Anthropology of religion

Anthropology of religion

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The anthropology of religion involves the study of religious institutions in relation to other social institutions, and the comparison of religious beliefs and practices across culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

s.

History


In the early 11th century, Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī (973-1048), wrote detailed comparative studies on the anthropology of religions and cultures across the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, Mediterranean
Mediterranean Basin
In biogeography, the Mediterranean Basin refers to the lands around the Mediterranean Sea that have a Mediterranean climate, with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers, which supports characteristic Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub vegetation...

 and the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

. He discussed the peoples, customs, and religions of the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

.

In 1841, Ludwig Feuerbach was the first to state the anthropologic principle that every religion is created by the human community that worships it. In 1912 Émile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

, building on Feuerbach, considered religion "a projection of the social values of society," "a means of making symbol
Symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

ic statements about society," "a symbolic language that makes statements about the social order"; in short, "religion is society worshiping itself".

In the 19th century, cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation,...

 was dominated by an interest in cultural evolution; most anthropologists assumed that there was a simple distinction between “primitive” and “modern” religion and tried to provide accounts of how the former evolved into the latter. In the 20th century most anthropologists rejected this approach. Today the anthropology of religion reflects the influence of, or an engagement with, such theorists as Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

, Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

, Émile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

, and Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

. They are especially concerned with how religious beliefs and practices may reflect political or economic forces; or the social functions of religious beliefs and practices.

Definition of religion


One major problem in the anthropology of religion is the definition of religion itself. At one time anthropologists believed that certain religious practices and beliefs were more or less universal to all cultures at some point in their development, such as a belief in spirits or ghost
Ghost
In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost is the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestation, to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes, to...

s, the use of magic as a means of controlling the supernatural
Supernatural
The supernatural or is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature...

, the use of divination
Divination
Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...

 as a means of discovering occult knowledge, and the performance of ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

s such as prayer
Prayer
Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of...

 and sacrifice
Sacrifice
Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or people to God or the gods as an act of propitiation or worship.While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering can be used for bloodless sacrifices of cereal food or artifacts...

 as a means of influencing the outcome of various events through a supernatural agency, sometimes taking the form of shamanism
Shamanism
Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. To quote Eliade: "A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy." Shamanism encompasses the...

 or ancestor worship. According to Geertz
Clifford Geertz
Clifford James Geertz was an American anthropologist who is remembered mostly for his strong support for and influence on the practice of symbolic anthropology, and who was considered "for three decades...the single most influential cultural anthropologist in the United States." He served until...

, religion is "(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic" (Geertz 1966). Today, anthropologists debate, and many reject, the cross-cultural validity of these categories (often viewing them as examples of European primitivism
Primitivism
Primitivism is a Western art movement that borrows visual forms from non-Western or prehistoric peoples, such as Paul Gauguin's inclusion of Tahitian motifs in paintings and ceramics...

). Anthropologists have considered various criteria for defining religion – such as a belief in the supernatural or the reliance on ritual – but few claim that these criteria are universally valid.

In Western culture, religion has become more or less synonymous with monotheism
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

 and the various moral codes that monotheism prescribes. Moral codes have also evolved in conjunction with Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 and Buddhist beliefs, independent of monotheism
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

. However, prescriptive moral codes or even normative ethical code
Ethical code
An ethical code is adopted by an organization in an attempt to assist those in the organization called upon to make a decision understand the difference between 'right' and 'wrong' and to apply this understanding to their decision...

s are not a necessary component of religious beliefs or practices any more than they are a necessary component of science and the scientific method.

Anthony F.C. Wallace proposes four categories of religion, each subsequent category subsuming the previous. These are, however, synthetic categories and do not necessarily encompass all religions.
  1. Individualistic: most basic; simplest. Example: vision quest
    Vision quest
    A vision quest is a rite of passage in some Native American cultures.In many Native American groups, the vision quest is a turning point in life taken before puberty to find oneself and the intended spiritual and life direction. When an older child is ready, he or she will go on a personal,...

    .
  2. Shamanistic: part-time religious practitioner, uses religion to heal, to divine, usually on the behalf of a client. The Tillamook
    Tillamook (tribe)
    The Nehalem or Tillamook are a Native American tribe from Oregon of the Salish linguistic group. The name "Tillamook" is a Chinook term meaning "people of Nekelim " and is also spelled Calamox, Gillamooks and Killamook....

     have four categories of shaman. Examples of shamans: spiritualists, faith healers, palm readers. Religious authority acquired through one's own means.
  3. Communal: elaborate set of beliefs and practices; group of people arranged in clans by lineage, age group, or some religious societies; people take on roles based on knowledge, and ancestral worship.
  4. Ecclesiastical: dominant in agricultural societies and states; are centrally organized and hierarchical in structure, paralleling the organization of states. Typically deprecates competing individualistic and shamanistic cults.

