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Lecture 8

Textbook Notes for Lecture 8 - Religion

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Victor Barac

Notes From Reading for Lecture 8 C HAPTERS : 3(PGS . 76-106) AND 1.1, 1.3,1.4,2.4, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 8.1 Lecture: Religion Chapter 3: The Social and Cultural Construction of Reality Introduction The Central Question - Early anthropological studies of religion sought to explain how people could believe in things that seemed illogical - Tylor that religion and a belief in the supernatural developed through people’s efforts to explain basic phenomena, such as death and dreaming - Emile Durkheim speculated that the secret must lie in the beliefs of early human beings when questioning what led to the concept of God - Totemism – The use of a symbol, generally an animal or a plant, as a physical representation for a group, generally a clan o Totem was worshipped and was considered sacred and holy by members of the group - Ritual – A dramatic rendering or social portrayal of meaning shared by a specific body of people in a way that makes them seem correct and proper - Anthropologists believed that religious beliefs served some purpose: the beliefs and rituals may have increased group cohesion or provided supernatural sanctions for the violation of group norms - Symbolic Actions – The activities – including ritual, myth, art, dance, and music- that dramatically depict the meanings shared by a specific body of people - What we believe is also in some way, a produce of our social, economic, and political lives Question 3.1: How does the Use of Metaphor Affect the Meanings People Assign to Experience? Borrowing Meaning with Metaphors - Metaphor – A figure of speech in which linguistic expressions are taken from one area of experience and applied to another - Domain of Experience – An area of human experience (e.g. business, war, science, family life) from which people borrow meaning to apply to other areas o Example: the shoulder of the road or Jeff is a dog - World View – An encompassing picture of reality based on shared cultural assumptions about how the world works - When language is extended from one domain to another, meaning is also extended - In English, time is spoken of not only as if I were a distinct thing, but also as if it were a specific type of thing: o “Time is money”, “you’re wasting my time”, “is that worth your while?” o Time in N. American cultures is a valuable commodity, a scarce resource that is quantified, invested and spent - Metaphors are like theories, templates, lenses, or filters that we can use to help us understand one domain of experience in terms of another - Key Metaphors – A term to identify metaphors that dominate the meanings that people in a specific culture attribute to their experience - When a culture’s members think and speak of many domains of experience in terms of a particular domain, that culture’s meaning achieve a certain coherence o A coherence of belief is thereby achieved as well Kwakwaka’wakw Metaphors of Hunger - Much of our knowledge of the traditional life of the Kwakwaka’wakw is from Franz Boas, one of the founders of American anthropology Notes From Reading for Lecture 8 C HAPTERS : 3(PGS . 76-106)AND 1.1, 1.3,1.4,2.4, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 8.1 - The act of eating is a key metaphor for Kwakwaka’wakw - Kwakwaka;wakw find in their experience that the universe is a place in which some beings must die so that other beings may eat them and live o It will provide nutrition and it frees souls - The Kwakwaka’wakw believe that when a person dies, the soul leaves the body and enters the body of a salmon o The soul cannot be freed until the physical body is destroyed o When the salmon is caught and eaten by human beings, the soul is once again freed and enters the body of a newborn child o Therefore the act of eating becomes a metaphor through which much of their life understood and described - Myth – A story or narrative that portrays the meanings people give to their experience - Hunger is associated with greed, for, like unrestrained hunger, greed causes people to accumulate wealth far beyond what they need - Hunger is also associated with immortality o Believe that human desires create conflict and destruction that can quickly get out of hand o People must work together to prevent and control conflict before it threatens to destroy the group - Hunger is also associated with children, who constantly demand to be fed and who will, if allowed, devour all the family’s food - The full impact of a metaphor lies in the fact that people are trying to impose order on their lives by describing the world according to a particular domain of experience - Eating is highly ritualized and controlled where food must be carefully handled and generously given to others to avoid accusations of greed The