Religionen als Weichensteller der Geschichte? Die Verschaltung von Religion und Kapitalismus

Vortrag gehalten am 12. April an der Volkshochschule Tübingen

Was hat Kapitalismus mit Religion zu tun?  Ist es tatsächlich denkbar, daß die Religion des stallgeborenen Tischlers aus Betlehem ursächlich für die Entstehung des modernen Kapitalismus mitverantwortlich zu machen ist? Oder daß die Religion der  Nächstenliebe sich zu einer ideologische Stütze des Systems gnadenloser Konkurrenz gemananias und saphiraausert hat?

Zunächst spricht einiges dagegen – nicht zuletzt die heiligen Schriften. Hier ein Beispiel aus dem Neuen Testament [Apostel 5, 1-11] .  Das Ehepaar Ananias und Saphira hat seine Felder verkauft – und die Regeln der urchristlichen Gemeinschaft verlangen, daß sie den Erlös an die Gemeinde abgeben. Aber sie halten etwas von dem Geld zurück. Apostel Petrus durchschaut Ananias, konfrontiert ihn mit seiner Unehrlichkeit, bezichtigt ihn, Gott selbst betrogen zu haben. Und Ananias fällt auf der Stelle tot um. Seine Frau Saphira kommt später hinzu, wiederholt die Lüge – und sie erleidet das gleiche Schicksal: Tod als Strafe für den Versuch der Kapitalbildung.



Tengri, Ti’en and the Geese of Creation

This is a random association triggered by learning that the old Turkic word for “sky” and “god” Tengri (the origin of the Turkish term Tanrı – often preferred by Anatolian Sufis) and the Chinese ti’en – meaning the same – may be etymologically related.

I found two snippets from either tradition involving geese – and they are both about creation and creativity. I don’t know what to make of them yet, but it strikes me that in combination they contain the main recurrent themes of mythical and religious reflections on creativity and creation: parenthood, tricksterism, mirroring, metaphor. I’m not religious and don’t believe in a divine source of creativity, but if I’m right in doing so then such stories must be read as reflections on human creativity. The two accounts stand in an interesting tension between creative intention and planned action on the one hand and non-intentionality, accidental occurrences, pure reflections of natural processes on the other. In the first, shamanistic, account of the creation of the world by sky-god Tengri we have a creative urge – but that then is interferred with by a trickster figure whom, crucially, Tengri himself created. In the second, poetic, account we have a reflection on a… reflection – an accidental occurrence which, and this I think is overlooked in the interpretation that comes with it, is reflected in an intentional creative act, namely the writing of a poem.

Here is the old Turkic creation myth:

‘The great white Goose Tengri (Tengri Ülgen) flew over the primordial waters (Time). At the urging of the White Mother below he began to create. First, in his loneliness, he created Er Kishi, a devil-like figure who supposedly would help the creator. Er Kishi undermined the creation, however, and Tengri Ülgen left to remain in Heaven, where from he sent sacred animals to guide the people had created. Shamans made their way to the fifth heaven to consult with the divine spirits’ (Leeming 2010: 267)

I find the way the motif of the trickster is introduced here intriguing: Tengri is lonely and needs a creative companion. This loneliness and yearning of the creator resonates with Sufi philosophy – as explained here with reference to Ibn Arabi by Henry Corbin – where all starts with

a Divine Being alone in His unconditioned essence, of which we know only one thing: precisely the sadness of the primordial solitude that makes Him yearn to be revealed in beings who manifest Him to Himself insofar as He manifests Himself to them (Corbin 1969: 184)

The creator here seeks to be reflected – with humans acting as his mirrors. Here is how Rumi renders the Hidden Treasure metaphor that commonly is used to illustrate this yearning:

حق گفتش اى مردِ  زمان گنجى بُدم من در نهان

جستم كه تا  پيدا شَوَد آن گنج  احسان و عطا

آىٔينه كردم عيان رويش دل و پشتش جهان

‘God said to him: O temporal man, I was a hidden treasure / I sought that that treasure of loving kindness and bounty should be revealed / I displayed a mirror – its face the heart, its back the world’ (Nicholson 1952: 15)

Which leads over to the reflection by Chang Chung-yan that, to come full circle, also involves geese, and the sky (ti’en):

‘The following Chinese verse from the eighth century may help us to gain some insight into the nature of reflection:

The wild geese fly across the long sky above.

Their image is reflected upon the chilly water below.

The geese do not mean to cast their image on the water;

Nor does the water mean to hold the image of the geese.

This little poem is a metaphor for the idea of reflection as creativity. When the geese fly above the water, they are free of any intention of casting their image upon it, even as the water has no intention of reflection their flight. But it is at this moment that their beauty is most purely reflected. In this instant of reflection time is space and space is time. They merge at one absolute point, the point from which all beauty, all that is created, arises. Our minds are simply God’s mirror, reflecting the “here-now” of creation. Such, according to the Taoist, is the process of creation. But this creative reflection can only be understood through private intuition.’ (Chung-yuan 1970: 57)

As I said – creative intention is non-thematic here. Things just happen and they happen to leave a trace. But the act of observing and recording then becomes a creative act. So while straightforward intention (in the first account) needs to be broken by interference to introduce an element of unintended outcomes, the non-intentional emergence of beauty needs to be infused with a minimum of intentionality…

Chung-yuan, Chang (1970): Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry, New York: Harper.

