Presentation on theme: "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology Religion: Culture & the Supernatural."— Presentation transcript:
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology Religion: Culture & the Supernatural
Culture and the Supernatural What is religion? - Anthropological / sociological perspectives What are religion’s identifying features? What functions does religion serve?
Defining RELIGION Anthropologist Wallace’s definition (1966): “a set of rituals, rationalized by myth, which mobilizes supernatural powers for the purpose of achieving or preventing transformations of state in man and nature.” Sociologist Peter Berger’s definition of religion as a “cultural system of commonly shared beliefs and rituals that provides a sense of ultimate meaning and purpose by creating an idea of reality that is sacred, all-encompassing, and supernatural,”
What is religion? - Organized beliefs in the supernatural that guide humans in their attempts to make sense of the world and deal with problems they as important but defy solution through application of known technology or techniques of organization. - To overcome these limitations, people appeal to, or seek to influence and even manipulate supernatural beings and powers. - Part of all cultures (cultural universal)
“Problem” with the anthropological/ sociological definition of religion (from a Euro-centric perspective) There is no mention of God. Sociologists / anthropologists are not concerned with whether religion is true or false but with the social organization of religion. Religion/superstition dichotomy “Religious economy” – religions can be best understood as organizations in competition with one another for followers.
How sociologists think about religion Sociologist are NOT concerned with whether religious beliefs are true or false; Sociologists are esp. concerned with the social organization of religion. Sociologists often view religions as a major source of social solidarity. Sociologists tend to explain the appeal of religion in terms of social forces rather than personal, spiritual, or psychological factors.
The sociological significance of religion Marx: Religion and IEQUALITY Marx argued that religion is “the opium of the people.” In this sense, he posited that happiness is deferred to the afterlife and therefore people become accustomed to a sort of “resigned acceptance” of conditions in the here and now. Attention is diverted from inequalities and injustices of everyday life in favor of rewards after death. Religion contains a strong ideological element – the religious beliefs can provide justification for those in power.
Weber: The World Religions and Social Change Weber contended that religiously inspired social movements produced dramatic social transformation. Focus on the relationship between Protestantism and capitalism.
Durkheim: Religion and Functionalism Durkheim argued that religion had the function of coalescing society by ensuring that people regularly to affirm common and values. Distinction between the sacred (actions, images, and symbols associated with religion that are held to be divine) and profane the profane (which represents the routine aspects of everyday life) Ex. Totems as sacred objects.
Totemism 图腾 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
Identifying features of religion Various beliefs and rituals – prayers, songs, dances, offerings, and sacrifices people use to interpret, appeal to, and manipulate supernatural beings and powers (gods and goddesses, ancestral and other spirits or impersonal powers) to their advantage. Certain individuals are especially skilled at dealing with supernatural beings and powers and assist other members of society in their ritual activities. A body of myths rationalize or “explains” the system in a manner consistent with people’s experience in the world in which they live.
The PRACTICE of Religion Supernatural Beings and Powers - Gods & Goddesses - Ancestral Spirits - Animism (Tylor) Religious Specialists - Priests & Priestesses - Shaman Rituals and Ceremonies - Rites of Passage - Rites of Intensification - Magic & Witchcraft
Gods & Goddesses How men and women relate to one another in everyday life. Societies that subordinate women to men define the god godhead in exclusive masculine terms. Goddess are apt to be most prominent in societies where women make a major contribution to economy and enjoy relative equality with men. The patriarchal nature of Western society is expressed in its theology, in which a masculine God gives life to the first man. The first woman is created from the first man.
Ancestral Spirits Consistent with the wide-spread notion that human beings are made up of two parts, a body and a some kind of vital spirit (the idea that the spirit being free from the body by death and have an existence seems logical). Ancestral spirits resemble living human beings in their appetites, feelings, emotions, and behavior. Belief in Ancestral spirits is found in societies with unilineal descent systems. The vital importance of deceased ancestors in the patrilineal society of pre-revolutionary China.
