Ecstasy, Ritual and Alternate Reality: Religion in a Pluralistic World

Ecstasy, Ritual and Alternate Reality: Religion in a Pluralistic World

Ecstasy, Ritual and Alternate Reality: Religion in a Pluralistic World

Ecstasy, Ritual and Alternate Reality: Religion in a Pluralistic World

Synopsis

Offers a unified field theory of religion as human behavior. This book examines ritual, the religious trance, alternate reality, ethics and moral code, and the named category designating religion.

Excerpt

Works about religion are nearly as old as writing itself. For a history of those works, the reader will have to go elsewhere. What is presented here is not a diachronic but mainly a synchronic representation of religions around the world. the account is intended to heal an old rift, to rectify an image created by the contention still extant in the modern literature that there are two kinds of religion. They are thought to be qualitatively different, one group being “great,” the other “primitive.” By implication, the former are considered to be valid, possessing the Truth (usually capitalized), or at least part of it, while the latter are “a collection of superstitions,” characterized by “childish fancy,” as John MacQuarrie, a writer on comparative religion of the 1960s, put it. in the Western world, the distinction is an ancient one, based on the universalistic claims of the Christian denominations that their god is the only god and their path the only one to salvation. Other large religious communities have come to similar conclusions. the Japanese category “religion” includes only those faiths possessing a known founder, a “book,” and a formalized body of dogma.

Mid-nineteenth-century evolutionary theory provided what appeared to be a scientifically grounded underpinning for this view. Working with pitifully inadequate ethnographic reports, social thinkers of Darwin’s time applied his evolutionary theories to non-Western societies. They argued that in the same manner as there were still amoebas and reptiles and lungfish around, tokens of a distant past of the earth, there were also fossil societies that because of some innate inferiority had not been able to achieve the stage of the superior industrialist countries. Logically, then, societies with simple technologies had simple, primitive religions, while those with blast furnaces and steam engines worshipped in the most advanced way. It was not too difficult, they held, to reconstruct from the religions of existing “savage” societies the steps by which religion might have evolved. Thus, Lubbock, a late-nineteenth-century Scottish author, stipulated the following sequence of development:

Atheism
fetishism
nature worship

Idolatry or anthropomorphism
deities become truly “supernatural” beings
morality becomes associated with religion

The powerful paradigm of evolution remained dominant in social-science speculation for decades. Eventually, however, two other approaches also be-

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