Religion - circumstances and processes of reincarna— tion...

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Unformatted text preview: circumstances and processes of reincarna— tion vary widely. Hindus believe that a soul reincarnates more or less intact in a new physical body, as do Mahayanist Buddhists such as the Tibetans, who seek out the new incarnations to fill their previous religious office (such as the position of the Daiai Lama). By contrast, Theravadist Buddhists do not believe that any entity moves from one physical body to another, but that the dying personality initiates a new personality [in a new physical body) and influences it, just as the flame from one candle lights another. Theravadist Buddhists thus think the word “rebirth” expresses their concept better than “reincarnation.” The beliefs also differ regarding the in— terval between death and reincarnation. , Both the Jains of India and the Druses of I. Lebanon believe that a soul cannot exist I without connections to a physical body. For the Jains, a new connection occurs at the moment of the conception of the next physical body; for the Druses, however, the connection occurs at the moment of the next body’s birth. Most Hindus and Bud dhists believe in a variable interval between death and reincarnation. Other differences in the belief occur regarding the pessibility of sex change from one life to another. The Buddhists of Burma and Thailand regard this as not only possible, but common— place. In contrast, the Druses of Lebanon and the coastal tribes of northwestern North America consider sex change from one life to another impossible. Still another difference concerns whether or not reincar- nation may occur between humans and animals. This is an important part of the Hindu and Buddhist religions, but is absent from most other beliefs in -reincarnation. A particularly important variation in reincarnation beliefs concerns the attrib- uted connections between conduct in one Ilifc and its consequences in another. -0beyesekere (1968) has made a useful distinction between “primitive” and Ii‘ethicized” types of belief in reincarnation. In the primitive belief, moral values have .no link to reincarnation; examples occur aniong the Trobriand Islanders and the night) of Nigeria. In the ethicized belief con» fillet in one life has an important causative RELIGION 40 I influence on the circumstances of a later life or lives. This division is helpful so far as it goes, but it is a mistake to conclude that ethicization of the belief in reincarnation inevitably leads to a doctrine such as that of “karma,” as held by Hindus and Buddhists. Karma supposes an effect on a later life from actions in a previous one. The Druses have an ethicized belief in reincarnation, but they believe that accounts of one’s con- duct in all lives are kept and summed at the Day of Judgment; at that time appropriate rewards and punishments are distributed, but not before. Still other important differences occur in the relative values attached by different peoples to terrestrial lives and the pre- sumed discarnate existences between these lives. Parrinder (1956) pointed out that the Hindu and Buddhist religions are life- negating because they hold that life is fraught with inevitable suffering, the only escape from which lies in ceasing to be reborn — “getting off the wheel of rebirth,” as the Buddhists say. The lgbo belief. on the contrary, is life-affirming. Igbos believe that a terrestrial life is desirable and the intermediate state between lives an uncon- genial limbo. They want to be reborn. Claims to remember previous lives have come down to us from early times, but have only recently received systematic investiga- tion. The important correlations between such claims and the belief in reincarnav tion have begun to receive attention from anthropologists (Stevenson 1975—83). ISt further reading A. Mills 8: Slobodin 1994; Stevenson 1985, 1987 religion The anthropological approach to religion has two predominant traditions: the intellectualist and the symbolist, each of which may be further subdivided. Fol~ lowing TYLOR (1871), who argued that early religion arose from people‘s beliefs in SPIRITS of godlike beings (see ANIMISM), the first is called “intellectualist” because religion is seen as a system of explanation. People, it was claimed, invoked beliefs in spirits or gods in order to explain natural events and phenomena in the world about them. The symbolist approach, derived from DURKHEIM (1915), sees religion as 402 RELIGION making symbolic statements about the so- cial order, not as explaining nature. Beliefs, RITUALS, or MYTHS may reinforce ideas about authority but are not peoples“ at- tempts to explain why authority is there in the firSt place. Hence, for the symbolists, religion does not attempt to solve intellec- tual or empirical problems. Tylor‘s intellectualist definition grew out of his theory of cultural EVOLUTION and the development of human reason. He saw mole, science, and religion as manifesta- tions of the human intellect and, though different from one another, as likely to co- exist in all human cultures. Magic was a form of mistaken science. Whereas scien- tific assumption could be shown to be true or faISe through empirical tests, magic tried to solve problems through associations of ideas that simply seemed to fit with each other: he gave as an example the Greek view that the yellow of a gold ring could draw out the yellow of jaundice and so cure it. Magic