From the impressions of class discussions in the last couple of weeks, it appears we are in the thick of popular religion and taking an entirely different approach from previous investigations. It is being described through the lens of the people living in those cultures (specifically in Morocco) as opposed to just general contexts. In order to understand these cultural lenses its important to not only incorporate Western perspectives into our interpretations, but to pay particular attention to the cultural beliefs. Although this type of of thinking is highlighted more in Crapanzano’s Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan, aspects of it surface in Bilu’s Without Bounds: The Life and Death of Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana, but more along the lines of seeing how Moroccan cultural practices impact contemporary Western thought. Through identification of the authors’ emphasis on the combined approach for understanding Moroccan culture, people will have a more open-minded perspective of popular religion. The key to reaching the combined approach is to dive into the anthropological and psychological interpretations of culture, but not let these ideas overtake one’s entire perspective of why people in the culture behave in this way.
When looking back on the Crapanzano text, it was evident that the text was not written as a typical ethnography. Crapanzano attempted to bridge the gap between Western and Moroccan cultures, since he is interviewing a Moroccan native, Tuhami and not trying to impose his own beliefs onto Tuhami’s practices. One could argue that Crapanzano did intentionally change Tuhami’s coping methods with jnun by giving him a hunting knife to prevent demon disturbance (Crapanzano, p. 172). However, it is unclear whether this action should be attributed more to Crapanzano’s anthropological role or his close relationship with Tuhami. A majority of anthropologists are able to detach from the culture when departing; Crapanzano was the exception. He developed a personal connection with the culture and one of his underlying messages is that his reading audiences would feel the connection. However, in order to reach the audiences, he had retell Tuhami’s stories through Western understanding without removing Moroccan beliefs, thus encompassing both cultures.
Differently from Crapanzano, are Bilu’s intentions in bridging the gap between the two cultures. He switches to indirect methods of learning about Moroccan culture meaning he cannot consult the source, Rabbi Ya’aqov Wazana, to find out his take on the life as a Moroccan Jew living in Morocco. He must rely on contemporaries of the rabbi to gain the story. Despite the information obtained, Bilu will not gain a complete accurate assessment of Rabbi Wazana’s entire success story of how he became recognized as living Jewish saint. However, audiences do grasp how Moroccan culture has changed over time from Rabbi Wazana’s time period to afterwards. More importantly, contemporary moral lessons are derived from these stories and legends. For instance, in Judaism, if an individual violates a sacred religious principle such re-exposing a body after it has been buried, this is considered a sin, and the individual may face severe consequences (Bilu, p. 114). This is understood not just in a religious context. The majority of cultures make the connection that breaking the rules will lead to consequences. However, not all the Wazana stories had a direct Western association, thus Bilu stresses that it is important to respect the ideals within a culture, particularly in the circumstances of anthropologists conducting their fieldwork (Bilu, p. 153).
Both works strive to figure out links between Western and Moroccan cultures, but are not fully aware of the complications that could arise in the process. Overall, they successfully communicate alternate perspectives for understanding popular religion that would not be able to be deciphered in previous readings.