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Anthropology of Religion

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Symbolism has quite diverse correspondence in both the rituals and myths in the society.  In the traditional setting, the use of symbols to convey rituals and myths in the society has been inflexible. Symbols are used when performing rituals as it enhances an understanding of the overall world view by the use of archetypes, events, artworks and even coercing the natural phenomenon. As such, the symbols ensures that it coherently informs an individual about his/herself, tries to imbibe the notion of saving power to the mankind in an attempt to realize his/her fate and enhances the justification of the actual event (Rappaport, 1999). In most cases, the cultic act that characterizes the ritual performances and myths articulates to the primordial creative power and the historical time thus creating new ways and implications for ordering actions and experiences in mankind.

Religious symbols profoundly aim at driving home the message that the supernatural being, God, is the creator of the mankind and has divine power over his creation. Symbolism in religion aspect is universal and incorporates mythology and comparative religion components within the religion’s boundaries and limits of the localized individuals. The common symbols that are normally used in the religious settings revolve around the artwork, rituals and the religious texts which compel ideals or ideas in the society (Burkman, 1971). Religious symbols aims at creating resonance in the mythos, therefore, the society’s moral values are expressed, foster cohesion among the believers, and ensure that the adherents are brought close to the specific object of worship.

Haitian Vodou has always been associated with their popular culture of zombies, Satanism and the ‘voodoo dolls’. Myths and misconceptions concerning the Vodou culture have taken the center stage as it is maligned to their historical practices and even the current Vodou practice. The myth surrounding the culture and religious belief of Vodou is that the Zombie creation is always referenced to the Haitian culture but this is not part of the religious ‘proper’ of Vodou. Some of the manifestations are inclined towards the auspices of the famous bokor or the sorcerer in regard to Loa priest. Concerning symbolism, they manifest their culture towards the use of sticking pins on the dolls and also nailing of the crude poppets. The poppet has a discarded shoe which is placed near a cemetery to show that they were messenger in the other world. This symbolic image is nowadays used by individual’s imagination and the media to convey the nature of worship of the Vodou (Rappaport, 1999). Another important use of the dolls in the Vodou religious practice is the incorporation of the plastic dolls in honorary objects and altars. Such inclination to the symbolic use of the dolls is to enhance the closeness of an individual Haitian to the pwen or honorary spirits. All this is done by the Vodou to imbibe sympathetic magic in another person’s in tuition. Contrary to this, the modern religion uses the carved image of a crucified man in an attempt to draw a believer’s attention on the pain and sufferings that the supreme God or Allah underwent when manifestation his love for mankind.

In the ancient times, belief was synonymous to faith and individuals who believed in the supernatural being were considered faithful. Believing attributed to a considerable trust to an individual whether one has seen or not seen the real image of what he or she is bestowing trust on. After reformation, the religious ‘belief’ meaning was distorted and it accorded its fervent description to articulation of certain ideas imminent in the religion and society at large. The notion of religious opinions and beliefs in the contemporary world seems to take the center stage in every religious gathering. Scriptures, both biblical and Quran have been taken to contain imminent beliefs that society and the religious community have attributed to be true without any falsity (Vergote, 1997). A better understanding of the scripture enables us to effectively discern that its main intent is to order the world to faithful articulate to the readings and recite it effectively.  

In accordance, some of the beliefs are considered better than others as the extent of their scriptural judgment on the daily life is better. Generally the study of individual’s beliefs and religion does not probe into the importance or significance of ones belief to another. In the West, the religious belief, specifically Christianity, was entirely based on the Latin Rite or the Roman Catholicism. This was opposed to the Orthodoxy belief that was experienced in the East. In the early years, the Roman Catholicism was divided into Great Schism but later in the course of the 16th century Protestant Reformation divided itself from the western Christianity. It also attribute its beliefs and the  ways of norm to the Evangelicalism and the Puritanism as a form of ‘Westen” beliefs and this resulted to the Great Awakenings movement between 18th and the 20th century which was majorly referred to as Anglo sphere.

Generally, beliefs among the various religious groups manifest itself differently in regard to the setting of the varying believers. For instance, in the ancient times, the Middle East’s power and politics was manifested on their belief on Judaism. Egypt was known to use Judah as a cushion against the Assyria and therefore employed the propaganda agent, prophet Jeremiah, to ensure that the individuals of Judah would be whip up against Assyria and their gods. The result signified an imperative conquest that the New Babylonian Empire or the Chaldean had towards Jerusalem with their leader Nebuchadnezzar conquering Jerusalem twice. The people of Babylon had belief in their leader and they knew that he was god-send to rescue them from the hands of the enemy. In the course of this time, Jewish individuals decided to develop the synagogues and rabbinate where they can effectively offer their prayers to the supernatural being and believing that they can be rescued. They later formed an outstanding foundation which they referred to Babylonian Talmud where they can deal with every aspect that concerns Jewish life (Elwang, 2000).  

