Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Spirituality as Assemblage

Her latest book, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming in June), emerged from her research in Cambridge, Massachusetts among people whose “spiritual but not religious” practices and outlooks have been unaccounted for by conventional methods used to identify and study communities of belief.

History is extremely important, and its elision is an ongoing problem with so much of the popular discourse about spirituality, which tends to suggest that it is a condition rather than a tradition. Sociologists and scholars of American religion need to have a better understanding of the complex religious and cultural pasts that form our present. […] But what is puzzling about spirituality is that, even as the number of monographs on the topic grows, these histories don’t seem to resonate with contemporary people who call themselves spiritual, or with most scholars who look at its present manifestations. […]

 “Spirituality” is a word that resonates in all of the usual narratives of the secular; it’s a word that pops up everywhere. It does different kinds of work in Charles Taylor’s and William Connolly’s works on secularism; it is valued and promoted in Sam Harris’s various books, and he makes it consistent with atheism; it is embedded in psychological discourse, which is itself disembedded from any religious tradition; and so on.

Bennett's short, four paragraph long section on "What is an Assemblage" should almost be quoted in toto (and What Is An Assemblage would be a great title for a book). Bennett explains: "Assemblages are ad hoc groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts." (p. 23) She then goes on to continue to explain their external and internal structure in several clear, concise, and dense sentences. For our purposes, assemblages are composed of various affective bodies that come and work together. They form together and break apart. They exist therefore for only particular times and places, that do not necessarily entail the same finitude as their component parts. Their structure resembles a dialogic structure from Bakhtin, except for the fact that assemblages do not exist exclusively or even necessarily of human components (which might also be true of certain readings of Bakhtin).

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