Metaphors of Contemporary Witchcraft and Magic - Modern magic is based on the assumption that mind and thought can affect matter without the intervention of the thinker’s actions - A key metaphor embedded in modern witchcraft and magic is that of stratification of “planes” and “levels” - The magician uses the tarot cards to divine the future, but the cards also provide was for people to interpret their own lives - We constantly seem to confuse one domain with another Question 3.2: How does Symbolic Action Reinforce a Particular View of the World? - We participate in activities that express a particular view of the world and that reinforce particular beliefs about the way the world works - Symbolic actions carry bundles of meanings that represent public displays of a culture - Meaning that characterize a culture are repeated again and again in other symbolic actions, particularly ritual The Kwakwaka’wakw Hamatsa Dance - Their view of the world rests on the metaphor of hunger and is graphically displayed in their language, myth, art and ritual - The Cannibal Dance is a four-day spectacle that serves as the highlight of the Kwakwaka’wakw Winter Ceremonial o It is a time when powerful beings and animal spirits, intersects with the real world o In the ceremony, the initiate plays the role of the cannibal dance or hamatsa - During pauses, members of the audience exchange gifts - Rituals can be viewed as a symbolic representation of reality Notes From Reading for Lecture 8 C HAPTERS : 3(PGS . 76-106)AND 1.1, 1.3,1.4,2.4, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 8.1 o For the Kwakwaka’wakw, the hamatas is the ultimate projection of the power of hunger, and his desire for human flesh is a manifestation of the forces that can destroy society o The participants in the ritual, by symbolically taming the hunger of the hamatas, are asserting their moral responsibility to control greed and conflict - The Cannibal Dance also contains a powerful message about socialization o All humans are cannibals who must be socialized and tamed The Ritual of Contemporary Witchcraft and Magic - Rituals produce special feelings; people are carried away with the symbolism, the music, and the social communion with others - In contemporary witchcraft and magic there is great emphasis placed on visualization and meditation as part of the ritual o Not only dramatically depicts a metaphor, but also teaches the participants how to experience the world as if the forces, gods and spirits were truly real - Ritual not only teaches us about the world depicted in our metaphors but also teaches us how to feel within the universe we create Zombies Are “Good to Think With” - Contemporary witchcraft and magic draw heavily from myth and literature for their language, symbols and metaphors - Key Scenariosuy7 – Dominant stories or myths that portray the values and beliefs of a specific society - Claude Levi-Strauss coined the phrase “good to think with” to refer to the way that humans use aspects of the material world as a reservoir of metaphorical and symbolic meanings - Zombie stories are a metaphorical exploration of our fears and desires in our global, capitalist economy Question 3.3: How Does the Way We Live Affect Our Beliefs and Rituals? - According to Jean-Guy Goulet, the Dene Tha children learns only through direct experience o Dene tha stories can contain knowledge, the narrator is careful to avoid making claims about the truthfulness of the story it is not part of his or her own personal experience - Dene Tha notions of power differ from those of Euro-Canadians o For Euro-Canadians, you are considered to be a good parent when you give a bedtime for your children. Whereas this is a sign of an irresponsible parent who is blocking the child’s access to knowledge and personal autonomy for Dene Tha - Dene Tha communicate with the other world through dreams and gain important knowledge about healing using plants and animal parts o Dreaming - Like the Dene Tha, the Waswanipi Cree do not see humans as completely separate from other phenomena of the world, such as wind and water - The Mi’kmaq believe that the sun created the earth and everything on it, and both the Sun and the Moon are considered to be manifestations of the Great Spirit - Indigenous peoples in other parts of the world have strikingly similar beliefs about their physical environments Sapphire Mining in Northern Madagascar - Walsh describes the world view of sapphire miners in Ambondromifehy as a complex process of speculation, deception, and knowledge Notes From Reading for Lecture 8 C HAPTERS : 3(PGS . 