Religious Hair Display and Its Meanings

Religious Hair Display and Its Meanings

Springer Nature Switzerland AG






15 a 20 dias

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1. Introduction: The Introduction starts with the events that inspired the creation of this book and outlines the methodology to be followed. The well-publicized need for better understanding, evidenced by hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs in the U.S., the French government's battle with the hijab, and some avoidable medical treatment mistakes, are spotlighted. Finally, it describes the unique characteristics of human hair, and why its symbolic use transcends cultures and religious traditions. 2. Judaism: Judaism contains, of the six, the richest collection of hair practices. These begin with some specific mitzvoth in Torah, including requiring a healed leper to shave off all hair in order to be declared clean, and prohibitions against cutting the edges of the beard to create an identity separate from the Canaanites and Egyptians. The Naziritic oath of Numbers 6 ended with a sacrifice of shaving off one's hair, a rite discussed in the Talmud and by Maimonides. Head shaving and body cutting to express personal and corporate grief exist in the prophetic literature. Ancient Israel associated the attractiveness of hair with the strength of one's relationship to God; it also associated hair and fertility. Female head covering reaches back to ancient Assyria and then halakha. Maimonides and Yosef Caro each offered opinions on male and female head covering. In the Lilith legends, the night demon exposes her red, flowing female hair and leads pious men astray. Today, Hasidic, Haredi and other devoutly Orthodox groups practice forms of female hair cropping and subsequent head covering, whereas its men continue the Torah requirement to keep the beard and sides of the head unshaved. Jewish practices strongly influenced Christianity and, even more so, Islam. 3. Christianity: The Jewish Naziritic vow is mentioned in Acts of the Apostles in connection with Paul. The rite was then incorporated into Latin and Greek Church ordinations. It was the partial reason for the tonsuring for male and female monastics. Greek and Latin Churches used hair as a boundary marker. The Eastern Churches emphasized the full male beard, the West being clean-shaven. Differences on tonsuring appeared in decretals of the Great Schism of 1054. Earlier, they also figured in the Synod of Whitby settlement between the Roman and Celtic Churches. Female head covering locates its origins in Paul's writings and with the theologians of the Early Church. Covering the head of lay and religious women continued until the twentieth century. Head and beard shaving in the West (and in Buddhist monasticism as well) led to many theories linking monastic hair to shaving and castration. Although Protestants generally dropped all hair practices, two notable exceptions are the Amish/Anabaptists and women of the African American Church. In general, Christianity has been moving away from hair practices. 4. Islam: Hair takes a prominent role in Muslim praxis anchored in three hadiths recalling the teachings of Mohammed. He recommended that men maintain full beards and thin mustaches, which is interpreted differently depending on the school of religious law a believer follows. Mohammed asked his own wives to cover their hair, which quickly became normative. Neither practice is traceable to the Koran. Male head covering (with the taqiyya) is recommended but varies by culture. The most unusual Muslim practice is "Sunan al-Fitrah," which requires men and women to shave all body hair "knees to navel" and to pluck axillary hair and to keep it removed. This is often connected with puberty or marriage rituals. The Prophet intentionally used hair to create boundary markers between his followers and Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, and to create gender boundaries between Muslim men and women. At the end of his life he cut his hair and nails and distributed them to his followers. His beard in enshrined within the hajj route in Mecca. Finally, head shaving for purity and as a rite of passage from sacralized to quotidian time is performed at the end of the hajj or umrah. Children are head shaved and named at 7 days in the aquiqah celebration; however, aquiqah is not an obligatory practice. In summary, Islam tends to ritualize the daily actions of its believers to enhance their religious experience; hair rites are no exception. 