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anthro c25


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Religare – “to bind together”
Relegere – “to rehearse” or “to execute
Attitudes, beliefs, and practices pertaining to supernatural powers
Attempt to maintain positive relations with supernatural powers by performing rituals
Beliefs and rituals pertaining to the supernatural make up the religion of a culture
Depends on the culture
Powers believed to be not human or not subject to the laws of nature
Line between natural and supernatural varies according to what people believe about causes of things and events in the observable world
Many cultures attribute actions of spiritual powers to personal misfortune,
including death, illness, and many events Westerners consider accidents
Caused by the action of some spiritual power
Brought on by a taboo violation
supernatural being or force is punishing
Ancestral spirits of kin groups cause their members to become ill because of conflict or bad feelings within the group, or ancestors are lonely, miss them
Illness or other misfortunes
caused by evil human using special supernatural powers against the afflicted person
May strike randomly at innocent people
More commonly direct their magic toward a personal grudge
Some attribute to bad luck, carelessness
drownings, falls, snakebites, prolonged failure to succeed at some activity
Prehistoric evidence
Homo sapiens as early as 60,000 ya
Deliberately buried their dead contained grave goods (tools, foods, plants, other objects)
Artistic representations 30,000ya
Sculptures of females with ample secondary sex characteristics
possible fertility charms
Cave paintings
animal hunts
Historic evidence
Herodotus (5th Century BCE)
50 societies
Similarities among gods and pointed out evidence of diffusion of religious worship
19th Century scholars from the European intellectual tradition
argued that science ultimately would destroy religion by showing people the irrationality of their myths and rituals
Sir James Frazer (1854-1941)
The Golden Bough (1890-1915)
(12 vols)
Became known in the fields of classics and religion as well as in anthropology
Science was superior system of knowledge, Frazer thought that science would replace magic and religious beliefs
Problems with Frazer theory
Many scientists are religious
Religious beliefs do not take the place of practical or scientific knowledge; in some way, they supplement it
Few scientific scholars believe that religion functions solely or even mainly to provide “prescientific” people with explanations
The opposite has occurred
Not only do traditional mainline religions continue to thrive
Fundamentalist religions are having a strong resurgence
Islamic fundamentalism
Afghanistan, Algeria, and Iran
Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel
Hindu fundamentalism in India
Christian fundamentalism represented in the dramatic growth of evangelical denominations in the US
Often, these have a strong antiscience bias
Other religions are continuing to grow in N. America as well
Comparable to the number of Presbyterians –
Buddhism (750,000 in US)
Hinduism (800,000 in US)
“New Age”
Of approximately 1,600 religions and denominations in the US, about 800 were founded after 1965
Science far from destroying religion may have contributed to the creation of a religious boom
Sir Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917)
British scholar
Religion originated in people’s speculation about dreams, trances and death, shadows or reflection in water
Suggested dual existence for all things – a physical, visible body and invisible soul
Sigmund Freud
believed early humans lived in groups each was dominated by a tyrannical man who kept all the women for himself
Sons were driven out of the group, later joined together and killed the father
Guilt and remorse caused them to create a totem animal (a father substitute) to ritually cannibalize
These early practices became transformed into worship of deities or gods modeled after the father
 thought that humans would turn to religion during times of uncertainty (did not view religion positively) believing that humans would eventually outgrow the need for religion
Bronislaw Malinowski
noted that all people in all societies are faced with anxiety and certainty
Skills and knowledge to take care of many needs but not sufficient to prevent illness, accidents, natural disasters and death
Religion born from the universal need to find comfort in times of stress
Affirm convictions that death is neither real nor final, people have personality that persists even after death
Clifford Geertz
Modern cultural theorist
Religion provides its believers with the assurance that the world is meaningful
that events have a place in the grand scheme of things, natural phenomena have causes, suffering and evil happen to specific individuals for a good reason, and injustices are corrected
Religion assures believers that the world is orderly rather than chaotic
Awareness of mortality causes great anxiety, allows to cope emotionally – belief about existence of pleasant afterlife, in which our immortal souls live forever
Most religions do include beliefs about afterlife, in a great many the afterlife is unpleasant
Dobu, Melaneasia
Sometimes religious beliefs increase (rather than decrease) our anxiety
Kwaio, Soloman Islands-when husband dies,wife goes with him...
Sociological Theory
Religion exists because of the useful effects it has on human societies
Rather than helping individuals cope emotionally, religion helps societies maintain harmonious social relationships between individuals and groups
It encourages people to respect the rights of others and to perform their proper duties
Ten Commandments
Moral code for Christians and Jews
Two prescribe how people ought to feel and act toward God and other people, and eight proscribe actions, including the five “thou shalt nots” (Exodus 20:3-17)
Five of the prohibitions are against acts that result in harm to others (killing and stealing)
 Lead to good relations with others and therefore promote earthly social order

