Different ways of belonging to totality : traditional African and Western-Christian cosmologies in three films : an exploratory literature study

Momberg, Marthie (2010-12)

Thesis (MPhil (Religion and Culture) Practical Theology and Missiology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study distinguishes between religion as a sense of belonging to the ultimately-real and specific religious traditions. Religion, as used here, concerns a cosmological understanding of the universe and with that which is experienced as meaningful and real on an existential level. Although differences between religious traditions are generaly known, most people‟s emotional conceptual frameworks of the universe are so deep seated that they do not even realise that far-reaching differences between people on this level too are possible. It often happens, for example, that concepts such as transcendence and redemption are incorrectly accepted as universal to all of humanity. Yet in fact, cosmological concepts (the nature and experience of the immediate world out there, the conceptual understanding of time, the role of chance versus determinism, the source of religious knowledge and so forth) can be experienced differently on a symbolic level. In the context of Religion and Media which is the field of study relevant here, as well as in a number of other contexts, it is problematic when scholars project their own views of reality and meaning experiences onto those of others – especially when they expressly articulate their intention as the opposite. John Cumpsty (1991) distinguished three ways in which a person can derive meaning from the cosmic totality and I shall discuss two of these with reference to the Western-Christian and the traditional African reality views. From this, it becomes clear that radical different patterns of cosmological understanding are possible, each with its own systemically related set of symbols. Along with Cumpsty‟s theory, I also use the theory of Castells (2005) on the construction of social identities, as well as the theory of Sen (2006) on the use of cognitive versus affective dimensions in identity formation, to indicate how cosmological symbols can be positioned differently. With these three theories in mind, I subsequently interpret the identities of the main characters in three films hermeneutically. I specifically selected this medium as a segment of life to be studied because of the increasing popularity of the medium in reflection, construction and projection of existential meaning. Another reason for my choice is the many examples where interpretors of film project their own cosmological understanding onto those of others whilst they actually intend to be pluralistic. The findings of this study surprised me. Firstly and as expected, it clarifies the nature of differences between the Western-Christian and the traditional African cosmologies, as well as how these are implemented in praxis and by symbolic interpretations. However, the integration of the three theories also afforded me the opportunity to develop a method for a religious-cosmological analyses of identities. According to this method, an interpretor of films can distinguish between his or her own paradigm and a possible other paradigm. It allows the analyst to acknowledge the own paradigm and simultaneously respect another paradigm – without projecting the own onto the other. Therefore this method diminishes the chances of using dubble-text interpretation which maintains or promotes the exclusion of others. With this method, as well as the findings of this study, one can go much wider than the field of Religion and Media, as it involves the understanding of identity and different ways of belonging to the cosmic totality.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie onderskei tussen religie as ’n manier van behoort aan die ultiem-werklike en spesifieke religieuse tradisies. Religie soos hier gebruik, het te make met ‟n kosmologiese verstaan van die heelal en met wat eksistensieel as werklik en sinvol ervaar word. Hoewel verskille tussen religieuse tradisies algemeen bekend is, is mense se emosionele verstaansraamwerke van die heelal so diep gesetel, dat die meeste nie eens besef dat daar ook op hierdie vlak ingrypende verskille is nie. So gebeur dit dikwels dat konsepte soos “transendensie” en “verlossing”verkeerdelik as universeel aan alle mense en religeuse tradisies beskou word. In der waarheid kan kosmologiese komponente (die aard en ervaring van die onmiddellike realiteit; tydsverstaan; die rol van kans teenoor determinisme; die bron van religieuse kennis; ensovoorts) egter op ’n simboliese vlak verskillend ervaar word. In die konteks van Religie en Media waarbinne hierdie studie val, asook binne vele ander kontekste, is dit problematies wanneer akademici hul eie realiteitsiening en sinservaring op dié van ander projekteer – veral wanneer hulle hulself uitdruklik voorgeneem het om die teendeel te doen. John Cumpsty (1991) het drie maniere waarop mense sin maak van die kosmiese totaliteit onderskei en ek bespreek twee daarvan met verwysing na die Westers-Christelike en die tradisionele Afrika realiteitsienings. Hieruit word dit dan duidelik dat algeheel verskillende patrone in ‟n kosmiese verstaan moontlik is, elk met ‟n eie stel simbole wat sistemies bymekaar aansluit. Saam met Cumpsty se teorie, gebruik ek ook dié van Castells (2005) oor sosiale identiteitsvorming, en dié van Sen (2006) oor die gebruik van die kognitiewe versus die affektiewe in identiteitsvorming om aan te toon hoe kosmologiese simbole verskillend geposisioneer kan word. Met hierdie drie teorieë in gedagte, ontsluit ek vervolgens die identiteite van die hoofkarakers in drie rolprente hermeneuties. Ek het spesifiek dié medium as ‟n bestudeerbare greep van die lewe gekies weens die toenemende gewildheid daarvan in die refleksie, konstruksie en projeksie van eksistensiële sin. Nog ‟n rede is die talle voorbeelde waarin interpreteerders van rolprente hul eie kosmiese verstaan op dié van andere projekteer terwyl hulle eintlik pluralisties wil wees. Die bevindinge van hierdie studie was vir my verrassend. Dit bring eerstens, soos verwag, wel helderheid oor die aard van verskille tussen die Westers-Christelike en die tradisionele Afrika kosmologieë, asook hoe dit in die praktyk kan uitspeel aan die hand van simboliese interpretasies. Die integrasie van die drie teorieë het my egter ook die kans gebied om ‟n metode vir ’n religieus-kosmologiese analise van identiteit te ontwikkel. Hiervolgens kan ‟n ontleder van rolprente op ‟n redelike, sistematiese en sistemiese manier tussen sy of haar eie, sowel as ‟n moontlike ander, paradigma onderskei. Dit laat die ontleder toe om die eie paradigma te erken, sowel as respek te betoon teenoor ’n ander paradigma – sonder om die eie op die ander te projekteer. Daarom verminder hierdie metode veral ook die kans op die gebruik van ‟n dubbele-teks interpretasie wat uitsluiting van die ander handhaaf of bevorder. Hierdie metode, sowel as die bevindinge van die studie, kan veel wyer as die veld van Religie en Media toegepas word, omdat dit te make het met die verstaan van identiteit en verskillende maniere van behoort aan die kosmiese totaliteit.

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