76-106) AND 1.1, 1.3,1.4,2.4, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 8.1 - The act of speculation about what they are being told is a vital part of the Malagasy experience of the sapphire trade - As sapphires are traded locally and then globally for increasingly higher prices, and foreigners come and go without ever revealing their true purpose o Malagasy belief that sapphires cannot be used simply for jewllery seems quite logical, given that the world events that reach Ambondromifehy through the news media and the reports of foreigners Modern Witchcraft in Cameroon - Peter Geschiere doing fieldwork among the Maka people found that witchcraft had not decreased with modernization - According to the Maka, all events are the result of human action, where nothing happens simply by chance – the cause of witchcraft - Witchcraft is the process by which inequalities are both created and overcome, because it is through witchcraft that the new elites are believed to have gained their wealth - In effort to control witchcraft, the state justice system now involves itself in accusations of witchcraft - Beliefs about witchcraft help the Maka explain, in terms they understand, they changes that have taken place now that their own people are filling states positions and capitalism is creating previously inconceivable wealth Question 3.4: What Happened to Local World Views When They Were Confronted by the Religion of the European Colonizers? - How do indigenous or colonized peoples fit religions such as Christianity into their existing worldviews? The Dene Tha and Christianity - Most Dene Tha say they are Christians, usually Roman Catholic or Anglican - The Christian figure of Jesus Christ is often incorporated into the category of those who now live in echuhdigeh or “the other land” and communicates with the living through dreams - The crucifix (or cross) is a personal symbol in conjunction with the drum - Young Dene Tha are encouraged to carry a rosary on their person as a protection against other Dene who might attack them with their power o Each large bead represents a place where the Son of God came to earth and he did this many times, and each of the small beads represents his tracks on earth - The introduction of a Christianity into the cultural world of the Dene Tha did not result in the wholesale destruction of their existing beliefs and world views - The difference between existing Dene Tha and Kwara’ae world views helps account for these different practices and beliefs of introduced Christianity Christianity in the Solomon Island - When Kwara’ae finally accepted Christianity, it was for reasons that had less to do with beliefs in the Christian message - The Kwara’ae believe that they are all descended from one man who came to the island twenty or thirty generations ago - After colonization and the arrival of Christianity, people were encouraged to give up their ghosts - For some, the exchange of ghosts for God had been mainly a change in names - All reinterpretations of Christianity as intimately linked to colonialism and to the oppressiveness of the capitalist world system Rastafari in Jamaica - Ras Tafari was crowned emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethipia Notes From Reading for Lecture 8 C HAPTERS : 3(PGS . 76-106) AND 1.1, 1.3,1.4,2.4, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 8.1 - The Jamaicans following the crowning of a black king with great enthusiasm, for this was a clear sign that black men were not always destined to be at the bottom of society - To the poor living in Kingston, Haile Selassie was either the Messiah or the living God and a symbol of hope and salvation for all black people - Rasta continued to reject the capitalist world, which they called Babylon, and to create their own understanding of the Christian Bible, in which they were heroes - The case of Bob Marley’s reggae, and of Rastafarianism more generally, provides a powerful example of the often unexpected ways in which people incorporate beliefs into existing belief systems - Although the arrival of colonial religions may change local people’s world views, it is rarely the case that the beliefs and values that have worked to explain the ways of the world for a long time will be easily or completely discarded Question 3.5: How Can People Reorder Their View of the World if it Becomes Unsatisfactory? - The view of the world created by the interaction of our own experiences of the world with the mediums of language, symbolic actions, humor, and collective judgments - Revitalization Movements – The term suggested by Anthony F.C. Wallace for attempts by a people to construct a more satisfying culture o These movements promise liberation from oppression by foreign powers and tend to incorporate and rework elements of pre-colonial culture - A period of social or economic upheaval or oppression leads to the development of a new or revised belief system that promise to return the society to a real or mythical previous state - Syncretization – The term given to the combination of old beliefs or religions and new ones that are often introduced during colonization Wovoka and the Ghost Dance - More white settlers moved onto Native American territories, the U.S. government