Enchantment and the ethic of brotherhood: dreams and the charismatic organization

Rationalization in the service of enchantment

The enchantment of the world which Max Weber’s work in the early years of the twentieth century depicted as receding before an ever more rationalized and bureaucratized public hfe has, in fact, never quite disappeared, and in many pails of the world today it maintains an often respected and respectable place in the public domain (Jenkins 2000; Pierucci 2000; Weber 2011). Over recent decades, public religiosities have emerged across the globe, demonstrating clearly, if such were necessary, that religion and modernity are quite compatible (Deeb 2006:4; Pierucci 2000:131), and that modern manifestations of public piety enable believers to express their faith in ways that may seem, at first glance, to be at odds with the values of the modem, the secular and the rational (Luhrmann 2012; Mahmood 2005). This chapter draws on the insights from this literature to consider experiences and understandings of enchantment, and how it may be contained and ordered within modem institutional structures, by detailing the case of Ahmadiyya Islam over the last century.

Weber understood the idea of disenchantment both as an internal process within religion and also as a way of describing the fate of religion in the modern world. Entzauberung, the German word translated as ‘disenchantment’, literally means ‘de-magification’, and refers in the former context to the move away from magical and ritual engagement with the given world to a focus on the transcendent and other-worldly, a process Weber sees as starting as early as the time of the prophets of ancient Judaism and finding its clearest Western articulation in Calvinism (Kalberg 1980:1146, fn2; Pierucci 2000:136).' This description could be applied to Ahmadiyya Islam, though given its debt to Sufi traditions, it is perhaps as close to ‘Catholic’ Islam as to its more ‘Protestant’ forms. But for this chapter I use enchantment in its broader meaning as the:

understandings and experiences of the world in which there is more to life than the material, the visible or the explainable; in which the philosophies and principles of reason or rationality cannot by definition dream the totality of life; in which the quotidian norms and routines of linear time and space are only part of the story; and in which the collective sum of sociability and belonging is elusively greater than its individual parts.

(Jenkins 2000:29)

The Ahmadiyya case in particular is interesting as one where the drive to institutionalize and develop rational bureaucratic systems along lines most commonly found in secular organizations was already taking shape in the first decades of the twentieth century in colonial India. These systems were thus examples of modern rational bureaucracies - albeit at this stage small scale and often more aspirational than acmalized - in the service of enchantment. This was, moreover, happening at the very time Weber (2011:120) was writing of the Entzauberung der Welt (disenchantment of the world), which he theorized would result as a consequence, among other things, of the drive to efficiency and rationalization manifested most clearly in the modem professional bureaucracies which trained and employed rule-following administrators to become proficient in the ordering, organization and systematic recording of myriad and ever-increasing aspects of daily life (Weber in Kalberg 2005:194ff). However, the institutional systems of recording membership, collecting dues, filling offices and so on was not, for the Ahmadis, a means by which to resign themselves to a new disenchanted modern world but rather the way through which the knowledge and experiences of enchantment could be shared, harnessed and brought to bear on the wider international and ultimately global community. In short, the organizational structure of Ahmadiyyat established within just a few years of the death of its founder became a modern, replicable, standardized container for, and transmitter of, forms of legitimate enchantment. As part of this the Ahmadi faithful were required regularly to attend meetings and events organized by their duly elected and appointed presidents and committee leaders. Here they would learn about Islam, the history of Ahmadiyyat, the correct ways to pray, how to interpret religious texts, and be expected to pass examinations set by the jama ‘at to test religious knowledge and understanding. In other words, members of the jama ‘at would learn how to become Ahmadi through an organizational structure which was modern, literate and bureaucratic and in which religious progress was, in part at least, assessed by examination results.

One part of the religious instruction for Ahmadis included the study of prophecy, the place of dreams in Islam and how to recognize and interpret the true dreams granted to the faithful. Through study, prayer and shared practices and experiences of tme dreams, for example, the institutional structures of the Ahmadi jama ‘at nurtured and prepared the faithful to recognize occurrences of the divine and the transcendent in the everyday lives of believers. It is almost as though the Ahmadis had taken Weber’s ideas on disenchantment to heart and, while accepting the rational calculability of the world that this resulted in, had refused the conclusion that the world was therefore meaningless and that henceforth, in a disenchanted world, the need for a divine creator was no longer necessary to explain the order of things. The enchanted world that Weber’s sociology had consigned to history was one in which:

People used to see themselves as part of a larger order. In some cases, this was a cosmic order, a ‘great chain of Being', in which humans figured in their proper place along with angels, heavenly bodies, and our fellow earthly crea-nires. This hierarchical order in the universe was reflected in the hierarchies of human society. . . . But at the same time as they restricted us, these orders gave meaning to the world and to the activities of social life.

(Taylor in Bemiett 2001:59)

This was the world the Ahmadis wished to preserve and thus it was precisely Weber's vision of a disenchanted future which they rejected by, paradoxically, harnessing the structures and forms of modem organizations. This process was started by the promised messiah and consolidated by the second Ahmadi khalifa who was responsible for setting the Ahmadi jama ‘at on modem institutional lines and thus of understanding that his father’s legacy could best be secured by the ‘routinization of charisma' (Weber in Kalberg 2005:217ff).2 Such routinization was necessary, as the charisma of the Ahmadi founder, which followers are able to recognize but which like all charisma is ephemeral and ‘inherently transitional’, rarely survives beyond the death of the charismatic leader unless it is routinized in institutional form. The paradox of charisma is that it has to change in order to survive but that in this process some of its charismatic force is necessarily diminished (Toth 1972:1). Toth notes that for the ‘successful transition of collective behavior into institutionalized or quasi-institutionalized social movements', not one but two leaders, for example, Jesus and Peter, or Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, are often required (Toth 1972:1).

