Abstracts for Akadeemia 7/2007

Bassam Tibi
Religion, law, and politics in Islam: Islamism as a fundamentalist ideology

In the twenty-first century, under the crisis of modernism, religions appear on the stage of the world first of all as ideologies resting on a religious basis, and from this basis, they present political demands. Therefore, these new political religions cause conflicts in world politics. In the foreground, there is the religions’ justified demand for the rule of God. Politicized religions express new religious absolutism in a political form. This is a worldview that does not tolerate any relativity. Islam has a special place here. The reason for this is the universalism of Islam, which, in its politicized form, brings along an image of Islamic world order.

Many Europeans still have to learn to make a difference between Islam as a faith and Islam as a politicized religion. The dialogue with Islam is entirely compatible with critical distance towards fundamentalism. The fulfilment of this task is hindered, particularly in Europe, by several cultural Protestant mentality ethics that deny the conflict potentials between civilizations and not only deny that conflicts are constructed but even forbid speaking about them. Declaring them taboo promotes blindness to the new absolutism of political Islam.

Cultural relativism denies the European identity in a self-destructive way. Cultural relativists do not understand that the new absolutists represent a political religion that not only considers the cultural relativist approach a weakness of Western civilization but also despises its representatives – the cultural relativists.

Tibi draws the final conclusion that the attitude to Islam should be tolerant; to Islamic fundamentalism, however, from a democratic defence position. Jihad and crusades should be analyzed again and, in the interests of consensus between civilizations, these concepts should be discarded as a historical burden. What is even more important: we have to be prepared for the return of these traditions under the cloak of political religions. Treatment of conflict situations as an accompanying phenomenon to politicization of religions protects civilizations from the new cold war.

The findings of the present paper include the statement that Islam was initially neither fundamentalism nor a political religion. Nowadays, however, it is often understood politically as a hegemonic ideology, which, as a religion, contains “the absolute”. As a religion, Islam pretends to be “the absolute”, but originally it was not political, the author emphasizes. Only through politicization does new absolutism emerge in combination with universalism in its politicized form, which demands that Islam rule the world. Such is the essence of present-day Islamic fundamentalism.

Riho Saard
Estonians and Lutheranism. II

The essay that began in our previous issue discusses the formation of and changes in the Christian identity of the Estonians and the relations of this identity with Lutheranism.

When Estonia gained independence, the territorial church underwent massive changes. In the new situation, a solution had to be found to relations between the church and state and the administrative organization of the internal affairs of the church. Following European examples, the political parties’ attitudes to the church acquired anticlerical features and even showed hostility to religion. The people’s church, which in the 1930s was supported by church taxes by only approx. 27% of Lutherans, had lost its ties with the intelligentsia. The majority of Estonian intellectuals and semi-intellectuals did not feel comfortable within the church. This, however, did not mean that the New Protestant way of thought would have been incompatible with their mentality. Before World War II, the church attempted to secure its position from a nationalist stance. The predominant idea was to connect ethical nationalism with Lutheran Christianity. An innovative attempt was to establish specifically Estonian theology that would be free of everything German.

The exodus of Germans in 1939, after which the German congregations closed down, brought about a situation in which, for the first time, Estonia was able to shape its national church policy and start the formation of a church that would really be Estonians’ own. The communist occupation brought about a religious crisis. Estonian Lutheran authors in exile believed that the Republic of Estonia as a political entity in itself had an eternal value determined by God and deserved to be restored by God. For several reasons, Lutheranism has not been able to become the creed of the entire nation, and the Lutheran church has not become the people’s church. The features of the Lutheran mentality manifest themselves in the lack of hierarchality among Estonians and their estrangement. The philosophy of actions is very levelheaded. Estonians’ Lutheranism also reveals itself in the Lutheran attitude to the Bible, according to which the Bible is not a formal authority. Estonians’ scepticism and relativism also display Lutheran features. Estonians’ feeling sfor religion and Lutheranism also lack clear features of nationalism. Estonians have been fascinated by the elitism of Lutheranism. As long as the Estonians do not put up with authoritarian religion, they will be able to retain the basic cultural value of Lutheranism – the human who studies everything, including the Scriptures, with conscience and reason.

