The Social Construction of Reality
Why do we believe in gods, magic, witchcraft, and spirits even when we have
Why are we so certain that our beliefs are right and the beliefs of others are
o We turn to the supernatural to explain what we cannot understand or
o Example: death, dreaming, sickness, and misfortune
o From believing in a soul to believing in a place where the soul
o We summon supernatural gods or spirits to help us influence what we
cannot control in our lives
o In the Trobrian Islands magicians are believed to influenced the
produce in gardens
o The key to answer these questions lies in early societies which
believed in the supernatural
o Studied the beliefs of the Australian Aborigines, especially totemism
A totem is an animal, plant, or some celestial phenomenon that represents a
The totem was worshipped and considered sacred by the group
Durkheim argued that if the totem represented the group, then wasn’t the
group worshipping itself?
The sacredness of the totem lay in:
o The constraints people feel imposed on them by the group
o The power people feel when they are together in a group or ritual
Durkheim applies his analysis to large-scale societies
Society worships itself through their god or gods, and therefore in a sense
God is society
Freud: people project on an imagined God the power of the father
Early scholars assumed the beliefs were wrong, but served some functions
e.g. to enhance group cohesion and solidarity
Critical of earlier ethnocentric assumptions, contemporary anthropologists
ask different questions
More Recent Approaches
How do people conceptualize the world and their place in it?
Do all societies distinguish between the natural and supernatural world?
How are worldviews created and why do they change?