"The Sacred & the Profane" by Roger Caillois by Romain Vennekens

Namo Gorge, Langmusi, Gansu Province, China

Namo Gorge, Langmusi, Gansu Province, China

Every religious conception of the universe implies a distinction between the sacred and the profane and is opposed to the world in which the believer freely attends to his busi­ness and engages in activity heedless of his salvation. The do­main of the sacred is one in which he is paralyzed in tum by fear and by hope-a world in which, as at the edge of an abyss, the least misstep, the least movement can doom him irrevo­cably. To be sure, such a distinction is not always sufficient to define the phenomenon of religion, but at least it supplies a touchstone enabling us to recognize it with greater certainty. In effect, whatever definition is proposed for religion, it is re­markable how this opposition between the sacred and the pro­fane is involved in it, even though not coinciding with it purely and simply. For a long time now, by logical inference or direct verification, it has been observed that religious man is, above all, one for whom two complementary universes exist—one, in which he can act without anxiety or trepida­tion, but in which his actions only involve his superficial self; the other, in which a feeling of deep dependency controls, contains, and directs each of his drives, and to which he is com­mitted unreservedly. These two worlds, the sacred and the profane, are rigorously defined only in relation to each other. They are mutually exclusive and contradictory. It is useless to try eliminating this contradiction. This opposition appears to be a genuinely intuitive concept. We can describe it, ana­lyze it into its elements, and theorize about it. But it is no more within the power of abstract language to define its unique quality than to define a sensation. Thus the sacred seems like a category of feeling. In truth, that is the level on which religious attitudes exist and which gives them their special character. A feeling of special reverence imbues the believer, which fortifies his faith against critical inquiry, makes it immune to discussion, and places it outside and be­yond reason. “It is the basic idea of religion,” writes H. Hubert. “Myths and dogmas characteristically comprise its content, ritual re­flects its qualities, religious ethics derives from it, priesthoods embody it, sanctuaries, holy places and religious monuments enshrine it and enroot it. Religion is the administration of the sacred.” We couldn’t stress more forcefully the points at which the experience of the sacred animates all the various manifesta­tions of the religious way of life. This latter is, in effect, the sum total of man’s relationships with the sacred. Creeds reveal and assure permanence to these relationships. Rites are the means of proving them in practice.
— Roger Caillois, Man and the Sacred

Picture : Tibetan Buddhism

Alain de Botton about religious & secular life. by Romain Vennekens

human bones

"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.

Definition. by Romain Vennekens

bai people china

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.