Currently, believers in the West; both western and non-western, have different beliefs towards the supernatural being and their general way of living. The traditions in which the two groups articulate to foster this endeavor and, in some instances, there has been report of religious wars between the Christian and Muslim community due to their differing beliefs.

Rituals have been perceived differently by various anthropologists and sociologists. In the case of Durkheim, he defines religion or ritual as a unified system encompassing various practices and beliefs that are relative to the sacred things. As such, it is the forbidden belief and the contemporary issues set aside in an attempt to unify individuals into a single moral society known as Church. He notes that religion is all about epistemological basis that articulates to an individual’s experience. The god is perceived to be the society itself but not necessarily super natural being. Durkheim constructed the functional characteristics that attribute to god and reflects this to the characteristics that must be embodied in the society (Rosati, 2009). As such the society fosters us the sense of individual’s perpetual dependence and it requires us to be its servants and forget about our selfish interest.  

According to Geertz, religion is concerned with the system of various symbols that are imminent in the society which are empowered by its believers to act as the powerful establishment, long-lasting and pervasive moods and intricate motivations in the individuals. It also involves the formulation of the religious concepts of a given existence order and clothing of these conceptions with a feeling of factuality. In religion, the individual’s motivations and beliefs are usually uniquely realistic and cannot be deterred or prevented form undertaking a certain misconception. In the current perception, religion aims at ensuring that individuals are sent to their daily life activities with an aim that the worldview is indeed good, true, ands fulfilling. As such rituals main intent, according to Geertz, is to reinforce an individual’s commitment in the general life activities (Rosati, 2009).

Turner perspective of religion articulates to the prescribed individuals’ behavior in various occasions that are not ultimately given to the technological routine with utmost reference to the mystical powers and beliefs attributed to this. In addition he claimed that rituals are considered as a stereotyped flow of activities which incorporates words, gestures, and objects that are performed in a stratified region, and are designed to have an influence on the supernatural forces or entities (Hamilton, 2001). Accordingly his perspective on rituals configures on the performances that involves manipulation of the symbols which refer to the religious beliefs.

Rappaport claims that ritual is "the performance of more or less invariant sequences of formal acts and utterances not encoded by the performers," and lays the creation framework and the religion’s formulation on the rituals of the believers (Rosati, 2009). His emphasis is on the emergence of culture of humanity which is synonymous to language creation.  Paradoxical effect is felt on language creation enabling the evolution of humanity, while at the same time enhancing the creation of alternatives and deceptions. As such he provides that the ritual act is the way in which religion is used by humanity to mitigate these threats.

Generally, Durkheim perspective of ritual or religion is move practical than the others. Religion is normally considered a belief towards a supernatural being which are sacred and articulation to that belief enhances individual closeness to the supernatural being; god. Durkheim provides a clear perspective eon the need of individuals to have a dignified rituals despite that in the current society every individuals has a right to belief in his/her own rituals but the ritual should not interfere with the norms of the society.

Cosmology, according to social anthropology, is concerned entirely with the study of individual’s diverse religion and beliefs. It is a system of practices and beliefs in which the social anthropologists attributes it to the primitive religion. Anthropologists tend to classify the principles which are linked to the cosmos order with the social life order. Durkheim was not only interested in the analysis of the cosmos order but also focused his attention on the human proclivity. He showed the spatial categorization that is often felt in the religious matters and came up with expression that critically analyzed the individual’s social aspects of life. He concluded that symbolic classification that was apparent in the religious belief was of religious and moral nature and ought to be distinguished from the technological classification. (Kamano, 2002) In essence, social classifications are the core determinants of the religious implications. As such nothing can clearly demonstrate the way Sioux ca n easily retain the universe in such a way with compelling tribal space. Therefore, the universe can only be a space that individual’s tribe have occupied but can extend beyond the limits of tribal space when need be.

