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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

State Islam in Morocco: Practice, Discourse, and Materiality

Kaylee Steck investigates the diversity of state Islam in Morocco, including the ways it manifests across the densely interconnected fields of education, politics, religious practice and religious programming. Given the breadth of these manifestations, Steck argues that Moroccans engage with official religious discourse in different ways, rendering not a uniform experience of Islam, as the state may prefer, but unique and diverse quotidian experiences alongside multiple state Islams with different discourses and iconographies. In doing so, Steck resists the notion of state religion as a coherent set of policies and institutions.



MLA citation format:
Steck, Kaylee
"State Islam in Morocco: Practice, Discourse, and Materiality"
Web blog post. Material Religions. 8 November 2017. Web. [date of access] 

This essay highlights the diversity of encounters through which state Islam is articulated in Morocco. It frames state Islam as an arena of practice, discourse, and materiality that encompasses the densely interconnected fields of education, politics, religious practice, and religious programming. Like Christian societies, Islamic societies have historically mixed secular and religious institutions. The boundary between secular and sacred is still blurry in North African countries, where states control civil and religious law. In Morocco, the state controls these domains and monopolizes religious discourse through a diverse array of institutions. State Islam is the official and legitimate expression of Islam within a state, often tied to particular discourses and forms of national belonging. For example, many Moroccans wait to begin the holy fast until the Ministry of Endowment announces the sighting of the Ramadan moon. This means that Moroccan Muslims might begin their fast on a different day than Muslims in other countries. 

Discourse production operates on multiple scales in dynamic interaction with individuals, groups, and societies at large. When considering the formation and deployment of official religious discourse, one needs to be wary of collapsing complex processes and numerous iterations into a single narrative. Nevertheless, state authorities and policy institutions have a stake in presenting state Islam as a uniform institutional entity and adept partner in the fight against religious extremism [i]. The Moroccan state became interested in fighting religious extremism in the early 2000s, following suicide bombings that targeted foreign restaurants, a hotel, and a foreign consulate in Casablanca. Prominent international news outlets circulated accounts that identified Al Qaeda or ‘radical Muslim groups’ as likely culprits. As the highest religious authority in Morocco, the king responded to these events with a commitment to teaching tolerant Islam and reforming religious institutions. 

Institutional reforms coincided with the global war on terror and the mobilization of resources for countering religious extremism. State authorities and policy makers viewed educational initiatives as a promising investment due to the widespread assumption that education shapes people’s lives and decision making. Reshaping religious education required an overhaul of the existing constellation of institutions. After independence in 1956, the monarchy left Quranic schools intact and encouraged the growth of private schools for Islamic learning without much state regulation. Today, the monarchy regulates religious discourse through three main institutions: the High Council of Ulama; the Ministry of Endowment; and the Mohammedia League of Moroccan Ulama. These institutions oversee other religious bodies, including regional councils of religious scholars; mosques; traditional schools; and research centers [ii]. There are also initiatives to fight religious extremism through the introduction of tolerant messaging in religious education. 
Fig 1: Image from al-Mufīd fī al-Tarbiyya al-Islāmiyya (2016). Casablanca: Dār al-Thaqāfa. p.22.
Author’s photograph from a Moroccan book for religious education.
Publishing houses produce religious text books at the request of the Ministry of Education. This lesson uses an image of cultural diversity to make the messaging more compatible with discourses of pluralism and tolerance. The text above the image says, “God created me and made me equal.” What does this lesson mean to Moroccans? According to one individual, it means that Islam brings people of all backgrounds together and does not discriminate based on race or ethnicity. Another individual said it means that Muslims should accept diversity in their communities because God created diversity [iii]. The nuances of these interpretations show that individuals engage with official religious discourse in different ways, rendering unique quotidian experiences of Islam. 

Interpretation is a process of meaning making by which individuals filter textual and visual information through an ensemble of values, experiences, and beliefs. This is not an arbitrary process, but it has no unifying rationality. People can arrive at their own truths within the limits of their particular situations and interpretive tools. The method of using text book lessons to inculcate youth with a single interpretation rests on a problematic assumption about the way schooling works; that “particular curricula create predictable sets of knowledge and motivation in students that reflect the intentions of their producers” [iv]. Islamic education, like other forms of religious and secular instruction, is not a direct motivator of behavior. Moroccan youth can learn about pluralism and tolerance in the classroom, but these lessons have unpredictable and ambiguous influences since belief and action are not formulated within the confines of classrooms, but in society at large, where the persistence of authoritarianism limits opportunities for exchanging and challenging ideas. 

