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School of Religion Student Council

August 2000 Newsletter

Volume 1 Issue 1 August 2000

History of the Religion Student Council
Our Beautiful Little World
Call for Nominations
RSC Proposal
Summer Bar-B-Q
Student Paper
Letter from Administration


I've been trying to write this article for 3 weeks.  I've been pouring over political diatribes and oratories, attempting to find that perfect quote to open with so I could weave a tangled and witty web and then wrap it all up, with the obvious moral being: join the Religion Student Council.
Some of you may know I have a twisted obsession with baseball.  And those of you who share this obsession will know that there are a very few number of people to whom one looks for wisdom on not only the game, but all of life.  One of those people is Vin Scully - for 48 years the consummate voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers (I must say here for the record I was born a Yankee fan and will die a Yankee fan, and thus, a Dodger hater). Behind my computer hangs a Scully quote muttered at the beginning of the first broadcast of a spring training game this past March: "We're like bears coming out of the cave, stretching and rubbing our eyes."
The first step to any collective movement is just such an awakening.  In the fall semester of 1999 I attended department executive committee meetings as student representative.  It was there I learned of the unfolding plan to become a school of religion.  At some point the thought came to me: "Well, I guess we need a student council then."  Step One.
It happened fast.  I sent out an email to the general religion list (I should mention at this point I understand if I drove some of you crazy, but there was no other way ), and within a week there were fifteen of us.  We decided to wait until spring semester to meet, which we did in January.  We stretched and rubbed our eyes.  Step Two.
In the first few "brainstorming" meetings we ironed out our goals.  Like any organization in its infancy, we wrestled with different ideas about what we should become, and settled on the issues which were of most importance to the majority of us.  Student advocacy was of course, at the fore, as was community-building amongst students (see Dolly Bush's article).  I contacted the officers of other campus student groups for their advice on how to proceed, since, as I told the "Interim and Voluntary Student Council," as we are calling ourselves, my only experience in student government was a term as third grade class representative (predicated on cupcakes I might add). By late spring, the stretching and rubbing of eyes had ended.  We were warmed up.
Richard Curtis drafted our proposal to the executive committee, drawing not only on the opinions and ideas of the interim council members, but also input from other students with whom we came in contact.  It was a hit.  I drafted a budget in accordance with our aims: two yearly student newsletters, a student directory to list research interests of each student, a website to be linked to the school's, a pamphlet describing the council and its goals, and social events to boost interaction between students, particularly across fields.  Both of these documents I should add are public - the proposal is on page four and the budget will be on the website.
The final scheduled executive committee meeting for the spring semester, during which I presented our proposal and budget, was on May fourth.  A group of students gathered outside the IAC in anticipation of our victory.  They were not disappointed.  Our proposal was approved as was our budget in a "good faith" agreement that the School of Religion would make every attempt to meet two-thirds of our just over three thousand dollar budget.  It was a victorious afternoon.
Before I leave you to enjoy the first issue of the Religion Student Council Newsletter, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to serve as your representative to the executive committee this past school year.  I hope you agree I have served you honestly and diligently, and it has been a phenomenal  experience to meet and get to know many of you during my term.  I can say without reservation that this year has been the most significant of my graduate career, not just politically but personally as well.
Most importantly, I would like to thank those without whom the Religion Student Council would not exist.  It has taken the energy and enthusiasm of many, not limited to, but including the following: the Voluntary and Interim Religion Student Council members - Richard Curtis, Dolly Bush, Matt Thomas, Michael Schufer, Jim Findlay, Sammie McGlasson, Stephanie Sleeper, Kristy Coleman, Garth Reese, Stephanie Seery, Jennifer Naccarelli, and Meg Ferris; religion students Susan Kendall, Tim Finlay, Ben Church, Thu Nuygen, Fay Botham, and Michael Zbaraschuk; and the friends of the Council:  Kara Carlisle - Co-chair, Claremont School of Theology Student Council, Joe Vatanasombut - President, Information Science Student Council, Jeff Cummins - School of Politics and Economics Student Executive Committee, and Teresa Burns - School of Politics and Economics Student Executive Committee.  I would also like to thank the faculty and administration, particularly Pat Horn, for their encouragement and support.  And lastly I urge you all to get involved.  The Religion Student Council seeks to be an authentically democratic organization.  Without the incorporation of the ideas of as many of us as possible, that cannot happen.  Join us!  Come out of the cave!

Our Beautiful Little World
By Dolly Bush
History of the Religion Student Council
by Katie Oxx

FALL, 2000

History of the Religion Student Council

(Continued from p.1)

RSC NEWSLETTER, vol.1, no.1

In accordance of the procedures set forth by the Interim Religion Student Council and accepted by the School of Religion Faculty Executive Committee, nominations are hereby sought for candidates for the first year of the Religion Student Council of the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University.

 Anyone currently registered as a student in the School of Religion (part or full time) may submit a nomination of themselves or another student by email to: (or by snail main to the RSC at the School of Religion Office).  Nominations are due by July 21, 2000.  Official ballots will be mailed by July 27, 2000 and the ballots will be due by return (snail) mail by August 15, 2000.  An announcement of the composition of the new student council will be made by email and at the School's reception for new students on August 28.

 Nominations should include the name of the nominee AND the program area they would represent: TEC, HC, WSR, HB, NT, PRT, or MA at-large.  (Reminder: MA students are eligible to stand for election in either their program area OR MA at-large.)  Please see the RSC Proposal (page four of this newsletter) for details about the election process and council member duties.

 Thank you, and we encourage everyone who is eligible and able to actively participate -- we need everyone on this!

Our Beautiful Little World

(Continued from p. 1)

RSC NEWSLETTER, vol.1, no.1

 I see becoming a School of Religion as a unique opportunity, a selfish opportunity.  For the first time ever, we are our own entity.  This means we get to build our own little world (of course I should say that this world isnít totally in its own universe since, well you know how CGU works).  But the question for me and others in our new school is, what kind of world do we want to build?  Itís our chance to shine in a whole new way.  So what will we do that makes the CGU School of Religion stand out from the others, both at CGU and schools worldwide?  I say one of the keys to success, maybe the only true key, is community building.  Well, then, missy, (you might ask) what is a community and how do you build it?  My own personal vision is that our school is and will be somewhat like a beehive.  There is a lot of work going on but it is a collaborative effort to get it done.  And Iíd like to think that those bees have a little down time to have a beer and go to the beach.  So, with that definition in mind, here are a few things to ponder about our community: First, are we a friendly school?  Do we project (and not only project but are we) a place of friendship, trust, good-natured competition and camaraderie?

