Learning Religion

Learning Religion: Anthropological Approaches

David Berliner
Ramon Sarró
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcmz4
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  • Book Info
    Learning Religion
    Book Description:

    As we enter the 21st century, it becomes increasingly difficult to envisage a world detached from religion or an anthropology blind to its study. Yet, how people become religious is still poorly studied. This volume gathers some of the most distinguished scholars in the field to offer a new perspective for the study of religion, one that examines the works of transmission and innovation through the prism of learning. They argue that religious culture is socially and dynamically constructed by agents who are not mere passive recipients but engaged in active learning processes. Finding a middle way between the social and the cognitive, they see learning religions not as a mechanism of "downloading" but also as a social process with its relational dimension.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-213-3
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chapter 1 ON LEARNING RELIGION: AN INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-20)
    David Berliner and Ramon Sarró

    A Biblical text (Acts of the Apostles, 8: 31–32) tells us that immediately after Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost inspired Jesus’ disciples to spread the good news, Philip, one of the apostles, saw the eunuch of the queen of the Ethiopians reading the Book of Isaiah. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ asked Philip. ‘How can I, unless someone instructs me?’ replied the eunuch. Then Philip carefully read the text with him and explained that what they were reading was in fact the announcement of the coming of Jesus. The eunuch not only understood then what he had...

  5. Chapter 2 LEARNING TO BELIEVE: A PRELIMINARY APPROACH
    (pp. 21-30)
    Carlo Severi

    Religious rituals are generally associated with the establishment of ‘systems of beliefs’. For many anthropologists, belief is necessarily part of a system of related ideas, and this system forms the context where ritual action acquires its meaning. As Wittgenstein remarked, ‘When we first begin to believe anything, what we believe is not a single proposition, it is a whole system of propositions’. In such a system (which he calls elsewhere a ‘mythology’ or ‘world-picture’), ‘consequences and premises give one another support’ (Wittgenstein 1969: 21). According to him, a belief is firmly established in our mind not because it is ‘intrinsically...

  6. Chapter 3 MENSTRUAL SLAPS AND FIRST BLOOD CELEBRATIONS: INFERENCE, SIMULATION AND THE LEARNING OF RITUAL
    (pp. 31-48)
    Michael Houseman

    Much of what follows is a first attempt to conceptualize Neopagan and New Age ceremonial in relation to ritual activity of a more classical variety. Present-day ritual crafting is approached as a means to test and reconsider certain ideas regarding the nature of ritual action in general. Relying on data drawn largely from the Internet, I base my analysis on a contrast between episodes that mark a young woman’s first menstruation in two different modern Western traditions: ritualized face-slapping and contemporary menarche rites. In both cases, participants rely on inferential interpretation and on empathic simulation in order to make sense...

  7. Chapter 4 THE ACCIDENTAL IN RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION: IDEAS AND CONVICTIONS
    (pp. 49-64)
    David Parkin

    Deeley (2004) has provided a reassessment of Geertz’s early five-point definition of religion. He uses it as a framework in tracing the affective-cognitive process by which ideas become religious convictions. The mesolimbic dopamine system of the brain and its moods and motivations are constantly re-activated through the repetition of particular rituals which, reciprocally, are increasingly associated with such moods and motivations. This constantly re-activated syndrome of mood, motivation and ritual practice forms the basis of socially acknowledged, enduring religious beliefs. Deeley draws parallels from work by familiar names in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology which spans what were once distinct sub-fields...

  8. Chapter 5 ON CATCHING UP WITH ONESELF: LEARNING TO KNOW THAT ONE MEANS WHAT ONE DOES
    (pp. 65-82)
    Michael Lambek

    Nothing is simple in the kingdom of analysis. The first thing the topic of ‘learning religion’ demands of us is consideration of what we mean by ‘learning’ and what we mean by ‘religion’ and how the answer we give to each will shape the answer we give to the other. There are, of course, no absolute or definitive answers to these questions and in this paper I formulate them pragmatically, with respect to the body of ethnographic material I wish to address. This is not to say that I stick to local formulations of ‘learning’ and ‘religion’ or that I...

  9. Chapter 6 HOW DO YOU LEARN TO KNOW THAT IT IS GOD WHO SPEAKS?
    (pp. 83-102)
    T.M. Luhrmann

    Nearly a hundred years ago, when Europeans were intoxicated by reports of newly colonized natives who worshipped strange gods with ancient rites, when the new school of English anthropology laid out a ladder of intellectual evolution as orderly as a London timetable, the Parisian philosopher Lucien Lévy-Bruhl spun a philosophical psychology that was so radical, so preposterous in its claims, that few English thinkers took it seriously and the one who did – E.E. Evans-Pritchard – rejected the ideas so thoroughly that he never even mentioned the Parisian’s name in the famous book he wrote to refute him. For many...