State Islam’s embeddedness in an authoritarian state makes it a poor foundation upon which to build a curriculum for pluralism and tolerance. Preachers often praise the monarchy for offering stability and security in a region riddled with violent conflict. According to a Moroccan activist, “if you attend Friday prayer, you will hear the imam of the mosque ask: ‘May you protect the One who has been appointed over your people and the land’” [v]. However, citizens cannot use religious rhetoric to challenge the status quo. Security forces recently attempted to arrest a prominent political activist who interrupted a Friday prayer sermon to criticize the imam for using religious language to promote the state’s political agenda in response to protest movements in northern Morocco. Thus, there are limits on who can use religious rhetoric and for what purpose. 
Fig. 2: Screen-grab from YouTube video showing people attending a Friday prayer sermon in Morocco. The imam describes the king as “the Commander of the Faithful” and the guarantor of a perfect society. This title reflects the monarch’s status as a sacred sovereign; the king’s hold on power rests on his dynasty’s claim of descent from the Prophet Muhammad. Thus, the king’s authority is imbricated with notions of divine legitimacy and divine blessing.
The 2011 constitution strengthened the state monopoly on religious rhetoric in the sphere of political competition by outlawing explicitly religious and Islamist parties. Morocco’s first official Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), began participating in elections in 1997. Due to its popularity, the regime limited its activism to the religious sphere. Following palace directives in 2007, the PJD vacated the religious sphere, avoiding electioneering at mosques and removing party symbols when entering mosques to pray [vi]. Avi Spiegel argues that the monarchy’s role in the religious realm is to quash resistance and preserve the status quo through formal and informal modes of social control and selective suppression of distinct forms of activism [vii]. In this sense, ‘state Islam’ is not an inoculation against violent ideologies and could radicalize populations by pushing them out of mainstream politics and civil society. In August 2016, the king delivered a speech in which he condemned people engaging in terrorist activities: “Those who engage in terrorism, in the name of Islam, are not Muslim.” According to a representative affiliated with the Interior Ministry, at least 1,600 Moroccans have joined terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, making Morocco one of the countries from which the greatest number of foreign fighters has come. This points to the limits of official religious discourse within the context of ‘countering violent extremism.’ 
Fig 3: Image of PJD logo. The lantern symbolizes the party’s message of reform.
In June 2017, Hespress, an online Moroccan journal, published an article called “Banning Iʿtikāf in the Kingdom’s Mosques...The State continues ‘monopolizing religion’.” Iʿtikāf means to remain in a mosque, performing a particular sort of worship, especially during Ramadan. According to the article, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs Delegation for the Eastern region intends to authorize worshipers to remain in the mosque after prayer times if they submit a formal request with a copy of their national identity card. The same month, a video was posted on Youtube showing a group of Moroccans from Oujda protesting the four-year ban on iʿtikāf and calling the ban a form of hogra, which means injustice in the local dialect. Hogra is a term that protesters used during the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Morocco. Protesters called to end the system of injustice and corruption that disenfranchises citizens by restricting their ability to exercise basic rights: employment rights, housing rights, land rights, religious rights, etc. [viii]. Efforts to regulate mosque operations fall within the strategy of preventing terrorism and eradicating extremism, but these security measures impinge on the right to freely worship. On a more practical level, the iʿtikāf ban adds to the numerous administrative hurdles that already hobble people’s plans and daily activities, which might involve hanging out in mosques, resting, or just escaping the sun. This accumulation of injustice against the already disenfranchised is the work of hogra

While producing religious text books, outlawing religious parties, and banning certain religious practices are more salient forms of state Islam, other forms are subtler. Religious programming on radio and television are examples of media that inflect the daily lives of many Moroccans. The state-owned television channel ‘2M’ displays a short sequence of images with the adhān (call to prayer) for each of the five daily prayers. Images of Morocco’s diverse natural landscapes are overlaid with the Arabic text of the adhān. The voice of the muezzin chimes with each repetition of the phrase allāhu akbar (God is great). A two-minute program might seem irrelevant or insignificant, especially without information about who is watching, for how long, or whether they connect it to a meaningful practice of prayer. Nevertheless, this example shows us that official religious iconography presents itself in quotidian contexts. 
Fig 4: Image of adhān (call to prayer) on Moroccan television channel 2M. Youtube video.
Another example of television programming that mixes the visuals of the sacred and the state is footage of the king performing Eid prayers. I spent Eid El-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, with my friends in Rabat. After enjoying a breakfast of fresh bread with olive oil and cheese, one of the family members turned on the television, making the volume barely audible. She cleared the table and started preparations for the next course against a backdrop of images – the king traveling in a motorcade to the Al-Mohammadi Mosque in Casablanca; the king performing the Eid prayer; the king greeting high ranking officers. No one except me was actually watching the royal Eid prayer (my friend was sending messages on her phone), and turning it on in the first place was more of a ceremonial gesture (like my family turns on the Macy’s Day Parade while preparing Thanksgiving dinner) than a key ritual. 

In conclusion, there are multiple state Islams with different discourses and iconographies, some more subdued than others. State authorities cannot effectively control or rationalize this vast ensemble of repertoire and the many feelings it imbues. This essay highlighted the complexities of state Islam in Moroccan society by considering the reception of different forms of official religious discourse. By abandoning a uniform and unchanging understanding of state Islam, actual Moroccan experiences of state Islam come to the foreground and allow for serious examination of encounters and clashes with official discourse. Before jumping to conclusions about the role of state Islam in fighting religious extremism, policy makers should consider how Islam relates to daily life, and how close regulation and monitoring might compound existing forms of oppression and marginalization within society. They may be surprised to discover that the state does more to aid and abet extremism than suppress it. 


References:
[i] See Feuer, Sarah. 2016. State Islam in the Battle Against Extremism. Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Brown, Nathan. 2017. “Official Islam in the Arab World: The Contest for Religious Authority.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 11, 2017. 

[ii] Feuer, p. 17-22. 

[iii] I interviewed Moroccans about their interpretation of the image and text in August 2017. 

[iv] Starrett, Gregory (2006). “The American Interest in Islamic Schooling: A Misplaced Emphasis?” Middle East Policy XIII (I): p. 127. 

[v] Spiegel, Avi. 2015. Young Islam: The New Politics of Religion in Morocco and the Arab World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 121. 

[vi] Ibid, p. 144. 

[vii] Ibid, p. 129. 

[viii] For a discussion of hogra, see Abdelmajid Hannoum (2013). “Tangier in the time of Arab revolutions: an ethnopolitical diary.” The Journal of North African Studies, 18:2, 272-290. 




