"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, December 23, 2019

Religious, Ritual, and Spiritual Responses to Trauma

This is a new international collection of scholarly articles that is rich on promise and offers encouraging evidence of theology moving into new areas: Trauma and Lived Religion: Transcending the Ordinary, eds., R.R. Ganzevoort and s. Sremac (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 258pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book focuses on the power of the ‘ordinary’, ‘everydayness’ and ‘embodiment’ as keys to exploring the intersection of trauma and the everyday reality of religion. It critically investigates traumatic experiences from a perspective of lived religion, and therefore, examines how trauma is articulated and lived in the foreground of people’s concrete, material actualities. 
Trauma and Lived Religion seeks to demonstrate the vital relevance between the concept of lived religion and the study of trauma, and the reciprocal relationship between the two. A central question in this volume therefore focuses on the key dimensions of body, language, memory, testimony, and ritual. It will be of interest to academics in the fields of sociology, psychology, and religious studies with a focus on lived religion and trauma studies, across various religions and cultural contexts. 
The execution of the book, however, rather falls down in several places. Collections have inherent weaknesses, but this one really could have done with editors tightening the focus of the articles somewhat, or in lieu of that providing some sort of epilogue or conclusion that drew out some common themes, which are present but under-developed and undertheorized in the chapters.

Chapters that stand out include Stephanie Arel's work on the role of pastoral (and especially papal) touch in overcoming shame, stigma, and their traumatic effects. She focuses on the number of people Pope Francis has touched and draws out some powerful lessons. Arel has herself contributed to an earlier collection, Post-Traumatic Public Theology.

The last section is especially useful, focusing on the ways in which Christian rituals can both help and harm those trying to overcome trauma.

The last chapter, by Hillary Jerome Scarsella, raises important but distressing questions from a Mennonite context: what message are victims of violence and abuse hearing when they come to church only to be told by Christians to imitate Christ, who stood silent before his accusers and abusers and protested nothing? Such a counsel can be retraumatizing for people who have suffered in silence and isolation for too long, powerless and voiceless. Such a counsel can leave powerful abusers in place, which is a gross injustice and potential danger to new victims.

Equally, what message are people hearing when told to forgive their abusers without any attempt at acknowledgement, let alone healing and reconciliation? Liturgies that too glibly promote these ideas and apparent virtues can do more damage than good. How can victims and victimizers equally partake from the same table and drink from the one chalice in the absence of any kind of reconciliation?

Finally I would note that the chapter on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Peru is very powerful, and Mariéle Wulf's chapter on trauma and healing is worthwhile. She draws on the insights of Margaret Crastnopol's recent book Micro-Trauma: A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Cumulative Psychic Injury (Routledge, 2015). 

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