I have compiled these notes from different resources. I am hopeful that these notes will help students who are willing to grab information on this subject for civil services exams or university exams. Good Luck
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TOPIC 1 WHAT IS RELIGION?
A set of beliefs
– existence of a higher power, spirits or god
– an explanation of the origins and purpose of humans and their role on earth
– Which involves rituals, festivals, rites of passage and space (religious landscapes)
Anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace defined religion as “belief and ritual concerned with
supernatural beings, powers, and forces”
The anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined religion as a "system of symbols which acts to
conceptionsof a general order of existence and clothingthese conceptionswith such an aura
of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic”.
Theologian Antoine Vergote also emphasized the "CULTURAL REALITY" of religion, which he
to asupernatural being”;he tookthe term "supernatural" simplytomeanwhatevertranscends
the powers of nature or human agency.
The supernatural isthe extraordinaryrealmoutsidethe observable world.Itisnonempirical and
inexplicable in ordinary terms.
The word religionderivesfromthe Latin “religare”—“totie,tobind,” butitisnotnecessaryfor
all membersof a givenreligiontomeettogetherasa commonbody.Subgroupsmeetregularly
at local congregation sites.
Durkheim (1915) − a unifiedsetof beliefsandpracticesrelative tosacredthings,that is to say,
things set apart and forbidden, - beliefs and practices which unite [into] one single moral
community, all those who adhere to them
Geertz(1985) − a systemof symbolswhichacts to (2) establishpowerful,pervasive,andlong-
lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of
existence and(4) clothingthese conceptionswithsuchan aura of factualitythat (5) the moods
and motivations seem uniquely realistic
Tylor (1871) − religion is the belief in spirits
TOPIC 2 CHARACTERISTICS OF RELIGION
1. Religionsare composedof sacred stories or narratives that members believed are important.
2. Religions make extensive use of symbols and symbolism.
3. All propose the existence of (supernatural) beings, powers, states, places and qualities that
cannot be measured by any agreed upon scientific means.
4. All include rituals and specific means of addressing the supernatural.
5. All societies include individuals who are particularly expert in the practice of religion.
TOPIC 3 WHAT DOES RELIGION DO IN SOCIETY?
Religion have many functions in a society. It may provide:
1. Meaning and order in people’s lives
2. May reduce social anxiety
3. Give people sense of control over their destinies
4. Can promote and reinforce the status quo or, in some situations can be means of changing
TOPIC 4 ORIGIN OF RELIGION
Earlyevolutionists(Tylor1871) suggestedourearliesthumanancestorsneededtoexplainthe difference
between the living and the dead
1. argued that ANIMISM was the original and most primary form of religion
2. the belief that people have SOULS OR SPIRITS in addition to physical, visible bodies
3. after animism, people began to personify the soul as HUMAN-LIKE DEITIES in the form of
4. polytheism then “evolved” into the “higher” form of MONOTHEISM
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Robert Marett (1914) disagreed, arguing that our ancestors were not that sophisticated to make this
argued that animatism was the original form
the belief in a generalized, impersonal power found in all objects on earth over which people
have some measure of power
TOPIC 5 FUNCTIONS OF RELIGION
The functionof religionisin termsof the social and the psychological
(a) SOCIAL FUNCTION:
1. Social control:
positive and negative sanctions to encourage socially acceptable behaviour
religions as ethical systems with rules, rewards, and punishments
2. Conflict resolution:
resolve tension during stressful times
marginalizedpeopleoftenuse religiontonegotiatestatusbyformingownpower structure
3. Intensifying group solidarity:
bring people together, reinforces bonds
religious institutions as meeting places
provides an intellectual framework for explaining parts of our world that we do not
understand origin and creation myths
helps reduce anxiety by proscribing straightforward ways of coping rituals, praying,
TOPIC 6 WORLD RELIGIONS
World religion refers to religions that are text based, have many followers, are regionally
widespread, and are concerned with salvation in some form
Important to remember that religions are not bounded, monolithic entities
Religions come into contact with each other
Sometimes coexisting in the form of religious pluralism
Sometimes religions blend in the form of religious syncretism
Sometimes religions conflict with each other and are the impetus for violence
Therefore, when we talk about the 6 major world religions, each has its own local variations
(1) MAJOR WORLD RELIGIONS:
(1) Universalizing Religions
• Traced to actions and teaching of a man
• Diffused from specific hearths by followers / missionaries
Origin and Diffusion
Palestine (modern Israel)
What are the 3 branches?
Belief in One God
Father, Son & Holy Spirit
Covenant (contract) with God
New Testament - salvation to those who believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings
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Salvation is by grace or belief not works
Believers to heaven with everlasting life
Conversion of others (proselytize)
Origin and Diffusion
Submission to the will of God (Allah)
Lineage - Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, & Mohammed (different lineage)
Holy Book - Koran - built on Old Testament
Five (5) pillars of faith
Origin and Diffusion
Founder: Siddhartha Gautama
Buddha - the enlightened one
Nirvana - highest degree of consciousness
Individuals choose the “Middle Path”
Buddhistbelieve: ➣ not in any God, blind faith, or saviour ➣ what is created is impermanent
True Permanent Absolute Reality ➣uncreated, unborn, permanent bliss of Nirvana
4 noble truths
Life involves suffering
Cause of suffering is desire
Nirvana reached through 8 fold path
2) Ethnic Religions
• No specific founder
• limited diffusion / no missionaries
Ethnic religion almost exclusively in India
Oldest religion in Asia (1500 B.C)
No authority or holy book (ancient scriptures)
Yet one reality
Brahman - one God
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• Vishnu (preserver)
• Shiva (destroyer)
• Shakti (mother god)
Maya - forms, categories, structures are an illusion from our perspective
Reincarnation - chain of rebirths of each soul
Law of Karma - “is the form of creation, where from all things have their life” (life’s baggage)
Moksha - breakthe bonds of karma; experience that everything, including ourselves, is Brahman
Origin and Diffusion
Ethnic Religion (origins of Christianity)
Diaspora: In 70 A.D., Romans forced Jews to disperse throughout the world.
