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Believed Belief

Science/Religion versus Sukuma Magic

Koen Stroeken

Typically, magic takes no stance against the socialized beliefs that determine it, in contrast with both science and modern religion, which, in the face of doubt, assert the truth-value of their propositions against such determination. In other words, science and religion engage in 'believed belief'. Their aversion to magical belief is the one thing they can agree on. Believed beliefs produce convictions of truth sufficiently intense to base actions on, such as the killing of someone identified as a witch. Ethnography on Sukuma healing allows us to distinguish this experience of the witch from that of oracles and magical remedies. While research in terms of belief(s) tends to oppose cultures, an approach based on experiential structures links up seemingly distinct practices from different cultures, while differentiating seemingly similar practices within a culture.

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For Belief

Embodiment and Immanence in Catholicism and Mormonism

Jon P. Mitchell and Hildi J. Mitchell

This article argues for belief, suggesting that the reason why anthropologists might have moved against belief is their persistent attachment to a linguistic model of religion that sees the job of the anthropologist of religion as being one of translation. In such a model, the absence of the word 'belief' signals the absence of the process. We argue for the enduring utility of belief, not as a linguistic category, but as a description of experiential processes at the heart of religion. Using examples from popular Catholicism and Mormonism, we contend that such processes are rooted in the body. Through bodily practice and performance, religion is generated as an immanent force in the world—people come to believe.

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Andrew Buckser

Anthropologists have moved away from using belief as the defining feature of religion, portraying it instead as something whose nature and significance vary among times and cultures. This raises new questions about how specific notions of belief come into being and their connections to social, cultural, and political systems. This article explores these questions in the Jewish community of Copenhagen, focusing on two periods when ideas about belief changed radically: the emancipation period at the opening of the nineteenth century, and the decades after World War II. In each, changes in the ways that Jews conceptualized and appealed to belief reflected changes in the internal social dynamics of Danish Jewry. They also reflected changes in the larger Danish culture and in state political agendas.

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Beyond Belief?

Social, Political, and Shamanic Power in Siberia

Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer

An analysis of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in the Russian Federation reveals a variety of village and urban reactions to crises of faith and power. The significance for group identity and instances of synergistic group belief are discussed. The transition that has seen amorphous underground shamanic practice lead to the institutionalization of shamanic cosmology is reflected in the recent opening of a temple in the Republic's capital, Yakutsk, and in the various groups that adhere to charismatic healers and seers. Debates about faith, as well as fragmented faith epistemologies, are described. The data derive from over 25 years of intermittent fieldwork in the Republic and with the Sakha diaspora. My approach is situated at the crossroads of medical-psychological anthropology, political anthropology, and new religious movement analysis.

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Faith beyond Belief

Evangelical Protestant Conceptions of Faith and the Resonance of Anti-humanism

Omri Elisha

This article explores the cultural significance of faith among US evangelical Protestants. It is argued that evangelical conceptions of faith provide an idiom for expressing religiosity that transcends conventional notions of belief, which alone do not account for the ideals of evangelical subjectivity. Through an analysis of group rituals in a Tennessee megachurch, along with a discussion of the historical roots of evangelical theology and the growing influence of charismatic Christianity, the article highlights an emphasis on radical intersubjectivity that calls upon the faithful to submit to the totalizing authority of divine agency. It is further argued that evangelical conceptions of faith feature a strand of anti-humanism that resonates with the increasingly authoritarian politics of the post-welfare era, which are explored in relation to the growing phenomenon of altruistic faith-based activism.

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Demanding Deities and Reluctant Devotees

Belief and Unbelief in the Trinidadian Orisa Movement

Stephen D. Glazier

Belief and unbelief are major categories of Western thought. Some Trinidadians do not subscribe to the power of the Orisa, while many more (Spiritual Baptists, Pentecostals, and Protestant Fundamentalists) 'recognize' and 'acknowledge' the Orisa yet do not 'believe' that Orisa should be worshipped. By contrast, few Orisa devotees question the ontological and epistemological status of Orisa, who are part of their daily lives and play a central role in family interactions. By serving a particular Orisa, devotees delineate their own positions within the movement as well as their positions relative to others outside the movement. Serving the Orisa can be draining, and parents attempt to postpone initiation for as long as possible. This often engenders much interpersonal and religious conflict.

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Forget Dawkins

Notes toward an Ethnography of Religious Belief and Doubt

Paul-François Tremlett and Fang-Long Shih

New Atheism is characterized by a binary logic that pits religion against science, belief against doubt, a pre-modern past against a modern present. It generates a temporal sensibility and attitude toward being modern that is a 'survival' of late-nineteenth-century anthropology, where religious belief and the past were bound together in opposition to science and the present. We analyze this binary logic and then, in response, present two ethnographic accounts—one from the Philippines, the other from Taiwan—to support our contention that religion is not just a matter of personal convictions. Rather, it is a public practice in which belief and doubt are constituted socially and dialogically.

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Religious Belief and Practice in Itelmen History

The Historical Efficacy of Ideological Frameworks

David Koester, Viktoria Petrasheva and Tatiana Degai

Itelmen people of the Kamchatka Peninsula have felt and experienced the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church for over 300 years. Explorers' reports tell us that at the same time that Itelmens rebelled violently against the tsar's representatives, they accepted and appropriated the power of the church. This article examines religiosity in Itelmen history as it is revealed through a critical approach to sources, especially by focusing on Itelmen actions. Missionaries and ethnographers' preconceptions gave shape to their depictions of Itelmen religious beliefs and practices as (1) Christian beliefs, (2) anathema to Christian beliefs, or (3) mere superstitions. In order to speak about Itelmen perceptions, the article focuses primarily on actions taken during this early period of recorded Itelmen history and on the writers who showed an interest in describing how Itelmens thought about religious questions. The article also recounts the little known story of the 1848 Kutkh rebellion.

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Epistemology and Ethics

Perspectives from Africa

Henrietta L. Moore

There has been much discussion in anthropology of the problem of belief and of the difficulties inherent in understanding and interpreting alternative life-worlds. One consequence of anthropological understanding and interpretation being intimately tied to the epistemological and ethical project of contextualization is that other people's knowledge is often rendered as parochial, defined by its local contexts and scope. This article discusses the recent conversion to radical Protestant beliefs in a community in northern Kenya that has resulted in new forms of knowledge and agency. The moral continuities and discontinuities between researcher and researched cannot in this situation be glossed by making the informants rational in context or by asserting the existence of culturally distinct worldviews. The article explores how this sets up a series of epistemological and ethical dilemmas that shape both the research project and the research process.

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Abby Day

Research into the religious beliefs and behaviors of children, young people, adults, and elderly people prompts questions about the way “generation” is understood in the social scientific study of religion. What seem to the researcher at first to be shared values and beliefs on broad moral issues appear, at least to older people, to be lacking amongst the young. Such a difference in perception could be an example of a “generation” gap where generation is perceived by theorists such as Mannheim to be a shared identity of people who have a social history in common. Extensive literature in both anthropology and sociology is explored to find how such concepts are understood and operationalized. Detailed ethnography amongst elderly Anglican women begins to problematize how such notions as boundaries of “generation” blur with gender.