The Social Ecology of Religion

By Vernon Reynolds; Ralph Tanner | Go to book overview

2
Prior Approaches to the Study of Religion

As our title states, in this book we approach the study of religion through what can be called "social ecology." The social ecology of religion relates religious beliefs and practices to the social and physical environment of the people concerned. By the social environment we mean the people we live with and encounter in our everyday lives, and the complex ways we relate to them and they relate to us. The physical environment is the nonhuman world as it relates to us, from the air we breathe (about which we can do very little) to the diseases that attack us (about which we try to do a lot). Our analysis of religion concerns how real people, living in a social world, try to solve the problems of human existence. We do not so much mean philosophical or intellectual problems as everyday problems such as how to cope with our own feelings, with the selfishness of others, with the grief engendered by death, with misdemeanors, and with natural disasters. Many of these events are beyond our control, and in our study we show how humans the world over have recourse to religious ideas and practices in an attempt to cope.

How does this approach compare with, and differ from, earlier writings on religion? In one important respect there is a basic difference: We are not concerned with the origins of religions, we are concerned with their functions in the here and now as well as in recorded history. In this respect we differ from anthropologists of earlier generations, who nearly all tried to piece together the history or evolution of religions from the earliest times, often building their ideas on details of the religious beliefs and practices of so-called primitive peoples.

A convenient review of some early anthropological approaches to the study of religions is that of Evans-Pritchard, 1 who goes to some trouble

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The Social Ecology of Religion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • Part I - Introduction 1
  • 1 - Why Religions? 3
  • Notes 18
  • 2 - Prior Approaches to the Study of Religion 19
  • Notes 28
  • 3 - The Challenge of Modernity 29
  • Notes 50
  • Part II - Religion and the Life Cycle 51
  • 4 - Conception and Contraception 53
  • Notes 75
  • 5 - Infanticide and Abortion 79
  • Notes 97
  • 6 - Birth and Childhood 101
  • Notes 126
  • 7 - Adolescence 131
  • Notes 147
  • 8 - Marriage 149
  • Notes 180
  • 9 - Divorce and Widowhood 185
  • Notes 197
  • 10 - Middle and Old Age 200
  • Notes 209
  • 11 - Death 211
  • Notes 230
  • Part III - Religions and Disease 235
  • 12 - Faith and Sickness 237
  • Notes 261
  • 13 - Religions and the Enhanced Risk of Disease 267
  • Notes 282
  • 14 - Religions and the Reduced Risk of Disease 285
  • Notes 300
  • 15 - General Conclusions 305
  • Notes 312
  • Index 313
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