Specific religious practices and beliefs

  • Ancestor worship
  • Apotheosis
    Apotheosis
    Apotheosis is the glorification of a subject to divine level. The term has meanings in theology, where it refers to a belief, and in art, where it refers to a genre.In theology, the term apotheosis refers to the idea that an individual has been raised to godlike stature...

  • Apotropaic magic
    Apotropaic magic
    Apotropaic magic is a type of magic intended to "turn away" harm or evil influences."Apotropaic" observances may also be practiced out of vague superstition or out of tradition, as in good luck charm , or gestures like fingers crossed or knocking on wood.Apotropaic is an adjective that means...

  • Animism
    Animism
    Animism refers to the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle....

  • Astrology
    Astrology
    Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

  • Authority
    Authority
    The word Authority is derived mainly from the Latin word auctoritas, meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence, or command. In English, the word 'authority' can be used to mean power given by the state or by academic knowledge of an area .-Authority in Philosophy:In...

  • Charm
    Amulet
    An amulet, similar to a talisman , is any object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner.Potential amulets include gems, especially engraved gems, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants and animals; even words said in certain occasions—for example: vade retro satana—, to...

  • Contagious magic
  • Cult
    Cult
    The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices...

  • Demon
    Demon
    call - 1347 531 7769 for more infoIn Ancient Near Eastern religions as well as in the Abrahamic traditions, including ancient and medieval Christian demonology, a demon is considered an "unclean spirit" which may cause demonic possession, to be addressed with an act of exorcism...

  • Divination
    Divination
    Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...

  • Esoterica
  • Exorcism
    Exorcism
    Exorcism is the religious practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person or place which they are believed to have possessed...

  • Evil
    Evil
    Evil is the violation of, or intent to violate, some moral code. Evil is usually seen as the dualistic opposite of good. Definitions of evil vary along with analysis of its root motive causes, however general actions commonly considered evil include: conscious and deliberate wrongdoing,...

  • Fertility Worship
    Fertility rite
    Fertility rites are religious rituals that reenact, either actually or symbolically, sexual acts and/or reproductive processes: 'sexual intoxication is a typical component of the...rites of the various functional gods who control reproduction, whether of man, beast, cattle, or grains of seed'..They...

  • Fetish
    Fetishism
    A fetish is an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a man-made object that has power over others...

  • Food
    Sacred food as offering
    A very recent realm of anthropology is the study of sacred food, which is one of the most important elements of many religions.All religions have prescriptions about the correct preparation and cooking of food, besides the taboos about forbidden subjects...

  • Genius
    Genius
    Genius is something or someone embodying exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight....

  • God
    God
    God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

  • Goddess Worship
    Goddess worship
    Goddess worship may be*the cult of any goddess in polytheistic religions*worship of a Great Goddess on a henotheistic or monotheistic or duotheistic basis**Hindu Shaktism**the neopagan Goddess movement**Wicca**Dianic Wicca...

  • Ghost
    Ghost
    In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost is the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestation, to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes, to...

  • Heresy
    Heresy
    Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

  • Icon
    Icon
    An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

  • Intercession
    Intercession
    Intercession is the act of interceding between two parties. In both Christian and Islamic religious usage, it is a prayer to God on behalf of others....

  • Immortality
    Immortality
    Immortality is the ability to live forever. It is unknown whether human physical immortality is an achievable condition. Biological forms have inherent limitations which may or may not be able to be overcome through medical interventions or engineering...

  • Kachina
    Kachina
    A kachina is a spirit being in western Pueblo cosmology and religious practices. The western Pueblo, Native American cultures located in the southwestern United States, include Hopi, Zuni, Tewa Village , Acoma Pueblo, and Laguna Pueblo. The kachina cult has spread to more eastern Pueblos, e.g....

  • Magic and religion
    Magic and religion
    Magical thinking in various forms is a cultural universal and an important aspect of religion.In many cases it becomes difficult or impossible to draw any meaningful line between beliefs and practices that are magical versus those that are religious, but in general the term religion is reserved for...

  • Mana
    Mana
    Mana is an indigenous Pacific islander concept of an impersonal force or quality that resides in people, animals, and inanimate objects. The word is a cognate in many Oceanic languages, including Melanesian, Polynesian, and Micronesian....

  • Manna
    Manna
    Manna or Manna wa Salwa , sometimes or archaically spelled mana, is the name of an edible substance that God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert according to the Bible.It was said to be sweet to the taste, like honey....

