Demelza Martin, University of New South Wales, Australia
In the Abrahamic traditions, language has often been regarded as a necessary, but hopelessly limited tool for talking about a God who is transcendent, beyond all human knowledge and comprehension. And yet, most religious traditions acknowledge the possibility of signs and wonders in which divine presence is made manifest (catholic miracles, Protestant signs of grace, the illumination of God’s nature through Scripture etc, the manifestation of Divine Providence in economic and other communication systems ). Many religious traditions also celebrate practices of reading, speaking and interpretation which transform the individual, bringing them closer to god (jewish hermeneutics and practices of reading Torah, spiritually inspired oration, apophatic discourse and processes of self-emptying). We adopt a slightly arcane and nuanced key term – religio – to sublate or embrace a diverse tolerant inquiry into religion under the rubric of sign systems.
In contradistinction to the emphasised forms of cultural and communicative semiotics that are often used to circumscribe the study of religion, we welcome an extension of sign concepts to explore symbology, ritual, mythology and human-nature relations, in meta-cultural phenomenon and methodology that could approach traditions of transcendentally or extra sensorially motivated signs, as well as ethnography that dwells on deeply subjectified form of religious experience. We also value inquiry about the possible relevance of faith traditions to the environmental challenge we collectively face. Finally there is the contribution of faith traditions to perspectives on contemporary social change, communities and democratic politics.
There is a complex relationship between religion, religious experience and language which requires considered exploration. This special theme of SSR welcomes papers which explore the relationship between religion and semiotic systems or applies semiotic analysis to religious organisations, practices and experiences in any religious tradition. Also welcome are semiotic approaches to extranscendental and extra-sensory experiences in any cultural tradition. The invitation to inquiry into religious tradition can afford use of and even return to varieties of semiological methods – structural, symbolical, ritualised – methods that might seem to have been outpaced or displaced by post structural focus on empowered discourse as a determination of language patterns. We neither seek nor sanction any preferred or universal outcome to inquiry – except in as much as each tradition can provide insights that are universally applicable – although we remain curious if this inquiry can offer perspectives to traditional theological questions that are share by many faiths, and also complete and resolve some of the dilemma faced by structural semiology in the twentieth century.
Hermeneutics: Ricouer’s argument that translation is a form of hospitality has also inspired many to think about the challenges of inter-religious hospitality and inter-faith dialogue in hermeneutic or semiotic terms. Papers which explore social relations, cross-cultural dialogue and inter-religious understanding in these terms are also encouraged. We feel attention to mythological basis of pre modern and indigenous rituals are not merely ‘academic’ in nature and provide windows for re-evaluation, appraisal and reformulation of our current social and even political structures. That is today, religion is not regarded in any narrow disparate sense as a part of life that is increasingly optional, but as an embrasive diffuse layering of shared qualities and practices that have inhabited human cultural and individual experiences from the first human cultures some 60,000 years ago. We seek interpretative and nuanced inquiry using a consensual and open semiotic or semiological understanding of language, not as an end in itself, but as a tool for tolerance, understanding and social understanding and change.
Contact: Demelza Marlin (email@example.com) and the journal