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Religion and Society

And if We Try to Talk about Connections?





Amselle J.-L.







Anthropologie de


l’universalité des cultures





Flammarion, Paris, 2001



Italian Translation:Connessioni. Antropologia




delle culture





Bollati Boringhieri,


Turin, 2001







ike the previous Logiche meticce, Branchements, too, comes from field work, in this case field work carried out in the capitals of three African countries: Bamako in Mali, Cairo in Egypt, and Conakry in Guinea. The central thread of this new work, as Amselle himself observes, ‘concerns the subject of ‘connection’: in this way an attempt has been made to move away from that of ‘hybridisation’, my previous topic, which seems to me today overly marked by biology’ (p. 7). This moving away, to listen to Amselle, does not seem to be only a terminological question: ‘having recourse to the electrical or computer metaphor of connection, that is to say that of a derivation of particularistic meanings from a network of planetary meanings, that approach is moved away from, an approach that involves seeing in our globalised world the product of mixture of cultures seen in their turn as closed universes, and one manages to place at the centre of reflection the idea of triangulation, that is to say recourse to a third element in order to base one’s own identity’. (p. 7)



The aim of this book, therefore, is to try to sustain the wager of interculturality in a more convincing way than was previously possible when employing the metaphor of hybridisation. This last, in the view of Amselle, ran the risk of drawing near to the myth of Babel, according to which incommunicability between men arises precisely from the chaotic mixing of languages generated by the juxtaposition of the various human communities. In contrary fashion, the metaphor of connection seems to obey a schema which overturns that of Babel: ‘in the schema of connection it is precisely interconnection that is the condition for the existence of intercultural communication’.



Amselle’s idea has not changed: there is no culture without cultures and this applies to all epochs. The new development, compared to Logiche meticce, is the particular prudence that is used so as not to fall into a dangerous misunderstanding: making the phenomenon of the generalised mobility of cultures (travelling cultures) a process of the homogenisation of scattered segments, the idea of hybridisation ‘betrays that fact that it belongs to a biological question that is the equivalent at an economic level of what constitutes the theory of globalisation’ (p. 21). The idea that the origin of a culture is in itself a connection, that is to say something that it is not possible to fix and catalogue, for Amselle represents the theoretical premise to support an anthropology of the universality of cultures: local forms of particularism, in fact, far from remaining isolated in a relativistic incommensurability, ‘are always inscribed in a framework of a wider system which gives them a meaning’ (p. 46). One understands this when studying, for example, the phenomenon of the religious and linguistic globalisation that took place in Africa: ‘an Arab-Muslin domination that induced the naturalisation and nativisation of universal meanings in the local languages was matched by a Western-Christian domination which, in turn, was expressed through the translation of Christian planetary meaning into the various African cultural idioms’ (p. 58).



In Amselle’s view, this co-penetration-connection demonstrates that the great religions are ‘particularisable universals’, and that ‘universalism, far from working against the expression of differences, is, in contrary fashion, the privileged means for their expression’ (p. 46). A doubt, however, remains: it is really true, as Amselle seems to argue, that the universal is only the ‘planetary’? In other terms, if it is certainly the case that universal ‘meanings’ exist in the sense of being extended to the global whole of the planet, is it possible to state that there are also universal ‘meanings’ whose value does not depend on their, albeit necessary, empirical (historical-geographical) declination but rather on the anthropological quality that they are able to channel?


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