Epistemologies of Trauma
Cognitive Insights for Narrative Construction as Ritual Performance
Keywords:Trauma Theory, Affect Theory, Ritual Theory, Ted Jennings, Judith Herman, Cathy Caruth
Beginning with Cathy Caruth's post-structuralist approach in the early 1990's, the study of trauma, memory, and affect has seen significant growth across many academic disciplines. Recent postcolonial perspectives, however, criticize Caruth's trauma theory for its focus on individual melancholia, its Eurocentric assumptions, and its diminishment of discursive practice and ritual. This article considers the rapidly expanding field of trauma studies, including current neuroscientific and biological approaches, to clarify the depth and breadth of trauma's relation to memory inscription, cultural identity, and the embodied transmission of trauma. Using a comparative methodology to examine the seminal contributions of Ted Jennings to the field of ritual studies (Jennings 1982, 1987, 2014) that correspond with Judith Herman's three-stage narrative therapy process (Herman 1997), this essay suggests that Herman's method of narrative construction conveys unique, embodied knowledge that can be understood as ritual performance. Several case studies are put into conversation with Herman's trauma theory in the conclusion of this paper to illustrate possible correctives to the weaknesses inherent in Caruth's “unspeakability” school of trauma theory—correctives having implications for fields as wide-ranging as cultural history, anthropology, ritual studies, affect theory, collective memory, anthropology, and postcolonial approaches to the study of religion.
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