CHAPTEROBJECTIVES Be able to identify and distinguish between the different forms of religious expression. Know what mana and taboo are, where they are found, and how they function in society. Be able to identify and distinguish between the different kinds of magic. Know what a ritual is and how rituals function in society. Specifically, you should know what a rite of passage is, the different stages that make up a rite of passage, and the roles they play in society. Know how religion can be a social control. In particular, you need to know how religion acts as a leveling mechanism in many societies.
Introduction • Religion is defined as belief and ritual concerned with supernatural beings, powers, and forces. • So defined, religion is a cultural universal. • Neanderthal mortuary remains provide the earliest evidence of what probably was religious activity.
Animism • Tylor first studied religion anthropologically and developed a taxonomy of religions. • Animism was seen as the most primitive and is defined as a belief in souls that derives from the first attempt to explain dreams and like phenomena.
Mana and Taboo • Mana is defined as belief in an immanent supernatural domain or life-force, potentially subject to human manipulation. • The Polynesian and Melanesian concepts of mana are contrasted. • Melanesian mana is defined as a sacred impersonal force that is much like the Western concept of luck. • Polynesian mana and the related concept of taboo are related to the more hierarchical nature of Polynesian society.
Magic and Religion • Magic refers to supernatural techniques intended to accomplish specific aims. • Magic may be imitative (as with voodoo dolls) or contagious (accomplished through contact).
Anxiety, Control, Solace • Magic is an instrument of control, but religion serves to provide stability when no control or understanding is possible. • Malinowski saw tribal religions as being focused on life crises.
Rituals • Rituals are formal, performed in sacred contexts. • Rituals convey information about the culture of the participants and, hence, the participants themselves. • Rituals are inherently social, and participation in them necessarily implies social commitment.
Ritual Possession Healers of Ghana • What social role does this healer appear to play? • What religious symbols are central to his ritual? • What parallels can students draw between the religious beliefs of this Tano practice and the religious beliefs they are familiar with?
Rites of Passage • Rites of passage are religious rituals which mark and facilitate a person's movement from one (social) state of being to another (e.g., Plains Indians’ vision quests). • Rites of passage have three phases: • Separation – the participant(s) withdraws from the group and begins moving from one place to another. • Liminality – the period between states, during which the participant(s) has left one place but has not yet entered the next. • Incorporation – the participant(s) reenters society with a new status having completed the rite.
Rites of Passage cont Liminality is part of every rite of passage and involves the temporary suspension and even reversal of everyday social distinctions. Communitas refers to collective liminality, characterized by enhanced feelings of social solidarity and minimized distinctions. Ritual period of transition Old preritual state Rite of separation Rite of reincorporation New postritual state
Totemism • Rituals play an important role in creating and maintaining group solidarity. • In totemic societies, each descent group has an animal, plant, or geographical feature from which they claim descent. • Totems are the apical ancestor of clans. • The members of a clan did not kill or eat their totem, except once a year when the members of the clan gathered for ceremonies dedicated to the totem.
Totemism cont • Totemism is a religion in which elements of nature act as sacred templates for society by means of symbolic association. • Totemism uses nature as a model for society. • Each descent group has a totem, which occupies a specific niche in nature. • Social differences mirror the natural order of the environment. • The unity of the human social order is enhanced by symbolic association with and imitation of the natural order.
Social Control • The power of religion affects action. • Religion can be used to mobilize large segments of society through systems of real and perceived rewards and punishments. • Witch hunts play an important role in limiting social deviancy in addition to functioning as leveling mechanisms to reduce differences in wealth and status between members of society. • Many religions have a formal code of ethics that prohibit certain behavior while promoting other kinds of behavior. • Religions also maintain social control by stressing the fleeting nature of life.
World Religions • In the U.S. Protestants outnumber Catholics, but in Canada the reverse is true. • Religious affiliation in North America varies with ethnic background, age, and geography.
Syncretisms • A syncretism is a cultural mix, including religious blends, that emerge when two or more cultural traditions come into contact. • Examples include voodoo, santeria, and candomlé. • The cargo cults of Melanesia and Papua New Guinea are syncretisms of Christian doctrine with aboriginal beliefs. • Syncretisms often emerge when traditional, non-Western societies have regular contact with industrialized societies. • Syncretisms attempt to explain European domination and wealth and to achieve similar success magically by mimicking European behavior and symbols.
Recognizing Religion • It is difficult to distinguish between sacred and secular rituals as behavior can simultaneously have sacred and secular aspects. • Americans try to maintain a strict division between the sacred and the profane, but many other societies do not.