and science were, however, simi- lar to each other in seeking causal connec- tions in an ordered nature, and differed from religion with its belief in spiritual be— ings, rather than an impersonal power, as having an effect on the world. FRAZER (1890) broadly followed Tylor’s disrinc- tion between magic, religion, and science but saw them, in this order, as making up an evolutionary continuum. Much later, LEVI-STRAUSS (1966, 1969b, 1973, 1978) was to revert in part to Tylor’s insight and to demonstrate through detailed analyses of myths, ART, and custom, that magic, science, and religion were indeed to be regarded together as premised on the inherent human capacity for logical classification. Durkheim’s major study The elementary Icons of the religious life (1915) did not con- cern itself with the truth or falsity of reli- gious beliefs, but instead insisted that the many religions throughout the world and history were based on a human need and so could not be regarded as illusory. He found inadequate Tylor’s definition of religion as belief in godlike entities and argued that a broader concept was required, namely that of the SACRED. All things classified by hu- mans were either sacred or profane. The critical feature of the sacred was that it united worshipers in a community. Religion, therefore, had its basis in a so- cial group, not individual psyches. The sa- cred had continuing rather than occasional effects on such groups because it derived from an early form of social differentiation, namely that of exogamous CLANS, each of which was symbolized by a specific animal or plant totem. These objecrs were not in- trinsically sacred but drew their sacredness by virtue of a special ongoing relationship with what they symbolized. In analyzing the religion among Australian Aborigines, which he called “TOTEMISM,” Durkheim described the ways in which each clan constituted a CULT group concerned to preserve the sacredness of its totems, which in turn symbolized the well-being and continuity of the totemic group. In worshiping the totems, members of the group were in effect celebrating their own existence and continuity and giving concrete expression to it. Since the major totemic groups were also exogamous clans, the sacred distincriveness of each was fur ther reinforced by intermarriage between them, a view earlier developed in detail by W. Robertson SMITH {1889) in his studyof Semitic societies in ancient Arabia. Durkheim argued that totems symboh ized not jusr the physical world of flora and fauna but, more importantly, the very socia- ety of which worshipers were members.- Since the totemic principle, in some form. or other, inhered in all religions, this meant that, in worshiping God, people worshiped? society. In symbolizing divinity, the totem. also symbolized society, and therefore, a cording to Durkheim, divinity and society were the same. Although Durkheim has come to _' known for his symbolist approach to the. study of religion, there is also much in work that lends itself to an intellectualist interpretation. He argued, for instancgi that religion makes scientific thin .; - single moral classificatory logic out of humanity’s . ceptual organization of the relationshi particular, drew attention to the fact I: Durkheim was not only a symbolist in mated in the way religion represented soci- ety but also, and perhaps mainly, an intel— llectualist in his contention that the route to science was by way of religion. Neverthe— Ikss, a broad distinction has persisted until :mcently in anthropology between the two .gpproaehes. Horton is thus opposed to I-fliose symbolists such as Beattie (1970), M. ‘DOUGIAS (1970a), and V. TURNER (1968 and other studies) who held to that aspect of Durkheim’s theory that religious expres- sion and social organization tend to rein- :force each other, a view that in its earlier renderings came to be called “FUNCTION- nHSM,” especially through RADCLIFFE- BROWN (1952). Analyzing an example of traditional Afri— thought among the Kalahari of Nigeria, Horton (1967, 1968) invoked Tylor in ar- guing that their religious worldview was a find of theorizing about nature very much like Western scientific theory. The Kalahari wish to seek the unity behind the apparent diversity of nature, doing so through a con— ceptual schema based on a limited number :of entities, including ancestors, cultural heroes, and water spirits, as causative agents. Just as scientists confine their search for order through such entities as atoms and molecules, so the Kalahari use categories drawn from their COSMOLOGY (to impose and so explain the order in na— TIJI'E and the world around them. Again, Kalahari thinking relates cause and effect sequentially (as does science), such as the explanation of sickness through a rup— ture in social relations caused by envy, .hatred, and hence WITCHCRAFT and spirit activity. However, although both are theoriz- ing activities, Horton did not argue that African religious systems are scienCe. Com- paring his findings to those of EVANS- PRITCHARD (1937) on witchcraft among the Azande of Sudan, Horton noted that these traditional modes of thought are self— sealed explanatory systems, regarded as sa- cred and so closed to outside theories. in response, other scholars have argued both that modern, Western scientific paradigms are more self—sealed than he allowed and that traditional theories do in fact accom- modate externally derived ideas. It is an area of debate that continues to have rel~ RELIGION 