Reproduction and Cosmology

Reproduction and Cosmology

When thinking about reproduction and the laws and technology that surround it, one must understand the cultural and historical contexts that bring forth these ideas and allow them to be maintained.

Geertz’ “Thick Description” chapter elaborates just how these ideas are born and are distributed amongst cultures. These ideas then have the power to influence future decisions as future ideals and laws are introduced. The author opens up the reading by elaborating on Langer’s theory on the introduction of new ideas into society, how “they burst with tremendous force” and become so popular that they “crowd out almost everything else” (Geertz 1973, 3). This new idea then becomes integrated and accepted as general intellectual knowledge used to explain all aspects of human life. Geertz argues that this idea is applicable to anthropology and the goal to define culture. Instead of taking the ideas about culture that are introduced and declaring them as truth, he explains that the analysis of culture should be “an interpretive one in search of meaning” which is what he attempts to do in these writings (Geertz 1973, 5). Geertz describes culture as webs of significance that man has created himself and suspended himself. This meaning that man creates his own culture by whatever he deems important. He supports his argument about the interpretation of culture by using the study of ethnography and Gilbert Ryle’s notion of “thick description” which explains cultural behavior in context, such that it becomes meaningful and may have different meanings to those integrated in the culture and those outside of it. More importantly, arguing the necessity of using analysis in ethnographic research in order to understand where ideas in different cultures hold their basis and understand their importance. These ideas on cultural analysis are extremely relevant to this course as we continue to read and question where foundational ideas on religion and biotechnology within cultures hold social value and why they exist.

On the first day of class we discussed that in most cases, religion is synonymous with culture.  When reading the next articles, it is important to recall the notion of “thick description” which allows the reader to try to put the actions of an individual or group in the context of their own culture, or in this case, their religion. Hamdy’s article questions if the narrative of religious fatalism, which is the “notion that humans exert little or no control over their own destinies”, prevents people from pursuing biotechnological intervention (Hamdy 2013, 146). This question was placed within the circumstance of organ transplantation for those of Islamic faith. Despite almost all religious leaders declaring that organ donation is “halal”, or permissible, many Muslims face an internal struggle about the ethicalness of transplantation. There are several beliefs in faith that may influence the decision to pursue intervention such as: “the body belongs to God. It belongs to no one else to give away, and it is not for me to take” or the idea that the sickness was God’s will and who are we to try to intervene (Hamdy 2013, 143).

While some physicians may label these patients as “fatalists” or “backward”, the author argues that religion is not the only reason why patients decline organ transplantation. Instead, she says that people’s interpretations and understandings of religion and biomedical efficacy are both taken into account when calculating cost-benefit analysis for medical interventions, such as organ transplantations. They use religious logic, such as the idea that the body is owned by God, in order to help them make decisions that hold both social and medical risks. Because in the eyes of the law, brain death does not equal death, organ donors are still considered alive. As a result, the patient in need of an organ must find their own means of acquiring an organ, either through a family or through the black market. However, many patients do not have the monetary, medical, or ethical means to go about having organ transplantation. The author provides an example of a patient, Ali, who has all of these means yet refuses to get a transplant based on religious morals, specifically that it was God’s plan to test him with this disease. Ali explains that his initial misgivings came from being personally responsible to find his own donor, in this case, his wife, and worry about their pain and health in order to benefit his own – as a result, he turned to God to help him find the strength. Once it was discovered that his wife was not a match, Ali turned back to his faith in God’s will to give him the strength to be on dialysis for the rest of his life. Hamdy uses this example to demonstrate the people embody different ideas on the will of God based on circumstance in order to establish contentment with how much of their lives they feel they control and what they feel they should control. This leads me to believe that the interpretation of God’s will could also be formulated by the idea that it could be God’s will to seek treatment or seek a physician, who could be the tool that God uses to provide health. But all these chosen interpretations can lead to the question of who are we to judge what is or isn’t God’s will? This is why I think Hamdy makes a strong argument that all we can do as humans is interpret it and by having an appreciation of how people choose to embody religion and interpret divine will, we can better understand the ethical formations or decisions that people make.

In “Father, State, Motherhood, and the Birth of Modern Turkey”, Delaney highlights the influence that history and kinship ideas have on the idea of nationalism and therefore have influences on the culture.  The author argues that nationalism is built upon the symbolism of father state and motherland, and as a result, because the nation-state is gendered, then gender inequality is inherently present.  After WWI, the Ottoman Empire’s territory was going to be distributed amongst the British, French, Italians, and Greeks. Mustafa called upon the people to come to the defense of the Motherland who “had been prostituted under the capitulations and was about to be mutilated by the partition” (Delaney 1995, 186). He called upon their sense of honor to protect their mother against those who threatened her. There was an Ottoman Empire and an Ottoman State but never an Ottoman Nation, so Mustafa took the term Turk and used the ideas of father state and motherland to create a new national identity. Women are imagined as soil or earth that needs to be fertilized by the seed of man in order to have growth. As a result, Mustafa took on the name of Ataturk, or “father of Turks”, and became the generative life force that created the new modern western-type nation-state. This transformation had gendered influences on the understanding of who could be considered a citizen. A child of either a Turkish father or mother is a Turk, but only a child of a Turkish father can be a citizen. The conception of the Turkish nation-state was created under gendered themes and has influenced laws and ideas of citizenship. As a result, this leads me to believe that gendered themes, even those based loosely in the notion of nationality, can have the ability to influence national thinking when pertaining to future laws or beliefs on biomedical technology.




