Religion and Magic ● Defining Religion ● The Universality of Religion ● Variations in Religious Beliefs ● Variations in Religious Practice ● Religion & Social ChangeObjectives: At the end of the lesson, you must be able to: define religion assess the theories that explain the universality of religion discuss variations in religious beliefs & practices analyze the role of religion in the process of culture change I. Religion Defined Religion – religare: to bind Religion – any set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices pertaining to supernatural power, whether that power be forces, gods, spirits or demons Supernatural forces – powers believed to be not human or not subject to the laws of nature a. Not all societies make distinctions between the natural and the supernatural. b. Beliefs about what is supernatural or not varies within a particular society at a given time or over time. c. In many cultures what is considered religious is deeply embedded in everyday life, such that it is difficult to separate the religious from the political, the social or the economic aspects of culture. d. The concept of categorizing beliefs as religious or political or social is a relatively new concept. a. The Greeks had no word for religion but they did have many concepts concerning the behavior of their gods and their own expected duties to the gods. II. The Universality of Religion Religious beliefs and practices are found in all known contemporary societies, and archaeologists have found signs of religious beliefs associated with Homo sapiens who lived at least 60,000 years ago. Philosophers even of earlier centuries have done much theorizing on the nature of religion: Herodotus – made comparisons among the 50 or so societies he traveled from his home in Greece. Modern views, especially among sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists, on religion however indicate that religions are created by humans in response to certain universal needs or conditions. Four such conditions or needs are: ● The Need to Understand ● Reversion to Childhood Feelings ● Anxiety and Uncertainty ● The Need for Community
The Need to Understand 1. Edward Burnett Tylor – a. Religion originated in people’s speculations about trances, dreams, and death. b. Belief in souls was the earliest form of religion (animism). The theory is too intellectual and does not take into account the emotional component of religion. 2. Robert Ranulph Marett – a. Suggested that animatism – a belief in impersonal, supernatural forces – preceded the creation of spirits. b. From this the concept of anthropomorphizing emerged. (Anthropomorphizing – attributing human characteristics and motivations to nonhuman, particularly supernatural, events. c. Anthropomorphizing may probably be an attempt to understand what is otherwise incomprehensible and disturbing. Reversion To Childhood Feelings 1. This theory has roots in Freud’s idea that events in childhood infancy have long-lasting and powerful effects on beliefs and practices in adult life. 2. Helpless and dependent on parents for many years, infants and children invariably and unconsciously view their parents as all-knowing and all-powerful. 3. When adults feel out of control or in need, they may unconsciously revert to their infantile and childhood. 4. They may look for gods or magic to do what they cannot do for themselves, just as they looked to their parents to take care of their needs. Anxiety and Uncertainty 1. Sociological/Anthropological a. Bronislaw Malinowski – i. Ritual activities are most often performed whenever the outcome of a human undertaking is uncertain ii. All rituals are performed in times of emotional distress. iii. Man may have skills and knowledge to take care of many of his needs but this knowledge to not sufficient to prevent illness, accidents, and natural disasters, and death. iv. Religion therefore is born from the universal need to find comfort in inevitable times of stress. b. Radcliffe-Brown 2. Psychological (Religion is not just a way of relieving anxiety; it is also therapeutic.) a. William James i. Religion provides a feeling of union with something larger with oneself. b. Erich Fromm i. Religion provides people with a framework of values. c. Abraham Maslow i. Religion provides people with a transcendental understanding of the world. d. Carl Jung i. Religion helps people resolve their inner conflicts and attain maturity. The Need For Community Religion springs from society and serves social rather than psychological need.