Jaak Valge
Konstantin Päts and the interests of the Soviet Union. II

Konstantin Päts is one of the most prominent Estonian politicians. He was a leading participant in all the major events during the first period of Estonia’s independence (1918-1940). Therefore, Päts’s relations with the foreign power to which Estonia later surrendered without military resistance are significant for Estonian history as a whole. The article that began in the previous issue discusses how close Päts’s relations with the Soviet Union were in the second half of the 1920s and the early 1930s.

There is no doubt that Päts’s connections with the Soviet embassy and trade representation were close, although not as close and trusting as those of the Estonian socialist leaders. The documents contained in the Foreign Policy Archives of the Russian Federation reflect these relations thoroughly but unilaterally. Soviet diplomats characteristically overestimated Soviet economic and political influence and vilified their country of residence and its politicians. Comparison of information gleaned from Estonian and Soviet sources reveals that, while reporting on their contacts, the diplomats of the Soviet embassy have clearly hyped up the results of their lobbying among Estonian politicians. Historians Zenonas Butkus and Magnus Ilmjärv, who have dealt with the theme in the past, have approached the information contained in Soviet documents uncritically. As a politician, Päts simply tried to maintain good relations with the Soviets and procure business orders from the Soviet Union, without forgetting his own business interests.

From March 1930 to March 1931 Päts received remuneration from the Soviet oil syndicate Soyuzneft through the Soviet trade representation in Estonia. Ilmjärv’s claim that the oil affair was coordinated by the Politburo and the reorganization of sales of oil products was undertaken only to “involve” Päts has proved to be entirely wrong. The documents Ilmjärv refers to do not contain such information. Propositions to Päts to participate in selling Soviet oil products and to counsel the trade representation were made by Boris Stomonyakov, a committee member of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, and the board of Soyuzneft, and these were discussed in relation to sales of oil products, not as a separate political issue. Making use of Päts’s connections, the Soviets wanted to promote the sales of their oil products on the Estonian market. Another aim of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs was to tie Päts politically more closely to the Soviet embassy in Tallinn. Selling of Soviet oil products in Estonia proved, however, a complete fiasco, which shows that Päts did not represent the Soviet trade representation or Soyuzneft against Estonia. Thus the money Päts had received from Soyuzneft through the trade representation for consultations was entirely wasted for the Soviets as it yielded neither monetary nor political profit. Ilmjärv’s allegation that Moscow financed Päts until the end of Estonia’s independence through the Tallinn Shipping Company is ridiculous as Päts had only three shares in the company. Päts’s relations with the embassy and the trade representation did not make him an agent, a marionette, traitor, collaborator, or cheat, as the Estonian mass media has attempted to claim, elaborating on Ilmjärv’s allegations.

Hellar Grabbi
Estonia: December 1990. Excerpt from memoirs

This “travelogue from the homeland” by the émigré Estonian residing in the US depicts Estonia in the period when the Soviet regime was declared illegal, and transition to the restoration of the Republic of Estonia was proclaimed. The transition period was to finish with the formation of the constitutional bodies of the Republic of Estonia. Instead of the Estonian SSR, the name “Republic of Estonia” and its national colours blue, black, and white were put into use. This resolution of 30 March, however, was declared invalid by Gorbachev.

In such a historical context, it is meaningful that the author concentrates his observations on Saaremaa and Narva. During the ancient struggle for independence, Saaremaa, the largest of the Estonian islands, was the last Estonian territory that surrendered to German crusaders in 1227. Along with Christianization, the aim of the crusade was the imposition of German and Danish political rule. Nonetheless, the conquest united Estonia with the western European culture area and prevented the growing threat of Russian conquests.

Narva, the easternmost town of northeast Estonia, is now an important checkpoint on the border with the Russian Federation. In his memoirs, however, the author recalls his visit to Komarovka – the easternmost point of the Republic of Estonia according to the Tartu Peace Treaty (1920). Komarovka is situated approximately ten kilometres to the east of Narva and the official frontier between Estonia and Russia ran through it until 1940. In December 1919, it was the venue of the last major battle with the Russian Red Army in the War of Independence (1918-1920), in which the author’s father participated as a 23-year-old company commander of the 4th Infantry Regiment of the Estonian People’s Army. In Grabbi’s memoirs from 1990, the political situation of the moment in Narva is characterized by flags: “The building of the municipal government flies the flag of the Estonian SSR, although the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia has declared the name “Estonian SSR” and its flag invalid. The Russians of Narva, however, do not accept this resolution. Among Russians, there is agitation for the proclamation of an autonomous northeast Estonian region or even their own republic. The tower of Hermann fortress in Narva, however, displays the blue-black-and-white flag of Estonia, just like in the Tall Hermann tower in Tallinn.”

