"I want to look at the way religions go about things as an inspiring starting point for thinking about what secular culture is lacking and still needs."
"I think one of the most interesting things about religious belief is that clearly it comes from a place of vulnerability. [...] That pain and vulnerability does not disappear once you decide the belief is no longer true. So you're still left with this huge question.
" I think we have to remember what some of the best features of religion are, and recognize that there can be secular alternatives. Religions, for example, remind us of our common humanity, a humanity shared across races and geographical boundaries. There are hints of this within Christianity, and there are hints of this in Buddhism.
The tribalism is obviously problematic, but I think at their best what religions do is present the stranger in a new light. They offer us a kind of universality, a cosmopolitanism of the mind. This is a move that can take place outside of religion.
Churches and synagogues and mosques are seen as safe places where once you are in them, things can happen that wouldn’t happen outside of the precincts of this space. So they’ve become spaces where the stranger is welcomed, where all kinds of things that might be frowned upon outside are acceptable within, and in that sense, religion acts as a kind of host introducing humans to one another, humanizing them in each other’s eyes.
This seems to me a very valuable exercise, because secular modernity is anonymous. It’s built on the concept of anonymity and that the family is hugely important and the lover is hugely important, but beyond that other forms of association don’t really exist."
Read the full interview here.
Life in a spiritual, nonmaterial form, as absolute substance, has its origins in the sky. The earth itself is impure, subject to decay, and associated with death. To transform this static polarity into the actual process of living, the male sky must fertilize the earth, infusing it with its living essence. Living then consists of the gradual shedding of the decaying earthly cloak, and the reabsorption of life into its original reservoir in the sky. [...] This sexualized cosmos implies that between the two polar opposites of sky and earth, male and female, life and death, there are two directions of dynamic movement, constituting the process of the world which we actually observe and participate in. One of these directions is that of descent from sky to earth, the fertilizing motion of the falling of the rain, whereby life takes on a material wrapping. The second, complementary motion is the ascent from earth to sky, in which fertilized matter, through the process of living (which is simply a process of the gradual burning of energy) casts off its terrestrial cloak and frees itself from its imprisonment in dead matter.
- from Robert A. Paul, The Sherpas of Nepal in the Tibetan Cultural Context.
In Latin, devotus means "devoted to, consecrated to" and devotio means "devotion, affection to someone".
The object of devotion concerns the poor and the rich, as it can be of silver or wood, it doesn't affect its power. It is, by its very nature, linked to the life of men.
The object is getting interesting only if used as a support for a practice. It then becomes a physical element to an immaterial belief, a visible support for something invisible. The object acts as a link between those two polarities.
Those objects are then used to touch the sensibility of the believer. Once one believes the object to be sacred, it can protect from diseases, prevents misfortune or grant special favours.
They can be centuries old. They crystallise the technical and aesthetic choices of a culture and express a certain way to perceive the world. They are testimonies of men lives, recollections of a particular civilisation.
The different practices of devotion, superstition and even sometimes of magical powers are still going strong today: devotion to relics, to places, to statues, objects, images, pilgrimages,... In many ways, those practices persist and coexist even among those who are comfortable in our rational societies.