Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions


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Historical and literary studies

N2 - Spanish language and literature, broadly defined, have a long history of engagement with religious and scientific thought. The Iberian Peninsula was an important Roman colony and home to well-known scholars of Antiquity including Seneca. The Middle Ages witnessed a cultural flourishing in Iberia marked by significant advancements in literature, language study, and in scientific and religious thought, producing some of the most influential Arab and Jewish thinkers of the period.

Medieval and early modern Christian leaders and scholars, in both the Iberian Peninsula and beyond, were deeply indebted to the work of these Muslim and Jewish scholars from Spain, and their interpretations of and original writings based on the ideas of Aristotle bear the mark of these earlier generations of Arab and Jewish philosophers and exegetes. The age of Spanish imperialism and conquest 16thth centuries is characterized by the humanism of Western Europe, but also the realities, aspirations and even anxieties of imperial expansion, framed by many Spanish intellectuals of the period as an expression of the will of God.

The early modern period also witnessed advances in the study of the Spanish language as it became a tool for proselytization in new colonial territories. The work of the archaeologists has not merely stimulated new thinking about the early stages of religious history but it has also been a factor in drawing attention to the roles of buildings and art objects in religion. During the present century, spectacular religious monuments of the past, such as Angkor Wat Cambodia , Borobudur Indonesia , Ellora and Ajanta India , and the Acropolis Athens , have been officially preserved for scholarly and public viewing.

Though iconography the study of content and meaning in visual arts has been better developed among art historians, students of religion are now paying increased attention to the religious decipherment of the visual arts. By contrast, very little has been done in the sphere of music, despite the considerable role it plays in so many religions.

This is a further way in which the study of texts and ideas needs to be supplemented by knowledge of the milieu in which they have their meaning. To draw a clear line between anthropology and sociology is difficult, and the two disciplines are divided more by tradition than by the scholarly methods they employ. Anthropology, however, has tended to be chiefly concerned with nonliterate and technologically undeveloped cultures and thus has stressed a certain range of techniques, such as the use of participant observation.

Much anthropological investigation, however, has been carried out recently in more complex societies, such as in various Hindu areas of India, where there are different layers of society, ranging from an educated elite to illiterate workers who carry out the traditional menial tasks of the lowest castes and the outcastes.

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An early attempt to combine archaeological evidence of prehistoric peoples, on the one hand, and anthropological evidence of nonliterate peoples, on the other, was that of the English anthropologist John Lubbock — His book, The Origin of Civilization and the Primitive Condition of Man , outlined an evolutionary scheme, beginning with atheism the absence of religious ideas and continuing with fetishism, nature worship, and totemism a system of belief involving the relationship of specific animals to clans , shamanism a system of belief centring on the shaman, a religious personage having curative and psychic powers , anthropomorphism, monotheism belief in one god , and, finally, ethical monotheism.

Lubbock recognized a point later made by the German theologian and philosopher Rudolf Otto — in distinguishing between the unique holiness separateness of God and his ethical characteristics.

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Unfortunately, much of his information was unreliable, and his schematism was open to question; he foreshadowed, nevertheless, other forms of evolutionism, which were to become popular both in sociology and anthropology. The English ethnologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor — , who is commonly considered the father of modern anthropology, expounded, in his book Primitive Culture , the thesis that animism is the earliest and most basic religious form.

Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions

Out of this evolves fetishism, belief in demons, polytheism, and, finally, monotheism, which derives from the exaltation of a great god, such as the sky god, in a polytheistic context. A somewhat similar system was advanced by Herbert Spencer — in his Principles of Sociology , though he stresses ancestor worship rather than animism as the basic consideration. The classifications of religion—polytheism, henotheism i.

Naturally, the anthropologists of the 19th century were deeply influenced by the presuppositions of Western society. The English anthropologist Robert R. Marett — , in contrast to Tylor, viewed what he termed animatism as of basic importance.