  • Masks
  • Miracle
    Miracle
    A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

  • Medicine
    Medicine
    Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....

  • Monotheism
    Monotheism
    Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

  • Myth
    Mythology
    The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

  • Mystery
    Greco-Roman mysteries
    Mystery religions, sacred Mysteries or simply mysteries, were religious cults of the Greco-Roman world, participation in which was reserved to initiates....

  • Necromancy
    Necromancy
    Necromancy is a claimed form of magic that involves communication with the deceased, either by summoning their spirit in the form of an apparition or raising them bodily, for the purpose of divination, imparting the ability to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge...

  • Neopaganism
    Neopaganism
    Neopaganism is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe...

  • New Age
    New Age
    The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and then infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational...

  • Occultism
  • Omen
    Omen
    An omen is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change...

  • Pain
    Pain
    Pain is an unpleasant sensation often caused by intense or damaging stimuli such as stubbing a toe, burning a finger, putting iodine on a cut, and bumping the "funny bone."...

  • Polytheism
    Polytheism
    Polytheism is the belief of multiple deities also usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own mythologies and rituals....

  • Prayer
    Prayer
    Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of...

  • Prophecy
    Prophecy
    Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

  • Rebirth
    Reincarnation
    Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant...

  • Religious ecstasy
    Religious ecstasy
    Religious ecstasy is an altered state of consciousness characterized by greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness which is frequently accompanied by visions and emotional/intuitive euphoria...

  • Ritual
    Ritual
    A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

  • Sacrifice
    Sacrifice
    Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or people to God or the gods as an act of propitiation or worship.While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering can be used for bloodless sacrifices of cereal food or artifacts...

  • Shamanism
    Shamanism
    Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. To quote Eliade: "A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy." Shamanism encompasses the...

  • Supernatural
    Supernatural
    The supernatural or is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature...

  • Sign
    Omen
    An omen is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change...

  • Spell
  • Supplication
    Supplication
    Supplication is the most common form of prayer, wherein a person asks God to provide something, either for the person or who is doing the praying or for someone else on whose behalf a prayer. This because of a supplication is being made, also known as intercession.The concept of supplication is...

  • Sympathetic magic
    Sympathetic magic
    Sympathetic magic, also known as imitative magic, is a type of magic based on imitation or correspondence.-Similarity and contagion:The theory of sympathetic magic was first developed by Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough...

  • Talisman
    Amulet
    An amulet, similar to a talisman , is any object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner.Potential amulets include gems, especially engraved gems, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants and animals; even words said in certain occasions—for example: vade retro satana—, to...

  • Tarot reading
  • Theism
    Theism
    Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God's relationship to the universe....

  • Totemism
    Totemism
    Totemism is a system of belief in which humans are said to have kinship or a mystical relationship with a spirit-being, such as an animal or plant...

  • Western mystery tradition
    Western mystery tradition
    Western esotericism or Hermeticism is a broad spectrum of spiritual traditions found in Western society, or refers to the collection of the mystical, esoteric knowledge of the Western world...


  • See also

    • Anthropological Perspectives on Religion
      Anthropological Perspectives on Religion
      Anthropological Perspectives on Religion , is an open access journal founded in 2006 by Swedish anthropologists Pierre Wiktorin and André Möller. The journal's focus is anthropology of religion....

    • Archaeology of religion and ritual
      Archaeology of religion and ritual
      The archaeology of religion and ritual is a growing field of study within archaeology that applies ideas from religious studies, theory and methods, anthropological theory, and archaeological and historical methods and theories to the study of religion and ritual in past human societies from a...

    • Cultural anthropology
      Cultural anthropology
      Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation,...

    • Symbolic anthropology
      Symbolic anthropology
      Symbolic anthropology is the study of cultural symbols and how those symbols can be interpreted to better understand a particular society. It is often viewed in contrast to cultural materialism. According to symbolic anthropologists, the scientific method does not concern human behavior nor...

    • Religious symbolism
      Religious symbolism
      Religious symbolism is the use of symbols, including archetypes, acts, artwork, events, or natural phenomena, by a religion. Religions view religious texts, rituals, and works of art as symbols of compelling ideas or ideals...

    • Sociology of religion
      Sociology of religion
      The sociology of religion concerns the role of religion in society: practices, historical backgrounds, developments and universal themes. There is particular emphasis on the recurring role of religion in all societies and throughout recorded history...

    • Sacred-profane dichotomy
      Sacred-profane dichotomy
      French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane to be the central characteristic of religion: "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden." In Durkheim's theory, the...


    External links