Religion • A Western concept like work/economy/politics/technology. • In western society, Religion is mostly seen as a clearly delineated aspect of society, separate from the other terms above. Not the case within all cultures. • Ex: Ancient Egypt
ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO THE STUDY OF RELIGION • DEFINITION OF RELIGION: Any set of beliefs and practices involving the supernatural. • Many cultures do not make a sharp distinction between the “natural” and the “supernatural.” ULURU, SACRED TO THE ABORIGINALPEOPLES OF AUSTRALIA
Religious Perspectives in Anthropology • Religious perspectives vary among Western and “primitive” societies • In Western societies: • Nature was ordained by heaven to be dominated and exploited to human’s desires and needs. • In “primitive” societies: • “Religion is present in human’s view of his/her place in the universe” • “Human’s relatedness to the universe, nonhuman nature, reality & circumstance” • Religion is evident in daily life, agriculture, hunting, health measures, arts, and crafts.
CULTURAL RELATIVISM • There are no “universal” standards by which all social and cultural groups can be evaluated. • No one religion is superior to another. • People’s religious beliefs and practices must be studied within the framework of their own culture and history. • All religions are equally meaningful to their adherents. • This is in contrast to ETHNOCENTRISM: The concept that one’s own culture or religion is superior to others and should be judged from that perspective.
ANTHROPOLOGY SEEKS TO UNDERSTAND • The range and diversity of human beliefs and practices. • What makes beliefs and practices meaningful to people. • What the roles religion plays in the organization of cultures and societies.
Defining Religion within a Society3 good basic questions to start with: • Functional: What function (or role) does religion have in society? • Does it provide a moral code? Explanations for natural events? • Analytic: How is religion manifested in society? • Through Narratives? Rituals? Ethics? • Essentialist: What is the relationship between society and the supernatural?
INDIGENOUS BELIEFS AND PRACTICES • Many indigenous groups have distinct religious systems of beliefs and practices in the same way that they have their own languages and cultures.
Syncretism • Combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought.
RELIGIOUS SYNCRETISM • Through time a culture’s religious beliefs and practices persist, but also change through incorporating new elements. • Religions are adopted and transformed. • FOR EXAMPLE: Early Christianity incorporated European paganism so that “Christ’s Mass” became integrated with pre Christian symbols and practices.
The Native American Church Peyote as a sacrament Combines Christian symbolism with traditional Native American symbolism
RELIGIONS FULFILL SOCIAL NEEDS • They provide meaning in peoples’ lives. • They help people manage anxiety and increase their sense of personal order. • They reinforce the social order. • They instigate social and cultural change.
RELIGIONS PROVIDE A “COSMOLOGY” A COSMOLOGY is a set of principles and/or beliefs about: • The nature of life and death. • How the universe was created. • The origin of society. • The relationship of individuals and groups to one another. • The relationship of humans to nature.
CHARACTERISTICS OF RELIGION • SACRED NARRATIVES • SYMBOLS • SPIRITS • SACRED POWERS • RITUALS • ADDRESSING THE SUPERNATURAL
SACRED NARRATIVES • “Myths” that recount historical events, heroes, gods, spirits, and the origin of all things. • Anthropology defines “myth” as realities lived and stories told. • Sacred narratives are integral to a society’s rituals, moral code, and organization.
S P I R I T S • Most religions assert the world is filled with beings and powers that have life and consciousness separate from humans’, but whose existence cannot be scientifically validated. • GOD: A spirit that is believed to have created the world, or who exerts control over the world.
SACRED POWERS • MANA: A special kind of sacred power or energy that infuses the universe. • Mana can be concentrated in humans, other creatures, spirits, and objects. • Integral to many different religions across cultures.
Mana • The idea of mana arises from the awe inspired by strange, unusual, and powerful things.
RITUALS • Rituals are ceremonial acts with repeated, stylized gestures that manipulate religious symbols for specific purposes. • People enact and reinforce their religious beliefs through these ritualized practices.
Symbols are Central to Rituals • Dominant Symbols • They are condensed, many different phenomena are given common expression • Dominant symbol amounts to a fusion of divergent meanings • Dominant ritual symbols entail a polarization of meaning
COMMUNING WITH THE SUPERNATURAL • The majority of rituals are designed to commune with and/or control supernatural spirits and powers through a combination of: • PRAYER • SACRIFICE • MAGIC
RELIGIOUS PRACTITIONERS • SHAMAN: An average member of a community who is socially recognized as having the ability to mediate between humans and spirits. • PRIEST: A person who is formally elected, appointed, or hired to a full-time religious office.
