Lecture Week 8

Lecture Week 8 - Anthropology of Religion Religion is a...

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Anthropology of Religion Religion is a cultural characteristic of all human societies since the first appearance of homo sapience. However, despite a universal character of religion as a cultural phenomenon, it is very difficult to provide a general definition of religion. Some scholars define religion as beliefs and rituals concerned with supernatural beings, powers and forces. The supernatural is the realm outside the observable world. It is nonempirical and inexplicable in ordinary terms. It must be accepted on faith. However, an understanding of religion as a belief in supernatural has some weak points. Different societies have different perception of “natural” and “supernatural”; some societies do not recognize this division at all. What is considered natural to members of one culture may be in the realm of the supernatural in another culture. It seems that the only universal characteristic of religion is that it rests on a bedrock of belief that need not conform to direct observation or experience. In other words, religion are based on faith much more than on empirical facts. But the best way of understanding religion is not through attempts at providing its comprehensive definition, but through its main functions. Anthropologists have suggested a variety of reasons why religions are so important in human societies. Religion provides conceptions of the world as it is and as it should be. It gives us explanations of what happens, why things happen, why we are on the earth, where we came from, and what happens after we die. It is a way for people to deal with uncertainty that they cannot otherwise control. It is a way to provide meaning for people’s lives. It can help to reduce anxiety and to endure life crisis. It is a way to
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provide meaning for people’s life. It explains the otherwise unexplainable, like suffering, death, or the mysterious in our lives. It helps to create social solidarity among those who adhere to it. All these explanations do not exclude but rather complement each other. Religion and ethnocentrism Religion is one of the most conspicuous areas of ethnocentric thought and actions. Religion both unites and divides. Membership in a community of co-believers results in the solidarity even those who live in different countries and speak different languages. However, religious differences may be associated with bitter enmity. Often people tend to believe that only their religion is the ultimate truth. With regard to religion some people may be extremely intolerant. What is much worth, however, is that throughout history there were more than enough people who were eager to persecute or even to murder other
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This note was uploaded on 04/29/2008 for the course ANTHRO 104 taught by Professor Bowie during the Fall '08 term at Wisconsin.

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Lecture Week 8 - Anthropology of Religion Religion is a...

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