Re: Supernatural

karl h schwerin (schwerin@UNM.EDU)
Mon, 20 Nov 1995 13:12:02 -0700

On Mon, 13 Nov 1995, Jay Kotliar wrote:

> Does the belief in a supernatural always correspond to a belief in a
> divinity or divinities? If a supernatural belief believes in some sort of
> intangible supernatural quality to inanimate and/or animate objects, a
> connectivity without necessarily an ordering intelligence or
> intelligences-would those supernatural beliefs be considered theistic? Does
> a belief in ghosts, bigfoot, immortal elvises, werewolves, vampires, aliens
> abducting and people, lucky numbers,etc. not represent supernatural beliefs
> that may or may not be connected with belief in a god or gods? What about
> karma? While I believe supernatural beliefs in themselves do not
> constitute a religion, what happens when they form part of a larger
> cosmological system, one with associated clergy, rituals and texts-would this
> represent a religion? If not-then what classification term would you
assign > such a system?

This is exactly the point made by R.R. Marrett in defining *mana* (1909.
The threshold of religion). William Howells (1948. The heathens.
Primitive man and his religions. Garden City, NY: Doubleday) defines
mana as "a kind of force or power which can be in anything and which
makes that thing better in its own special qualities... Typically,
mana is a sort of essence of nature; it is not a spirit, and it has
no will or purpose of its own "(1948:25-26).

on pp. 19-22 Howells offers a number of interesting definitions for
religion, observing, however, "The fact is that no satisfactory
definition of religion has ever been made. One good reason for this is
that each definition has depended on the approach of the person making
it, which takes us back to the six blind men and the elelphant. A
philosopher says, 'Religion is x.' But then a psychologist says: 'What
about y?' And an anthropologist says, 'Yes, and what about z?' If you
then lamely concede that 'Religion is x+y+z,' you are surrounding it, not
defining it." He also contrasts religion with science. He examines
definitions from Tylor, Marrett, Frazer, William James, and even H.L.
Mencken, as well as Durkheim, Kant and Reinach. In the end he comments
that "I am not particularly pleased with the above attempts, especially
as I have just finished saying that it seems impractical to define religion at all."

Karl Schwerin SnailMail: Dept. of Anthropology
Univ. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131

Much charitable endeavor is motivated by an unconscious
desire to peer into lives that one is glad to be unable
to share. . . . . Edward Sapir