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Dr. Fairen - Religious Studies Theories and Methods 22

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University of Alberta
Religious Studies
Glen Fairen

RELIGIOUS STUDIES 200 CLIFFORD GEERTZ Presses for a serious rethinking of the practice of Anthropology. It changed the way we look at religious studies. His big starting point: humans and our cultural activities are disctinct from other species of the animal world. we can therefore get nowhere by trying to explain human behaviours the way we explain the behaviours of any other living or natural thing. Cultural analysis is not "an experimental science in search of a law but an interpretive one in search of MEANING" CULTURE - SYSTEM OF MEANING we are not looking for a law or grand narrative theory, but an account/interpretation of why people do what they do. - one of the best ways to do this is to look through the lens of religion. known for field work in bali and java (indonesia) where he studied the religious and cultures there, and also in morocco where he studied islam. a little like eliade (not in believing there is something sacred out there) in that he thinks religion needs to be treated as such, not just some function reducible to some other human feature. if you want to study a culture (doesnt call it a society) one has to look beyond family kinship and legal practices etc but at the motives and activities that individuals take up alone and in groups. THICK DESCRIPTION - the idea that everything is interconnected and feeds into everything else. CULTURE = MEANING / SIGNIFICANCE quotes from "Thick Description" "Man [is] an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun" pg.5 "Culture consists of socially established structures of meaning in terms of which people do such things as signal conspiracies and joing them, or perceive insults and answer them." p.12 "...because it is through the flow of behaviour--or more precisely social action, that cultural forms find articulation" p.13 a man with an eye twitch and another man winking are not the same. in the thin description they would appear the same, in the thick description their context and meaning would show that they are two very different things. a person speaking in tongues and taken in the spirit as compared to a person with an epileptic seizure would not be seen as the same in a thick description. we do not just point out that muslim's fast during ramadan. we are interested in their intention, the meaning for why they fast. meaning is not understood as completely private. understanding meaning as purely interio
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