Is Knowledge Sectarian?

I’ll wager that there are not more than a few people on this planet who have a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics and over 50 peer reviewed science articles and who have successfully completed a foundation course in North American Indian and Runic shamanism.

I am still reading Le Chamanisme by Mircea Eliade which is a weighty tome and in French. I am about four fifths of the way through, and I am getting to learn some vocabulary that you won’t normally come across. In principle I am “qualified” to set up shop doing dream analysis, healing, shamanic journeying etc.. I have also just put some spirit vinegar, some water and some sodium chloride into the kettle. The latter decreases the pH by the common ion effect. The idea is to remove the calcium carbonate deposits.

For me knowledge in not sectarian.

When I first started the course on shamanism, the people when they found out my background, were very suspicious of my motives for being there, even when I told them that one of my maternal relatives was allegedly a witch. I suspect that many of my science contacts would have thought me a bit of a fruitcake. At this level, yes “knowledge” is sectarian.

In my prior incarnation as a science academic, I have met physicists who have thought themselves better, purer and perhaps brainer than chemists. So even at this level there is a measure of sectarianism. Physics is pure, chemistry is dirty.

Reading the thesis I found the other day, I noted to myself that I really have very little idea what goes on in social sciences, history, even biology at universities. My ignorance is large. When I used to do tutoring for UK Grad for Ph.D. students from all disciplines, I ran a session on careers in academia. Because I am very informal there were no taboos. These were well attended, and I was amazed at how hard it was for not scientists and engineers to get funded for their research. I was fascinated by the stories of some of them getting “white glove” only access to manuscripts. I really badly wanted to go along on one such visit. These people were in many ways more dedicated than the students I knew. Their theses took longer to complete. It wasn’t bang of a couple off papers’ worth of data, write a book and then done.

We don’t really know what goes on in other disciplines. Put me in an organic chemistry synthesis lab and I would not have a clue what to do. I would be more at home in a physics lab than a chemistry one. Someone once told me that doing a Ph.D. was about learning more and more about less and less. But these days much of the interesting science and the new frontiers lies at the interface between “disciplines” and the interface between length scales.

What struck me reading the accounts from over a hundred years ago was how much more interest in things other than the well-defined there was then than there are now. We can define ourselves as a scientist, have a degree of Doctor of Philosophy but be completely disinterested in philosophy and sacerdotal things.

We may show a highly sectarian and judgemental view of things New Age {for example} and we may do this without any exploration thereof. We may be prejudiced against before any inquiry.

Are we in fact by this kind of behaviour being retrogressive?

What about the interface between science knowledge and sacred knowledge?

It certainly does not smack of any renaissance or renascence…

I doubt knowledge itself can be sectarian, those holding it, in possession of it, can be sectarian in outlook.