Religion (Explaining Human Culture)

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Overview
Exercise ID: 1.29
Class size: Any
Level(s): I II
Source: Produced by HRAF


Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? Yes
Subject selection: Single subject specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Religion
Region selection: open (student choice)
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Student chooses from pre-selected list
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable: Siriono, Siuai, Amhara, Lepcha, Crow, Tiv, San, Aranda, Mapuche, Ganda, Tikopia, Yahgan, Nuer, Navajo, Somali, Tehuelche, Garo, Bambara, Aymara, Rural Irish, Santal, Klamath
Samples:

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? No
Assignments for students to complete in groups? Yes
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No
 

Emily Pitek, Stephen Glazier, Carol R. Ember, HRAF

These eHRAF exercises are designed to accompany the Module Religion in Explaining Human Culture. This module summarizes what cross-cultural research tells us about predictors and possible explanations of religious variation.

The first set of exercises is Level I; the second set Level II. The Level II exercises may be best done as group exercises by assigning each student a few cultures each and then tabulating the results. We recommend that more than one person code the same culture so as to discuss reliability of coding.

Level I

1.0 Belief in an afterlife prevails around the globe; one study found that such beliefs are present in 79% of world societies (Peoples, Duda, and Marlowe 2016).  As seen in the ethnographic record, ideas surrounding the afterlife are diverse.

Read the following excerpts to learn about seven societies’ beliefs surrounding the afterlife. [Note to find the documents and pages in eHRAF World Cultures, use “Browse Documents” to find the author’s name and title. Click on the document and on the Publication Information page use the Page List function in the upper right to go to the page listed below.]

  • Siriono: Holmberg, Allan R. (1950) “Nomads of the long bow: The Siriono of Eastern Bolivia” (pgs. 91-92)
  • Siuai: Oliver, D.L. (1955) “A Solomon Island society: Kinship and leadership among the Siuai of Bougainville” (pg.76)
  • Amhara: Levine, D.N. (1965) “Wax & gold: Tradition and innovation in Ethiopian culture” (pgs.65, 67)
  • Lepcha: Gorer, Geoffrey, and Hutton, J.H. (1938) “Himalayan village: An account of the Lepchas of Sikkim” (pgs.182, 190)
  • Crow: Lowie, Robert H. (1935) “The Crow Indians” (pg. 69)
  • Tiv: Downes, Rupert M. (1971) “Tiv religion” (pg. 42)
  • San: Marshall, Lorna (1965) “The !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert” (pg.269)

 

  • For each society, determine if belief in an afterlife is present. Then, compare and contrast the societies’ description of the afterlife. Answer the following questions:
  • Is the afterlife described as a specific place?
  • Is there punishment or reward after death?
  • Do actions in this life affect your experience in the next life?
  • Does a supernatural being determine where one goes after death?
  • Any other differences?

1.2 Do these descriptions fit the cross-cultural finding that less economically productive societies (foragers with relatively little agriculture) are likely to lack the idea that where you go in the afterlife reflects a reward or punishment for behavior, whereas societies that are more productive (with more agriculture, particularly intensive agriculture) are likely to have such beliefs – Dickson et al. (2005)?

  • Intensive Agriculturalists: Amhara, Lepcha
  • Horticulturalists: Tiv
  • Hunter-Gatherers: Siriono, Crow, San
  • Other Subsistence Combinations: Siuai

1.3 How are these examples different from ideas about the afterlife in the religions of industrial societies like the United States?

1.4 Reflect on how your own ideas about gods and the afterlife are different from the experiences of people in other societies.

Level II

2.0. In many societies, there are multiple types of religious practitioners. As discussed in the Religion module, M. Winkleman (2010) identified five types of practitioners: shamans, shaman/healers, healers, sorcerers or witches, mediums, and priests. Working in groups, read the following excerpts to learn more about the variety of religious practitioners across cultures. In this exercise, you will read varying examples of religious practitioners from five cultures, and then evaluate how these examples fit the cross-cultural findings. Use the table provided below to take note of your findings.

Aranda: Murdock, George Peter. (1934) “The Aranda of Central Australia” (pg. 42)

Mapuche: Faron, Louis C. (1964) “Hawks of the sun: Mapuche morality and its ritual attributes” (pgs. 138-140, 157-159)

Ganda: Roscoe, John. (1911) “The Baganda: An account of their native customs and beliefs” (pgs. 273-274, 277)

Tikopia: Firth, Raymond William. (1970) “Rank and religion in Tikopia: A study in Paganism and conversion to Christianity” (pgs. 32, 34-38, 44)

Yahgan: Gusinde, Martin and Schütze, Frieda. (1937) “The Yahgan: The life and thought of the water nomads of Cape Horn” (pgs. 1297, 1313) [Also read the Religious Practitioners section of the Yahgan Culture Summary found in Browse Cultures.)]

San: Marshall, Lorna. (1965) “The !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert” (pgs. 270-271)

  • Winkleman (2010) claims that there is a general evolutionary sequence of practitioners; simpler societies tend to have one type, while complex societies have all five types. Read the Culture Summaries for each of the five cultures listed above. Look for any information regarding social complexity, and record your notes in the corresponding row in the table. Subsistence information has already been provided.