These two leadership roles seem to appear in both conjunction and succession, the first demonstrating ‘charisma of the outer call’, the second ‘charisma of an inner consolidation'. It is this second leader who is able to turn the corner from charisma to routine, accomplishing it under the aegis of the more unearthly charisma of the first leader.

(Toth 1972:1)

Although Ghulam Ahmad himself created the Ahmadi anjuman (council) and set some of the administrative organization up, for the Ahmadis it was their second khalifa, who can be said to have taken the ‘enthusiasm' of his father and complemented it with the skills of the bureaucrat to build an institution that could ensure the long-term survival of his father’s vision and legacy. In other words:

what distinguishes the two leaders is not so much a difference of charisma as the direction in which their leadership efforts express their thrust and focus; the first leader is strange, fascinating, unusual, unearthly, the second is more conventional, mundane, practical; the first leader brings the elect together, the second creates an organization to contain them; the first leader is inspired by a vision, the second elaborates that vision into a plan.

(Toth 1972:2)

The routinization of charisma serves the purpose of enabling the vision of the founder charismatic leader to perdure, it is the means by which charisma:

is captured in the form of a promise unfulfilled, a gesture uncompleted, a journey of destination without arrival; it is in this way that what is yet unfinished is frozen in time, the atemporal temporalized, the sacred and exclusive transformed into something to be shared by all.

(Toth 1972:3)

For the Ahmadis, this routinization of charisma was established through an organizational framework that included constitutions, elected and nominated offices, and a clear hierarchy with directives issued by, and oversight of, the organization by higher levels of the Ahmadiyya jama ‘at. At the apex was the khalifa who retained the power to overturn decisions, including the results of elections which may thus be viewed more as recommendations for his consideration, at any level in the organization. Bureaucratic restrictions and rules which had to be followed by members of the jama ‘at did not apply to the charismatic leader himself.

I begin this chapter by examining the ways in which some Ahmadis today may use dreams as one means for maintaining a sense of enchantment in their daily lives.3 Dreams provide these Ahmadis with the experience of divine care and guidance as a continuous presence and resource in the midst of their everyday routines. Oneiric interpretation has a very long tradition in Islam, but it has been given renewed vitality in Ahmadiyya Islam because of the central role played by prophetic dreams in the life of Ghulam Ahmad and his claims to be the mahdi and messiah. These prophetic dreams are, however, very different to the quotidian dreams of ordinary Ahmadis: they arise out of and also confirm the charisma of the singular spiritual leader and founder. By contrast, one dream of the fourth khalifa was, in this respect, somewhat differently interpreted and situated. He interpreted his dream as being outwardly directed towards the community of the faithful, towards in fact the channeling of the enchantment of faith into the safe repository of institutional organization in the form of an expanding bureaucracy and the establishment of a new Ahmadi institution, the waqf-e-nau, or new endowment/devotion, when children are pledged at birth to the jama ‘at to devote their lives to the service of Ahmadiyya Islam.

Weber proposed that ‘the need for “salvation” responds to [the] devaluation’ that is a consequence of the disenchantment of the world ‘by becoming more other-worldly, more alienated from all structural forms of life and, in exact parallel, by confining itself to the specific religious essence’. Weber adds that ‘the very attempt of religious ethics practically and ethically to rationalize the world’, and ‘not only theoretical thought, which disenchanted the world’, leads to ‘this course’ (Weber in Kalberg ed. 2005:343).

The specific intellectual and mystical attempts at salvation in the face of these tensions succumb in the end to the world dominion of unbrotherliness. On the one hand, the charisma of these attempts is not accessible to everybody. Hence, in intent, mystical salvation definitely means aristocracy; it is an aristocratic religiosity of redemption. And, in the midst of a culture that is rationally organized for a vocational workaday life, there is hardly any room for the cultivation of a cosmic brotherliness, unless it is among strata that are economically carefree. Under the technical and social conditions of [modern] rational culture, an imitation of the life of Buddha, Jesus, or Francis seems condemned to failure for purely external reasons.

(Kalberg 2005:343)

In the ethnographic material that follows I suggest that the continued vitality of the Ahmadis as a community of faith puts into question Weber's broad conclusions about the fate of religion in the modern world (though Weber did not, of course, deny the existence of exceptions to the general development he proposed). The aristocracy of the khalifat may not be in doubt, especially of its first charismatic leader, but for the Ahmadis it is, perhaps paradoxically, precisely ‘a culture that is rationally organized for a vocational workaday life’ that allows for room for the ‘cultivation of a cosmic brotherhood’ that stretches across both nation and the global diaspora. The ethic of brotherhood, along with compassion, charity and a unified sense of self, was one of the major casualties for Weber of the process of rationalization. These values had retreated at best into the private realm ‘owing to a weakening of the salvation doctrines of religious world views and their carrier strata and organizations’ (Kalberg 2005:29; see also Weber in Kalberg 2005:321-327). But these are the very values that the Ahmadis strive to sustain through the creation of efficient bureaucratic organizations that in fact connect their ‘workaday lives’ to the prophetic charisma of Ghulam Ahmad and so to the renewal of faith he promised and initiated.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >