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Religion as a Cultural System, Assessment Example

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Assessment

Anthropology examines humanity and the fields of its activity; this science arises many problems in different spheres of a human life, and religion is not an exception. The anthropological view of religion has always attracted the scientists and common people, and that is why it is of current interest. Examining of religion in the light of culture seems to be necessary for many researchers. In the article “Religion as a cultural system”, Clifford Geertz analyzed and elucidated key points in understanding and perception of any religion from the anthropological point of view and its traces in human culture.

In this article, the author operates different concepts concerning culture and religion, giving a reader their meaning. According to Geertz’s point of view, culture concept denotes “a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and, develop their knowledge about and attitude toward life” (Geertz 89).

Humanity’s experience shows itself in its culture, and one of the aspects here is religion. Geertz believes that any religion is a separate world that contains a certain message for human society. Religion is a system with its own symbols and meanings, which, consequently, exists in culture. According to the author’s opinion, “sacred symbols function to synthesize a people’s ethnos and their world view” (Geertz 89). Analyzing the meaning of religion, he gives its explanation:

“the religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic” (Geertz 90).

According to the author of the article, such symbols as dark clouds (means rain), red flag (means danger), white flag (means surrender) and others are extrinsic sources of information. This system of symbols is compared with a coded program of DNA, where all the elements carry certain information. There are cultural patterns that give people concrete meaning and help them to act or think in a proper way. Whether it is Christianity or Javanese religion there are such symbols, all the difference is what type of religion they belong.

Moods and motivations of a person are caused by the seen symbols. They can give a person a certain command and define his/her way in life. Certain external conditions provoke motives; “moods are neither acts (intentional behaviors) nor feelings” (Geertz 96). Nevertheless, both of them influence is extremely powerful, pervasive and long-lasting.

People have double nature; they may seem chaotic in their beliefs and feelings. In this context, symbols, together with moods and motivations, help a person to organize his/her way of life within the general order of existence. In spite of imperfectness of a human nature, each person has a tendency to some limits and order in everything. The author recollects such Christian problem as the problem of evil and meaning that explain paradoxes in human experience (Geertz).

When a person knows the meaning of the symbols of the religion he or she belongs to, experienced certain moods and motivations and somehow organized his way of life, he/she fills her individual worldview with the content. The author stresses that the conceptions, formulated by interpretation of the symbols, create an aura of faculty. Moreover, a person believes that the rituals and habits can make life easier or happier (Geertz).

Moods and motivations are realized in some real people’s deeds, actions and changes:

“Religious concepts spread beyond their specifically metaphysical contexts to provide a framework of general ideas in terms of which a wide range of experience-intellectual, emotional, moral–can be given meaningful form” (Geertz 123).

Thus, people’s secular life becomes part of the world culture; this is the crucial point in anthropological study of religion. Any religion in the world is a cultural system, full of symbols and meanings that influence people’s worldview and change the general picture of the world. One can agree with the author that religion causes social behavior and people’s psychology. In addition, one thing is evident: anthropological view of religion explains human experience throughout centuries and realizes it in different symbols that become part of people’s daily life.

Works Cited

Geertz, Clifford. “Religion as a Cultural System”. In The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. New York: Basic Books, 1973, pp. 87-125.

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