is an inevitable plot complication in the story of universal transcendence—how to reconcile antagonistic universal orders. This complication remains, but it has been somewhat obscured in the post-Enlightenment discourse by Jean Jacques Rousseau’s innovative approach to the problem of competing otherworldly orders. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) Rousseau, who Bellah argues first articulated the need for a civil religion, recognized the problem of conflicting social mythologies, and in response strongly advocated for the necessity of communal assent, or tolerance, in an Enlightened democracy. In chapter 8 of The Social Contract he supports the view that “‘each man is perfectly free with regard to that which does not harm others’” (Rousseau 1988, 172). In the pursuit of that principle, however, Rousseau has been roundly criticized for his prosecution of “totalitarian” methods: Without being able to obligate anyone to believe [the articles of the civil faith] the sovereign can banish from the state anyone who does not believe them; it can banish him not for being impious but for being unsociable, for being incapable… of sacrificing his life, if need be, for his duty. If, after having publicly acknowledged these same dogmas, someone behaves as though he does not believe them, let his punishment be death. (Rousseau 1988, 172) It is this claim to the state’s power over life and death, and the necessity of sacrifice, that gives Rousseau’s defenders so much trouble. How could this trenchant critic of the Enlightenment, who was so suspicious of the inflated claims of reason, so skeptical of civilization’s benign progress, so unwavering in his defense of freedom and the inherent nobility of man,23 how could this archetypal philosophe advocate so unselfconsciously for state power? This question, however, does not trouble us, because Philo has already elaborated, in ghoulish detail, what might be required to defend the “nation,” and the Enlightenment’s nomenclatures do not change this.24 For Rousseau’s part, his “civil” religion was a solution to a very concrete problem—the accelerating erosion of papal political power, and the spread of a pluralizing, vernacular otherworldliness. In arguing for a civil religion, Rousseau offers an interpretation of European history that legitimizes the rising power of the state over and against the declining power of Catholic institutions. It has become our habit to describe the principles of the Enlightenment as “secular,” and however broadly we might like to define that category, it is clear that, in chapter 8 of Rousseau’s The Social Contract at least, secularity has nothing to do with a diminished otherworldliness. On the contrary, Rousseau’s objective at the conclusion of The Social Contract is proper religious alignment, not abrogation. The true Christian is politically gelded in order to promote, as his argument goes, civic piety. The church and the state require discrete domains; this was the precondition for and handmaid to the nascent power of the modern European nation-state. In his historical revision, Rousseau goes so far as to retroactively excommunicate medieval crusaders from Christian ranks: Without disputing the valor of the crusaders, I shall point out that far from being Christians, they were soldiers of the priest, they were citizens of the church; they were fighting for its spiritual home, which the church, we know not how, had made temporal. Rightly understood, this should be accounted as paganism; since the Gospel established no national religion, holy war is impossible among Christians. (Rousseau 1988, 171) Undoubtedly, the Jews who were murdered by crusaders in the Rhineland massacre of 1096, and the Muslim Turks who battled them later on the Anatolia plane in 1097 would have disputed Rousseau’s characterization of “the Christian.” This proprietary realignment, however, is a common strategy in apologetics: these behaviors are a misrepresentation of our true beliefs; this is not the real Gospel; these are not our people. Alternate interpretations of the otherworldly order require subordination to advance the “proper” political arrangements.25 Rousseau establishes the free-market tenants of the “true” Christian faith, tenants that are—conveniently for this proto-Jacobin Protestant—divorced from such terrestrial proclivities as acquisitiveness and bellicosity, for the same reason that Isocrates claimed the Athenian elite had become “teachers of the rest of the world” for their “eloquence” (λόγους), without waxing poetic about the military power of the Athenian navy:26 legitimate political power requires an otherworldly disinterest in power. “Christianity is a completely spiritual religion,” Rousseau writes, “concerned solely with heavenly matters; the Christian’s homeland is not of this world… If the state is