The following materials are key presentation points developed by the instructor during class lectures. They are not a substitute for student participation in the class lectures, but a highlighting of the pertinent items considered.
The way you frame the questions asked in the quest to understand the human experience will inevitably influence the answers you come up with. Knowing your "theory," the hows and whys of the particular framing of the questions asked, is thus an essential prerequisite in the study of the human condition. In other words, know what "baggage" you bring with you on your travels. Once you are aware of it, discard that which is inappropriate and wear that which best allows you to transverse the ridges and valleys. Use your "theory" to assist you, not blind you, in revealing the meaning of the cultural landscape you are about to travel.
Go to the following theories:
Nature of Theories
What is "theory?" The following three points were in part stimulated by the important book by Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, second edition, 1970.
"Theory" is itself a construction about "reality," i.e., agreed upon by those who are participating in that discipline, a consensus view. The theories we are going to review are "anthropological constructions of reality."
As a construction, "theory" is based upon: a) the current intellectual climate and style - the belief and orientations of those who construct the theories, as well as b) a reaction to or continuation of prior models, theories, or paradigms - attempting to strengthen or challenge them as fallacious. A theory is based upon the particular history within that discipline.
As an abstract model or paradigm, a "theory" is necessarily not the reality of that which it seeks to represent. "Theory" is not the reality itself. To assume such would be to commit the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness."
These three points are fundamentally premised on a "positivist" epistemology. The "post-modern" perspectives of the "Interpretivists" and "Constructivists" will alter the premise that dichotomizes the relationship between "theory" and "reality."
KEY: With regard to the various theories discussed, ask yourself were you fit, what sorts of questions make sense to you and why do they make sense? What are the problems and shortcomings of each theory? And what is your own theory?
As each of these theories addresses a broad spectrum of anthropological topics, issues and concerns, this particular outline will only focus on how each frames questions revolving around "religion," "mythology," and "world view," topics that we will deal with initially in this course.
Evolutionist - exemplified by Edward Tylor (1832 - 1917)
"Soul Theory," basis for the origin of all religions.
"Animism,"personify nature in order to explain it.
"Magic," defined as 1. a compulsive ritual - attempting to force spirits to do bidding - commands, and 2. based upon "false association" - a mystical linkage assumed. In contrast with "religion," which seeks to ask and petition God, given human submissive to God, and "science," which knows correct nature of associations based on rational and empirical knowledge.
Animism and Magic are the basis of the first stages of intellectual and societal evolution. Set stages all societies "unilineal" evolve through:
"promiscuity," like primates in a wild state, with no family,
"savagery," nomadic, hunting and fishing, matriarchal society, magic and animism,
"barbarism," patriarchal society, agricultural, sedentary village, pottery, religion, priesthood, polytheism,
"civilization," urban, state, literacy, history, with "church" and monotheistic religion but eventually replaced with "science"
Unilineal cultural evolution assumes a "psychic unity" of mankind, i.e., all societies at all times united and thus pass through the same stages of evolution. The "primitives" are simply "survivals" of past ages. Thus their "primitive" differences are explained and why some feel they have the right to conquer, exploit and missionize them is justified.
Lack of actual field experience - data - and reliance on second-hand accounts, a sort of "Arm chair" anthropology,
Data does not support theories, e.g., societies do not go through same stages.
The ethnocentric view that European-rational "civilization" is the basis and criteria for judging the worth and value of other cultures.
While needing to be further developed, the concept of "psychic unity" challenged the prevailing ethnocentric and racist ideas of "degeneration" and innate disposition to account for cultural diversity, and paved way for the "comparative method."
The first definition of "culture," as " a complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society," in 1871.
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Diffusionist - as exemplified by Wilhelm Schmidt (1868 - 1954). Though he did not conduct field work himself, Schmidt was responsible for the field work training of a large number of Catholic missionaries. The culmination of his research was the 12 volume (each volume some 800-900 pages) Origins of the Idea of God, 1908-1930s. Like Tylor, Schmidt asked two basic questions: What was the earliest form of religion - origins? and, why are other forms of religion present - diversity? But he came up with opposite conclusions, based on an entirely different mechanism for culture change. Key points:
Origin with "primitive monotheism," not animism or polytheism.
And mechanism for change was not unilineal evolution, but diffusion. Specifically, process of diffusion out from centers - Kulturkreise, "culture circles," centers of "primitive monotheism."
While diffusion is an acknowledged mechanism for change (credit Schmidt), but not only mechanism. As the only mechanism, it is a denial of independent invention and local adaptation to one's environment, a denial of human inventiveness.
