Anthropology of Religion


Anthropology of Religion

A group for discussion of all aspects of the anthropology of religion. Discussion can concern cross-cultural analysis, or specific religions. Any other topic tangentially related to religion is also welcome, including folklore studies, etc.

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Discussion Forum

Ludwig Feuerbach and Naivety 2 Replies

Started by Kate Walters. Last reply by Tobia Farnetti Jan 28, 2011.

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Comment by Francisco on January 29, 2010 at 6:39pm
Yes, I asking about anthropological approach to the social process through which produces the collection of acolytes and benefits of guru business in contemporary western society, like Eckhart Tolle or The Secret, and similar social movements.
Comment by Piers Locke on January 29, 2010 at 1:10pm
Presumably you are asking something about anthropological approaches towards the constitution of the mind/body/spirit demographic and the guru business in contemporary western society? Not sure what question you are answering with your question about Eckhart Tolle and 'a spiritual way'?
Comment by Francisco on January 29, 2010 at 12:16pm
What about Eckhart Tolle and similar gurus for a spiritual way?
Comment by Ranjan Lekhy on December 23, 2009 at 3:04pm
Thanks, Piers! I would like to go through your recommended works.Yes, I remember Mark Turin. He must be worthy to read! :)
Comment by Piers Locke on December 22, 2009 at 11:15pm
Ranjan- for the anthropology of Tibetan Buddhism, you might like to consider the work of Charles Ramble and Geoffrey Samuel. And I very much recommend you watch Mark Turin and Sara Schneiderman's interview with David Snellgrove at:
Comment by Ranjan Lekhy on December 22, 2009 at 12:10pm
Thank you Piers for assisting me to understand Anthropology of Religion! Of course, I don’t have any kind of bias or prejudice towards Buddhism or Anthropology of Religion! However, I should clear that Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, are not my classification but during Buddha's time, were categorized. I think, by just judging Buddhists and explaining their cognitions, perceptions, rites and rituals, or cultural entities (or conventional realities as Buddhism say) cannot be understood the teachings of Buddha. For instance, Sherry Ortner ‘s works or even Anna Grimshaw's Servants of The Buddha. Anna’s title is very offensive in the first sight for the Buddhists! Buddha was against of any kind of slavery or service. Buddhist monks and nun are not servants of Buddha but the followers. There is no master or slave (servant) in Buddhism!

I’ve already confessed that I am ignorant in Anthropology of Religion. I need to understand and realize the fundamental concepts of Anthropology of Religion. Could you suggest me any handbook regarding Anthropology of Religion? Thanks!
Comment by Piers Locke on December 21, 2009 at 7:59pm
Ranjan- I think to suggest that anthropologists have studied with Buddhists but not studied Buddhism is perhaps to misunderstand the anthropology of religion. The distinction you make suggests one that might be sustained in Religious Studies, where for example, one might specialise in the doctrinal history of religious traditions as embodied in texts.

The holistic goals that have motivated the ethnographic endeavour in British Social Anthropology (along with the sociological influence of Durkheim and contributors to L'Annee Sociologique) have meant that anthropologists have tried to study religion not as a discrete domain, characteristic of western modernity, and which particularly emerged as a result of The Enlightenment, but rather as an aspect of human practice, belief and experience. This is relevant to US Cultural Anthropology aswell, exemplified by Clifford Geertz' approach in Religion as a Cultural System, in which he argues that we understand religion as something people do, suggesting a scheme that considers the relations between sacred symbols, ethos and worldview.

It is certainly true that earlier 'Buddhist ethnographies' were interested in the synthesis of animism and Buddhism in the classic village community study (Spiro, Tambiah etc...), which a Religious Studies scholar might be inclined to see as a degenerate form of a perhaps rather essentialised 'ism', but later there have been ethnographies explicitly concerned with Buddhist religious specialists in Buddhist institutions. An example would be Anna Grimshaw's Servants of The Buddha about a convent in Nepal.

It was perhaps in the ethnography of Hinduism that the study of religious
specialists emerged sooner - with Richard Burghart and Peter van der Veer studying with Vaishnavite Ramanandis, and Johnny Parry with Shaivite Aghoris.

From an anthropological perspective, The Three Jewels merely represents a categorical system, not unrelated to the ordering endeavour anthropologists themselves engage in. Similarly, one might argue that the Sanskritic systematisations of Hindu Brahmans constitutes a native anthropology of a kind.

N.B. I have not meant to negatively caricature Religious Studies (a cognate discipline for which I have huge respect), but rather to use it as a rhetorical counterpoint to respond to Ranjan's observations.
Comment by Ranjan Lekhy on December 21, 2009 at 6:29pm
Hi folks! Would you like to enlighten me about Anthropology of Religions? In the case of Buddhism, what I have found that the anthropologists have done their fieldworks among the Buddhist communities but not on Buddhism. Buddha, Buddhism and Buddhists are different jewels (tiratana in Pali).
Comment by John McCreery on November 9, 2009 at 6:30am
Francisco, thank you for those kind and encouraging words. Since I may have miscommunicated, I should be clear, however: There are both anthropologists who study Chinese religion and social historians and historians of religion who engage anthropological theories in what they write. The issue is that those who share this interest form an area studies community, whose work is rarely noticed, either in general introductions to the anthropology of religion or in work in the anthropology of religion conducted in other regions. This may reflect the ethnocentrism you mention or, alternatively, academic specialization and a body of classic works rooted in other places.

Anyway, thanks again for the support. Much appreciated.
Comment by Francisco Duarte on November 7, 2009 at 5:05pm
Sorry for putting myself in the middle of the conversation, but I think your point very interesting. In fact, we know that anthropology has a history of ethnocentrism, making the euro-american societies the center of the world, and the rest as the primitives (who, in a certain way, needed to be "civilized" and so on). The departure from this perspective initiated the study (in large scale, at least) of the very own societies who wanted to study the "others". In this auto-evaluation of the western self, maybe a lot of anthropologists simple forgott about the rest of the wolrd in this try to compreend themselves and their societies.
Also, the atheisation of China by the Mao politics (it was, of course, largelly uncessful) ensured that religion would not be very spoken about in that large country. It ensured that the studies about chinese religion would not be very prolific. And, indeed, it strikes me has very obvious that someone should be talking about chinese religion in anthroplogical terms.
I think your study will pioneer a strong branch of our science. Your fears are, of course, understandable, but someone must clear the path. Keep steady, I think you're on something. The best of luck.

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