Introduction Numinous Experiences Of late, it seems that everywhere one looks the museum studies literature includes explorations around the pur- Numinous was a term coined by Rudolf Otto derived pose of museums. What do they mean to people? Why do from the Latin numen, meaning divinity or divine pres- they exist?
Has our purpose changed in the context of the ence a religious studies scholar, in his book The Idea digital shift? This is a healthy exploration and worthy of of the Holy. He made the numinous experience—what he the space it takes to conduct it. Otto described the numinous as: care about museums, their place in society, and the people who support them. One of those at least in the U. In , I completed a study with the aim of digging In the early s, Catherine Cameron and John Gate- deeper into the rich, subjective experience of individuals wood , ; Gatewood and Cameron brought with regard to numinous museum encounters Latham the term numinous to museum research in a series of , ; Wood and Latham They wondered if there were other perspective, how people describe a numinous experience reasons people came to museums beyond getting infor- with museum objects.
The aim was to establish an mation, being with family and friends, and having fun. The scope of the research be seeking a deeper, more meaningful connection with a was foundational: it was meant as a irst step in under- place or time—they called these people numen-seekers. These sites numinous experiences—with mainly historic sites and were chosen based on connections I had to staff willing to objects—by positing three dimensions that make up the solicit participation from their audiences.
Tell me again numinous experience. Cameron and Gatewood 67 about this experience with as much detail as you can noted that their research was just a beginning and put out provide. Their research and call the direction the participant took, attempting to get the for more work on numinous experiences led to the most detail about the moment itself using only the research I conducted on numinous experiences with concepts, words, and ideas that the participant introduced museum objects Latham , , which focused on during the interview.
A mean to you? The goal of my subsequent others? Five identify a phenomenon—the numinous encounter with an individuals became the basis for the current study. IPA object. It is for that reason that demographic details about instructs the researcher to restrict the sample to the individuals were not collected in a systematic fashion. In my research Table 1 provides a brief introduction to the ive people this occurred at the analysis of four transcripts.
One interviewed, the objects they talked about, and the muse- further transcript was analyzed for good measure, bring- ums where the objects were experienced. Table 1. The ive participants in the study, the objects and museums they discussed and brief back- ground information on each individual. All names are pseudonyms. I will then ; Smith, Jarman, and Osborn , was used as the use these themes to discuss numinous museum encounters guiding framework for analyzing the data.
This methodol- in the context of psychological low experiences.
Phenomenological reduction involves the Four elements of a numinous experience with museum determination of themes—concise phrases that capture the objects were identiied in my analysis see Figure 2. This phase tangible and symbolic meanings. The emphasis in this paper is on the interpre- ing transported to another time and place; it affects tive portion of the IPA analysis post-themes derivation , the experiencer temporally, spatially, and bodily. Figure 2. It plays a stories and relationships to the experience.
In addition, signiicant role in both tangible and symbolic forms. In this way, people connected to the higher things encounter, or acts as evidence of, or witness to, the past. In in life Kari and Hartel, in a way that helped them its symbolic form, the object is perceived to be a kind of understand and gave them meaning about their place on receptacle, holding meaning far deeper and more profound this earth. In fact, the object, at times, embodies grand symbolic meanings about The last theme of the numinous experience with a museum profound issues such as death, patriotism, or the meaning object, Unity of the Moment Unity , is really a theme that of life.
It acts as a tangible witness—embodied evidence of cuts across all the others. It is a thing in and of itself, this experience. It is holistic in that it involves all The theme Being Transported is about the qualities felt in capacities of the human being: emotion, the intellect, a numinous experience. It is an event characterized by physical feelings and even perceived extrasensory several physically, visually, and spatially perceived phenomena.
Most participants described their experience elements. Descriptions of the experience break down in positively, as peaceful or happy or as an understanding. Time stops or slows down, even of meaning. Time also compresses, leaving the to the idea of Unity. Lived The Museum Experience and Psychological space tends to empty, leaving the person alone in the space Flow despite the physical realities surrounding them, making them feel they are experiencing a one-on-one encoun- As will be discussed below, numinous experiences in ter with the object.