1. Emile Durkheim a. Living in society makes humans feel pushed and pulled by powerful forces. b. These forces direct their behaviour, pushing them to resist what is considered wrong, pulling them to do what is considered right. c. These are the forces of public, opinion, custom, and law. Because they are largely invisible and unexplained, people would feel them as mysterious forces and therefore come to believe in gods and spirits. d. Religion arises out of the experience of living in social groups. e. Religious belief and practice affirm a person’s place in society; enhance feelings of community, and give people confidence. f. Society is really the object of worship in religion. 2. Guy Swanson a. Belief in spirit derives from the existence of sovereign groups. b. These are the groups that have independent jurisdiction (decision-making powers) over some sphere of life – the family, the clan, the village, the state. c. Such groups are not mortal; they persist beyond the lifetimes of their individual members. The spirits or gods that people invent personify or represent the powerful decision-making groups in their society. d. Just like the sovereign groups in a society, the spirits or gods are immortal and have purposes and goals that supersede those of an individual. Using data on premodern societies, Swanson demonstrated relations between types of constitutional structure and varieties of belief. He found that high gods appear where a government coordinates other kinds of organization: "Monotheism is positively related to the presence of a hierarchy of three or more sovereign groups in a society." Swanson attempted to explain why only some European societies adopted Protestantism in the sixteenth century. He argued that Catholics think God is immanent in the world. He considered regimes "immanent" if they implement their own distinctive purposes rather than serve private interests. His finding was that immanent European regimes tended to remain Catholic; the more constituent bodies of a community had a role in governing (thus making its regime "transcendent"), the more likely a regime was to adopt Protestantism and its more transcendent God. III. Variations in Religious Beliefs While there is no general agreement among scholars on why people need religion, or how supernatural beings and forces come into existence, there is general recognition of the enormous variation in the details of religious beliefs and practices. Societies differ in: a. Kinds of supernatural beings or forces they believe in. b. Character of beings. c. Structure or hierarchy of those beings and in what beings actually do. d. In what happens to people after death. e. Ways in which the supernatural is believed to interact with humans.Types of Supernatural Forces and beings 1. Supernatural forces a. Supernatural forces have no personlike character (Marett referred to such religious beliefs as animatism). ● Mana
i. Polynesian farmers may place stones around crops. If the crops are bountiful, then the stones have mana. ii. A chieftain wins a war, he said to possess mana. iii. But power is not possessed permanently: the stones may lose the mana, and the crops will be poor; the chieftain loses a war, he may have lost his mana. ● Taboo i. Anything forbidden, and which can cause harm. Things containing mana are to be touched, but those with taboo are not (Anthony Wallace).2. Supernatural beings a. Nonhuman origin (gods or spirits) i. Gods – chief among the beings; named personalities 1. Anthropomorphic (conceived in the image of a person) 2. Believed to have created themselves, but some of them created, or gave to, other gods. 3. Although some are seen as creator gods, not all peoples include the creation of the world as one of the acts of the gods. 4. May be interested in everyday human affairs. 5. The lesser gods are usually the ones involved in running ordinary human affairs. (The Maori of New Zealand have three important gods: a god of sea, a god of the forest, a god of agriculture. The gods of ancient Rome specialized to a high degree. There three gods of the plow: one for weeding, one for reaping, one storing grain, one for manuring, and so on.) ii. Spirits – beneath gods in prestige, and often closer to people, and usually unnamed 1. Some may be promoted to gods. 2. Some maybe guardian spirits. 3. Some are never invoked as they are harmful (hobgoblins). 4. Some delight in deliberately working evil on behalf of people. b. Human origin (ghosts and ancestral spirits) i. Ghosts 1. There are many cues in everyday experience that are associated with a loved one, such that after his or her death, those cues might arouse the feeling that the dead person is still somehow present. 2. Ghosts in most societies would be close relatives and friends, not strangers. ii. Ancestor spirits 1. Spirits of the dead do not play an active role in the life of the living in all societies. 2. Belief in ancestral spirits is more likely to happen where descent groups are important decision-making units.b. The Character of Supernatural beings 1. Gods and spirits venerated in a certain culture tend to have certain personality or character traits. 2. They may be predictable, unpredictable, aloof, interested helpful, or punishing. 3. Cross-cultural evidences gathered states that the character of supernatural beings may be related to child training. a. Melford Sapiro & Roy D’Andrade suggest that the god-human relationship is a projection of parent-child relationship, in which case child-training practices might well be relived in dealings with the supernatural. b. William Lambert, Leigh Minturn Triandis, Margery Wolf found that
