Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Religion as a Cultural System"

"Religion as a Cultural System"
by Clifford Geertz

Geertz does not only talk about theory in broad terms – he also delves into particular theory, such as the anthropology of religion. In accordance with his emphasis on symbols, Geertz defines religion as “1) a system of symbols which acts to 2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by 3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and 4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that 5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic” (Geertz 1973d:90). Geertz then breaks down his definition to examine exactly what the study of religion as a cultural system should be.

The important aspect of symbols in this definition is that symbols are models – and importantly, both models of and models for (Geertz 1973d:93). Systems of symbols function similarly; that is, systems of symbols act as models of reality and models for reality.

Religion also must establish something. What this “something” is differs from culture to culture, but in each culture this “something” must make sense of the lives people are leading. In addition, this something must be perceived as “uniquely realistic”; i.e., this feeling should be the ground-level interpretation of a culture. A man may not be religious, but when a man needs to find meaning at its deepest level, religion will be the system of symbols he uses.

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