Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

Edited by Jeremy Stolow
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between
    Book Description:

    The essays in this volume explore how two domains of human experience and action--religion and technology--are implicated in each other. Contrary to commonsense understandings of both religion (as an "otherworldly" orientation) and technology (as the name for tools, techniques, and expert knowledges oriented to "this" world), the contributors to this volume challenge the grounds on which this division has been erected in the first place. What sorts of things come to light when one allows religion and technology to mingle freely? In an effort to answer that question, Deus in Machina embarks upon an interdisciplinary voyage across diverse traditions and contexts where religion and technology meet: from the design of clocks in medieval Christian Europe, to the healing power of prayer in premodern Buddhist Japan, to 19th-century Spiritualist devices for communicating with the dead, to Islamic debates about kidney dialysis in contemporary Egypt, to the work of disability activists using documentary film to reimagine Jewish kinship, to the representation of Haitian Vodou on the Internet, among other case studies. Combining rich historical and ethnographic detail with extended theoretical reflection, Deus in Machina outlines new directions for the study of religion and/as technology that will resonate across the human sciences, including religious studies, science and technology studies, communication studies, history, anthropology, and philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5024-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between
    (pp. 1-22)
    Jeremy Stolow

    In ancient Greek tragedy it was not uncommon to resolve a particular dramatic crisis with the sudden intervention of a god, a strategy with which the playwright Euripides had a particular affinity. At the appointed moment during the play performers would utilize a trapdoor in the floor of the stage or employ amēchanê, a sort of crane with a pulley attached to it, to lower, raise, or exhibit motionless in midair a statue or an actor dressed as a deity, often the god Zeus. Such a miraculous apparition would interrupt the dramatic events taking place on stage, typically for...

    • Calendar, Clock, Tower
      (pp. 25-42)
      John Durham Peters

      “What is time?” asked Saint Augustine. He rightly considered this to be one of the great religious questions. His brilliant analysis did not quite solve the puzzle—but then, no one else has done better before or since. Whatever time is, clocks and calendars measure, control, and constitute it. Towers are related media—time-heralds that claim dominion over space via sight and sound. These media—so fundamental that they sometimes are not seen as media at all—negotiate heaven and earth, nature and culture, cosmic and social organization and define our basic orientation to time and space. As such, they...

    • Ticking Clock, Vibrating String: How Time Sense Oscillates Between Religion and Machine
      (pp. 43-60)
      Wolfgang Ernst

      When examined from the viewpoint of media archaeology, the relation between media and religion can be seen as concerning regimes of nondiscursive technologies. Are technologies, once in operation, indifferent to whether or not there was a religious bias in their installation, especially if this bias has left an imprint in their technical form? Is there any association between procedural forms such as liturgy and algorithm? What differentiates the general cultural engineering of symbolic, even transcendental systems, such as religion, from genuine media technologies—namely, those based on the laws of physics or mathematics? Is there a noncultural, autopoietic element at...

    • The Electric Touch Machine Miracle Scam: Body, Technology, and the (Dis)authentication of the Pentecostal Supernatural
      (pp. 61-82)
      Marleen de Witte

      In July 2007 a Ghanaian preacher was arrested at Entebbe airport in Uganda on the accusation of trying to import from the United States an “Electric Touch” machine to lure people into believing that he could pass on the Holy Spirit. The device is purported to give its wearers an electric charge, which they can transfer to people or objects through the medium of touch. The website of the manufacturer of the Electric Touch machine and other magic tricks—the American company Yigal Mesika—promotes its products as “incredibly innovative, clever and a must for those who want to create...

    • The Spiritual Nervous System: Reflections on a Magnetic Cord Designed for Spirit Communication
      (pp. 83-114)
      Jeremy Stolow

      In 1853, in a decade that witnessed the precipitous rise of the modern Spiritualist movement, one of its leading intellectual figures, Andrew Jackson Davis, penned a set of instructions for the organization of séances. Successful communication with the spirit world, he argued, depends on the presence of a proper balance of positive and negative elements and forces. To that end séance-goers were advised to form a “harmonial circle”; those whose negative temperament was signaled by cold hands and “a mild and loving disposition” should be placed in alternate seats with “positively tempered” individuals, distinguished by their physical warmth and their...

