Politics of Piety

Adam Peeler

Politics of Piety Precis

I apologize for the tardiness of my precis. I mixed up the weeks and just realized my error.

Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival of the Feminist Subject, came about from Mahmood’s experiences in Pakistan under the regime of Zia ul-Haq. Mahmood notes that ul-Haq used Islam to, “Buttress his brutal hold on power…” (Mahmood p. xxi). Mahmood further states that because of Islamic patriarchy, “Feminist politics came to require a resolute and uncompromising secular stance” (Mahmood p. xxi). She also notes that the Iranian Revolution extinguished the hope that secular politics would offer change to the region. The text focuses on the Islamist movement in Egypt. Mahmood chose a place distant from here homeland to attempt to work through some of the puzzles presented in politics in Pakistan.

The work centers on ethnographic work in Cairo, Egypt from 1995 to 1997 in which Mahmood argues that there is a need for a much wider structure of women’s agency in the political realm. She argues within the first chapter that the relationship between feminism and religion is a difficult one; that each side finds issue with the other. Mahmood argues that women’s involvement in religious spaces as feminists can provide new leadership roles for women in the community. Within the first chapter, Mahmood reappropriates poststructuralist feminist theory arguing that “The processes and conditions that secure a subject’s subordination are also the means by which she becomes a self-conscious identity and agent (Mahmood p. 17). Though certain religious laws were adopted as a means of control Islamic feminists are adopting the practices as new means of empowerment.

The second chapter locates the women’s mosque movement within the framework of textual authority in the Islamic legal tradition. She argues that this tradition, when met with modernity, is altered to allow a space for women’s authority. This alters the understanding of the text and allows women a space within the mosque to become spiritual leaders alongside men. Mahmood believes this to be a result of modern education in Egypt (Mahmood p. 65). This is seen through Egypt’s acceptance of women in the field of religious study.

The third chapter explores this new understanding of text and empowerment. Mahmood examines the different daiyats and the educational and economic backgrounds of the followers of each system. She paints a vivid picture of how each mosque forms a different culture and form of piety. Chapter four takes a look at the ethics and practices of the women involved in the movement. She notes how previous movements sought to transform the state or preserve culture through their movements. She argues that the women’s mosque movement focuses on moral regeneration, particularly of the individual through attention to Islamic virtues. The final chapter examines women’s moral agency in relation to gender inequality. She notes that the women involved in the piety movement combat social injustice, but do some within the framework of obligation to God (Mahmood p. 175).

Mahmood’s work seeks to not discredit women’s agency when it is performed outside the normal political methods. She builds an ethnography of women’s experiences changing politics from inside the mosque within a religious framework (Mahmood p. 152). As noted earlier, feminism and religion tend to have a tenuous relationship, but Mahmood’s work seems to point towards the benefits the two can share. When one asks what is at stake for in this study it seems to be quite a lot, or at least more than many of our other readings. For the women involved in the women’s mosque movement, their own moral agency is at stake because of the oppression of a patriarchal and extremely religious government. As I read the work I was frustrated with the systems that the American government helped establish that created these environments. I thought of the links one could possibly place between the women’s mosque movement and the Civil Rights Movement, the involvement of religion in both spheres. My question with Mahmood’s work is how is it playing out today? Her ethnography took place in 1995-1997, since then we have seen countless wars, the Arab Spring, drought, and famine in the Middle East. Has the women’s mosque movement continued to make the changes that Mahmood hoped they would make? I also wonder if an improved education system will continue to assist this movement or at least move the average person to a more secular state of mind. What’s at stake in this work? I would say quite a lot.


Precis: Mahmood, Politics of Piety, and Mittermaier, “Dreams from Elsewhere” – Chelsea Mak