Ancestor Worship and Food Exchange For the gift of life, one is forever indebted to his/her parents, owing them obedience, deference, and a comfortable old age & provide for their in the spiritual world after death. Offering food, money and incense on the anniversaries of their births and deaths.
Ancestor Worship and Food Exchange in Hong Kong (research by Harvard anthropologist Watson in the 1970s) Descendants of Man lineage 文氏宗族 are gathered at tomb of their ancestor. Roast pigs are presented at the tomb. The local school master is reading a annual report to the ancestor (in classical Chinese) detailing the accounts of the founder’s estate. Major lineages in the HK New Territories share pork among the male descendants of key ancestors. Elders of the Man lineage carefully weigh and divide shares of meat “paid for” by the ancestor himself (who was “alive” socially through the mechanism of his ancestral estate).
Animism Sir E. B. Tylor’s original contribution to the anthropological study of religion. 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. A belief in spirit beings thought to animate nature. EX: Trees, plants, rocks, and mountains have a life of their own.
Orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy (James Watson) Orthodoxy (correct belief) Ex. Hindus, Orthodox Jews, and Taliban Orthopraxy (correct practice) Confucianism in practice (EX. Man lineage members participating in ancestor worship)
Priests & Priestesses Societies with the resources to support full-time occupational specialists give the role of guiding religious practices and influencing the supernatural to the priests or priestess.
Shaman Part-time religious specialist whose special power to contact and manipulate supernatural beings are forces in an altered state of consciousness comes to him or her thorough some personal experience. Religious entrepreneur acting on behalf of some human client.
Religious Specialists Deities are the “clients” of the Priests and Priestesses who tell people what to do. Accept donations. Shamans are essentially religious entrepreneurs acting on behalf of some human client, often to bring about a cure or foretell some future event. Shamans tell supernaturals what to do. May collect a fee.
Functions and Expressions of Religion Rituals are: - formal, performed in sacred contexts. - convey information about the culture of the participants and, hence, the participants themselves. - inherently social, and participation in them necessarily implies social commitment. (DURKHEIM) NOTE: this is where you see the anthropological contribution to the study of religion!
Functions of ritual: the Durkheimian perspective Collective consciousness Group solidarity Collective identity Sense of community Relationship Collective representation
Rituals and Ceremonies Rites of Passage Rituals that mark important stages in the lives of individuals, such as birth, marriage, and death. Rites of Intensification Religious rituals enacted during a group’s real of potential crisis.
Rites of Passage: religious rituals which mark and facilitate a person's movement from one (social) state of being to another. 1) Separation – the participant(s) withdraws from the group and begins moving from one place to another. 2) Transition (Liminality) – the period between states, during which the participant(s) has left one place but has not yet entered the next. 3) Incorporation – the participant(s) reenters society with a new status having completed the rite. Transition / Liminality is part of every rite of passage involving the temporary suspension and even reversal of everyday social distinctions.
Wedding as rite of passage in pre- revolutionary China Ethnographic Example: the transfer of bride Separation – the bride withdraws from the group she belongs (natal home) and begins moving from one place to another (wife-takers). Transition/Liminality – the period between states (transfer), during which the bride has left one place but has not yet entered the next (Note: bride is considered to be dangerous and has the potential to “pollute” if not properly protected. Incorporation – the bride reenters society with a new status: The death of the daughter (for the wife-givers) and the birth of the daughter (for the wife-takers)!
“Ritual cannibalism” in Christianity It’s SYMBOLIC rather than actual, although some Christians believe that the communion water actually becomes the body of the Christ (the Eucharist meal).