Corbin, Henry (1969) Creative Imagination in the Sūfism of Ibn ‘Arabī, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Leeming, David Adams (2010): Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia, Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC-CLIO.

Nicholson, R. A. (1952) Selected Poems from the Dīvāni Shamsi Tabrīz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

in-between-ness, vestibules, rhizomes

I’ve been collecting notions of in-between-ness and liminality in relation to Sufism and commercial culture, rooted in the Platonic metaxý – from İbn Arabî to Georg Simmel. I have missed two important ones though –Deleuze and Guattari’ anarcho-Platonic/Heraclitean notion of the rhizome as in-between – and El Gazâlî’s notion of the dihlîz – the vestibular space. Here is Ebrahim Moosa’s (2005: 48f.) account of the concept:

‘The dihlīz signifies the space as well as the action of two entries: entry from the outside and entry into the inside. It is the critical intermediate space between outside and inside, between exoteric (āhir) and esoteric (in). And it is also the space that one has to traverse in order to enter or exit, which is the real function of a threshold area. That dihlīz-ian space constitutes a bounded space, a threshold between door (bāb) and house (dār). It is not a useless space, but one that can be used for multiple purposes. Viewed from the house proper, the dihlīzis located on the outside. But viewed from the door leading to the street, thedihlīz is on the inside. […] Unlike a border that serves as a territorial demarcation between sovereign territories and criminalizes improper crossing without authorization, the dihlīz is not a criminalizing space but a welcoming space. Furthermore, it ensures that one enters by the door in a disciplined manner while maintaining the decorum appropriate to the integrity of the occupants of the house and the people of the street. It is neither entirely private nor totally public, but something in between. However, the crucial dimension is the fact that without the dihlīz one cannot speak about an embodied “door” and a “house,” nor can one speak of an “outside” and an “inside.” Even though it is located in between spaces, the dihlīz frames all other spaces.’



Sufi consumerism?

Varul, Matthias Zick (2013): The Sufi ethics and the spirits of consumerism: A preliminary suggestion for further research, in: Marketing Theory, Vol.13, no.4, pp.505-512


In this speculative comment I will suggest that, in analogy with Colin Campbell’s argument regarding the Romantic Ethic and the spirit of modern consumerism, there isprima facie evidence that there is also an elective affinity between Sufi-infused Islamic religiosity and the emergent Muslim consumerisms, particularly in Turkey and among Turkish (and Kurdish) diasporas in Europe. The main relevant features of Sufi spirituality in this context are identified as continuous creation, creative imagination and longing.

pre-publication open access version

Sufi dream cinema

In my previous post I was apologetic about reducing Sufi spirituality to cinematic experience –  but probably I shouldn’t feel too guilty about this given that cinema as form of creative imagination can reach quite high levels of subtlety, so that Sufi writer and critic Sadık Yalsızuçanlar not only elevates directors such as Akira Kurosawa and Andrei Tarkowsky to the status of honorary Sufi masters, but considers the comparison between Said Nursi’s writings and Steven Spielberg’s films as a compliment to both – creators of dream cinema (rüya sineması)

  ‘Bediüzzaman’ın “Sekizinci Söz”ünü hep bir Spielberg prodüksüyonu olarak düşlüyordum. Adamın biri çölde gezinirken karşısına ansızın vahşi bir arslan çıkıyordu. N’olup bittiğini anlayamadan bir kuyuya düşüyordu. Altmış arşın derinliğindeki kuyunun dibinde bir canavar ağzını açmış bekliyordu. Düşerken tutunduğu ağacın köklerini siyah ve beyaz iki fare kemirmekteydi. Yukarda arslan, aşağıda ejderha, her dakika biraz daha kemirilen ağacın budağı… Buna rağmenher türden meyvanın fışkırdığı görkemli ağaca bakan adam onları yemekten de geri durmuyordu. Tolstoy’un itiraflarına da aldığı – ve eski bir şark masalı dediği – öyküdeki siyah-beyaz farelerin gece ve gündüz olduğunu, arslanın “yokluk”u, canavarın “ölüm”ü simgelediıni, altmış arşının ortalama insan ömrüne tekabül ettiğini ve “meyve”lerin dünya nimetleri olarak anlaşılması gerektiğini Üstad Said Nursi’den öğrenecektim. Sözler, bu türden rüya sinopsisleriyle örülmüştü. Kiminin Beybeda, kiminin Mevlana, kiminin de anonim mahreçli olduğu öykülerde soyut bir anlatım dilinin tüm imkanları kullanılmaktaydı. Bediüzzaman’ın otantik referansları şark-islam klasikleriydi. Öyküler gerçeğin ta kendisiydi ve sonuç yine rüya sinemasıydı.’ (Yalsızuçanlar 1997: 13f.)

Yalsızuçanlar, Sadık (1997): Düş, Gerçeklik ve Sinema, İstanbul: İz Yayıncılik