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Title: Central Ethiopian monasticism, 1974-1991 : the survival of an ancient institution in a changing world
Author: Persoon, Joachim Gregor
ISNI:       0000 0001 3484 9326
Awarding Body: School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London)
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2003
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This dissertation is based on field research involving visits to approximately 100 Monasteries in Ethiopia Israel and Eritrea and numerous interviews. Consequently it stresses the importance of lived experience, post-modem, interactive and contingent reasoning is used with a focus on local variations, and metaphors relating to consciousness and treating culture as a process. Symbolic interactionism and the agency structure relationship are applied in terms of Bourdieu's concern for habitus and field. This integrates human activity into a singular conceptual movement a structural theory of practice connecting action to culture, structure, and power. A comprehensive view is formed by linking spirituality and mysticism with social and political processes, exploring the intriguing middle ground of integration between cultural practice and faith in which the discourses of indigenous religious belief arise and are contested. A post-modem sense of wonder for the Ethiopian tradition avoids the disenchantment of mechanistic reductionism. A special concern for somatic experience, gender and alternative ways of conceptualising time and space give insight into the lived reality of the monastic tradition. Christian Orthodoxy tends to conceptualise itself as an unchanging entity. However, current thought undercuts static wholes through the notion of agency and practice by which the transient sense of a permanent systematic structure is constantly created anew emergent in performance. Two key symbols in Ethiopian Christianity help us to grasp the essential functions of Ethiopian monasticism in recreating faith structures: Sacred dance heightens the emotion of the believers, and holy water is a symbol of immediate contact with inexplicable divine power. As experiential frameworks, they exemplify the aspirations of the monastic life: a more intense experience of the vocation of all Christians to a transformed sacred life and personal regeneration. The `journey into selfhood' is a common theme of recent works on African studies. It is reflected in the search for perfection of monastic spirituality, in which paradoxically the self was formed and shaped through renouncing the self. Ethiopian monasticism's sacred self is followed through consecutive concentric circles of interaction, typifying the traditional Ethiopian conception of space. Examples from specific monasteries illustrate how this was experienced in practice The competitive hegemonic discourse of the revolution struggling for symbolic power opened up a space for a counter discourse of subversive resistance. In the interstices of the confrontation the monastic community suffered material impoverishment, but rediscovered both its potentially vitalising force in society and the transforming power of its spiritual technology. The function of monasticism revealed itself in the encounter with communism. Communism and monasticism are the antithesis of each other, each embodying utopian visions of the future: the one using political force whereas the other has an eschatological character. Monasticism became the `salt', which did not allow the world to absorb Christianity and subject it to itself, creating an alternative space of hope in the desolate landscape of totalitarian oppression. Mystic spirituality was central for challenging repressive structures of the self and society. Ethiopian monks are traditionally linked with the angels who guard the tabot, symbolising the unapproachable God, totally giving himself yet veiled by the brilliance of his light, representing the central `still point' in the circle of worldly action where understanding and being coincide. Monasticism's ability to manifest transcendence and alterity, were instrumental in empowering the community of faith and ensuring its survival.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available