While well-trained students were sent out into the field, they were looking for "primitive monotheism" - "self-fulfilling prophesy"
Diffusion as one mechanism for change
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Psychoanalytical - as exemplified by Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) (not an anthropologist per se, but heavily influenced them). "A brilliant Jewish atheist" whose major source of field work were his well-to-do neurotics of a puritan, sexually repressed, urban middle-class Vienna patients. Freud refocused the discussion and level of analysis away from society to the individual and innate psychological struggles that in turn become manifested in society. He asked, how do we mediate and control our basic psychological instincts, which can be selfish and destructive? Key points:
Freud saw man as driven by his instincts and anxieties derived from two unconscious processes: the "id," i.e., passion, desire, pleasure, sexual gratification, evil, and 2. the "superego," i.e., morality, conscience, good.
When confronted with an impasse between the two, they are overcome either by rational, logical processes, or by withdrawal into fantasy, dreams and illusions.
One form of this second option is "religion" - defined as an illusion (something that only exists in one's head - there is no God, as it is something created by man in his own image) which functions to represent the triumph of the superego over the desires of the id.
Exemplified in the "origins of religion." Given the Oedipus complex, in primeval times, the fathers monopolized all women for themselves and their sons envied them, resulting in a rivalry over access to the women. In uncontrolled passion, the sons kill their fathers and eat them - the id at work. In remorse and guilt, superego personifies "fathers" as God to watch over and see that it doesn't happen again.
The images and content of religious illusion is the structure of child-family imagery, projecting morality and the triumph of the superego onto society. Such can be observed in the functioning of "male initiation rituals" and their degree of severity. In instances of close son-mother associations and need of strong adult male solidarity, find enhanced Oedipus rivalry and stronger male initiation rituals, resulting in subincision and circumcision rituals. Such rituals focus on the penis, symbolically and literally cutting ties with mothers and identifying with adult males.
Not the best source of informants, and thus difficult to extend beyond his sample to all the human condition.
Role of childhood experiences and family structures influencing larger societal structures.
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Historical-Particularism - as exemplified by Franz Boas (1858 - 1942) German-born and educated in physics, his doctorate was on the color of ocean water in the arctic, which brought him to Central Eskimo and later the northwest coastal Indians. Boas' scientific training would help focus his research on the empirical details of ethnography. Unlike previous theorists, Boas reacted against the "grandiose armchair theories and theorist," many of whom were overtly racist in nature. He challenged the "comparative method," "psychic unity," "universal laws," "environmental, geographic or economic determinism," "prime movers" as causes of culture change, i.e., no nomothetic laws. And Boas stressed the need for solid, intensive and long-term field work, i.e., ground research in a particular history and its description. With this emphasis, Boas was responsible for training a large following of ethnographers, including Kroeber, Lowie, Spier, Wissler, Mead, Radin, Bunzel, Sapir, Benedict, Herskovits, Hoebel, and is thus considered the "Father of American Anthropology." Main point:
Focus research on specific society, its whole, and its own history, i.e., historic particularism, richly detailing its cultural traits and characteristics into descriptive ethnography
Stimulated little theory
In focusing on "elders," resulted in a "static view" of cultures, and didn't develop a sense of cultural dynamics and continuities.
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Functionalist (societal focus - sometimes termed "structural functionalist") - as exemplified by Emile Durkheim (1858 - 1917) and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881 - 1955) No single individual has had greater impact on the social sciences and anthropology than Durkheim. Born into long line of French rabbis and educated in Old Testament and Hebrew studies, he never-the-less became an agnostic. Durkheim tried University life but dropped out, only finally to return and graduate second from the bottom. But by the 1890s, he had established himself, by publishing such monumental works as Division of Labor in Society (1893) and Suicide (1897) and Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1915). He also experienced tremendous tragedy - World War I. All his students, except one killed, but including his own brilliant son, were killed. The "war to end all wars" wiped out one of the most promising classes of intellectual minds. Durkheim never recovered, dying at age 59. But his legacy would not die, continued among such British Anthropologists as Radcliffe-Brown, Fortes, Nadel, and later American anthropologists such as Redfield, Eggan, Tax and Nash.
Durkheim's fundamental questions revolved around: what keeps society together? What maintains social solidarity? How does the individual support society? He refocused the discussion from the psychology and "superego"- the interior - to the exterior - social solidarity. Key points:
Focus on the "social condition" and "social facts," defined as a collection of symbols that are fundamental to society.
collective - shared by most - the individual is in the service of supporting the needs of society - the society is not created to support the individual
coercive - carry moral authority
produces emotional state (contrast with Tylor - religion from intellect not emotional state).
Thus Durkheim is not concerned about Freudian psychological struggles, nor Marxist "modes of production,"nor is he concerned with origins or stages of development, as they are only conjecture.
