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SOC1016A-Lecture Religion and cosmologies. Last time How can we make sense of the acts and emotions of distant peoples (in space, in time)? Is it possible?

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Presentation on theme: "SOC1016A-Lecture Religion and cosmologies. Last time How can we make sense of the acts and emotions of distant peoples (in space, in time)? Is it possible?"— Presentation transcript:

1 SOC1016A-Lecture Religion and cosmologies

2 Last time How can we make sense of the acts and emotions of distant peoples (in space, in time)? Is it possible? Is it right?

3 Why exploring distant ways of feeling, thinking, doing? Because they can be enlightening about what is most characteristic of human societies: culture

4 Culture Culture is at the same time what is common to all human beings who live in societies and what distinguishes societies from one another. It is at the same time about ways of thinking AND about ways of doing: about ideas and about action, about what we think and what we do. A culture is a whole, something that integrates parts (beliefs, rules, norms, patterns of behaviour, the place everything/one has in a society and in the world). A culture is shared and exists within a group, it pre-exists the individual and is transmitted to him/her, it is learned. Culture is at the same time what is common to all human beings who live in societies and what distinguishes societies from one another. It is at the same time about ways of thinking AND about ways of doing: about ideas and about action, about what we think and what we do. A culture is a whole, something that integrates parts (beliefs, rules, norms, patterns of behaviour, the place everything/one has in a society and in the world). A culture is shared and exists within a group, it pre-exists the individual and is transmitted to him/her, it is learned.

5 Edward B. Tylor on culture (1871): That complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. Ruth Benedict (1929): … that complex whole which includes all the habits acquired by man as a member of society Edward B. Tylor on culture (1871): That complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. Ruth Benedict (1929): … that complex whole which includes all the habits acquired by man as a member of society

6 1.Culture: universal human phenomenon studied by anthropology. A defining characteristic of human condition (what all humans share). 2.Particular cultural phenomena studied by anthropologists as they explore cultural processes (ritual, symbol, kinship structure, etc.). 3.Traits, ideas, values, behaviours that characterise specific human groups (i.e. Japanese culture). 1.Culture: universal human phenomenon studied by anthropology. A defining characteristic of human condition (what all humans share). 2.Particular cultural phenomena studied by anthropologists as they explore cultural processes (ritual, symbol, kinship structure, etc.). 3.Traits, ideas, values, behaviours that characterise specific human groups (i.e. Japanese culture).

7 Why focus on religion? It is a way of studying culture Why focus on religion? It is a way of studying culture Religion

8 We will explore this topic with Emile Durkheims The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). Why Durkheim? He is known as one of the founding fathers of sociology. We will explore this topic with Emile Durkheims The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). Why Durkheim? He is known as one of the founding fathers of sociology.

9 Durkheim studied social facts as things What are social facts? Ways of thinking and of doing which are not psychological nor purely biological, they are external to the individual, and can have upon the individual consciousness a certain coercive influence. Why are they things? Cannot be studied, known, understood via introspection, but by observation. We wont find the answer inside us, they correspond to a reality that is external to each individual: the social.

10 Why using Durkheim in anthropology? Because his approach is anthropological: -Relativism -Universalism Studying particular and distant cultures will tell us something about the human. The particular here are the totemic religions of Australia, which he identifies as the simplest religious systems which should give us the keys to understand religion as a universal phenomenon we find in all human societies. Why using Durkheim in anthropology? Because his approach is anthropological: -Relativism -Universalism Studying particular and distant cultures will tell us something about the human. The particular here are the totemic religions of Australia, which he identifies as the simplest religious systems which should give us the keys to understand religion as a universal phenomenon we find in all human societies.

11 What is religion? -Durkheim criticises previous studies on religion (Spencer, Tylor) where religion was seen either as originating in -a psychological need of the individual to understand a duality of the self: the man who dreams thinks he is body + soul: he travels and sees the dead in his dreams for instance. -from a need to explain the natural world. Here religion was seen as an attempt to reflect the natural world. -These approaches lead to see religious systems as irrational and not reflecting reality: as delirium. -Durkheim: it cannot be, the primitive is not stupid. Religions are universal, they reflect something different, their function must be another one. -RELIGIONS DIVIDE THE WORLD INTO TWO DISTINCT CATEGORIES: THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE -Is religion the same as magic then? -Durkheim criticises previous studies on religion (Spencer, Tylor) where religion was seen either as originating in -a psychological need of the individual to understand a duality of the self: the man who dreams thinks he is body + soul: he travels and sees the dead in his dreams for instance. -from a need to explain the natural world. Here religion was seen as an attempt to reflect the natural world. -These approaches lead to see religious systems as irrational and not reflecting reality: as delirium. -Durkheim: it cannot be, the primitive is not stupid. Religions are universal, they reflect something different, their function must be another one. -RELIGIONS DIVIDE THE WORLD INTO TWO DISTINCT CATEGORIES: THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE -Is religion the same as magic then?

12 Religion is different from magic RELIGIONMAGIC Common beliefs that bound believers of a defined collectivity A church which foundation is always a defined group: a church is a moral body Believers and priests participate to religious acts The violation of a religious prohibition is sacrilege, it is a sin, that who violates religious prohibitions puts herself in physical/psychological danger BUT ALSO at social risk for he has broken the order of society Can be spread among large population but no bond between followers into a single group living same life: no moral body A magician has a clientele made of unrelated individuals who may even be unaware of each others existence Only the magicians make the magic, clients are not included The violation of a magical prohibition makes the violator run personal risks, but there is no notion of sin. It is like the patient who does not follow the treatment that has been given to him by a doctor.

