Scholarly article on topic 'Concepts of Laughter and Humor in the Sociology of Religion'

Concepts of Laughter and Humor in the Sociology of Religion Academic research paper on "Sociology"

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Abstract of research paper on Sociology, author of scientific article — Oleksandr Golozubov

Abstract The present paper considers laughter and humor as a means of inter-action. Religion is interpreted as the major form of mutual coordination of action and communication experiences of participants and one of the social subsystems. The research is aimed to define a place of humor and laughter inside of this system. The study is based on the sociological approaches proposed by N. Luhmann, P. Berger, M. Mulkay. In this context the society itself has been presented as highly mobile system of relationships that depends on the presence or lack of understanding; similarity or difference of social, ethnic and gender identities; greater or lesser tolerance of the various public institutions, including Church, to laughter etc. Through various comic forms play and celebrity become the means of socialization, communication and understanding and at the same time institutionalization and selection of social structures. Contrary to the similar emotions among the animals, it is rooted in the communicative nature of the human community, multiplicity of the laughter's forms and their complicated dialogical character. This is a man who makes laughter cultural and anthropologically meaningful phenomenon in the context of his relations with the Other, God, world, nature. These relations outline Divine comedy of the postmodern and post-postmodern culture. It is the role of human being as the subject of humor and laughter, and at the same time religious ideas that should be clarified in future research.

Academic research paper on topic "Concepts of Laughter and Humor in the Sociology of Religion"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 140 (2014) 528 - 534

PSYSOC 2013

Concepts of Laughter and Humor in the Sociology of Religion

Oleksandr Golozubov a *

a National Technical University "Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute ", Frunze str. 21, 61002, Kharkiv, Ukraine

Abstract

The present paper considers laughter and humor as a means of inter-action. Religion is interpreted as the major form of mutual coordination of action and communication experiences of participants and one of the social subsystems. The research is aimed to define a place of humor and laughter inside of this system. The study is based on the sociological approaches proposed by N. Luhmann, P. Berger, M. Mulkay. In this context the society itself has been presented as highly mobile system of relationships that depends on the presence or lack of understanding; similarity or difference of social, ethnic and gender identities; greater or lesser tolerance of the various public institutions, including Church, to laughter etc. Through various comic forms play and celebrity become the means of socialization, communication and understanding and at the same time institutionalization and selection of social structures. Contrary to the similar emotions among the animals, it is rooted in the communicative nature of the human community, multiplicity of the laughter's forms and their complicated dialogical character. This is a man who makes laughter cultural and anthropologically meaningful phenomenon in the context of his relations with the Other, God, world, nature. These relations outline Divine comedy of the postmodern and post-postmodern culture. It is the role of human being as the subject of humor and laughter, and at the same time religious ideas that should be clarified in future research.

© 2014 TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of PSYSOC 2013. Keywords: Laughter, Humor, Sociology of Religion, Identity.

1. Introduction

Religious and sociological discourses have been joined in the writings and academic activities of the sociology of religion's prominent representatives. Thus, P. Berger has lectured Sociology and Theology at the Boston University. He understands social reality as a collection of thoughts, ideas and values. The importance of these elements of social reality, including morality and religion, is constructed in the process of social interaction. According to N. Luhmann, this interaction has the character of communication; inter-subjective consciousness

* Corresponding author: Oleksandr Golozubov. Tel.: +38-066-6795270 E-mail address: agolozubov@yahoo.com

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of PSYSOC 2013. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.04.465

creates a variety of everyday life's realities. In any case, it is an open system (subsystem), which creates conditions for filling the communicative and social space around a man by meanings.

My point is that laughter, humor and play can be understood as the means to represent the non-representable and play role of the utterance in the system statement - utterance - understanding. Berger and Luckmann reveal those areas, where influence and presence of religion has not been sufficiently realized and researched (Luckmann's "invisible religion" that can be paralleled to the so-called "minimal religion" by M. Epstein) but they don't pay special attention to laughter and humor. It does Russian researcher Alexander Dmitriev. In his Sociology of Humor (1996) Dmitriev examined the concept of the classic humor in theories of Freud and Bergson as primarily sociological. However, he uses the word "humor" in the broad sense, and considers it as a synonym for the comic. British sociologist of science Michael Mulkey researched humor in the framework of the sociological approach. He applied detailed and empirically based analysis to the nature of humor and its role in the modern society. Mulkey kept systematic approach to the social role that humor plays in the life of the advanced industrial society. Humor is based on the active creation and demonstrates the variety of interpretations. If serious discourse presupposes expected and predictable response, the joke ends in unexpected, paradoxical way, but that is its internal logic. Laughter is part of the sign system in the system of human communication. It is rarely completely uncontrollable and unexpected; often it's caused by a particular social (communication) situation. For Mulkey social basically means communicative; he considers mainly the laughter that deals with the direct communication between people, but pays little attention to the cultural context of the comic and its anthropological basis. Meanwhile sociology of humor can and should be considered in close connection with the social anthropology. It is symptomatic Ralph Piddington is the author of The Psychology of Laughter: a Study in Social Adaptation (1933) and Introduction to Social Anthropology (1950). So, is it possible to apply anthropological approach to the comic but in the sociology of religion's framework?

