WAS "PRIMITIVE RELIGION" OF NEOLITHIC TIMES IN FACT A CULTURALLY CREATIVE BEHAVIOR OF TERRITORIAL DEMARCATION?


The institutional centres of Christian religion at their research and teaching institutes at universities in general managed to prevent that the meaningful application of the concept of cultural evolution could be used regarding religion. Paradoxically this was accomplished essentially by defining religion decisively from its relatively evolved script-historical documents. In particular it is defined basically from its macrocosmic or universal spatial concepts and from Greek Platonism as an exclusively spiritual dimension. The so called "high religion" in this way was explicitly understood as a high culture phenomenon and distinguished from so called 'primitive religion' with its locally limited empirical and traditional structure, which, in addition, appears intermingled with material elements, consequently is definitely considered as incomparable with high religion.

In this framework Nold Egenters Shinto study of 100 villages in Japan seems to be a unique type of research worldwide. It exactly questions this theological interpretation based on high evaluation of the script-historical approach by emphasizing the empirical aspects in the framework of his 'architectural anthropological research', which is focussed on traditional agrarian Shinto cults with annually newly built village-protector-deities (ujigami, ubusuna gami) constructed with reed and bamboo plant materials.

The study first shows that this type of religion considered primtive is not at all primitive, but of highly complex character. An entirely new aspect is shown, namely that the phenomenon is characterized basically by the highly complex semantic and territorial, social and aesthetic organisation of the early sedentary and agrarian settlement. Evidently these territorial demarcations of highest ontological value did not create the universe but the Neolithic sedentary habitat and its highly complex culture! The study shows clearly that the divine figures, on one side were constructed with primitive building methods using perishable materials ('hand as the first tool'), but  in this way creating an extremely complex system of functions which created high cultural basic values in the elementary framework of the sedentary agrarian village. It became clear that this can scientifically be well understood as a complex prototype of later 'civilized' state formations on a larger spatial scale.

The extraordinary efficiency of this study consists particularly in the fact that it shows us an entirely new plausible empirically causal basis to understand the origins of religion in new ways. R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, Martin Buber Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religion at Hebrew University of Jerusalem has written a book review about this research work in "Numen" the well known Journal of religous science (June 1990).

"This lavishly illustrated study yields insights that could be a fundamental contribution not only for achitectural theory (non domestic semantic or symbolic buildings) but also for art research (the aesthetics of primitive folk art) and for iconological semiotics (the history of signs and symbols) as well as for religious science (non written, traditional sacrality) and finally also sociology (sedentary significance of cultic institution with territorial traits)."

"Egenters presentation and discussion are invaluable, not only because of the wealth of material, the penetrating analyses and his bold hypotheses, but also because he teaches historians of religion to re-think their own matter of course axiomas and assumptions."

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NOTES:

--The book can be found on the internet and can be downloaded in 5 parts (See URL below).
--For those who would like to buy it, there is the URL of a pamphlet where it can be ordered (30% for OAC members).

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-- Architectural Anthropology: Semantic and Symbolic Architecture; An architectural-ethnological survey into hundred villages of central Japan [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]
--> http://home.worldcom.ch/negenter/015cBooks.html


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Nold, I agree that what we term "primitive" religion, when examined deeply, is found to be quite complex.

I wonder if the Greek "high" religions aren't based on older primitive religions. There is evidence that Plato borrowed his idea of Forms from the ancient Afro-Asiatics.

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