Book: Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion
Chapter: 3. Everything is a Cemetery: On the History Behind the ‘Ahistorical'
In this chapter Leslie Dorrough Smith considers the social, cultural and nostalgic weight of (and given to) sites like Gettysburg Cemetery and its historical situativity to suggest that behind every “American” claim to exception, or other sorts of exceptionalism – as discussed thickly in Russell T. McCutcheon’s article “The Melancholy Empire Builder: The Life and Works of Mircea Eliade” which criticizes Mircea Eliade’s turn to the sacred – a certain sort of historical arrangement is unduly relied upon. Here, Dorrough Smith demonstrates that narratives—like those attached to and arriving in the wake of the Battle of Gettysburg—often play an integral role in the normalization of spaces and places as cohesive, particular, and significant. Such, as highlighted in McCutcheon’s essay from which Smith engages, has been true also of the legacy and work of scholars in religion such as Mircea Eliade. These two pieces together demonstrate how narratives, as much as people, places, and times, heavily rely on the (re)telling of history for their foundational social and cultural weight and significance.