This week’s readings each address and explore the analytical tools necessarily to adequately account for the formation of religious subjectivity and “modes of agency” (Mahmood 2005, 17). Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival of the Feminist Subject, complimented by her 2001 essay, “Rehearsed Spontaneity and the Conventionality of Ritual: Disciplines of ‘Ṣalāt,’” emerges out of the author’s fieldwork among the women of the mosque movement in Cairo, Egypt. Her dual interests—the analysis of the concepts of the self, moral agency, and politics that under gird the movement and the scrutiny of normative assumptions regarding the self and agency in secular liberal politics and feminist theory—provide Mahmood with a rich starting place from which to develop a nuanced analytical framework for approaching the study of agency within particular ‘discursive traditions.’ Mahmood’s subsequent analysis of the women’s mosque movement, based on her careful attention to the socio-historically located internal logic of the movement itself, emphasizes the cultivation of religious subjects through embodied, habituated activity. In response, Amira Mittermaier’s essay, “Dreams from Elsewhere: Muslim Subjectivities Beyond the Trope of Self-cultivation,” also emerging from ethnographic work in Egypt (this time among a Sufi community) expands Mahmood’s study by arguing that, while valuable, the paradigm of self-cultivation in the study of Islam is insufficient in so far as it fails to adequately account for an “ethics of passion,” wherein the religious subject is understood as also being acted upon by the multiple Others—including the Divine, those who are visible (family, religious, and social networks), and the invisible (for example, angels or the dead)—who constitute the subject’s relational community (Mittermaier, 260). Both authors contribute to our unfolding classroom conversation in significant ways, particularly on topics such as the ethnography of religion beyond the mosque (synagogue, church, temple, etc.); the significance of ritual beyond symbolic meaning-making; accounting for the Divine agent in ethnographic study; and politics and the ethnographic project.

Mahmood introduces her work with an insightful and transparent assessment of her own motivations and aspirations in taking up the topic of feminist subjectivity as it relates to and is/is not manifest in the Islamic Revival. She writes of her dissatisfaction with the ability of “progressive leftist” politics to account for and comprehend the “aspirations of so many around the Muslim world” and her questioning of the “. . . conviction, however well-intentioned, that other forms of human flourishing and life worlds are necessarily inferior to the solutions we have devised under the banner of ‘secular-left’ politics” (Mahmood 2005, xxiii). As a result, Mahmood explicitly denies her own political and theoretical commitments as an appropriate analytical framework for her project—indeed, much of her work may be read as a deconstruction of her own theoretical commitments—and, instead, seeks out tools that allow her to more adequately account for the life-worlds of the women she studied over a two year period in Cairo.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the opening chapter of Politics and Piety situates Mahmood’s work within an ongoing conversation among feminist theorists addressing the question of how “issues of historical and cultural specificity inform both the analytics and politics of the feminist project” (Mahmood 2005, 1). This question is of particular import in Mahmood’s own work, given the ways in which the women’s mosque movement challenges liberal feminist concepts of agency as grounded in “the political and moral autonomy of the subject” (Mahmood 2005, 7); as premised on a universal desire for freedom, especially freedom from male domination (Mahmood 2005, 10); and as functional within a binary of resistance and subordination. Paradoxically, at least within the liberal feminist framework, the women’s mosque movement both develops as a result of female actors operating in a field and mode previously dominated by men and upholds traditional, patriarchal norms for the formation of women as religious subjects. Given this apparent contradiction, Mahmood argues, instead, for a socially and historically embedded understanding of agency. She writes, “. . . the meaning and sense of agency cannot be fixed in advance, but must emerge through an analysis of the particular concepts that enable specific modes of being, responsibility, and effectivity” (Mahmood 2005, 14–15). Consequently, Mahmood’s study of self and agency in the women’s mosque movement attends closely to social norms as the “necessary ground through which the subject is realized and comes to enact her agency” (Mahmood 2005, 19), especially as these norms both constitute and are constituted by the subject. Turning to Aristotle, as mediated through Foucault, Mahmood further develops the type of theoretical frame necessary to account for the pedagogies of self-cultivation she witnessed in the women’s mosque movement. In particular, Mahmood argues that an understanding of the formation of the ethical subject through embodied, behavioural practices best fits the emphasis in the women’s mosque movement on the cultivation of pious selves—an emphasis that places particular importance on “. . . outward markers of religiosity—ritual practices, styles of comporting oneself, dress, and so on” (Mahmood 2005, 31).

Having detailed her analytical frame, Mahmood then turns to its demonstration by, first, situating the women’s mosque movement historically (chs. 2) and, second, through the ethnography proper (chs. 3–5), which focuses on the use of Islamic pedagogical materials, ritual practices, and paradoxes of subjectivity among the women who attend lessons at the mosques. While space prohibits a detailed exploration of each of these chapters, a brief example may offer an illustration of how Mahmood’s analytics provide explanatory power for the practices and goals of the mosque movement: the cultivation of religious desire through the ritual practice of Ṣalāt.