In order to illustrate this, I irst outline the the object, with peripheral vision either fuzzing out or phenomenon of low itself. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the becoming dark, and marked by a sense of moving towards positive psychologist1 who fashioned the now popular or away from it. It is a The third theme, Connections Bigger than Self, refers to holistic experience that people feel when they act with the deep encounters one has during a numinous experi- total involvement or complete absorption in the present ence with a museum object.
The participants all speak of moment. It is a state of complete immersion life as deined by Kari and Hartel They helped the beings.. The ield is founded on the belief that people want to lead mean- person understand things about themselves and their ingful and fulilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of work, love and play. Connections authentichappiness. There really is no limit to the type of Csikszentmihalyi Overall, all low experiences share some combination of a set of very Flow experiences occur in different contexts for different consistent characteristics found across all kinds of people people.
Some might experience low while engaging in a and activities Table 2. Table 2. Characteristics of all low experiences. Csikszentmihalyi and his colleague Rick Robinson experiences, but rather view the aesthetic encounter as one further investigated the relationship between low and experience with a common underlying structure. It is the aesthetic experiences. My research supports An experience of aesthetic low may be characterized as a and expands on this suggestion. Below I fully focused when skills and challenges are in balance. In provide more detail about the numinous experience and turn, this new focusing builds new skills.
It is cyclical. Figure 3. The object was themselves and the object or exhibit. Within and Robinson 51 , as one of their informants stated. The object was also under- The sense of movement and tunnel vision are actually stood as a source of information, holding an idea behind wrapped up in each other, not separate experiences.
The object is the trigger to a low experience, object.
During these encounters, participants state that Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson As in the Getty study, participants in my numinous study described an intense directedness or link to the museum Transcendence or Loss of Ego: also Being object and the stories that are elicited by it, in both tangible Transported and symbolic ways. This element is comparable to the third component of the Limitation of Stimulus Field: Being Transported theme Being Transported experienced by participants from my numinous study : losing a sense of time, getting lost in A limitation of the stimulus field comes as a part of this the moment, or feeling alone with the object—all aspects intense focus.
By this, Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson of this absorption. In fact, it is dificult to separate the Being Transported Because of the directed attention, fewer things— experience into two discrete elements as Csikszentmihalyi perhaps allowing more depth—are at the center of the and Robinson have done. Time is described as slowing or stopping. One person I interviewed said he felt like he was frozen in time during the encounter. An experience with a museum object brings the two together and in a Human Connectedness: Connections Bigger than numinous reaction can fuse personal feelings with the Self seemingly impersonal.
Museum objects are intrinsically connected to The authors of the Getty study found that the aesthet- humans by the very fact that they are made by, used by, ic experience was perceived as a whole. In my study, I use the with humanity, a connection to the entire range of human phrase Unity of the Moment to refer to the total holistic thoughts, conditions and feelings over the course of human and dynamic experience.
Participants used language that history Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson The revealed the experience as something distinct and complete recognition of this communication is felt as a kind of in and of itself, something different from other experiences. The numinous encounter is very personal, yet partici- The Getty study authors believe that the spiritual-like pants describe forming deep connections with people they feeling coming from the aesthetic encounter provides a have never known. This whole lives. This message is characterized by connections experience between a viewer and object is a dialogue that that are reverential, full of awe, spiritual, deeply meaning- crosses the boundaries of time.
In other words, museum ful and extraordinary. Participants frequently talked about objects provide ways in which humanity can communicate having an epiphany—a profoundly illuminating realization with humanity. In my study, for example, one participant or discovery—as part of the numinous experience. For expressed the desire to talk with the people in a painting. He describe their interaction with the past through the object.
Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson Implications explain that some people felt a visceral physical reaction during their aesthetic experience. Only In the numinous study, participants describe having a rush, their irst dimension explicitly included the potential link to a feeling of blood to the face, butterlies, tingly excite- low. Summary of the Comparison of Aesthetic Flow and the Numinous Experience One of the signiicant indings in both the Getty study and my research is that the major dimensions of the encoun- The above comparisons reveal that the aesthetic museum ter are not separate entities, but rather jointly constitute experience aesthetic low ,as described by Csikszentmi- elements that cut across all aspects of the experience.
