195_Religious_Evolution - Robert Bellah on Religious...

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Robert Bellah on Religious Evolution 1 Introduction There are 5 major phases in the world-wide evolution of religion. Acceptance of "this world" is emphasized in the first and last phases. Rejection of "this world" is highest in the middle phase, Historic Religion. Rejection of "this world" is a function primarily of religious dualism. Dualism reaches its peak during the historic phase when the "great, universal, ethical religions" emerged—Christianity, post-tribal Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islam. Primitive Religion 1. Symbol System: Myths are dream-like, occurring "out of time." Mythical characters are human and animal ancestral figures. They are heroic beings, but not gods. They do not control the world, and they are not worshiped. They were the progenitors of human beings. There is no deep gulf between ideals and reality. There is only "one world." 2. Action: Community members act-out myths, identifying themselves with the mythical beings they pretend to become, often believing they are literally transformed. Most important rituals are rites of transition, such as "puberty rites," and rites of sacrifice—a communal slaughtering and consumption of the sacred totemic species of the clan. 3. Organization: Religion is an attribute of the kinship system. No separate organization of specialists exist. Church and society are one. Age is an important criterion of leadership. 4. Social Implications: Rituals reinforce social solidarity of the clan, and induct youth into adult responsibilities as they are allocated in the clan. Archaic Religion 1. Symbol System: Mythical beings are considered gods. They actively, willfully control the world, and must be worshiped in a prescribed manner. A hierarchy among the various gods is established. The afterlife becomes an important religious concern. There is still, basically, "one world," but a hierarchy between "this world" and the "other world" is established, with the "other world" being more powerful. Individuals and society are seen as merged into one, divine cosmos. 2. Action: Men are subjects, and gods are objects to be worshipped. Sacrifice is the principle means of communicating with the gods. Specialists (priests) emerge to mediate between subjects and the gods, presiding over sacrifices. 3. Organization: Each god is the focus of a cult, with its own specific rituals. Priests are in charge of each cult, but there is no congregation. Different social groups focus on different cults. Religious organization is still merged with 1 from Robert N. Bellah, "Religious Evolution ," American Sociological Review , vol. 29, 1964, pp. 358-374. social structure, but only at the top. A certain degree of conflict involving power-struggles is set in motion between religious and military authorities, but not enough separation for religion to be clearly differentiated and independent of political authority. At the top, in the person of the king, religious and military-political leadership are combined. 4.
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195_Religious_Evolution - Robert Bellah on Religious...

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