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Marett criticized Tylor for an overly intellectual approach, as though nonliterate peoples used personal forces as explanatory hypotheses to account for dreams, natural events, and other phenomena. Another important figure in the development of theories of religion was the British folklorist Sir James Frazer — , in whose major work, The Golden Bough , is set forth a mass of evidence to establish the thesis that human beings must have begun with magic and progressed to religion and from that to science.

He owes much to Tylor but places magic in a phase anterior to belief in supernatural powers that have to be propitiated—this belief being the core of religion. Because of the realization that magical rituals do not in fact work, early humans then turn, according to Frazer, to reliance on supernatural beings outside their control, beings who need to be treated well if they are to cooperate with human purposes. With further scientific discoveries and theories, such as the mechanistic view of the operation of the universe, religious explanations gave way to scientific ones.

These and other evolutionary schemes came in for criticism , however, in the light of certain facts about the religions of nonliterate peoples. Thus, the Scottish folklorist Andrew Lang — discovered from anthropological reports that various nonliterate tribes believed in a high god—a creator and often legislator of the moral order. Since Lang was more of a brilliant journalist than an anthropologist, his view was not taken with as much seriousness as it should have been.

The German Roman Catholic priest and ethnologist Wilhelm Schmidt — , however, brought anthropological expertise to bear in a series of investigations of such nonliterate societies as those of the Tierra del Fuegians South America , the Negrillos of Rwanda Africa , and the Andaman Islanders Indian Ocean. Not surprisingly, Schmidt and his collaborators saw in the high gods, for whose cultural existence they produced ample evidence from a wide variety of unconnected societies, a sign of a primordial monotheistic revelation that later became overlaid with other elements this was an echo of earlier Christian theories invoking the Fall to similar effect.

In any event, it is a very long jump from the premise that nonliterate tribes have high gods to the conclusion that the earliest humans were monotheists. Others who have looked at religions from an anthropological point of view have emphasized the importance, in a number of cultures, of the mother goddess as distinct from the male sky god. The search for a tidy account of the genesis of religion in prehistory by reference to contemporary nonliterate societies was hardly likely to yield decisive results.

Thus, anthropologists became more concerned with functional and structural accounts of religion in society and relinquished the apparently futile search for origins. According to Durkheim, totemism was fundamentally significant he wrongly supposed it to be virtually universal , and in this he shared the view of some other 19th-century savants , notably Salomon Reinach — and Robertson Smith —94 , not to mention Sigmund Freud — Because Durkheim treated the totem as symbolic of the god, he inferred that the god is a personification of the clan. This conclusion, if generalized, suggested that all the objects of religious worship symbolize social relationships and, indeed, play an important role in the continuance of the social group.

Various forms of functionalism in anthropology—which understood social patterns and institutions in terms of their function in the larger cultural context—proved illuminating for religion, such as in the stimulus to discover interrelations between differing aspects of religion.

Furthermore, many anthropologists, notably Paul Radin — , moved away from earlier categorizations of so-called primitive thought and pointed to the crucial role of creative individuals in the process of mythmaking. His views had wide influence, though they are by no means universally accepted by anthropologists. The impact of Western culture, including missionary Christianity, and technology upon a wide variety of nonliterate and tribal societies has had profound effects and represents a specialized area of study closely related to religious anthropology.

Basic aims and methods

One pioneering work is Religions of the Oppressed by the Italian anthropologist and historian of religion Vittorio Lanternari. What is striking is the way in which similar types of reaction, creating new religious movements, occur at different points across the world.

There are, thus, many possibilities of a comparative treatment. Among a number of contemporary anthropologists, including the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz — , there is a concern, after a period of functionalism, with exploring more deeply and concretely the symbolism of cultures.


  1. The Cognitive Science of Religion.
  2. The Cognitive Science of Religion.
  3. Virtudes del Indio The Virtues of the Indian.
  4. Islam and Science.