 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tracing the Many Lives of Religious Structures

Uthara Suvrathan emphasizes the importance of alternative traces in exploring the complex life-histories of Buddhist and Hindu religious structures in Banavasi, South India. By paying attention to ephemeral as well as more long-lasting religious material culture she offers a way of studying changing patterns of religious practice and cultural memory formation.



MLA citation format:
Suvrathan, Uthara
"Tracing the Many Lives of Religious Structures"
Web blog post. Material Religions. 11 October 2017. Web. [date of access] 

Archaeologists and historians studying religious structures frequently tend to classify temples by the initial dynastic period of their construction, and the literature abounds with phrases like the ‘Chola temple’ or ‘Satavahana stupa’ [i] However, in the academic quest for order in data, we underestimate how frequently monuments are in constant flux. Religious structures in particular cannot be fixed in time, although they might be so in space. By pinning these structures within specific temporal and dynastic periods, we often ignore the fact that religious structures are living entities. We forget that these are complex entities that have complex life histories extending long after that of their initial construction—they were constantly added on to and altered, often spanning the rule of multiple dynasties. By tracing the life-histories of religious structures archaeologists and historians can access an ever-changing pattern of cultural memory formation and religious practice. 

At Banavasi (Karnataka, India) where I worked for several years [ii], my team and I studied several Buddhist stupas, hemispherical structures constructed to enclose Buddhist relics. Site 71 is an extremely overgrown and eroded circular brick mound located about a mile north of the village of Banavasi (Figure 1) [iii]. Based on the form and size of the bricks used in the structure, the stupa was constructed around the second-third centuries CE. Ceramics and terracotta roof tiles found on the structure also date it to an early period, at least prior to the 7th century CE [iv]. It thus falls within a period when Buddhism was widespread in southern India and Banavasi itself was likely an important religious and economic center. The limited historical research on these monuments has so far focused on their form and temporal context and once the structures have been neatly categorized by these criteria their later histories have been largely ignored. 
Figure 1: Site 71, eroded stupa. Photo by author.
It is likely that the core period of the stupa’s use and worship as a Buddhist structure was limited to an early period and declined starting from the fourth-fifth centuries as Buddhist worship in south India was largely replaced by a resurgent Hindu tradition. In Karnataka, Shaivite Hinduism, which focused on the primacy of the God Shiva, emerged as predominant. As Buddhism gradually became less popular, stupas across the region were abandoned and fell into ruin. And yet, even as Hindu temples increasingly became the focus of social and religious life, fragments of “material memory” remained. At site 71 (and at other stupa locations in and near Banavasi) the mound has a looter’s hole on the top. From colonial travellers accounts from the 17th and 18th centuries, we know that the ‘topes’ were often mined for reliquaries by the rather straightforward, though archaeologically unsound, method of digging a hole in the top into the relic chamber. While the looter’s holes in the Banavasi stupas cannot be dated, it is an interesting remnant of a memory or belief that there might be ‘treasure’ in the centre of these structures. 

There is also clear evidence of the later use of site 71. In fact, at present the structure is considered a Hindu shrine although there is some memory among the present inhabitants of surrounding villages of its early history as a Buddhist structure. The hemisphere has been flattened on top, and brick fragments mined from the structure have been used to construct a makeshift shrine consisting of a platform surrounded on three sides by low, roughly-built walls (Figure 2). The shrine itself contains an extremely eroded figure of the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, as well as a fragmentary sapta-matrika panel that represents seven mother goddesses who are a part of the Hindu pantheon (Figure 3). These items have clearly been appropriated from one or more Hindu temples and date to a period after the 16th century. This fits with evidence of a second episode of roof construction on the stupa, where the terracotta tiles are of forms that can be dated to between the 16th and 19th centuries CE.
Figure 2: Shrine on top of stupa. Photo by author.
Figure 3: Shrine elements. Photo by author.
Even more recently, within the last couple of years, a set of cement reinforced steps lead up to the shrine. When we talked to people living and worshiping at the shrine there was no recognition that it was originally a site of Buddhist worship, instead the mound itself has been absorbed into a modern mythos that weaves tales of ancient mounds or 'guddas' that were the palaces of ancient (and unnamed) kings). At most of the stupas that survive in the area, there is evidence of later use and worship, including the construction not just of shrines but of simple stone alignments of unclear purpose. 

Sites like these offer an interesting contrast to other stupas that have been completely forgotten and destroyed. For instance, at site 207 we initially noticed a low circular mound, barely more than an undulation on the ground. Since there were no structural fragments (like brick or tiles) visible on the surface it was difficult to identify it as a stupa. On a visit a couple of months later, the farmer who owned that field had decided to level the ground for cultivation and was using a large mechanical backhoe to dig up the mound. With this excavation, the true nature of the structure was revealed and the distinctive bricks and terracotta tiles that emerged clearly identified it as a stupa (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Site 207, destroyed stupa. Photo by author.
Yet another example of the complex life histories of religious structures comes from a consideration of folk religious practices that often occur outside the traditional ritual spaces of the temple. Throughout South India, folk beliefs populate the landscape with a variety of divine and semi-divine beings, as well as spirits (bhutas) and other inimical forces. In many cases, these small sacred sites do not have built shrines. Instead, they could consist of rounded stones or earthen pots worshiped as forms of the mother goddess (Chowdamma); or places identified as residences of spirits or natural symbols (termite mounds, snake holes). In other cases, these shrines can include miscellaneous architectural or sculptural fragments appropriated from larger structures. These ephemeral forms of construction are a crucial part of the wider religious landscape and as important in lived practice as the larger stupas and Hindu temples. Such small village shrines are simply made of easily available materials and require little labor. Due to their very impermanence the materials they are made of require maintenance and they are continuously cleaned, added to, worshiped. These small shrines are a more organic feature of the village landscape- a rounded stone tucked away under a banyan tree, appropriating the hole of the village cobra, or a broken sculpture under a palm leaf shed. I cannot imagine that such places would leave easily identifiable traces for the archaeologist. And yet, they must have been a part of village life for generations. 