Functions and Expressions of Religion Magic 1. Magic refers to supernatural techniques intended to accomplish specific aims. 2. Magic may be imitative or contagious (accomplished through contact). Witchcraft 1. Explanation of events based on the belief that certain individuals possess an innate psychic power capable of causing harm, including sickness and death. EX: the practice of fengshui; the strategy employed by the Boxers （义和团）
Functions of Magic and Witchcraft Although many westerners seek to objectify and de- mytholgize their world & try to suppress the existence of magic mysteries in their own consciousness, they continue to be fascinated by them. Ex. Abraham Lincoln’s wife & Nancy Reagan
Functions and Expressions of Religion Anxiety, Control, Solace 1. Magic/witchcraft is an instrument of control, but religion serves to provide stability when no control or understanding is possible. 2. Malinowski saw tribal religions as being focused on life crises.
Functions of Religion Psychological & Social Reduce anxiety by explaining the unknown and making it understandable Provide comfort with the belief supernatural aid is available in times of crisis Sanction human conduct by providing notions of right and wrong and transfer the burden of decision making from individuals to supernatural powers. Maintain social solidarity.
Religion and Cultural Ecology Western economic development experts erroneously cite the Indian cattle taboo to illustrate the idea that religious beliefs stand in the way of rational economic decisions. Hindus seem to be ignoring a valuable food (beef)? Don’t Indians even know how to raise proper cattle?
Sacred Cow Gau Mata (cow) as the central symbol of Hindu veneration Indians revere zebu cattle protected by the Hindu doctrine of ahimsa (principle of nonviolence which forbids the killing of animals) Divine Mother
Sacred Cow Hindus use cattle for transportation, traction, and manure. Bigger cattle eat more, making them more expensive to keep. Lesson: the material and spiritual are inseparable! Note: we may explain the Kosher rules in the same line of analysis
Mosaic Food Restrictions Summary: Orthodox Jewish rules prohibit eating meat and dairy products at the same meal; proscribe eating meat which has not been drained of blood, or made kosher Ban on pork eating Food laws were important in Jesus’ time. Each Jewish sects interpreted God’s gastronomic intentions in its own way. Food rules stand for the whole of their law.
KOSHER DIETARY RESTRICTIONS Kosher Treyf (“clean/fit”) (“unclean/torn”) Separation of Milk and Meat: “Thou shalt not seeth a kid in its mother’s milk.” Exodus 23:19; 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21. Kashrut/Kashruth (“Fit, Appropriate, suitable”) Kasher/Kosher (“Clean, Fit”)
More Consumers Ask: Is It Kosher (Hunter 1997) Kosher foods, formerly sought by devout Jews, are now purchased by Seventh Day Adventists, Muslims, Buddhists, vegetarians, individuals with milk allergies, and health-conscious people… Currently, more than 75% if certified kosher foods are purchased by non- Jews, who favor them because of a perception that such foods are of good quality due to high standards and strict supervision (p. 10)
Kosher kitchen at Smith College Kosher dining at Mont Holyoke College
Halal: The pig as haram Islamic rejection of pig and pork was commonly accompanied by strong feelings of revulsion and scrupulous avoidance of both pigs and their flesh. The writings of western travelers contain abundant references to Muslims ridiculing Christian pork eating. At the close of the 15th century, Venetian merchants had to pay a substantial sum for the right to keep pig at their establishment in Alexandra. Christian minorities living in Muslim lands were special targets too. Some of them gave up raising pigs and denied they ate pork. The Armenians who lived in Turkey prior to WWI would capture young wild swine to raise for their flesh. The contrast between Muslim and Christian practices has made the present-day pattern of pig keeping in the Mediterranean and Near East fairly simple. Christians on the north shores of the Mediterranean generally keep pigs and eat pork though Muslims of the Balkans do not. In North Africa, pork has been eaten by European Christian settlers in various places. And to the east of Mediterranean pork is rejected by Orthodox Jews and Muslims.