Mahmood argues that, because the women of the mosque movement understood piety as a state of “’being close to God:’ a manner of being and acting that suffused all of one’s acts, both religious and worldly in character” (Mahmood 2005, 122; see also, Mahmood 2001, 830), the observance of Ṣalāt operated as more than a ritual obligation, but as a site of self-formation. Hence, “ritual (i.e., conventional, formal action) is understood as the space par excellence of making their desires act spontaneously in accord with pious Islamic conventions” (Mahmood 2001, 833)—a process illustrated by Mona’s admonition to a young, Muslim woman concerning the interrelated nature of mundane daily behaviour, or “pragmatic action” (Mahmood 2001, 833), and the ritualized practice of Ṣalāt (Mahmood 2005, 124–126). What is significant is the way that the women conceive of the formation of religious subjects as an intentional activity (i.e., an act requiring and demonstrating agency), the goal of which might be realized through the habituation of bodily practices (such as ritual prayer) and mundane, pragmatic action (such as choosing not to engage a quarrel with one’s sibling). A similar such practice, as noted by Mahmood, is the wearing of the veil, viewed as both an act of submission and as a means of cultivating the feminine and valued quality of shyness (2005, 158). Veiling, then, demonstrates “. . . the role the body plays in the making of the self, one in which the outward behavior of the body constitutes both the potentiality and the means through which interiority is realized” (Mahmood 2005, 159). Such activity, rooted as it is in the teaching of the Quran, the ḥadīth, and Islamic pedagogical materials, demonstrates that attending “carefully to the specific logic of the discourse of piety” reveals a “logic that inheres not in the intentionality of the actors [contra liberal feminist theory], but in the relationships that are articulated between worlds, concepts, and practices that constitute a particular discursive tradition” (Mahmood 2005, 17).

Mittermaier’s essay complements Mahmood’s focus on self-cultivation by nuancing the analysis of agency and the religious subject, arguing that habituation as a model “offers us little for engaging with a different axis of religiosity, one that valorizes being acted upon, one most vividly expressed in stories of dreams, visions, apparitions, spirit possession, prophecy, revelation, the miraculous, and, more broadly, stories that involve elements of surprise and awe” (Mittermaier, 250). Mittermaier explores the notion of being ‘acted upon’ as an important aspect of religious subjectivity through her ethnographic work among a Sufi community in Egypt that focuses on encounter with the Prophet and the divine vis-à-vis dreams. A serious consideration of the role of dreams in the life-worlds of community members highlights the importance of taking into account the ways in which “the otherworldly” is understood to act upon and constitute the religious subject, an aspect of religious experience that may be lost if the researchers focus centres primarily upon pedagogies of self-cultivation (Mittermaier, 249). Indeed, Mittermaier highlights an aspect of Mahmood’s analysis that is conspicuously missing, that is, careful attention to the role assigned to the Divine in the formation of human subjects. This is especially intriguing, given that Mahmood notes early in her work that the women’s mosque movement is located within “a discursive tradition that regards subordination to a transcendent will . . . as its coveted goal” (2005, 2–3). However, as Mittermaier notes, Mahmood’s focus on habituation limits her analysis to “. . . one direction—that extending from the [subject]—but it has little to say about the other direction, the being acted upon” (253). Mittermaier’s work, as a result, helpfully expands Mahmood’s project of attending to the internal logic of a discursive tradition for explorations of self and agency by highlighting the necessity of including those Others, such as the Divine or the dead (i.e., those who are considered agents by those studied), in the relational network that forms the nexus in which religious subjects are formed and come to act.

The ethnographic work of both Mahmood and Mittermaier provides a fruitful ground for expanding and continuing several conversations that have been engaged in our classroom experiences thus far. First, Mahmood’s analysis of ritual as a place of self-formation recalls one of our early readings, Seeman’s article, “Otherwise than Meaning,” which explored the place of ritual in suffering. Seeman’s article, and Mahmood’s work, both suggest that the study of ritual must be expanded beyond analyses of symbolic meaning-making. How does Mahmood’s analysis add to the study of ritual as an aspect of religious experience and in what ways is her accounting adequate/inadequate? Second, in light of class discussions over the past few weeks, it becomes obvious in reading Mahmood that all of her examples and stories emerge from within the walls of the mosque. How might Mahmood’s conclusions have differed had she balanced her time within the mosque with a broader account of her subjects’ life-worlds both within their place of worship and in their daily lives? (Notably, even Mahmood’s examples regarding participants’ marriages are told to her in conversations at the mosque). Third, Mahmood and Mittermaier each account for the Divine agent in different ways, what are the benefits of each model? How might Mittermaier’s model, in which the divine Other is accepted as real in so much as this Other is real for the participants, compare with Luhrmann’s study on prayer—especially, given their common study of what may be explained as psychological phenomenon? And, finally, given that Mahmood’s project has dual goals (that of ethnographic accounting of self and agency in the women’s mosque movement, coupled with a sustained argument with and against the concepts and assumptions of liberal-secular politics and feminist theory, one that challenges political interventionist policy), we might also explore the relationship between politics and the ethnographic project.

