Anthropology and the study of
Religion
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor/ANIMISM
Tylor was a founder of
the anthropology of
religion
 Tylor thought, religion
was born as a people
tried to understand
conditions and events
they could not explain

Tylor(cont)
Tylor believed that our ancestors were
particularly intrigued with death, dreaming and
trance
 Tylor believed that attempts to explain dreams
and trances led early humans to believe that two
entities inhabit the body, one active during the
day and the other-a double or soul –active
during sleep and trance states
 Tylor named this belief “animism”

Tylor, animism and polytheism
Animism is
generally, belief in
spiritual beings
 Tylor believed that
religion had evolved
through stages,
beginning with
animism

Tyler-cont
Polytheism
 Monotheism
 Tylor thought religion
would decline as
science offered better
explanations

Mana and Taboo

An alternative to Tylor’s theories related to
animism is that humans first saw the
supernatural as a domain of impersonal
power or force(MANA), that people could
control under certain conditions
MANA AND TABOO
In some places MANA was
attached to political offices
 In some populations, the
MANA of a given official was so
powerful that their bodies were
TABOO (set apart as sacred
and off-limits to ordinary
people)

MAGIC AND RELIGION

MAGIC-supernatural techniques intended
to accomplish specific aims
MAGIC AND RELIGION
TYPES OF MAGIC:
Imitative magic
Contagious magic

MAGIC AND RELIGION
We find magic in cultures with diverse
religious beliefs
 Magic can be associated with animism,
polytheism and monotheism

RELIGION AND MAGICANXIETY, CONTROL AND
COMFORT/SOLACE
Supernatural beliefs and
practices can help reduce
anxiety
 Magical techniques can dispel
doubts that arise when
outcomes are beyond human
control
 Supernatural beliefs help people
face death and endure crises

Malinowski, religion and magic
Bronislaw Malinowski conducted
research among the Trobriand
Islanders
 He noted the use of magic during
sailing
 He suggested that people turn to
magic for matters they can’t control
or when there is a gap in their
knowledge or power while an
activity/pursuit must be continued
 He argued that religion is born out
of …”the real tragedies of human
life”

RITES OF PASSAGE
1.
2.
3.
Separation
Transition
Reincorporation
LIMINALITY
COMMUNITAS
TOTEMISM
Totemism is a religion that uses
nature as a model for society
 Totems can be animals, plants
or geographic features
 People relate to nature through
their totemic association with
natural species
 Totems are sacred emblems
symbolizing common identity

Myth, Levi-Strauss and
structuralism
Claude Levi-Strauss and Myth
Anthropology is also interested in religious and
quasi-religious stories about supernatural
entities or MYTHS
 Myths often include people’s own account of
their creation, of the beginning of their world
and the extraordinary events that affected
ancestors
 Myths tell of continuing exploits and activites of
deities or spirtis either in an alternative world
or as they come into contact with mortals
 Myths express cultural beliefs and values

Levi-Strauss and Myth
A way of studying myth is structural
analysis (structuralism)
 Structuralism does not attempt to explain
relations, themes and connections among
aspects of culture but at DISCOVERING
them
 Structuralist method differs from methods
of gathering and interpreting data ussually
used in sciences

Levi-Strauss and Myth
Structuralism rests on the belief that
human minds have certain characteristics
which originate in features of the homo
sapien brain
 These common mental structures lead
people everywhere to think similarly
regardless of their society or cultural
background

Common features of myth and human
mental structure (according to Levi-Strauss)
Need to classify:
Need to impose order on aspects of nature, on people’s
relationship to nature, and on relations between
people
Binary Oppositions-although many things in our lives are
similar, we treat them as being more different than
they are; things that are quantitatively different are
made to seem absolutely dissimilar
*there is a need to convert differences of degree into
differences of kind

Application of Levi-Strauss’
structuralism


1.
2.
3.
4.
Myths have simple building blocks (mythems)
One myth can be converted to another by :
Converting the positive element of a myth into
its negative
Reversing the order of the elements
Replacing a male hero with a female hero
Preserving or repeating certain key elements
Religion and culture
Religions are parts of particular cultures
and cultural differnces show of
systematically in religious beliefs, practices
and institutions
 Shamanic religions
 Communal
 Olympian
 monotheistic

Download

Anthropology and the study of Religion