Anthropology and Theology

Anthropology and Theology

Anthropology and Theology

Anthropology and Theology

Synopsis

Anthropology and Christian Theology have traditionally interpreted religion in quite different ways and have often been thought of as hostile to one another. In fact, a fundamental concern for human experience lies at the heart of both disciplines. This innovative book takes a new look at key anthropological and theological themes, and explores the intricacies of their interplay throughout history and in the present. Sacrifice, embodiment, ritual, incarnation, symbolism, gift and power are all related in ways that shed new light on religious behaviour and belief. Detailed analysis of fundamental Christian rites shows how they help generate emotional meaning and inspire philosophical ideas, and demonstrates how the body serves as a vehicle for religious beliefs.

Through an examination of these issues and much more, Davies reveals how religious rituals help people to become secure in their sense of identity. This accessible foray into new territory is essential reading for anthropologists, theologians, or anyone interested in religion who is seeking new interpretations of familiar themes.

Excerpt

The roots of this book lie in a class text first produced in 1986 to answer the needs of mature students working on the East Midlands Ministry Training Course, many of whom became clergy. I was then at the Department of Theology at the University of Nottingham, largely teaching the social anthropology of religion. During my twenty or so years there I also served as an honorary assistant priest in a variety of urban and rural Anglican parishes. When I first began university teaching in 1974 there was very little material available seeking to relate anthropology and theology, and it became part of my intellectual goal to address that overlapping territory. As the bibliography indicates, this resulted in a series of empirical studies on a variety of topics including Anglican church life, belief and priesthood, as well as on death and funerary rites in Britain and elsewhere. I also wrote a major study of Mormonism, employing many of the concepts expounded in this book, whose non-systematic and non-comprehensive intention is to stimulate thought and foster a way of thinking rather than inform on detail. This is more a ‘notes and queries’ than an ‘introduction to anthropology and theology’ type of book. Much has been omitted that some might think vital, such as myth, doctrine and truth, or gender and belief; but, in the space available, I have tried to deal with some basic questions left largely untouched by others.

My own initial training in anthropology at Durham University was followed by research at the Institute of Social Anthropology at Oxford, where I completed my first period of research on Mormonism under the supervision of Dr Bryan Wilson. I then trained for the Anglican Ministry at Durham, where, fortunately, a background in anthropology was appreciated and encouraged, most especially by John Rogerson, who taught me Old Testament, and was himself doing much to relate theology and anthropology in biblical studies. I thank him for his continued support and friendship over many years. As good fortune had it, this was followed by a long period at Nottingham University, where my research interests extended to Sikhism with Eleanor Nesbitt as a postgraduate researcher, to death rites in Britain with Alastair Shaw as my research assistant, and to aspects of church organization and popular belief and practice through . . .

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