insisted on renegotiating treaties when land that ha been given to Native groups was desired by settlers - For example, the Sioux were given rights to the Black Hills of South Dakota, but once gold was found, the government unilaterally insisted on renegotiating the treaties and reduced the Indian land by more than half in 1989 - Among the groups that enthusiastically adopted the Ghost Dance was the Sioux o For the Sioux, the Ghost Dance turned into a tragic reminder of Euro-American oppression o The Ghost Dance virtually ceased among the Sioux after the massacre at Wounded Knee, but it continued among other groups - Today it represents an attempt of people to create a new culture, a new system of meaning after the destruction of a previous one Haitian Vodou - In Haiti, Africans from many different parts of the continent were forcibly brought together by the slave trade - Creole – A term used commonly to refer to the formation of slave societies in the Caribbean in which elements of African and European cultures were merged, blended or combined into something uniquely Caribbean - Vodou Iwa present models for Haitian life and address issues that real Haitian face - It is a world view that helps Haitians cope with a life of poverty and hardship - Haitian vodou is a system of healing that applies to troubles social relationships, physical illness, and the pain of the past in which families were torn apart by slavery Notes From Reading for Lecture 8 C HAPTERS : 3(PGS . 76-106) AND 1.1, 1.3,1.4,2.4, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 8.1 Question 1.1: Why do Human Beings Differ in Their Beliefs and Behaviours - Culture – The system of meanings about the nature of experience that are shared by a people and passed on from one generation to another o Incl. the meanings that people give to things, events, activities and people o People differ in how they view the world because of their culture - Members of all human societies experience specific life events such as birth, death and the quest for food, water and shelter - Culture is about meaning; Cultural meanings must be learned; once learned, meanings are shared by members of particular culture - Culture enables human beings to make sense of their life experiences and to understand those experiences as meaningful in particular ways - Human beings are cultural animals; they ascribe meanings of their own creation to objects, persons, behaviours, emotions and events and then proceed to act as if those meanings are real - Differences in culture arise in par from the fact that different groups of human beings, for various reasons, create, share and participate in different realities o As a consequence, they assigned different meaning to death, birth, marriage and food - Objects, persons, behavoiurs, emotions, and events in a human world have meanings ascribed to them by those who share, use or experience them - Understanding culture, and the culturally situated meanings that flourish in various cultural contexts, is therefore the main object of anthropological study Question 1.3: Is it Possible to See the World Through the Eyes of Others? - The anthropologists must be able to look beyond everyday appearance to decipher the often hidden meanings of beliefs, objects, and behaviours o While at the same time setting aside her or his preconceptions about what is normal or proper - Anthropologists must learn one culture and then relate what he/she has learned to members of another culture in order to translate the meanings of one world into the meaning of another The Embarrassed Anthropologist - Awkwardness and embarrassment are a part of fieldwork, and the process through which the fieldworker learns about another culture Confronting Witchcraft in Mexico - Michael Kearney travelled to the town of Santa Catarine Ixtepeji in the valley of Oaxaca, Mexico - Fascinated to find out that their world was controlled by mystic notions of “fate”, the will of God and malevolent witches and other harmful and sometimes lethal spiritual forces - Kearney helped out Dona Delfina sister in law, and helped treated her “burn” with ointment and he was then credited as a “miraculous cure” - A friend told Kearney that he was intervening with Gregoria’s black magic in taking away Delfina’s brother way from his wife and was using black magic to make her sick - He came to realize through his experience that systems of belief are eminently reasonable when viewed from within that system - This highlights features of the ethnographic method where anthropologists’ attempts to appreciate the view of others while at the same time question their own views of the world o By participating in the lives of others and in their cultural practices, anthropologists can take themselves as subjects of the investigation Notes From Reading for Lecture 8 C HAPTERS : 3(PGS . 76-106) AND 1.1, 1.3,1.4,2
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