Religion: 25 Concepts in Anthropology


A preview of the concept of “religion” as used by Geertz. I define “religion” here not as “belief in the supernatural” but rather as “beliefs and actions associated with what is ‘really real'”.
Geertz combines a theory of religion with a theory of symbols. By way of background, if you’re interested in his theory of symbols, you can watch:

I took part in a radio program on the issue of religion a few years after recording this presentation:

I said “the crux of what it is to be human”; this is incorrect. I meant “an example of what it is to be human”. Early morning, difficult topic: apologies…

Sources used:
* Stanner, WEH 1972, ‘The Dreaming’, in WA Lessa & E Vogt (eds), Reader in Comparative Religion: An Anthropological Approach, Harper and Row, New York, pp. 269-272. (A classic and easy-to-understand work)

* Munn, ND 1970, ‘The Transformations of Subjects into Objects in Walbiri and Pitjantjatjara Myth’, in RD Berndt (ed.), Australian Aboriginal Anthropology: Modern Studies in the Social Anthropology of the Australian Aborigines, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies & University of Western Australia Press, pp. 141-163. (Profound but excruciatingly difficult)

* Atkinson, JM 1987, ‘The Effectiveness of Shamans in an Indonesian Ritual’, American Anthropologist, vol. 89, no. 2, pp. 342-355. (Fascinating, and a good example of what contemporary anthropological research ‘looks like’)

*Beatty, A 2009, A Shadow Falls in the Heart of Java, Faber and Faber, London. (A great read)

*Geertz, C 1966, ‘Religion as a Cultural System’, in M Banton (ed.), Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, Tavistock Publications, London, pp. 1-46. (Another classic: hard-going but rewarding)

About me: I’m Nick Herriman, author of The Entangled State and Witch-hunt and Conspiracy. In the “25 Concepts in Anthropology” series, I preview what I think are the 25 most important concepts in socio-cultural anthropology. Each concept provides a unique insight into what it is to be human. I am also the ‘Audible Anthropologist’ on iTunes.