The well-documented features of a low Robinson I use the phrase Unity of the Moment to describe the simultaneous nature of the multiple dimensions of the It is important to point out a few differences between the numinous experience. To separate them creates a construct Getty study on aesthetic experience and my research.
First, that does not exist in reality. John Dewey other museum professionals. In contrast, the participants in sense of completeness, an understanding of the experience the numinous study were self-selecting visitors from a as unique and whole, unifying emotion see also Bedford wide range of museum types, not museum professionals of ; Dewey ; Jackson Emotions, according to any sort. Yet they too were able to achieve low. Second, Dewey, are qualities that are always contextual and serve Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson stated that the content as a sort of glue to hold all of the elements of an experience of the focus i.
For the people in my results; nonetheless, the Getty study was exclusively study, the experience was a transaction—a coming togeth- focused on art and artistic processes. My numinous study, er of the past, the self, the present, emotions, senses, and in contrast, considered a wider diversity of museums and more with the object Dewey ; Latham , Together, these resulted in an experience. Dewey observed that ordinary experience that could lead to flow Csikszentmihalyi and Herman- happens all the time but occasionally there are segments of son One aim of the Getty study was to identify this experience that are heightened, marked by a sense of techniques that could promote such experiences.
The wholeness, unity and fulillment Jackson Such experiences stand in Harvey, Ross, Loomis, Bell and Marino and help contrast to experience that is cumulative, an outcome or build a toolkit of sorts for museum professionals to use product, and used later to affect future experiences in creating meaningful exhibitions and other programs. Ansbacher ; Kesner In addition, I suggest that research on the flow experi- At the heart of the numinous experience or perhaps more ence in the museum would likely be better positioned accurately the museum low experience is visitor attention.
He argued that learn- flow can happen in any type of museum. His book provides universal, while the content—the source of the hook or detail on the psychology of attention. If attention is the true start of any positive museum Conclusion experience Bitgood , perhaps the low concept should be given another look as a valuable construct in There are indeed profound implications to drawing more museum visitor studies. Understanding the role of attention attention to low experiences in museum work.
As shown above, my research shows that the um—could aid greatly in enhancing positive and meaning- numinous experience is a type of low experience in the ful visitor experiences in museums. This, along with clear museum. A large body of psychological research has shown goals and feedback from both the museum and the visitors, that those who attain low develop a stronger, more according to Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson , will conident self because more of their psychic energy has serve to deepen the encounter.
They recommend that museums experi- museums, Csikszentmihalyi and Hermanson explain how ment based on this knowledge of the flow model low in the museum setting can lead to growth and motiva- elements. Changes that could facilitate the flow tion in museum visitors: experience might, for example, include practical adjust- ments, such as e. Other suggestions from Csikszentmihalyi perience will be intrinsically rewarding. The consequence of this effective handling of crowds and noise, and work to dynamic involvement is a growth of sensory, intel- eliminate distractions.
Helping visitors set manageable lectual, and emotional complexity Flow Action. The question Scheidel poses is whether, apart from historic moments of great violence, there is some other form of pressure that would move a state to adopt measures that distribute economic goods more equitably. I assume the history of the establishment of social democracy in Scandinavia would be most relevant here—and will admit to total ignorance of that history. The goal remains some non-violent alternative, some form of concerted democratic action, that could change the economic order—with its relentless over the past 40 years increase of inequality.
The civil rights movement which, in so many ways, serves as the model for such democratic action was fairly successful is winning increased political rights for African-Americans. But it was a dismal failure in its efforts to improve the economic standing of blacks. By all measures except for the existence of a small black upper and middle class , blacks in the US today are no better off than they were in But it turns out that not even all instances of those four can do the job of reducing inequality.
