Religion and ethnocentrism

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Tue, 9 Apr 1996 11:15:37 -0400

In message <Pine.NXT.3.91.960408141942.18908A-100000@mango> Brian Michael
Howell writes:
> 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.

Ethnicity refers to culture, and religion is most certainly a part of culture.
Therefore, yes, I think that to believe that your religion is the only "true"
one and that all others are "false" is a display of ethnocentrism, although as
you point out it might not extend to other areas of the culture(s) in question.
I agree that people who believe their religion to be true could simply have no
opinion about the truth or falsity of other religious belief systems, but I
suspect that those people are in the minority. I wonder too whether people
might subscribe to a system of religious belief without calling into question
the ultimate "truth" of the system.

> Do you, Dr. Kephart, believe it is the duty of the anthropology
> instructor to "teach" students that their religion is false and that to
> think otherwise is ethnocentric?

No, absolutely not. I do think think that we should teach them that religion,
like the rest of culture, is a human universal which is expressed in a number of
ways and can be studied from an anthropological perspective. I think we should
also tell them that to persist in the belief that their religion is the ONLY
true one, and that all others are false, is (partial?) ethnocentrism which might
ordinarily be harmless, like food preferences, but which has also led to things
like the Inquisition.

Ronald Kephart
Dept of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL USA 32224-2645
Phone: (904) 646-2580