Hearing the voice of God
Towards a semiotic understanding of prayer
This article brings together two unrelated ethnographies where former hostages of the FARC held in the Colombian rainforest and traditionalist Russian Orthodox Christians both claim to have heard the voice of God. Through analysing the subjective assumptions made about intentionality and voice agency by these two sets of listeners, an attempt is made to understand what might be the circumstances that lead one to believe he or she has heard a ‘divine’ voice. For the Catholic Colombian captives who recycled what they took to be prophetic radio voices and for Russian Orthodox Christians who believed God was speaking through the priest when they heard the liturgical language (Church Slavonic), the voice was embodied in an unfamiliar way. It was the combination of this and various synaesthetic factors that made the voice appear to them as a manifestation of divine power. The coupling of words with voice had been misaligned leading to a muddling of intentionality and semiotic ambiguity vis-à-vis the voice and mimetic responses to it. Building on ethnographic research with white Christians in America who were on a quest for intuitively non-self-generated thoughts, this research shows that inner voice can be used to invoke linguistic representations of God in the absence of any tuition. Moreover, these two pieces of fieldwork demonstrate how much there is to learn by examining the subjectivity and dialogicality of voice when external and internal socialities are juxtaposed, and when different semiotic ideologies of voice come into contact.