societies with hurtful or punitive child-training practices are likely to believe that their gods are aggressive and malevolent; societies with less punitive child-training are more likely to believe that the gods are benevolent. c. These results are consistent with the Freudian notion that the supernatural world should parallel the natural. d. It is worth noting in this context that some peoples refer to the god as their father and to themselves as their children. c. Structure Or Hierarchy of Supernatural beings The range of social structures in human societies from egalitarian to highly-stratified has its counterparts in the supernatural world: 1. Some societies have gods or spirits that are not ranked; one god has about as much power as another. a. On the Pacific islands of Palau, a rank society, gods were ranked as people were. Each clan worshipped a god and a goddess that had names or titles similar to clan titles. Although a clan was generally important only to the members of that clan, the gods of the various clans in a village were believed to be ranked in the same order that the clans were. Thus, the god of the highest- ranking clan was respected by all clans of the village. Its shrine was given the place of honour in the centre of the village and was larger and more elaborately decorated. b. This is called polytheism – a polytheistic religion recognizes many gods, none of which is supreme. 2. Other societies have gods or spirits that are ranked in prestige and power. a. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are religions that believe in a high god or supreme being who outrank all the other gods. This belief is called monotheism. b. Although monotheistic religions include more than one supernatural being (angels, demons), the supreme being of high go, as the creator of the universe is believe to be ultimately responsible for all events. 3. Swanson hypothesized that societies with hierarchical political systems should be more likely to believe in a high god. This hypothesis was supported by his cross-cultural studies. Consistent with these findings, societies dependent on food production (horticulture, agriculture, pastoral which are ranked societies) are more likely to have a belief in a high god than are food-collectors (who are egalitarian). 4. The results suggest that the realm of the gods parallels and may reflect the everyday social and political world.Intervention of the Gods in human AffairsAccording to Clifford Geertz, it is when faced with ignorance, pain and the unjustness of life that a personexplains events by the intervention of the gods. 1. In Greek religion, Poseidon, the god of sea, prevented Odysseus from getting home for ten years. 2. In the Old Testament, the direct intervention of Yahweh caused the great flood that killed people in the time of Noah. 3. In numerous societies, gods are asked to intervene in the weather and make crops grow, to send fish to the fishermen and game to the hunter, to find lost things, and to accompany travellers and prevent accidents. 4. The gods do not intervene in all societies, and little research has been done to show why and when gods intervene or not. However, Swanson’s study suggests that the gods are more likely to punish
people for immoral behaviour when there are considerable differences in wealth in society.Life After Death Ideas about life after death seem vague in most societies. 1. Some societies like the Lugbara (Uganda), the Zuni (southwestern United States) the dead join the ancestors of the living or join the past dead. 2. The Chamulas (Mexico) believe all souls go to the underworld, but those who committed suicide and the murderers are burned. 3. Christians are divided into two groups: those who believe that the saved are sent everlasting punishment, and the saved to everlasting reward 4. Several societies (such as the Hindus) see the dead as returning to earth to be reborn. IV. Variations in Religious Practice Wallace identified a number of ways used by people the world over (though not necessarily together) to interact with the supernatural beings: 1. Prayer (asking the supernatural for help) a. Can be spontaneous or memorized b. Private or public c. Spoken or silent (the gods know all languages) 2. Physiological experience (doing things to the body & mind) a. May involve drugs (hallucinogens or opiates) or alcohol b. Social sensory or sensory deprivation c. Dancing or running till exhausted d. Being deprived of food, water, sleep e. Listening to repetitive sounds 3. Simulation a. Voodoo b. Employed during divination c. Fortunetelling through the use of tarot cards, tea leaves, Ouija board, cards 4. Feast and sacrifices a. Eating of a sacred meal (Holy Communion as a simulation of the last Supper) b. Sacrifices to the gods in order to influence actions, divert anger or attract good will c. The most ultimate form is human sacrifice ii. Magic ● The belief that certain actions can compel the supernatural to act in a particular and intended way. ● Involves manipulation of the supernatural for good or evil. ● Sorcery – includes the use of material objects to invoke the supernatural malevolence ● Witchcraft – accomplishing malevolence by use of the thought aloneTypes of PractitionerFour major types:
1. Shaman -A part time male specialist who has a fairly high status in his society and is often involved in healing. 2. Sorcerers and witches - Have low social status, either male or female, low economic status. 3. Mediums -Tend to be females, part-time practitioners, asked to heal and divine. 4. Priests - Generally full time males, have high status, officiate at public events, able to relate to a superior or high gods beyond the ordinary person’s control. V. Religion and Social ChangeThe history of religion includes periods of strong resistance to change and periods of radical change. Oneexplanation for this cycle is that religious practices always originate during periods of stress. Religiousmovements have been called revitalization movements – efforts to save a culture by infusing it with a newpurpose and new life.