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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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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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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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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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Experience beyond Belief

The 'Strangeness Curve' and Integral Transformative Practice

Mira Z. Amiras

This article explores the experimental work of Michael Murphy, co-founder of the Esalen Institute, and George Leonard, who is on the Board of Directors of Esalen. Leonard was the first to coin the term 'human potential movement', using it to describe the work that Esalen promoted beginning in the 1960s. In the 1990s, Murphy and Leonard devised an experiment in what they called Integral Transformative Practice (ITP): methods of achieving the extraordinary through meticulous body/mind practices not tied to a specific spiritual path. A key question raised by participants during the experiment was whether it was necessary to believe in order to achieve. This article explores what did and did not correlate to 'success' both within the original experiment and in the past 10 years of subsequent experimentation.

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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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John Gillespie

On first reading Les Mots, it was as much of a surprise to note that references to religion and belief were both so frequent and so central to Sartre's unconventional autobiography as it was to learn that the famous Christian missionary Albert Schweitzer was his cousin. Further readings and analyses have reinforced my view that the language of belief plays a critical part in the text. These questions of belief and the references to religion that appear frequently in Les Mots have received less attention. It could be said that these references are merely illustrative of Sartre's attempt to explain himself to himself and to us, and function as any metaphor would. But such a suggestion would fail to account for the many references to religion and belief and to explain why they are so tightly interlinked. We will argue that closer attention to these subjects provides significant insight into the work. Sartre, it would appear, uses a religious template, rather than an existentialist or a Marxist one, to understand his life's project, his past and his present. We will therefore investigate the nature of this use of the language of belief as a religious template and evaluate its significance.

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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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Maria Sabaye Moghaddam

Zâr denotes a class of spirits, the illness that they cause when descending upon a person and the ritual that is necessary to pacify the spirits and secure the alleviation of the patient's symptoms. The ritual involves holding a ceremony where incense, music and movement play a role in appeasing the Zâr to provide relief for the patient. This article, based on field studies carried out in 2007-2009, provides a current account of Zâr practices in Bandar Abbâs and Qeshm Island in Iran.

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Maria Costanza Torri and Thora Martina Herrmann

From time immemorial, local and indigenous communities in India have developed traditions, representations, and beliefs about the forest and biodiversity. The cultural practices and beliefs of a community play a significant role in enhancing community-based initiatives, particularly in achieving sustainability in the long term. Nevertheless, too often conservation policies do not take into consideration the link between the culture of local communities and their environment. A comprehensive understanding of the relationship between cultural traditions and practices related to biodiversity and their current status and manifestations is crucial to the concept of effective and sustainable conservation policy. This article examines the traditional practices of the communities in the Sariska region (Rajasthan, India) as well as their beliefs and their values, underlining the special relationship that these tribal and indigenous communities maintain with the forest and their usefulness in community-based conservation. Some conclusive remarks on the importance of adapting conservation approaches to local cultural representations of the environment will be drawn.