5. Hinduism: To understand hair practices in the Hindu tradition is to consider their context. The body, including its fluids and hair, are regarded as sources of pollution. In the sixteen samskaras (life stages), ritual purity that can only be attained through head and beard shaving to remove captured pollution. These are built into these rites of passage that move the participant from one stage of life to the next. Hair practices, as is frequently the case in all traditions, are gender specific. For women, there is additional pollution caused by their biological role in menstruation and childbirth. Purification requires a ritual bath plus washing the hair and rebraiding it. Braided hair symbolizes order and normalcy. As in most religious and cultural traditions, head hair was associated with female sexuality, especially fecundity, to which red dye was applied along the vertical hair part. Hair as a sign of male virility is clear in the artistic depiction of some of the gods, especially Krishna. Finally, there is a mirror-opposite set of hair practices for times when the normal flow of life lived under dharma is interrupted. For both men and women, times of religious ecstasy are expressed with hair that is uncontrolled. "Wind hair" for women, or Nataraja's flying jatas and the matted hair of the sannyasin, all indicate human behavior is passing beyond normal societal structures to the instinctual, a wild realm, and hair reflects that. All these states of religious experience find expression in divinities of the Hindu pantheon. 6. Buddhism: Buddhism contains many interesting hair practices across its three major schools, all of which absorbed local cultural understandings as Buddhism spread. Culture strongly influenced the forms of hair observances. The Buddha himself reflected this process, since he followed the Hindu ascetic seeker tradition by cutting off all his hair (except for a topknot) when he left his palace. Following his enlightenment his hair grew back, but never long enough to be cut again, which is indicative of the level of perfection he achieved. The Buddha, like Mohammed, donated his hair and nails to devotees, and these are revered in stupas (shrines) built across the Buddhist world. Hair cutting lives on in the Buddhist male and female monastic tradition, where the quest to escape worldly attachment also means not being attached to one's physical appearance. Two other interesting practices are, first, the devotional art of the Mahayana School that incorporates hair and nails of family or holy people into the embroidery of hair and nails. Finally, in the Vajrayana School, Tibetan male and female ngakpa let their hair grow long and dreadlocked. These ascetics engage in tantric Buddhist practices. 7. Sikhism: The turbaned male (and increasingly also the turbaned female) Sikh leaves the hair and beard uncut and maintains a wooden comb within the turban as a reminder of theology and identity. The turban entered the Sikh world more than 2 centuries after its founding. The turban has multiple uses. First, it is a boundary maker and an immediate sign of group identity. It also holds the head erect and spine straight when doing meditation. Finally, it is visual theology, reminding Sikhs they are special (a Prince or Princess) before God. Since God created humans perfect as they are, there is no need to shave one's head to attain purity (Hindu) or for male circumcision (Islam). Not all Sikhs wear a turban, and the visible symbol has opened them to persecution in the U.S. and in India. 8. Looking for Common Ground: This chapter compares common practices across the six religions. It summarizes them by type of hair observance (women's head covering, head shaving, fertility, rites of passage, etc.) and shows how they merge and diverge by traditions. It provides a place to summarize all practices and their purpose, and many of their likely origins. 9. Consulting the Social Sciences: Sociologists like Durkheim, Mauss, Douglas, Hallpike, Olivelle and others are consulted for their understanding of social systems. Understanding how the body functions as a group symbol is critical. Symbol lines bring order to human experience. Restrictive religious sects demand high visual conformity; patriarchal ones create strong gender boundaries and define female/male hair roles. Psychologists believe hair signposts something about male and female sexuality; that belief continues to inform Western society. The role of psychology and culture was advanced by Hershman, who believe hair symbols attained their potency because they originate in the subconscious and then were logically used to spell out cultural messages. Obeyesekere noted that while he agreed, the message needed to be interpreted by two parties: what it meant to the practitioner and his/her group, and simultaneously by society at large; these understandings were often quite different. The French battle over the Muslim hijab is a contemporary example. The implication is, in conclusion, that these symbols are not static, and will continue to evolve with culture. This is reinforced by the research of Julian Morgenstern, who demonstrated how symbols and practices from ancient, pre-religious eras became incorporated into understandings of the three Abrahamic religions. 10. Conclusion: In final conclusion, hair practices are created from ancient psychological and cultural impulses, become modified by culture, and are adopted by adherents for personal religious reasons and for group identity. They change over time but continue to maintain a place in the lives of many believers. It is important for us to understand them as they affect human relations in government, law, business and medicine. Expanding our knowledge of them will create a more harmonious culture in the Western countries where new immigrants bring their religious practices (including hair) with them.
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