13 Totemic systems and religion Religion is a symbolic representation of society: the totem is a sacred symbol which stands for the clan, the phratrie is what links different clans. Religion is a symbolic representation of a force that is outside the individual, that pre-exists him. This force is real and individuals feel it: when they are together and follow rituals: society is only felt as a collective; when they feel its coercive power: individuals feel respect for society and this is expressed through their respect for moral obligations. The sacredness is this force individuals feel as members of a group, a force that makes them capable of more. But this implies a discipline: controlling instincts, immediate desires, being driven by purely individualistic needs. Society does the same as religion here: living in society, participating of its sacredness, imposes upon each of us a discipline, the control of our instincts, impulses, immediate desires. Religion is a symbolic representation of society: the totem is a sacred symbol which stands for the clan, the phratrie is what links different clans. Religion is a symbolic representation of a force that is outside the individual, that pre-exists him. This force is real and individuals feel it: when they are together and follow rituals: society is only felt as a collective; when they feel its coercive power: individuals feel respect for society and this is expressed through their respect for moral obligations. The sacredness is this force individuals feel as members of a group, a force that makes them capable of more. But this implies a discipline: controlling instincts, immediate desires, being driven by purely individualistic needs. Society does the same as religion here: living in society, participating of its sacredness, imposes upon each of us a discipline, the control of our instincts, impulses, immediate desires.

14 Gods, religion, are the symbolic expression not of nature or of the world as an abstract entity, but of society. ANYTHING CAN BE SACRED ANYTHING CAN BE MADE SACRED ANYTHING CAN CEASE TO BE SACRED Gods, religion, are the symbolic expression not of nature or of the world as an abstract entity, but of society. ANYTHING CAN BE SACRED ANYTHING CAN BE MADE SACRED ANYTHING CAN CEASE TO BE SACRED

15 This is the universal, anthropological conclusion of Durkheim: after having studied a case study, he gets to this general conclusion: Religious life answers everywhere to the same need and derives form the same state of mind. In all its forms its purpose is to raise man above himself and to make him live a superior life to the one he would lead if he were only to obey his individual impulses. Beliefs express this life in terms of representations, rites organise it and regulate its functioning. (309) How is this possible? Individuals are born into existing societies, the force of society is felt by individuals. They are educated, introduced to the ways of thinking and doing of a specific society, that is, to culture. And they are introduced to what is sacred in this culture. This is the universal, anthropological conclusion of Durkheim: after having studied a case study, he gets to this general conclusion: Religious life answers everywhere to the same need and derives form the same state of mind. In all its forms its purpose is to raise man above himself and to make him live a superior life to the one he would lead if he were only to obey his individual impulses. Beliefs express this life in terms of representations, rites organise it and regulate its functioning. (309) How is this possible? Individuals are born into existing societies, the force of society is felt by individuals. They are educated, introduced to the ways of thinking and doing of a specific society, that is, to culture. And they are introduced to what is sacred in this culture.

16 Remember: Cultures are integrated systems including ways of thinking and ways of doing. Religion is what is sacred, holy. Remember: Cultures are integrated systems including ways of thinking and ways of doing. Religion is what is sacred, holy.

17 Cosmologies Cosmologies are part of culture and are reflected in religion as systems of beliefs. A cosmology is a system of broad ideas and explanations people have about the world in which they live and their place in that world.

18 Mary Douglas and the fiction of the speleology mission (Douglas, How Institutions Think, 1986: 4-8) Douglas argument is inspired from an article by Lon Fuller, a philosopher of law (The case of the Speluncean Explorers, Harvard Law Review, 1949, 62: ). Mary Douglas and the fiction of the speleology mission (Douglas, How Institutions Think, 1986: 4-8) Douglas argument is inspired from an article by Lon Fuller, a philosopher of law (The case of the Speluncean Explorers, Harvard Law Review, 1949, 62: ).

19 5 speleologist in a cave Rescue team They are told they do not have enough food to survive until the cave is open Eating one of them would keep them alive until rescued What will they do? Original story: they decide to throw a dice that would designate one of them as the one who will be eaten for the sake of the others. They are judged by a Court when freed. 5 speleologist in a cave Rescue team They are told they do not have enough food to survive until the cave is open Eating one of them would keep them alive until rescued What will they do? Original story: they decide to throw a dice that would designate one of them as the one who will be eaten for the sake of the others. They are judged by a Court when freed.

20 Douglas imagines 3 possibilities depending on the kind of society the speleologists were originally from, depending on their cosmology: -They come from a hierarchical/tightly structured society (the chief, the youngest or the eldest may be sacrificed) -They come from a religious sect (they will celebrate and wait for death as deliverance) -They come from our society (they may choose arbitrary one to be sacrificed; cannibalism with guilt; they would be judged when freed). Douglas imagines 3 possibilities depending on the kind of society the speleologists were originally from, depending on their cosmology: -They come from a hierarchical/tightly structured society (the chief, the youngest or the eldest may be sacrificed) -They come from a religious sect (they will celebrate and wait for death as deliverance) -They come from our society (they may choose arbitrary one to be sacrificed; cannibalism with guilt; they would be judged when freed).

21 Only the individualists, bound by no ties to one another and imbued by no principles of solidarity would hit upon the cannibal gamble as the proper course. (Douglas, 1986: 8)

22 Conclusion It is this principle of solidarity, at the origin of the social bond that members of a society feel exists outside and inside themselves, that is at the core of religion, of the idea of the sacred in all societies. Anything can be (made) sacred: an object (ie a flag), a person, an idea, an institution. It is this principle of solidarity, at the origin of the social bond that members of a society feel exists outside and inside themselves, that is at the core of religion, of the idea of the sacred in all societies. Anything can be (made) sacred: an object (ie a flag), a person, an idea, an institution.


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