(Continued on p. 3)

Do we welcome new people in and help them to find a comfortable place in their new academic and cultural home?  Do we laugh enough?  Do we hear heated and spirited debates echo through the IAC halls enough? Are there enough outlets for discussion and group study?  Do we, in our own separate worlds of religion departments, "get" what our colleagues are studying?
 Now that weíve sufficiently pondered some idealistic notions about community or lack thereof, letís get down to why community is important in a more practical sense.  Well, two things come to mind.  One, becoming a solid community will make us extremely attractive to prospective students and professors around the worldóthatís our money shot.  (Pay attention here, this could mean more money for scholarships).
 Second, and really more important in my opinion, (in the words of the Baptist hymn) People Need People. I have a friend who just graduated from a well known art school in Chicago who said that no one was interested in getting to know each other. It was just too competitive an environment for that.  Well that makes me sad and, frankly, mad.  Iím going to go out on a limb here and be honest.  Academia can be a really unfriendly, isolating place.  Letís face it, it can be a nasty, eye-scratching, back-stabbing business.  It can also be just plain lonely if there are few outlets for being social or if the wrong kind of competitiveness puts up walls between people.   And of course, I should include the flip side-it can be a place where miracles happen and wonder is in good supply.  I personally donít see much of the Dark Side going on at CGU, but to say it right out, we could stand to care a little more about each other (can one care too much?), to check on each other a little more, to get more sun than we do.  Caring is practical simply because it keeps people engaged and mentally stable enough to get their work done (i.e. pay their tuition and stay at CGU).
 Now that Iíve covered both the pie in the sky and the preventive medicine reasons for community, how do we get these ideas out of our heads and into the world?  Whatís in our tool box? Well, lo and behold, your new Religion Student Council is working on community building right at this very moment.  We are putting forward some new actions that will help to build our beautiful little world.  (I should interject here that itís not like there isnít community in our School already, we are just thinking of ways to enhance what already exists and thanks to those who have worked before us to make it a great place to be).
 So hereís what weíre going to do as a Student Council.  First, we are implementing an official mentoring program ("official" meaning that there are already kind people who do this without being asked but weíd like to make it a part of the day to day operations of the School--you know, get it down on paper, stamp it a few times, have three important people sign it, that kind of thing).  We will be asking for volunteers to help us with this in the near future.  Our idea is to make a few people from each department available to answer questions from prospective and incoming students, as well as be available when they arrive to help them settle in and make some sense of the CGU machine (and what a machine it is!).  Somebody has to explain all those damn acronyms.  Along with this, we are also thinking of ways to mentor (or keep up with) those who have finished coursework and make sure they are abreast of department happenings.  Itís really a selfish act, since we need their wisdom and experience to help keep us going and show us the way to Ph.D. or M.A. day.  You will be hearing from your "official" mentoring officer in the next few months.
 Second, and this may sound a little silly, but to further community, we are implementing lawn games.  Lawn games and tea can solve all the worlds problems!!  Hear my proclamation!!  Lawn games are great for three reasons.  First, they encourage team building, conversation and potential for friendship.  Second, theyíre fun and we all need a little fun in our lives, correct?  Third, they reintroduce us to a bit of nature--something that canít be found in the library or even most places in Southern California--you know what Iím talking about--dirt, grass, trees, sunlight--remember?
The plan is to keep croquette, bocce ball and horseshoes available (we take requests for new purchases) at the IAC, so when you feel like taking a break, theyíre there for the playing.  The guidelines are: if the yard is available and there is no class being held in the IAC library, you can play.  If someone comes to use the yard, leave.  The games will be kept in the basement of the IAC which apparently is unlocked during business hours (ask Jackie).  And if we wanted to book some kind of tournament (more community buildingómaybe a game between other schools and us or whoever--gives me chill bumps just thinking about it) we just need to let Pat know so he can reserve the yard (it has to be done through the Presidentís office).  These games will be available at our regular socials as well (and I might add-those socials did some serious community building this past school year).  Plus we can make some real use of the best lawn at CGU!
 Third, this newsletter is a community builder.  It allows for debate, publishing of student articles and papers, a bit of humor, and keeps everybody up on whatís happening, even those who are currently living far away.
 So these are a few ways that we are going to build.  We are definitely open to ideas, since community building involves all those in a community (being master of the obvious is my true genius).  I should add here as well that Iím not saying that we should "Party All the Time" (didnít you love Eddie Murphyís short-lived music career?).  We didnít get our reputation by whiling our days away at croquette.  Weíve got work to do.  But life is all about ëthe mean,í isnít it?  I think religion students could stand a little balance in their lives.  Face it, we can be damn stuffy.
 One last word to faculty members.  We know yíall are busy being the best scholars in the world, but we miss your presence at the socials--D. Z. needs some competition!  Even if you come for ten or fifteen minutes, it means so much to the students.  Thanks for all that you do.
 So letís get off our butts and build a world!  In the words of one of those new Star Wars characters, "Your focus is your reality."

The Religion Student Council (RSC) is to be formed of 12 members charged with representing the goals, needs, and aspirations of the students of the School of Religion to the faculty and administration of the School.


The core 11 members will be chosen by the School of Religion's student body, with one member being a representative (non-voting) appointed by the School of Theology's Student Council.  Each fall, the students from each department will elect two (2) representatives, and the masters level students will elect one (1) representative at-large. (Note: this arrangement gives each masters student three votes, two for departmental representation and one for MA specific representation.)  Each representative will serve a one-year term.  The RSC itself will appoint replacements for any representative who may need to resign (or who is removed from office after yet to be developed disciplinary procedures).  Should any one department not field at least two qualified candidates, remaining positions will be filled by remaining candidates, chosen in descending order of department size and vote tally.  Qualified candidates will be defined as anyone currently enrolled in the School of Religion regardless of hours enrolled or degree progress.