flourishing, he [the Christian] hardly dares to enjoy the public happiness… if the state is in decline, he blesses the hand of God which weighs heavily on his people” (Rousseau 1988, 170). From our contemporary vantage this seems an overly idealized interpretation of “the Christian,” but it has a long history. Think, for example, of Augustine’s conception of Christian humility in the face of worldly consequences in the City of God (Augustine 1957, 510) or the early martyrs’ canonical temporal failures, or Jesus’s famous rendering unto Caesar (Matt. 22:21). The pattern is familiar: the true religion of Christ is one unsullied by material want, untethered from worldly aspirations. It is a very old refrain, one side of the long pas de deux between asceticism and worldliness that shaped early Christian church history (Wimbush 1987, 96). More importantly, however, it is a fantastic misreading of that history. Christianity’s 1,500-year history of war, aggressive territorial expansion, and commercial coercions is not the either/or world of the radical prophet (i.e., the “spiritual” church corrupted by the “venal” state), but the both/and reality of actual material human history. To be clear, no polemic is intended in my breezy assessment of Christian history. No political unity larger than a kibbutz is unblemished by violence—though territorial expanse is probably correlated to cruelty. Of course many complicated mercies and orderly compassions closely attended the church’s expansive history (Prieto 2011, 63), but Rousseau’s description of the church’s otherworldly disinterest serves a purpose, and that purpose is worldly. His summation of the Christian faith is a distillation of the Protestant narrative that gave birth to the Enlightenment: namely, the centralized authority of the Catholic church was corrupt, venal, indulgent, and un-Christian, and only vernacularization could bring the true Christian back to the principles of the earliest church. In other words, the Catholic Church declined because it was deeply compromised by worldly concerns, because it was not functioning in accord with God’s will. Reciprocally, another church could rise (or fall) by those very terms—by man’s propinquity to God. “Thus, what remains is the religion of man or Christianity, not the Christianity of today but that of the Gospel, which is altogether different,” Rousseau says, claiming true religion binds all people in proper relation. “Through this religion which is holy, sublime, and true, men, as children of the same God, all acknowledge each other as brothers, and the society that unites them is not dissolved even by death” (Rousseau 1988, 170). Divorcing Christianity’s fortunes from its political history and tethering it (implicitly) to divine providence, as Rousseau does, is one of the Enlightenment’s most enduring and consequential errors. Indeed, it abides in the teleological narrative of liberal democratic progress, a story in which the virtuous shall rise, the most rational reign, and democracy’s kingdom come. It is upon the proper relations of Rousseau’s Christian to this-world that the otherworldliness of the civil religion rests, and out of which our confusion about the nature of “religion” and “politics” has grown. In the secular frame, stripped of its Christian specificity, this looks like the effort to recover the authentic intent of germinal religious movements, properly interpret their “scriptures,” sanctify diversity (i.e. vernacularism), and reveal the numinous unity that binds antagonistic social networks to “religion’s” invisible desmesne.27 And though Rousseau is often understood to be one of the progenitors of the modern “secular” nation-state, I think it is clear at this point that we cannot understand “secular” to be the binary pole of “religion,” or an articulation of its absence: the “civil religion” and the “Christian religion,” for Rousseau, are both otherworldly registrations. The “Christian religion,” in its various Protestant iterations, engenders the tolerance (i.e., communal ascent) necessary to guarantee the highest principle of the civil religion, namely liberty, by placing Christian or what we now simply call “religious” concerns within a world constantly deferred (e.g., “the Christian’s homeland is not of this world”). Furthermore, Rousseau adds that “it is of great importance to the state for each citizen to have a religion that makes him love his duties, but the dogmas of this religion interest neither the state nor its members” (Rousseau 1988, 172). Indeed, as we saw in the previous paragraph, its dogmas are of concern only as they relate to death, since it is to this hopeful community that men are mutually bound after the corruptions of this world are borne. I would go so far as to suggest that the religion of Rousseau’s The Social Contract is better understood