Golden Oranges and Silver Ships: An Interpretive Approach to a Greek Holy Shrine
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Golden Oranges and Silver Ships: An Interpretive Approach to a Greek Holy Shrine Jill Dubisch Victor Turner, a pioneer in the anthropological study of pilgrimages and shrines, has called our attention to the ways in which pilgrimage sites serve to integrate the local, regional and national levels of a society (Turner 1974).1 Such sites offer the anthropologist a means of moving beyond the narrow boundaries of local communities, which usually define the parameters of ethnographic fieldwork. At the same time, research at shrines also poses special problems of method and analysis, problems which are highlighted by current anthropological concerns with interpretation, "deconstruction," critical reflexivity, and the production of texts. This paper examines some of these problems in connection with fieldwork at a contemporary Greek shrine and suggests an interpretive framework as one means of understanding the significance of such a shrine in the context of the modern Greek state. Turner himself proposed a Durkheimian approach to the study of shrines and pilgrimage, "by regarding social facts or collective representations, like the ideas, values, and material expressions associated with pilgrimages, as being, in a sense, like things." For Turner "... a thing is whatever imposes itself on the observer. To treat phenomena as things is to treat them as data which are independent from the knowing subject" (Turner 1974: 183). The actors' interpretations and explanations constitute another set of "social facts," as do the anthropologist's own feelings and thoughts as a participant-observer (1974: 184). The existence of "data independent from a knowing subject," however, has been challenged by recent thought in both anthropology and other fields. One of the sources of such a challenge has been the development of new methods and theories within literary criticism (Culler 1982; Marcus and Fischer Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 6, 1988. 117 118 Jill Dubisch 1986). As Jonathan Culler suggests, "since literature takes as its subject all human experience, and particularly the ordering, interpreting and articulating of experience, it is no accident that the most varied theoretical projects find instruction in literature . . ." (1982: 10; see also Suleiman and Crosman 1980). Within anthropology, such methods have found a home in what is broadly termed "interpretive anthropology," a sometimes vague designation for approaches which incorporate many of the ideas and aims of what are variously and often loosely termed "post-structuralism," "deconstruction " and/or "interpretation."2 Clifford Geertz, an early proponent of an interpretive approach, suggested that culture itself has some of the characteristics of a "text": "Doing ethnography is like trying to read ... a manuscript— foreign, faded, full of ellipses, incoherencies, suspicious emendations, and tendentious commentaries . . . written ... in transient examples of shaped behavior" (Geertz 1973: 10). More recently, some anthropologists have become concerned with anthropological descriptions themselves as texts3 and with the necessity for critical reflexivity in all stages of the ethnographic enterprise. Since no "text" is ever read "objectively" (Alexiou and Lambropoulos 1985: 9), understanding the position of the reader becomes fundamental to any interpretation (Culler 1980; Iser 1978; Suleiman 1980). In addition, reflexivity requires of the anthropologist not only self-understanding but also knowledge of the audience toward whom the "text" (in this case the ethnography or other form of fieldwork report) is directed (see Agar 1986; Karp and Kendall 1982). As Agar states, "Ethnography no longer claims to describe a reality accessible by anyone using the right methods, independent of the historical or cultural context of the act of describing" (Agar 1986: 19). Moreover, fieldwork requires that "Anthropologists . . . adapt to events in which they themselves are significant actors" (Herzfeld 1983: 151). In these senses, then, the ethnographer is part of the subject matter to be studied and cannot be seen as merely an "objective" observer whose subjective reactions constitute simply another set of "social facts," separate from what is observed. The anthropologist thus becomes both "reader" and something to be read. Analysis of the most visited shrine in contemporary Greece, the church of the Panayi'a (Madonna) on the island of Tinos,4 particularly lends itself to an interpretive and reflexive approach. The shrine comprises a set of human actions, including ritual behaviors and written and oral accounts, which are open to interpretation by its various readers, past and...