Where It All Happened: Authenticity and Commemorative Religious Ritual

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:33
Location: Hörsaal 13 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Dominik ZELINSKY, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
Authenticity has been a sociologically relevant concept at least since Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay on the work of art in the era of mechanical reproduction. Although authenticity was thoroughly examined, particularly in the field of tourist studies, relatively few authors engaged with the role presumably authentic objects and sites play in the structure of religious rituals. Returning back to Benjamin’s initial work and connecting it with Durkheimian strain of thinking about ritual as an integrative collective event, this paper hopes to offer a productive approach to the problem.

The paper draws on data acquired through collaborative fieldwork conducted during celebrations of 600th Anniversary of the Council of Constance (2014-2018) in Constance, Germany. The 2015 edition of the festival was entitled “The Year of Justice” in order to commemorate the death of Czech church reformer and Charles University rector Jan Hus (1369-1415) who was condemned as heretic at the Council and burned at the stake. Following his death, Hus’ teachings inspired a militant reformist movement, the Hussites. In 19thcentury, however, Hus was reborn as a national icon, a source of pride and identity, and is still today referred to as “the greatest hero of Czech history.”

Specifically, the paper analyzes the pinnacle of the festival – ecumenical mass celebrated on the date Hus was killed (July 6), which declaratively sought reconciliation and attracted broad audience from both Germany and Czech Republic.  Among the most discussed and commented aspects of the mass was its location in the Constance’s Minster, the exact building in which Hus was condemned to death. This claim of authenticity, of returning to the same place, later emerged as central to the meaning of the ceremony. The paper attempts to provide a sociologically pertinent rationale for both the use of the specific building and other, less conspicuously “authentic” objects.