The Social Ecology of Religion

By Vernon Reynolds; Ralph Tanner | Go to book overview

15
General Conclusions

In this book, we have been concerned with what religion does for or to people, how it shapes their decisions and their lives, and in particular how it solves problems and dilemmas relating to everyday life. We have not been concerned with issues that rightly belong to philosophy or theology; questions about whether religions are good or bad, right or wrong, means of salvation or delusions for the woolly minded. We have not entered the arena of science versus religion, nor taken any stand on the question of which religion is best. In the traditions of sociology and anthropology, we have noted the existence of religions and religious practices, and we have tried to explain them in terms of human needs.

Human needs are themselves subject to much academic debate. What exactly are our needs? Most would agree on what Malinowski1 called our "basic" needs -- for warmth, food, sex, and so on. But there remains a further set of needs, the so-called derived needs, that can be equally pressing, such as the need for a higher standard of living, leading eventually to a felt need for items that can best be called luxuries. Religions cater to needs at all levels, but perhaps mostly at the more basic level. However, as our book has shown, the concept of needs, while essential to our analysis, is not sufficient to explain what religions appear to be doing in the world. What is missed in relating religions to needs is the environment, which has two dimensions, one physical and the other social.

On the physical side, human needs are directly related to the richness or poverty of the land on which people live, on the availability of the resources of food to ordinary people, on the climate and the level of rainfall. We have all seen films of people living in drought conditions in Africa, barely alive. For such people, their needs are terribly urgent. More

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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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