21 Replies to “Reproduction and Cosmology”

  1. Hi Eleni, Thank you for your thorough summary of the readings. Geertz’s discussion on interpretive anthropology reminds me of Emmanuel Levinas who believed in encountering the Other face-to-face because ethnography asks us to consider thick descriptions and interpret meaning with awareness and appreciate for context. Geertz recognizes the utility in symbols and patterns, but he also remains precarious when it comes to the problem of reduction.
    Hamdy does a great job of illustrating the importance of thick description and exposing problems of reduction by taking us through Ali’s medical journey. Ali’s attitude toward treatments exemplifies how culture and religion are entangled (like webs) and affect his medical decisions. The problem of reduction is showcased by the predominately Western perspective of “why would Ali’s opt out of treatment that would extend his life?” Western culture often assumes living a long life is the goal, so when Ali refuses to undergo transplantation, Westerns may react with disbelief or criticism, perhaps misinterpreting Ali’s decision to be fatalistic.
    On the other hand, if we continue to read and listen to Ali with an ethnographer’s attitude, we might realize that the original interpretation of fatalism is far off. Given the context of Ali’s life, family, and environment, complexities come to light (Ie. Haram is harming one’s body with transplantation versus allowing the deterioration of one’s body). The influence of culture on religion becomes more clear when Ali changes his standpoint about haram and transplantation after hearing another perspective in a different environment. I absolutely agree with you that Hamdy would want us to understand how people take on religion/culture in order to understand their thought processes more accurately.

  2. Very thorough overviews Eleni, thank you!

    It was interesting comparing the content in Geertz’s “Thick Description” essay to what we discussed in class regarding cultural imperialism/cultural relativism (and its soft and hard variants). Geertz introduces the example with the boys winking their eyes by noting how a “thin description” would be observing that the boys are contracting their eyelids whereas a “thick description” would be noting that the boys are using their eyelid twitches as a form of parodist communication to mock others.
    If an anthropologist abiding by cultural relativism were to observe this behavior in a different culture, he or she might note the boys’ behavior in such a way that their gestures are framed in an objective manner, even if the gesture might appear insulting to, say, a Western audience. The anthropologist can write the thin descriptions, but thick descriptions take a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of a given culture and require field studies to glean. Thick descriptions are the key to cultural relativism—one gains a higher understanding of certain actions in the culture’s given context.

    Hamdy’s essay on Ali’s plight over organ transplantation was very interesting to me. Like Pamela notes, Western culture is largely focused on extending life of patients (perhaps even at the cost of quality of life). To other cultures, however, there might be different priorities or factors to consider. Ali values his religious beliefs and maintains that God is guiding him toward making the correct decisions about his health. This again ties into thick and thin descriptions. A thin description of Ali’s situation is that he does not care about the objective life-extending an organ transplant can bring him, appearing fatalistic. A thick description would say he is regarding his beliefs in his choices and chooses to decline (and later opt into, only to discover he was not a tissue match with his spouse) due to his personal reservations. His priority, aligning with the culture Ali grew up with, is not the extension of life, but rather maintaining a spiritual connection to God and His will.

    Gendering was a focus for Delaney’s article about Turkey’s rise. By simply assigning a gender to an abstract concept/object, social biases and subconscious connections began to form. For example, the fledgling homeland was tenderly given the title of the “motherland” by Mustafa to appeal to emotions of the people, and by suggesting that “she” has been mutilated and prostituted was a clear driving factor towards making the citizens band together to defend their adulterated lands. My question is that had Mustafa called the land the “fatherland,” would the people have rallied together in a similar fashion? How would their attitudes be different? While “motherland” could evoke a protective reaction among the Turkish people, would “fatherland” potentially be honor/strength/bravery related?

