Downes, William
University of East Anglia
Norwich, U.K.

William Downes
School of Modern Languages and European Studies
University of East Anglia
Norwich NR4 7TJ
Norfolk, England.

Strand: discourse English

Title: Religious Language

Religious or sacred texts have mainly been the concern of theologians, translators, and philosophers of religion. But they also provide a `register range' for socio-functional linguistic interpretation, which enriches our understanding of language function. As a preliminary, the wide register diversity of religious language is recognized, from prayer to liturgy to catechism to mantra to hymn to mystical writing. Also recognized is the relativity and socio-historical nature of what counts as `Religion' in a given culture and its changing relationship to other institutional practices like secular `literature',`education' , `philosophy' and even the `erotic'. Beginning with the remarks of Malinowski, I will mention some functions of religious language; the historical-memnotic, the phatic- witnessing or cultic, the evaluative-normative, the pedagogic-didactic, the aesthetic, the ritual, the interiorizing-transformative etc. Texts and therefore structures are richly multi-functional in these situations and have profound `non-ideational' effects, almost like music. Religious texts problematize other varieties such as `literature'. The roles played by `vagueness' and `figurativeness' and the problem of `ineffability' will be raised. Two final issues are also of interest. Does religious language form an anachronistic `discursive practice' in Foucault's sense, peaking in the period 500BC- 700AD, a practice akin to that of social science? Finally, what is the status of `critique' or `the hermeneutics of suspicion' (Durkheimian, Marxist, Freudian, Linguistic Critical) with respect to sacred texts? (App. 250 words)