2. Theory

In the modern studies sociological approach to the phenomena of laughter has mostly localized within certain social, ethnic or gender groups. Inter-confessional aspects are often ignored, in some cases, possibly, to avoid religious conflicts but this is one of the ways to introduce humor and laughter into the sociology of religion. Even more important is the fact that one of the landmarks of the modern sociology of religion is theory of secularization. In our view, the secularization in some respects accompanies sacralization in others. The key processes that have shaped the semantic opposition within the human living space in the postmodern situation, were, on the one hand, the continuous loss of religion and the church of their positions in different spheres of life, the radicalization of views on Christianity and Christ ("non-religious Christianity", "death of God" theology, "demythologization" the New Testament, etc.), and on the other hand, the new growth of fundamentalism and sectarianism, as well as the sacralization of some cultural concepts, characters and plots, primarily related to the carnival culture, as the trickster, buffoon, God's Fool. Moreover, new medievalism has discovered carnival and laughter elements in the very church culture, medieval and modern. This happens in spite of the rejection of any sacredness, which is characteristic of the postmodern. So, article is aimed to investigate what's place of laughter and humor concepts in the sociology of religion having based on the above-mentioned context.

Protestant theologian H. Cox, as well as Peter Berger, described the impact of secularization on social life as the loss of their religion, social values and orientation of the individual. Cox himself, as he himself noted, in the study of such phenomena as festival and fantasy, had been partly inspired by the work of the American sociologist Robert Bellah (Cox, 172), who in its publications of the 1960-70th, especially in the essay Civil Religion in America (1967), called not to be limited in consideration of the theology by the clerical sphere, and compared theology for the religion with criticism for the literature.

According to Luhmann, in P. Beyer's opinion, "the communication is not to be a "two-person" transmission, but rather a 'three-selection' synthesis, then attributing communication, whether as utterance or understanding, to God, gods, other non-human partners, or even some sort of impersonal foundational reality should be unproblematic for this theory" (Beyer, 109). Religion provides resource of the meanings which makes possible to connect that is actually disconnected, to present non-representable. In this way, as R. Cipriani notes, "the idea of God as a contingency formula that was helpful in order to make the transition from indeterminable to determinate and therefore it reduced complexity" (Cipriani, 228).

3.Discussion

We would like to look at the social dimension of humor and laughter with taking into consideration current understanding not only of society as a whole, but also its religious institutions, and the religion itself as a system of communication, inter-actions, or, more generally, relations (Luhmann), separated from the surrounding environment. In this case, we should to study laughter as an anthropological phenomenon, one of the fundamental and distinctive characteristics of a man, including determining its religious outlook and behavior.

Closeness of theology and anthropology has become obvious since last had been formed. It's seen from writings of M. Scheler and H. Plessner. The founders of philosophical anthropology introduced laughter to the sacred space. But they also clearly understood social nature of the human communication. Scheler explained the concept of social practice through special reality that lies at the base of human thought and activity. Laughter and humor became its components. Obviously the philosophical anthropology influenced authors of The Social Construction of Reality. Plessner even wrote the preface to the book's German edition.

According to L. Karasev, there are two kinds of laughter: "laughter of the body", which is present not only in humans, and the actual comic evaluation of reality, or "laughter of the mind". Some intellectual reflection is present in all forms of humorous responses, including a smile and irony. However, the irony demonstrates detachment, existential distance, philosophical attitude to the Other; the smile and laughter are spontaneous emotional reactions. Here reflection precedes emotional reaction or accompanies it. We believe ethical imperative to respect oneself and others lies in the basis of this understanding. Karasev supposes, "Laughter is a sign of joy, that's why it's so natural to oppose it to the tears". One could argue that this is not always true. Perhaps laughter and joy are two emotional expressions of wide range of reactions towards the world, the Other, God. Laughter doesn't necessarily express joy. Laughter is directed to the Other, being shared with him or not, but the joy is rooted in the microcosm of those who rejoice. It can be expressed outwardly poorly, but can be as devilish as infernal laughter that expresses it.

