The health of the human body has been an important concern of religions
everywhere on Earth and at different times in history. Until the advent of allopathic
medicine, that is, the science-based, modern medicine, bodily treatments that had
religious or spiritual elements were the main way of healing the body throughout the
world. Modern allopathic technological medicine is a very recent feature of human
healing and the medicines and medical technologies that we take for granted were
discovered relatively recently.
For the most part in the history of the world, the ways of understanding and treating
diseases has been through the prism of religion. In our own culture, many hospitals
are administered by religious organizations.
The NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital is composed of two distinct medical centers, Columbia University
Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical Center. As of 2019, the hospital is ranked as the 5th best
hospital in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.
Even modern medicines that we use for pain control---aspirin, which is based on
acetylsalicylic acid, are plant based chemical compounds that have been used since
ancient times. Before modern technological medicine, all medicine was religious, in
the East and in the West. Read about medical incantations and how they were
thought about and regulated by religion in 13th century Europe here.
In other cultures, healing is related to shamanism and to traditional knowledge of
the function of plants and animals. In shamanic healing, one of the most basic
aspects of disease treatment is building a model of how an individual got sick and the
actions that the healer must take in order to make this individual become healthy
again. Wade Davis is an anthropologist and ethnobotanist who has devoted his life to
studying shamanism, particularly that involving the traditional uses and beliefs
associated with psychoactive plants.
Wade Davis (born December 14, 1953) is a Harvard-educated anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author, and
photographer whose work has focused on worldwide indigenous cultures, especially in North and South
Read this interview with Davis about his experiences with shamanic
healing. Curanderismo is another type of healing that merges shamanism, Greek
humoral medicine, and medieval magic among other healing beliefs.
A final concept that is studied by anthropologists who focus on disease, religious
healing and the body is that of a culture-bound syndrome. A culture-bound
syndrome is a set of symptoms that are given a name by members of a specific
culture, but do not correspond to any disease identified by technological
medicine. Read about a culture-bound syndrome called Dhat Syndrome, which
manifests itself among men in India.
1) Historians who have studied the use of ‘magical’ cures in the middle ages have noticed that…
Many recipes mingle ‘charms and magic’ with pharmaceutical preparations.
Many recipes have elaborate prayers written into it.
Many recipes are instructed to be prepared only by men.
Many recipes refute the idea of a magical cure.
2) Many of the 13th century pastoral manuals’ ideas about magic can be traced to
The works of St. Augustine
The works of St. Luke
3) Thomas Aquinas condemned the wearing of written characters and astrological images but he
admitted there were benefits to
certain substances in nature that were connected to the creation of the universe.
certain substances might have natural properties conferred on them by the stars which could affect
Certain substances that are created by God are usable in order to heal the sick.
Certain substances that are non-written amulets may help the healing process.
4) The biosphere is the worldwide sum of all ecosystems. What is the ethnosphere?
The sum total of all world cultures.
The sum total of all life on Earth
The sum total of all religious beliefs created by humans on Earth.
The sum total of all beliefs, ideas, thoughts and dreams brought into being by the human
5) Where do the words “health”, “holy”, and “whole” come from?
From an anglo-saxon root meaning completeness.
From a Greek root meaning believe.
From a Latin root meaning faith.
From a Japanese root meaning one.
6) In curanderismo what are the 3 main approaches to healing?
Material, theoretical and psychological
Material, organic and wholesome
Material, spiritual and psychic
Material, godly and natural
7) Curanderos believe that healing works by virtue of
8) What is a culture bound syndrome?
Behavioral, affective and cognitive manifestations seen in specific cultures.
A disease that only occurs in members of a specific culture.
Patterns of behavior that vary across the globe.
Ideas that hold true across many different cultures.
When ideas from a person’s culture do not translate into other cultures.
9) What is Dhat syndrome?
A Chinese condition in which patients believe that they are being punished by the gods.
An East Asian condition in which patients believe they are passing semen in urine.