  3. Thank you for a great post, Eleni! I found your point about culture in relation to Geertz’s chapter especially interesting. Culture is always changing and what a person defines as culture is completely based on his/her own experiences, beliefs and practices. In addition, since culture is so variable and subjective, we must educate ourselves and have cultural relativism in order to understand why some societies practice what they practice. For example, in regards to assisted reproductive technologies in Muslim communities, they have certain rules that may seem strange to Western countries, but should be respected regardless. Hamdy wrote about a similar case in which a patient, Ali, would not go through with an organ transplant because of religious views. Although the doctors were confused on why he would not seek out treatment, Ali felt that he was doing everything correctly in the eyes of God and in relation to his culture. You brought up a good question about this case. Just as we are not able to judge what is or isn’t God’s will, we should not be judging what is right or wrong in different cultures. A key point that is, or should be taught if not already, in medical school is the idea of cultural relativism. Doctors are told to follow the Hippocratic oath that states, “First, do no harm.” What may seem as a treatment to a doctor may be seen as harmful procedure to the patient-especially if it goes against their beliefs. Although the doctor may want to do all they can to help the patient, they must understand that culture plays a large role in the treatment process and it must be respected. Just as Hamdy mentioned in his work, “Religious sentiments should not be seen as passive, as anti-science, or as constraints to medical treatment” (Hamdy 156).

    Lastly, I enjoyed your summary on Delaney’s article about Turkish nationalism. Much of Turkey’s political views stands from gendered beliefs about certain policies. I agree with you that gendered themes can influence much thinking, especially in regards to politics, laws or beliefs on biomedical technology. For example, in regards to gamete donation in Muslim countries, it was allowed for women to accept third-party egg donation, but it was not allowed for families to accept third-party sperm donation. Since the woman who was donating could be temporarily married to the father, her donation would be accepted but the sperm donation would not be since the child would technically not be the father’s and thus the child would be considered illegitimate in the eyes of the Islamic religion. Gendered themes in the Islamic religion influenced their laws, just as it did in Turkish nationalism.

  4. Hi Eleni,

    Your post was excellent. I would like to add a couple of things though. In Hamdy’s article, I think it is important to add more context to the story. For example, Hamdy focuses on muslims in Egypt, not just muslims in general. This is important because in Egypt, organ transplantation is not practiced like it is in the U.S. In the U.S., when someone needs a transplant, their name is added to the list and when an organ becomes available, they are called in to have the surgery. On the other hand, in Egypt, the patient must go out of his/her way in search of an organ. This makes the process much more personal because they must approach friends and family and ask them to make a sacrifice for them. Even if the patient does this and finds a donor, they may end up in a situation like Ali where it is not a match. Additionally, the only other option is the black market where few people can afford the transplant. I think this context his important because it shows that we cannot view the people as being in the same situation as we are here; receiving a transplant in Egypt is different than receiving one in the U.S., despite religious views. I think we need to be careful not to use the story of Ali to describe every muslim population’s scenario.

    The other thing i would like to add is that I loved Geertz’s example of winking in the beginning. I thought this example really emphasized how easy it is for observers to misinterpret even the smallest actions. And if these misinterpretations are to build on each other, the analysis as a whole would be a far cry from correct.

  5. Great post, Eleni! Your opening sentence said it all: cultural context is key to understanding a community’s laws and ideas about technology. Without an understanding of the culture in which these laws are formed and widely held, we have little to no chance of truly getting to the bottom of why they are upheld. We, as outsiders, may make our own judgements and come to our own conclusions as to why a community abides by certain rules – especially if we disagree with those rules, which oftentimes leads to a feeling of moral or intellectual superiority over the members of the observed community. It is for this reason, Geertz writes, that “Anthropologists don’t study villages… they study in villages” (22). Until we make every attempt to integrate ourselves into the community and see these cultural customs from the viewpoint of a native participant, however, any judgements and conclusions we make are skewed by the fact that we are only working with half of the information.

    You wrote that “man creates his own culture by whatever he deems important,” and I think Geertz would agree with you. A community creates its own culture with the symbols and actions that have importance to them and not necessarily to anyone else. This is why outsiders cannot hope to comprehend every aspect of a culture that is not their own. When defining “thick description”, Geertz writes that “What the ethnographer is in fact faced with… is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures… which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render” (10). Culture is created from layers of meaning constructed and upheld within the closed circle of a community. It had hidden meanings and subtext and inside jokes and customs that must be understood in order to really grasp the importance of a specific culture as a whole, as well as a native participants loyalty to it.

  6. Eleni,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. It very clearly and succinctly summarizes the main points and greater implications suggested by each author. I especially liked how you used Geertz’s thick description analogy to emphasize the importance of studying the values and decisions that others have made within context. I believe that Geertz offers a point of view that is essential to the field of anthropology: to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. One point that is made which I found strikingly relevant to young anthropologists such as ourselves: “Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete. And, worse than that, the more deeply it goes the less complete it is” (Geertz 1973, 29). I believe that Geertz is trying to emphasize the youth of the field of anthropology and the uncertainty that comes with delving into a new topic of interest. Unlike traditional hard sciences, social sciences rarely offer a concrete, universal answer, but that is the beauty of what we study! For without social science, we would lack the empathetic understanding of those outside our own communities.