Characteristics of Priests • Training (by other priests) • Hold authority of office • Conservators of Tradition • Hold scheduled ceremonies for congregations • Role-Models for congregants • Often full-time practitioners • Perform scheduled rituals • Organized into hierarchies
WITCHCRAFT AND SORCERY • Witchcraft and sorcery are very common elements of religious beliefs and practices in many cultures. • Based in earlier anthropologists’ research among “non Western” cultures: WITCHCRAFT is • The ability to harm others by harboring malevolent thoughts about them. • SORCERY is the conscious and intentional use of magic. • Witchcraft based in “Western” cultures is the intentional use of magic to aid or harm others, society, and the environment, and thus comparable to sorcery. AZANDE OF AFRICA
Sorcery and Witchcraft • Develop because of inadequacies and/or to support the legal system
MAGIC • Belief that supernatural powers can be influenced through the use of ritual formulas. • Sympathetic magic uses representational objects, such as dolls. • Contagious magic is a direct relationship between ritual and the body, such as use of the subject’s hair or fingernails.
Oral & Written Religions • Written Religions • Based on a sacred text • ‘Religions of the Book’ • Believers expected to have some knowledge of the texts • Since text bound, these religions can be spread throughout the world • Islam • Nigeria, Java, Egypt, Iran • Religions of Conversion • One has to affirm one’s faith • Oral Religions • Locally confined and locally relevant • Gods tend to be associated with revered places in the tribal areas • Tend to be embedded in social practices of society
Religion and the Human Capacity for Language • Religion is made possible by our human ability to use language. • No other animal has language or religion.
Language:A System of Symbolic Communication • Symbol: An object or event that stands for some other object or event, the relationship between them being determined solely by consensus. - Helen Keller’s insight that “everything has a name”
Language and Culture • Culture itself is made possible by language. • Religion is the purest example of culture as a system of meaningful symbols. • Religion provides a system of symbols which explain how humans are related to the world around them. • In this, religion contrasts with science.
Religion and Science • Science and Religion are different approaches to understanding our place in nature. • Science is concerned with finding mundane, practical solutions to problems. • Scientific “truths” are always tentative and changeable. They are simply our currently most useful explanations of phenomena based on the information we have so far.
The Paradox of “Social Science” • In order to be useful for solving problems, scientists create mechanical models—models that help us understand how things work in terms of lawful, mechanistic relationships among the parts of the models. • When applied to human social and cultural life, such “objective” models fail to capture the meaningfulness that life has for human groups. • Science “thingifies” the universe—even when building models of the human condition - e.g., “The heart is a pump. The lungs are like bellows. The brain is like a computer.” Such analogies may help us solve practical problems such as how to repair a leaky heart valve, but they may also be a source of alienation and anomie for human subjects.
Anthropomorphic versus Mechanomorphic Models • Humans do more than solve practical problems. We are not simply robots. Rather, we live in a world that is rife with existential meaningfulness. • Anthropomorphism is any attribution of human characteristics to animals, non-living things, phenomena, objects, or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits, 0r deities. • Mechanomorphic is a doctrine that the universe if fully explicable in mechanistic terms • In addition to thinking in practical terms, humans also “humanize” the world around them by projecting human qualities into the non-human world. This is common in: - Fantasy Play - Art - Courtship Love - Mental Disorders - Religion
Fantasy Play • Children are born without language. Their normal mental state is an “altered state of consciousness” in which they perceive the external world as an extension of their own egos. • In fantasy play, children spontaneously “project” human qualities into the world around them. - A sheet becomes a ghost. - A broom becomes an embodiment of their concept of “horse.” • Such fantasy play transforms an unknown and potentially hostile environment into an extension of their own egos, making it seem safer and more controllable. • Engaging in fantasy play involves ritual-like behavior.
Art • Artistic reverie is similar to fantasy play. It too is an altered state of consciousness in which the external world is treated as an extension of the human ego rather than as something separate and independent. • Artistic performance, like fantasy play, involves role playing in which the boundaries between self and not-self are dissolved. - e.g., the dancer “becomes one with the music.” • Like the rituals of religion, artistic performance can be highly choreographed.
Courtship Love • In courtship love, we do not perceive our partner objectively either. - e.g., our beloved’s face becomes an embodiment of our concept of beauty. • The rules of courtship also involve highly predictable patterns of behavior—i.e., “rituals.”
Mental Disorders • Mental Disorders also involve both trance states (states in which the normal boundary between self and not-self) is dissolved and ritual behavior (aka “symptoms”). • Like the trance states and rituals of fantasy play, artistic reverie and performance, courtship love, and religion, they provide short-term relief from stress.
Religion • Religion too makes use of trance states and rituals that reduce our subjective experience of stress. • As the most highly socialized system for entering trances and engaging in rituals, participants learn to channel both into appropriate times and settings. - In this, religion contrasts markedly with mental disorders.
Religious Anthropomorphism: Perceiving a Connection with the non-Human • A chocolate Mary
Religion: A Definition • Religion is a socially shared system of anthropomorphic beliefs and attendant feelings, both of which are expressed in words and in rituals by means of which nonhuman parts of the universe are thought to be influenced. • No other animal can be described as “religious.”
Life Cycle • Naming Ceremonies
Life Cycle • Adulthood Rituals
Life Cycle • Marriage Rituals
Life Cycle • Old Age: Hindu and Jain Ascetic Renunciates
Life Cycle • Funerals