Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Bec 3 at the British Museum

I recently attended the Third British Egyptology Congress at the British Museum, where I presented my first conference paper on this research. I had surprisingly good attendance at my little room, as I was expecting maybe 10 people (collegues/friends) and ended up with a reasonably full room. I take that as an encouraging sign that there are many other Egyptologists out there interested in expanding the horizons of our discipline.

Though I definitely had too much material for the time allowed I think I managed to give a fairly succint overview (three years work in 20 mins is no mean feat!). I would have loved to have had more time to explore some of the groundbreaking work I've encountered in my research (in particular Richard Reidy's Eternal Egypt and Kerry Wisner's 'hwt-hrw' online) but sadly an overview it remained.

I was quizzed at the end by none other than Mark Lehner himself (I hadn't realised he was sitting at the back) who cut straight to the point and asked the very fundamental question of 'give me an actual example of where this research has contributed to Egyptology' (not those exact words, but that was the principle behind it).

So I highlighted the example of taboo, and that when practising ancient ritual certain things become more fundamental to understand. In this case I mentioned the blood taboo asserted by the Kemetic Orthodox Faith, that is the taboo surrounding menstruation and ritual. For HoN this was ported over from African Traditional Religions, and 'filled a gap' in our Egyptological understanding of the subject. Very little research on this topic exists in academic Egyptology. There are a couple of notable examples by Fransden and some interesting notes by Quirke, but by and large it is a topic we do not claim to have a complete comprehension of. However, some fascinating reasearch has been done on this topic by Kemetic reconstructionists, as it is an immediate concern for women looking to participate in regular ritual and not be inhibited by a menstrual cycle. I won't go into details about the research I've encountered here, but it is fair to say I found it very useful, and it introduced me to some sources I would otherwise not have looked at. That alone, for me 'justifies' (not that building bridges should ever need justification) this kind of research.

Now I realise what I'm saying here is that this research highlights our blindnesses, as academics, and encourages us to look at topics from a different perspective. As Jan Assman implies and Jeremy Naydler asserts, we cannot engage in a phenomenological study of Egyptian ritual and remain 'Egyptologists' simply because of the positivist foundational methods of our field. But perhaps we can sidestep such boundaries, albeit briefly, in order to be informed of other perspectives.

So my point is that discussion on such issues, with 'comitted outsiders' (many of whom are actually 'insiders' studying Egypt academically!) encourages debate and makes us look at primary evidence more closely. I did what I could to convince my peers that there is valid research occuring on 'the other side' and I hope that eventually such research will speak for itself. Mine is not an exhaustive study, nor can it be representative of any group in question beyond my own subjective perspectives. It is but a tentative step, the first plank of a bridge I'd very much like to see built.