Harris Chapter 16: RELIGION
Animism, is the belief that human share the world with a population of extraordinary, mostly
Mana, is the possession of a concentrated animatistic force that gives certain objects, animals,
and people extraordinary powers independent of the power derived from souls and gods.
Animatism, is the belief in diffuse impersonal power that people can control under certain
Religion, refers to beliefs and actions that are based on the assumption that the world is under
the control of supernatural forces that human must please.
Magic, refers to a practice to manipulate supernatural forces to achieve a specific result. Magic
is less spiritual and less ethical than religion.
Individualistic cults: all people are their own specialist.
Shamans, are women and men who are socially recognized as having special abilities for
entering in contact with spirit beings and for controlling supernatural forces.
Communal cults, are rituals to strengthen the group continuity by communicating socially
constructed meaning signifying the continuity of the group.
Rituals, are formal, stylized, and repetitive acts that are performed in special, sacred places at
Totems, are objects, such as animals and plants, that serve as the emblems or symbols of a
kinship group or a person.
Rites of passage, are ceremonies that mark changes in a person's social position that are of
general public concern.
Liminal phase (= liminality in lecture), is a temporary ritual state, during which the individual is
cut off from normal social contacts to demarcate a contrast from regular social life.
Ecclesiastical cults, or groups have a professional clergy or priesthood organized in a
bureaucracy. It is a highly centralized system.
Revitalization movements, occurs during times of change, in which religious leaders emerge to
bring forth positive change.
Ghost dance: Native American believed, would place dancers in contact with the spirit world
and hasten the time when people will be reunited with their dead ancestors. This meant that
they would outnumber the Whites and hence be more powerful.
Sacred and profane: The sacred is the realm of human experience that evokes an attitude of awe and
The profane is the realm of the secular. It is the world of everyday domestic duties that
are essentially utilitarian.
The Sacred Cow, conforms to the general theory that the flesh of certain animals is made
taboo when it becomes very expensive as a result of ecological changes.
Harris Chapter 16
E.B. Tylor (1871) described religion as animism or the doctrine of the souls. According to Tylor,
from the idea of the soul arose the idea of all godlike beings, and the idea of the soul itself arose
as an attempt to explain phenomena such as trances, dreams, shadows, and reflections.
Tylor's definition has been criticized for failing to consider the multifunctional nature of religion
and for overlooking the reality of direct hallucinatory contact with extraordinary beings. each
culture uses the basic concept of animism in its own distinctive fashion:
Ancient Egyptians had two souls and so do many Western Africa cultures: one from the
mother's ancestors and one from the father's
The J'varo of Ecuador (Harner 1984) have tree souls:
The first soul - the mekas- give life to the body
The second soul - the arutan - had to be captures through a drug-induced
visionary experience at a sacred waterfall. It confers bravery in battle to the
The third soul - the musiak - forms inside the head of a dying warrior and
attempts to avenge his death. It is to gain control over the musiak that the J'varo
cut off the fallen warrior's head and "shrink" it. A ritual is performed to trnsfer its
powers to the captor.
The Dahomey say that women have three souls and men have four. Both sexes have:
Ancestor soul, it gives protection during life.
A personal soul, it is accountable for what people do with their life.
A mawn soul, it supplies divine guidance.
The men's fourth soul guides them to positions of leadership.
The Fang of Gabon have seven: a brain soul, a heart soul, a name soul, a life force soul,
a body soul, a shadow soul, and a ghost soul (Riviere 1987) Robert Marett (1914) sought to supplement Tylor's definition of religion with the concepts of
animatism and mana. Animatism is the belief in an impersonal life force in people, animals, and
objects. The concentration of this force gives people, animals, and objects mana, or capacity to
be extraordinary powerful and successful. The concept does not really separate mana from
such forces as electricity or gravity. In Western cultures, the concepts of luck and charisma
closely resemble the idea of mana, e.g. horseshoe brings good luck.
The Western distinction between natural and supernatural is of limited utility for describing
religion. As the case of the Gururumba indicates, in many cultures, there are no supernatural
versus natural controls, only controls.
Frazer tried to cope with the enormous variety of religious experience by separating religion
from magic. Humility, supplication, and doubt characterized religion; routine cause and effect
characterized magic. This distinction is difficult to maintain in view of the routine and coercive
fashion in which animistic beings are often manipulated.
The principal varieties of belief and ritual show broad correlations with levels of political
economic organization. Four levels of religious organizations or cults can be distinguished:
individualistic, shamanistic, communal, and ecclesiastical.
PRINCIPAL TYPES OF CULTS
Cult Type Role Specialization Political Complexity Examples
Individualistic No role specialization Egalitarian band and Inuit hunters, Crow