    • An Empowered World: Buddhist Medicine and the Potency of Prayer in Japan
      (pp. 117-142)
      Jason Ānanda Josephson

      If you were to travel to the small town of Kotohira on the Japanese island of Shikoku, you might, after strolling past one of the country’s oldest Kabuki theaters and partaking of the region’s famous Sanuki udon noodles, find yourself at an ancient shrine, the town’s central attraction for tourists and pilgrims. There, on the grounds of this old religious site, you would find a dedicatory plaque sporting a very modern image: that of Japan’s first cosmonaut, Akiyama Toyohiro, clad in a spacesuit standing next to his craft. Despite its space-age content, however, the plaque gives thanks to Kompira, the...

    • Does Submission to God’s Will Preclude Biotechnological Intervention? Lessons from Muslim Dialysis Patients in Contemporary Egypt
      (pp. 143-158)
      Sherine F. Hamdy

      In a long hospital corridor in Tanta, Egypt, a middle-aged physician, the attending nephrologist in the dialysis ward, shook his head in exasperation. He had just been counseling Ali, a young man stricken with kidney failure who commuted from his home village via public transportation to receive life-supporting dialysis treatment three times a week. Dr. Sami attempted to explain to the patient that his only hope to return to a “normal life” would be via a kidney transplant. But the patient had refused, saying simply, “The body belongs to God. It belongs to no one else to give away, and...

    • The Canary in the Gemeinschaft? Disability, Film, and the Jewish Question
      (pp. 159-180)
      Faye Ginsburg

      In the nineteenth century canaries were taken into British mines to detect methane gas, which is odorless but lethal to animals. The sensitivity of this small and delicate bird to an invisible, but deadly substance meant that if it died, a danger was present that humans would not have been able to detect. My title plays with the phrase “the canary in the mineshaft,” which evolved from this poignant interspecies situation. In this chapter I explore how scientific and documentary images of disability have served as visible evidence (the “canaries,” if you will) of a kind of danger lurking in...

    • Thinking about Melville, Religion, and Machines That Think
      (pp. 183-212)
      John Lardas Modern

      “What an age,” exclaimed a columnist forAdvertising and Sellingin 1927. “Photographs by radio. Machines that think … Vending Machines to replace salesmen. The list of modern marvels is practically endless.”¹ The slippage—between mediation and immediacy, machines and humanity, advertising and selling—was as inspiring as it was unsettling.² With continuing innovations in the motion picture, telephone, and automobile industries, the appearance of neon signs, traffic lights, airplane travel, and lie detector devices, and most vividly, extensions of mass media into everyday life—book-of-the-month clubs, radio, the advent of modern marketing and public relations—the relationship between the...

    • Amazing Stories: How Science Fiction Sacralizes the Secular
      (pp. 213-238)
      Peter Pels

      Cyberpunk science fiction has been an important empirical base of the critique of modernist conceptions of science and technology and their relationship to magic and religion. Novelists such as William Gibson, Vernor Vinge, and Neal Stephenson have helped to create a popular imagination in which digital technology erases the distinctions between religion, magic, and science and/or technology. They picture, respectively, “space cowboys” confronting godlike or voodoo artificial intelligences in cyberspace; electronic identification tags as magical “true names”; and a computer virus as a language as well as a religion.¹ By thus encouraging a conception of travel in cyberspace that identifies...

    • Virtual Vodou, Actual Practice: Transfiguring the Technological
      (pp. 239-260)
      Alexandra Boutros

      Haitian Vodou has a long history as a secret religion. In the French colony of Saint Domingue—until 1804, when it became the independent nation of Haiti—Vodou was practiced covertly by slaves of African origin who hid their rituals to avoid penalty under Louis XIV’sCode Noir, which sanctioned brutal corporal punishment for the practice of any religion other than Roman Catholicism. The religion continued to be practiced largely in secret even after Haitian independence, in part because its practitioners continued to be persecuted. The “anti-superstition” campaigns waged until the 1940s by the politically influential Catholic Church are just...

    • TV St. Claire
      (pp. 261-280)
      Maria José A. de Abreu

      “A monastery of the Poor Claires in Canção Nova?” I asked, doubting my ears. The initial procession had just entered the alley by the left rear part of the building. The priest leading the procession walked down the aisle, raising the holy monstrance. “That’s right!” said the woman I had befriended, adding, “They came here because of a moment like now, a Thursday, just like today, when Canção Nova was offering contemplation to the Holy Eucharist.” This information brought in me a mix of perplexity and excitement. Could it be that Canção Nova, a multimedia campus located in São Paulo,...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 281-352)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 353-356)