Re: Religion(s)

Brian Michael Howell (bmhowell@ARTSCI.WUSTL.EDU)
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 15:28:32 -0500

It is most certainly not "ethnocentric" to believe that one's religion is
true. As the originator of this thread pointed out, if one thought that
one's religion was not true, then that person would either be atheistic
or of the religion which they did think is true. Religion and ethnicity
are not the same thing, so to think that your religion is true is in no
way to think that your ethnicity is superior.

Do you, Dr. Kephart, believe it is the duty of the anthropology
instructor to "teach" students that their religion is false and that to
otherwise is ethnocentric? To return to the original thread somewhat, I
agree that to call one's own belief system a "religion" and other's
beliefs "myth" seems pejorative and paternalistic, but the issue is the
definition of myth and religion, not moral and religious relativism.

On Sat, 6 Apr 1996, Ronald Kephart wrote:

> Maybe this is a little tangential, but it seems to me that religion is precisely
> the area where it's hardest to get students to maintain a cultural relativist
> perspective. The reason, as discussed by both Richard Calo and Bill Lesley,
> seems to be that they assume that their own system of belief is "true" and that
> others are "false." It's very hard to get them to see that that is, in fact, an
> ethnocentric attitude.
> One thing that seems to help (at least for me) is to use the framework in
> Harris' text "People Culture Nature" where the term "cult" is used to describe
> any particular system of religious belief. This turns the students off at
> first, because they aren't used to thinking of their own catholic, baptist, etc.
> set of beliefs and behaviors as a cult; but using that label, I think, helps
> them to distance themselves a little from what is normally a very strongly
> internalized domain.
> Incidentally, most of my teaching on religion takes place in a course on the
> Caribbean, where they learn about Haitian vodoun (among other things). So you
> can imagine the distorted notions they come in with!
> It occurs to me that this religion and mythology issue also feeds into the
> evolution-creation debate, and the difficulty we have in convincing people that
> creationism as reported in the Bible is a myth (Darwin thought that the
> publication of his findings would be the end of religion; to paraphrase Gerald
> Ford, if he were alive today, he'd turn over in his grave!).
> Ronald Kephart
> Department of Language & Literature
> University of North Florida
> Jacksonville, FL 32224
> ph: (w) 904-646-2580 (h) 904-268-4250