However, the boundaries between these local traditions and more institutionalized Hinduism, where worship was sited within stone temples and mediated through priests, are extremely fluid. Traditionally, if flaws or cracks developed in the central lingam (typically a phallus-shaped symbol of the Hindu god Shiva, worshiped as a generative force) within a temple it was no longer considered worthy of worship. And yet, as sacred items they had to be disposed of carefully and were, by being submerged in the nearby river. Periodically throughout the year these items re-emerged during the dry season when the water level falls drastically. Over some time, these discarded items become the focus of smaller folk shrines, with small walls enclosing them (Figure 5). In many cases worship at these shrines are the province of local families and do not require the intercession of the priest who is attached to the larger temple. However, as the shrine becomes more permanent, the priest re-enters the picture and begins to make more formal ritual offerings on behalf of the people.
Figure 5: Linga on dried river bed. Photo by author.
A more careful exploration of the life histories of small and large structures thus adds greatly to our understanding of the complexity of cultural memory in the communities we study. By foregoing some of our desire to classify the material indicators of history we can begin to explore something of the messiness of human action, past and present! 

Acknowledgements 
This blog post derives from research that will be published in an article that is under review: ‘The Multivalence of Landscapes: Archaeology and heritage’. In Himanshu Prabha Ray (ed.), Preserving Plurality: Heritage in South and Southeast Asia. Routledge. 


Endnotes 
[i] ‘Chola’ and ‘Satavahana’ refer to pre-modern dynasties known to have ruled in south Asia. The Satavahanas controlled the central section of the Indian subcontinent from the 1st c. BCE to the 2nd century CE. The Cholas ruled large areas of southern India between the 9th and 13th centuries CE. 

[ii] Uthara Suvrathan, “Spoiled for Choice?: The sacred landscapes of ancient and early medieval Banavasi”, South Asian Studies, Vol. 30.2 (2014); “Regional Centres and Local Elite: Studying peripheral cores in peninsular India”, Indian History (The Annual Journal of the Archive India Institute), Vol. 1 (2014). 

[iii] During my research we recorded and studied over 600 sites, large and small, dating from the third century BCE to the present day. Each site was assigned a unique identification number. 

[iv] Evidence from similar structures elsewhere in the subcontinent, as well as inferences drawn from the low quantities of roof-tiles found at 71 indicate that only certain sections of the structure were roofed. 


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Feeling Apollo: The Sensual Paradigms of Landscape at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Klaros

Jaimie Gunderson assesses the interplay between body and visual representations at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Klaros. In conversation with aesthetic theory and classical studies, Gunderson suggests that visitors to the Klarian landscape were implicated in two competing sensual paradigms, which enabled them not only to see, but to feel, Apollo.


Gunderson, Jaimie
“Feeling Apollo: 
The Sensual Paradigms of Landscape at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Klaros”
Web blog post. Material Religions. 16 September 2017. Web. [date of access] 


A map of a city speaks of visual order. Contour lines trace valleys and peaks; geometric shapes set meticulously within a neatly defined grid impose on the natural landscape. The grid orders and orients the axes of the city while roads cut through its urban core. In this bird’s eye view, the spatial relationship between architectural and natural forms seems precise, measurable, knowable. A map asserts a logic of representation which posits a knowing subject (a panoptic eye) and known objects (discernible physical features) implying a specific hierarchical relation. In such a systematic layout, every point on the map is flattened into two-dimensional uniformity. There is no sense of the layers that comprise actual life; a disjuncture exists between map and the lived experience of the bodies that hide below its linear representations. 

In this essay I attempt to go beneath the grid in search of the “corpo-reality” [i] of the past, to examine the phenomenological dimensions of human experience according to landscape and architecture. This exploration begins at the sanctuary of Apollo at Klaros. I seek to discover the way spaces might have felt, how the divine may have been given meaning, how someone may have encountered Apollo. I take, what Christopher Pinney terms, a “corpothetic” (sensory + corporeal aesthetics) approach to assess synesthetic, kinesthetic, and bodily engagement with visual representations. [ii] This approach links directly back to the ancient Greek meaning of aisthetikos – perception by feeling – “a discourse about the body” concerned with “all the senses simultaneously.” [iii] My exploration focuses on one particular aspect of the Klarian experience: the landscape, which initiated the sensual engagement of a client seeking the oracle. In this discussion I invoke the aesthetic theory of Gernot Böhme who argues that the primary object of the bodily experience of space is “atmosphere.” [iv] For Böhme, an atmosphere is an ontologically indeterminate quasi-object of perception that lies between subject and object. As the medium of aesthetic experience, atmospheres emerge from the “and” that relates environmental qualities and human states or dispositions. Böhme’s theory of aesthetics is much more than a theory of visual perception, and closely aligns with Pinney's notion of corpothetics. Atmospheres work particularly well in discussions of landscape since the perception of a landscape conjures a certain atmosphere – a “spatially extended quality of feeling” – that is absorbed into the bodily economy of a percipient. [v] There is no singular atmosphere, but an infinite amount of possibilities depending on the receptivity of the percipient. 

History of Klaros 

Before proceeding, it may be useful to provide a brief overview of the history of the sanctuary. Located along the western coast of Asia Minor, approximately 10 miles from Ephesos, the sanctuary of Klaros was one of the leading oracular sites of Apollo in the ancient world. The site claimed ancient origins, attributing its founding and prophetic pedigree to Manto, the daughter of the renowned seer Tiresias, and her clairvoyant son, Mopsus. [vi] The site is situated near the northern coast of the Gulf of Ephesos, nestled in the deep and narrow Ales (modern Ahmetbeyli) Valley. To the north, hills enclose the sanctuary in an arc; to the south, the mouth of the valley opens onto a curving beach. The sanctuary is located between the ancient city of Colophon and the port town of Notion, both of which variously controlled the sanctuary at different points in its history (see map). 

According to the archaeological record, the sanctuary was established in the 8th century BCE. In this period the sanctuary was relatively insignificant as indicated by its omission in Herodotus’s discussion of important oracular sanctuaries, but underwent a significant renovation in the Hellenistic period (4th century BCE), coinciding with the first mention of an oracle related to the re-founding of Smyrna by Alexander the Great. [vii] In the early Roman imperial period, the sanctuary increased in popularity primarily as a result of imperial benefaction. [viii] Decline of the site began around the mid 3rd century CE and culminated in the destruction of the sanctuary by earthquakes in the medieval period. [ix] After its destruction, the site was completely covered by alluvial soil until its rediscovery in 1907. 

Although the sanctuary contained a temple to Artemis, the main draw was the temple of Apollo. The first iteration of the Apollo temple, constructed in the Archaic period, contained an open courtyard and a well, which enclosed a sacred spring. [x] Divination practices during this period are uncertain, but based on the appearance of astragals (knuckle bones) on coinage from Colophon, oracles were likely delivered through cleromancy (the rolling of dice). [xi] Hellenistic renovations in the 4th century BCE turned the building into a peripteral Doric temple and added a two-room subterranean basement (an artificial grotto), where the courtyard once existed, which was accessed via stairs from the pronaos. During this period, divination practices seem to have changed to include enthusiastic prophecy. In the Roman period (1st century CE), the ceiling of the basement was renovated to include support arches in order to accommodate increased weight from the naos where new monumental statues of the Apollonian triad – Apollo, Artemis, and Leto – were installed. 

Image 1: Roman period remains of the Temple of Apollo
Image 2: Support arches in the ceiling of the now flooded basement of the temple
Image 3: Remains of the Apollonian triad cult statues
During this period delegations from various Greek and Anatolian cities came to consult the oracle. The leader of these delegations, the theopropos, had privileged access to the subterranean area of the temple. The delegations also left behind epigraphic records of their visits, which serve as important sources of information for what we can know about the oracular experience at Klaros. 

Image 4: Record of a delegation seeking the oracle inscribed on the remains of the southern propylon

An Ambivalent Landscape 

Landscape played a key role in how a visitor to Klaros experienced the divine. Rather than considering landscape as “a portion of territory subjected to our embodied gaze,” [xii] I characterize it as an actant [xiii] capable of acting on bodies, of inducing feeling, of evoking emotion. This is a conscious move away from the traditional view of landscape as a passive receptacle for human action. Accordingly, my discussion of the Klarian landscape treats the “affective powers of feeling” [xiv] – the atmospheres – that might arise from the “intra-action” – the “mutual constitution of entangled agencies” [xv]– between human and landscape (broadly construed as built and natural environment). 

Like other sanctuaries of Apollo, Klaros was situated amid an assemblage of natural landscape features: mountains, a grove, a spring, a cave. [xvi] Vincent Scully argues that the landscape of an ancient site was considered “holy” before any building was ever built upon it since the landscape features “embodied the whole of the deity as a recognized natural force.” [xvii] Building upon Scully’s observation, John Clarke comments that “[s]triking landscape configurations themselves constituted or manifested the presence of the deity.” [xviii] For Clarke, as for Scully, when a “pilgrim” laid their eyes on the landscape of a holy site, they had an epiphanic experience – they saw a god. This experience was reinforced by the built environment, where “each stone, each tightly-spaced column” was considered a part of the deity, appendages of his natural embodiment. [xix] Scully and Clarke tread dangerously close to Mircea Eliade’s now repudiated notion of sui generis sacred space – a space where the divine “irrupts” before being apprehended by people who subsequently develop the space. Yet their evaluations of landscape, I think, lean more toward anthropology than cosmology in that they seek, as Clarke puts it, to “understand ancient Mediterranean behaviors” in epiphanic experiences and how “visual representation encodes” religious experience. [xx] Landscape, in this view, is just one visual representation by which people organized space in order to make sense out of the world in which they lived. 

Besides the typical natural features, sanctuaries of Apollo tended to appear at the sites of pre-Hellenic earth goddess worship. Evidence for this practice at Klaros was discovered in 1915 in a cave on the rocky face of the eastern hills overlooking the temple, [xxi] which multiple scholars link with the cult of Cybele. [xxii] In terms of natural features, Scully asserts that “wherever [the goddess’s] symbols were most remote, tortuously approached, and largest in scale, and where they seemed to open up the interior secrets of the earth most violently or most dominated a thunderous view, there the temple of the young god was placed and generally so oriented to complement, but also oppose the chthonic forces [of the goddess].” [xxiii] Scully’s statement brings up two points for consideration. First, because Apollo temples were seemingly constructed to both complement and oppose the features of the goddess, built architecture was merely an elaboration of the natural terrain. Otherwise put, natural features and built features were intended to be interdependent expressions of divinity. As a result, the boundaries between the architectural and non-architectural become blurred in an intertwining engagement with both god and human. Second, from Scully’s description we would expect to find dramatic natural features at Klaros. Yet, Louis Robert, director of Klarian excavations from 1950-61, notes that the location of Klaros is neither grand nor in a place of eminence like most temples. [xxiv] H.W. Pleket likewise comments that Klaros is an “inconspicuous” site located in a “charming plain.” [xxv] Indeed the cave at Klaros is neither large nor dominating, but before the temple of Apollo and its artificial cave were discovered, excavators, following a remark made by Tacitus that oracular consultation at Klaros occurred inside a specus (cave), [xxvi] believed that the oracle was housed inside of a real cave. This belief continued until Robert unearthed the temple of Apollo in 1950 and discovered the cave-like basement. The rather demure aspect of goddess worship at Klaros may minimize Scully’s melodramatic framing of the relationship between Cybele and Apollo in the natural landscape, but it does not detract from the juxtaposition of chthonic forces (inclusive of the natural cave and the explicitly pronounced chthonic-inspired architecture of the temple) with the more pleasant and bright features of the site, such as the grove. Whatever the relationship between chthonic goddess and Apollo, the natural and built features worked together to create a unified, yet disparate aesthetic. 

