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CCH Seminar Series 2023 – Wed 3rd May, 11am – Rohan Bastin | CANCELLED



11am, 3rd May 2023
Burwood: C2.05.01
Waurn Ponds: IC2.108
Zoom link here.

Martyrdom and Myths of State: Bearing Witness to Freedom in the Political Age

Karl Jaspers’ Axial Age in human history is linked to a kind of interregnum in the nature of political economy when new modalities of state power developed in hand with new moral philosophies that explore inter alia the problem of freedom. The contention underlying this paper is that, notwithstanding debates over the timing of this age, at its heart is an identification of an ontological transmutation that could be labelled as ‘anthropocentric’. By this I mean a critical juncture in human thought and practice when a rupture occurs between human being and the lifeworld. Such a rupture is central to the life-death problem of sacrifice and its multiple ethical implications that sacrificial ritual in its broadest sense explores. Such implications include but are not limited to the linked phenomena of slavery and sovereignty as well as martyrdom as the end of that linkage enabling the ruptures or axial moments to occur.

For this very reason, axial moments rather than an ‘Age’ are frequent, and the scholarly issue is not their timing but their intensity. An example of this is the period in more recent world history George Orwell identified as a ‘political age’ when the weapons of democracy were displaced by the technologies of mass death. These issues lie at the heart of a form of mythology I call ‘myths of state’. But more than being myths about states or what many would regard in functionalist legitimation of power terms, myths of state address far more complex ontological issues such as the very nature of power itself. These questions are explored here through a consideration of some recent examples of myths of state where the problems of sacrifice and the scapegoat as well as martyrdom and the end of sacrifice and enslavement are central.


Associate Professor Rohan Bastin was born in Melbourne and completed his secondary schooling and first university degree in Adelaide. After completing his PhD at University College London, Rohan joined the Anthropology program at the University of Melbourne, later embarking on an ARC postdoctoral fellowship. He then joined James Cook University where he rose to the position of Head of School before being appointed to Deakin in 2005 with the task of rebuilding the Anthropology program. Since joining Deakin, Rohan has extended his long-term research in Sri Lanka with two ARC Discovery Project grants. The most recent of these grants is funding a team of researchers in Sri Lanka and Australia including 5 PhD students completing their theses in 2020.