In class, we are tackling the life of the Prophet. The framework that I have applied is to ground the sira in the context of Holy Men in Late Antiquity. Basically, we read selections from Peter Brown, Averill Cameron and some primary Desert Father texts. I wanted to give the students a sense of the, shall we say, milieu. So, today, in addition to all that I introduced Weber’s charismatic leader (with hopes that I can employ the routinization process later). So, I ask the class to give me some examples of a charismatic leader. Hitler. Ho Chi Minh. Great. But how about some uplifting examples? chirp. chirp. Clinton! ok. Lets see what makes him a charis…OPRAH! comes a cry. Yeah, yeah, others chime in. Quite remarkable.
In 200 years, my friends, there will be a faith, a religion, a church of Oprah. People believe. They do. She must, of course, ascend to Heaven first. But it will happen.
As I was listening to the class go through Weber’s schematic using Oprah, I found myself thinking that if that does happen…what kind of source material would be there to construct a hagiography? Her t.v. show, magazine and books, of course. But routinization of her charisma demands that it depersonalize and transmit itself – acolytes? disciples? faithful? believers? What about miracles? She rescued books. That’s a miracle in my, uh, book. When can we expect to see more miraculous output reported as such? Oprah cures blindness. I don’t follow Oprah so I don’t know. Maybe sven knows.
Hagiographies are a funny things to teach. The class seems to want to either question each motive or question the source. They have a notion that being critical means to nit-pick, to rip. I want them to embrace the narrative and see what the tropes are; what function they serve; how they construct an identity for the believer. Are we finding the truth in this class? I asked.
As an assignment I am giving them the story of the Ascension. It is the most fantastic element in the biography of the Prophet. I am very curious to see how they deal with it.