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lecture notes

Course Code
Joseph Bryant

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a synthesis: what can be inferred from prehistory (archeology, linguistics, etc.)
and the ethnographic study of contemporary preliterate societies.
we find: 1) belief in supernatural powers/forces--->religions of gods and goddesses
2)belief in souls/spirits---> ancestor cults
both are systematized and expressed in Myth and Ritual.
societies without the State are typically organized by Kinship: family lineages or "blod
lines"- descent form a common ancestor,in clans, tribes...
in ancestor cults or worship, the dead remain involved with the living
as official guardians of the social order and its moral codes- ritual specialits appeal to the
ancestoral spirits to give "ruling" settle disputes,etc.
example: the hunting and gathering Veddas of Ceylon/ Srilanka
shamans call upon and "incarnate" the yaku or ancestors, they speak through his guttural
groans. analysis shows that "approval/disapproval is based upon compliance witht he
group's moral code
(recall Kritias & social control)
ancestors are believes to control fertility, the hunt and farming, weather, health and
illness, etc.
why would the ancestor spirits become so imp. int he kinship/lineage based societies?
-ina state where you have a centralized authority who is the guardian of the social
system? who has the power to regulate? punish etc?
-it'll be the political figure head of the state itself thats what makes it a state.
-emperors kings pharoahs claim this political superiority they have armies, guards, laws
-when there are social needs for coordinationa nd alike the state provides that but witht he
absence of the state the ancestor spirits function as a neutral judge, they are seen as
having the interests of the whole group at heart.
-the ancestor spirits are regularly consulted.
-the advice of the ancestor spirits are desgined to bring back harmony and order/diffuse
tensions.if there isa dispute b/w 2 diff. families, ancestor spirits are involved, the sacred
authority(ancestors) will settle that.
-misfortunes are interpreted as occuring in consequence of breaches in the moral order.
the ancestor spirits- communicating through the ritual mediums-- are thus CENSORS

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-the ancestors contain weather, health illness etc. offerings are made for them.
-in these kinship based socieities whenever there is some kind of misfortune the
interpretation is that there has been a breach in the normally fucntioning, someone did
soemthing that offended the rain god etc. the ancestor is them called upon to diagnose the
problem, the shamans will interpret what the ancestors say and will call for certain
changes. eg return stolen property.
-ancestors help bind together the group. durkheims emphasis as religion as a kind of
social solidarity.we are actually just extending reverence to our own ancestors
The "primitive" - "modern" debate:
Lucien L'vy-Bruhl (1857-1939)
Fonctions mentales dans les societe's inferieures (1910) rejects the Tylor-Frazer school,
which divides humanity into infants and adults rather: premoderns have a different
mentality, where emotional needs override the need for explanation. not a different
degree of rationalitiy just a difference way of mapping the world with the rise of science
humans developed a very different kind of world view.represents a different mentality.
1. mystical orientation- perception is informed by emotion, objects are charged with
2. lack of objectivity- dreams, visions, etc., are taken for the real and sometimes as more
than real. there is a higher reality in dreams and visions. scientific mentality dreams and
visions are projections from our own subjectivie experience.
3.participation- reality forms a interlaced nexus, ties and affinities abound.the
prescientific mentalitiy seesthe entire cosmos as linked together it is not simply a bunch
of little, disconnected parts, everythign is inter-connected.and because of that the pre-
scientific mind tends to look for corelations and connections.
4. pre-logical- law of contradiction flouted, as objects are at once themselves and things
other than themselves.things could be both a and not a they could combine both opposite
powers and potentialities to them. in this premodern mentality boundaries are more fluid
and elastic.
5. communion with the world- reality a Thou, a living anmate other with which one must
establish harmony and again the contrast with the scientific mentality is
pronounced. The person feels that the sky etc is more interconnected with themselves.
and the key to human sucess is to establish a harmonious balance with that external
reality to which we are intimately connected.the modern science and technology treats
this larger cosmos that we live in as an object to be used for our own just
regard the sea as a transportation medium not as something sacred does not have any
other kind of existance other than pure matter,
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