as henotheistic. His “privatization” of worship, and his reimagination of Christianity’s historical development turns the plethora of vernacular Christianities (i.e., sectarian Christian practices) that flourished on the other side of the Reformation into what are effectively European “household gods,” closer in function to Hebrew tërâpîm (Hoffner 1967, 230–38; Flynn 2012, 694–711; Torn, Becking, and Horst 1999)28 than to mutually antagonistic but unified disputations about the King-of-Kings and His only son. This relationship between household gods and the chief (or “national”) God or gods well describes the expressions of otherworldliness we have witnessed in all of our examples—Philo, Isocrates, and Rousseau—and also closely resembles our own contemporary Western situation: the members of secondary otherworldly networks (Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, spiritualists, etc.) find communal unity by orienting themselves towards another more pristine world, one devoid of this-world’s bloody (but nonetheless otherworldly) political orders; and by properly aligning themselves to this other-world, they become better citizens of this one. CONCLUSION I hope it is now clear that there is a pattern to the otherworldly relations that large-scale social formations, and their scholarly paladins, rely upon to orient their collectives to common purpose. The ethnos (i.e., nation), as manifestation of an imagined order, provides a point of reference around which competing forms of otherworldliness arrange themselves—even if that ethnos is subordinate, as in Philo’s case. Rousseau had some insight into this dynamic when he wrote, “jamais État ne fut fondé que la religion ne lui servît de base” (“never has a state been founded without religion as its basis”) (Rousseau [1762] 1963, 112). As we have seen, both religions and nations are rooted, like the Kabbalistic tree, in an otherworld, but if that is so, how then do they differ, and why do these categories persist in our scholarship? As to how they differ, let me suggest that the more intensely an otherworldly social formation manifests terrestrial concerns (e.g., territorial sovereignty, ethno-linguistic hierarchies), the more unproblematically we refer to that formation as “nationalist,” and the more intensely an otherworldly social formation manifests temporal concerns (e.g., proper ancestral relations, actionable destinies), the more unproblematically we refer to that formation as “religious.” Of course, in truth, all trans-local supra-kin communities fall along a spectrum, and just because they are somewhat distinct in the secular frame does not mean they must remain so. Indeed, given the evidence presented in this analysis, I think it is safe to draw a more comprehensive conclusion regarding the mutability of these social formations: namely, the frustration of spatial power engenders temporal ambition,29 and any given “modern” social formation can be sustained by either. As for why scholars continue to be seduced by the drama of these false binaries, I think the answer is simple if unglamorous. We are children of the Enlightenment, and we have been conditioned by its institutions. These institutions tell us there are two worlds: one authentic, the other transactional. There is the scripture behind its interpretations, the power behind its fabulations, the possible world behind its political realities. Even more radical critical analyses seem bound by this binary.30 Hopefully, acknowledging the institutional tensions that shape our thinking will eventually allow us to imagine a more expansive otherworldly order, rather than retreat into the comforts of an ivoried idealism. It is a common strategy amongst mathematicians and logicians when solving difficult problems to “work towards the middle.” The point to be proven is known. The starting point is chosen, then by inference and rule the scientist labors towards common brace. 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Footnotes 1 The following examples are typical of this kind of hedge: “Of course, using religion as a metaphor for society is nothing new. The authors reference Durkheim’s analysis in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life as establishing the tradition” [my emphasis] (Vail 2001, 114–16); or “Confederates talked reverently about the Lost Cause, or the Southern way of life, almost as if it were a religion itself” [my emphasis] (Butler, Wacker, and Balmer [2000] 2011, 242). 2 Courtney Bender’s Divine Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination moves beyond and meaningfully corrects some of Bellah’s early theorizing on the character of “individual” spirituality. See also Chidester 2005; Marvin and Ingle 1999; and Albanese 1991. Albanese does not explicitly contend with the civil religion thesis, or what she calls “republican religion,” but she does leap beyond rehearsed religious typologies to suggest that various American nature religions have manifested throughout US history. 