View Chapters

Book: The Relational Dynamics of Enchantment and Sacralization

Chapter: 11. From Religion to Ordering Uncertainty: A Lesson from Dancers

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30134


The current chapter is based on an ethnography of dance improvisation. It analyses instances of handling unpredictability and fragility in ordinary life. It shows that such situations are common and that people are well-skilled in dealing with them without recourse to the idea of a clearly defined order. While the imperatives of modernity seem to lead to a preference for clear orders and calculable means, people in ordinary practice handle disorders arising from unpredictability and complexity by developing and mixing strategies which acknowledge the lack of order. It seems that no practical distinction arises between modern and non-modern people in this case. Furthermore, due to the human tendency to mix various “rational” and “irrational” strategies to overcome unpredictable and fragile situations, the theoretical notion of separated spheres of “secular” and “religious” also loses any practical relevance. Managing chronic illness and pain with its demand for traversing evidence-based medical practices, traditional science, magic, prayer, and so forth in order to gain control over a patient’s situation is a key example of this. The point of the chapter is fourfold: 1) analysing such situations leads the study of religion(s) beyond such binaries as “religious” and “secular”, or “traditional” and “modern”; 2) it moves the study from marginal, exotic themes towards the core issues of human behaviour in culture and society; 3) it helps the study grasp the meaning and significance of what once used to be called “religion” with a practical relevance for actual human (inter)action(s); and 4) it thus helps the discipline to stop being “the marginal discipline of the margins, picking up the crumbs that fall from the other disciplines’ banquet table”, as Bruno Latour once said about anthropology, and to begin to address the important issues of life of societies and cultures.

Chapter Contributors