    I agree with you that Delaney’s main points offer an important framework to consider moving forward in this class as well. The way that religion, nationality, and kinship are simultaneously defined in relation to one another gives an important perspective of how gender determines many societal factors in recent history. For example, in Turkish, the word “Aile refers to wife and children; thus only men really have families; women are part of one” (Delaney 1995, 178). From this quote we learn that the impact of gender-based language on law and vice versa has a powerful impact on the lives of individuals. The inherent presence of gendered law shows that differential roles for men and women were not accidental or a byproduct of something larger, they were intentional. The simple analogy of men sowing the seed into the woman’s fertile soil immediately emphasizes the nurturing and caretaking skills a woman is expected to have. I think it is important to note that while some activists argue to oppose this line of thinking, others encourage it and feel that recent changes have allowed for deviation from Turkey’s original purposes and values. As Geertz would remind us, we must consider each opinion within its appropriate context.

    Hamdy illustrates a meaningful perspective by deeply analyzing Ali’s decision-making within the context of his religion and values. I think something worth mentioning is Hamdy’s ability to present Ali’s opinions in a non-biased, well-informed, rational way. I appreciate how you emphasized the calculated opinions that most people have concerning their medical decisions that are seemingly based on religious values. Patients like Muhammad take all of the costs and benefits into careful consideration before formulating an opinion. Ali’s wavering opinions of kidney transplantation seemed to be rooted in the personal dilemma of harming someone he loved in addition to his religious values. I found it especially thought-provoking when Hamdy asked if Ali would put his name on a list to receive a kidney from an unknown donor, which is available in other countries, and he responded that he most likely would (Hamdy 2013, 153). Most importantly, Hamdy rationalizes this by explaining how transplant waiting lists skip over several hurdles that one finding their own transplant donor must encounter. It is important to consider all of these factors when moving forward in to a medical or public health field. How might scenarios like these be explained to pre-health students that are not taking anthropology classes?

  7. Awesome blog post! Cultural analysis is crucial in ethnographic research in order to truly understand a group of people/way of life. The harder part is knowing what cultural analysis entails and what accounts for proper analysis. Geertz mentions an interesting story about an Englishman who said, “the world rested on a platform which rested on the back of an elephant which rested in turn on the back of a turtle (Geertz, 29)” and when asked what the turtle rested on the answer was always a turtle. This seemingly simple example opens a broader point about cultural analysis and the difference between perfection and conciseness. In ethnographic research, the deeper the analysis, the less complete the information is. It is more critical, however, to refine a pre-existing debate rather than dig deeper in one aspect. In doing the latter, one loses touch with other important schools of thought that are related to a topic. These other avenues are crucial in knowing more holistically about a topic and can offer and more complete idea rather than extremely specific.

    Reading about the importance of cultural context translates well into the Hamdy article. The idea of organ transplantation in Egypt and in Islam is denounced for many reasons, one of which is the liability of finding a “living donor” and having to take charge on all aspects of the donor and recipient’s procedures. I found it particularly interesting that Ali said he would probably be more inclined to a kidney transplant if he were living in the US, where a third party organizes the donation from an anonymous brain-dead donor. This highlights the importance of cultural context when analyzing a group of people. Studying Egyptians living in America and Egyptians in Egypt might yield very different analyses on the topic of organ donations, even though the religion remains a constant. This is not to be confused with the idea that religion can be manipulated just to suit ones needs. Instead, they see religion as something so deeply rooted, and perhaps a changing contextual landscape is the driving force that allows one to finally see what God believes they should do.

    When thinking of religion, a family, and a nation, there are certain values that are also deeply rooted. The birth of a nation inherently evokes gender inequality, which is then perpetuated with religious and familial values. Although the word nation comes from the root of being born, the father is still the contributor of the seed of birth and is thus the natural ruler of the nation. As mentioned by Delaney, the women do not represent the nation, they are what is represented, and men are the agents that represent it. This idea is the root in gender inequality in the birth of a nation. So yes, I 100% agree with your point that it is nearly impossible to consider nationality without it being gendered, especially when considering laws on reproductive technologies.

  8. Hi Eleni,

    Thanks for a thoughtful and very comprehensive post! I really enjoyed how you connected themes of the readings together throughout your discussion – your thoughts are easy to follow and will certainly add to our class discussion tomorrow. I found most interesting your thoughts on Hamdy’s article. I read this particular article after reading Geertz’s “Thick Description” chapter, which provided useful context for interpreting Hamdy’s observations in a more traditional anthropological sense. In your post, you ask – “But all these chosen interpretations can lead to the question of who are we to judge what is or isn’t God’s will?” I would expand this question even further after reading Geertz’s work to ask, “Who are we to judge those who do judge what is or isn’t God’s will?” Asking this question as well might contribute to a “thicker” understanding of beliefs surrounding organ transplant and overall attitudes towards medical technologies. Hamdy does recognize this, however, and qualifies that people express religious beliefs in different ways. It is this variance in expression that I would argue makes religions unique in themselves and promotes diversity in understanding human behavior and resulting cultures.

