What are the differences then between historical method and ethnographic method, if we use these terms in the strict sense defined at the beginning of this essay? Both history and ethnography are concerned with societies other than the one in which we live. - p.16
- "... ethnography consists of the observation and analysis of human groups as individual entities ... Ethnography thus aims at recording as accurately as possible the respective modes of life of various groups. Ethnology, on the, other hand, utilizes for comparative purposes the data provided by the ethnographer." - p.2
- From "Structural Anthropology," by Levi-Strauss
I think these quotes outline the general problem with the field of anthropology and something each person must be vigilant about (but they can never really abscond from their own "personal/subjective" position, but still do their best to set themselves apart - and by doing so also fall prey to doing precisely what they wish not to do; the ongoing conundrum of interpretation being something utterly "human" and therefore indisposable.)
Now from Levi-Strauss I jump to Mircea Eliade and his book "The Sacred and The Profane," and the first page in the introduction
note: For context I should tell you that Eliade was primarily focused on the anthropology of religion.
Then Eliade outlines that Otto set about to outline the "modalities" of "religious experience."The extraordinary interest aroused all over the world by Rudolf Otto's Das Heilige (The Sacred), published in 1917, still persists.
... Passing over the rational and speculative side of religion, he concentrated chiefly on its irrational aspect. For Otto had read Luther and had understood what the "living God" meant to a believer. It was not the God of philosophers - of Erasmus, for example; it was not an idea, an abstract notion, a mere moral allegory. It was a terrible power, manifested in the divine wrath.
He then goes on to explain how Otto found that a "feeling of terror" preceded the sacred, "an overwhelming superiority of power."
The introduction points out the "ganz andere" (wholly other) that is literarily indescribable. We are forced to resort to mere analogies - here I would say all words, and phraseologies, are actually just "analogies" of a special flavor and that through the written word we've come to make words "sacrosanct" and withdraw from experience by making thought preservable in physical form through writing.
Eliade introduced the term "heirophany," which he coins as an act of manifestation of the sacred - for further clarity I guess we're all familiar enough with "hieroglyph," which means "sacred carving." The term "hierophant" is the conduit between the mundane and the sacred (The Sacred and The Profane.) For instance, the shaman sometimes acts as "spirit guide" ("psychopomp") - essentially as the hierophant/guardian; someone who helps "articulate" the "ganz andere" (wholly other.)
To present something for the purpose of argumentation, if you wish to do more than comment on the above outline:
The "sacred world" comes before the "profane world." In the charting and mapping of the environment an understanding of it - a meaning context - is manifested. The "meaning" is more "real" than the physicality, and through meaning, and correspondence, the "physical" underlying ontological existence becomes known by withdrawal from the cosmologically sacred (the meaning.) As reality holds form to our understanding, as meaning becomes "factual", so the sacred is desacralized and both the sacred and the profane explode into distinct types of being.
note: Eliade talks about modern man's desacralization of the cosmos as being part of our world view and wonders about if we can regain, or understand, such views - see the issue above highlighted by Levi-Strauss (and also by Geertz - which I'll come to elsewhere most likely.)
For an everyday context Eliade talks about a "sacred stone" being just a stone and also something else specifically to the "religious" person. After the introduction there is much more depth to this with a look at "sacred space." For a brief elucidation on this we can quickly begin to understand something that Eliade calls "crypto-religious behavior" from modern man; for example our "home" has more meaning than being merely a "building," as an artifact of the human psyche the physical home and the sacred home exist in conjunction. Even for the scientist the "lab" holds a certain meaning and holds sway in their lives as a place of sanctity beyond its mere functional use each space has a deeper meaning in the field of our human emotional existence - no doubt "awe" is felt if one was to hold Einstein's pen in our hand even though we know it is "merely a pen," it is much more than that to us.
Anyway, thanks for reading. Hope you found it interesting if nothing else.