REL 298 Test 1

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What, according to Kessler, is the advantage of using a cluster definition for “religion”?

Kessler thinks that cluster definition is preferable to substantive or functional definitions because it avoids the problems of being too narrow or too broad that plague essential definitions. They do this at the price of precision. Still, they are not so imprecise that they cease to be useful.


Why have scholars objected to defining religion as “belief in God”?

It is too vague, it lacks dimensions (focuses only on belief), some religions do not have a God, lacks practices and rituals, it prioritizes belief (makes belief the only thing that matters), some religions have multiple gods.


What are the benefits of learning a culture from face-to-face contact?

It is essential because it gives people are reason to talk about each other as well as themselves, as well as giving more in depth, interlocking and complex information than can be gleaned from a few one-to-one interviews. People are more likely to share their system of values as well.


What is Acosta’s theory of why there are religions other than Christianity?

The devil setup religions to look very similar to the “one true one” aka Christianity.


What, in Tylor’s view, is the driving force behind his evolutionary theory of culture? To what extent do you think he is correct about this being the driving force of culture?

Natural and uniform causes. People everywhere have the same causes, because you have the same natural forces working on culture everywhere. The great opposite is free will (meaning that people have a choice to make these choices.)


Geertz holds that religious people distinguish the observed world from the “really real.” Do you think this is a helpful way to think about religion?

He wants to come up with some category for religious people on how they perceive the world. He says what they see (physical objects) is the real world, and the really real world is “religion.” This means that what is really real is what the person in that religious group believes in (or sees in religion, cannot be perceived by the common senses), such as them being a parakeet. This doesn’t mean that they actually have feathers, rather that they believe they are spiritual involved and are part of a parakeet.


Asad argues that it is impossible to develop a universal definition of religion. Explain why you agree/disagree with him, using points from his argument.

He says that there cannot be a universal definition of religion, not only because its constituent elements and relationships are historically specific, but because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes.


Give one example of a reductive theory of religion. What do reductive theories of religion have in common?

A reductive theory of religion is that religion is only the result of powerful people pushing to make others do what they want. Marx believes that religion is the rich who want the poor people to work for them, so promising them heaven means they will lead a good life if they do what they say. Marx says that religion is economics at work, and the rich suppressing the poor. Religion is used to hide how others are being manipulated.


How does William David Hart relate colonial modernity and theories of religion?

Through the pursuit of India’s wealth, the agents of colonial modernity constructed India, Africa, and American as a complex object of imperial desire. White supremacy, the transatlantic slave trade, and African colonization, as artifacts of that desire, are foundational events in the emergence of theories of religion.


Offer your own definition of religion that would be useful if you were a missionary traveling to work among people of a different culture. Explain why this would be a good definition for your missionary work. You are welcome/encouraged to draw on the definitions of religion we have studied in class.

the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.


What challenges does an anthropologist face when doing fieldwork? How are they similar to the challenges a missionary would face? How are they different?

After they have learned how to live with the people they have studied, they must go back and “translate” (explain what they have found in their studies.) This is a lot easier said than done, because they have to make their findings comprehensible to their colleagues.


Both Geertz and Asad write with the goal of eliminating bias from the study of religion. Comment on how successful each one is in eliminating bias, and why.

Geertz is the really really, and that is how he plans on eliminating bias. This gives the idea that even if a person is wrong, what they believe as really real is their own personal belief. Asad’s goal for eliminating bias is by having no universal definition of religion. This is not successful because this has a bias towards Christianity, and it also pulls away from religious people’s views.