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Chapter 9

ANTH 1150 Chapter Notes - Chapter 9: New Age, Liminality, Cargo Cult

Course Code
ANTH 1150
Marta Rohatynskyj

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Chapter 9
Anthony F. C. Wallace's definition of religion: "belief and ritual concerned with
supernatural beings, powers and forces."
Many definitions of religion focus on groups of people who gather together regularly for
The word religion derives from the latin religare - "to tie, to bind"
in studying religion cross-culturally, anthropologists pay attention to religion as a social
phenomenon as well as to the meanings of religious doctrines, settings, acts and events.
Verbal manifestations of religious beliefs include prayers, chants, myths, texts, and
statements about, including rules of, ethics and morality.
The anthropological study of religion also encompasses notions about purity and
pollution, sacrifice, initiation, rites of passage, vision quests, pilgrimages, spirit
possession, prophecy, study, devotion, and moral actions.
Religion is associated with social divisions within and between societies and nations.
Religion both unities and divides.
Many anthropologists argue that such categories such as religion, politics and the
economy are arbitrary constructs that apply best, and perhaps only, to Western,
Christian and modern societies.
Nonindustrial societies, religion typically is more embedded in society.
Religious beliefs may help regulate the economy or permeate politics.
Anthropologists agree that religion exists in all human societies' it is a cultural universal.
Expressions of Religion
Animism, the earliest form of religion, was a belief in spiritual beings.
Polytheism (the belief in multiple gods) and then monotheism (the belief in a single, all
powerful deity) developed later.
Melanesians believed in mana, a sacred impersonal force existing in the universe. Mana
an reside in people, animals, plants and objects.
Magic refers to supernatural techniques intended to accomplish specific aims.
These techniques include magical actions, offerings, spells, formulas, and incantations
used with deities or with impersonal forces.
Magicians employ imitative magic to produce a desired effect by imitating it.
With contagious magic, whatever is done to an object is believed to affect a person who
once had contact with it.
Religion helps people face death and endure life crises.
Magical techniques can dispel doubts that arise when outcomes are beyond human
Rituals are formal - stylized, repetitive, and stereotyped.
Rituals include liturgical orders - sequences of words and actions invented prior to the
current performance of the ritual in which they occur.
Repeated year after year, generation after generation, rituals translate enduring
messages, values and sentiments into action.
Magic and religion can reduce anxiety and allay fears.
Beliefs and rituals can create anxiety and a sense of insecurity and danger.
Rites of passage can be individual or collective.
Contemporary rites of passage include confirmations, baptisms, bar and bat mitzvahs,
initiations, weddings and applying for Medicare.
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