Boris groys

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Geopolitics and Religion

Claire Brunet Boris Groys Collected papers from the symposium “Geopolitics and Religion: The Politics of Faith“, Jeu de Paume, 24 May 2008

The Politics of Faith

© Éditions du Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2008. © The authors. Translation: Jean-François Allain. All rights reserved.

Jeu de Paume receives a subsidy from the Ministry of Culture andCommunication. It gratefully acknowledges support from Neuflize Vie, its global partner. Les Amis and Jeunes Amis du Jeu de Paume contribute to its activities.

This publication has been made possible by the support of Les Amis du Jeu de Paume.


Boris Groys Boris Groys / Claire Brunet

From Religious Ritual to Mechanical Repetition – and Back Conversation

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Video Programme21

Boris Groys

From Religious Ritual to Mechanical Repetition – and Back

Religion is often understood as a certain set of opinions. There religion is associated with opinions about whether contraception should be permitted or women should wear headscarves. Correspondingly, religion is usually discussed in the context of a demand for a freedom of opinion guaranteed by law. As a set ofopinions religion is tolerated as long as it remains tolerant and does not question the freedom of other opinions – that is to say, as long as it makes no exclusive, fundamentalist claim to its own truth. But I would suggest that religion – any religion – is primarily not a set of opinions but a set of rituals. And the religious ritual refers rather to a state of lack of opinion, state ofopinionlessness – a-doxa – for it refers to the will of the gods or of God that is ultimately hidden to the opinions of mortals. The ritual as such is neither true, nor false. In this sense it marks the zero level of freedom of opinion, e.g. the freedom from every kind of opinion, from the obligation to have an opinion. The religious ritual can be repeated, or abandoned, or modified – but not legitimized,criticized or refuted. Accordingly, the fundamentalist is somebody who insists not so much on a certain set of opinions than on the certain rituals not being abandoned or modified but faithfully, correctly reproduced. The true fundamentalist cares not about fidelity to the truth but about the correctness of a ritual, not about the theoretical, or, rather, theological interpretations of the faithbut about the material form of religion. The fundamentalist is somebody who believes in the primacy of the letter over the spirit. Now if we look at the religious movements that are especially active in our days we immediately see that they are mostly the fundamentalist movements. It is, of course, not accidental. Every religion is based on repetition, on reproduction. But we traditionally tend todistinguish between two kinds of repetition: (1) repetition of the spirit and in spirit, e.g. repetition of the true, inner essence of a religious message and (2) repetition of the external form of a religious ritual. The opposition between these two types of repetition – between living spirit and dead letter – informs the whole traditional Western discourse on religion. The first kind ofrepetition is almost always regarded as true repetition, as authentic, “inner” continuation of a religious tradition – the continuation that at the same time presupposes a possibility of the rupture with the merely external, conventional, historically accidental form of this tradition - or even requires such a rupture. According to this view the inner, spiritual fidelity to the essence of a religiousmessage gives to a believer the right to adapt the external, material form of this message to the changing historical milieus and contexts without


Boris Groys

betraying the inner truth of this message. A religious tradition that is capable to transform and to adapt itself to the changing circumstances without losing its inner, essential identity is usually praised as a living, spiritually...
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