2.1 Enter your findings in this table. Check off what characteristics are present or absent in each example. In the second empty row (Type of Practitioner), attempt to identify what type of practitioner the example describes. [Note that two types of practitioners are described for the Mapuche, and three types are described for the Ganda]

  Aranda Mapuche Mapuche Ganda Ganda Ganda Tikopia Yahgan San
Societal Complexity (population size, subsistence, social stratification, etc.) Hunter-Gatherers Intensive Agriculturalists Intensive Agriculturalists Horticulturalists Hunter-Gatherers Hunter-Gatherers
Type of Practitioner
Male
Female
Communicates with Supernatural Beings
Associated with Healing
Uses Drumming and/or Singing
Uses Drugs
Enters Trance State
Extensive Training Period
Has High Status
Has Political Role, or is Appointed to Position by Politician

 

2.2 Look for any cross-cultural pattern within your table. What patterns are suggested?

3.0 In three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), there is one all-powerful god who is usually deemed to be involved with the moral affairs of humans. However, not all societies possess supernatural beings (including a high god) that are concerned with human morality. In this exercise, you will explore the varying degrees to which supernatural beings (with a particular emphasis on high gods) are involved with the moral affairs of humans. You will then evaluate your findings against those from cross-cultural research.

Note: Swanson (1964) defines a high god as the sole creator and/or ultimate governor of the universe. A high god may or may not be actively involved with a) the affairs of Earth, and b) human morality.

3.1 First, you will compare the supernatural beings in three pastoralist or agro-pastoralists societies against supernatural beings in three societies that rely on other subsistence techniques. (Note that pastoralism is associated with more arid environments). Using the Advanced Search in eHRAF, select cultures from the list below in 3.2. In the Subject box, select “spirits and gods.” On the results page, click on a region to see culture names; click on a culture name to see the paragraph results. [Hint: you will see a large amount of paragraph results for each society; focus on the paragraphs from the sources listed]. Record your notes on the nature of these supernatural beings in column A of the table in 3.2.

3.2 For each society note, A) the general nature/characteristics of these supernatural beings, B) if there are supernatural beings that are concerned with human morality, and C) if there are high gods concerned with human morality.  How do the pastoralists compare with the other societies? Put your answers in the table below.

  • Nuer (agro-pastoralists) (Evans-Pritchard, E.E., 1956)
  • Navajo (agro-pastoralists) (Kluckhohn, C., and Leighton, D., 1946)
  • Somali (pastoralists) (Lewis, I. M., 1961)
  • Tehuelche (Hunter-gatherers) (Adem, 2009; De Viedma, A., and Muirden, S.J.,1837; Musters, G.C., 1873)
  • Garo (Horticulturalists) (Burling, R., 1963)
  • Bambara (Other Subsistence Combinations) (Monteil, C. and Looney, K.A. 1924)
Subsistence Type A.     General Notes on Supernatural Beings

Are supernatural beings present? If so, what type (i.e., ancestral spirits, high gods, communal spirits, etc.)?

Are supernatural beings involved with humanity or otiose and distant?

B.     Supernatural Beings Have Moral Concerns C.     High Gods Have Moral Concerns
Pastoralists or Agro-Pastoralists
    Nuer

 

    Navajo

 

    Somali

 

Non-Pastoralists
    Tehuelche

 

    Garo

 

    Bambara

 

Summarize what you found:  How do the supernatural beings in pastoralist/agro-pastoralist societies compare with those of non-pastoralist societies?

 

 

Compare your findings to those of cross-cultural research
I) Cross-cultural research has found that the following conditions favor the presence of gods who are concerned with human behavior:

Subsistence Type:

-Animal husbandry  (Brown and Eff, 2010; Botero et al., 2014)

-Societies living in uncertain or stressful environments (water scarcity, drought, environmental harshness, climatic instability, lower environmental productivity) (Snarey, 1996; Brown and Eff, 2010; Peoples and Marlowe, 2012; Botero et al. 2014)

Note that pastoralist societies are typically found in drought-prone  environments

 

II) Conditions that favor the presence of high gods:

Subsistence Type

-Higher dependence on food production, particularly pastoralism (Underhill, 1975; Peoples and Marlowe, 2012)

 

3.3 Next, you will compare three more complex societies with three simpler societies. Follow the same search procedure as 3.1. For each society note, A) the general nature/characteristics of these supernatural beings, B) if there are supernatural beings that are concerned with human morality, and B) if there are high gods concerned with human morality. Put your answers in the table below.

  • Complex:
    • Aymara (Tschopik Jr., H., 1951)
    • Rural Irish (Arensberg, C.M., 1937; Taylor, L.J., 2016)
    • Santal (Biswas, P.C., 1956; Culshaw, W.J., 1949)
  • Simple:
    • Yahgan (Beierle, J., 2003; Gusinde, M., & Schütze, 1937)
    • Klamath (Spier, L., 1930)
    • Siriono (Califano, M., & Beierle, J., 2009; Holmberg, A.R., 1950)
Social Complexity A.     General Notes on Supernatural Beings

Are supernatural beings present? If so, what type (i.e., ancestral spirits, high gods, communal spirits, etc.)?

Are supernatural beings involved with humanity or otiose and distant?

B.     Supernatural Beings Have Moral Concerns C.     High Gods Have Moral Concerns
Complex
    Aymara

 

   Rural Irish

 

   Santal

 

Simpler
   Yahgan

 

   Klamath

 

   Siriono

 

Summarize what you found:  How do the supernatural beings in more complex societies compare with those of simpler societies?

 

 

Compare your findings to those of cross-cultural research
I) Cross-cultural research has found that the following conditions favor the presence of gods who are concerned with human behavior:

Complexity

-Political organization beyond the community (Johnson, 2005; Botero et al., 2014; Watts et al., 2015)

-Money and credit (Johnson, 2005)

-Flexibility in inheritance and credit

 

II) Conditions that favor the presence of high gods:

Complexity

-More social and political complexity; specifically, three or more hierarchical decision-making groups (Swanson, 1960; Davis, 1971; Underhill, 1975; Simpson, 1979; Peregrine, 1996; Stark, 2001; Sanderson and Roberts, 2008)

-Social differentiation, particularly stratification (Peoples and Marlowe, 2012)