A Japanese condition that affects mainly males but sometimes females as well.
A condition that is mostly present in people of middle eastern cultures.
10) What is a possible local concept that might signify depression?
Nervios or nerves in some Latin American cultures
Pao in Portuguese cultures.
Amafufanyane in some African cultures.
Piblokto among Native Americans.
Studying rituals across the world is one of the founding practices of anthropology,
and theorizing about ritual has been the cornerstone of anthropological thought.
Anthropologist Victor Turner comes to mind when thinking about ritual. Turner was
a British cultural anthropologist whose work focused on interpreting the symbols of
ritual and applying his knowledge of ritual and rites of passages to religion in both
tribal communities and the contemporary modern world. His early fieldwork in
African villages in the 1950s was typical of the career development of field
anthropologists at that time. He developed a special interest in rituals, seeing them
as social drama in addition to the religious expression of the sacred. He drew on the
work of Arnold van Gennep (1908) on rites of passage (birth, marriage, death, and
sometimes puberty initiation rituals): Turner focused on the concept of limen,
‘threshold’ and the term liminality. Van Gennep added pre‐liminal separation or
isolation from the community, and post‐liminal reincorporation into it as a three‐fold
schema. The context was tribal and religious, with gods and spirits demanding to be
appeased. Turner applied this retrospectively to his own fieldwork, and far beyond
van Gennep's work, developed the concept to embrace all transitions and all rituals
everywhere. Ritual as social drama provides it with a significant social function, to
dispel conflict and schism and to mend quarrels. He then applied this concept to
Western developed society to explore how conflict is resolved and what replaces
ritual in a secular context. His respect for ritual led him to join the Roman Catholic
The concept of liminality is both slippery and rich in potential. For van Gennep, a
child crosses the threshold to adulthood and has to overcome spiritual/psychic
dangers through ritual. Children are separated from the rest of the village, inducted,
go through a change‐of‐status ceremony, and are then reincorporated into the village
with a new status. Birth is the transition to life, and funerals the transition to death.
Marriage is a transition to procreating new life. Each were regarded profound
human milestones. Turner inquired further into how other thresholds were/are
experienced, and how people cope with them.
He examined other rituals to determine their underlying function within the
community; he interpreted these rituals as a form of conflict resolution. In order to
perform these rituals, participants must enter a state of mind that he called liminal—
a state of being ‘betwixt and between’. Advanced societies which used liminality for
recreation (e.g. in sport) Turner called liminoid. Turner contrasted social structure
(e.g. status, power, top‐down authority) with ‘anti‐structure’ (bottom‐up creative
responses and pressures to change). Anti‐structure is the liminal arena; the greater
the powerlessness, the greater the need for positive anti‐structural activities, which
he called communitas (positive community activities). Generally, he
viewed communitas as ritual‐as‐social‐drama. He argued that process takes
precedence over structure. Life is fluid, and messy. Structure can get undermined by
these processes, so the processes need to repair any breaches that might occur.
According to Turner, rituals have an essential element of religious belief. His work
on ritual stood as one of the most influential theories in anthropology.
Explore the concepts inherent to Turner’s anthropological theory of ritual here.
After Turner, there have been many theories about rituals and rites of
passage. Explore the development of this topic here.
1) According to Victor Turner, rituals are embedded in the drama and flux of everyday life and
their purpose is to…
a.) Keep people happy
b.) Guard people against the ire of the gods
c.) Effect social change
d.) They have no purpose
2) Victor Turner based his knowledge of rites of passage upon the work of…
a.) Bronislaw Malinowski
b.) Clifford Geertz
c.) Arnold Van Gennep
d.) Mary Douglas
3) Many of the most important and common rites of passage, across cultures, are connected
a.) Biological milestones like birth, reproduction and death.
b.) Personal milestones that are very only understandable from a subjective perspective.
c.) Community milestones that involve subsistence strategies
d.) There are no identifiable rites of passage that are common to all societies.
