Causes and connections

The international conference « Causes and Connections. Divination and Other Enquiries into Nature and Humans », in honour of the renowned historian of science Geoffrey E. R. Lloyd, was held in Paris at the CEIAS on June 6th-7th. It was the first meeting organized by the PRI (Interdisciplinary Research Program) “Comparatism in practice: fieldwork, texts, artefacts”. Participants from different disciplines — philosophy, philology, social anthropology — were invited to discuss ways of making connections between events, things and persons in different knowledge systems. By drawing on materials such as Chinese mathematics, Indian scholarly traditions (etymology, medicine, astrology), Mesopotamian and African divinatory practices, as well as Greek historiography, mythology and Stoicism, the conference dealt with the distinction between categories of causality, association, correspondence and influence. Among the issues raised during the conference, one was the role of writing as a mean of transforming divinatory practices into historical narratives, both on the level of the individual (biography) and the society (historiography); another one, was the co-existence of different languages of causality for explaining a single event.

The final discussion focused on methodological issues. What does “comparatism” means? Where does it start and where does it end? How is this approach evolving through decades? How to make comparatist approach heuristically fruitful? These questions are at the heart of the research project “Pratiquer le comparatisme” that puts together philologists, philosophers and anthropologists in a long-term, intensive collaboration where ethnographic material, textual sources and artefacts are not seen as incommensurable sources, but as different ways of bringing light on some common conceptual issues. Among these issues, during the academic year 2012-13 the PRI project focused on “destiny” and the related notions of “share”, “allotment”, “bond”, that are used to characterise human fate in different social and historical settings.  The comparatist cluster takes inspiration from the research group constituted around Jean-Pierre Vernant, Marcel Detienne, Michel Cartry, Charles Malamoud, Jean-Louis Durand and others, whose books — such as Problèmes de la guerre (1968), Divination et rationalité (1974), Corps des dieux (1986), Tracés de fondation (1990), Destins de meurtriers (1996), Architecturer l’invisible. Autels, ligatures, écritures (2010) — stand as a milestone. Within this theoretical frame, instead of building universal theories based on a collection of studies about a general theme, the PRI comparatist approach aims at shaping its own objects after examining different materials. It gives by no means the classics a special status nor constructs a hierarchy between cultural areas. A rigorous and detailed analysis developed by each specialist is then the first step of an interdisciplinary dialogue that sheds new light on each field in order to raise new questions, and bring out the features of each configuration of thought.

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