FORUM FOR ANTHROPOLOGY AND CULTURE

ANTROPOLOGICHESKIJ FORUM
RUS | ENG

Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2017, no. 13

 

THE POWER OF A SPIRITUAL ELDER’S WORDS: THE COMMUNICATION OF CHARISMATIC AUTHORITY

Daria Dubovka
Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy
of Sciences
3 Universitetskaya Emb., St Petersburg, Russia
ddubovka()gmail.com

Abstract: The article considers Weber’s theory of charismatic power as an interpretive model for the examination of religious beliefs. Traditionally, academic thought has interpreted the source of the power as either a leader’s personal characteristics or constructive actions performed by his / her group. Instead of searching for the causes of charismatic authority, I am interested in ways of performing charismatic authority and techniques for its realisation. My fieldwork was conducted in a remote Russian village with an Orthodox community, devoted to a spiritual elder (starets). Through careful ethnography, I will describe the post-Soviet conditions that have transformed a collective farm into a religious group, the group’s organisational characteristics, and the process by which the leader’s charisma is routinised. The main goal of the article is to analyse the communicative practices of the community. I suggest that many of the presuppositions on which our everyday face-to-face communication is based would not hold in a case in which an interlocutor, according to believers, had superhuman abilities (e.g., the ability to predict the future). Thus, the micro level of interactions can change the whole structure of a community. My primary perspective for the reconsideration of charismatic authority is a perspective drawn from linguistic anthropology.

Keywords: charismatic authority, spiritual eldership, Max Weber, religious communication, anthropology of religion.

To cite: Dubovka D., ‘The Power of a Spiritual Elder’s Words: The Communication of Charismatic Authority’, Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2017, no. 13, pp. 163–185.