Science, Religion & Anthropology

Scott Holmes (sholmes@NETCOM.COM)
Thu, 12 Oct 1995 12:36:30 -0700

at least it is ubiquitous within human populations. This is not to say
that any particular religion or religious belief is, however. Cultures
include religion(s), perhaps more precisely stated as systems of beliefs
and values, but it always comes down to individual interpretations.

To be of use to an anthropologist, the anthropologist must first be
aware of their own sense of religion. This, not only for perspective on
what we are like as a species, but also to map out any personal roadblocks
one might have when dealing with other systems.

To use Daniel Foss' example of the Thunderrites; this could very easily
have been reported in terse terms of the Chinese developed and utilized
gunpowder to rid themselves of enemies. Rather, an important element,
religion and concurrent ritual, are included in the dialogue. To further
the analysis, if we knew how the prevailing religion was interpreted by the
general population, we would have a feel as to whether or not this was
popular policy or just politically expedient.

In my own studies of "Others", this would be applied thusly: Our
religion allows that those "others" are bad (evil) and need to be destroyed.
In this case assembling a fighting force would be no problem. If the
prevailing religious beliefs do not address "others" then some convincing
may be in order. When the prevailing religion argues against doing harm
to others, then not only convincing but coercion must be employed. And,
this will create a whole host of other phenomena worth studying.

Another, more practical example, would be the recent outbreak of a flu-like
disease that has been associated with Southwestern American Natives. I
forget the name but recall that the vector is a flea or mite associated
with a ground rodent. Also, that it was in no way limited to the Southwest
but that outbreaks occurred throughout the coterminus US. I recall that
the Medicine Men anticipated the outbreak by observation of an increase
in amount of pine nuts. There were a number of news reports about the
difficulty government health workers had in dealing with the people and that
this difficulty was a direct result of ignorance and/or disregard for
religion. The irony of the situation arises because with adherence to the
prescribed religious practices, risk of contracting the disease were
minimized by at least as much, if not more, than the procedures prescribed by
the health workers. And, by not including religion in the government's
prescriptions, a good deal of bad feelings and animosity were created.

In this last case, it would have been advisable to map religious
knowledge into the domain of scientific knowledge. I don't suggest stopping
there, but then to draw correlates between the two domains. In this case,
religious practice included keeping one's house clean and not leaving your
clothes lying about on the floor. The government health workers advocated
the same things but presented them in a manner that was interpreted as

Incidentally, I choose my signature wrapper deliberately...

---------- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, ----------------
Scott Holmes <> Informix 4GL Applications
--------------- Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ------------------------