Humor is not only laughter, but also a smile. In the case of humor, intellectual component is in the foreground; in the case of smile and laughter emotional one, but coupled with the ethical. We think it's necessary to introduce a category of not only the "aesthetic distance" but also "ethical distance". Both are conditioned by certain social and communicative space so far a person is "the social animal". The communicative dimension gives dynamics to the social being, and the ethical component is a spring that directs it in some way.

Ethical relation is implemented in the social life more than aesthetic. The latter is more static and is updated rather by socially constructed and meaningful situations. In relation to nature the sense of beauty is pure emotion; in relation to the artistic product and its author it's perceived due to the prevailing opinion, or individual aesthetic sense, which, however, in turn, is brought up by social institutions and situations of communication on the aesthetic topics, including the categories of the comic and the tragic.

Aesthetic quality of laughter distinguishes man from animal. During last several decades reasonable and social behavior of some animals not only attracts increasing interest of scientists but also has been embedded in the contemporary cultural space. It becomes some kind of experimental model for the implementation of artistic ideas and putting the philosophical, anthropological important issues in fictional forms (Dolphin Island by A. Clarke, A Sentient Animal by R. Merle, B. Weber's trilogy about the ants, etc.). The literature speculates primarily about intelligence that is inherent in some way in the certain types of animals, but the founders of sociobiology don't deny a variety of emotional life in many of them. Edward O. Wilson in his Sociobiology (1975) refers giggles and laughter to the vocal (nonverbal) paralanguage. M. Argyle believes that apes show humor and laughter, partly similar to the human feelings (Argyle). Nevertheless Argyle considers a verbal ambiguity, unattainable for the animals as foundation of the humor.

Van Huff classified smile and laugh as the most ancient and universal signals, based on homology to the expression of the monkeys and apes' faces. Empirical data of the modern biology indicates sociability in the animal world. In this social context relevant grimaces in animals is different, and it can be traced to the certain evolution. Moreover, the famous primate researcher Frans de Waal believes the animals demonstrate not only certain forms of the social behavior but also morality. "No one doubts the superiority of our intellect, but we have no basic wants or needs that are not also present in our close relatives" (Waal). Thus, de Waal not only challenges the extra-moral status of animals but also justifies the existence of morality before religion. Then morality poses as the result of natural selection and survival of those species in which the propensity for cooperation and altruism was stronger.

That is, Religion and Ethics "prescribe what we are already programmed on". But the fact that on the biological level expresses the basic forms of cooperation, on the social level takes the form of dialogue, communication, creates social and communicative space around us, developmental and emotional, and intellectual abilities of a person.

Animals can also express joy, delight, and other similar human emotions. Nevertheless, as it's evidenced by observations of Charles Darwin and outlined in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), it happens at the excited state of sensory areas, during various games, and muscle activities, as if it happens among children, and no more. The evolution in the animal world stimulates adaptation to the environment, and formation of the behavioral traits, habits, adaptive coloration, etc. In the case of people after physicality, anatomical and psychophysical structure of the human being had been basically formed, a man continues to develop his (her) non-biological characteristics and explore religious, moral, aesthetic experiences. At the level of society it leads to the formation of values, ethnic and cultural traditions, ethical and legal standards, ideological, scientific and philosophical paradigms finally religious and mythological concepts, which, in turn, influence the nature and direction of our senses. These are joy and laughter that, in comparison with fear, anger, surprises, in much degree contain no-emotional or namely moral grounds.

Thus, both the sociological and philosophical-anthropological formulation of the problem leads us to the problem of the relationship of humans and other living beings that has not had until now full and generally accepted explanation. At the same joy and laughter are related to the constitutive human qualities. However, it's not quite answer to the question how they are related to the communicative nature of a man and whether they able to contribute to our understanding of the anthropological foundations of sociology of religion.

Dialogism and communicative character of a man himself and the culture he created are its most important prerogatives that cause the wide range of comic tools, joy and laughter. Humor is social, it brings people together; laughing is rather asocial and antisocial and destroys social cohesion. It's closer to the buffoonery and the world upside down. Laugh itself is emotion, but its character, perception and orientation are dynamic and culturally determined, due to the attitude in both society and persons who laugh and mock. It's special form of privilege to be "adult child" and to play the fool, provoke or break the rules, primarily in a mocking parody form. In addition, these marginal can be both subjects and objects of laughter.

