Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

belief systems in our own society? And what of the congruences to be observed in the reemergences in different societies, including our own, of older, seemingly forgotten or discredited belief systems along with enthusiastic rejections of what educated or elite people had come to accept? These are some of the issues that are explored in two parts of this book; Part 1 ("Colonialism and Postcolonial Legacies") and Part 4 ("Religion and the State").

The "mind-body" dichotomy so important to Enlightenment philosophy is gradually giving way to a more fluid notion of the nature of consciousness, one that blends the mental and the physical. When we observe people exhibiting "altered states of consciousness" (ASC), and once we have moved away from useless debates about whether these people are "fakers" or "liars" or "deranged;" we find ourselves questioning what we mean by "consciousness" generally, altered or otherwise. Is something going on here that we know little about and have much to learn from? Many scholars seem to think so, as may be seen in the chapters in Part 3 ("The Healing Touch and Altered States").

Every society on earth divides up work on the basis of constructed gender categories, and these categories are informed and enforced by religious dictum and practice. But as the chapters in Part 2 ("Gender and Sexuality") remind us, basic questions of "male" and "female," sexual behavior in general, and the role of religion in such matters are not only fluid but also subject to shifts motivated by politics, economics, and historical events.

The chapters in Part 5 ("Changes and Continuities") all address the contradictory nature of this topic: What undergoes change over time and space in the study of religious movements? What remains the same? And how does human religious expression manage--sometimes--to encapsulate these two seemingly irreconcilable opposing thrusts, "change" and "continuity"?

We have noted that the chapters in this book by no means deal with all the issues in the anthropological study of religion. Let us say they were selected primarily to stimulate discussion by providing scholarly examples of multiple methodologies and theoretical perspectives. In our introductory essays, you will observe that we raise many questions and answer few. Seek out your own answers, then, to the questions that intrigue or trouble you: Our intent is to aid you by opening doors and turning on the lights.


References

Evans-Pritchard E. E. 1965 Theories of Primitive Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frazer James G. 1922 The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, abridged ed., 1 vol. New York: Macmillan.

Norbeck Edward 1961 Religion in Primitive Society. New York: Harper and Row.

Tylor Edward B. 1889 [ 1871] Primitive Culture. 3d American ed., 2 vols. New York: Henry Holt.

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