quote, religous studies

Robes and Shovels: Medieval Monks Cultivated Wetlands | Ancientfoods

From the Ancientfoods weblog, this little gem from European monasteries:

“They placed these abbeys in all sorts of marginal areas to cultivate,” said study researcher Philippe De Smedt, a soil scientist at Ghent University in Belgium. In the High Middle Ages between the 12th and 14th centuries, Europe’s population was growing, De Smedt told LiveScience. Monk labor provided a solution to the crowding by making the land livable.

Indeed. Monks as agricultural pioneers is a bit of a trope through the world.

Robes and Shovels: Medieval Monks Cultivated Wetlands | Ancientfoods.


Quote: Margaret Slocomb on the role of agriculture in the Cambodian economy

I was planning on writing up a short review and recommendation on Peg LeVine’s book Love and dread in Cambodia: weddings, births, and ritual harm under the Khmer Rouge today.  But then I finally got to a point in my writing where I picked up another book, Margaret Slocomb’s An economic history of Cambodia in the twentieth century, and at the end of it was this wonderful, refreshing quote:

As the following chapters will demonstrate, agriculture, which has always been the main occupation of the people and the mainstay of the state surplus, has consistently failed to fulfill its potential as the designated catalyst for the sort of economic development that Cambodia’s modernisers envisaged. It is equally true, however, that after each catastrophe that befell the nation, it was traditional agriculture that revived the national economy and salvaged the people’s livelihood. (p. 29)

Yes, yes, and again yes:  the role of agriculture as a foundation for economy, culture, politics, and ritual imagination, has never been genuinely appreciated in Cambodian studies (or indeed among Cambodian ideologues).


Alfred Gell describing ‘deathpower.’

Both of my long-term readers know that the key concept in my work on Cambodian funerals and religion is deathpower, the social power created through the proper (moral or amoral) management of death. A colleague recommended Alfred Gell‘s monumental 1998 volume Art and Agency: an anthropological theory to me, and what do I find on p. 149 but this gem, which practically describes my work:

A Buddha statue celebrates the possibility of a ‘good death’ and monks are semi-dead individuals who aspire to the ultimate good-death condition….In a sense, then, what the relic does is make the Buddha state like the Buddha, by making it ‘dead’ through the insertion of a ‘death-substance’–in the rather paradoxical sense that Buddha-hood implies death-in-life.



Quote: on Cambodia’s economy

I just discovered this quote on a notecard from January, when I read the wonderful edited volume published by the Center for Khmer Studies.  This quote is by Jeremy Ironside, from his article, “Development – in whose name? Cambodia’s economic development and its indigenous communities – from self-reliance to uncertainty.”  It sums up a lot of Cambodia’s developing economy’s structural problems in a very few words:

For every $100 of exported garments, $63 is spent on improving materials and $4 on utilities. Value added is thus only 1/3 of the total value, with labour costs estimated at $13 and ‘bureaucracy costs’ at $7, with total gross profits at 13%. Three-quarters of these profits are repatriated [abroad; away from Cambodia]. Therefore, only 25% of the sale prie of the garment is net value added which stays in the Cambodian economy.”

p. 123, n.6.  Ironside is citing data from M. Beresford, S. Ngoun, R. Rathin, S. Sisovanna, N. Ceema. 2004. “The macroeconomics of poverty reduction in Cambodia.” The UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Programme on the Macroeconomics of Poverty Reduction.


“…now that the living outnumber the dead…”

“Daddy daddy, it was just like you said….now that the living outnumber the dead.”
-Laurie Anderson, Stories from the nerve bible.

Well, Laurie apparently didn’t get it quite right, though the notion alone is pretty spooky. Somebody finally visualized the numbers on this classic question.

Visualization of the Population of the Quick and the Dead

Population of the Dead.


Peter Watts on rumors, memes, and apocalypse

I’ve been reading through Peter Watts’ novels of late: pretty dark ‘hard’ sci-fi of a sort that really appeals to me.  In doing so I came across the following excellent phrases, which seemed almost like the beginning of a theory of rumors and their life-cycle. Some readers will know I accord a high importance to the exemplary study of rumors as an exercise in studying culture, so for my purposes, these quotes also seem like the beginning of a theory about culture. Which brings us to the final quote, where a culture seems to believe, against all reason, in an apocalyptic end; it believes this not because it is true, but because the culture itself – the selecting mechanism – appears to want it to be so.

Sound familiar to anyone else? All following quotes from Watts’ Maelstrom, book 2 in the tetralogic Rifters series, which is available for free reading and downloading on his own site, via a creative commons license, which pretty seriously rocks.

It didn’t make sense. Even the wildest rumors had to come out of the gate somewhere – how could all these people have started trumpeting the same thing at the same time? (237)

Rumors had their own classic epidemiology. Each started with a single germinating event. Information spread from that point, utating and interbreeding – a conical mass of threads, expanding into the future from the apex of their common birthplace. Eventually, of course, theyd wither and die; the cone would simply dissipate at its wide end, its permutations senescent and exhausted.

There were exceptions, of course. Every now and then a single thread persisted, grew thick and gnarled and unkillable: conspiracy theories and urban legends, the hooks embedded in popular songs, the comforting Easter-bunny lies of religious doctrine. These were the memes: viral concepts, infections of conscious thought. Some flared and died like mayflies. Others lasted a thousand years or more, tricked billions in the endless prorogation of parasitic half-truths. (241)

[In these cases i]t was as though someone or something had offered the world myriad styles, and the world had chosen the one it liked best. Veracity didn’t enter into such things; only resonance did.

And the meme that [announced and defined the] angel of the apocalypse wasn’t prospering because it was true; it was prospering because, insanely, people wanted it to be. (242)