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Nature and Religion - Lesson Summary

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Native societies do not engage to the idea of “wild”, neither do they draw a division between society and nature as European or Western societies do.

Nature-culture dualism forms part of western ethnoepistemology and derives from a non-universal ontological basis.

Cartesian dualism and other metaphysics characteristics of western ontological presuppositions have dominated anthropological analysis. Wagner argues the we (western society) tend to superimpose them (non-western societies) on the same reality, nature as we perceive it.

Ethnoecology has to do with the study of indigenous knowledge of natural resources and their exploitation.

Going on from ontological constructs, in which the dualism of nature and culture dominates, the conventional study of Ethnoecology tends to imply that a subjective grid of ‘culture’ is imposed upon the objective reality of ‘nature.’ Methodologically, this approach generates much information on taxonomic representations but less on environmental processes and relations as perceived by the people in question.

Roy Rappaport argues that religion is central to the continuing evolution of life. Religion, according to Rappaport, etymologically speaking, binds us to an external force, it stabilizes our meaningful interaction with the world and provides an anchor to our volatility. Thus, he believes, one possible answer to the world’s crisis would be a religion founded on post-modern science grounded in ecology, rather than astronomy, so that human society might be conceived of as being inside rather than outside life on this planet.

Emile Durkheim argues that religion was the organized attempt to bridge the gab between the known and the unknown and that sometimes society has objectified the spirit world as nature and worship that, as in the case of Totemism. In his work, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Durkheim attempts to demonstrate that science springs from the same desire to connect the known and the unknown that spawned religion.

Durkheim argues that the central task of rituals is to instill these collective representations (a societies perception of the unknown) in each of us and thus maintain social solidarity. Rappaport, who studied the Tsemabaga community’s ritual of sacrificing pigs, argues that they do more than maintain social solidarity, they also maintain the conditions of the environment, within which human organisms can survive.