Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Different Modernities, Humboldtian Traditions, East European Christian Orthodox Intellectuals and Their Peasants

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Different Modernities, Humboldtian Traditions, East European Christian Orthodox Intellectuals and Their Peasants

Article excerpt


A quite thriving academic market of various, different, alternative and multiple modernities has emerged lately. The appearance of a plethora of "modernities" bears testimony to a certain feeling of uneasiness, but also to the resilience of some basic tenets of the modernization theory. More generally, the implicit assumption that modernity is a historically well- circumscribed process and, at the same time, a universal value and model, is less likely to go unchallenged nowadays.

In the context of recurrent crises, occurring both in sociology and anthropology, alternative traditions of doing science and understanding human and social reality become important, but tend to be essentialized as "the alternative", and to lose the very things they were due to bring in: fresh perspectives and concrete historical and theoretical outlooks. Thus, the multiplication of modernity in sociology and the critique of the field and of the Malinowskian tradition in anthropology, through a return to Boas' (as well as to Humboldt's) theory represent robust "alternatives". In this work, I to argue that by bringing them together in an attempt to apply them to the down to earth, but also phantasmatic existence of Christian Orthodox peasantry in Eastern Europe, a historically grounded reassessment of these alternatives becomes possible.

Bunzl's attempt to lay, theoretically, the conditions of possibility for the emergence of a neo-Boasian (counter-Enlightenment) anthropology represented, for example, by Foucauldian anthropology, is one of the most interesting attempts to disrupt the implicit "alterity paradigm" in social sciences. Another similar attempt is a religiously-centred one which could, tentatively, be labelled as the "different/religious modernity". The rest of this paper is concerned with criticizing and discussing these two main examples, in an attempt to politically and historically situate the general tenor of these discourses.

The sciences of modernity. The sciences of alterity

The advent of social sciences, of the "third culture" - situated between the natural sciences and the humanistic ones in the XIXth and XXth centuries1- was, seemingly, based on a new, self-conscious modern model of alterity, replacing the old, religious one2. In Nisbet's view, sociology "above any other scholarly discipline, has taken the conflicts between traditionalism and modernism in European culture and converted them into a set of analytical and interpretative concepts"3. This huge fracture created two opposite and asymmetric ways of seeing: traditional versus modern, Gemeinshaft versus Gesellschaft4 and religious versus secular, where the "modern" determines and creates the "traditional".

Even though, in the XIXth century scientific social division of labour, sociology was oriented towards the modern European or North American societies, while anthropology aimed at researching the "primitive" ones, their scientific discourse was generated, in both cases, by a paradigm of alterity:

"[...] sociology, at its very inception, needs the establishment and development of what I would like to call 'a primitivist ideology'. This primitivist ideology is more the work of ethnologists than that of sociologists, given the disciplinary cleavage operated at the beginning of the XIXth century, when the 'primitives' and not only the 'savages' became the object of a discipline in itself, that is, ethnology, replacing the debates over the state of society with an array of issues linked to the hierarchical classification of societies, based on a position related to the moment and the state of the origin and defined with respect to that particular moment or state"5.

Social sciences began by separating themselves from "traditional" religion, by drawing a line between themselves and other modes of cognition that they hold to be defective. This is "a paradoxical beginning [...] for this beginning could not have been grounded in the very method of 'observation' that positivism's program proclaimed as the basis of its own authority". …

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