This sample religion essay explores different questions that any religious specialist must be able to answer.
What is a religious specialist?
Religion is a very important element to modern life. A religious specialist is someone who must be knowledgeable about modern conceptions of religion, as well as have in-depth knowledge and experience regarding specific elements of religions.
A religious specialist is one who devotes himself to a particular branch of religion or, viewed organizationally, of a religious system” (Turner).
Four types of religion specialists:
Associated with“the functioning of a regularly organized and permanent enterprise concerned with influencing the gods, in contrast with the individual and occasional efforts of magicians” (Turner). Priests from the various different world religions work for the good of the people and community around them. Authority comes from the position of service held by the priest.
Like a priest but holds “the capacity to achieve the ecstatic states which are viewed, in accordance with primitive experiences as the preconditions or producing certain effects in meteorology, healing, divination, and telepathy” (Turner).
Gets their religious power through “divine stroke.” Tends to dominate food-gathering cultures. May perform curing services or other such services for one or more of the community. “Rites are ‘noncalendrical’ or contingent upon occasions of mishap and illness” (Turner)
A non-appointed individual that is believed to be “possessed by a spirit (or closely controlled by a spirit)” (Turner).
Two ethnographic examples of religious specialists
Callaway’s account (1868-1870) showed the relationship between the doctor and the diviner in Zululand. The doctor and the diviner are classified as the same person in this culture but the tasks and functions of the position are often separated and performed by different individuals (Turner). Gender roles in Africa also change between religious positions and typical positions. The society feels that bodily ailments are one that start in the soul and must be addressed by a person that is attuned to both medical and spiritual needs.
In West African society, individuals are chosen at birth to be the incarnation of a spirit of a particular god. They must train themselves through a ridged regiment to be spiritually in tune with the voice of that god. Every facet of their life is dedicated to this training, but after it’s completed their place as a priest in the clan is secured for life.
What is the function of Magic?
One ethnographic example of magic, within Trobriand Island society, an individual gets magic past down to them by giving gifts to a person that possesses the magic. If the person that knows the magic dies before transferring it, the magic is lost to the society. Malinowski’s study showed the transfer and loss of such garden magic from 1915-1918 by observing the culture (Frankle Stein).
One example of divination is the purchasing of a dream book in American society allows an individual to look at particular signs, especially animals, to interpret what their dreams are telling them (Frankle Stein). One form of divination is predicting the future using tarot cards.
Evaluation of examples from functionalist perspective
The magic from this example is just a logical way of thinking. The individuals that possess this form of garden magic, really only have tips and known ways of planting, tending to, and harvesting their crops. With more aid on growing their own plants, it is not a surprise to see their yield output the highest amount of growth.
The dream books put the idea of a specific type of event or animal into the head of the reader. They are then creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in that they are expecting the events from their dreams to transpire and are, therefore, more likely to have them occur in reality.
How do Anthropologist explain witchcraft?
Over the course of history, the study of witchcraft has changed. Regardless, those thought to be witches have been continually feared and persecuted throughout historical investigation. Witchcraft could only be attributed to women and those accused of it were usually sentenced to death during the Salem Witch Trials or a barbaric trial to test the claim against them including being thrown into a body of water to see if they float or not. The idea being a witch’s body would be rejected by the pure nature of water and she would float on it (Frankle Stein). If she sank, the victim would be pulled ashore and, if possible, revived.
Two ethnographic examples of witchcraft (from textbooks)
Modern Society: The Bunyoro people of Uganda believe that witchcraft is responsible for their mishaps and problems such as bareness or impotency. These people consult a diviner in times of trouble who can tell them if they are being plagued by either witchcraft or sorcery as the source of the problems (Frankle Stein).
Traditional Society: The Salem Witch Trials of the late 1600’s. On the claims of a group of young girls, panic spread through the town of Salem, MA, which ultimately lead to the death of some 19 people for being accused of witchcraft (History). Because Christians had a strong ethical belief that witches were of the devil, they were not accepted and put to death.
Distinction between witchcraft, magic, and divination
The practice of supernatural powers in the aims of controlling people or events. Typically involves the conventional idea of magic or sorcery. Involves the negative stereotype of the use of evil magic “black magic” for personal gain at the expense of others
“Refers to the activities by which a person can compel the supernatural to behave in certain ways” (Frankle Stein)
“Techniques for obtaining information about things unknown, including events that will occur in the future” (Frankle Stein)
How do religions compete in the religious marketplace?
The basic idea that through manipulation of economic forces, a religion can gain itself power and sustained growth. Look at the religions prominent in the USA, namely Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam. It should come as no surprise that they are ranked as the three most profitable types of religions (Fudulu)
Two ways that new religions form
Example 1: A split from an existing religion such as the Reformation period that saw the beginning of Lutheranism based on different interpretations of scripture.
Example 2: A new prophet preaches what his or her divine god or gods declares as their rules to live by and that the subjects must follow. (Basically any religion that challenges what has already been generally accepted such as with Mormonism)
Considering old religions be re-imagined because of current concerns
The country of Singapore is attempting to incorporate the use of modern technology to reach out an get the people of the country in touch with certain religious sects. Studies have shown that these religions that embrace the Internet and other modern technologies have seen enthusiasm from their followers and even incorporate it into a plan to be used for growth among the religion as a whole (Kluver Cheong). Basically, when framed correctly, modern technology can be a major asset to religions in a world that is so shaped by economic forces.
Frankle, Rebecca, and Philip Stein. Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft. 3rd. Boston: Allyn Bacon, 2005. Print.
Fudulu, Paul. “The Economic Performance of Great Religions: An Alternative to Weber’s Rationalism .” Association of Religion Data Archives. n. page. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://www.thearda.com/rrh/papers/economicperformancegreatreligions.asp.
History, . “Salem Witch Trials.” History. n.d. n. page. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://www.history.com/topics/salem-witch-trials.
Kluver, R., Cheong, P. H. (2007). Technological modernization, the Internet, and religion in Singapore. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(3), article 18. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue3/kluver.html
Turner, Victor. “Religious Specialists.” Encyclopedia. 1968: n. page. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045001058.html.