4) According to Van Gennep, rites of passage consist of three distinguishable, consecutive
a.) Introduction, transition and conclusion.
b.) Separation, transition and reincorporation.
c.) Inclusion, transition and deviation.
d.) Separation, enlargement and incorporation.
5) What is the couvade?
a.) A funeral rite of passage undertaken in some societies.
b.) A religious transformation ceremony that signals change in a person’s religious status.
c.) A cyclic ceremony that makes reference to human sacrifices.
d.) Ritual behavior undertaken, usually by a man, during or around the birth of a child.
6) What is true of marriage?
a.) It’s one of the earliest social institutions invented.
b.) Its rituals are practiced in every known historical society.
c.) Rites of marriage may be secular or religious ceremonies.
d.) All of the above.
7) According to Victor Turner, what is a ritual?
a.) a stereotyped sequence of activities, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to
influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors' goals and interests.
b.) the smallest unit of ceremony which still retains the specific properties of ritual behavior.
c.) The ultimate unit of specific structure in a ceremonial context.
d.) A cycle of performances.
8) To understand the meaning of any ritual, it is important to consider…
a.) Who are the participants of the ritual.
b.) Who are the initiators of the ritual.
c.) Its relation to other symbols and beliefs in the society.
d.) Its relation to the origin myth of the society.
9) According to Victor Turner, what is the attribute of liminality?
a.) Ambiguity in classification—people elude or slip through the network of classifications
that normally locate states and positions in cultural space.
b.) Rites which accompany every change of place, state, social position and age.
c.) Attachment systems in which people and places are located in particular contexts.
d.) Sacredness in order—only certain members of society are allowed to participate in rituals
10) According to Victor Turner, what is communitas?
a.) Intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging, often in connection with rituals.
b.) a system of lasting, transposable dispositions which function as a matrix of perceptions,
appreciations, and actions.
c.) the idea that a person's beliefs, values, and practices should be understood based on that
person's own culture, rather than be judged against the criteria of another.
d.) A concept that indexes the social order as a coherent, inclusive system, and rites of
passage in terms of their functional significance in the social system.
Religion has adapted to the push of globalization. In the past we used to think about
particular areas of the world as inhabited by practitioners of specific religions: Latin
Americans were Catholic, people from the Middle East were mostly Muslim, and so
forth. Nowadays we realize that with massive immigration across the world, the
spread of religious ideas and practices is a reality. What does this mean for the study
of culture and religion?
Abstract and Keywords
Religion has always been global, in the sense that religious communities and traditions have
always maintained permeable boundaries. They have moved, shifted, and interacted with one
another around the globe. This book deals with three kinds of religious globalization: diasporas,
transnational religion, and the religion of plural societies. It explores the variations of
Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religious traditions, and how these
traditions are shaped by their changing cultural contexts in various parts of the world. Scholars
who are close to the religious communities they study describe how these communities have
changed over time, how they have responded to the plural cultural contexts around them, and
how they are shaped by the current forces of globalization and social change. The result is a
series of essays that not only give an up-to-date insight into the diversity contained within the
world's great religions but also provides a broad view of global religion in a new millennium.
Keywords: Islam, religion, religious globalization, diasporas, transnational religion, plural societies, religious
traditions, social change, Christianity, Judaism
Maps can deceive. Several decades ago cartographers were fond of providing maps that
allegedly demarcated the spatial locations of world religions. A great wash of red would stretch
from Tibet to Japan, engulfing China, to show where Buddhism was. The Middle East would be
tinted green for the terrain of Islam, a yellow India for Hinduism, an orange for African religion,
while Christianity's color—often blue, I recall—was brightly emblazoned on Europe and the
Western Hemisphere. Some of the more sophisticated maps would make a distinction between
the light blue of Protestant Canada and the United States, and the dark blue of Catholic Latin
America, but there was no question as to clarity of the demarcation. I imagined slipping across
the border from a Buddhist red zone to an Islamic green one and suddenly encountering
mosques where previously there had been only stupas, temples, and chanting monks.
