Ph. D. thesis: The Efficacy of Sacrifice

avhandlingenMy dissertation The Efficacy of Sacrifice (2002) focused upon the brāhmaṇa texts of the ancient Vedic religion. In them, the efficacy of sacrifices is mainly explained through numerous correspondences between entities within and outside of the ritual enclosure. In this study, an inventory of all the correspondences in the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa pañcikā 1–5 is made.

Moreover, an examination of their linguistic characteristics is undertaken, and especially of the most frequent form, the nominal sentence. Based on this fundamental research some features of the system of correspondences are analysed. It is shown, for example, that the directions of the correspondences are mainly from the ritual realm to categories such as Cosmos, Varṇa, Animals and Man.

Of these, Man constitutes the most important category, and within it a prominent place is occupied by the ‘breaths’ — the vital powers of man. It is argued that the frequent use of breath, or the breaths, as the goal of the sacrificial rituals, initiates a process that undermines the complex system of correspondences. Thus, the correspondence system carries within itself the destruction of the intricate links drawn between the different levels of the Vedic Cosmos.

Ritualization and Human Interiority

bokomslagOne project which I developed from my work with the Vedic ritualistic worldview was a theoretical investigation into the phenomenon of ritual interiorization. Bringing the topics of human interiority and ritual together can at first glance appear as a strategy for establishing a basic theme of antagonism between the inner and the outer aspects of human actions.

The main thesis of this study is, however, that although the depiction of interiorization and ritualization as opposing powers contains some elements of truth, the most vital aspects of their relationship are to be found in their interdependence—that, in fact, religious traditions inevitably have to live out this dynamism between interiority and ritual performance.

The basic account of ritualization in this study takes its departure the notion of abstract action in the ritual theory of Caroline Humphrey and James Laidlaw. The abstract quality of an action refers to the ritual being performed disconnected from its context, that the action is more directed toward its own performance than outside goals. This aspect of ritual action can also be connected with conceptual abstraction, that is, the movement from the specific to the general.

According to the perspective on ritual action elaborated in Ritualization and Human Interiority, the particular efficacy of ritualized acts, persons, and artifacts is an effect of that the abstraction achieved by ritualization provides a place for the performer in the world of ideal, abstract entities, making the person able to enter into relations with them.

The potential for deritualization by interiorization, however, reaches its peak when the three dimensions of ritual action are interiorized. The act is then performed in the interior, its goal is interior, and its efficacy is completely derived from interior principles. In this way, the ritual has no real relevance outside of the individual, the very opposite of hyper-ritualization. But the final link still attaching this interior ritual to intersubjective ritual norms is severed by individualism, when the individual takes upon itself to decide when or how to perform the ritual—in which case the ritual commitment dies and deritualization moves toward its completion. And, in all this, it is difficult not to perceive a profile of modernity emerging, which presses toward the interior in search of the really real and a secure foundation for knowledge, but becomes frustrated by the elusive nature of the hidden and subjective.

The project is now finished and the results are presented in the book Ritualization and Human Interiority published in 2013 by Tusculanum Press.

Biography of Michael O'Brien

My woOn the Edge of Infinityrk within Catholic Studies is presently focused on the literary and artistic work of the Canadian author Michael O’Brien. In 2017 my biography of him was published by Justin Press.

I have also published some articles on his works:

2016, “On Writing Michael O’Brien’s Biography,” in Må de nu förklara…” Om bibeltexter, religion, litteratur. Festskrift för Staffan Olofsson, eds. Rosmari Lillas-Schuil, Gunnar Samuelsson, Georg Walser, Tobias Ålöw, LIR.skrifter (Göteborg: Institutionen för litteratur, idéhistoriska och religion, Göteborgs universitet): 305‒314.

2015, “Consolations of a New Earth: The Benefits of Science fiction for Catholic Theology” LIR Journal 4: 37–48.

2015, “Deep Realism: A discussion of Christian literary realism with an analysis of passages from Michael O’Brien’s Children of the Last Days novel series” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 18.2: 104–120.

2013, “Såsom i en spegel: Drömmar och visioner som portar till det övernaturliga i Michael O’Briens romansvit Children of the Last Days” Chaos 59, I: 13-30.

2007, ”Kunsten å skrive en moderne apokalypse” [The Art of Writing a Modern Apocalypse] in Fra Dante til Umberto Eco: Atten tekster om teologi og litteratur, eds. Olav Hovedlien and Ståle Kristiansen, Unipub: Oslo: 269–284.

Religious Studies in India

Through the cooperation project go:India (2011-2013), I have together with Swedish and Indian scholars devised a research project on religious studies in India: Religion on Campus: A Study of Views on Religion at Two Indian Universities. It began in 2014 with a preliminary inventory study and continued during 2015 and 2016. In 2018-2019 an edited book will present the results of the project and suggestions for ways forward for religious studies in India.

I have together with Prof. Åke Sander so far published one article based on the results of the project .

2016, Åke Sander, Clemens Cavallin, Sushil Kumar, “Changes of the views on religion in higher education at Banaras Hindu University, India: A first report from an on-going research project,” Argument Biannual Philosophical Journal 6.1: 107-142.