    Your comments on Delaney’s article also support many of Geertz’s theories on interpretive cultural analysis. The terminology involved around gender identities and usage in Turkish society might suggest that gender plays an important role in its culture. While this may be the case, it is important to remember that conceptions of gender might shift over time. Women’s gender in modern Turkish society may not have the extreme “earthen” connotations as they traditionally have although these past attitudes do influence citizenship in Turkey today. The focus of gender in this article as a powerful concept that permeates many aspects of Turkish life today should constantly be re-evaluated in different meanings and interpretations to gauge its true importance. Is it appropriate to generalize the effects of gender on Turkish citizenship as having the same value in everyday life? How would one study gender on a national scale differently than in everyday interactions? How should ethnographic researchers “judge” how others perceive gender? These are just some interesting additional perspectives to consider when thinking of how large concepts might be generalized as having influence on everyday interactions and modern issues.

    1. Hi Eleni!

      This was a great blog post, and I really appreciated your effort to connect the overarching themes. One thing that a few others touched on that I also wanted to discuss was the difference between Muhammad and Ali’s narratives. Hamdy uses both of their experiences to exemplify her ideas about cultural relativism and meshing of science with religion. Both Muhammad and Ali were opposed to the idea of a kidney transplant, and both were written off as “fatalistic” by their physician. They had different motives, though. Muhammad was concerned about many aspects of the procedure, including financial, ethical, and physical repercussions. He also suffered from extreme social isolation, and relied heavily on his faith during these hardships. For Muhammad, the decision to not pursue a kidney transplant was a reflection of his careful cost-benefit analysis of his options rather than a purely ideological decision. Ali’s situation differed in that he could undergo the procedure for free, and he had a supportive family structure, including a wife willing to give him her kidney, but believed that organ transplant is haram and was unwilling to sacrifice his faith in this manner. The fact that the physician was so willfully blind to Muhammad and Ali’s situations should serve as a cautionary tale. As Geertz’s ideas about “thickening description” describe, everyone exists within a relevant cultural context, without which the object of study cannot be understood. Especially in the field of medicine, it is important to frame individuals within their context. In my opinion, this is why the physician at the military hospital in Cairo was able to sway Ali’s stance on transplants. He understood and internalized Ali’s concerns, and figured out how to help him reconcile his religious views with the life saving surgery. Connecting this to Muhammad’s story, he unfortunately did not have the privilege of healthcare benefits or a supportive social structure, which presented huge challenges. Perhaps if the physician was more cognizant of his situation and didn’t just dismiss him as a “fatalist,” Muhammad would feel differently.

  9. Hi Eleni!

    Your post on the readings was thorough and interesting to read. One particular point that I found interesting in Ali’s story in “Does Submission to God’s Will Preclude Biotechnology Intervention?” was that Ali would have accepted a kidney had he been in a situation where he was not constantly reminded of the risk and cost of the transplant (153). Such a point indicates that, in a different setting, Ali would believe that God’s will is for him to go through the transplant. In this other setting, there would lesser-known risks to both him and his family, or other possible donors, and the fact that he can or cannot afford the transplantation would not be constantly in his head when considering the operation. I, therefore, agree with your statement about God’s will possibly being about a person seeking treatment or a physician, as in such a hypothetical setting, Ali found himself agreeing that he would seek treatment.

    In addition to your points on the “Father, State, Motherhood, and the Birth of Modern Turkey” article, women were not only imagined as soil and earth who required fertilization to grow, as you said, but expectations were also placed on women to rear a new generation of people who were to be strong and become the country’s defense (189). Yet, as the author mentioned, it is still comparatively more difficult to see differential treatment between men and women than between different ethnic groups (191). Although a nation is always referred to as “she,” women are not who represent that nation, but who are represented by others, which I found particularly telling. A parallel to this idea can be found in the United States, where certain laws on reproductive rights are made on behalf of women by governing bodies of mostly men. As a result, I agree with your point that such a discourse can influence laws on biomedical technologies.

