Re: Religion(s)

Douglass St.Christian (stchri@MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA)
Tue, 9 Apr 1996 09:13:37 -0400

Byron Good has a interesting and balanced discussion of the problematic
issue of 'beleif' in anthropology in:

Medicine, Rationality and Experience: Cambridge 1994

if we teach anything, perhaps we should be teaching about what people know
about the world, and leave issues of beleif and truth to the fundamentalists
of whatever stripe....

which is simpleminded, perhaps, if we assume that everyone everywhere
agonizes over the inscrutabilities of beleifs and truths and
knowledge....hell, my mother does not beleive anything, but she certainly
knows many things that i do not know [ including, for example, the name and
presence of her gaurdian angel...something i would dismiss as a beleif, at
least to her face, only at great peril].....

that students come to us in the haze that says "I have truth" and "Others
have beleifs [ie: misunderstandings]" is something the teaching of
anthropology should work to address....
my own spin is to purge the concept of beleif from the discussion by arguing
its too often ethnocentric application makes it too pernicious a concept to
retain much analytic value....if this means i am also teaching that my
students religious beleifs are somehow false i am doing so in the context of
arguing that their 'beleifs' are no more false than anyone elses...

this in no way precludes moral judgement, the suspension of which is one of
those quaint anthropological fictions....hitler's 'beleifs' [ that is, what
hitler knew about the world] are repugnant and reprehensible but an
anthropologist seeking to understand the culture of hitlerism would
understand precious little were that repugnance the only response brought to

but after all, in teaching anthropology we ask students to learn how to
reflect critically on the world ... and that should include their own, from
their understanding that what goes up must come down to their personal
experience of the ressurection of christ [insert any highfalutin "beleif

douglass st.christian