Re: FW: Religous Variation

Edward W. Farrell (ewf@INREACH.COM)
Mon, 29 Jul 1996 18:16:23 -0700

Sorry if any of you receive multiple copies of this. For some
reason my mail server had the twitches this morning so I'm now
resending for the third time.

John McCreery said:

>Edward Farrell asserts that we need a theory of mind to account
>for religious variation. I ask now what variation he has in

John, I'm going to do my best to explain it, but we're not
getting off to a good start in "establishing communications"
here. I never asserted that you need a theory of mind to
"account" for religious variation; you need a theory of mind to
"develop an adequate theory of religious variation." My
insistence on a theory of mind has to do with adequacy, with
explaining all the facts in their proper relations. Durkheim is
perfectly content to "account" for the religious in terms of
equivalency to the social, as (I take it) are you. I am one of
those who happen to believe that religion encompasses a larger
sphere than the social (notwithstanding your etymology).
Therefore my explanation will have to "account" for more than
yours. An adequate theory of mind would help to explain some of
the things your "account" leaves out. But more than this, as a
matter of basic principle, I do not understand how any science
that would proport to explain human behavior can afford to
neglect coming to terms with the individual mind from which any
given behavior ultimately originates, socially conditioned or

In the view I'm speaking for, religion consists, in broad brush,
of belief and practice. Within the sphere of "practice" are
things as ritual, doctrine, and morals. (Certain doctrine, such
as some of the various Christian creeds, would arguably be
belief by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. In these cases,
where doctrine would become belief and not practice would depend
on whether the doctrine were viewed as divine revelation or
formulation). Doctrine is a statement or formulation of belief;
ritual is a prescribed enactment of belief intended to achieve a
certain end determined by belief. Morals give us precepts that
may guide our conduct into conformance with belief. There is a
fourth part of "practice" that is harder to define (it may or
may not be a part of ritual), which includes activities such as
meditation, prayer, and belief-centered willful action (obeying
the ten commandments against one's inclination, good works to
please God, etc.). None of this is particularly far-fetched, is
it? It is in this realm of practice that you observe your
(quoting from your earlier post):

>... religious/ritual behavior: (1) non-routine; (2)
>(3) specialized for communication in agonistic situations; (4)
>addressed to beings not visible to the observer.

(Although, as an aside, isn't this behavior more-or-less
to societies whose "routine behavior" is not predominantly
religious? Malinowski observed some time ago that "Today we are
somewhat perplexed by the discovery that to a savage all is
religion, that he perpetually lives in a world of mysticism and
ritualism. If religion is coextensive with "life" and with
"death" into the bargain, if it arises from all "collective"
and from all "crises in the individual's existence," if it
comprises all savage "theory" and covers all his "practical
concerns"---we are led to ask, not without dismay: What remains
outside it, what is the world of the "profane" in primitive

It's in this arena of "practice" that the religious and social
interact. However, behind the practice and behavior, and
supporting it, is belief. Belief, especially belief in the
supernatural, is where the religious variation of the sort I am
speaking of originates. Belief is the activity of an individual
mind; it can be shared through common practice (although,
conversely, it may never reveal itself overtly in the social

realm except in rare moments of crisis), but it is essentially a
private activity.

Here are a few of the important religious variations of the sort
I have in mind:

1. Beliefs about the mind.
2. Beliefs about man's relation to God/gods/spirits/forces
3. Beliefs about man's relation to the world
4. Beliefs about the world's relation to God/gods/spirits/forces
5. Beliefs about the necessity of right action
6. Beliefs about free will, predestination, fate, and the like

These variations are so well known and have been discussed so
exhaustively in comparative religious literature that I will
provide sources if you insist. I hope you will not argue that
what I'm referring to here is book-bound "religious intellectual
history" that never appears in the field worker's case load.
Where we may perhaps legitimately differ is in the "chicken or
the egg" question; I am maintaining that belief precedes action
and that social phenomena mostly proceeds from beliefs that are
primarily metaphysical, and not socially determined.

I am not aware of the existence of a "theory of mind" with the
same definition of, say, the theory of relativity. The unique
problem with a theory of mind is regression, i.e., the subject
the theory is also its object. As a tool of science, then, such
a theory would always be subject to buffeting by the very sorts
of beliefs it is engaged in explaining. As difficult as this
dealing with mind openly and straightforwardly is all the more
essential in my view. Else how will the anthropologist ever
account for the suppositions and prejudices that work to shape
his or her view of the field?

The world religions devote a great deal of "theoretical"
(doctrinal, really, but as it often reexamined it takes on a
texture of the theoretical) and practical attention to mind that
has been carefully examined by such lights as Nietzsche, Weber,
Jung, William James, Sir John Woodroffe, Albert Schweitzer, and
Alfred Whitehead. Your "cognitive, emotional, or spiritual
experience[s]" are dealt with in particular detail by some of
these men in an effort to understand manifestations of mind
not simply within the context of their native religions, but in
more general way. When I speak of "theory of mind," however, I
am not so concerned with the strictly personal manifestations of
mind as with the relationship between metaphysical belief and
such phenomena as modern science and technology, hindu caste,
monarchy, civil and canon law, and monasticism. Certainly there
are some fruitful correlations left to explore here.