Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

Synopsis

The essays in this volume explore how two domains of human experience and action--religion and technology--are implicated in each other. Contrary to commonsense understandings of both religion (as an "otherworldly" orientation) and technology (as the name for tools, techniques, and expert knowledges oriented to "this" world), the contributors to this volume challenge the grounds on which this division has been erected in the first place. What sorts of things come to light when one allows religion and technology to mingle freely? In an effort to answer that question, Deus in Machina embarks upon an interdisciplinary voyage across diverse traditions and contexts where religion and technology meet: from the design of clocks in medieval Christian Europe, to the healing power of prayer in pre-modern Buddhist Japan, to 19th-century Spiritualist devices for communicating with the dead, to Islamic debates about kidney dialysis in contemporary Egypt, to the work of disability activists using documentary film to re-imagine Jewish kinship, to the representation of Haitian Vodou on the Internet, among other case studies. Combining rich historical and ethnographic detail with extended theoretical reflection, Deus in Machina outlines new directions for the study of religion and/as technology that will resonate across the human sciences, including religious studies, science and technology studies, communication studies, history, anthropology, and philosophy.

Excerpt

Jeremy Stolow

In ancient Greek tragedy it was not uncommon to resolve a particular dramatic crisis with the sudden intervention of a god, a strategy with which the playwright Euripides had a particular affinity. At the appointed moment during the play performers would utilize a trapdoor in the floor of the stage or employ a mēchanê, a sort of crane with a pulley attached to it, to lower, raise, or exhibit motionless in midair a statue or an actor dressed as a deity, often the god Zeus. Such a miraculous apparition would interrupt the dramatic events taking place on stage, typically for the purpose of rescuing characters from an impending doom. But this dramaturgical convention, apò mēchanês theós (“the god out of the machine”), was denigrated by a long line of critics, starting with Aristotle, who lamented playwrights’ overreliance on such a cheap and “merely mechanical” resolution of dramatic tensions. In this tradition the convention of apò mēchanês theós and its Latin calque, deus ex machina, came to refer to any formulaic use of a plot device in which a conveniently perfect solution emerges for an otherwise inextricable problem in the story through the insertion of an entirely unexpected character, object, or event. Underlying the critics’ longstanding . . .

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