Voting will be conducted each year via US mail.  After the first year, the RSC will solicit nominations from the student body via email each Spring and prepare the six ballots.  In the early Fall the ballots will be mailed with postage paid return envelopes with a predefined due date.  Any person accepting nomination or nominating himself or herself will be placed on the relevant ballot (any MA nominee will have to decide whether to run on the departmental or at-large ballot). In addition to nominated candidates, write-in candidacies are allowed, and space will be provided on paper ballots for such candidates.


The RSC will meet monthly in open meetings (preferable scheduled in the IAC library).  Meetings will be regularly scheduled so that the student body can anticipate and/or chose to attend at the last minute should an immediate need arise.  In extraordinary circumstances the RSC may on a vote of two-thirds of those present hold an additional private meeting to hear testimony or hold delicate discussions.


All RSC members (except the CST representative) will serve in one other official capacity.  The administration will consist of President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Assistant Secretary.  Two representatives each will be selected to serve on the School of Religion's Executive Committee and Board of Visitors.  One representative will be selected to represent the School of Religion to the CGU Student Council.  Membership on the Executive Committee and Board of Visitors will be structured as follows: the RSC will endeavor to elect representatives to (ideally) two year terms on each committee, with the first year being a non-voting year.  The second year of representation on each committee will be a voting position.  In the event that a potentially second year representative is not returned to office, the RSC will select a seasoned member to fulfill those responsibilities.  One member will be chosen to represent the RSC to the School of Theology's Student Council (as a reciprocal non-voting member).  And finally, the remaining member will be officially designated the substitute for any of the other members on an as needed basis.

Duties and Activities:

The RSC will be charged with conducting regular, open meetings to solicit input from the student body, will faithful represent the student bodies concerns to the faculty and administration of the School, will host a minimum of two meet and greet socials (at the beginning of each semester to meet new students and greet continuing students), will compile a student directory each year to include contact information and research interests (publication could be open, print, electronic, etc.), and the RSC will publish a minimum twice yearly newsletter to inform students about its activities and formally solicit input (one of these newsletters would also be the occasion for mailing the ballots in the fall).  The President will be charged with running meetings, maintaining decorum, and generally advancing the interests of the RSC.  The Secretary will be charged with publicizing meetings, overseeing the production of all communications with the student body (including ballots and explanatory materials) and distributing an email summary of each meeting and the decisions made.  The Assistant Secretary will be in charge of technology issues for the Secretary (email, web site [for details, Constitution, minutes, contact information, newsletter archive, balloting information], printing, etc.).  All members will be expected to communicate, formally and informally, with their constituency in discussions, in class announcements (on faculty approval), etc.  In addition to formal financial responsibilities (see "Budget") the treasurer will also be responsible for the planning and coordination of meals and refreshments incorporated into events and meetings.


Initially, $3,000 per year to be provided in semester installments by the School of Religion.  The primary responsibility of the treasurer will be to track expenses, maintain records, and cooperate with any external or internal audit requested by the School, University, or the RSC itself.  Anticipated expenses include: postage, printing, occasional labor to prepare mailings, and refreshments for planned socials and RSC meetings.

Our Beautiful Little World

(Continued from p. 3)

Claremont Graduate University



Proposed Organization (Final Version)

RSC NEWSLETTER, vol.1, no.1


The RSC is hosting its First Annual Summer Barbecue for religion students and faculty and their families and friends.  It will be at the IAC beginning at 2pm.  All food is provided so just bring yourselves!  Weíll have lawn games and if you play an instrument or are musically inclined, bring them or yourself and weíll have a little sing along and show-off.  We would also love a few volunteers for help with shopping, set up and clean up, etc., so step up!  Please RSVP with  number of guests and if youíd like to volunteer to  See you there!!


All students are required to have, maintain, and actually check their university email account.  If you arenít  receiving emails from the department ask the computer center why.

Claremont Graduate University



Proposed Organization (Final Version)

(Continued from p. 4)

RSC NEWSLETTER, vol.1, no.1


For the purposes of this discussion, let us assume that Frederick Engels was essentially correct in his writings on dialectical materialism, and then explore some of the implications of this philosophy. Specifically, let us assume that the world is as Engels described it--that reality is matter in a constant state of change, which he discussed as motion. The essence of dialectics is that reality is a process; reality changes in particular ways, but we are concerned here with the fact of change in general. The essence of materialism is that reality consists of the physical world and things arising out of the physical world-things that include ourselves and our cultures and religions. Dialectical materialism should thus be understood for our purposes as the description of matter undergoing constant processes of change. This description, as we shall see, encompasses all of the phenomena human beings experience, struggle to understand, and create. We should be clear that this understanding of reality allows no room for God, for the realm of perfect forms, or for the independent power of ideas.  Our assumption here is an understanding that does not rely on any form of idealism, or on any form of ontological dualism (which is to say that the dialectical materialist understanding is that there is one reality which includes humanity and our cultural and religious creations as products of the material world).

 Dialectical materialism is, in the parlance of ìReligionî as traditionally understood, an atheism. This atheism is nonetheless full and rich in its understanding of a world without God. The type of atheism we are discussing has been around for a long, long time. What has not been widely discussed is the meaning of religious activity in a world in which God is not just dead, but has never lived. As traditionally constructed the question of meaning is the core task of theology.  Having resolved the issue of God in the negative, the question of the essence of religion remains and its formulation is the task of the Philosophy of Religion.  We will be asking the philosophical question:  "What is religion?"  The larger theological question, "What does this understanding of religion mean?" will necessarily be left to a larger project of which the current work will form a speculative introduction.

 Our society long ago began the process of living without God (in the materialist sense the losing of god, along with the birth of bourgeois democracy, is a superstructural expression of the rise of capitalism, but the full elaboration of that point is beyond our current scope).  In theology the path was broken first in the late 18th Century with the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher and his understanding of religion as essentially a feeling.  It continued in the mid-twentieth century with an understanding of God as the "ground of being" in the systematic theology of Paul Tillich.  Concurrent with Tillich, Thomas J.J. Altizer has explored the meaning -- for Christians -- of giving up altogether the necessity of God in their theology.  Our current discussion is put forth outside of the Christian context, to encourage dialogue among those who have taken for granted the atheistic understanding of dialectical materialism, but retain a concerned interest in the meaning of being human.

