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Monday, 20 June 2016
Counterfactual Memory

Religion and Cultural Memory (tr. Rodney Livingstone),
Jan Assmann, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 16

After surveying the use of bonding memory - a cultural memory that, either intentionally or not, acts to bind people(s) together - in the Osage Indians, in ancient Egypt and in the Assyrian empire, Assmann sums up their common ground:

All there rituals of connective memory contain a counterfactual element. They all involve introducing into the present something distand and alien for which there is no room in everyday life and which therefore has to be ritually imagined at regular intervals in order to maintain a context that is threatened by disintegration and oblivion.

One the groups he discusses have completed their rituals, they go back to life as usual - the same old same old. But, at the same time, they retain a sense of corporate unity and identity.

We undoubtedly can speak here of a cultural, ritual memory technique that stands in the service of bonding memory and has the purpose of bringing to life and stabilising a collective identity through a process of symbolic dramatisation.

Is that what the synagogue and the church do, by their regular meetings, services and rituals - stabilising a collective identity? I hope there is more to it than that!

Posted By Jonathan, 8:14am Comment Comments: 0