The aesthetic at Klaros thus lay somewhere between disorder and order, the dark and the bright. Wiebke Friese’s research on oracle sanctuaries coincides nicely with the juxtaposition established by Scully and Clarke, as he argues that the natural elements (spring, grove, and cave) of an oracular sanctuary can be classified as part of a locus amoenus or a locus horridus. [xxvii] Friese makes this distinction based on the way in which ancient authors spoke about landscape. Both loci, he notes, were literary tropes – part of a cultural discourse on landscape – that authors applied to real-life settings, [xxviii] which, in turn, I estimate, likely precipitated preconceived notions among visitors of certain landscape experiences. According to Friese, a sanctuary was not limited to a single locus type and could contain elements of both loci. In either case, whether operating singularly or in tandem, Friese suggests that the loci worked to evince the character of the deity. However, he fails to explicate the implications of their juxtaposition on the spatiality of the site as well as how visitors may have been implicated in such landscape tropes. I hope to begin to fill this lacuna by recognizing that each landscape type is its own affective unfolding and, through sensed atmospheres, had physiognomic (read corpothetic) implications for the percipient. [xxix] 

According to Friese, a locus amoenus [xxx] is a romanticized paradise, reminiscent of Elysium – a pleasant place, a happy place. The classic description of this landscape type comes from Ernst Curtius: “[a locus amoenus is] a beautiful, shaded natural site. Its minimum ingredients comprise a tree (or several trees), a meadow, and a spring or a brook. Birdsong and flowers may be added. The most elaborate examples also add a breeze.” Curtius notes that the locus amoenus “forms the principal motif of all nature description” from the Roman period to the late medieval era. [xxxi] An example of this type of landscape in an oracular setting is Apollo’s grove at Gryneum, which Pausanias describes as “most beautiful with cultivated trees” that “are pleasing to smell or look upon.” [xxxii] According to Friese, both the grove of ash trees and sacred spring at Klaros are indisputable elements of a locus amoenus. [xxxiii] This view is endorsed in the literary record, particularly in relation to the grove. For instance, Nicander, a poet from Colophon and a priest of Apollo, [xxxiv] describes the sanctuary thus: “No viper, nor harmful spiders, nor the deep-wounding scorpion dwell in the groves of Klaros, since Phoebus veiled its deep glen with ash trees and purged its grassy floor of vicious creatures.” [xxxv] The author of the Homeric Hymn to Artemis paints a similar picture: “[Artemis] who has made her horses rise from the river Meles, deep in rushes, and drives her chariot all of gold swiftly through Smyrna to vine-clad Klaros, where Apollo of the silver bow sits awaiting the far-shooting goddess who delights in arrows.” [xxxvi] Both literary characterizations evoke feelings of safety and comfort, while emphasizing the verdant and lush foliage: trees, grassy, vine-clad. [xxxvii] These texts conjure the Klarian atmosphere, which unfolds spatially on the real landscape through signification and ultimately mediates human perception. 

Moreover, since the locus amoenus was a propitious place for happiness, creativity, and abundance, a visitor need not worry about the dangers associated with creepy-crawlies – entities that could otherwise turn Klaros into a locus horridus. Within this locus Apollo emerges as the antithesis to a horrible landscape. Fritz Graf carries the paradisiacal characterization of a locus amoenus even further, referring to the sacred groves of Apollo in Asia Minor as the “ideal place …where god and man meet in divine ecstasy.” [xxxviii] Graf’s description harkens back to Greek notions of meadows of love, places where “virginity finds fulfillment in sexuality.” [xxxix] A locus amoenus is, after all, in the words of the Virgilian commentator Servius, “voluptatis plena” (full of pleasure). [xl] An erotic encounter, however, is complicated in Klaros by Apollo’s shared use of the space with Artemis, the goddess of virginity. Given the presence of both brother and sister, Klaros might be seen as an exclusive, inviolable space where union with the god/goddess is not predicated on Graf's notion of ecstatic fulfillment, but on a different form of desire – a desire to gain the god’s knowledge through revelation. 