A month later, in January 1991, violent events took place in Vilnius and Riga. The government of Estonia manoeuvred by inviting Yeltsin to Tallinn. There was no bloodshed in Estonia. The Republic of Estonia regained independence in August 1991.

Eugene P. Wigner
The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences

The first point in the discourse is that mathematical concepts turn up in entirely unexpected connections. Moreover, they often permit an unexpectedly close and accurate description of the phenomena in these connections. Secondly, just because of this circumstance, and because we do not understand the reason of their usefulness, we cannot know whether a theory formulated in terms of mathematical concepts is uniquely appropriate.

There are, however, aspects of the world concerning which we do not believe in the existence of any accurate regularities. We call these initial conditions. The question which presents itself is whether the different regularities, that is the various laws of nature which will be discovered, will fuse into a single consistent unit, or at least asymptotically approach such a fusion. Alternatively, it is possible that there will always be some laws of nature which have nothing in common with each other. At present, this is true, for instance, of the laws of heredity and physics. Similarly, it is possible that the theories which we consider “proved” by a number of numerical agreements which appears to be large enough for us, are false because they are in conflict with a possible more encompassing theory which is beyond our means of discovery. If this were true, we would have to expect conflicts between our theories as soon as their number grows beyond a certain point and as soon as they cover a sufficiently large number of groups of phenomena.

It is quite possible that an abstract argument can be found which shows that there is a conflict between the theory of heredity and the accepted principles of physics. The argument could be of such abstract nature that it might not be possible to solve the conflict, in favour of one or of the other theory, by an experiment. Such a situation would put a heavy strain on our faith in our theories and on our belief in the reality of the concepts which we form. It would give us a deep sense of frustration in our search for what we call the “ultimate truth”. The reason that such a situation is conceivable is that, fundamentally, we do not know why our theories work so well. Hence their accuracy may not prove their truth and consistency. The author believes that something rather akin to the situation which was described above exists if the present laws of heredity and of physics are confronted.

Richard W. Hamming
The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics

The inspiration for this article, written some twenty years later, came from the similarly entitled article by E. P. Wigner.

If in his paper, Wigner gives a large number of examples of the effectiveness of mathematics in the physical sciences, Hamming draws on his own experience that is closer to engineering. He attempts to do what Wigner avoided – to give at least a few partial answers to the question posed in the title.

Perhaps the best way to approach the question of what mathematics is, is to start at the beginning. In the far distant prehistoric past, where we must look for the beginnings of mathematics, there were already four major faces of mathematics. First, there was the ability to carry on the long chains of close reasoning that to this day characterize much of mathematics. Second, there was geometry, leading through the concept of continuity to topology and beyond. Third, there was the number, leading to arithmetic, algebra, and beyond. Finally there was artistic taste, which plays so large a role in modern mathematics.

One of the main strands of mathematics is the extension, the generalization, and the abstraction which accommodate well-known concepts to new situations. However, in the very process the definitions themselves are subtly altered. Therefore, old proofs of theorems may become false proofs. The old proofs no longer cover the newly defined things. The miracle is that the theorems are almost always still true; it is merely a matter of fixing up the proofs. The search for proper concepts and definitions is one of the main features of doing great mathematics.

Finally, Hamming groups his explanations of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics into four. The first answer is that we approach the situations with an intellectual apparatus so that we can only find what we do in many cases. Secondly, we select the mathematics to fit the situation, and it is simply not true that the same mathematics works in every place. Thirdly, almost all of our experiences in this world do not fall under the domain of science or mathematics. Furthermore, we know (at least we think we do) that from Gödel’s theorem there are definite limits to what pure logical manipulation of symbols can do; there are limits to the domain of mathematics. Fourthly, evolution will play its role – given that our brains are wired the way they are, the remark “Perhaps there are thoughts we cannot think” should not surprise us.

