1.14 Political Function of Religious Institution

Political Function of a Religious Institution: A Short Paper (4-5 pages, Level II)

by Dan Strouthes, Department of Geography and Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, WI

Instructions for the short paper

In an effort to improve both your writing and your grasp of cultural anthropology, I have assigned a short paper as part of the requirements for this course. The paper should be approximately 4 -5 typed pages in length. The subject will be the political function of any religious institution that you choose, and is due on or before May 10.

To make scope of the assignment clearer, I will tell you that the political function of any institution is that institution’s effect on the use of power within the society. For example, in traditional Tibet, the monks of the monasteries ran much of the government and functioned as the legal authorities. In other words, a group organized for religious purposes formed the basis of the government’s structure. Another example in this society is how some churches have coordinated political efforts under the leadership of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, to try to influence legislation in the United States on a number of issues, including abortion, gambling, education, and campaign finance reform. Any kind of power use related to a religious institution is an acceptable topic. Your paper will be graded upon the quality of your analysis.

You must use data from a non-Western society (that is, a society which is not European and not culturally related to European society, such as the larger US society is). In other words, you can work with societies such as Taiwan-Hokkien, or Western Apache, or Mbuti (Africa) or Kogi (South American Indian), etc.

A good place to look for cases is in ethnographies, and the university library has an excellent selection of these. Use the electronic card catalog to look for ethnographies on various peoples. To search for ethnographies you must search the card catalog under the name of the people or peoples you are interested in; do not look under the term “ethnography.” You could also look for sources listed in the bibliography of the textbook. A good source for North American Indian ethnographies is the bibliography of the Handbook of North American Indians, which can be found in the library.

Also search the documents in the eHRAF World Cultures on the Web, available in the anthropology database section at the the university’s digital library, for information on kinship. Browse the Regions and Subsistence Types List for the cultures currently available in eHRAF.  Other Internet sites are usually insufficient in both quantity and quality for data for this kind of paper.

You may also be able to find some good cases in the Human Relations Area Files microfiche collection (located in the basement of McIntyre Library). The problem with the older HRAF collection is that it is on microfiche and in some cases previous users have not returned the microfiche cards to their proper locations. The key to understanding the structure of the HRAF microfiche collection and eHRAF on the Web is a thesaurus-type manual called the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM). In the eHRAF World Cultures on the Web you can find the Outline of Cultural Materials in the Browse Subjects section.

If you cannot find any useful sources, see me and I can direct you to some good ones. Your paper must include the source or sources of your data. Papers which have obviously not been proofread will suffer an automatic 20% reduction in grade. Please submit 2 copies of your paper. I will keep one copy.

View the eHRAF User Guide on how to use the eHRAF World Cultures database.

Citing eHRAF documents

You should include a standard bibliographic reference for the material, i.e.

Appadurai, Arjun
1996 Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Don’t forget to include page numbers when citing material in the text! You should also include the basic retrieval statement for an on-line database: Retrieved [month day, year,] from [source] on-line database ([name of database], [item no.—if applicable]).

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