  10. Hi Eleni,

    You did a great job of summarizing all three articles that we read for this week and hitting all of the main points. One thing that I thought was particularly well done was how you tied in the Geertz’s article with the Hamdy’s article, and that it allows for an important background understanding of culture (and religion) in order to understand the choices made by someone like Ali, instead of blindly judging because his culture and/or religion isn’t something that someone understands. One thing that Geertz does not question, which I think would be interesting to think about is: how much does a man truly create his own web of culture, and how much is imposed upon him by his society? This could tie in with Delaney’s article and the points made in it about nationalism. Many people do not necessarily proactively take a role in the culture around it but rather passively accept what is already there. This can also be influenced by countries that are relatively monoethnic vs multiethnic.
    For Hamdy’s article, I agree with Izzy in that it is important to specify these are specifically Muslims in Egypt. The context of Egypt is especially important given what we know about the organ donation system that they have there – or rather, don’t have without an official registry or list like we do in the United States. Muslims in the US would not necessarily face the same struggles that we do, and the article points to a possible case of that, such as with the doctor that Ali spoke to at another clinic who had received a transplant himself when he was in the United States.
    You gave a good, comprehensive summary of Delaney’s article but I think it is also important to mention just how gendered the language is – such as with Ataturk, the “Father of Turks”, and the connotation that comes there. It’s impossible to analyze the situation without looking at the gendered components but for Turkey specifically, this is an important one, especially since he did not allow for anyone else to be called Ataturk. He wanted the title solely for himself. I agree with you that the gendered terms have the ability to influence people’s thinking when pertaining to future laws and beliefs on biomedical technology. People think of a country as theirs, and referring it as a motherland imposes many things, which is now present in the fact that we have conversations over women’s health in the public arena and laws controlling it, yet that is not true for men.

  11. Hey hey Eleni,

    Very interesting blog post, especially with bringing in what we have discussed in class. I really like the point you raise in the last sentence of your paragraph about Hamdy about how we use the human interpretation of God’s will to determine their methods of ethical formation. For me, I feel like this idea raises several questions about how we study culture. If we take a, as Thick Description said, componential analysis approach to looking at culture then we take how individuals interact with some guiding principle and use that to define culture and apply that definition to an action such as organ transplantation we can arrive at one conclusion; conversely if we take an action and apply that to a guiding principle or religious scripture then use that to determine how the people will respond then we may vary well reach another conclusion. On a personal level this disparity makes sense and it gives rise to the problem we see in Hamdy with a particular Muslim individual feeling it’s not his body to change but an equally Muslim (in theory of course, I don’t personally know these people) doctor feels he is being fatalistic; but, from an academic standpoint I think this disparity creates major problems for a predictive ethnography- being able to have an idea of the reactions of a culture to a phenomenon. We see wide variation in what we call culture, how we define culture, and how we study culture but how can we begin to apply culture research if the directionality of our data (or anecdote as the case may be) is so critical?

  12. Great post Eleni! I really liked your recurring point on “thick description.” As we spoke about in our class last Wednesday, cultural relativism encourages non-judgement from outside cultures, and lends itself well to this term. As ‘thick description’ advocates for the understanding of the act of individuals through their culture, it allows for a new interpretation of cultural relativism. In understanding the individual within their group, tribe, religion, or other self-identification, we account for their upbringing, and, in some part, their reality. Cultural relativism, applied to this idea, brings into question the condemnation of any individual. Without being a member of their culture, the act of withholding judgment of another is potentially dangerous when coupled with the unimportance of the individual. However, in the case of Ali, where his choice was purely personal, if disagreeable, do we have a right to judge?

  13. Eleni,
    I really enjoyed your blog post; you mentioned the main ideas of each reading and summarized them well. As you pointed out, some Muslims operate with the notion that “the body belongs to God”, implying that it is not in human hands to donate organs as we please. Liberals in the US today would argue against this logic, chalking up these Muslims’ hesitance toward organ donation to be a sign of religious fatalism. Others who have read Geertz’s article might say that men have simply spun a web of culture that fits their needs in a given situation; now that the situation is different, culture must also adapt. As Hamdy showed using Ali’s example however, this is not so easy. In Egypt, where it is the family’s responsibility to find a matching organ donor, it is a far more personal struggle for the family to find a donor since they are involved the details of the endeavor. Ali, despite having many of the resources required for such a task, refused to receive a kidney transplantation. Instead, he turned to God to ask for strength to live on dialysis for the remainder of his life. I think your analysis of this part of Hamdy’s article was particularly excellent, and your question is valid: how do we know when and when not to decide about God’s will? Some say that God’s will is what is written and implied in religious texts; others say it is up to the religious leaders to decide how rules have changed over time; still others mold their religious views to changing social environments. I think a blend of all three approaches is required however, and I believe that it is up to each of us to use religion as a means to develop, prosper, and help others. As you said, one can think that it is God’s will to see a physician, receive treatment, and get an organ transplant since it is beneficial to oneself, his or her family, and to the greater society.

