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April 3, 2008

Journal 1

Week 9 Journal

During Week 9: The History of the Self and other, class began by discussing Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities?. After covering our initial responses to Anderson’s writing style and readability, we broke into small groups. Posed to us were these questions: “What does Anderson mean by ‘imagined’ communities?? and “What is the relation of the religious community, the dynastic realm, and nationality??

As for the first question posed, whatever homeostatic resolution we may have reached within our groups, the differences of our conclusions about the ‘imagined community’ resonated in discussion. Not only ‘imagined’ but ‘community,’ too, needed defining. What is a community? The working definition we seemed to agree upon was that a community is either ascribed or subscribed to, but in either case, it is a group of people with whom one has things in common—whether it be a floor in a dorm, a small city, or a nation in which all members live; a place of employment; or a group of people that all enjoy juggling. So how, then are these communities imagined, even the ones with physical contact? After much discussing, ‘imagined’ boiled down to not fake or made up, not the hierarchical orientation or the degree of physicality of the relationship, but the emotional investment in that relationship: the sense of “I belong.? Communities arrange themselves in myriad different ways, but when one considers oneself a part of a community, one feels like he or she belongs, he or she imagines a connection between him or herself and the other members of the community. And it is in this feeling of connection that Anderson stakes his claim of ‘imagined.’ Even in communities of close physical contact, where the idea of community is almost tangible, Anderson argues that it is still imagined because of the emotional stake people have in it.

In addressing the second question, discussion focused mainly on three different ways in which the religious community, the dynastic realm, and nationality relate. The first is how they are organized. What kind of relationship corresponds with each type of community? As for religious communities and dynastic realms, the relationship is a simple centripetal, hierarchical relationship. If portrayed three dimensionally, I imagine it would look pyramidal or cone like. At the top is the single, most powerful being in the community (God, or the Ruler); on the next tier is a powerful group few in number (the clergy, or the aristocracy); and on down the until the low group of many (common man). Nations, on the other hand are arranged horizontally, such that every one is perceived to be equal. The second way in which the religious community, the dynastic realm, and nationality relate is in terms of their bounds. Both the religious community and dynastic realm have fluid boundaries, shifting and moving all the time. Nations, on the other hand, have hardened, set boundaries. The third and last way we discussed that the religious community, the dynastic realm, and nationality relate is in terms of how time is viewed. In the Religious and Dynastic Communities, everything that happens is predetermined by Divine Providence and it is therefore unrealistic to think in terms of what is happening simultaneously at some other location. Nothing that happens is related to anything else temporally or causally. Everything happens in the Divine Realm at the same time and is spread out temporally only on Earth. In the national community, though, things are related temporally and causally and so thinking about events in terms of cause and effect and simultaneity is both plausible and common.

Though not presented in the questions we were supposed to address in small group discussion, we inevitably ended up talking over the shift from small physical communities to larger physical communities to the absence of physical contact within communities; this shift’s causes; and the pros and cons of this shift. Two of the major causes we discussed that were contributors to this shift are the decline of the use of Latin in printing (i.e. the democratization of Holy Scriptures and other scholarly texts) and print capitalism. Once people started being able to buy things like newspapers and to read them at home while sipping a cup of coffee, the need for physical contact lessened; and virtual contact and imagined kinship replaced it.