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Chapter 1

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Jane Leverick

The Anthropological Study of Religion 28/09/2013 5:38:00 PM NEW and expanded sections on: “The Biological Basis of Religious Behavior” “Sorcery, Witchcraft and AIDS” “Modern Day Witch Hunts” “The Living Dead: Vampires and Zombies” “The Viking Draugar” “Zombies in Modern American Culture” Four new boxes on: “Religious Toys and Games” “Menstrual Tabus” "How Do You Get to Heaven” “The John Frum Cult” Two new maps: Show the locations of many of the societies discussed within the text The Anthropological Perspective  Religion seen from an anthropological perspective  Anthropology is the study of humanity; this is shared with many other subjects, like sociology, psychology, history, etc. o How is anthropology different?  Anthropologists study human societies as systematic sums of their parts, as integrated wholes; this is holism  i.e., the study of marriage: anthropologists believe that to have a full understanding, you need an understanding of all aspects of the society (politics, law, economics, etc.) The Holistic Approach  Studying a society holistically requires a great deal of time to observe human behaviour and interview members of a society; the scope must be limited, and that’s why anthropologists normally study small remote communities  It is becoming increasingly more common to study larger, more complex societies, due to the breakdown of isolation of smaller ones o Maintaining a limited focus; i.e., urban setting, focusing on hospital, neighbourhood, gang, etc. o Studies take place over a long period of time and require anthropologists to live within the community and participate (participant observation)  Students are first introduced to small communities, i.e., foraging bands, small horticultural villages, and pastoral nomadic groups o Ex. Trobriand Islanders (New Guinea), Navaho (US Southwest), Yanomamo (Northern South America), Murngin (Northern Australia, San (Southern Africa)  Societies seen as “primitive”; pejorative term -> better to say small-scale societies  World’s “great” religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism o Similar in the way that they originate with one founder (Moses, Christ, Mohammad, Buddha)  Many small-scale societies do not follow one individual prophet/founder; so why study religions?  We are interested to see if religion is a human universal; is it practiced in all human societies?  Goal is to study the broad range if human beliefs/behaviours; only possible through cross-cultural comparisons The Study of Human Societies  Ethnographers who write ethnographies (descriptive study of human societies); not all descriptions of human societies are written by them o i.e., archaeologists would study the physical remains of societies that existed in the past, and cultural anthropologists would study societies that exist now/existed in the fairly recent past; all written about in the ethnographic present o societies are also grouped into culture areas (geographical areas summed together due to similar cultural traits) Culture Areas North America South America Africa Eurasia Oceania Arctic Coast Marginal Mediterranean Southwest Asia Indonesia-Philippine Northern Subarctic Tropical Forest Desert Central Asian Australia Great Basin-Plateau Circum-Caribbean Egypt Steppe Melanesia California Andean Western Sudan Siberian Micronesia Northwest Coast Eastern Sudan East Asian Polynesia Plains East Horn Civilizations Eastern Woodland East African Cattle Southeast Asia Southeast Madagascar India Southwest Khoisian European Meso-America Congo Guinea Coast Foragers Pastoralists Horticulturalists Intensive Agriculturalists Examples San, Murngin, Nuer, Massai Gururumba, Aztec, Korea, Amish Shoshoni Yanomamp, Azande Food getting Collectors: Animal Farming with simple Farming with advanced gathering, hunting, husbandry hand tools technology fishing Community Low population Low population Moderate population High population density, variables density, small density, small to density, medium large community size community size medium community size community size Settlement Nomadic or Nomadic or Basically sedentary, Permanent settlers patterns seminomadic seminomadic may move after several years Specialization No full-time Few full-time Few full-time Many full-time specialists specialists, some specialists, some specialists, some part- part-time part-time time Social Generally none Some Some Significant stratification The Fore of New Guinea: An Ethnographic Example  The Fore: group of 14,000 horticulturalists living in the eastern highlands of New Guinea (Melanesia culture area) o Group was brought to attention due to a medical problem -> solution led to a Nobel prize in medicine  200 deaths each year, mostly to women and children -> investigated in 1950s by Australian government  symptoms: jerking movements, shaking -> leading to loss of motor function  9 month illness; at the end, individuals could not eat or drink -> leading to death  illness named “kuru”; means “to tremble with fear”  illness confined to the Fore; infectious agent -> how was it spread? Contaminated water? Airborne? Sexually transmitted?  Cannibalism: customary for Fore to eat dead bodies as part of a funeral ritual -> infectious particles were not killed during cooking o Women and children had lower social status, and often ate the brain (where the particles traveled to in the body) o Government stopped the practice of cannibalism (long incubation period; symptoms did not show up for years) -> Fore complied, because they did not want to go to jail  Fore had an explanation for kuru: result of sorcery; a sorcerer would steal from a victim, then make a bundle with leaves, and bury it -> the bundle would rot, and the symptoms would show (Fore hid their belongings from sorcerers) o The Fore used a divination technique to cure kuru  From a Western point of view, we see the ethnography of the Fore and it illustrates holism; the medical problem affects various aspects of the society (death of women of childbearing age -> affects family, raising of children, farming, etc.); we see how the society explains kuru through religion Two Ways of Viewing Culture  What causes kuru? We look at biological (disease-causing organism) and cultural (cannibalism) factors; the Fore consider sorcery to be the cause o This is why we look with a holistic approach; insider and outsider o Physicians were unable to find the transmission mode, as they were looking at kuru strictly from a biological viewpoint; we are unable to be completely objective due to our own cultural background, training, education, etc.  