Friday, September 16, 2016

Hodgson on the 'Dialectic of a Cultural Tradition' (previous quote expanded)

For historically, Islam and its associated lifeways form a cultural tradition, or a complex of cultural traditions; and a cultural tradition by its nature grows and changes; the more so, the broader its scope. 
Tradition can cease to be living, can degenerate to mere transmission. A recipe for a holiday pastry may be (traditional' in the sense merely that it is transmitted unaltered from mother to daughter for untold generations. If it is merely transmissive, a sheer habit, then any change of circumstances may lead to its abandonment, at least once the mother is gone. But if it is vital, meeting a real need, then the tradition will be readjusted or grow as required by circumstances. A living cultural tradition, in fact, is always in course of development. Even if a pattern of activity remains formally identical in a changed context, its meaning can take on new implications; it can be gradually, even imperceptibly, reconceived. A pastry first made when all foods were prepared at home inevitably becomes something very different when it alone is home-made, though exactly the recipe be used. To cling to the recipe then requires, or perhaps produces, a new point of view toward the pastry. But even without so drastic a change in circumstances, the recipe and its use will prove to have a history. Even in primitive life, over the millennia or even only the centuries, fuel differed, or water, or the quality of the utensils. Eventually, if the tradition was genuinely alive, some cook found that the recipe itself could be improved on in the changed conditions. As she did so, she was not abandoning the tradition but rather keeping it alive by letting it grow and develop. 
Living societies seem never to have been actually static. With the advent of citied and lettered life, this dynamic aspect of cultural tradition was intensified; or, rather, the living tradition-process was speeded up and became more visible, so that generation by generation within each tradition there was a conscious individual cultural initiative in response to the ever-new needs or opportunities of the time. 
-Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977), vol. 1, p. 79-80.