Cosmology enticed the establishment of the Polynesian tattooing and the funerary practices by the Polynesians. It is believed that in the ancient times, the sons of God Ta’aroa-Mata Arhu and Tu Ra’ipo’ established that the art of decoration by tattooing was good and decided to teach human beings. In Polynesia, as there is o writing or reading, the art work is taken with clear distinctive signs in an attempt to pass the information that is needed by the society. They belief intensely on tattooing as it was a form of expressing their personality and identity towards the super natural being. In the case of funerary practices, Polynesians performed rituals on an individual who came into contact with the dead person as they considered the dead as spirits (Engberg-Pedersen, 2010).

American Indians, on the other hand, incorporate the religious elements in their belief. These elements included agriculture (shrines, earth goddesses, and temples) and nomadic hunting (sky gods and mountain). They believed that places, animals, trees, and even stones possess spirits that can easily interact with human in a way of cosmic harmony. Indians regard some places to be sacred and also some animals are perceived to be manifested by the supernatural beings therefore, needs to be singled out; can be seen through visions and dreams.  As such, indigenous people perceive cosmos to be what nurtures every creature live, thus there is no need to reshape or destroying the creature or even develop it technologically. Their main goal is to achieve harmony in social, personal, and the cosmic realms, without gaining personal liberation or salvation unlike the historical religions.

Haitian art reflects the uniqueness of their cosmology with regard to Voodoo religion. Although an individual painter may not be within the Voodoo religion but the influence of the Voodoo cosmological traits and features tends to be part of the Haitian culture.  For instance, in the case of poto mitan and veve art works, it shows clearly their inherency in the Haitian Voodoo as the shape possessed by the veve shows a clear relationship with the Haitian Voodoo. The central axis denoted by the poto mitan shows the common devices that are present in the Haitian art. Generally, the Haitian art is tied to the Voodoo which is merely religion which is considered way of perceiving things, thinking and configuring the universe by an individual.

Anthropologists consider magic as the art of using occult laws or the supernatural means to distort the aspects that claims to show mankind the reality. In science, however, its contrast is that it dose not tolerate the use of anything that is not directly or indirectly observable to manipulate results and they are subjected to the logical analysis, whereas in the case of practitioners, they claim that ,magic is a force that is beyond logic reasoning. Many cultures in the world practice magic and they utilize various ways society’s understanding, experiences and its influence that may to some extent acclaim the religion and the society’s ways of norm. Though, some of the anthropologists consider magic to be more of a religious worship that articulates to the beliefs and phenomenon that surrounds their cultural instinct. Magic is usually viewed as against the society’s practices and is usually undertaken in secrecy or in isolation.

In the modern world, Western country’s magicians usually attribute their magic powers towards an individuals’ spiritual growth. Under normal consideration, magic incorporates ritual language in its undertakings as they possess a high potion of weirdness. As such the language that is used in magic spells is archaic and is not an ordinary one; it fosters an individual mindset to have a belief in the ritual being performed.  According to Stein (2010) even the ritual power articulates to its words, the words can only be effective when it is uttered in a specific and unique context and actions. These actions are inclusive of gestures possibly with the aid of special objects like whiskers. The object, performer and location may require, if need be, purification before any ritual is undertaken. This caveat is parallel to the well known felicity conditions that are required in performative utterances. In the case of performativity, the ritual act undertaken aims at achieving a specific goal. For instance, in the case of a wedding ceremony that is believed to be ritual, only the marriage will be legal when the ritual is undertaken.

Durkheim stresses the aims of the rituals that are attributive to the collective effervescence as it enhances unification of the society as a whole. Anthropologists also view that rituals are majorly possessive-compulsive ones, and the attentional focus will imminently fall on simple gestures.  In most cases, the magic performed by the magicians do not necessarily yield the expected results and individuals tend to be optimistic and may further their quest towards another magician (Stocking, 1995). As earlier on noted, magic is believed to be undertaken by the magicians and that the whole notion is inclined to the spiritual undertakings. It is therefore; clear that individuals fear to question the ability of the supernatural being and the spirit. In most cases, the magicians and the spiritual leaders foster on the importance of ‘belief’ when undertaking any activity. They provide that, as a believer, one need to believe on the things that they don’t see. People usually believe that when the magic never fails and that if it has not happened it will happen in the near future, thus, the need to continue practicing it.   