The violent shocks, it turns out, must be massive. The Napoleonic Wars clearly do not—and it is harder to tell with the possible mass mobilizations in the ancient world. Similarly, except for the Russian and Chinese revolutions of the 20 th century both of which caused, at the minimum, fifteen million deaths , revolutions rarely seem to have significantly altered the distribution of resources. The Black Death lasting as it did, in waves, over at least eighty and perhaps years and perhaps similar earlier catastrophic plagues of which less is certainly known stand as the only examples of leveling epidemics.
For system or state collapse, we get the fall of Rome—and not much else that is relevant since then, with speculations about collapses prior to Rome and in the Americas Aztecs and Incas where once again the available evidence leads to conjectures but no firm proofs.
Where does that leave us? In two places, apparently. One is that inequality leveling events are rare, are massive, and are, arguably, worse than the disease to which they are the cause. Also, except for the revolutions, the leveling effects are unintentional by-products. Scheidel is at great pains to show a that even the great shocks only reduce inequality for a limited time about 60 to 80 years before inequality starts to rise again; b that the various political expedients currently on the table like a wealth tax of the kind Elizabeth Warren is proposing or high marginal tax rates would lower inequality very slightly at most; and c that the scale of violence required to significantly lower inequality as contrasted to the marginal reductions that less violent measures could effect is simply too horrible to deliberately embrace as a course of action.
So the conclusion appears to be: bemoan inequality as much as you like, but also find a way to come to terms with the fact that it is basically irremediable. Scheidel is good at the bemoaning part, portraying himself as someone who sees inequality as deplorable, even evil. But he is just as resolute in condemning violence aimed at decreasing inequality. So his unstated, but strongly, implied recommendation is quietist.
In line with my ongoing obsessions, the book appears to reinforce what I have deemed one of the paradoxes of violence: namely, the fact that the state is undoubtedly a constraint upon violence even as states are also undoubtedly the source of more violence than non-state actors.
It seems just about impossible to harness the state to decrease inequality—except in the extreme case of war. World War II certainly bears that out in recent the past years history. The US in particular adopted in astoundingly short order a very communistic framework to conduct the war with a command economy in terms of what was to be produced and how people were to be assigned their different roles in production, along with strict wage and price controls, and rationing.
It would seem that the war proved that a command economy can be efficient and, not only that, but in times of dire need, a command economy was obviously preferable to the chaos of the free market. The war effort was too important to be left to capitalism. But outside of a situation of war, it has seemed impossible to have the state play that kind of leveling role, strongly governing both production and distribution.
Because only war produces the kind of social solidarity required for such centralized enforced cooperation? To answer that way gets us back to violence as required—because violence is a force of social cohesion like none other. To phrase it this way gets us back to an ongoing obsession of this blog: the problem of mobilization.
How to create a sustainable mass movement that can exert the kind of pressure on elites that is required to shift resources downward? If violence as teh source of cohesion for that movement is taken off the table, what will serve in its place? The means by which social cohesion is created. A different thought: Scheidel makes a fairly compelling case although it is not his main focus that the creation of inequality is itself dependent on violence. Or sometimes the violence of appropriation is less massive and less direct. But appropriation still requires a state that, in the last instance, will protect appropriated property against the claims of those who see that appropriation as either unjust or as inimical to their own interests.
In short, the power of the state a power that resides, to at least some extent, in its capacity for violence and its willingness to put that capacity into use is necessary to the creation and maintenance of inequality. And it is this difference in scale that places the exploited in such an unfavorable position when it comes to remedial action.
Of course, the growth in inequality since in the US was grounded in legal instruments and institutional practices.
The system is so corrupt that it offers no remedies within its scope. But the distaste for massive violence here is where Scheidel is relevant appears to take extra-legal methods for change off the table. Seven thousand people had net annual incomes of six thousand pounds and over in , the report said, but there were only eighty in the category in The figures showed an increase of three million persons in the group which earns between two hundred and fifty and five hundred pounds a year.
Six thousand pounds at the high end; two hundred fifty pounds as a decent income! The UK National Archives website has a handy currency converter that tells me pounds in had the purchasing power of approximately pounds in Hard to believe you could live on pounds in England. Double that—i. That means pounds in comes out to , pounds in dollars. And an income of pounds is 24 times greater than one of pounds.
