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Religion and the Supernatural. Lesson 12: Anthropological Perspectives on Religion. Religion. Refers to any belief in the supernatural Beings, powers, or forces not subject to the laws of nature Must be accepted on the basis of faith Reflects worldview of a group Reinforces social norms

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religion and the supernatural

Religion and the Supernatural

Lesson 12:

Anthropological Perspectives on Religion

  • Refers to any belief in the supernatural
    • Beings, powers, or forces not subject to the laws of nature
    • Must be accepted on the basis of faith
  • Reflects worldview of a group
    • Reinforces social norms
    • Provides a moral code
      • Ex. – the Ten Commandments
why religion
Why Religion?
  • Humans want answers to perplexing questions
    • Together people attempt to explain the unexplainable
  • Continuity of existence beyond death
    • We know of our own mortality
    • Religion offers answers to questions about what happens to us after death
social and psychological support
Social and Psychological Support
  • Religion offers very real psychological support
    • Ex. – The Church confessional
  • Religion can give individuals confidence in situations when they are likely to be unsuccessful
    • Ex. – Baseball players
      • Ritual, Taboo, and Fetishes
cognitive framework
Cognitive Framework
  • Clifford Geertz
    • Religion reassures people that the world is orderly and is not chaotic
  • Stuart Guthrie
    • We personify ourselves in the supernatural and give these phenomena humanlike qualities
    • We also do this to both living animals and non-living objects
the history of religion
The History of Religion
  • Difficult to pinpoint the origins of religion
    • We can see early evidence in the form of art
  • Some anthropologists have suggested that religion was an attempt to explain:
    • Death and dreaming
    • We are composed of two parts – body and soul
      • The soul is what animates us
    • When we sleep our soul goes to distant places
      • We remember this as dreams
    • When we die our soul leaves us for good
  • The belief that souls animate everything
    • Not just humans, but also animals and non-living things
  • Can help in answering the question of why?
    • Spirits can be blamed for hindrances and credited for successes
  • Became logical to think that the soul went somewhere after it left the body
    • Could become a supernatural being
      • Deities – Gods or Goddesses
      • Ancestor spirits
  • People began to appeal to these deceased spirits to help control life’s uncertainties
other supernatural beings
Other Supernatural Beings
  • Demons
    • Negative, evil beings
    • Ex. – The Devil
  • Tricksters
    • Annoying, practical jokers
    • Ex. - Kokopelli (right)
  • Ghosts
    • Soul becomes trapped
  • Techniques used to manipulate the supernatural to act in particular ways
    • Can be for good or for evil
  • Two types of magicians
    • Witches
      • Not like Hollywood portrayals
      • Almost always a man
      • Need only their thoughts
    • Sorcerers
      • Imitative magic – a voodoo doll
      • Contagious magic – power comes from contact
  • An impersonal supernatural forces that one can possess
    • Objects or animals can also have mana
    • Is credited for success
  • Very similar to the concept of “luck”
ritual and ceremony
Ritual and Ceremony
  • Rituals are repetitive acts that are often symbolic and occur in specific places
    • All religions use some sore of ritual
    • Ritual revolves around the supernatural
  • Ritual sometimes involves doing things to the body
  • Sometimes involves food
  • Some are rites of passage
    • Liminality – a trnasitional state of being between status
religious specialists
Religious Specialists
  • Priests
    • Any full-time religious specialists
    • Undergo extensive training in a formal sense
    • Seen as the link between natural and supernatural
    • Ex. – priests, minister, rabbis
  • Shaman
    • Part-time religious specialists who double as healers
    • Have the ability to directly communicate with the supernatural

Exam Review Questions

  • What is the difference between churches, sects and cults?
    • What do we call religious groups that advocate strict, literal interpretations of sacred texts?
    • What are the two types of religious specialists?
    • What types of supernatural forces/entities exist among human groups?
    • What is a rite of passage? Can you provide some examples of these?
    • What do we call symbolic social practices often associate with religion?