Religion as one example of social facts.
Beliefs and practices involving the "Sacred" - things that contribute positively to society and are thus revered and set apart, such as a "priest," "cross," "medicine bundle," "totemism." Sacred symbols are coercive and produce emotional state, i.e., "social fact." Sacred is contrasted with the "Profane," i.e., things that are neutral or negative relative to the social order, such as menstrual blood, mourning rituals. Thus set forth the sacred/profane dichotomy.
United into single community called a "church," which reiterates the "collective" quality, i.e., must exist beyond any given individual.
Since religion is a social fact, derived form the social conditions, whose function is to help insure solidarity, it becomes society that man is worshiping in ideal form.
Thus "religion" represents the positive aspects of social solidarity. So when people are praying to God, they are actually praying to society. Or rephrased, man worships himself for the purpose of social cohesion. In the example of "male initiation rituals" (in contrast with Freud's theory) involves the sacred and awe, emotional state established, functions to enhance social solidarity by subordinating the individual to the collective, like "patriotism"
Sacred/profane dichotomy much too rigid - ethnographic evidence lacking.
Tautology - circular argument - the cause of something is the consequence, which in turn is the cause. One can not claim that "religion," as a "social fact" and an expression of the need for social solidarity, is the cause of religious beliefs and practices, the consequences of those social facts. Religion causes religion.
Identified the social functions of religion.
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Functionalist (individual focus) - as exemplified by Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 - 1942) (often grouped along with structural-functionalist) Malinowski was noted for his field work among the Trobriand Islanders, the research of which appeared in such classic works as Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1961). Question asked: like Durkheim, concern for how things function and not temporally ordered or their origins, but turned question around - how does society support the individual? And specifically, what reduces an individual's anxiety of the uncertain? Key points:
Identified three types of needs society satisfies for individuals:
individual needs - nutrition, reproduction, safety - with society providing food collecting, marriage, defense
instrumental needs - renewal of personnel and charters of behavior - with society providing education and social control systems
integrative needs - means of intellectual, emotional and pragmatic control of one's destiny and chance - with society providing magic, religion and science.
Thus religion and magic responses to psychological needs to control destiny and chance, where pragmatic knowledge, i.e., science, can't control.
Wherever there are situations of danger or uncertainty, rift between ideals and realities, or human crisis and resulting in anxiety and fear, religion and magic steps in and attempts to resolve, mediate and/or lessen, and provides chart and procedural knowledge to give order and control. The example of Trobriand Islands fishing (lagoon vs. open sea) and sea-going canoe for Kula Ring, and gardening magic.
for Durkheim, rituals generate emotional state - for Malinowski, rituals reduce emotional state.
for Freud, religion reflects irrational triumph of psychological good over evil - for Durkheim, religion reflects social order - for Malinowski, religion is result of psychological anxieties.
for Tylor, magic is attempt of logically understand cause-effect, just wrong - for Durkheim, magic as mechanism for social control - for Malinowski, magic reduces anxiety and provides proper knowledge of procedures.
Further strengthened role of field work.
Added to the understanding of the social functions of religion.
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Structuralist - as exemplified by Claude Levi-Strauss (1908 - ) One of the leading and most respected intellectuals of our age, extensively published: Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949), Totemism (1963), The Savage Mind (1966) The Raw and the Cooked (1969), The Story of Lynx (1995). For Levi-Strauss, his basic questions revolved around: what are the human patterns of thought that bring order to world? And how does man deal with chaos? Main points:
Mental structures of classification, i.e., our mind takes our varied and potentially chaotic experiences and attempts to logically structures them along binary configurations, utilizing and incorporating the dominant images and symbols that we observe in our world.
The configurations emanate out of the deep structures of the mind - an unconscious process - not consciously developed and articulated.
All peoples, all cultures, utilize a binary principles to organize and structure their experiences. Specifically, in order to comprehend and given meaning to any given quality, must have its antithesis and opposite: right-left, moon-sun, female-male, life-death, virtue-sin, strength-weakness, God-Devil, and good-evil. So that in human societies, we observe a series of symbolic polarities running through all segments of society: sacred-profane, culture-nature, republican-democrat, upper class-lower class, winners-losers, etc.
The only difference between "Euro-American" classification and Tribal classification is in the tools of observing the world and thus the types of images we place in the structures.
The Euro-American is "engineer," predicated on tools that are empirical, precise and measurable, resulting in an "expanding" universe of infinite possibilities, models and images, and what is discarded models becoming "history." New information, new data, new theories of mathematics, science and technology are constantly being added and also becoming more abstract.
