Undressing Religion: Commitment and Conversion from a Cross-Cultural Perspective

Undressing Religion: Commitment and Conversion from a Cross-Cultural Perspective

Undressing Religion: Commitment and Conversion from a Cross-Cultural Perspective

Undressing Religion: Commitment and Conversion from a Cross-Cultural Perspective

Synopsis

From Islam to Confucianism to Voodoo, dress plays a pivotal role in religious expression. This book investigates how dress symbolically evidences both religious and social systems across a wide range of cultures - from Africa and South America to Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Caribbean. In some of these cultures, dress is part of a system of social control. Gender issues feature prominently since the control of female sexuality is often of great importance to the world's religions. Members of each ethno-religious group actively construct their own lives, and use dress symbolically. A central tenet for many of these groups is that the soul is visually manifested on the body through dress. Drawing on rich ethnographic case studies, this wide-ranging and interdisciplinary volume represents a major contribution to the study of both religion and dress.

Excerpt

The interaction between religion and culture is fascinating. In an earlier volume in Eerg's Dress, Body and Culture series (Religion, Dress and the Body, 1999) we explored the ways that the body and by extension, dress can be evidence of the social control of identity in America's ethno-religious groups. In most of the cultures included in that volume, dress was a visible and powerful agent of social control. However that is not the case in the current volume. In Undressing Religion: Commitment and Conversion from a Cross-Cultural Perspective, we examine the interaction of religion and culture in other parts of the world where dress provides evidence of both adaptation to cultural change and expression of religious identity.

Religions have provided ideological support and institutional resources for a number of significant social change movements throughout the world (Kurtz, 1995). Because faith traditions can either sustain or subvert social systems, sore religions attract a system's elites, whereas those on the margins may have a natural affinity with other religious beliefs or interpretations of the same traditions. Elites tend to use religious arguments to explain why they are in power, while dissidents also use religious rhetoric to legitimate their own positions. From, its origins, the field of sociology has noted the centrality of religion within cultural systems. While most of the early sociologists (Marx, Durkheim and Weber) studied religion from a neoclassical perspective that tended to be subjective, in more recent years sociologists have approached the study of religion with a structural approach. Mary Douglas (1982), for instance, examined the way that, through culture, peoples' bodies become representations of the social body. Still another approach to the study of religion is the use of a dramaturgical approach through which the expressive or communicative properties of an ethnoreligious culture are examined. This approach can be traced to both Durkheim and, more recently, Qoffman. The most contemporary perspective to the study of religion is an institutional focus, in which people with special ccmpetencies produce and sustain culture within religious institutions. All these approaches are represented in this volume and represent an attempt to draw connections between the ways in which identity, visually manifest in dress, expresses values - religious on the one hand and cultural on the other.

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