Luhrmann and Seeman _ Aditya Chaturvedi

T. M Luhrmann sets out to explore and explain how God becomes and ‘remains’ real for evangelical Vineyard Christians in contemporary U.S.  She argues that this happens through a complex learning process called the ‘theory of attentional learning’ and it functions through “learning to do something than to think something”(p.xxi). This learning transforms the way these people use there minds and perceive reality. This spirituality, says Luhrmann, “is all about the relationship” (p.274) and hence, the ultimate goal of Vineyard churches is to develop an intimate relationship  with the God. 

 The first chapter of the book provides as brief historical context for the shift in the American imagination of the God from a distant and impersonal God to a “buddy”- a friendly and loving. However, it is not easy to inculcate faith in God as it requires a committed Christian, Luhrmann argues to learn to  “ override three basic features of human psychology: that minds are private, the persons are visible, and that love is conditional and contingent upon right behavior” (p.xxii).  In the second chapter this process is spelled out clearly and she suggests that the learning in this setting actually involves unlearning. The process leads congregants to develop interpretive tools of knowing the presence of God and recognizing when the thoughts in their minds are not theirs but God’s. Once the God has been found, the person develops ways of interaction with him as an imaginary companion, and then learns to develop a relationship with him. This involves ‘pretending’ as if God was real and responding to congregants as their “buddy”. She compares this to a play which becomes real through practice (p.99). Once this has been accomplished, the last process involves experiencing the unconditional love of  God and this is done through six practices like crying in presence of the God . She argues that the evangelical Christianity that developed in 1960s is psychotherapeutic (pp.296-297) and the six “emotional practices” share a lot in common with psychotherapy (p.101). She points out that one of the many roles that God plays for the practitioners is that of a therapist (p.120). She then moves on to discuss prayer as a “faith practice” with potential of bringing about mental transformation. This is premised on her argument that there is a psychological skill to prayer with real potential psychological changes. Through what she calls the “participatory theory of mind” those participating, “heighten and deepen internal sensation: seeing, hearing and touching above all” (p.161). Luhrmann concludes through her study that “people stay with God not because theology makes sense but the practice delivers emotionally” (268). 

Luhrmann’s stated objective behind writing this book is to bridge a growing gap between believers and skeptics. In the last chapter of the book (Bridging the Gap) she suggests that Americans are increasingly disconnected from important social relationships and as a result feel lonelier and isolated and in such situations they develop a relationship with God to overcome the loneliness and isolation and to feel happy (p.324). She provides a good combination of evolutionary psychology and ethnography in the book. At the very beginning she makes her project clear to the readers by stating the limitations of its scope and outcomes. She calls herself an ‘outsider’ and engages with the community as a participant-observer.

Don Seeman’s essay “To Pray with the Tables and the Chairs” deals with prayer and materiality.  His analysis of Chabad contemplative practices show that these practices are transformative facilitate practitioners to see the material world as divine. Prayer for both him and Luhrmann is the in-between where this transformation occurs. Seeman argues against universalizing and generalizing the binary of material and spiritual and for being context-specific in studying traditions that offer a different conception. Luhrmann psychological analysis, since is evolutionary, makes no room for sudden and unconditioned experiences which might be real to the practitioners ( or may be not); it certainly overpowers the voices of the practitioners themselves. So my questions are : a) if this approach succeeds in “bridging the gap”, because while the psychological approach might convince skeptics, it may fail to convince the practitioners’ such a representation of their own practices? b) How do we make sense of the ‘in-betweens ’ like prayer in our writings? How useful is ‘as if’ in representing a world that is seemingly different from ours?      