  14. Hi Eleni, thanks for the summary and thoughts of the readings. I thought the first reading was a good introduction for the next two readings in its conceptualization of ethnography as a “thick description.” Geertz provided simple examples, of winking and sheep to act as metaphors for the importance of context when analyzing culture. Geertz defines society’s culture as the requirements one must know or believe to live in acceptance. What may appear as a pattern in a culture may actually be failure to understand the intricacies of people’s every day lives.
    The importance of context was demonstrated be Hamdy as she talked about the ethical battle of organ transplant in Egypt. On the surface, an outsides may just assume that the rejection of organ transplant throughout Egypt is due to religious reasons. But when paying attention to detail about the context of the rejection, Hamdy points out there are internalized reasons that have less to with God’s will, for why people in Egypt don’t approve of organ transplant. What may on a surface level, be thought of as ‘fatalism’, is really just a comfort mechanism for what these people deem with substantial rationale, the better option. Placing responsibility in another being allows us to live without the guilt that comes with free will.
    This point of context’s relevancy in cultural analysis is also relevant to the reading by Delaney in which she explains how gender inequality is inevitable in Turkey. The evidence of Turkey having a father state and a mother land, the connotations of women in religious texts, and the historical and political events, all provide widespread and deeply rooted reasons for this claim. I personally think the claim has truth within modern day Turkey to a certain extent, but that the gender inequality is subject to change as seen in many other countries.

  15. Hi Eleni,
    I thought you did a good job summarizing this week’s readings. I really enjoyed how you tied this week’s readings with what we discussed in class and used that as a transition between the Geertz and Hamdy readings. While I enjoyed with your summary of Hamdy’s article, I wish you had talked more about how Ali changed his view and accepted the tissue test. Ali came to a temporary understanding that “he should pursue transplantation as a means to respect and care for the body that God had given him” (Hamdy 2013, 153) because he was given more information on the differences between his current treatment and transplantation. Rather than hearing stories from media and other dialysis patients, Ali got a personal view of the treatment and process and was willing to proceed with a tissue test. I feel that this lack of information is a key issue in transplantation along with the other factors of religion, medical efficacy and financial status. Even though Ali did not want to try to find a tissue donor after the failed test, he became more open to the idea of transplantation due to the firsthand knowledge.
    Your summary of Delaney’s work was also great. One question that came up after reading Delaney’s piece was how a woman would be affected if she were in Ali’s situation. Both examples of Muhammad and Ali come from a male patient viewpoint. In Ali’s story, we see the opinion of Ali’s wife, Wafiyya, having little to no effect on Ali’s decision but I wonder whether that would be the case if she was the patient. We can see from Delaney’s article that gender is a key theme in culture and thus I feel that Hamdy’s work would be more comprehensive with a female patient perspective.

  16. Eleni – Thank you for the blog post, I thought it was great. I think you bring up some very interesting points. Continuing the discussion of other posts, I wanted to go over the overarching difference between Muhammad and Ali. Each had their own differences and struggles that came with it, however for varying reasons. Muhammad’s case was a cultural decision, while Ali’s was a religious one. Muhammad struggled because the process was not left in his own fate, while Ali’s was, but left it up to his God instead. As a non-religious person, this always strikes me. I am intelligent enough to understand that people have their own beliefs, but I find it ironic that a God would want someone to die for their belief when there is a solution. I am not critiquing, but rather questioning. Another point that was brought up about Ali was the changing of times. For example, our constitution was written hundreds of years ago, and have a lot of outdated laws or rules in there that affect our daily lives such as gun laws. Many would say that one needed a gun back when the constitution was written, but not anymore. I’m not agreeing with one side or the other, however I think it is an interesting thing to think about, and can easily be applied to religious teachings. Religious texts in general are old, and follow the same principles. I believe like most things in life, it is important to adapt to changing times. I’m again not saying Ali is wrong, however I think it is important to revaluate these sorts of things, and to understand both sides. It is also to keep things in context and understand that the location of both people were also very important, in terms of the technology and resources that they had.

  17. Hi Eleni,
    You did a wonderful job of summarizing the readings and providing textual context. I wanted to start off with Hamdy and Ali because I have a somewhat strong response after reading that article. Like Kevin, I wish you elaborated a bit more on how Ali changed his viewpoint and accepted the tissue test. Since the beginning, even with the resources provided from the state, Ali claimed that organ transplantation was haram, or not permissible, when there were many religious leaders who claimed otherwise in addition to the fact that he perceived the operation to be extremely risky. It wasn’t until he spoke with a doctor that told him it was a common and successful operation and hearing from yet another high ranking religious leader that the operation was halal that Ali decided that God wanted him to go through with the operation. I have to admit I’m not as religious as I once was, but it seems that Ali was just using religion as to support his own viewpoints. The operation had always been feasible and the religious authorities had allowed it, but it seems to me that it wasn’t until that Ali finally found out that his viewpoint on the operation was severely misguided and that the operation wasn’t risky that he decided that God had finally allowed him to go through with the operation. I find it a little too convenient. Then, when the operation didn’t go through because Ali’s wife didn’t tissue match, Ali went back and said it was haram. I know the author claims that this doesn’t mean that Ali wasn’t just using his faith as an excuse to do certain things, but it doesn’t stick well with me, and I believe the opposite. I suppose that’s why in class we say that religion and culture are not separate things because they truly do influence one another. If anyone agrees or disagrees with me, please do leave a comment-I would love to hear y’all’s takes on this reading.
    I think you did an excellent job not only tying the week’s readings well together but also tying it back to the topics we discussed last class. Geertz provided not only great information on ethnography but also the “webs” of meaning. Delanely’s article covering gender and culture was applicable because even adding gender to objects or constructs affects the subconscious connotations that people have. I think this week’s readings all tie together extremely well and would make for an excellent discussion tomorrow.