Looking through etic analysis, we are able to see the Fore from an outsider’s perspective; this is useful in the sense of a therapist or a friend “looking in” on someone’s problems  Looking through emic analysis, we are able to see from an insider’s perspective; we can see the cause (sorcery) of kuru through the Fore’s eyes Cultural Relativism  We have a tendency to look at the Fore’s practices, such as cannibalism, through our own basis of cultural ideals/behaviours; this is ethnocentrism, where we judge other cultures’ values based on our own  We can only have a true understanding of other cultures if we remain neutral and accept their way of life as their own without judging; this is cultural relativism o Ex. Funerals: they differ from other rituals in the fact that there is a dead body -> all cultures will dispose of the body in one way or another (burial, cremation, decay in trees, etc.)  While we may see the Yanomamo’s funeral ritual (preparing stew with ashes) as horrifying, they might see our burials as horrifying and lacking in respect Postmodernism  Began in the 1980s -> it is a reaction to modernity (Renaissance), where science/scientific method were highlighted o Postmodernism is the opposite: it shows that we do not have absolute knowledge of the world, and knowledge is a “human construction” that must be “deconstructed” -> science has limitations and there are always multiple viewpoints  Postmodernism is useful for anthropologists in that it helps ethnographers look at cultures from a more culturally relative, objective point of view -> it is impossible to fully understand a culture/a person o i.e., Karen McCarthy Brown: 1978, ethnography Mama Lola: a Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn; showcasing the troubles that a Haitian woman had fitting in NYC -> Brown became a Vodou Priestess herself Universal Human Rights  Can we have complete neutrality when observing another culture, even when witnessing something that could go against human universal rights, i.e., genital mutilation/cannibalism? o We observe through cultural relativism -> but even though we understand the meaning/why the culture does something, is it still wrong?  Robert Edgerton proposed a set of criteria to distinguish these situations: o I shall first define maladaptation as the failure of a population or its culture to survive because of the inadequacy or harmfulness of one or more of its beliefs or institutions. Second, maladaptation will be said to exist when enough members of a population are sufficiently dissatisfied with one or more of their social institutions or cultural beliefs that the viability of their society is threatened. Finally, it will be considered to be maladaptive when a population maintains beliefs or practices that so seriously impair the physical or mental health of its members that they cannot adequately meet their own needs or maintain their social and cultural system. o Criteria are based on survival of society and ability to function; NOT from an etic analysis of morality  ex. Aztec (Meso-America culture area) practice of cannibalism; elite conquered neighbouring groups , tribute in the form of gold/valuables and P.O.W were captured and eaten -> can this be explained by a protein-poor environment, or a culturally relative point of view that it was done to appease the gods?  Edgerton says NO: the rituals were not prepared adequately, and the humans were prepared like cattle; human flesh was a delicacy and desired The Concept of Culture  Aspects of peoples’ lives, such as marriage, family, child-rearing, hunting/farming, trade, politics, technology, etc. all make up culture  Edward B. Tylor defined culture in 1871: o Culture…is that complex whole, which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.  Basically culture is holistic and can be learned o What separates humans from other social groups?  Ants can be categorized by stereotypes/behaviours  Ant behaviour is innate  Humans seem to be able to be categorized, but we are much more complex  Some human behaviour is innate, but most is learned/shared  Culture is based on the use of symbols; shared understandings about the meaning of words/attributes/objects o i.e., red light means stop, black is the colour of mourning, etc.; it is all arbitrary -> in other cultures, white is the colour of mourning Viewing the World  Culture is more than human activity; people have different belief systems/perceptions/understandings of the world  Culture gives meaning to reality; the world is physical and real, and yet it is different for everyone o i.e., we see a mountain, a geologist sees a natural rock formation, a hydrologist sees something that brings water to a desert town in the mountain when there is snow, a biologist sees a home of plants and animals  to many people, a mountain can be the home of the gods, or a place where spirits would congregate  Mount Sinai (Moses), Mount Olympus (Greek Gods), 4 sacred mountains of the Navaho world o i.e., constellations: some may see Orion (son of Poseidon, killed for loving Artemis, placed into the sky), but in Japan, they see tsuzumi (drum), or a kimono sleeve Attempts at Defining Religion  An operant definition (defined terms so they are observable and measurable) is needed to define religion  Various ways to define: analytic, functional, essentialist o Analytic definition: focuses on the way religion manifests itself or is expressed in a culture  Ex. Defining religions by stating that religious practices generally include rituals  Tylor defined religion as animism, a belief in spirit beings  Spiro defined religion as “an institution consisting
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