403 evance and links issues of religion and phil— osophy with those of rationality, especially in the context of modern technological developments occurring throughout the world (Overing 1985; Quarles van Ufford St Schoffeleers 1988). Durkheim’s argument that the social de- termines the religious is best seen in Mary Douglas’s most famous studies, Natural symbols (19703), where she argued that the structure of a society, whether it is an open or closed one, is reflected in and, in turn, reinforced by its members’ use of their bod— ies and their understanding of authority. Where a society’s cosmology emphasizes strict rules and is highly coherent, its indi— vidual members will tend to respect and venerate authority and to engage in bodi- ly restraint: individuals here subordi- nate themselves to religious. beliefs. The Tallensi of Ghana, studied by Fortes (1945), are a classic example of such a so— ciety. By contrast, the Mbuti forest foragers of Zaire (Turnbull 1965) are made up of groups whose membership is flexible and rules of conducr fluid, so that individuals are under much less constraint, a looseness that is reflected in a more benign religious cosmology. Douglas elaborated on this basic contrast and so identified a range of symbolic relationships between society and religion. Discussion of the importance of symbol— ism in anthropological studies of religion raises the question of what the boundaries of a religious system are. Presumably not all symbols or rituals in society are religious rather than secular (S. Moore & Myerhoff 1977). How far should we go beyond Tylor’s minimal definition of religion as belief in godlike beings? Durkheim had in fact questioned this definition in remarking that the Buddha was a mortal and not a god, yet Buddhism could hardly be ex- cluded from the list of the world’s great religions. In the most exhaustive attempt so far, Soutllwold (1978), himself a student of Buddhism, attempted a “polythetic” deli- nition of religion. He argued that we could not expect all religions to share the same cluster of attributes, but that we could ex— pect there to be a number of overlapping resemblances between them. Thus, Bud- 404 RELIGION dhism might not be founded on a belief in a god, but there is clearly a concern with the distinction between the sacred and the profane and with prieSts, mythology, scrip— tures, the possibilities of otherworldly exist- ence, ritual practices, precepts held on the basis of an empirically undemonstrable faith, and an ethical code and supernatural sanctions on breaches of the code. These, or some of these, tend to be found in the other world religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam (the three so-called Semitic religions), Hinduism, and also in Taoism and Shintoism, and even Confu- cianism, which many would argue has to be regarded as more a philosophical than reli— gious system, since it lacks a concept of the transcendentally mystical. Southwold’s point was precisely that there could be no one definition of religion and that we should recognize the multiplic- ity of these overlapping attributes as mak- ing up a general family of resemblances in human thought and practice. With the partial exception of Christianity since the Enlightenment, a sharp boundary is rarely made between a religion and a philosophy, or philosophy and ideology, but this is a problem not of the phenomena under dis- cussion but of our own terms of reference. What may reasonably be claimed is that all peoples, everywhere and throughout all time, have been prepared to act, sometimes often and sometimes only occasionally, according to beliefs that are culturally prescribed and regarded as motivated by forces that may be impersonal or personi- fled but are beyond those held by ordinary mortals. In the end this is not so different from Tylor’s original definition of religion as belief in godlike entities, but it recog- nizes the plethora of variant possibilities such beliefs and the entities may take, to- gether with their attendant practices and consequences. Anthropology had for a long time fol- lowed the convention of making a distinc- tion between the world religions and others supposedly not so globally comprehensiVe. A related but not isomorphic distinction is that between religions premised on a belief in a High God, perhaps the only permitted spiritual being, and POLYTHEISM (many gods), sometimes expressed as a pantheon or assembly of gods, not necessarily hi chically arranged. These distinctions of limited usefulness. In what sense the Semitic religions more globally eon‘ prehensive than, say, Hinduism and B dhism? Each caters broadly for major = of the world, but with significant minori everywhere; similarly, since Taoism is u - ' ticed by vast numbers of people in (Feuchtwang 1992), can it not be reg __. as numerically if not geographically Ch" a. the claims of a religion’s priesthood than worshipers‘ belief and practice. As regards religions defined as based it a central belief in a High God, both B ' _: dhism, for the reasons already given, :u-. Hinduism, with its hierarchy of major and minor gods and of lowly spirits, cannot iv—‘v. covered by such a rigid criterion. Given u role of Satan in the Semitic religions, r“ .. ' cially in those Manichaean or dualistic ' '_ sions that cast the Devil’s EVIL as a force ni- potentially equal strength to that of God goodness, we have to ask whether Satan. not really another deity, albeit of a nega " -'. kind, and whether these religions