 Losing the necessity for God, however, does not mean that humans have lost the necessity for religious experience, taken in its broadest sense. It is this sense of religion*, of the essence of religion, under consideration here (lower case denotes the generic sense of religion). Scholars of ìReligionî** have a number of descriptions or definitions of religion, most of which do not concern God, but rather concern the actual behavior of human beings (initial capital letter and quotations marks indicates religion in the traditional sense). These behaviors are largely social, and ìReligionî has undeniably been valuable in this regard, alongside the negative social function played by ìReligionî in its much-touted role of narcotic.  It is not my purpose to argue that Marxís famous descrip-

(Continued on p. 7)

tion of religion is incorrect (because he was correct); rather I shall argue that in addition to the narcotic function, and in particular when separated from theology in the technical sense (or idealism in the philosophical sense as well as all forms of ontological dualism), religion can be understood and, more importantly, constructed  positively to meet thoroughly human needs and desires. The point here is that ìReligionî could only become like a narcotic because religion is a meaningful and necessary human creation.
 I consider first the ways in which scholars of ìReligionî define their task, the ways in which ìReligionî actually functionsóand religion will functionóin society: social, existential, and aesthetic. I next examine these forms and the implications of divorcing them from idealist philosophy and infusing them instead with materialist philosophy. The question arises of why one would even want to do this; I hold that this is not only important but inevitable as history progresses (we are just getting in on the ground floor). Finally, I take up how this new sense of religion might act and review the more important implications suggested by this analysis. I conclude that a religion is possible that is meaningful, even necessary, to a human experience of a world without economic classes.

Homo religiosus: The aesthetic side of being human

All the definitions given up till now of the religious phenomenon have one thing in common: each has its own way of showing that the sacred and the religious life are the opposite of the profane and the secular life. But as soon as you start to fix limits to the notion of the sacred you come upon difficultiesódifficulties both theoretical and practical. (Eliade 1974, 1)

Mircea Eliade argues that human beings are essentially ìReligious,î: the human being is Homo religiosus. He claims that we humans find manifestations of the ìsacred,î of power beyond us, in almost every type of thing and situation. The world is a seemingly mysterious place in which ìspiritî manifests itself in many forms. This ìspiritî of Eliadeís is difficult to define, but seems not unrelated to Hegelís ìGeistî (which is even more difficult to define, but may be familiar to the reader). ìSpiritî infuses and permeates the world, so when humans are in times of reflection, crisis, celebration, or despair, this ìspiritî is apt to manifest itselfóthis is called a hierophany. ìReligiousî experience, according to Eliade, has to do with experiences of this ìspirit,î connections with the sacred. Everything else is profane, to the degree that there is anything else. ìWhat I have just saidóthat anything whatever can become at any given moment a hierophanyómay seem to contradict all these definitions. If anything whatever may embody separate values; can the sacred-profane dichotomy have any meaning?î (12).

 For Eliade, ultimately, the distinction is not, in and of itself, very meaningful. What is meaningful are the ways in which people relate to the ìsacred.î Extrapolating a bit, it seems that if the distinction between sacred and profane is a thin line, and the thin line is simply what people do, then the world is, at its heart, a sacred place. To Eliade, the whole world is the realm of ìspiritî; what really interests him is how, where, and when ìspiritî manifests itself. People will take it from there. We ought here be sure of our terms, because Eliade was not interested in drawing distinctions between the older forms of ìReligiousî behavior that we know from archaeology and the more sophisticated forms we see around us in grand buildings or on television. ìReligiousî behavior is for Eliade all a matter of relating to ìspirit,î and all ways are equally valid. ìThis dialectic of the sacred belongs to all religions, not only to the supposedly `primitiveí forms. It is expressed as much in the worship of stones and trees, as in the theology of Indian avatars, or the supreme mystery of the Incarnationî (30). For our purposes Eliade was describing an aesthetic appreciation of the world and its mysteries, an appreciation that includes our sense of wonder and of exploration, as well as of beauty.

 ìEverything unusual, unique, new, perfect or monstrous at once becomes imbued with magico-religious powers and an object of veneration or fear according to the circumstances (for the sacred usually produces this double reaction)î (13). I find no mystery in human beings attributing a power beyond their understanding to phenomena beyond their understanding. This is the substance of Feuerbachís critique of Christianityóthat we project what we do not understand into the sky. And even here Eliade informs us: ìEven before any religious values have been set upon the sky it reveals its transcendence. The sky `symbolizesí transcendence, power, and changelessness simply by being thereî (39).

(Continued on p. 8)

We ought understand that in the term ìskyî Eliade includes all of the ìHeavenî talk of the ìReligionsî we find around us at the end of the twentieth century. And even more, Eliadeís choice of the word ìchangelessnessî is important because it was Eliadeís sense that the constant in the universe is ìspirit.î Humans seem to desire some degree of consistency in their world, and ìspiritî has often been the rock that grounds ìReligiousî people. Ironically, people usually claim that things different from ordinary experience point to the changeless ìspirit.î

 Eliade is mistaken (I argue) in suggesting that there actually exists a ìspiritî in any sense of the word that could manifest itself in a hierophany. This does not answer the question of why people describe some of their experiences as hierophanies. How are we to understand, not just ìReligiousî behavior, but the reported experiences that motivate ìReligiousî behavior? I contend that people bring their emotional needs to these experiences and attribute sacrality to that which is unique or awesome. The question then becomes, how are we to understand the ìuniqueî?  This is where Frederick Engels enters our discussion. Dialectical materialism understands the world to be undergoing constant changeóin a sense every moment is unique because it is different from what was. The patterns we see in, or even impose on, the world around us, are a comfort to us. In actuality, the ever-changing world is changeless only in that change itself is constant. It is no wonder, then, that people occasionally discover things that are different, unique, mysterious, and even awesome. I argue that these things and events are not actually hierophanies in the technical sense, but are so in a more mundane sense because the world seems to us magical by virtue of its change (motion in Engelsís terminology).

 Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be. . . . Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. (Engels 1987, 55, 56)

 We know now that this is not quite true, for Einstein taught us that there is a constant relationship ìbetween the mass (inertial property of matter) of a system and its capacity to undergo transformation from one level of organization and integration to another (energy)î (Marquit 1998, 1). Thus, ìdialectical materialism in this century, especially after Leninís infinity of matter, focuses on the changes in the hierarchical structure of systems of matter resulting from the interpenetration of oppositional tendencies and forces among the different structural levels as well as within the individual levelsî (Marquit 1998, 2). This is the point at which the sacred becomes relevant. The ìsacredî is a concept we use to express that which we cannot understand and therefore must appreciate on another levelóaesthetically. This relates to changes because that which we cannot understand is usually a change from what was, what we thought we understood before it changed.

 ìReligionî has always helped us to think that we understand the world. If we could not understand the immediate reasons for the mysterious ways in which the world moves, we could at least point to the sky, and believe that we have a relationship with the force(s) that cause the movement, the changes. To the Aztecs, for example, the coming of an eclipse was understood as the consumption of the sun by one of the gods. To appease this god, it was necessary to make blood sacrifices. The slaughter of relatively innocent enemy warriors to appease a ìgodî may seem to the modern mind an odd way to understand the ways in which the world changes, but when the change we perceive around us is beyond our control and even beyond our understanding, then some mysterious force must be at work. And if our own existence is so precarious that any misunderstood change could threaten our crops, our water supply, and therefore our survival, then we must do anything and everything to appease those mysterious forces that cause the changes, the danger, and the mystery.

 There is really nothing so mysterious about human beings projecting an imagined power into the sky that can then answer the great questions, and soothe the great fears. This projection is about as human a behavior as one can conceive. However, understanding is also part of the human equation. With thoughtful analysis, especially including the tools of dialectical materialism, we can see that this activity of projection is unnecessary. We now know that the universe moves of its own accord; the nature of the universe is matter in motion (changing). ìThe dialectical materialist not only regards motion as an inseparable property of matter, but rejects the simplified view of motionî (Lenin 1962, 277). There is no mystery to this, except insofar as we do not understand the motion or change. There is ìmagicî in the universe and in the world, but the magic is only that which we do not (yet) understand. And this mystery is good. It is the pursuit of mystery, the desire to understand that which we do not yet understand, which drives the human imagination in its most positive exemplars.

(Continued on p. 9)

ìReligionî has traditionally said that the mysterious is beyond our understanding, at least beyond the understanding of the masses. The great mysteries have been the domain of the priests and the saints, those closer to God. An inherent differentiation in power comes with ìReligion,î and with all idealist philosophy. So the ruling class of any society has always had a built-in motivation to play upon the mysterious, to encourage the priests with their talk of the divine and sacred. If there is power in understanding, and power in apprehending and influencing change in the universe, then it has always been in the interest of those who rule to keep this realm to themselves and their allies. The world is mysterious at times, but perhaps not nearly so mysterious as we have been led to believe.

 To return to our Aztec example, these were a people who contemplated zero before all others (save the Maya who taught it to the Aztec), and who mapped the movement of the stars with a precision unknown again until very recent times. Is it possible that the king and his priests manipulated the fears of the people to encourage them to support the blood sports that maintained the power of the ruling class? Of course! Being closer to the sacred has always been a source of power, being able to answer questionsóeven if the answers are self-servingóhas always been a way to manipulate people, like puppets chained by their fears of the unknown and unexpected.

 This is the first function of religionóthe aesthetic: to explain, or at least to appreciate, the unexplained. ìReligionî has done this by appealing to our sense of magic, of awe, and of fear. But Homo religiosus, living conscious of the dialectical nature of change in the universe, need not be subject to this manipulation any longer. The magic of dialectical change imbues reality with a sense that the concept ìsacredî may well describe. It is our task, the task of humanity, to determine what we are to make of a world that moves in wonderful, seemingly unpredictable ways. Einstein once said that he refused to believe that God played dice with the universe. This is the magic of dialectical change: it certainly looks like God playing dice, Einstein to the contrary notwithstanding. Even without ìReligionî in the traditional sense, the magic remains, and perhaps we can better appreciate the worldís beauty if we need not have God in the way.

ìThe Sacred Canopyî: The existential side of being human

The fundamental dialectic process of society consists of three moments, or steps. These are externalization, objectivation, and internalization. . . . Externalization is the ongoing outpouring of human being into the world, both in the physical and the mental activity of men. Objectivation is the attainment by the products of this activity (again both physical and mental) of a reality that confronts its original producers as a facticity external to and other than themselves. Internalization is the reappropriation by men of this same reality, transforming it once again from structures of the objective world into structures of subjective consciousness. (Berger, 1969, 4)

 We move now to the second of religionís principal functions. The first function was personal to the individual experiencing ìReligionî; this next function is social as the aggregate of all the individuals experiencing ìReligion.î Even the narcotic effect described by Marx is both individual and social. The social effect extends far beyond pacification. ìReligionî has always had a dominant role in defining reality. Different ìReligionsî have different understandings of the nature of reality. These differences seem to be eroding in the modern world, as traditional ways of living pass into history, but a socially defined reality is still necessary for us to be able to talk with each other, as well as to share culture more generally. The socially defined reality is the groundwork from which all higher human activity (culture) is builtóit is the why, the reason for doing what we do.

The sociologist Peter Berger argues that because human beings are ìcuriously unfinishedî at birthóthat is, our bodies and brains (especially) have not finished their formation at the time of birthówe end up relating to the world in a myriad of ways that are simply not possible for nonhuman animals. Nonhuman animals have instincts; we do not. We may have drives that could be argued to be innate (certainly a drive to survive fits this understanding), but where nonhuman animals ìknowî how to be in the world, we must define our own way. The process by which this defining is done is a social process, because by virtue of our unfinishedness we are social creatures, and our reality is a social construction.

 The nonhuman animal, Berger argues, as a result ìlives in a world that is more or less completely determined by its instinctual structure. . . . By contrast, manís instinctual structure at birth is both underspecialized and undirected toward a species-specific environmentî (5). Berger goes on to argue that the basic biology of humans determines that these definitions of our social environment must come out of activityóthis is, of course, the position of earlier thinkers like Marx, who discussed the phenomenon in terms of species-being, the activity of humans as a group.