Luhrmann, When God Talks Back/Seeman-Kristin Kimberlain

T.M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back is an insightful anthropological investigation into contemporary American evangelical Christianity. In her book, Luhrmann attempts to answer questions about the nature of congregants’ relationships with an invisible God who, for them, is made real through the cultivation of prayer practices. In other words, Luhrmann seeks to explain to nonbelievers how conservative evangelicals are able to experience God as real, which is admittedly a monumental task to take on. Throughout the book, she highlights various practices which she identifies as central to the task of cultivating a relationship with God: a central theme in her work is that this type of relationship is highly desired and is enhanced by the practitioner’s willingness to work at being able to sense a God which is simultaneously an element of their imagination and an element of the “real” world. Through her study at the Vineyard church, Luhrmann recognizes that the first task as a worshipper is to “be able to recognize when God is present and when he responds.” (39) This, according to Luhrmann, is a difficult task known as discernment which is actualized through prayer. After the ability to recognize God’s voice is developed, the next important step according to Luhrmann is to be able to “pretend” that God is a being who can be interacted with like one interacts with another person. She argues, “The crucial part of play in a Christian context is that the play claim that God is an imaginary companion is also a real claim about the nature of the world, a claim about the objective reality of the Holy Spirit and God’s supernatural presence.” (100) Once someone has learned to hear and interact with God, they should learn that they are ultimately deserving of God’s unconditional love. This notion is difficult to grasp according to Luhrmann, and is developed through a series of spiritual disciplines or “emotional practices”. Newer Christians model their prayer lives after those which Luhrmann recognizes as “experts”, or people who are particularly adept at hearing God’s voice. Ultimately, Luhrmann argues that prayer is a mechanism which “trains people to ignore the distracting world and to focus on their inner experience” and that “these practices alter spiritual experiences.”(189) Luhrmann argues in her seventh chapter that prayer actually has the ability to act as a technology which alters the ways in which people perceive what is real. The believer is able to maintain their relationship with a God who is, for them, real despite the evidence because their God is one who adapts to skepticism.

In order to make these claims, Luhrmann employs methods of both anthropology and psychology. Her study is undertaken at the Vineyard church in Chicago, where she becomes a participant observer. In her opening chapter, Luhrmann recounts the history of evangelicalism in America in order to contextualize the tradition and congregation she is studying. She attends weekly worship services, house groups, and interviews congregants in order to collect her data. From her ethnographic study she draws conclusions about the nature and structure of prayer practices. In order to answer questions about whether prayer has “consequences”, Luhrmann turns to psychology. She conducts an experiment measuring “absorption”, or the capacity that evangelicals have to experience God. She trained people in spiritual disciplines and found that the more adept participants became at the disciplines, the higher their absorption rates became. Luhrmann concludes from this experiment that there is much to be learned from spiritual experience about the ways in which people encounter and make their worlds real. At the end of the book, Luhrmann turns back to ethnography and history as method.

Don Seeman’s work “To Pray with the Tables and the Chairs”, like Luhrmann’s book, deals with prayer and materiality. Through his study of Chabad contemplative practices, Seeman argues that these practices allow insight into the divine nature of reality. By focusing on the material, tables and chairs, the truth is revealed that zimzum(divine absence) is illusory and that there is more present there than simply the material.

In reading Luhrmann’s work, I found that many questions came up for me that remained unanswered. I agreed with Jenkins’s review in that I thought Luhrmann’s ethnography could have dug deeper into the particularities of peoples’ lifeworlds. After reading the other ethnographies in this course I have come to wonder what is at stake in the lives of interlocutors. Through Luhrmann’s work, I came to understand what happens when people pray, but not necessarily why they need to pray or what happens if they don’t. I did, however, enjoy her historical approaches and wish that she had elaborated further at some points. My main critique of Luhrmann’s work may has to do with the fact that she seemed to incorporate psychological inquiry at the expense of anthropological inquiry that could have led, for me at least, to more interesting insights. She surely accomplished her “thick description” of evangelical prayer, and the conclusions that she drew from her psychological study were compelling. What I do not believe she accomplished, however, was much valuable “thick descriptions” of evangelicals themselves at all. If part of her task was to make evangelicals more understandable to “nonbelievers”, then her task should have been to humanize her interlocutors instead of treating their practices as something to be explained away by psychology.


Questions for discussion:

  1. Do you think that Luhrmann’s cross-disciplinary approach was effective? Why or why not?
  2. Were Luhrmann’s insights about the nature of materiality useful for you?
  3. How could we put this work in to conversation with Seeman’s work?