Cultural and thus anthropologically oriented definition of laughter is associated not only with human ability to express the attitude, but it's also constructs the latter. If laughter expresses the relationship then its evolution and the social context, and philosophical-anthropological dimension are possible. Then stress can be relieved, social bonds renewed, and the contradictions resolved, including discrepancy between laughter and joy. The latter, in the founder of humanistic psychology A. Maslow's theory is understood as one of the peak experiences and the main type of positive emotions, but it's attitude, and dialogical and communicative aspects that transform joy as emotion into joy as feeling passing through the mind and heart. Then joy invert mocking laughter into laughter of sympathy that connects people, and creates an open, dialogic system. Therefore, in the totalitarian world there is no place not only for fundamental rights and freedoms, creativity and love, but also joy, sincere fun, life-affirming laughter. A closed society creates a closed, minimize variability in their discursive and saturation, and communicative, and mental space. "Open" morality according to Bergson is prior display of individuality. Individuality itself is powerful manifestation of the vitality, and in fact continuation of the self-preservation and self-assertion instincts. Intuition, imagination, creativity, love - all this is individually and emotionally colored and it resists static, monotony, closed systems, like Darwinism opposes the doctrine of "the created species".

Civilizational development directs vector of the national self-consistent knowledge towards chauvinism, militarization and centralization of the system closed simultaneously with the increase of contradictions and explosion inside it. The world of our values and moral ideals, however, brings us closer to the evolutionary purposes of God. Ethics in this case is the result of evolution, in which God makes a person an accomplice liability to the creation, in front of other living creatures.

The way the person understands his laughter in, when, at whom and at what he is laughing, due not only personal, but also a collective human experience. Nevertheless, the collective society is collection of individuals. "Social animals" form their cultural and communicative space and establish certain rules, including to what are limits of parody, and criticism, where does the humor and satire begins. The human being expresses superiority or, on the contrary, sympathy and solidarity through laughter, and it's his basic characteristic. Laughter touches the

underlying fundamentals of human existence, answers "Yes" to all sufferings and contradictions of the world, and the answer presupposes faith in the meaningfulness of life, and thus religious faith, as it is from a rational point of view life is nonsense.

Human responsibility to other living beings is due not so much intellectual and physical superiority, as the presence of more or less keen moral sense. But the moral sense, and certainly potentially involves religious feeling in the broadest sense, which includes not only the thrill of creativity, which Michelangelo, Flaubert, Mickiewicz and others wrote about, but also Darwin, Linnaeus, Einstein and other great minds witnessed. They delight infinite complexity and diversity of the natural world, the biological kingdom whose laws they tried to comprehend.

It's not just about the socialization, but about a man as participant of the whole system of relationships with the world, as taught by the Eastern religious and philosophical systems. In this regard, the sociology of religion has not only the anthropological, but also theological foundations. So-called "natural person" can be attributed not only by his closeness to the nature, but also identified with a laughing man, and with religious person. If we feel fixed at the point of distinction between religious belief, including the various forms of religiosity outside of the church (Luckmann), on the one hand, and the church, the clergy, dogma, and all that is religion as a social institution, on the other hand, then freedom, laughter, the play are the most important anthropological categories, without which the understanding of contemporary culture is impossible.

In these terms, the biological stages of human life and the corresponding stages of socialization and the development of human thought, as childishness and immaturity, find their match in philosophical-anthropological categories as foolishness and buffoonery, which address us directly to the comic element, as well as to religious, mysterious or even incarnational experience.

In its most frivolous and most serious varieties of humor has been one of the forms in which man plays fool, expresses his earthly, carnal nature, behaves with childlike and given to the momentary whims. Humor is not only one of the possible playing activities, but also the most human of them. Lutheran pastor and noted Bible scholar John Johnson believed that the origins of humor and irony to be found precisely in the children's play impulse (Jonsson) developed in further intellectual and spiritual life of the individual.