are ndE really duo-theistic rather than simply arc“ amples of MONO'I‘HEISM. A more useful, though still shaky, di tinetion is between those religions that ao‘: knowledge dependence on written texts or" scriptures that are held to be important and, in some cases, final arbiters of moral authority, and those that do not rel written texts. Sacred texts presuppose iii clergy able to read and interpret them and. so set up a hierarchy of priests and worship- ers who may sometimes only have access to their god(s) through such priests. Religious; fundamentalists (L. Caplan 1987) argue that worshipers have strayed from a “true"" understanding of the texts, which must therefore be followed strictly in order tori restore people to their religion. Those religions that do not have written: texts, sometimes called “animistic,” “pane theistic,” and “polytheistic” and most com- monly found in Africa (Parkin 1991), Amazonia (J. Kaplan 1975}, Papua New Guinea (Gell 1975), Aboriginal Australia _:'1_ emdt 1974), and parts of Malaysia (5. ...._ ell 1984), mayr nevertheless have be- fifs-in a High God, though he or she tends git-Jae of limited significance and is some- ' - refracted as an immanent divine - in lesser spirits and objects of the .. ' nment, as among the Nuer of Sudan vans-Pntchard 1956). Priestly hierar- are not absent in such nontextual re- fions, but less formal relations may obtain priest and worshiper, who may pray directly to ancestors or speak and egotiate with spirits through a medium or : - N. Such distinctions between textual wn nontextual, and world and local, reli- ,:s.«‘ are shaky because, throughout the orld, it is the interpenetration of the two ' n: is the lived experience of most people, _ Es-Kapferer (1983) showed in an account ---the interrelationship between demons hind Buddhism in Sri Lanka. In all reli— tfiiflns, too, SACRIFICE and offerings to god- flke entities or spirits (even in Buddhism .e not spirits receive offerings) are a fea- rrfilr'e, sometimes taking more the form of 'EBAYERS and homage than the preferment of goods and immolation of animals. The place of sacrifice in religion is a {recurring anthropological theme, from W. Robertson Smith (1889) to Heusch __(_:1985), as is that of spirit possession and “(he manifestation of evil through witch- ‘sraft, and sorcery. The idea that these are properly to be regarded as religious phe- rigomena arises from the anthropological tiaethod of cross—cultural comparison ifsee COMPARATIVE METHOD and CROSS- iQULTURAL STUDIES), which goes behind «Foonventional Western categories of under- standing, including the distinctions made 'hetween textually based world religions and orally communicated local ones, or "tietween the natural and supernatural. It seeks similarities between phenomena . that might at first seem different. Looked at from a local—level viewpoint, such l apparently distinct activities as sacrifice, witchcraft, ancssroa WORSHIP, Divina- ‘I'ION, the consultation of ORACLES, and the 'lieneration of and possession by demons make up the cosmologies according to --Whieh people in society try to explain "and perhaps understand their sufferings and hopes. REMOTE SENSING 405 Commonly there are rituals, as well as prayer and the consultation of oracles, en- abling them to do this. The rituals may be appeals or tributes directed at specific dei- ties or carried out at seasons of the year as demanded by, say, the agricultural cycle. They may take the form of RJTES 0F PAS- SAGE |(Gennep 1960) marking the transi— tion fi'om childhood to adulthood and thence seniority, or of cleansing and heal- ing rituals purging a community or an indi- vidual who has sinned or broken a moral rule and suffers the consequences. These religious phenomena may in this way explain the world to participants and provide them with the means to cope with it, and to that extent seem to support the intellectualists’ approach to the study of religion. But such pragmatism in religion is by no means incompatible with the symbol- ist view. The particular forms that rituals take, the structure of relationships between participants, and the organization of god- like entities in relation to humans and their beliefs may still be shaped by and in turn shape the distribution of power, wealth, and authority in society, and in this way also stand as symbols for each other. The explanatory and the socially symbolic are together most evident in religious MILLENARLAN MOVEMENTS, when a myth— dream explains a possible utopia or return to a golden age as attainable through cer- tain symbolic acts, including those aimed at destroying or imitating despised or envied rulers (Burridge 1969). DP further reading J. Davis 1982; Evans— Pritchard 1965; Horton 8t Finnegan 1973; I. Lewis 1971; B. Morris 1987; R. Needham 1972; Skorupski 1976; M. Weber 1963 remote sensing employs a large num- ber of technologies, from air photographs to satellite images, to map patterns from a distance that may be less than obvious on the ground. Anthropologists, and archae— ologists in particular, have used air photos since the 19403. Even today they provide a valuable kind of information intermediate in resolution between satellite data and ground—level surveys. They have also in— creased in usefulness because they can be digitized and incorporated into Geographic ...
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Religion - circumstances and processes of reincarna— tion...

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