In 2016 my account of the history of Western Egyptophilia was published in Nile Magazine. That issue can be found here.

You can also click the Silvae tab above to read some occasional poetry. Like their namesake, the Silvae of Statius, these are poems composed within the span of a couple of days at most, and concern specific events, locations, and people that I've found especially impactful, aesthetically interesting, or simply amusing.

As an independent scholar, I've mainly tried to elucidate questions of cultural construction. How does what we think about our customs and social norms--what labels we assign them, how we frame our sense of ingroup and outgroup, what experiences we invoke the memory of in order to explain them--affect their development, for better or worse? And, in turn, what sort of mindset does a given custom or social norm inculcate? Essentially I am concerned with the "cash value" of the concepts and practices we might adhere to with regard to ourselves, the world, and the divine.

In this I am particularly indebted to Jan Assmann. Here on this site, you can read my exposition and supplementation of Assmann's Moses the Egyptian, in which I address the construction of "true" and "false" in religious discourse; Assmann identifies Moses as the beginning of this distinction, in traditional memory if not in historical fact. This introduces Assmann's other great concept, that of mnemohistory: the history not of how things really happened, but of how they have been remembered, how (and in what parts) the experience of them has been transmitted and repeated. This is after all what really counts for the cultural narratives we uphold--the "cash value" of prior experience.

Subjecting this to study in its own right allows us to ask questions about whether this or that account of a given event, whether it even happened or not, is good for us. And that means a new set of concerns in exploring "what really happened" at all: maybe knowing how an event really took place will show us whether or not a certain retelling is justified--or maybe it will needlessly complicate things, because a dispute in the realm of memory has taken on proportions far beyond those of the initial event. Perhaps the significance of a given set of memories lies not in whatever occurred in history or prehistory to give rise to them, but in what those memories reveal on an aesthetic, emotional, psychological, or spiritual level.

In "Secularism as Monoatheism," I built on the work of Assmann as well as Michael Allen Gillespie and Charles Taylor to examine the origins and effects of the modern Western distinction between "religious" and "secular," which I describe as a consequence of monotheism--in other words, not a universally applicable binary but a product of a particular cultural construction.

These great distinctions come up again and again: the "true" religion versus heresy and idolatry; Christian versus pagan; religious versus secular. I want to help "resolve" or "neutralize" these distinctions and thereby return Western religion and philosophy to a more holistic perspective, one that can assert itself independently of appeals to seemingly "objective" but really quite exclusive logics, and can "translate" its values, categories, and archetypes with those of other societies rather than either denigrating the "other" or the "self" by default. My goal, then, is a hermeneutic of continuity, whereby the West can come to terms with both our pre-Christian and Christian history and address the spiritual and psychological problems we have been left with by the passing away of erstwhile Christendom. To move forward, we need to be adaptive and creative, but also honorable toward those who have come before us, those who will succeed us, and those around us who may inherit a different set of concerns.

Aaron Jacob

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