Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar / Random thoughts

The Secret Anthropologist, Part II

Editor’s note: This report was recently found pinned to the notice-board in the Graduate Common Room. It appears to be written by the same person as the previous anthropological report, but their identity remains a mystery. It is evident, however, that their fieldwork project in the Faculty is still ongoing.

Following my initial study of the event known as “Graduate Tea“, I have since been fortunate enough to gain access to the Classicists’ second important weekly ritual, the “Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar” (or “GIS”, as it is generally referred to by the initiated).

The GIS takes place on the evening of the last day of the Classicists’ week, “Friday” (perhaps a holy day?). In form it somewhat resembles a religious service or prayer meeting: a large group of Classicists gather in order to listen to sermons and discuss their theological implications. There are always two sermons, on widely disparate topics; it has, as yet, been impossible to establish any firm thematic links between the sermons given on a particular day, though it is speculated that the topics might be determined by a complex system of two interlocking lunar or astronomical calendars (compare the Mayan calendar system). Further research is, however, required to elucidate this.

Each meeting of the GIS is presided over by two Classicists whose ritual title appears to be “Consuls”. Though it is hard to imagine that this title is not derived from the “consuls” of Ancient Rome, there is little similarity between the two roles beyond the number of incumbents. The GIS Consuls hold office for a period of approximately two months, before stepping down to allow two new Consults to take office. There is no process of election, nor does the role appear to be hereditary; as far as can be inferred, individuals volunteer to act as Consuls when they feel called to do so. Whether this is conceived of as an inner vocation, or conceptualised as a more literal ‘calling’ by a divinity, e.g. in the form of a prophetic dream, remains to be determined. Interestingly, the role of the Consuls is not to deliver the sermons, which are given by a different pair of Classicists every week. Instead, the Consuls ensure the correct enactment of the ritual and facilitate the theological discussion which follows each sermon. Any Classicist appears to be able to participate in these discussions and, indeed, to volunteer to deliver a sermon or to act as Consuls; there does not seem to be any conception of a special priestly class within their society. The round shape of the table at which participants in the GIS sit similarly suggests an egalitarian, rather than hierarchical, ideology.

Following these sermons and discussions, the Consuls lead a solemn procession out of the Classics Faculty to a nearby communal eating area. This procession and the following consumption of food and drink seem to act as a liminal space or transition between the ritual proper and the return to the profane world: the eating area is public, open to non-participants, and yet the Classicists generally remain segregated within this area until the meal is completed, at which point they separately rejoin society at large.

The structure and function of this ritual is obviously quite different from that of Graduate Tea. In particular, although the latter is dedicated to the worship of several different deities, there is no evidence for similar direct worship of any divine beings in the course of the GIS. Possibly it is not even, strictly, a religious ritual in this sense, but rather a communal/social one; how far the Classicists have a concept of ‘religion’ as a separate category distinct from other social activities will hopefully be a fruitful area of further study.

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