Sensational Movies, Video, Vision, and Christianity in Ghana-Birgit Meyer

Last July I travelled to Ghana with a group of colleagues whereby we explored Accra, Kumasi, and Cape Coast. In preparation for the trip, the group had lively and informative discussions on different social aspects of Ghanaian culture, ethnicity, race, language, and religion. I knew that Ghana would be a fascinating trip, however, I did not expect to experience such robust influence of pentecostalism. Upon arrival my eyes and ears were assailed by a plethora billboards that advertised religious events, and every other business and street vendor was identified by a religious name. Local television stations aired mostly religious programming, and the rhetoric towards witchcraft was visceral to say the least. At the time, I did not consider the eclectic dynamics of politics, economics, sensation, and imagination. However, Birgit Meyer’s Sensational Movies, Video, Vision and Christianity in Ghana considers the intersections of these along with religion which are “keys to gathering and forming people” through the media of state films and video movies. (p. 24) She seeks to study the effect that audio-visualization has in one’s interpretation of the spirit world and the material world and how one determines the nature of African gods, ancestors, and other beings that are considered to be contrary to Pentecostal beliefs.

Movies as a way of educating and giving moral direction is a familiar phenomenon. I recall in the late 80s a popular movie within evangelical circles being shown in every church I knew of. I do not recall the name of the movie, but it was similar to the Left Behind series. This movie was also the topic of discussion for quite some time among Christians and used as a tool to bring others to salvation through Christ. “A phenomenology of film experience offers fruitful incentives to deepen our understanding,” is an apropos statement even outside of West Africa. (p. 142) The ability to participate with a film through all of the senses gratifies the need to ascertain something far more sentient than mere entertainment. Meyer hints at the communal aspect of phenomenological experience in film watching as animation through the mediated experiences of the actors. This interchange is successful when the viewer is able to identify with the storyline and exclaim, “this happened in my house.” (p. 145) In order to create this synergy, Meyer describes the filmmakers’ commitment to studying audiences – their lives and their reactions to particular scenes. Even to the degree of creating spaces for more educated audiences who tend to be quieter. “Moving Pictures and Lived Experience” implicitly employs the notions of space and place in the phenomenology of film watching.

Meyer’s historical summation of culture, tradition, and heritage offers a helpful discourse that situates the development of African and African American cultures within a framework that helps to could connect dismembered people. Meyer also highlights nuances within the concept of sankofa – “go back and fetch it” – that have proven to be at times controversial. It is this concept that problematizes the co-existence of Pentecostalism and African Religious Tradition. This seems to be the impetus to establishing a new genre of film which convey indigenous religion in a more affirmative, though still tempered by Christian-Pentecostal language.

In Sensational Movies Meyer cites an interesting parallel between movie production and the evolving existence consumers in a neoliberal society – the struggles of film production and “wondering how to lead a successful life” in a quickly reforming and re-shaping context. Additionally, I interpret Meyer’s deep involvement with film producers to be a slippery slope in that while her attempt to convince audiences at film festivals to judge “Ghallywood” films on their own basis “collides” with the audience’s belief that these films combat the respect of indigenous traditional cultures. The impact of Meyer’s work illumines the troubling issue of what I call romanticization of African culture and discourses that exclude scholarly African thought which seems to prevail in the Lost in Nollywood event. (p. 317) The ambivalence towards scholarship in the disinclination to draw distinctions between genres in what I presume to be a predominantly “western” audience is deeply problematic within a discipline that purports to be humanizing. How can ethnographers do justice to the people studied and also effectively challenge audiences to broaden their range of view of people in a way that respects the culture?

Meyer argues that “while “tradition” and “cultural” heritage tend to be matters of ultimate value in current debates in Ghana, as scholars we need to resists echoing such views and, instead, rethink tradition and cultural heritage as dynamically shaped through imaginaries.” (p. 46) In Don Seeman’s response Sensational Movies, he seems to support Meyer by asking the question “how does film, even when we acknowledge its fictional quality, help to mediate the moral imaginaries we inhabit?” (Seeman, p.10) According to Seeman, to consider the work of ethnographic exploration in this way is “more humane” and “more adequate.” (Seeman, p. 10) As I continue to grapple with what it means to be an ethnographer and how to determine the ultimate concern, paramount to any question put forward for exploration is the humanity of persons, the entire person. Until Sensational Movies, I did not have an awareness of imagination as a salient consideration for study. For me, Seeman’s story about Moshe highlights quite palpably how important it is to carefully regard the subject’s whole being and their beliefs. My question is how does history bear out the argument for imaginaries?