3 Michael Satlow’s “Disappearing Categories: Using Categories in the Study of Religion” offers a useful, if somewhat aging, assessment of the ways that contemporary scholars have parsed “religion’s” various analytic deployments. 4 Though the phrase was deployed often by Richard Rorty, it was first used—as he acknowledges—by the philosopher Gustav Bergman in his review of P. F. Strawson’s Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (Bergman 1960, 607). 5 See especially Derrida: “[The historian of writing’s] problems cannot be grasped except at the root of all sciences. Reflection on the essence of mathematics, politics, economics, religion, technology, law, etc., communicates most intimately with the reflection upon and the information surrounding the history of writing” (Derrida 1974, 96). This critical “linguistic turn” has a much-acknowledged genealogy going back, at least, to Nietzsche’s early essay, “Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn” (1873), but it really picked up steam in Anglo-American discourse with Wittgenstein and his continental cohorts. 6 For example, the role of “literary” or “sacred” languages in the expansion of trans-local hegemonies—both Western and non—is ripe for inclusion in these critiques. In the case of Sanskrit, see Pollock 2006; for English, see Wimbush 2001. As for earlier forms of colonialism and cosmopolitanism, the neo-Babylonian empire provides several analogs to the “modern” situation (see Dougherty 2008, 48, 164). In comparative sociology, with a particular emphasis on the role of “elites” and varieties of “otherworldliness” across time and place, see Eisenstadt 1986, 2000. 7 “Race” as a metaphysical category, for example. 8 As Chidester writes, “In the end, I remain convinced that we cannot simply abandon the terms religion and religions because we are stuck with them as a result of a colonial, imperial, and now global legacy” (Chidester 2014, 312). 9 Interestingly, Bellah credits Stevens with teaching him how “[to do] sociology” (Bellah 1974, 9). 10 One could draw relevant examples of this preoccupation from any portion of Stevens’s oeuvre, but I refer to his mid-career lyric “The Idea of Order at Key West,” because it is well known and remains accessible even in excerpt: It was her voice that made The sky acutest at its vanishing. She measured to the hour its solitude. She was the single artificer of the world In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea, Whatever self it had, became the self That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we, As we beheld her striding there alone, Knew that there never was a world for her Except the one she sang and, singing, made. (Stevens [1936] 1997, 106) 11 Indeed, the faculty of creativity may not be exclusively human. The biologist Allison Kaufman and her colleagues, among others, have argued for the presence of creativity in nonhuman animals: “We have offered a wide range of examples of the kinds of behavioral abilities that are argued to play an important role in creativity in animals. These behaviors include novelty recognition, novelty seeking, observational learning, including observational learning of tool use among conspecifics, and innovative behaviors ranging from male bower birds’ construction of elaborate and unique nests with which to attract females, to fashioning and using new tools by chimpanzees” (Kaufman et al. 2011, 267). 12 Calculus is a method for modeling change, representing multivariate systems using functional notations. Without the ability to signify the world, there is no Copernican revolution, no Newton; without mimetics, we are just graceful, hairless bonobos. 13 The English cognate of the French “matériel” has lost its multiple meanings. In French it is both noun and adjective and still carries the meaning of “worldly,” “practical,” and “concrete,” in addition to “equipment,” and “material”; hence my usage of the French in this context. 14 As Gat explains, “While fully acknowledging the tremendous growth of modern nationalism in response to the massive forces of transformation generated by modernity, I am closer to the view of those who criticize and reject the exclusive identification of the nation with modernity… Certainly, nations emerged at a certain (early) point in history, they form and disappear, and are therefore not ‘primordial’ in this sense… And yet, if one accepts modernist theorist Ernest Gellner’s definition of the nation as a rough congruence between culture or ethnicity and state, then nations are not confined to modern times” (Gat 2013, 2). 