Previous Page Return to main page Next Page

Chapter 18: World Religions (ETD)


Unfortunately, at this time of the year we have no conspicuous public ceremonials for you to observe in Cracow. Of course there is nonetheless an abundance of ritual for you to observe in everyday life in this city, from the simple politeness formulae used in everyday greeting to the more spectacular performances that take place on most days in the city's larger churches. You might wish to linger in the Mariacki Church on the market square and see if you can make any generalisations about the people who enter the wooden cubicles to confess their sins to a priest. What is the attraction of this particular Catholic sacrament, and why do you think that Protestant traditions have largely dispensed with it?

Alternatively, you might wish to join me at the rituals of an academic conference. Coincidentally, the European Association of Social Anthropologists is meeting in Cracow this week. The plenary session this afternoon will bring together a group of young anthropologists, not old farts like me. I'll be very interested to hear your reactions.

Tom and Ania accompanied their teachers to this conference, but they were desperately disappointed. One presenter complained about the academic discipline's 'obsession with representation' but Tom just kept wishing that they would all use less jargon and communicate their research results in more simple, concrete ways. Only a detailed study by a young Polish anthropologist of how Poles related to their national symbol, the Black Madonna, was both digestible and illuminating. Listening to the discussion and observing some of the participants afterwards as they chatted to the Professor, Tom and Ania had the impression of being among a rather exotic tribe. How could such a strange company of eccentrics be trusted to write reliable accounts of other exotic tribes?

Dr. Dylagowa sympathised when they confided these reactions to her later. It was natural, she said, for the younger scholars to seek to impress their audience with lots of fancy jargon. She had gone through a similar phase herself.

In the club which Wlodek and Maria took them to that evening they met a group of young Catholic intellectuals, including several who were studying to be monks or priests. Despite certain forebodings, Ania, Tom and Marek had a great time. One Jesuit novice was bragging about the quantities of beer he was capable of consuming. Late in the evening, he began to ask them questions about social anthropology.

'You say that anthropology can provide a deeper understanding of the world, or at least of the way that human beings behave in it. I suppose you mean culture. So, the fact that Poland has more monks and nuns than all the rest of eastern Europe put together would be evidence of the greater rootedness of Catholicism in Polish national culture.'

'That's right,' said Marek. 'A nice example.'

'Wait a minute,' said Tom. 'when I started this course I thought that anthropologists studied cultures in just the way that biologists studied species, but I'm not so sure now. I don't believe in something called Polish national culture. Maybe the numbers of religious specialists in Poland today have more to do with the specific circumstances of the recent past here, not ancient history. And culture is continuously reshaped by political and economic circumstances.'

Marek protested. 'One minute you claim that the anthropologists can identify deeper causes than the sort of factors that political scientists and economists invoke. The next minute you say that this deeper cause is itself 'continuously reshaped' by these other factors. That's circular.'

The young Jesuit was also bemused. 'There is only one deeper cause,' he announced loudly and definitively as he raised his glass of Zywiec, 'and we call him God. Na Zdrowie!'

Previous Page Return to main page Next Page