 Golden Rule “do unto others as you would have them do to you”, love one’s neighbor (Matthew 19:19) – both prescriptions for harmonious social life
Others believe that religion springs from society and serves social needs
Through ritual, religion may be used to enhance the learning of oral traditions
Émile Durkheim
French sociologists
The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912)
Living in society makes humans feel pushed and pulled by powerful forces directing behavior (right and wrong)
“Religion is the creation of society; made in its image; ie. Religion is society in idealized form and therefore, reflects all its aspects.”
These are forces of public opinions, custom and law
The main function of religion in human society is to promote social solidarity
Religion has the effect of bringing people together and enhancing their sense of unity, cohesion, and reliance on their society’s customs
Society is really the object of worship in religion
Religion reflects the culture it belongs to
Guy Swanson
Religions of class society are likely to include beliefs that supernatural powers reward and punish, whereas the religions of classless societies are much less likely to include those beliefs
The power, wealth and prestige of the halves may be reinforced and legitimated if have-nots believe that spiritual powers punish wrong doer
Religion has some kind of positive value to individuals, society or both
How could something worthless be found among all humanity?
Among food foragers religion is apt to be inseparable from the rest of daily life
Mirrors and confirms the egalitarian nature of social relations in their societies, in that individuals do not plead for aid to high-ranking deities the way members of stratified societies do
Western Civ. ideological commitment to overcoming problems through technological and organizational skills
Religion is less a part of daily activities and is restricted to more specific occasions. Hierarchy of supernatural beings (God, the angels, the saints of Christianity) reflect and confirms the stratified nature of the society in which it is embedded
Claims nature is animated by all sorts of spirits
Animals, plants, springs, mountains other natural features, weapons, ornaments
Less remote from people than gods and goddesses and are more involved in daily affairs
can be benevolent, malevolent or neutral, awesome, terrifying, lovable or mischievous
Can be pleased or irritated by human actions
Typical of people who see themselves as part of nature rather than superior to it
Most food foragers, as well as food-producing peoples who recognize little difference between a human life and that of any growing thing
Gods and goddesses are typically unimportant but the woods are filled with spirits
Spirit world is for curing, help or hinder shaman, whom the ordinary hunter may meet when off in the woods
Some supernatural forces have no person like character –
Animism – belief in spirit beings
Animatism – inanimate
Mana – inhabits some objects or people but not others
Lent supernatural potency to things which explained unusual qualities; or to people, which explained unusual success.
Malayo-Polynesian name
These items are to be touched
Taboo – not to be touched, may cause harm
Food, places, animals, people
Supernatural Forces
. Mana-impersonal forces inhabits objects, some people
 Taboo-belief that things have harmful power
Supernatural Beings
Two broad categories
Nonhuman origin – gods and spirits
Human origin – ghosts and ancestral spirits
a. Gods
named personalities, non-human origin, created themselves
b. Spirits -
numerous, closer to peoples
c. Ghost and ancestor spirits
supernatural beings - were once human
Monotheistic religions
a supreme creator
many important gods
Ways to Interact with the Supernatural
asking for supernatural help
other ways including drugs, feasts, dance, trances, and sacrifice to persuade
ritual compels supernatural
Sorcery and Witchcraft
Invokes supernatural
Gods and Goddesses
How men and women relate to one another in everyday life
Societies that subordinate women to men define the godhead in exclusively masculine terms
Mainly those with economies based upon herding of animals or intensive agriculture carried out by men
Goddesses most prominent in societies where women
make a major contribution to the economy
enjoy relative equality with men
where men are more involved in their children’s lives
Most often those that depend upon farming, much or all of which women do
Gods, Goddesses and Spirits
Great and more remote beings
Often uninterested in human affairs
Some gods are interested in ordinary affairs of humans, especially one small, chosen segment of humanity
Responsible for controlling the universe
Gods are seen as creating themselves, some of them then created or gave birth to other gods
Some are seen as creator gods (not all people include the creation of the world as one of the acts of gods)
After world in motion they retire, not interested in day-to-day operations
The job of running the creation is often left to lesser gods
Beneath the gods in prestige, and often closer to people are multitudes of unnamed spirits
Some may be guardian spirits for people
Ghosts and Ancestor Spirits
Supernatural beings who were once human
Belief in ghosts is nearly universal
Most ghosts are close relatives and friends, not strangers
People are likely to believe in active ancestral spirits where descent groups are important decision-making units
Ancestral Spirits
Consistent with the widespread notion that human beings are made up of two parts, a body and some kind of vital spirit
This concept supports the idea of the spirit being freed from the body by death and having a continued existence seems quite logical
Ancestral spirits may be benevolent or malevolent
Often a relationship of elder/holds authority over the living
Resemble living humans in appetites, feelings, emotions and behavior – reflect and reinforce social reality
Especially found among people with unilineal descent systems
Eventually are reborn as a new member of their lineage, adults must observe infants closely to determine just who has been reborn
Character of Supernatural Beings
Interested in human affairs

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