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People, gods, and goddesses
Anthropological approaches to religion.
The Duo Donggo and Bimanese
• Duo Donggo are egalitarian subsistence farmers who
worship nature and ancestor spirits. They propitiate a
mountain spring to bring rains.
• The Bimanese are lowland agriculturalists governed
until recently by a Sultan. They view Allah as a
supreme being that pervades all reality. Propitiate Allah
in order to encourage rains.
• Religion and society are both models for each other and
there is a complex relationship between the type of society
and religious values.
Early Approaches: Durkheim and
religion
•
•
•
He tried to find the most basic elements of sacred phenomena. It could not be the existence of
gods, because some religions did not have gods or goddesses.
He found that all societies divided all social phenomena into two basic realms:
• i. sacred.
• Ii. Profane.
• It was the sense of the sacred that was the common element of all religions.
• Studied totemism among Australian aboriginal societies:
• Each clan had a series of animal, plant or natural totems.
• The churinga was especially sacred.
• Clan totems were surrounded by taboos.
• Marriage and hunting were determined by the classification of clan totems, all
clans had to be exogamous and could only marry into clans with unlike totems.
• Durkheim believed that totemism provided a conceptual and moral model for
aboriginal societies; in short that religion was the power of society writ large.
Religious Ritual: Rites of Passage
• Arnold van Gennep
• Society could be viewed as a house, with the rooms
representing different life stages. Rituals and religious beliefs
helped people move from one stage to another. The rituals
occurred at the threshold stage.
• Victor Turner: all rites of passage have three major stages:
• Separation: symbolic death of the old state
• Liminality: equality of participants, betwixt and between period.
• Incorporation: rebirth into a new state.
Religion, science and witchcraft
• Malinowski: religion provides a charter of meaning that
explains that which is unexplainable and difficult, e.g.
the fact that we all die. Magic is more akin to science,
in that it starts where empirical knowledge ends and
relieves psychological anxiety.
• Evans-Pritchard: Witchcraft and magic for the Azande
explains what we would call misfortune, e.g. witchcraft
does not explain why a granary collapsed, but why it
collapsed on a particular individual.
Religious movements
• Anthropolgists have studied those religious
movements that arose as a result of catastrophic
changes that a given worldview cannot
accommodate, e.g. colonialism.
• Long house movement ( seneca of north america)
• Cargo cults (melanesia)
• These later became routinized and became political
movements.
Charisma and routinization
• Religious prophets often arise during periods of
societal crises.
• Whether or not a charismatic movement
becomes a stable religion depends on the
degree to which it becomes ‘routinized’, i.e.
bureaucratically organized. Example, the
Mormon Church: Joseph Smith (charismatic
prophet) and Brigham Young (routinizer).