Religious rhetoric involves the technique in the oratory design that the religious believers uses in an attempt to persuade individuals that there argument towards a given perception is right and cannot be questioned as it is from the scriptures. This does not matter whether the individual sticks to the facts or provides peculiar evidences concerning religion as long as the message is effective as it provides the shade which is above the propaganda. Religious rhetoric is usually undertaken by the political elites and by everyone in the society. Social movements, historical books, political parties and philosophies articulate to the religious rhetoric to convey their message effectively to its subjects (Wyatt, 2006). Rhetoric is considered slippery as it is used in the development of the facts about the reality and the human nature. Christian rhetoric has been perceived to be used by Christians to turn the non-Christians or atheists into their religion. They also articulate to this propaganda in order to control the individual behavior especially of those individuals who are referred to as wicked.

Rappaport in his article claims that the use of religious rhetoric enhances an individual to effectively convey their message to the subjects without imperative acrimony and as such the religious elites can air their views concerning the subject matter without any questioning or challenge form the individuals. The rituals are undertaken by the magicians or the individuals with divine powers and, thus, the imminent concern of the uniqueness of their undertakings cannot be questioned. Individual’s belief that the magicians have supernatural powers that can effectively be articulated to by the subjects of a particular territory.

Rappaport claims that religious rhetoric can be efficient in deciding the fate of the country as it fosters some form of threats that the supernatural being cannot conform to certain activities that are undertaken by a given group of individuals. For instance, the notion that gay individuals and homosexuality will not enter the kingdom of God super imposes a sense of change to the people who practice such individuals. (Boyd, 2009) Some of the countries and states may rely to the believer’s rhetoric argumentation concerning a given peculiar practices and end up initiating rules and regulations that govern or mitigate such activity in the region. Generally, religious rhetoric’s should be used to a certain extent but not entirely relied upon in an attempt to realize the good behavioral undertakings of an individual in the society.                               

Peter, in his book All Religions are Good in Tzintzuntzan, provides a clear understanding on the importance that the Virgin of Guadalupe is bestowed. Generally, the Virgin is considered as the symbol of unity and social equality among the individuals of the catholic religion. As the Protestants tend to be unaware of such an importance bestowed to an icon, the catholic believer’s aims at converting the Protestants into their own believe. The Protestants do not want to emulate other people’s religion and they have their own religion to articulate to. The superiority of catholic believers in Mexico recently has sprout questions on the future of the Protestants religion. In addition, the Mexican Mestizo culture has brought a challenge on whether the individuals in the mixed culture will be able to articulate to Protestants or Catholic religion. This, if not taken, carefully may sprout conflict as the exchange of words on which they (both Catholics and Protestants) believe will ultimately result in war (Brown, 2001).

Generally, the Aztecs are considered to be having a coherent system which symbolizes their ways of live. Earlier on, it was destroyed by Spain revolution and they came up with the Guadalupe to fill the purpose of the symbol of believe. The recovered Virgin symbol, which was in the 16th century, had already been declared a national icon. This was ultimately after the recovered Virgin had miraculously helped the Mexicans to expel Moors from Spaniards territory. There was evolution of the tiny shrine which encompassed the monastery of the Great Guadalupe. The remarkable thing that may hinder the Catholic from allowing the Protestants to rebuke their icon is the extensive nature of love and humor that it provides to its followers in time of sorrows and pain. Guadalupe possesses dark skin like the Americans and it, therefore, enhanced its fame among the missionaries. As such they readily accepted it to be there iconic figure when converting the natives of the region to Christianity.

In the ancient account, Guadalupe had been selected by the Virgin immediately she appeared in the hills just outside Mexico City after the conquest. The connection between the older Spanish and the Mexican namesake has not yet been determined effectively, but the iconography fusion of Tonantzin and the Mexican has been felt in the indigenous population to have gained converts immensely. Currently Guadalupe has continued to blend various cultures in Mexico; religiously and racially, and it is considered among the first Mestizo to have brought people form distinct cultures together. In addition to this, it has ensured that the distinctness of the individual’s cultures is upheld (Cahn, 2003).

The rejection of such symbol of unity will imminently lead to war among the varying communities and this may stage a disastrous upbringing. Despite Guadalupe being not one of the Protestants iconic figure but the important factor is that it symbolizes unity among the individuals. Therefore, it is clear that the conversion process from the protestant belief to Catholicism will sprout misunderstanding and may lead to ultimate war between the two religious groups.

Accordingly, the state should not be allowed to appropriate religion in an attempt to take the center stage as it will ultimately lead to adverse effects in the overall population of the region. A case in the Middle East effectively highlights the consequential effects of a state delegating its authority on the religious iconic figures. In normal circumstances, a nation cannot be led by two different groups or individuals having varied views on the society’s ways of norm. In Middle East, the current conflict between the religious groupings has traumatized the economic condition of the region (Johnson, 1948). Middle East is known for the production of oil and instead of relying on it, especially in this time of economic instability and inflation, the nation focuses its finances on war and conquest of cities that are dominated by a given religious group.