15 In the world, not of the world, is of course an oft-rehearsed ascetic signifier for Christ’s otherworldliness (John 15:18–19), which can be found throughout Western literature, most famously in Walter Benjamin’s elegiac readings of Charles Baudelaire’s discourse on the flâneur (Benjamin 1968, 1978, 2002). 16 As Sandelin explains, “There is no doubt that Philo considers himself a Jew who is committed to the Jewish nation and its traditions” (Sandelin 2014, 19). 17 In the sections discussed, “έθνος,” as well as its derivative, “ἐθνικός” is most often rendered as “nation.” This particular translation of ethnos as “nation,” or “national” is common, and explicitly defended by Gat (2013, 18–21), as well as Nongbri (2015, 54). 18 As Philo describes it, “Ὁ δὲ Γάιος ἑαυτὸν ἐξετύφωσεν, οὐ λέγων μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ οἰόμενος εἶναι θεός.” Philo, “ΦΙΛΩΝΟΣ ΑΡΕΤΩΝ ΠΡΩΤΟΝ Ο ΕΣΤΙ,” (Philo 1962, 82). F. H. Colson renders this line as, “But Gaius grew beside himself with vanity, not only saying but thinking that he was God.” However, of particular note is that the “vanity” in question is “τύφωσεν,” or “crazy vanity” as opposed to the more familiar version of “vanity” in the New Testament “ματαιότης,” (vanity, purposelessness). To install himself as a God is not an empty boast, but excessive, mad pride, and if Gaius Caligula replaces the Jewish God with his own visage, then the “Jewish” nation ceases to be. In other words, the destruction of the temple is not merely a humiliation; it is an existential threat. It is an anxiety that Philo explicitly articulates a bit further on, as he reflects upon the necessity of the delegation’s sacrifice. “For what religion or righteousness is to be found in vainly striving to show that we are Alexandrians, when we are menaced by the danger which threatens a more universal interest, the corporate body of the Jews? For it is to be feared that the overthrow of the temple will be accompanied by an order for the annihilation of our common name and nation from the man who deals in revolution on so great a scale” (Philo 1962, 101). 19 According to Crone, “The members of the Sasanian ruling elite were thus in a position to see the Sasanian kingdom as the political embodiment of a nation, the Iranians” (Crone 2014, 161). 20 As Seland explains, “Philo belonged to a rich and influential family in Alexandria. His brother Alexander Lysimachus was ‘alabarch,’ probably an office concerned with administration for the paying of taxes and customs” (Seland 2014, 50). 21 “We have labelled this value system Protestant Buddhism, not only because of its incorporation of Protestant values but also because of its radical protest against traditional Buddhism” (Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988, 215). 22 As the translator notes, “The word οικειως suggests μέτοικοι, the foreign residents, who numbered about one-third of the free population of Athens” (Isocrates 1928, n 143). 23 Unfortunately, for Rousseau, like Isocrates, “man” should be taken literally. 24 For an example in the American context, see Marvin and Ingle 1999. 25 This occurred with the Manichean-Gnostics, Donatists, and other “heretical” Christian sects following the establishment of “orthodox” Catholic practices in fourth-century Rome. 26 About the time of the publication of the Panegyricus in 380, Isocrates’s translator tells us, “Athens rose to a position of power and influence as the head of the new naval confederacy, and was, furthermore, acknowledged to be the intellectual capital of the Greek world” (Isocrates 1928, xxviii). 27 Reza Azlan’s recently canceled CNN show, Believer, is an example of this framework in practice, as is the collective hand-wringing that surrounds classification of the apocalyptic Islamic movement Daesh, whose territorial ambition (and barbarism) confounds our contemporary Western notion of righteous religious zeal. 28 Tërâpîm, of which very little is known, existed alongside the national Yahweh cults in the kingdoms of Samaria and Judah, and continued to be “worshiped” even as monotheism was gaining prominence, as is evidenced by the “later biblical texts” that cast teraphim in a critical light (Flynn 2012, 696). 29 And quite possibly the triumph of spatial power diminishes temporal ambition and presages cultural decay. 30 As Foucault remarks, “A good many people, I imagine, harbour a similar desire to be freed from the obligation to begin, a similar desire to find themselves, right from the outside, on the other side of discourse, without having to stand outside it, pondering its particular, fearsome, and even devilish features” (Foucault [1972] 2010, 215). © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.

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Journal of the American Academy of ReligionOxford University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2018

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