Ramadan 斋 月 Keeping the fast during Ramadan, the month-long period set aside for that purpose, distinguishes pious Muslims from those who casually follow Islam’s precepts. No one in the Muslim community publicly admits to breaking the fast. Accordingly accusing anyone of failing to fast constitutes a serious charge that can lead to fighting, bloodshed, and even murder. Fasting has simple, unambiguous rules; during Ramadan nothing should pass one’s lips during the time between the calls to morning and evening prayers. Muslims should not eat, drink, smoke, and take snuff. Nor should Muslims reorganize their daily activities to escape feeling the uncomfortable effects of the fast. One should not sleep excessive amounts of time during the day but, to the contrary, should fully experience fasting so that one can contemplates, and most importantly, wholly embraces Islamic faith. Keeping the fast continually reinvigorates the power of Muslim identity to dominate self.
Religion as a control mechanism The power of religion affects action 1. Religion can be used to mobilize large segments of society through systems of real and perceived rewards and punishments. 2. 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. 3. Many religions have a formal code of ethics that prohibit certain behavior while promoting other kinds of behavior.
Ex: Religion and Social Control in Afghanistan Social conditions in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The Taliban are invoking a very strict interpretation of the Koran as the basis for social behavior: Women are required to wear veils, remain indoors, and are not allowed to be with males who are not blood relatives. Men are required to grow bushy beards and are barred from playing cards, flying kites, and keeping pigeons.
Religion and the development of capitalism Christian Values: Max Weber linked the spread of capitalism to the values central to the Protestant faith: independent, entrepreneurial, hard working, future-oriented, and free thinking. The emphasis Catholics placed on immediate happiness and security, and the notion that salvation was attainable only when a priest mediated on one’s behalf, did not fit well with capitalism.
England vs. France The Industrial Revolution began in England but not in France. The French did not have to transform their domestic manufacturing system in order to increase production because it could draw on a larger labor force. England was already operating at maximum production so that in order to increase yields innovation was necessary. Weber argued that the pervasiveness of Protestant beliefs in values contributed to the spread and success of industrialization in England, while Catholicism inhibited industrialization in France.
Religion and Change Revitalization Movements Religious movements that act as mediums for social change are called revitalization movements. Examples: Mormanism, Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, the Branch Davidians (David Koresh)
New Age Religions Since the 1960s, there has been a decline in formal organized religions. New Age religions have appropriated ideas, themes, symbols, and ways of life from the religious practices of Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, and east Asian religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Fengshui /geomancy).
Explaining the popularity of NAM New Agers deny that there is much value in clinging to well-defined religions traditions (which have become too ritualistic and devoid of spiritual meaning) Individuals possess unparalleled degrees autonomy/freedom to chart their own lives; one should pick and choose spiritual beliefs and practices that suit him/her best; listen to one’s intuition or “inner voice” Response to the rise of scientism
NAM Philosophy Relativism- it is absolutely true that no absolute truth exists; and there is no absolute Creator God Tolerance Monism – all reality is one ( 一 元 论 ) Pantheism – god is the universe ( 泛 神 论 ) Humanity is God - human sin is only an illusion brought about by ignorance of one’s own divinity A change in consciousness - through alteration of consciousness we are opened up to a salvation through knowledge of deeper truths, reality, and the escape from ignorance and illusion Syncretism - all religions are one A Cosmic Evolutionary Optimism -- giving voice to a hope in a coming universal order of peace and tranquility
Christian Responses to NAM Dialogue / Bridging / Addressing issues of mutual concern "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves"
Sociological perspectives on NAM Differing from traditional forms of religiosity: not a unified, traditional cult system of beliefs and practices; no official leader, headquarters, nor membership list a network of groups seeking out and developing alternative ways of life in order to coping with challenges of modernity EX. the popularity of holistic healing practices
Sociological Perspectives Compared to a serious religious commitment, participation in NAM appears little more than a hobby or lifestyle choice (acquiring cultural/symbolic capital) -- the appeals of fengshui /geomancy -- celebrities who are involved in NAM: Shirley MacLaine, ex-Beatle George Harrison, Tom Cruise and Tina Turner.