States tend to use religion to control the major agendas that may affect the common citizen. Religion has been known to be used by political elites to control masses as it is perceived to be a unifying factor. In the ancient times, prominence of the religious controls were perceived to go together with the power abuse by the authority but nowadays people articulate to religion with an aim of imposing the religious instincts towards the subjects. The effect of such an endeavor is adverse as the state contains differing religious believers; atheists, Christians, Muslims, and even Hindus. In the case where one of the religious groups takes control over the entire state, the other individual will be deprived from believing in what is best for him or her and such will increase conflict among these groups. 

It is astonishing when you find the conservative Christians in this ‘Christian’ state claiming that they are being prosecuted for doing what is right for the society and yet their main intention is to coerce individuals into their own belief in an attempt to realize the imminent goal of their endeavors. Nowadays it is a political jargon and they feel comfortable when they hold their religious ‘fanaticism’ in the case of fundamentalist Muslims and claim that they are the catalyst of terrorism. History conforms to the fact that the use of religion in the contemporary world aims at justifying war and violence in an attempt of meeting the political end, it is not a property of Muslim or their invention but even the Christians have been seen to deploy same strategy (Wald, 2006).

Currently, the effect of such an activity have sprout out ‘Holy War’ or the ‘Crusade’ which is a phenomenon well known nowadays in the Muslim world.  Both the Bible and the Quran do not consecrate or sanction the war to be ‘holy’ but they claim that their followers should be able to respond to any form of aggression that is imposed to them by the authority. As such, where the state is being dominated by a certain religious groups, it is clear that there will be an ultimate war between the groups as one will perceive that the dominant religion is oppressing its followers. Therefore, it is of imperative importance for the states to have a neutral governing body so that its initiative in economic growth and development will b achieved with ease.

According to anthropology, witchcraft is not synonymous to sorcery as the witch does not use physical actions or tools when cursing an individual. Their maleficium is believed to extend from the inner intangible quality as one may conspicuously be unaware of the ‘witch’ he or she possess, or in some instances they may be convinced other’s suggestion concerning their evil nature. In Europe, witch craft have been characterized by the use of physical objects and in some cases that were reported, they have gone to an extent of trying to cause injury or physical harm to an individual.

Contrary to this, sorcery is perceived by the anthropologists to either cause an emotional and/or spiritual to the individual’s well-being. In essence sorcery uses supernatural power that is bestowed unto it by divine being and can heal an individual using the magic or cause harm to the offending party. In the contemporary world, sorcery and witchcraft are perceived to be ‘magic’ but witchcraft is less of magic than sorcery.

In the case of McCarthy’s Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess, she gives a modern notion of religion where the believers have the faith in magical powers rather than the supernatural being; God. The main satirical concept that she deployed in analyzing the religious concept of the individuals is that the magic; both the witch and the sorcery, is the one that unifies the society rather the normally perceived divine God. In essence, Haiti country has Catholic believers being 85% of the total population and the rest being the Protestants (15% of the total population). Despite their dominance, they cannot influence the other minority to join their religion by they are involved in worshipping Vodou. Although the catholic priests are always preaching the denouncement of the Vodou, the followers of the Catholicism tend to be contented with the notion that the Vodou is a unifying factor as both the Catholic believers’ and Protestants serve the Vodou spirits (Rappaport, 1999).

Discrepancies in religious beliefs have been perceived in the current society. It has sprout due to the controversial issues that have always been reported in the Church settings. The ‘believers’ allow the church and its leaders to have their on position on the matters affecting their way of living. They end up allowing them to initiate strategies that they cannot administer into their lives as they belief that the church is always right and they do not have to point an accusing finger to its ministers. This has led to the believers practicing an activity that they believe will impact their lives in the long run; sorcery and witchcraft (Michelet, 1999).

Lola and her followers, have a belief that the suffering that individuals are subjected to should be minimized, if not, eliminated. For instance, in the case of Catholic Church tragedy belief that suffering and living and inseparable and one must endure the suffering in order to achieve God’s favor. In Vodou system, they stress on the ways in which an individual can effectively deal with life’s sufferings by either avoiding disaster, minimizing pain where possible, strengthen survivors of a given strategy, deploying survival instincts, and cushion any imperative loss.

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