  10. Chapter 7 HOW TO LEARN IN AN AFRO-BRAZILIAN SPIRIT POSSESSION RELIGION: ONTOLOGY AND MULTIPLICITY IN CANDOMBLÉ
    (pp. 103-120)
    Marcio Goldman

    Candomblé is one of the many Brazilian religions that display elements of African origins. Probably formed from the nineteenth century onwards, Candomblé – at least as we know it today – also embodies, to different degrees, elements of Native American practices and cosmologies, as well as that of popular Catholicism and European Spiritualism. In addition, it is possible to observe more or less marked differences among the various cult groups, depending on the African regions from which came the larger part of its repertoire, and on the modalities and intensities of its ‘syncretic’ connections with other religious traditions.

    Roughly speaking,...

  11. Chapter 8 LEARNING TO BE A PROPER MEDIUM: MIDDLE-CLASS WOMANHOOD AND SPIRIT MEDIUMSHIP AT CHRISTIAN RATIONALIST SÉANCES IN CAPE VERDE
    (pp. 121-140)
    João Vasconcelos

    This chapter explores the process of learning mediumship at Christian Rationalist centres on the island of São Vicente, Cape Verde, where I conducted 13 months of fieldwork in 2000 and 2001.¹ Before going into the ethnographic core of the text, I will briefly sketch the history of Christian Rationalism, introduce some basic doctrinal tenets and practices of this spiritualist movement, and outline its social implantation in contemporary Cape Verde. I will then try to understand why exercising mediumship in Christian Rationalist centres is an appealing career to a number of middle-class women in São Vicente, and to describe how they...

  12. Chapter 9 COPYRIGHT AND AUTHORSHIP: RITUAL SPEECH AND THE NEW MARKET OF WORDS IN TORAJA
    (pp. 141-160)
    Aurora Donzelli

    During the last one hundred years, the religious life of the Toraja highlanders of South Sulawesi (Indonesia) has undergone a considerable process of transformation.¹ Conversion to Christianity, which started at the beginning of the twentieth century with the arrival in the highlands of the Calvinist missionaries from the Dutch Reformed Alliance, engendered important changes in Toraja ritual practices and in their symbolic meanings. The process of religious and socio-cultural change relating to colonial penetration and missionization unfolded through a series of radical fractures and enduring continuities. As I have more thoroughly described elsewhere (Donzelli 2003, 2004), the encounter between the...

  13. Chapter 10 LEARNING FAITH: YOUNG CHRISTIANS AND CATECHISM
    (pp. 161-176)
    Laurence Hérault

    Opening the door of a church hall where a catechism meeting is taking place is like discovering activities which can conjure up childhood memories for those who have experienced a Christian education. You can see a catechist telling attentive or annoyed children the story of Jesus’ birth. You can find another one praying with concentrated, mischievous or rowdy teenagers. You can observe a priest explaining the meaning of the Holy Eucharist to a group of children excited by an approaching communion festival. You also can discover a pastor trying to answer difficult questions simply and openly: ‘Who is God’s father?’,...

  14. Chapter 11 WHAT IS INTERESTING ABOUT CHINESE RELIGION
    (pp. 177-190)
    Charles Stafford

    As a child, I spent about four hours every week attending church services with my parents, who were devout Christians. During those hours, I might have focused my attention on any number of things. But I have a strong recollection of staring, on successive Sunday mornings, at the light fixtures on the ceiling of our church. I found myself stranded, to borrow Harvey Whitehouse’s expression, in a rather dull ‘mode of religiosity’. The services bored me and I would sometimes lie next to my mother, flat on my back on the pew, staring upwards. There I saw fluorescent lights with...

  15. Chapter 12 THE SOUND OF WITCHCRAFT: NOISE AS MEDIATION IN RELIGIOUS TRANSMISSION
    (pp. 191-208)
    Michael Rowlands

    Once, when I was living in Bamenda, a small provincial town in Cameroon, I stayed in a house next to one of the newBonagen(pidgin for Born Again) churches that had recently been founded in Mankon Old Town. It was a mistake. The noise kept me awake many nights and the hustle and bustle of living in the neighbourhood quite wore me out. I can remember thinking at the time, how this contrasted with the sedate atmosphere of the Catholic church and its complex of buildings set on top of a hill where I could go and have my...

  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 209-228)
  17. NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 229-232)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 233-240)