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Heresy in Cross-Cultural Contact

Workshop

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This workshop aims to address a mode of negotiating cultural difference we propose to call “exclusive similarity.” Discussions of alterity have often focused on exclusions marked by difference or that have described the other as fundamentally alien. But less frequently discussed are those acts of othering that work by excluding on the basis of reputed similarity, not difference. For these forms of othering we will use the shorthand “heresy,” a term that is open to deconstruction over the course of the workshop.

“Heresy” was often used to describe a kind of internal diversity. In this sense, the language of heresiography tends to presuppose a perennial truth, which must be guarded from deviation. Charges of heresy therefore work to construct orthodoxies through a process of alienation and repeated self-definition of orthodoxic (or orthopraxic) systems.

But there is an additional sense of “heresy” that interests us: the way that this kind of exclusion functioned in cross-cultural interaction. It is this cross-cultural function that will be the focus of the workshop. In the history of global encounters the other group’s religions were often branded as defective imitations or heresies. For example, some European Christian texts such as the Leggenda di Maometto described Muhammad as a heretic who had intentionally perverted Christian doctrine for his own gain. Similarly, one might think of the Chinese Laozi Huahu Jing, which claimed that Laozi had gone to India, transformed into the Buddha, and there taught Buddhism as an intentionally defective form of Daoism. In these cases, heresy works to domesticate the other with a familiar kind of alienation.

There is a final use of heresy in cross-cultural contact that interests us. This is when “heresy” is used to render an internal diversity alien through reputed association with a foreign group. For example, one might think of Martin Luther’s accusation that the “Papists” were “Turks.” Similarly, one might think of Hayashi Razan’s charge that his rival Japanese Neo-Confucians were “Christians.” In these cases, the heresiographical language works to assert the equivalence of foreign and domesticheretics. It therefore renders the familiar foreign and alien by juxtaposition with another that is simultaneously being domesticated.

Submissions from different geographical areas, religious contexts, and periods are encouraged. Any paper addressing “exclusive similarity” in a cross-cultural dimension will be considered.

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