Sensing the ‘Sacred’? Body, Senses and Intersensoriality in the Academic Study of Ritual
This essay is an attempt to explore the betwixt-and-between of participant observation. Even if we do not have a recording device stealthily running in our pocket, or a camera discretely hidden in the palm of our hand, we are ‘recording’ impressions mentally, with the explicit objective of processing them into neatly ordered expressions of a descriptive and even analytic nature afterwards, from which, preferably, we have edited ourselves out. My critical exploration of sense hierarchies was triggered by John Harper’s daring and contested, but undeniably creative and challenging ritual re-enactment of a supposedly historical performative reality. This recording device in our head is powered by a lifetime’s stock of theories and concepts as well as by culturally specific hierarchies in the human sensorium tending to produce lopsided sense impressions favoring sight and sound over the so-called lower senses.