The Tribal is "bricoleur," "handyman," and relies on limited inventor of tools to access finite number of images and models. So Tribal peoples recycle existing images, not discarding anything, i.e., there is no history, but simply rearranges the pieces and materials at hand, like a handyman. The past and present emerged into one, and incorporates mystical elements along side empirical.
But both engineer and bricoleur utilize logical processes. "Primitive" man is not illogical, ignorant, or feeble minded, but just as rational and logical as you and I. He just has different tools at his disposal to observe world, and thus amount of images at disposal differs.
Levi-Strauss' major contribution focuses on the study of myth and thinking. A logical body of knowledge, organized along binary structures, to communicate a significant message about how things are organized and specifically, mediate or lessen experiential contradictions (give order to chaos). And lessens contradictions by introducing an anomalous element - something abnormal to mediate, e.g., virgin mothers, incarnated gods. Example of the Garden of Eden.
A non-empirical approach (as argued by the positivists).
Structures of thinking are based upon binary principles.
Those structures, as in case of religion and myth, are key to how people see the world and organize their experiences.
All forms of thinking, be they engineer or "bricoleur," are "logical." The tribal "bricoleur is not somehow pre-logical and irrational, not fantasy or illusion, not less significant than other modes of thinking.
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Interpretivist - as exemplified by Clifford Geertz (1926 - 2006) Among his most important works are The Religion of Java (1960) and The Interpretation of Cultures (1973). Geertz asks: what does "religion" mean for the participants of a particular religion? And how do I best access that meaning and accurately present it? Main points:
Religion is a model of the world, general conceptualizations of moral order, a world view, passively describing it, as well as a model for the world, offering emotional, affective tone, an ethos, actively bringing forth and creating that world, all of which is understood as true and real. (Sounds familiar?)
"Model of" - can be seen as a form of continuation of Functional, Psychoanalytical and Structural orientation, representing "society," "moral good of superego," and "structures of the mind" (Not exclusive of other theories)
But "model for" is a new and important ingredient added, "create world." The implications for epistemology and basic ontology are very significant. (see in next theorist). At one level, religious symbols are understood as potent and animated with power, e.g., medicine bundle, sand painting, or crucifix, while at another level, entire societies can bring about a conceptualization of the world, e.g., Balinese, Hinduism or Christianity.
The research focus is on "thick description" of specific and richly texture cultural events, i.e., the detail of symbolic action and structures, and on eliciting and interpreting the symbolic meaning from perspective of the participants, i.e., an "emic" as opposed to "etic" (linguistic model). The shift to an emic from etic emphasis was influenced by the "Ethnoscience" theories of Ward Goodenough. Don't impose own categories and images, e.g., evolutionists.
As an emic perspective, acknowledge "relativism," a non-judgmental stance. No one religion is somehow superior to or more sacred then another, i.e., the peoples feel their religion is real and true, and the anthropologist is not in a position to questions one's beliefs as somehow true or false.
Concern about "interpreting" the meaning of a cultural event. Thus not concerned with issues of origins, evolutionary stages, or functions, either societal or psychological, nor about analysis and "discovery" of scientific truth or universal laws.
Problems:? ? ?
The understanding that culture acts as both a model of and model for the world.
The importance of an emic perspective and relativism in comprehending another culture.
The focus on a "text," i.e., "thick description," an interpretive approach to understanding the human experience.
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Constructivist - as exemplified by James Clifford (1945 - ) Among his important works are The Predicament of Culture (1988) and with George Marcus Writing Culture (1986). Questions asked: (perhaps taking a cue from the cultures studied and premise that we create the worlds we participate in - "model for"), what is "reality"? how do we come to know and describe another culture, especially given the participatory role of the anthropologist and reader of the finished text? Key points:
See research as "text construction" resulting from a dialectic collaboration between native participants, the anthropologist and the audience (construction doesn't stop with publication). Better able to "deconstruct" erroneous assumptions and categories, to get to an emic interpretation. So much of anthropology permeated by Euro-American, male dominance bias, e.g., emphasis on "economics" and "political power."
A critical break with "positivist," objective assumptions of previous anthropology. A new epistemology and shift to "non-theory."
So that "reality" is a construction of those who participate (natives, anthropologists and readers), and not out there, autonomous and governed by its own laws and volition.
NOTE: This theory not so much a "theory" per se, as methodology for studying, an oscillating back to Boasian approach and cautious of nomothetic theory.
Problems:? ? ?
A new epistemology and methodology in the understanding of the human experience.
Each theoretical paradigm offers, given the particular questions it poses, a distinct way to approach and understand the human experience. Having just surveyed each and thus with a better appreciation of your own theoretical orientation, you are now ready to travel and explore the diverse landscape of human cultural expression and offer your own interpretations of its meanings and significances.
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