The play does not only underlie the festival as a means of socialization, but it is an important metaphor for the postmodern mind. J. Huizinga not only revealed the basic role of play in the culture, but also the point that play and seriousness are compatible. D.L. Miller in his book Gods and Games (1969) presented no serious theology of the play, but the theology of the seriousness filled by play, or, in other words, the utmost seriousness, which is a play itself (Miller, 5). American psychologist A. Jensen distinguished serious games (sacred cult) and unserious (children's) ones. George G. Meade believed that the children in their games reveal own identity as individuals and protest against the social order of collectivity. Swiss psychologists Edouard Claparede and Jean Piaget, and American researcher Harvey Lehman introduced the category of play into psychology. All of them considered children's entertainments as a new standard of the play; although in different way consider its nature, purpose and relationship with adult activity. E. Erickson in his book Childhood and Society (1950) examined childish games as infantile form of the human ability to deal with experience through model situations and control of reality by experiment and planning. In 1964, Eric Berne published book Games People Play. In the same way, A. Chapman four years later took a serious analysis of the everyday individual and social activities as if it were a game. The playful element was found in the Christian ritual even (R. Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy). J. Caputo calls the prayer "special religious language game" (Caputo, 204). Caputo has seen return to early pre-metaphysical Christianity in the phenomenon, which he defines as "the death of the death of God". It was in the early, pre-church Christianity where Protestant theologian Harvey Cox discovered the spirit of festivity and fantasy. The theologian called to awake it in his book The Feast of Fools (1969). Postmodern theology in its varieties such as "theology of joy", "theology of laughter" and "theology of play" revives the spirit and opens way to enjoy God and the world. It means not only to choose conversation, friendship and games as means to achieve necessary but temporary relaxation, rest from work and tension of everyday life. It also encourages the productive imagination, restores human spontaneity, and supports those forms of culture, which not only offer social compensation, but also contribute to the necessary social change, bringing people together in the not authoritarian communities. This is an appeal to the childishness in the positive way.

B. Whedbee, G. Kushel, I. Gilhus, C. Hyers and other representatives of the so-called theology of laughter

actually stated that the inconsistency and the drama surrounding the human world are not signs of nonsense that prevails around us, but evidence of the Divine Comedy, which involves God, a man and the world. To restore human awareness of the value of the self and the outside world and the ability to enjoy it, theology of laughter called to become at some point a child, a fool, jester, and harlequin out from under the power of the canons, standards and dogmas, to be creative and free being. Then the laughter becomes a manifesto of hope and freedom, including in respect of proximity to nature and the natural feelings of distancing from the world of commerce (business) and the bustle of the city, and the Christian saints are likened to a hippie (Sheridan, Squire, Wesolowski).

4. Conclusions.

We share some emotional manifestations with animals but only human being makes laughter intellectual feeling and cultural phenomenon. We believe the need and ability of a person to enjoy and laugh is implemented in the forms, which are due to certain social and cultural context, the interpretation of which the sociology of religion provides. Among the latter's foundations both natural philosophy and theological paradigms of the human experience can fully be called. There is an insurmountable contradiction between them. On the contrary, it is the joy and laughter that form a cross-discourse where human being at a time is presented as part of the natural world and the subject of the first of all dialogical, communicative relationship that set it apart from other species.

Favorable environment for the comic is the multiplicity, variation. It is excluded only in the closed, monolithic universe. The comic becomes an organic element, where we can see the multicultural, multivariate, open space.

Laughter and humor frame relationships within the Divine Comedy of postmodernism. But the absurdity of this comedy is defined by the social roles that are performed by the participants, and the social space in which it occurs. In this regard, the sociology of religion is prolongation of the sociology of humor, as the details concept of the Other towards laughter and humor, laughter and joy, laughter and context.

In this context, religion is considered as most important form of mutual coordination of actions and experiences of communicants, as one of the social sub-systems interact with the other religions, while at the same time a means of institutionalizing and selection of the social structures. But humor and performs selective function within particular confession as well. According to the American Catholic priest and professor of sociology Andrew Greeley, there are several kinds of religious humor, one of which contains a satire on the clergy, such as F. Fellini's film Rome (1972), G. Greene's novels The Power and the Glory (1940) and The Honorary Consul (1973), E. Trollope's fiction, etc.

The society itself can be postulated as a highly mobile system of relations that are based on the social, ethnic and gender identity; tolerance or hostility of various public institutions, including Church, towards various emotions and related concepts. We suppose, laughter and laughing possess clue positions in this discourse. These are laughter and humor convert the play and festival into methods of socialization, and communication. Aesthetic and moral character of humor and laughter is distinguishable for the human beings in comparison to the similar phenomena in animals. Dialogical, communicative features of a man and the culture he created constitute its most important prerogative and it makes possible wide range of the comic manifestations, joy and laughter. Laughter itself is emotion but its character is dynamic and culturally determined and depends on the social relations and attitudes between a person who is laughing and who is laughed at. In more general sense, it means attitude to the Other. We can make the conclusion that the sociology of religion is impossible without the ethical criteria and corresponding psychological and sociological mechanisms. It should involve not only the latest research in sociology, but the new theological trends also.

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