Virtual WiP: Florian Mühlfried on Spiritual Feudalism in Northeast Highland Georgia

CRRC, ARISC and American Councils are proud to present the 4th talk of the 2021 Spring Series of the Tbilisi Works-in-Progress series!

****Given the continuing COVID19 situation, the Works-in-Progress sessions will continue in virtual format until further notice.****

“Spiritual Feudalism in Northeast Highland Georgia”
By Florian Mühlfried, Ilia State University

Date: March 10, 2021, at 18:30 Tbilisi time

It seems a paradox that on the one hand, the communities of northeast highland Georgia have often been represented as somewhat egalitarian in respect to their political organisation while on the other hand their religious worlds are highly hierarchical and ordered by the principles of feudality. Kevin Tuite (2002: 29) has explained this seeming paradox by pointing out the compatibility of the feudal norms with the patriarchal and clan-based social organisation of these communities. Whereas Florian fully subscribes to this interpretation, he would like to introduce another one and check its validity.According to this interpretation, the religious system in northeast highland Georgia reflects the pain of being governed by a coercive power that is associated with the hierarchical political system of the lowland. The political system, he will argue, is constructed as a counter-image of the religious system, delegating coercive power to the realm of the exceptional and tabooing its usage in the organisation of political life. In this juxtaposition, coercive power becomes internalised, albeit as a negative pole. The politics of ungovernance, in this sense, aims towards the neutralisation of coercive power, a power that people know all too well through “religious” experiences. The latter argument contradicts the dictum of James Scott (2009) that anti-state societies experience coercive power as exterior.

Florian Mühlfried is full professor of Social Anthropology at Ilia State University in Georgia. His publications include the monographs Mistrust: A Global Perspective (2019) and Being a State and States of Being in Highland Georgia (2014), the edited volume Mistrust: Ethnographic Approximations (2018), as well as the co-edited volumes Sacred Places, Emerging Spaces: Religious Pluralism in the Post-Soviet Caucasus (2018) and Soviet Era Anthropology in the Caucasus and Central Asia (2012).

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Although this presentation will take place in virtual format, in observation of the spirit of the Chatham House Rule to which the series generally adheres, the talk will not be recorded and we courteously request that the other participants refrain from recording and/or distributing it as well. The opinions expressed in WiP talks are those of the speakers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC, ARISC or of American Councils.
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WiP is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that normally takes place at the new office of CRRC at Liziko Kavtaradze St. 1. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public.