Shared knowledge can and does shape personal knowledge. Throughout life we persistently harnessknowledge. We accumulate information from diverse sources in copious ways and then interpretsuch acquisition through our knowledge matrix, individual filters of emotion, memory, senseperceptions, language and intuition, so that we can comprehend and internalize it. We can divideknowledge into two areas: shared knowledge, which is imparted to a group or community, andpersonal knowledge, which is acquired through individual experience and personal involvement.
Iwill discuss how shared knowledge shapes personal knowledge with reference to religiousknowledge systems and the arts. My contention will be supported with evidence using examplesfrom Judaism as a religion and music as a creative art. These examples both demonstrate howpersonal knowledge, unique to each individual both biologically and experientially, can beprofoundly influenced by the communal constraints of shared knowledge.
In order to validate my assertion, I shall flip the supposition; does the personal shape sharedknowledge? A group requires many individuals and such individuals are responsible for knowledgethat is then shared. Ultimately, shared scientific knowledge is a collection of individuals’ personalknowledge and contributions. It is also reasonable to contend that personal knowledge, creativityand individual experiences constitute essential influence on religion and the arts as well. However,just as individuals ultimately forge new dimensions in shared knowledge they must contribute inconcert, so to speak, within an historical, cultural and linguistic context. Effectively, shared andpersonal knowledge are inextricably linked. Knowledge in religion systems is often contentious.
Some deny the existence of god or ferventlyadhere to the doctrines and rituals of their distinct religion. The creation stories and laws contained 1 in scriptures or handed down through oral tradition, and the proscribed rituals of religious practicesembody what would be considered shared knowledge. It is faith and the feelings of revelation thatmust exist as personal knowledge. Religion explains concepts that science cannot.
While scienceexplains the world from a “What” and “How” perspective, religion explains it from the “Why”.Religion also raises ethical awareness; the community teaches individuals how to be good peoplethrough doctrine, ritual and communal bonding festivals. To comprehend how shared knowledge shapes personal knowledge in religion, we must considerthe source of religious knowledge. Revelation, whether direct or indirect, constitutes an array ofreligious knowledge, because it is directly linked to emotion as a way of knowing. People whowitness miracles or have mystical or spiritual experiences sense strong emotions, which justify theirbeliefs. Religious authorities ostensibly possess more knowledge of and adherence to their religionthan others in the community. They are responsible for interpreting teachings and traditions and alsodetermining which variations of interpretation are permissible and which are regarded as heretical.
In other words, they decide what counts as religious knowledge (scripture, rules, existentialexplanations) and what doesn’t. Traditions and rituals may be called the memory of a religiouscommunity and the physical embodiment and expression of religious knowledge. All these aspectsof shared knowledge in a religious system are the foundation through which individuals filter andthen express their unique experiences. Judaism is a monotheistic religion with the Torah (the Old Testament) as its foundational text. As aJew, I have witnessed how communal tradition plays a deep role in maintaining the Jewishcommunity. In Judaism shared knowledge undoubtedly shapes personal knowledge. Sharedknowledge in Judaism is transmitted between generations both through written texts, shared dailyrituals and observance of many holy days.
Jews fast on Yom Kippur, the day of repentance, observe 2 Kashrut (strict dietary laws), commemorate historic holidays such as Hanukah and Purim and menpray several times a day and usually in groups of ten. Prayer involves highly ritualized chanting ofHebrew scripture and the adornment with standardized accoutrements (tallis, kipot and tefillin). Traditions, beliefs and commandments in the Torah are considered sanctified by the word of God.This is where personal knowledge is shaped.
As Jewish individuals are exposed to religiousknowledge, it informs their personal understanding of Judaism and God. The personal knowledge inreligion is the individual’s faith. This is the trust and confidence in something for which there is noincontrovertible proof. One tenet of Judaism actually maintains that it is not necessary to ‘believe’without doubt, or to have total faith. The obligation in Judaism is to observe the laws (there are 613mitsvot or laws in the torah).