The number of the population receiving high incomes is very, very small. Seems hard to believe. Only people at the top income level in ? When there are at least 3 million lower wage earners. That works out to two tenths of a percent at the top income level. We can safely assume it is a point or two higher in What do those figures tell us? Basically that, for the UK at least, the very high level of income inequality that prevailed prior to the triple whammy of World War I, the depression, and World War II has almost been completely reestablished since This result, of course, should not surprise us.
It is what Thomas Piketty and his various colleagues have been telling us for the past ten years. But these figures suggest that more than 0.
And they also suggest that some of those top incomes must have been substantially higher than pounds—which is only 24x greater than pounds a laughable figure by standards when CEOs earn x and more than the average worker. I am going to write at length about the Scheidel book, but will leave that to the rest of this week.
Once a constitutional party turns its back on physical force, because not being able to control it,.
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It may linger on, but, being unable to deliver the goods, it falls shamelessly into the corruption of its environment. The funeral of the Parliamentary party should have taken place when its leader Parnell was lowered into his grave at Glasnevin in October He had failed when he had repudiated acts of violence.
He was never a physical-force man himself, but he had walked hand in hand with physical force in the early days when luck and the spiritual forces of Ireland were with him, so that even ordinary words from his lips became charged with great significance and power. Charles Taylor, in his A Secular Age , spends hundreds of pages worrying the issue of violence. He never gets more specific than that, but insists efforts to simply repress violence will never work. Violence is as ineradicable as sex; religion both gropes toward a way of grasping the meaning of violent and sexual acts, while also providing forms rituals and stories that enclose those acts.
In archaic, pre-Axial forms, ritual in war or sacrifice consecrates violence; it related violence to the sacred, and gives a kind of numinous depth to killing, and the excitements and inebriation of killing, just as it does through other rituals for sexual desire and union. We move toward a point where, in some religions, violence has no more place at all in the sanctified life.
But nevertheless. Without ever saying so, Taylor seems to imply that religions that incorporate violence, that practice sacrificial rites, can thus contain it. Whereas attempts to eradicate violence only lead to uncontrolled, massive outbreaks of the sort that characterized the 20 th century. What has this to do with Maud Gonne?
The reformer will succumb to the fleshpots available to him; he will betray the cause in favor of his own comfort and advancement. Pragmatism and utilitarianism are spurned; caring about the ends violence might achieve is subordinated to the glorious commitment itself. And, of course, the dating of that uprising at Easter was no coincidence. The rising was a pageant itself of sacrifice leading to resurrection. Harder to countenance is murder, the killing of the other guy.
For all her hatred of the English, Gonne devotes her life to the cause of aiding imprisoned Irish rebels and their destitute families, not to killing Englishmen. The one time in her autobiography where actual violence seems in the offing, Gonne to her credit backs down and avoids pushing the confrontation to killing. Gonne is speaking to a riled-up crowd, when the police arrive. I heard an order given. I saw the constabulary get their rifles at the ready and heard the click of triggers. Most of the men now had their backs to the platform and were facing the police; they had nothing but ash plants in their hands but were ready to fight; some still shouted for me to go on.
Again a wave of depression overwhelmed me. Perhaps I had been wrong in not letting the Woodford evicted tenants fight and be shot down. Dead men might have aroused the country as living men could not and at least made the evicted tenants a live issue. The practical triumphs over the ideal here, as I for one would wish it to.
But then she is led to wonder if bloodshed would have been impractical. She wonders if she, at the moment of crisis, has proved weak, has allowed inappropriate scruples to stop her hand. Taylor knows that, which is why he keeps stumbling on the vexed question of just what is the content of the numinous, just as he cannot specify an actual violent rite that we, with our modern sensibilities, could actually endorse.
Historical distance offers one out here. Do I wish that the rebellion never took place? Yes and no. Plausible to say that there would have been no Irish Republic without the Easter rising. Equally plausible to say that the ongoing violence of Irish politics throughout the 20 th century was also a product of that rising. No violence, it seems, without answering acts of violence, producing those cycles of violence that are all too familiar, and rarely conclusive, rarely actually creating a desired state of affairs.