 Our sociological understanding of the particular ways in which humans actually live their day to day lives has grown much more sophisticated over the years. Bergerís work is quite informative in this regard. ìThe understanding of society as rooted in manís externalization, that is, as a product of human activity, is particularly important in view of the fact that society appears to common sense as something quite different, as independent of human activity and as sharing in the inert givenness of natureî (Berger 1969, 8). Of course, we do know now that there is no givenness of nature (a predefined way for hu-

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mans to live), but only our developing relationship with nature (though these ways may seem predictable, if one had sufficient knowledge). The details of this relationship change with our development, with the deepening of our understanding of the ways in which matter moves. For example, the Aztec understanding of the necessity of blood sacrifice to keep the sun moving over the years has lost its hold on us because we now understand that the sun moves because of the immutable law of gravity. And we understand that it will keep moving the way it does until its mass has changed sufficiently that it undergoes collapse and destroys itself and our solar system with it. This understanding is, perhaps, less poetic than the Aztec understanding, but less people end up having their still beating hearts removed from their chests.

 Perhaps, though, we get a bit ahead of ourselves. The question for Berger would be how this unfinishedness relates to religion in particular. ìA meaningful order, or nomos, is imposed upon the discrete experiences and meanings of individuals. To say that society is a world-building enterprise is to that it is ordering, or nomizing, activityî (Berger 1969, 19). Because we do not have a sense of the order of the world hard-wired into us in the form of instinct, Berger argues, this order must, of necessity, be constructed. The construction itself is complex, and ultimately involves entire societies, and must account for that which is not understood (the magical) as well as that which is already understood. The social construction of reality must incorporate the unusual as well as the ordinaryóto use Eliadeís terms, the sacred and profane. ìReligion is the human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established. Put differently, religion is cosmization in a sacred mode. By sacred is meant here a quality of mysterious and awesome power, other than man and yet related to him, which is believed to reside in certain objects or experienceî (Berger 1969, 25).

 If there is no God, no sacred, no power beyond the material worldóin all its ìmagicîó then these ìReligiousî constructions of reality have in common that they appeal to a false power for their justification. The point made earlier about the class interests involved in the construction of reality is important in this regard also. The point is not that the social construction of reality must appeal to the sacredóand it is not clear if this is Bergerís point or just the facts of historyóbut that a social construction of reality must be accomplished, and is accomplished by any and all societies to the degree that they survive. There is another, more ordinary level, at which this social construction is accomplished that relies on the day-to-day experiences of individuals in interactions with friends, coworkers, neighbors, and others.

 So what would it mean for a social construction of reality to be done in the conscious absence of the ìsacredî? The social construction of reality must rely upon majority consensusóand here some may argue that it always has, but that it was the limited consensus among the ruling class. The masses are more accustomed to a social construction of reality that seems necessary, and there are those who are made anxious by the prospect of rationally configuring a social construction of reality that fits the needs of the whole species, of all members of society. It is my opinion, however, that this project of constructing society democratically, rationally, and dialectically, is the project of socialist society, as described by Marx. In the period Marx called ìsocialism,î preceding full communism, society develops its socialist and democratic consensus and character. This process is necessarily complicated, multifaceted, and time-consuming. Human beings may be fairly elastic, but they are also conservative. Change in the way people ordinarily conceive the world takes generations to accomplish, especially when the kind of change that must unfold is change to our very basic sensibilities of meaning and purpose, the existential side of being human. Our consciousness is an outgrowth of experience, so first it is necessary to change peopleís experienceófor example, through collective ownershipóbut then one must have patience as the full implications of these material changes manifest themselves over time. The social construction of reality is not complete in a weekend

Ceremonial Centers: The social side of being human

This definition of religion transcends the normal understanding. I am concerned with the religious personóhomo religiosusóthe tendency of human beings to re-link, re-bind, re-connect, and re-concile themselves with each other and nature. This is precisely what the Latin `re-ligareí (from which the English word `religioní is derived) means. Whenever people are in the process of restoring life to wholeness, integration and unity, they are engaging in religious activity. (Zepp 1986, 14).

 We have seen that religion is a matter of what people do, how they behave. Religion (in the generic sense) is, at one level, a traditional source of connecting with the deeper levels of our humanityówhat some call spirituality, here called aesthetics). But we should be clear about the implications of generic, nonidealist, religion. Some people meditate to get in touch with reality or self; some people climb mountains. Some people go to sporting events with friends to help them feel in touch with their shared

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humanity; some go to prayer meetings. It is not the activityóno matter how passive or activeóthat is so important. We humans will inevitably take from any and all forms of behavior that have helped human beings keep in touch with their humanity, in all its fullness. We must understand that some of these forms of behavior are not identified as religiousóbut actually are in our generic sense of religious, for these behaviors are the ways in which people experience themselves, their community, and the world.

 Drawing on traditional work in the history of religion, Ira Zepp has described what he sees as the religious (in our generic sense) dimension of shopping malls. Shopping malls, per se, are not my concern now, except to note the implicit argument in Zeppís work that malls have replaced more traditional religious centers. He does not explicitly explore the reasons for this, but all one need do is review the statistics about church attendance versus mall patronageómany more people go to malls than churches today. It is certainly true that ìReligionî has experienced a decline since the advent of capitalism, but this is not my point here.

 Zepp does offer a very interesting analysis of the ways in which malls can be seen as analogous to traditional ìReligiousî expressions. I have argued that religion ought to be understood as a human expression of the quest to experience our humanity. Zepp argues that ìReligionî has always served this function, that this is a necessary function (as I have argued), and that religion, in our sense, can be found in malls where it has actually been disappearing in the rest of America and the world (save some holdouts like the Promise Keepers in America or the Ayatollahs in Iran).

 The point Zepp makes is that religious behavior relies centrally on concepts of sacred space and sacred timeóproviding for the aesthetic experience of being human, as I have discussed above. Zepp relies on an argument developed in part by Eliade and, significantly for our emphasis here, on work by the anthropologist Paul Wheatley. Wheatley described sacred centers in a comparative fashion in the late 1970s. Wheatley traveled the world and discovered that many, many religions have constructions of a center as a central aspect of their activity in the world. There are cathedrals, mosques, notions of center of the world at the headwaters of the Ganges in India, notions of the center of world being in Rome, to more mundane manifestations in village and regional centers.

