Episodic Religiosity

Cultural anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse divides modes of religiosity into “episodic” and “doctrinal.” One relies on dramatic ritual experiences, the other on creeds, sermons, texts, exposition, etc.

In his book Arguments and Icons: Divergent Modes of Religiosity, he writes that in small, tribal, or breakaway groups, “religious life is focused around very infrequent, traumatic ritual episodes.” “Traumatic” seems rather strong, unless, of course, you’re thinking of adult circumcision, the knocking out of teeth, scarification, tattooing, etc.–and a lot of Whitehouse’s field work was done in Melanesia, where some of these practices are or were common.

But now here is an example of a traumatic initiation ritual. If there were other candidates besides the late Mr. James, we can be sure that they will never forget their initiation.