The English social anthropologist E. Evans-Pritchard —73 , noted among other things for his work on the religion of Nuer people who live in South Sudan , produced in his Theories of Primitive Religion a penetrating critique of many of the earlier anthropological stances. Though it has always been difficult to confirm theories in view of the complexity of the data, a statistical approach has been attempted—e.


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  • Because of the nature of the societies that typically have come under the scrutiny of anthropology, the discipline has necessarily had to come to terms with religion. In terms of the methods used, the anthropological approach is of considerable interest to historians of religion and is a corrective to overintellectual, text-based accounts of religions.

    Also, the present concerns for comparative studies and symbolic analysis coincide with existing concerns in the phenomenology of religion see below History and phenomenology of religion. Auguste Comte — is usually considered the founder of modern sociology. His general theory hinged substantially on a particular view of religion, and this view has somewhat influenced the sociology of religion since that time. In his Cours de philosophie positive The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte Comte expounded a naturalistic positivism and sketched out the following stages in the evolution of thought.

    First, there is what he called the theological stage, in which events are explained by reference to supernatural beings; next, there is the metaphysical stage, in which more abstract unseen forces are invoked; finally, in the positivistic stage, people seek causes in a scientific and practical manner. Among the leading figures in the development of sociological theories were Spencer and Durkheim see above Anthropological approaches to the study of religion.

    The Usborne Encyclopedia of World Religions

    A rather separate tradition was created by the German economic theorist Karl Marx — A number of Marxists, notably Vladimir I. Lenin — and Karl Kautsky — , developed social interpretations of religion based on the theory of the class struggle. Whereas sociological functionalists posited the existence in a society of some religion or a substitute for it Comte, incidentally, propounded a positivistic religion, somewhat in the spirit of the French Revolution , the Marxists implied the disappearance of religion in a classless society.

    The formation of classes leads, through alienation, to a projection of the need for liberation from this world into the transcendental or heavenly sphere. Religion, both consciously and unconsciously, thus becomes an instrument of exploitation. One of the most influential theoreticians of the sociology of religion was the German scholar Max Weber — Weber noted, however, that such a thesis ought to be tested, and a major contribution of his thinking was his systematic exploration of other cultural traditions from a sociological point of view.

    He wrote influentially about Islam, Judaism, and Indian and Chinese religions and, in so doing, elaborated a set of categories, such as types of prophecy, the idea of charisma spiritual power , routinization, and other categories, which became tools to deal with the comparative material; he was thus the real founder of comparative sociology. Because of his special interest in religion, he can also be reckoned a major figure in the comparative study of religion though he is not usually reckoned so in most accounts of the history of religions.

    Though he made significant contributions to the study of religion, his judgments on Indian and other religions are not all or mostly accepted now—since he necessarily based his views on secondary sources—and some of his categorial distinctions are open to debate, such as his rather broad use of the category of prophet.

    Since the s there has been considerable emphasis on statistical methods, side by side with the more theoretical discussions arising from classical sociology. An extensive literature on religious sects and similar groups has also developed. To some extent this has been influenced by the German theologian Ernst Troeltsch in his distinction between church and sect see below Theological studies.

    Notable among modern investigators of sectarianism is the British scholar Bryan Wilson. Coordination between sociology and the history of religions is not usually very close, since the two disciplines operate as separate departments in most universities and often in different faculties. From the sociological end, Weber represents one kind of synthesis. From the history-of-religions end, the writings of the German American scholar Joachim Wach see below The Chicago school were quite influential.

    In his book Sociology of Religion he attempted to exhibit the ways in which the community institutions of religion express certain attitudes and experiences. This view was in accordance with his insistence on the practical and existential side of religion, over against the intellectualist tendency to treat the correlate of the group as being a system of beliefs.

    Among the more recent theorists of the sociology of religion is the influential and eclectic American scholar Peter Berger.

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    Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions
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