 The one thing that many of these traditional centers have in common is that they were integrated into peopleís daily lives via exchange. The most dramatic examples are the bazaars of Egypt and Persia, and others may be found throughout history and across the planet. By virtue of being social animals, people have always had a need to exchange goods and services; ìReligionî has had a place in this. Recall Eliadeís point that almost anything, anywhere can be a hierophany. And it is a ìsacredî place that would be chosen as a centeróit would be the place to which people would congregate. Zepp points all of this out in making a case that shopping malls have taken over this function in our societyóthe social function of defining time out, and a space for this time out. Ceremonial Centersówhich is how Wheatley describes themóhave the function of allowing for meaningful human interactions, as well as a break from ordinary daily experience to get in touch with the fully human. In short, Ceremonial Centers have provided for the basic interchange that is our social being, as well as defining the space and time for groups to experience the existential and aesthetic functions of religion.

 In the final analysis, religion must be understood as defining or delimiting truly human interactionsóinteractions with self, others, and the world. To do this, religion needs concepts of space and of time for these interactions. On a practical level, exchange has always formed a material justification for human beings to come together (we are social animals) so that these interactions can be meaningful (existentially and/or aesthetically). In the shopping mall, the meaningful side is exploited to bring customers to sellers. In traditional ìReligion,î the meaningful side has been used as a narcotic to distract people from the pain they suffer the rest of the time, rather than as a pure expression of the pursuit of the experience of being human. What is needed for the future is a recapturing of the human facilitation that the great markets of the Middle East and Mexico had in common (without the exploitative side that has always been a feature of ìReligionî in class-based society).

 The second half of the equation is sacred timeótime out to explore the human. One cannot be expected to do a vision quest and keep up with the gardening, let alone make a car or refrigerator at the same time. Society has to have time out, has to have holidays. These so-called sacred times are often the times when the festivals occur, when the marketplaces are busiestówhether it is one day a week or a larger celebration that comes just once a year with the harvest, planting, or the new year. The social functionóand even the existential and aesthetic functionsóof religion must take into account the need for humans to take time to reconnect with themselves and with each other. This reconnecting is done through shared ex-

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periences, whether mundane or even ecstatic. It is important to have time for the experience of being human in all its full complexity, at all of its levels.


It is interesting that Marx chose the analogy of narcotics to describe religion. For our purposes we might understand the similarity to be with a profound aestheticóeven ecstaticóexperience, not simply the

analgesic effect of the drug Marx probably had in mind. Anyone who has not had direct experience with heroin or opium may need to rely on the reports of experiences of others to help understand the appeal. By some accounts, the experience of narcotics is the full experience of being humanóit is a complete and ecstatic experience of being human, in the fullest sense of these words. Let us put aside the physically addictive qualities for the moment, and concentrate on why people choose to begin the habit. Narcotics supposedly give one the most full and complete feeling of oneís humanity possibleóat least to those reporting.

 Humans are both emotional and rational. We have experiences of both; some scholars and researchers may be in touch with the ìecstaticî side of the rationalóthose unexpected bursts of creative or analytical insightóbut the rest of the world is much more in touch with the emotive side of ecstatic experience. The word ìecstasyî is of course associated with emotion rather than reason. The point,  however, is that ecstatic experiences are complete experiences; they are times when we feel connected to our own humanity, in either form. ìReligionî and narcotics are both common ways in which alienated people can feel their humanity.

 There is no mystery in this: human beings living in conditions of exploitation and alienation feel their humanity, and the humanity of others, as being alien to them. In ecstatic experiences, we regain some minimal contact with that humanity. Narcotics users are more honest, perhaps, because they know they are not ìseeing God,î they are taking heroin and these are different things. The ìReligiousî person may think that in an ecstatic experience he or she is actually seeing God. ìReligionî can be more dangerous as a result, although the addictive effect of narcotics parallels this danger. The narcotic effect of heroin and ìReligionî allows people to feel in touch with their total person. By ìtotal personî we must understand that experience of the world and experience of self are dialectically connectedóthat is, each informs and influences the other. Even though the ìReligiousî experience is of a power or force allegedly other than, greater then, humanóthe experience is wholly human. This is important: no matter what the content of ìReligiousî experience is supposed to be, it is a human experience, because the supposed other is perceived, sensed, apprehended, by the human being having the experience.

 In addition to constructing social definitions of reality, meaning, and our collectives, religion plays a significant role in allowing us to keep in touch with our humanity. The fact that this contact with our humanity is ecstatic (to some degree) and therefore open to abuse as a means of escape does not detract from this claim, but in fact bolsters it. The fact that people do abuse religious and narcotic experiences to avoid realityóin an effort, ironically, to get in touch with their humanityódemonstrates the human significance of keeping in touch with our humanity, the aesthetic side of experiencing humanity.

 Homo religiosus living conscious of the dialectical materiality of the world has no need to take narcotics or seek out ìReligion.î  The full manifestation of this analysis may require a new humanity, the socialist human, living in conditions that are not alienating or exploitative and thus not inherently painful.  But even from the perspective of today we can see that humanity can experience the aesthetic day to day, and can appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world and even the ecstasy of being human. It is the traditional role of ìReligionî to facilitate these experiences. The substance of my argument is that this role is socially necessary and not necessarily class specificóit is the content that is brought to this role that is class specific. Indeed, fully developed working-class expressions of this social function will have vastly different contents from bourgeois, let alone feudal, variants.

 One of the social functions of religion is to create, or at least facilitate, the development of space and time to devote to ìbeing humanî in the fullest (that is, ecstatic or aesthetic) sense. The aesthetic experience of being human is the experience of the ìsacredî that Eliade described. The creation of the space to experience it is the role of religion Zepp described; its content and tone are the role Berger described. Perhaps a few examples might help to make the point here. The Eastern traditionósuch as Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoistóhave a long and rich contemplative history with meditation. The Orthodox Christian Church retained the contemplative version of what it calls ecstatic experience, while the Roman Catholic Church moved in a more intellectual, or analytic direction. But Western Christians have their own versions of ecstatic experiences, although they are often less elegantófor example, the speaking in tongues of the Charismatic Churches, or the experience of the ìspiritî in revival meetings. The traditions of Judaism and Islam

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have long mystical (or aesthetic) traditions. In Judaism there is the Kabbalah and more recent Hasidism. Islam has its Sufis, and especially the active variant in the Whirling Dervishes. In the New World we find the ecstatic traditions of the Native American Church (and its peyote), the Rastifarians (with their ìSacred Ganjaî), as well as the ecstatic dance and vision quests.