  18. Eleni,
    This is a fantastic synopsis of and synthesis of the main ideas of these articles. I appreciated your recognition of the interrelatedness of these works. Perhaps a brief summary at the end could have tied them together one last time. Geertz’s notion of observing first then analyzing rather than immediately judging ties hand in hand with Hamdy’s argument to appreciate how humans relate to their religion. Additionally, your last sentence is, I think, your most important, placing Delaney’s work in the context of the rest of the course. I was hoping to discuss in further detail the connection between religion and national identity. Although not the focus of this course, the connection between religion and nation must play a significant role in both its conceptions of gender and therefore policies on reproductive technologies. Delaney makes clear to differentiate between pan-Islam and pan-Turkism, and while there is clearly a large representation of Muslims in Turkey, to what extent is Islam the main cause of the gender dynamics we see in Turkey? Well done, Eleni. I look forward to discussing this question further tomorrow.

  19. Eleni,

    First of all, great blog post! I thoroughly enjoyed it. I like how you started off your post by bringing forth the idea that someone must always consider the cultural and historical context behind any discussion about reproduction and the greater meanings and ideas that accompany it. Reproduction is quite essentially one of the most controversial and essential concepts in history. Many people have different viewpoints on it based off of their personal lenses and upbringing, lifestyle, etc.…. Thus, I feel as if any discussion and opinion on reproduction should be taken with a grain of salt in a sense.

    Your use of Langer’s theory to open up a discussion regarding the Geertz reading was perfectly executed. Langer’s theory really does capture the essence of the controversy that surrounds reproduction. I love the line that discusses how new ideas always burst into society with tremendous force, because it is just so accurate, even in the current day and age we live in. I think a key reason certain ideas burst with tremendous force and become so popular is that they effectively crowd out most other matters in society is due to the fact that so many people have such different beliefs. And, because of this certain newfound ideologies and concepts are going to resound incredibly positively with some people, and incredibly negatively with some people, thus sparking controversy. Controversial topics in society typically crowd out almost everything else, allowing these ideas to become so memorable and important in any society’s development and public discourse.

    You seamlessly let this flow into your discussion of culture and how Geertz defines it. I think Geertz’s definition of culture is one of, if not the most important definition we should consider when analyzing anything in an anthropology or religion class. Geertz’s definition of culture really allowed me to read “Father, State, Motherhood and the Birth of Modern Turkey” in the correct lens and truly appreciate what Delaney was highlighting in regards to gender inequality. It also made me think of the question that is: will gender inequality always be present in society due to nationalism? It is certainly an interesting idea that gender inequality and nationalism are inherently tied together, for I certainly would not have viewed the two in this way yesterday.

    Overall, successful post!

  20. Hello Eleni!

    Really appreciated your post. I couldn’t help but see how beautifully the reading by Geertz tied in to the other readings. You mentioned how “Geertz describes culture as webs of significance that man has created himself and suspended himself. This meaning that man creates his own culture by whatever he deems important.” I agree with your interpretation, and take it a step further to examine how this reconciles the seeming contradiction in the other reading by Hamdy.

    For the man described as fatalistic, he has found his own interpretation of his religion, culture, and personal circumstance and made a decision within the webs of significance he has woven himself and also found himself in. You touched on this in your musings about Hamdy: “all we can do as humans is interpret it and by having an appreciation of how people choose to embody religion and interpret divine will, we can better understand the ethical formations or decisions that people make.”

    Furthermore, the reading about Turkish genderings of the motherland for political purpose reads to me as the beginning of the Western web of significance regarding gender roles/gender constructs.

    Both instances, may I note, are ways of creating culture/significance to serve a certain need or attain a particular goal – in my own opinion, I think the webs of significance man weaves are not purely expressionistic or artistic but rather have a component of pragmatism. As Geertz says, “Once human behavior is seen as symbolic action – action which, like phonation in speech, pigment in painting, line in writing, or sonance in music, signifies-the question as to whether culture is patterned conduct or a frame of mind, or even the two somehow mixed together, loses sense.” Our actions, decisions, thoughts – all are components of a larger expression of human culture that can be used to create something with meaning **depending** on the goal at hand.


    thanks Eleni!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.