In contrast to a locus amoenus, a locus horridus contains imposing mountains, deep gorges, unnaturally dark forests, deserts, swamps, and turbulent water features. These untamed landscapes are frequently populated with dangerous beasts and contain foliage associated with death and the underworld (olive, poplar, and cypress trees). Deities associated with these horrible landscapes are generally characterized as “earthbound.” [xli] Examples of this type of landscape include the precipitous cliffs and inhospitable peaks of Delphi, the toxic Plutonion at Hierapolis, and the dark and dense grove at Herakleia. Simply put, a locus horridus is a landscape that evokes fear and uncertainty, seclusion, and stillness. The natural landscape of Klaros largely escapes any negative publicity in literary sources, but the chthonic nature of the artificial cave under the temple is frequently emphasized. The artificial cave is the only element that Friese is willing to consider as an aspect of a locus horridus, but due to its association with the spring, he judges it to occupy a “position between a locus amoenus and a locus horridus.” [xlii] In this discussion he makes no mention of the Cybele cave overlooking the sanctuary, nor does he mention the mountains. While the mountains of Klaros may pale in comparison to the awesome Phaedriades at Delphi, they provide a formidable frame for the sanctuary. The mountains, then, could be included as elements of a locus horridus, but it is the cave – that is, the artificial one beneath the temple – that I turn to now. 

According to Yulia Ustinova, it is a common mistake for modern people to distinguish between artificial and natural caves. She argues that Greeks put emphasis on the “function and symbolism” of caves rather than their “technological and visual aspects.” [xliii] Tacitus, for instance, in his account of the oracular ritual at Klaros, describes that Apollo’s priest descended into a cave and drank from a sacred spring before prophesying. [xliv] Yet he never mentions that the cave was artificial. Iamblichus likewise mentions a subterranean chamber in his description of the divination ritual, but focuses on the function of the ritual rather than the technical details of the artificial space. [xlv] If the sacred grove of Klaros functioned as a shiny, happy space, the cave-like basement did the exact opposite. Caves, Ustinova argues, provided isolation from air, light, sounds, and human society. Within the innermost chamber lay the mystique – and peril – of the chthonic experience. Pliny, for example, notes the danger inside the cave of Klarian Apollo: “there is a pool, by the drinking of which a power is acquired of uttering wonderful oracles, but the lives of those who drink of it are shortened.” [xlvi] Iamblichus adds that when the prophet drinks the water of the spring he is scarcely able to control himself. [xlvii] Although the water is associated with the power of Apollo, it has malefic properties and thus departs from any trope in a locus amoenus. Equally significant for the theopropos within this locus was his descent into the man-made grotto, a claustrophobic and dark space brimming with uncertainty and anxiety. The experience of the artificial cave was far removed from the beneficent grove, but evoked a similar type of desire – a desire for the revelation of Apollo. 

In the Klarian landscape, a theopropos was simultaneously implicated in two sensual competing paradigms, traveling from one to the other. He first entered the sacred grove and then descended into a manufactured underground world. The sanctuary was at once a perfect place and a terrible place; a place of repose and a place of uncertainty. The expansive landscape (features of the embodied god) stood in contrast to the localized body of the theopropos, the site where desire, anxiety, and happiness were realized. The landscape features at Klaros – built/natural, ordered/unordered, dark/light – created a conflict, a perceptible drama that engaged the senses. Yet, simultaneously, the landscape became the extended body of the human, in touch and in sync with the naturally and architecturally embodied god. In this paradigm, there is visual epiphany, as Clarke and Scully note, but there is also a reciprocal feeling made possible through the mediation of atmospheres. Through atmospheres the landscape makes its presence perceptible by articulating various qualities, which are sensed by the theopropos and absorbed into a bodily state of being. [xlviii] As a result, a percipient does more than simply see the god in the landscape. Percipients feel the god. In this sense, the atmospheres of both the locus amoenus and the locus horridus worked to emphasize the “intra-action” between the naturally and architecturally embodied god and embodied human experience. 

Endnotes 
[i] This is a term coined by Yannis Hamilakis in “The Past as Oral History: Towards an Archaeology of the Senses,” in Thinking Through the Body: Archaeologies of Corporeality, Yannis Hamilakis, Mark Pluciennik, and Sarah Tarlow, eds. (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2002), 122. 

[ii] Christopher Pinney, ‘Photos of the Gods’: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2004), 193. 

[iii] Pinney, Photos of the Gods, 18-19. 

[iv] Gernot Böhme, “Atmosphere as the Fundamental Concept to a New Aesthetics,” Thesis Eleven 36 (1993): 114. 

[v] Böhme, “Atmosphere,” 117-118. 

[vi] Pausanias 7.3.1-2; Strabo 14.1.27. [vii] Pausanias 7.3.1; Pliny HN 5.29; Strabo 14.1.27. 

[viii] The names of Octavian (not yet called Augustus), Tiberius, and Hadrian are all found on or in the temple. 

[ix] Juilette de la Genière believes that the site was destroyed by humans, not erathquakes. See De la Genière, “Le sanctuaire d’Apollon à Claros, découvertes récentes,” Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 136/1 (1992), 206. 

[x] Jean-Charles Moretti, Nicholas Bresch, Isabel Bonora, Didier Laroche, and Olivier Riss, “Le temple d’Apollon et le fonctionnement de l’oracle,” in Le sanctuaire de Claros et son oracle, Jean-Charles Moretti and Liliane Rabatel, eds. (Lyon: Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée-Jean Pouilloux, 2014), 34. 

[xi] Moretti et al., “Le temple d’Apollon,” 34, 36. 

[xii] Veronica della Dora, “Travelling Landscape-Objects,” Progress in Human Geography 33/3 (2009), 334. 

[xiii] My notion of “actant” follows the vital materialism of Jane Bennett. Bennett borrows this term from Bruno Latour's “actor-network theory” to challenge traditional definitions of matter as passive and inactive, as well as to dissolve the subject/object binary. Actants, which can be both human and non-human, have the capacity to “animate, act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle” (6). Actants do not act alone, but act within their associations with other actants. See Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ontology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010). 

[xiv]Böhme, “Atmosphere,” 119. 

