RLG200H1 Study Guide - Participant Observation, Ethnography, Opiate
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1. Anthropology of Religion/Ethnography of Religion
a. The definition of Anthropology of religion is to study religions as human cultures.
It is also referred to as “ethnography” for this reason. However, this anthropology
does not only concern itself with religions that are big enough to be called
“cultures” (like Hinduism), but with the human life of smaller religious
movements (as Catherine Lemieux studies).
b. The main task of the anthropology of religion is to observe religion as a cultural
phenomenon, and also to differentiate between reality and representation. For
example, the readings about possession often begin by talking about the broader
cultural, social, and family structures of a society before talking about what
possession means in that particular society. Also, this research dispels western
ideas of possession as “psychosis”, arguing that it is a culturally unique
experience with a societal function.
c. What the anthropology of religion accomplishes is not only classifying religions,
as was done by several early scholars and is mentioned in Capps, but observing
the interactions that take place within religions and religious movements. As
Lemieux says, anthropology of religion also differentiates between ideals of
religion and lived experience.
d. One of the risks in the anthropology religion is projecting one’s own religious
bias onto the research. For example, most early anthropologists of religion were
extremely Christian-centric, and very much “othered” non-western religions.
Additionally, as Lemieux mentioned, many ethical issues come up in
ethnographic research. For example, an observer may (unintentionally)
inappropriately interfere in religious functions while doing participant-
observation. They must also be careful not to uphold hegemonic discourse,
projecting western meanings, for example, onto phenomena specific to minority
2. Sociology of Religion
a. The sociology of religion concerns itself with religion’s function in a society.
Much of it is about how religion is informed and played out by people’s social
interactions with one another, both internal and external. Like all disciplines in the
study of religion, it is fairly new.
b. The main task of the sociology religion is to observe how ritual and belief serve
social functions in society. This was identified by my interviewees in my project
paper as a major component of religion. They not only experienced their religion
as important in terms of their personal relationship with a higher power, but in
terms of the time spent with other members of their group in social functions.
Furthermore, they identified religion as clarifying their role in society; for