Us, Not Us: Religious Meaning, Existential Othering and Dimensions of Concordance and Contention

By John Douglass Whyte and Emma Barrow.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The significance of religious meanings on our lives is hard to overstate. Inextricably interweaving all aspects of our existence, they can provide an ideological matrix within which these aspects coexist and inter-relate. In doing so, they fundamentally define ourselves and those ‘like us’, and concomitantly ‘others’ who are ‘not like us’.
Unfortunately, history is littered with past and present examples of how this existential othering has resulted in conflict and contention—sometimes on massive scales. History is also littered with differing theorists’ assertions for why such seemingly intractable and profoundly deep conflicts arise. Is it because of the nature of the religious tradition, itself? Is it more due to the interpretation/position of the adherent? Is it because of a more fundamental human quest pursuit for iconic immortality?
In this article we look at several theorists’ arguments and discuss a model that points to an interplay between four key dynamics as a means of exploring and apprehending the how’s and why’s of religious and spiritual implications—particularly in the deeply contentious divisions they can engender and the paths to conciliation they can pave. It is a model that draws from the most basic psychological othering of the infant and expands that dynamic to all societal levels. It then interleafs the intricacy and persistence of the complex social dynamics that emerge at the various social levels and explores how they play out over time. Against this backdrop of the interplay of emergent characteristics the factors specific to religious traditions are introduced and a discussion of differing theoretical arguments are explored.

Keywords: Religious, Spirituality, Existential, Othering

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp.113-126. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 807.858KB).

Dr. John Douglass Whyte

Program Director, Master of Social Work, School of Global Studies Social Science and Planning, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Dr. John Douglass Whyte has researched and taught in social theory and the human services for nearly a decade, internationally. His particular interests are in the development of chaos and complexity approaches in human service practice—particularly in cross-worldview practice settings involving differing ontological and epistemological perspectives, including those with Indigenous Peoples. At both RMIT and in his previous work as a Research Fellow at The University of Melbourne, he has written extensively about the implications and applications of process-driven approaches in research and professional practice efforts. Most recently, as a Australian Research Council Project Chief Investigator, he has applied these approaches in a national-level examination of human service professional practices with Indigenous Australians.

Dr. Emma Barrow

Coordinator, Indigenous Research & Research Fellow, College of Design & Social Context and The Design Research Institute, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Dr. Emma Barrow has worked collaboratively with Indigenous peoples in Europe and Australia for a decade. Her particular interests are in visual culture and the plurality of interpretation–concepts of perception, language and socializing informed by situated knowledge and the condition of change. Her current Research Fellowship ‘Contemporary knowledge exchange: Creativity and Intercultural collaborations–encounters ‘investigates how creativity meets everyday life through processes of cultural exchange between people and places.


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