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Friday, October 14, 2011

Religious mnemonics: A case for celibacy?

Memory (Warner, 1896)

According to the article Cultural Memory from the University of Toronto Library, the term “cultural memory” can mean “the collective understandings, or constructions, of the distant past, as they are held by people in a given social and historical context.” 

Jan Assmann is a German Egyptologist who has done groundbreaking work in the field of cultural mnemonics.  Not only did he pioneer the use of this concept within archaeological realms, but he more recently went on to apply it specifically to religion.  In his book Religion and Cultural Memory: ten studies, Assmann “explores the connections between religion, culture, and memory.”  He presents numerous quotes from the Bible in order to illustrate how integral cultural memory is to religion.

For example, Deuteronomy 4:9 (RSV) exhorts:  Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.  Other biblical passages, such as Deuteronomy 31:19-21, reiterate the need to pass along cultural memories from generation to generation.

Memory, therefore, seems somewhat integral to religious identity.  Interestingly, a recent article within The Journal of Emergency Medicine presents the case of a woman who suffered “transient global amnesia” (defined as “a rare condition in which memory suddenly, temporarily, disappears”) after having sex with her husband.  In another case reported in 1964, “a man lost his memory the moment he orgasmed, causing him to exclaim, ‘Where am I?  What’s happened?’”

If someone had asked him about his religion at that moment, all those “cultural memories” might have been at least temporarily lost.

Could this sort of thing be how celibacy became somewhat associated with religious integrity?


Copyright October 14, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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