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Social Sci LibreTexts

10: Religion

  • Page ID
    56459
  • Learning Objectives

    • Define religion and explain its significance in human cultures.
    • Summarize theories developed by anthropologists to explain the importance of supernatural beliefs in human communities.
    • Identify the four elements of religion (cosmology, belief in the supernatural, rules of behavior, and rituals) and explain how each element contributes to religious practices.
    • Define rites of passage, rites of intensification, and rites of revitalization and explain the purpose of each type of ritual.

    • 10.1: Religion
      Humans have always wondered about the meaning of the life, the nature of the universe, and the forces that shape our lives. Because ideas about the supernatural are part of every human culture, understanding these beliefs is important to anthropologists. To study supernatural beliefs, anthropologists must cultivate a perspective of cultural relativism and strive to understand beliefs from an emic or insider’s perspective.
    • 10.2: Theories of Religion
      Anthropologists and sociologists have attempted to understand the reasons why cultures develop various kinds of spiritual beliefs. Durkheim, Freud, Malinowski, Marx and Geertz, among others, all have developed theories about the development, purpose, and function of religion.
    • 10.3: Elements of Religion - Cosmologies and the Supernatural
      Despite the wide variety of supernatural beliefs found in cultures around the world, most belief systems do share some common elements: cosmologies, belief in the supernatural, rules of behavior, and rituals. This section focuses on cosmologies and the supernatural.
    • 10.4: Elements of Religion - Rules and Rituals
      Despite the wide variety of supernatural beliefs found in cultures around the world, most belief systems do share some common elements: cosmologies, belief in the supernatural, rules of behavior, and rituals. This section focuses on cosmologies and the supernatural.
    • 10.5: Religious Specialists
      Since rituals can be extremely complicated and the outcome is of vital importance to the community, specialist practitioners are often charged with responsibility for supervising the details.  In many settings, religious specialists have a high social status and are treated with great respect. There is no universal terminology for religious practitioners, but there are three important categories: priests, prophets, and shamans.
    • 10.6: End of Chapter Discussion
    • 10.7: About the Author

    Image - Head shaman of Olkhon at Lake Baikal. Buryatia, Russia. By Аркадий Зарубин (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.​​​​​​