There is always some rub, some imperfection, that justifies more violence—even if it is just the violence of revenge. Would Taylor accept that the numinous is always out of reach—and thus no act of violence, even if it yields intimations of the numinous—ever satisfies? Infinite desire in a finite world. Or a desire for the infinite in a finite world. We can dream of more than what we can actually have. Taylor wants to honor how those dreams push us beyond the here and now, how they lead to the astounding, almost unbelievable, things that humans manage to do.
But why claim that destruction and violence are part and parcel of that reaching for what exceeds our grasp? Why not, instead, think of destruction and violence as the rage engendered by our reach falling short, as the spite resentment we feel against the world and against others when they disappoint our visions—or worse when someone else achieves what we have failed to accomplish?
One riposte from the Taylor side—and here we return to the power of nationalism—is that violence like religion more generally is a collective act. Soldiers always talk of the astounding camaraderie, the enjoyed intimacy, of the platoon. One of the things we long for is that kind of melting of the self into communion with others—and that melting can feel numinous, a connection to some larger and higher power. Violence, like sex, is a way of escaping the self, of ecstatically merging it with others. It carries us outside of ourselves.
Violence is aristocratic as in Yeats and in Gonne or sub-bourgeois as in Synge. The ledgers of sin must be kept so as to see if the reward of heaven will be won. Hardly an ecstatic way of thinking. Another, very different, note on which to end. A massive failure of imagination. Violence is rarely attractive when seen close up, which is why historical distance is so often needed to sanitize it. I could hardly believe that we would take up arms at all and then I began to believe that we would come out of it alright. In any case, the rhetoric that calls for violence is easy, all too easy, and very often disconnected from any real sense of what violence means or entails.
Again, violence is more palatable the more distance one maintains from it. It is hard for me to imagine Taylor participating in the rites he seems to endorse. Certainly, I want no part of them—even if the numinous were to arrive as promised. Institutional religion—the church—represents the more quietist approach: the acceptance of the imperfection of the fallen world along with the promise of a better world elsewhere coupled with structures and hierarchies meant to insure stability, peace, and order in the imperfect here and now.
The compromises of the institutional church are always contested by impatient visionaries who long, with equal fervor, to create a utopian now and to punish those who stand in the way of achieving that utopia. Sectarians scorn compromise and institutions, are often galvanized into action by a charismatic leader, and embrace violence in the name of the good. When not fighting the reprobate, they are constantly in-fighting in order to insure that only the absolutely pure are members of the sect. This, of course, is another way of saying that it is easier to be in opposition than in power.
It seems fair to say that the Republican Party has become more and more sect-like over the past thirty years. Its contempt for the routines of governance makes it just about incapable of governing; it has ground legislative activity to an almost complete halt, while rendering federal bureaucracies increasingly inept. It is out to destroy, not to conserve.
The oddity is that its destructive urges are almost entirely negative. It is not driven by a positive vision, but mostly by a hatred of the elites it associates with anti-American values, tastes, and snobbishness. Yes, there is nostalgia for a certain kind of small-town American culture that was built on racial exclusion and post-War prosperity. But there is no serious—or even non-serious visionary—platform for reestablishing that world. Empty slogans suffice if the joys of hatred are allowed free expression.
In their heart of hearts, undoubtedly there are true believers who think deporting all the immigrants is a possibility, but surely they are a small minority of those who vote Republican. Similarly, those same voters know that the manufacturing jobs are not coming back. The key difference here is that the party accepts, has a huge amount invested in, the current institutional and political order. It quite obviously seeks power to gain advantages for its active members—the donor class to which it delivers the benefits of tax cuts and deregulation etc. These radicals will cheerfully have the government default on its debts to take one example and are constantly at odds with the more staid party functionaries who are only interested in power within the current system Mitch McConnell being the epitome of this kind of politician.
Because of its use of sectarian tactics tactics which someone like McConnell thinks he can keep safely under control , the Republicans have clearly abetted by authorizing various kinds of hate crimes and violence, even as they have given us an authoritarian, charismatic President.