[xv] This stands in contrast to interaction, “which assumes that there are separate individual agencies that precede their interaction, the notion of intra-action recognizes that distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through their intra-action.” See Karan Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 33. 

[xvi] In 1931 Karl Lehmann-Hartleben identified this combination of features as characteristic of Greek holy sites. See Lehmann-Hartleben, “Wesen und Gestalt griechischer Heiligtümer,” Die Antike 7 (1931), 11-48, 161-180. In addition to Klaros, a mixture of these features is present at Apolline oracular sites such as Delphi, Ptoion, Didyma, Hierapolis, Tegyraios, and Thurais. For more on the establishment of oracles at groves, springs, and caves see Wiebke Friese, “‘Through the Double Gates of Sleep’ (Verg. Aen. 6.236): Cave Oracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” in Stable Places and Changing Perceptions: Cave Archaeology in Greece, Fanis Mavridis and Jesper Tae Jensen, eds. (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013). More recently, geologists have linked geological features (faults and springs) in the landscape that emit psychoactive hydrocarbon gasses to oracular practices. Geologist Jelle de Boer and archaeologist John Hale detected hydrocarbon gasses in the water at Klaros. See Kevin Krajick, “Tracking Myth to Geological Reality,” Science 310/5749 (2005); John R. Hale, “Delphic Oracle,” in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (Continuum, 2006). 

[xvii] Vincent Scully, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods. Greek Sacred Architecture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 1. 

[xviii] John R. Clarke, “Constructing Spaces of Epiphany in Ancient Greek and Roman Visual Culture,” in Text, Image, and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World: A Festschrift in Honor of David Lee Balch, Aliou Cissé Niang and Carolyn Osiek, eds. (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 259. 

[xix] Clarke, “Constructing Spaces of Epiphany,” 259. 

[xx] Clarke, “Constructing Spaces of Epiphany,” 257. [xxi] Charles Picard and Theodore Macridy, “Fouilles du Hieron d’Apollon Clarios à Colophon,” BH 39 (1915), 33-52. 

[xxii] H.W. Parke, The Oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor (London: Croom Helm, 1985), 138. Cave sanctuaries were often associated with an indigenous mother goddess who was Hellenized as Cybele. This is likely the case at Klaros, but clearly attested at other Apollo sites such as Hieropolis and Aezani. See Yulia Ustinova, Caves and the Ancient Greek Mind: Descending Underground in the Search for Ultimate Truth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Wiebke Friese, Den Göttern so nah: Architektur und Topographie griechischer Orakelheiligtümer (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2010), 264. 

[xxiii] Scully, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods, 100. 

[xxiv] Louis Robert, “L’oracle de Claros,” La Civilisation grecque de l’antiquit’e à nos jours 1 (1967), 307. 

[xxv] H.W. Pleket, “Tempel en Orakel van Apollo in Klaros,” Hermeneus 66/2 (1994), 143. 

[xxvi] Tacitus, Annals 2.54. 

[xxvii] Wiebke Friese, Den Göttern, 242. 

[xxviii] Cf. Guichard, “Travels and Traversals.” 

[xxix] Böhme, “Atmosphere,” 120. 

[xxx] The literary construct of a locus amoenus began with Homer, but became a developed trope in the bucolic poetry of Theocritus. Writers such as Vergil, Catullus, and Ovid continued to develop this motif in Roman-era texts. 

[xxxi] Ernst Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 193-95. 

[xxxii] Pausanias 1.21.7. 

[xxxiii] Friese, Den Göttern, 253. Friese’s characterization of the spring as an element of a locus amoenus is curious to me since 1) it was hidden away from public view in the artificial cave basement of the temple; and 2) only the prophet or thespiode (there is debate over who actually drank the water from the spring during the oracular consultation) of Apollo had access to it. Nevertheless, Friese considers springs involved in any oracle process, particularly hydromancy, as consistent with a locus amoenus since “water was considered a gift of the gods.” Friese only considers water as part of a locus horridus when a swift-moving or violent river is present. 

[xxxiv] Nicander’s role as a functionary of Apollo is based on a line in the closing of his Alexipharmaca, where he writes that he “is sitting beside the Klarian tripods of Apollo” (9). 

[xxxv] Fr. 31 [Ael. Aris. NA 10.49]. 

[xxxvi] Homeric Hymn 9. 

[xxxvii] Pausanias’s description of “the land of Colophon” in 7.5.10 also mentions the ash trees and grove of Apollo. 

[xxxviii] Fritz Graf, “Bois sacrés et oracles en Asie mineure,” in Les bois sacrés. Actes du colloque international de Naples, 23-25 Novembre 1989, O. de Cazanove and J. Scheid, eds, (Naples, 1993), 29. 

[xxxix] J.M. Bremer, “The Meadow of Love and Two Passages in Euripides’ Hippolytus,” Mnemosyne 28/3 (1975), 269-70. 

[xl] Georg Thilo and Hermann Hagen, eds. Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii Carmina Commentarii, Vol. 3 (Leipzig, 1887), 1.644, 2.89. 

[xli] Friese, Den Göttern, 247. Also see Mark Edwards, “Locus Horridus and Locus Amoenus,” in Homo Viator: Classical Essays for John Bramble, ed. Michael Whitby, Philip Hardie, and Mary Whitby (UK: Bristol Classical Press, 1987). 

[xlii] Friese, Den Göttern, 261. 

[xliii] Ustinova, Caves, 154. 

[xliv] Tacitus, Annals 2.54. 

[xlv] Iamblichus, Mysteries 3.11. 

[xlvi] Pliny, HN 2.232. 

[xlvii] Iamblichus, Mysteries 3.11. 

[xlviii] Böhme, “Atmospheres," 122.