Chapter One: The Anthropology Study of Religion

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holism
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the approach use to study human societies as systematic sums of their parts, as integrated wholes
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anthropology
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study of humanity
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4 fields of anthropology
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physical archaeology linguistic cultural
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physical anthropology
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the study of human biology and evolution; anthropologists with a biological orientation discuss the evolutionary origins and the neurobiology of religious experience
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archaeology
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the study of people who are known only from their physical and cultural remains; it gives us insight into the lives of now extinct societies
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linguistic anthropologist
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a field devoted o the study of language, which according to many anthropologists, is a feature of humans
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cultural anthropology
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the study of contemporary huuman societies and makes up the largest area of anthropological study; the study of religion is a subject within the general field of cultural anthropology
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participant observation
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a technique of study that usually requires the anthropologist to live within the community and to participate (to a degree) in the lives of the people under study, while at the same time making \”objective\” observations
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small scale
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relatively small communities, villages and bands that practice foraging, herding, or technologically simple horticulture
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The world’s great religions are
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Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism
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human universal
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by studying smaller religions, anthropologists can see if there are characteristics that are found in all human societies
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questions of universality and variability can be answered on the basis of
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descriptions of hundreds of human societies
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The goal of anthropology is
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to study the broad range of human beliefs and behaviors, to discover what it means to be human, which is best accomplished by examining religious and other cultural phenomena in a wide variety of cultures of different sizes and structures, including our own
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ethnography
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the descriptive study of human societies
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ethnographers
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people who study human societies and write ethnographies about them; they are also called cultural anthropologists
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ethnographic present
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discussion of groups, including those that exist today or have existed in the recent past, in the present tense as they were first described by ethnographers
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cultural areas
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a geographical area in which societies tend to share many cultural traits
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Kuru
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the illness that was causing 200 people to die on a annual basis; the most obvious symptom characterizing this illness were jerking movements and shaking
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the Fore did not accept the scientific explanation of the disease;
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they believed it was a result of sorcery
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etic perspective
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outsiders looking in on another culture
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emic perspective
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one that attempts to see the world through the eyes of the people being studied
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ehtnocentrism
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the tendency to use one’s own society as a basis for interpreting and judging other societies
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cultural relativism
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an approach anthropologists use to attempt to describe and understand people’ s customs and ideas without judging them
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the true goal is to study what people believe,
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not whether or not what they believe is true
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modernity
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scholars approach an understanding of the world basing their knowledge on the ideals of rationality, objectivity and reason
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post-modernity
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scholars approach an understanding of the world denying the possibility of acquiring, or even the existence of, \”true\” knowledge about the world.
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all knowledge is seen as being a human \”construction\” that we must try to
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deconstruct
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universal human rights
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always try to understand a culture’s beliefs and behaviors in context, to learn what meaning the world has through their eyes
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culture
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a society’s body of behaviors and beliefs
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symbols
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shared understandings about the meanings of certain words, attributes, or objects
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operant definition
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one in which we define our terms so that they are observable and measurable and therefore can be studied
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analytic definition
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focuses on the way religion manifests itself or is expressed in a culture (i.e rituals)
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functional definition
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focuses on what religion does either socially or psychologically (e.g. togetherness)
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essential definition
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this definition of religion books looks at what is the essential nature of religion (e.g. relationship between human and supernatural)
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supernatural
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a term that refers to things that are \”above the natural.\”
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sacred
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a term added to the definition of religion that denotes an attitude wherein the subject is entitled to reverence and respect
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animism
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a belief in spirit beings
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The Evolutionary Approach
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centered on the questions of when and how religion began
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The Marxist Approach
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he felt that religion reflected society so that any criticism of religion must therefore also be a criticism of society; human construction of those that are in power
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Marx felt
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that religion did not reflect true consciousness of people but rather a false consciousness designed to divert people’s attention from the miseries of their lives
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religion is a natural consequence of
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the human experience of distress
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The Collective Conscious
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a system of beliefs that act to contain natural selfishness of individuals and to promote social cooperation
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The Interpretive Approach
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need to seek to interpret the culturally specific \”webs of significance\” that people both create and are caught up in
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What we perceive and think of as our reality is actually a creation of our
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brain
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religious experiences can be
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brain-created realities
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anthropomorphic
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refers to things that are not human but have human like characteristics and behave in human-like ways
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One explanation for the development of a belief in spirit is based on
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the concept of theory of mind
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cognition
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explanation for the origin of religious beliefs and experiences
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agnosticism
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the nature of the supernatural is unknowable, that is as impossible to prove the nonexistence of the supernatural as it to prove its existence

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