Jef Raskin
A reply to Eugene Wigner’s article and Richard Hamming’s essay

While working on his book, The Humane Interface, the author found it necessary to try to understand why we had certain mental abilities and not others. Plausible hypotheses arose not from cognitive psychology, as he had expected, but from the biology of evolution. Raskin suggests as an explanation that Darwinian evolution has selected, in its aeons of experimentation, those individual animals whose minds happen to work in accord with the way the world works – any creature whose logic did not accord with that of the physical world was unlikely to survive. Innate logic certainly predates mankind. It is because we have evolved so as to have brains that work the way the world does, that part of what has evolved are the (to us) logical processes of deduction. As we build mathematics, we build it in conformity with the physical world because the foundations of logic, the very nature of what makes sense to us, are dictated by the physical world. The inherent abilities of our brains have been established, and those abilities reinforced, by natural selection.

Perhaps there are amathematical, alogical phenomena that will be forever beyond our understanding because they are based on schemas for which we have not inherited the mental wherewithal needed to comprehend them – perhaps, but there is currently no evidence that this is the case, or perhaps it is that we cannot comprehend such evidence.

Raskin emphasizes that consideration of how we evolved to have the thought patterns we do solves Wigner’s puzzle, completes Hamming’s search, and answers Einstein’s question of why mathematics is so effective at describing the material world.

Peet Lepik
Uniqueness and universality of magic in culture. II

The originality of Juri Lotman’s interpretation of magic consists in describing magicality as an (auto)communicative function revealed in the relations between the listener and the speaker and also as an intellect-based algorithm. The second part of the article searches for the roots of such an approach in Edmund Husserl’s philosophy.

Husserl treats the intensional functioning of consciousness as phenomenologically reduced subjectivity, differentiating between two spheres in it. The “natural existence” (natürliches Sein) of the world as the other is the subject’s world picture (Weltvorstellung). The initial sphere of the intensional functioning of consciousness, however, (which, preceding the world image, shimmers through it) is still the existence of the pure ego. The pure ego contains modes of thinking, ways of raising awareness (Bewusstseinsweisen) with their modal peculiarities. Such pure flow of methods of gnosis is described by Husserl as the communicational act of constituting the other and empathy (Einfühlung) with the other.

Juri Lotman translates (reduces) the world of facts into sign systems whose world picture consists of texts. The initial sphere of “intensional functioning” – the pure ego – is represented in Lotman’s semiotics by the concept of intellect. Intellect is an (auto)communicative phenomenon that commands languages and memory; that performs algorithmized operations to systematize, modify, and mediate information; and that is able to generate new texts.

These ideas are most directly expressed in the concept of monad, which is of central significance in the works of both authors. What Husserl calls the monad is the (auto)communicative world picture of the ego, which still includes the aims and means of the ego, consequently also the pure ego – the constructive rudiment of memory and gnosis. Lotman’s monad can be viewed as the dialogue between the text (as the world picture) and the language resp the intellect (as the creative force). In the same vein, Lotman analyzes magicality, which he treats as a communicative algorithm between the listener and the speaker.

The present writer is of the opinion that as such the magical act should belong to the class of code texts. In Lotman’s definition, the code text is an ideal example of the construction principles (code) of a certain type of a text, but it exists in the form of a text. Such texts (e.g. fairy tales) have a high capacity of modelling.

A specific feature of magical formulas as code texts is their textual elementarity: they are unique signals directed at the addressee that cause irreversible consequences; as intellectual algorithms they have a universal status. Therefore, it would be more exact to call the magical relation between the listener and speaker a code signal.

The magical act as a code signal acquires ritual (or even sacred) qualities that can be interpreted as an additional code that is realized as an index of cultural memory at the moment of (auto)communication.

Although in the mid-1960s Lotman set all-embracing aims for studying cultural universals, his respective attempts (including in the field of magic) remained marginal and superficial, even random (excluding everything that concerns playfulness of intellect and ambiguity or mythologicality of artistic behaviour, which Juri Lotman studied in cooperation with Boris Uspenski). What has been said does not, however, diminish the heuristic value of these attempts. The improvisational principle of “Lectures” also proved to be a considerable starting point (initial sketch) for several central concepts in Lotman’s semiotics.

Published 16 July 2007
Original in English

Contributed by Akadeemia © Akadeemia Eurozine


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