It has never really been like that, of course. Although there are regions of the world that serve
as dense centers of gravity for certain religious traditions, much of the world is less certain as to
its religious identity, and always has been. Even Hindu India was a quarter Muslim before
Pakistan was created, and even today 15 percent of the Indian population reveres Islam.
Indonesia—the largest Muslim country on the planet—is the home of a rich Hindu culture in Bali
and contains at Borabadur one of the world's most important ancient Buddhist shrines. China
has such diverse religious strata, with most of its population simultaneously accepting
Confucian values, Taoist beliefs, and Buddhist worship practices, that most scholars prefer to
speak of a multicultural “Chinese religion,” rather than any of (p. 4) those three strands by itself.
Much the same can be said about the religions of Korea and Japan. In the Western
Hemisphere, Haitians are said to be 90 percent Roman Catholic and 90 percent followers of
Vodou; needless to say, it is the same 90 percent. Jews, of course, are everywhere, and have
been since biblical times.
Today it seems that almost everyone is everywhere. The city of Los Angeles, for instance, is the
second largest Filipino city in the world. It is also the second largest Iranian city and the second
largest Mexican one. In Southern California, Tibetan Buddhists do not hide in the mountains in
monasteries. They drive Lexus SUVs to the studio lot for a photo shoot: some are rich, some
are Caucasian, and some are among Hollywood's celebrities. In Beijing the Chinese
government has to contend not only with new forms of Chinese religion, such as the FalunGong, but with dissident Chinese Muslims and Christians.
Scarcely any region in the globe today consists solely of members of a single strand of
traditional religion. In an era of globalization the pace of cultural interaction and change has
increased by seemingly exponential expansions of degrees. So an accurate coloration of the
religious world, even fifty years ago, would have to show dense areas of color here and there
with enormous mixes and shadings of hues everywhere else. Moreover the map would have to
be changed from time to time, perhaps even from decade to decade, and re-tinted as religions
move and intertwine.
This fluid process of cultural interaction, expansion, synthesis, borrowing, and change has been
going on from the earliest moments of recorded history. In fact, the most ancient epic to which
we have access—the Gilgamesh Epic of ancient Sumeria some two thousand years before the
time of Christ—tells the story of a great flood brought on by divine wrath, and a human who built
an ark to escape it. It is a story retold within the context of the biblical book of Genesis and now
respected by the great religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The historian of
religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, was fond of pointing out that even as ordinary an artifact as a
string of prayer beads illustrates the interaction of religions: Smith speculated that the Roman
Catholic idea of the rosary was borrowed from Muslims in Spain who were inspired by the
prayerbeads of Buddhists in Central Asia, who in turn appropriated the idea from Brahmans in
Hindu India. The expansion of Christianity from the Mediterranean world into Europe was a
gradual one, involving “archipelagos of centrality in a sea of insouciance,” as the historian Peter
Brown described it. Along the way Christianity picked up many pre-Christian indigenous
European cultural practices, including the idea of saints and the festival seasons of Christmas
and Easter—the latter named for Eostre, the pagan goddess of spring.
Religion therefore has always been global, in the sense that religious communities and
traditions have always maintained permeable boundaries. They have moved, shifted, and
interacted with one another around the globe. If one thinks of religion as the cultural expression
of a people's sense of ultimate significance, (p. 5) it is understandable that these cultural
elements would move as people have moved, and that they would interact and change over
time just as people have. Though most religious traditions claim some ultimate anchors of truth
that are unchangeable, it is indisputable that every tradition contains within it an enormous
diversity of characteristics and myriad cultural elements gleaned from its neighbors.
All this is part of the globalization of religion. Religion is global in that it is related to the global
transportation of peoples, and of ideas. There is also a third way that religion is global, which
might be called the religion of globalization—in which forms of new re ...
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