Religion Is an Analysis Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2509 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion


(Pg. 158) Although he was of Romanian extraction, Eliade harboured a strong fascination for Hinduism and studied in Calcutta. Eliade believed that religion had to be studied "as something religious" rather than in abstraction "by means of physiology, psychology, sociology, economics, linguistics, art or any other study." (pg. 161) Like modern day suburban 'Celestine Prophesy' bohemians who don't follow 'organized religion but consider themselves to be 'spiritual,' Eliade believed that "life can be changed by what he called a 'sacramental' experience." (Pg. 159)

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Eliade founded the basis for what we today would call cultural relativism. He believed that for one to understand the basis, one had to step outside one's role as a functional unit in modern society and instead step into the shoes (sandals?) of 'archaic' people. These people lived and worked in nature, and were on a daily basis affected by the sacred and the profane. Durkheim, whom he studied, largely affected his ideas of religion. We also see a glimmer of German romanticism in his work. Eliade finds this idea of the sacred to be "absolutely critical" to the existence of Archaic peoples, "shaping every aspect of their lives." (Pg. 165) Eliade deals with the symbolism common to ancient cultures, such as the worship of the Sun, the Moon, and nature. He speaks at length of the myth of the sacred mother and the symbolism of trees. Eliade posits that it is only in Judeo-Christianity that we find the primacy of man's relationship with nature replaced with the primacy of man's interaction with God. Here, instead of an emphasis on cycles, we find an emphasis on history: a process in which there is progress.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Religion Is an Analysis of Assignment

Pals portrays E.E. Evans-Pritchard as an anthropologist who, through his field work, was able to debunk many of the theoretical concepts of religion already posited by other theorists. According to Pals, Evans-Pritchard "entered two primitive societies, learned their languages, lived for a time by their customs, and carefully studied them in action." (Pg. 199) In this he was a seminal authority on African culture and social anthropology. Evans-Pritchard claimed that Frazer and Tylor lacked any genuine evidence that primitive societies had evolved alongside their Gods or spirits. Whereas scientific advances were finite and intuitive, cultural advances were more abstract and elusive.

Evans-Pritchard built on the work of Levy-Bruhl, who found the thought of primitive societies to be 'pre-logical' in that people "can quite literally think of themselves as one thing and something else at the same time." (Pg. 203) Simmilarly, Evans-Pritchard found the Azande tribe to be "unusually intelligent, sophisticated, and progressive" but that at "the same time, a surprisingly significant part of life among the Azande is given over to oracles, magic, and other ritual performances." Evans-Pritchard feels that these provide a context for action, and that their acceptance does not render the tribe incapable of successfully conducting itself on a day-to-day basis. To question this faith would be to question all basis for social action. Like in the Freudian world-view, many cultures adopt spiritualism as a means of ignoring the grim reality of death. The Nuer tribe "prefer not to even talk about death." Their main concern at funerals "is to make sure that the souls of the dead are given their full status as ghosts." (Pg. 216)

The last cultural anthropologist reviewed in the book, Clifford Geertz, is considered one of the leading American social scientists. His interests are not limited to anthropology, but extend to agriculture, economics, ecology, kinship patterns, social history, and the politics of developing nations. Geertz developed the theory that the process of 'explaining behavior' particular to a tribe or group of people is all but impossible; that we must instead attempt to interpret cultures as a method of grasping the nature of a complex system of meaning. (Pg. 234)

Much of Geertz's work centered around the culture of Bali and Java in Indonesia. He is careful to avoid generalizations in his work, which details the complex interweaving of Muslim, Hindu, and native animistic cultures. Geertz sees religion as a cultural system that can be described as a "pattern of meanings" carried in certain symbols. Religion he characterizes as a cultural system because it "acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence." (Pg. 244) Geertz differs between the 'force' of a religion and the 'scope' that it extends to in any given culture, and posits Muslim cultures in Morocco and Indonesia as an example. Moroccans, he says, see encounters with God as intense to the point of being all-consuming despite having a culture that's more defined by commerce. Indonesians, on the other hand, practice a far reaching religiosity without the intense aspect. (Pg. 256)

Pals concludes that it is impossible to fully accept or reject any of the ideas of the respective philosophers, as each is too far-reaching to be summarily considered right or wrong. He does note that Tylor and Frazer chose a straightforward definition of religion typical of distant Victorian-era anthropologists. The final two anthropologists have less far-reaching theories, but ones that pertain specifically to their experiences, as they are largely analysts. Freud and Marx analyze religion solely in the context of western society, whereas Eliade is largely an apologist for spirituality. The first two and final three sociologists are in many ways antithetical to each other, if only in that the last are more relativistic and possess more personal experience with primitive cultures. The earlier theorists embrace reductionism, whereas Geertz and Eliade take a more sympathetic view towards primitive cultures. Interestingly, none of the philosophers are apologists for Judaism or Christianity. Perhaps a final measure of the value of these theories would be a critique of their effect on our understanding of religion. Unfortunately, most still profess the religions that these philosophers explain, however successfully, in the context of human or… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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