Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion

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Permissions Icon Permissions. Article PDF first page preview. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article. Turner's essay Colour Classification in Ndembu Ritual is a study of the role of the red-white-black colour trio in Ndembu ritual life and more generally in ritual systems in Africa and around the world.

Religion | Anthropology Department

He restricts himself to a descriptive, down to earth approach, except that towards the end of the essay he proceeds "to throw caution to the winds" and goes completely overboard in theoretical speculation. He starts with a claim that dyadic and triadic relationships are fundamental in human relationships, which is something that while plausible is hardly incontestable.

Simon Yarrow

He then concludes with " It is only by subsequent abstraction from these configurations that the other modes of social classification employed by mankind arose. In Religion: Problems of Definition and Explanation Melford Spiro presents a definition of religion as "an institution consisting of culturally patterned interaction with culturally postulated superhuman beings". He argues against functionalist explanations of religion that an unintended consequence of religion cannot be a reason for its existence.

Now while this is clearly true of religion considered as a conscious behaviour system, it hardly seems true in general. One alternative possibility is that something akin to biological natural selection applies.

Anthropology Optional UPSC - What is Religion, Myths and Rituals - UPSC / IAS Mains

Random in the sense of sensitively contingent on history variation in religious systems and other social structures seems inevitable, and if societies without religious systems of certain types disintegrate due to lack of social stability then in some sense it makes sense to say that religions exist because they produce social stability. Such a theory might also be able to explain the variety of religious systems in existence, something Spiro stresses needs explanation. The last two essays are slightly shorter. Bradbury's Fathers, Elders and Ghosts in Edo Religion is a structuralist study of the role ancestor worship plays in Edo social structures.

The basic idea is that relationships between the living and the dead and between different classes of ghosts and spirits are projections of the social organisation of the living.