Ghetto: During the middle Ages, a neighbourhood in a city set up by law to be inhabited onlyby
Belief in One God
Torah - original 5 chapters of Bible
Prophecy of Moses
Coming of the Messiah still to come
Atonement accomplished by sacrifices, penitence & good deeds
ETHNIC ASIAN RELIGIONS
– moral code
– philosophy of harmony & balance
– Japanese traditional religion
TOPIC 7 KEY TERMS
1. Universalizing Religion: attempts to appeal to all people, not just those living in a particular
2. Proselytize: to try to convert people to one’s belief or opinion.
3. Ethnic Religions:concentratedspatial distributionwhose principlesare likelybasedonphysical
characteristics of a particular location.
4. Monotheism: existence of only one god.
5. Polytheism: existence of many gods.
6. Cosmogony: A set of religious beliefs concerning the origin of the universe.
TOPIC 8 RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS
1. Branch: A large and fundamental division within a religion.
2. Denomination: A division within a branch of a religion.
3. Sect: A relativelysmall denominationalgroupthathasbrokenawayfroman establishedchurch.
TOPIC 9 MAGIC & RELIGION (EXTRA NOTES)
No one knows for sure! There are suggestions of religion in Neanderthal burials and on European
cave walls, where painted stick figures may represent shamans, early religious specialists.
its original nature, can be only speculative.
Althoughsuchspeculationsare inconclusive, however,manyhaverevealedimportantfunctionsand
effects of religious behaviour. Several theories will be examined now
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(a) SPIRITUAL BEINGS:
Englishman Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, the founder of the anthropology of religion
Religion was born, as people tried to understand conditions and events they could not explain by
reference to daily experience.
Tylor concluded that attempts to explain dreams and trances led earlyhumans to believe that two
entitiesinhabitthe body,one active duringthe dayand the other—adouble orsoul— active during
sleep and trance states.
“ANIMISM” -the earliest form of religion, was a belief in spiritual beings.
(b) POWERS & FORCES:
Besides animism—and sometimes coexisting with it in the same society—is a view of the
supernatural as a domain of impersonal power, or force, which people can control under certain
conditions. (You’d be right to think of Star Wars)
Such a conceptionof the supernatural isparticularlyprominentinMelanesia,the areaof the South
Pacific that includes Papua New Guinea and adjacent islands.
Melanesians believed in mana, a sacred impersonal force existing in the universe.
Mana can reside in people, animals, plants, and objects.
Magic refers to supernatural techniques intended to accomplish specific aims. These techniques
include spells, formulas, and incantations used with deities or with impersonal forces.
IMITATIVE MAGIC- magicians use imitative magic to produce a desired effect by imitating it. If
magicians wish to injure or kill someone, they may imitate that effect on an image of the victim.
Sticking pins in “voodoo dolls” is an example.
CONTAGIOUS MAGIC- with contagious magic, whatever is done to an object is believed to affect a
person who once had contact with it. Sometimes practitioners of contagious magic use body
productsfromprospectivevictims—theirnailsorhair,forexample.The spellperformedonthe body
product is believed to reach the person eventually and work the desired result.
(d) UNCERTAINTY, ANXIETY & SOLACE:
Religion and magic don’t just explain things. They serve emotional needsas well as cognitive (e.g.,
For example,supernatural beliefsandpracticescan helpreduce anxiety.Religionhelpspeople face
death and endure life crises.
Magical techniques can dispel doubts that arise when outcomes are beyond human control.
When people face uncertainty and danger, according to Malinowski, they turn to MAGIC.
Malinowski found that the Trobriand Islanders used magic when sailing, a hazardous activity. He
proposedthatbecause peoplecan’tcontrol matterssuchaswind,weather,andthe fishsupply,they
turn to magic.
Several features distinguish rituals from other kinds of behaviour.
Rituals are formal—stylized, repetitive, and stereotyped.
People perform them in special (sacred) places and at set times.
Rituals include liturgical orders— sequences of words and actions invented prior to the current
performance of the ritual in which they occur.
These featureslinkritualstoplays,butthere are importantdifferences.Playshave audiencesrather
Actors merely portray something, but ritual performers—who make up congregations—are in
Rituals convey information about the participants and their traditions. Repeated year after year,
The rites of passage of contemporary societies include confirmations, baptisms, bar and bat
mitzvahs, and fraternity hazing.
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Passage rites involve changes in social status, such as from boyhood to manhood and from non-
membertosororitysister.More generally,arite of passagemaymarkanychange inplace,condition,
social position, or age.
This may also include birth, puberty, marriage and death etc.
Rites of Australian aborigines
TOTEM- an object,animal species,orfeature of the natural worldthatisassociatedwithaparticular
descent (kinship) group.
Members of each totemic group believed themselves to be descendants of their totem.