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Flashcards in Studying Religion Deck (18)
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what is anthropology

- the study of human kind
- anthropologists study societies as systematic sums of their parts, as integrated wholes (thus they take a holistic approach to the study of human societies)


what are the 4 fields of anthropology

- physical anthropology
- archaeology
- linguistic anthropology
- cultural anthropology



1. ethnography
- the descriptive study of human societies
- participant observation
ethnographic present (talking about past societies in the present)
- students introduced to small scale societies
2. etic perspective
- the study of a society using concepts that were developed outside of the culture (western views)
3. emic (think me) perspective
- the study if a society through the eyes of the people



- viewing human societies as systematic sums of their parts, as integrated wholes (looks at the systematic relationship between 2 or more phenomena)
- holism is studying human societies in relation to various societal systems (studying societies as integrated wholes)
- requites lengthy research in the community of interest


case study: The Fore and Kuru

- New Guinea
- disease broke out that mainly effected women and children
- The Fore called this disease kuru, meaning "to tremble with fear"
- medical team determined that kuru was spread due to infectious agent called prion
- couldn't determine how it was being transmitted
- anthropologists determined it was being transmitted through cannibalism
- Fore custom is to eat their dead
(cooking the meat does not kill the prions)
(because women and children are of lower status in society they would be given the brain making them more susceptible to kuru)
- for the Fore, kuru was a result of sorcery (medical science conflicted with their worldview)
- impact of kuru: loss of women and children, men taking on domestic duties


ethnocentrism vs. cultural relativism

- ethnocentrism: judging and interpreting another culture with ones cultural lens
- cultural relativism: attempting to analyze and understand cultures without ones own biased cultural lens


what is culture

- human beliefs, customs, and behaviours of a society that are learned and transmitted from one generation to the next, and shared by a group of people
- cultures use "symbols" - shared understanding about the meaning of certain words, attributes, or objects
(symbols "stand" for something else)
(language is a string of symbols)


what is the problem of defining religion

- the problem with defining religion - a definition that is too narrow (too exclusive) or too vague (too inclusive)
- need an operant definition in order to observe and measure religion
(analytic definitions)
(functional definitions)
(essentialist definitions)


analytic definitions of religion

- focus on the way religion manifests itself it is expressed in a culture
1) institutional dimension (organization and leadership)
2) narrative dimension (myths, creation stories, worldview)
3) ritual dimension (rites of passage, important ritual activities)
4) social dimension (religion being a group activity that binds people together)
5) ethical dimension (customs, moral views)
6) experiential dimension (religion involving experiences of a sacred reality that is beyond ordinary experience)


functional definitions of religion

-focus on the social and/or psychological function of religion
- a religion is:
1) a system of symbols which acts to,
2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long lasting moods and motivations in men by,
3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and
4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that,
5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic


essentialist definitions of religion

- religion is a system of beliefs and behaviours that deals with the relationship between humans and the sacred supernatural (looks at the essential nature of religion - the extraordinary)
- supernatural: things that are beyond natural
- sacred: a subject or object that is sat apart from the "normal" world, that is entitled to reverence and respect
- Edward Burnett Tylor
(religion + animism)
(animism: the belief in spirit being (ie. spirits and ghosts))


so what is religion

- an aspect of culture that concerns the sacred and the supernatural (human construct that is characterized by a set of beliefs and practices)
- characteristics include:
1) anthropomorphic supernatural being
2) sacred supernatural
3) supernatural power or energy
4) rituals
5) worldview or moral code
6) social bonds/social control


theoretical approaches to the study of religion

1) evolutionary
2) Marxist
3) functional
4) interpretive
5) psychosocial


the evolutionary approach

- focuses on the questions of when and how religion began and how it developed through time
- E.B. Tylor's primitive cultures
(claimed all religions believe in spiritual beings)
("primitive" religions believe in spiritual beings)
("civilized" religions evolved to believe in ghosts and souls
- Robert R. Marett
(animatism = the belief in an impersonal supernatural power, precedes animism)


the Marxist approach

- Karl Marx: grew up in a capitalist society
(religion is a human construct and has a social function, constructed by those in power to keep the masses in line)
(religion is a natural consequence of the human experiences of distress, religion is the opiate of the masses)
(religion reflects society, thus any criticism of religion is also a criticism of society)


the functional approach

- these theories focus on the social and/or the psychological function of religion
- Emile Durkheim
(collective conscious: a set of beliefs shared by members of a social group that functions to limit the natural selfishness of individuals and promote social cooperation)
(witnessed suicide: everything you have/don't is your fault)
(achiest, but saw the benefits of religion: those psychologically well have religion)


the interpretive approach

- aims to make sense of cultural systems by better understanding the "meaning" and "significance" behind them (this can only be done through ethnography)
- Clifford Geertz
(religion is a cluster of symbols that together make up a whole and provides a charter for cultures ideas, values, and way of life)
(cultural analysis is not an experimental science in search of a law but an interpretive one in search of meaning)


the psychosocial approach

- an approach to the study of religion that is concerned with the relationship between society and individual
- Sigmund Freud: Jewish, athiest, religion is stupid
(sees religion as a defence mechanism that distorts unpleasant reality to avoid conflict and anxiety)
(religion is an illusion)
what early relationships shaped what you believe?