“Everything That Really Matters”: Social Suffering, Subjectivity, and the Remaking of Human Experience in a Disordering World*
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 June 2011
When William James launched into the Gifford Lectures of 1901, he admitted to his Edinburgh audience a certain feeling of trepidation. Those lectures, which he would later publish as The Varieties of Religious Experience, evoked in James a sense of consternation because, as he remarked on the occasion, he was neither a theologian, nor a historian of religion, nor an anthropologist. “Psychology is the only branch of learning in which I am particularly versed,” James pleaded.
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- Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 1997
1 James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902; reprinted Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985) 11–12.Google Scholar
2 On the ethnography of the experience of suffering, see Kleinman, Arthur, Writing at the Margin: Discourse Between Anthropology and Medicine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996)Google Scholar; Kleinman, Arthur, Das, Veena, and Lock, Margaret, “Social Suffering,” Daedalus 125 (1996) xi–xxGoogle Scholar; and Das, Veena, Critical Events: An Anthropology of India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
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38 Idem, Writing at the Margin, 95–172.
39 See Lock, Margaret, Encounters with Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)Google Scholar; Kleinman, Arthur and Becker, Anne, “Introduction,” Psychosomatic Medicine: Special Issue on Sociosomatics 60 (1998)Google Scholar, publ. forthcoming. Anne Harrington, Professor of History of Science at Harvard University, will be editing a book series entitled “Cultural Neuroscience.”
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45 Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System,” 103.
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50 I am grateful to Gerald Bruns, Professor of the Humanities at Notre Dame University, for suggesting the term “threat of the loss of the human,” which is the theme of the Roger Allan Moore Lecture that he will deliver at the Harvard Medical School in the spring semester of 1998. Also relevant to this essay is Bruns's article, “Loose Talk about Religion from William James,” Critical Inquiry 11:2 (1984) 299–316.Google Scholar
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53 The literature suggesting this point as it relates to suffering comes from a number of directions, as I have illustrated above. Other examples include Lester, Rebecca, “Embodied Voices: Women's Food Asceticism and the Negotiation of Identity,” Ethos 23 (1995) 187–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Miles, Margaret R., “Voyeurism and Visual Images of Violence,” The Christian Century 101 (March 21–28, 1984) 303–4Google Scholar; McKevitt, Christopher, “To Suffer and Never to Die: The Concept of Suffering in the Cult of Padre Pio da Pietrelcino,” Journal of Mediterranean Studies 1 (1991) 54–67Google Scholar; and Hollan, Douglas and Wellenkamp, Jane, Contentment and Suffering: Culture and Experience in Toroja (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).Google Scholar For a provocative discussion of changes in collective experience and subjectivity that take place dramatically in events of political violence, see Tambiah, Stanley J., Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).Google Scholar
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55 Consider the following instances of policy-oriented analyses that use social suffering as a platform upon which to erect different scaffoldings for organizing programs and policies: Desjarlais, Robert, et al., eds., World Mental Health: Problems and Prospects in Low-Income Countries (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)Google Scholar; Felice, William, Taking Suffering Seriously: The Importance of Collective Human Rights (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996)Google Scholar; and Lytton, Timothy, “Responsibility for Human Suffering: Awareness, Participation, and the Frontiers of Tort Law,” Cornell Law Review 78 (1993) 470–506.Google Scholar