The rabbis have understood that faith is personal and cannot be forced,but rather through ritual and adherence to rules of conduct individuals can develop faith. Thephysical act of prayer and the emotional utterance of gratitude for both the basic necessities in lifeand urgent aspirations can in and of themselves psychologically elicit individual experiences offaith and revelation. The arts provide an interesting opportunity to study the nature of knowledge, because theynecessarily embody creativity and draw upon a broad spectrum of disciplines. All artistic productiondraws on emotion and imagination combined with inner logic and rationality to create somethingnew. It must therefore spring from the domain of personal knowledge. Nonetheless, it builds upon afoundation of shared knowledge, a body of aesthetics and values agreed upon culturally. Again, theshared shapes the personal.
To study the roles of shared and personal knowledge in the arts, one must consider the ways inwhich art is viewed. This is done both communally and personally, which means that art can be 3 assessed according to criteria and qualities that are independent of the observer (form, genre, style,texture, shape, color, tempo and language within an historical context) and judged based onpersonal preference (how it elicits emotional, intuitive an sensual responses). An individual’saesthetic preference will be highly influenced by the society that sets the criteria. Artistic diversityis fostered as individuals are inspired by sources they are exposed to and, as unique voices, harnesstheir own intuition, emotion and imagination in the creative process. The shared knowledgeimposes form on the personal.
The arts satisfy our sense perception and accordingly entertain or inspire. Music is a special artform as its medium is sound. It is comprised of acoustic elements such as pitch, rhythm anddynamics. Song can also include verbal art, poetry specifically. Musical knowledge variesdramatically around the globe.
The movement of musical traditions as humans migrated anddiffused has inspired novel forms of music, hence the development of genres and subgenres. All musical knowledge is affected by culture; the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs thatdistinguishes one group of people from another. It begins with a shared set of traditions andexpectations in the family/community/region/country. For example, Western music has a scale of 12notes per octave that are equally separated by equal tones or semitones.
A moveable seven-notescale is, however, used in Indian classical music with frequent intervals smaller than a semitone.Instruments are widely diverse, and even the physical use of voice can be totally different. Forexample, in Tibet they practice throat singing that produces a unique double sound.
There are globaldifferences in tempo, dynamics and pretty much every factor in music across cultures. To further illustrate my thesis I will refer to a composition performed with my choir. Mozart’sRequiem is a Christian mass and the composer’s last composition. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived 4 in central Europe during the late 1700’s, an emerging era of Classicism. Like every Christian massat that time, Requiem was written in Latin due to the influence of the Catholic church.
Mozartincorporates contrapuntal1 complexities similar to those of Bach’s during the Baroque era, however,the central traits of Classicism are present in Mozart’s requiem. These include variations in keys,melodies, rhythm and dynamics (before there were no gradual changes in dynamics, only jumpsbetween soft and loud) and frequent changes in mood and timbre that are expressed with clarity,balance and transparency compared to the dignified gravity and impressive grandeur of the Baroqueera. Furthermore, the harpsichord continuo fell out of use and orchestras increased in size. Overall,Mozart’s Requiem is defined by its historical and cultural context. Evidenced by the composition,Mozart’s knowledge of composing is within the boundaries of what was taught in Classical Europe. Personal knowledge of Mozart’s Requiem is revealed through an individual’s input in performance.Every musician has a unique sound, especially singers. Biologically, everyone’s voice differs withpitch, timbre, texture and tone.
The shared knowledge affects people differently, therefore theaesthetic nuance greatly impacts performance. A performance of Mozart’s Requiem by CantoresMinores will sound different from a performance by King’s College Choir not only in articulation,but in all other factors. Ultimately, the personal knowledge (the musicality) is shaped by the writtenmusic, which is the shared knowledge. Though music is based in cultural tradition it is also alwaysa product of personal experience and creativity.
The quality of tone and strength of emotion arealways a unique expression of individual human endeavor. In conclusion, shared knowledge must shape personal knowledge. In religious knowledge systemslike Judaism Torah study and proscribed rituals help individuals gain individual faith. In the artsshared knowledge in music, dictated by historical and cultural context, shapes how individuals 1 The relationship between voices that are interdependent harmonically yet independent in rhythm andcontour. 5 express the music aesthetically with their unique set of skills. One of the greatest drummers of alltime, Buddy Rich, once said: “I consider every drummer that ever played before me an influence, inevery way”. Shared and personal knowledge are inextricably linked. However, shared knowledge isthe foundation upon which personal knowledge is built.
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