 All these traditions have value, taken as expressions of human beings in search of ways of being human-or at least the feeling of being human. The traditions themselves, obviously, would not describe their activities in these terms.  They would use idealist terms, ìGod talk,î to describe and justify their actions. More importantly, there are more common, more mundane, levels of all of these experiences, and that is why aesthetic understanding deserves emphasis. It is the everyday expression of the search for our humanity that is the most important aspect of all the ecstatic types of traditions listed above. One need not do a vision quest to feel human, but the social construction of reality that understands the vision quest to be a particularly profound human experience is of value.

 One might ask: what is this idealist content? What then would be a materialist content to religion? The idealist content of ìReligionî is the ìOther.î When Eliade writes about the sacred, the divine, God, the ultimate, etc., this is the idealist content. When the relationship human beings enter into with ìReligionî is defined as being something beyond the human and beyond the material world, this is the idealist content. A materialist content of religion would be the individual human being experiencing self, community, and world. The materialist content is the experience of our individual and collective humanity. We must keep in mind that these experiences interact dialectically. The standard dialectical materialist understanding is that there really Å
is no individual outside of the community in which that individual livesóor outside of that community, the individual would be completely different. There is no community without the individuals that define that community. And our experience of the world is a human experience, dependent upon human sense organs, interpreted by a human brain, which is cognitively ordered by a human society that has interacted with its parts and the world over time.

 There is magic in the world, but the magic is not a power outside of the material world. Rather, the magic simply is the material world in all its subtle and complex interrelations. And there is magic in being human, in experiencing the world and our being in ways that are human and ecstatic, and that transcend space and time. The community side of socialism is about bringing these experiences down from Olympus and returning them to the human beings who live them, who at least ought to live them if we construct society rationally and democratically without class distinctions and exploitation.

 Homo religiosus living in a dialectical material world still needs religion, as we have used the term. So understood we can see the need for a new theology to articulate the full meaning of religion in the service of all of humanity and not a ruling class. The new theology will be infused with the sacrality (in a materialist sense) of the dialectic, an aesthetic appreciation of the world and the marvelous ways in which it changes. The new theology will have a deep appreciation for all that is human, and all that it takes to be human, to live a truly human existence. And the new theology will do this by infusing itself, and all that it does, with a materialist content. The forms ìReligionî has given us from the past are of interest. The content has, necessarily been the idealist content of class interests and rationalizations, but we have reached the end of that road, and the future stretches out before us. We no longer need the mythology of gods or of idealism, but we cannot deny the need for human interactions, for experiences of our full humanity, and for the social constructions of reality necessitated by our biology. Marx himself once remarked that religion (as we are denoting it) is the heart of a heartless world. The task remains to construct a living religion, a theology, that represents the fullest expression of a self-creating humanity.

 It is, of course, vitally important for those interested in social change to maintain their scientific understanding of society, and to analyze, plan, and act with the best understanding possible. Yet we cannot forget that there is more to the human animal than is easily summarized in any few words. In our day-to-day experience, the world can be a confusing place. Social progress is not only about finding sterile constructions to manage the world, but also in reveling in those human experiences that include awe and wonder, reveling in the fullest possible experience of being humanósocially, existentially, and aesthetically.


Berger, Peter L., The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967.

Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, trans. Rosemary Sheed, New York: New American Library, 1974.

Engels, Frederick, Dialectics of Nature, in

Karl Marx, Frederick Engels: Collected works, vol. 25, 229ó346, New York: International Publishers, 1987.

Lenin, Vladimir I., Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, in V. I. Lenin: Collected Works, vol. 14, pp. 17-363, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1962.

Marquit, Erwin, Letter to author, 23 December 1998 (Marquit is Professor Emeritus, Physics, U. Minn.).

Zepp, Ira G., Jr., The New Religious Image of Urban America: The Shopping Mall as Ceremonial Center, Niwot, Colorado: Univ. Press of Colorado, 1997.

The Religion Student Council now has an email address and a mail box in the School Office.
Snail Mail: Religion Student Council, School of Religion, 831 Dartmouth, Claremont, CA 91711

The Essence of Religion:

Homo Religiosus in a Dialectical Material World

by Richard Curtis

Editor's Note:
In each issue of the Religion Student Council Newsletter we will be publishing a student paper (in addition to other types of submissions).  The goal is to provide a forum for some of the best that our student body is producing, and to give all of us a chance to be exposed to the type of work those in other program areas are producing.  Our first article is by Richard Curtis (PRT) and was selected on the basis of being the winning paper in the 1999-2000 AAR Western Region Graduate Student Paper Contest.  Submissions are welcomed and will be judged on the basis of standards determined by the Religion Student Council this fall.

Richard welcomes comments on this paper at:

(Continued from p. 6)



Weíre looking for a catchy name for our newsletter and we need YOU to help!  Donít know what the prize will be yet, but being the most clever person in the School of Religion should be enough, donít you think?  So send your submissions to Weíll announce the winner in our next issue (we might even put your picture).

Weíll be having an ongoing discussion forum but we need to know what you want to discuss, so send your questions/concerns/triumphs to  As far as submitting papers for  publication and criteria for how theyíll be chosen, weíll send out an e-mail soon.

Letter from the School of Religion Administration

Dear Religion Students,

 The administrative staff is excited to be working with students on new opportunities related to our becoming a school.  One important opportunity is the design and development of a formal relationship between the Religion Executive Committee and a new religion student council.  We are very pleased that a number of students put together a proposal, approved by the Religion Executive Committee, that gives structure to that relationship.  Thus, the new School of Religion not only endorses the Religion Student Council; it recognizes the council as a vital aspect of the school's present and future.
 This new structure has many advantages: a more structured forum for students to discuss their recommendations for the administration, a way to promote and maintain communication between students, faculty, and administration, a better context in which to plan both social and academic events, and a formal avenue for developing awareness of grants, fellowships, and teaching opportunities for students.  We look forward to working with students on all these issues and others to help make the CGU School of Religion the best place in the world to study religion.
CGU, School of Religion, Administrative Staff  (Jackie, Pat, and Karen)

Snail mail Address:
Religion Student Council
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Claremont, CA 91711