Chapter Three of the textbook, and this week’s topic, deals with “Sacred Power.” As the textbook says, “Power is a basic religious category.” Power could be defined as “the ability to do things.” If I have the power to dunk a basketball, then I have the ability to dunk a basketball (which, by the way, I do not that power or ability!) The word “sacred” can be defined in many ways, but it is related etymologically to “sacrifice”, something that is not done in the ordinary world, but is done inside the temple, for those who are initiated. Hence, “Sacred” can mean “that is which is set apart from the ordinary.” Thus, Sacred Power can mean “those forces or abilities that are beyond the ordinary, set apart from the ordinary.”
In various religions there are a wide range of powers beyond the ordinary. Pages 45-55 in the textbook describes and discusses various forms of sacred power: spirits, ancestors, totems, gods, goddesses, etc. As you read these pages consider the examples from the different religions that illustrate these forms of sacred power: from African, native American, Persian, Christian, Islamic, Hindu (and more) religious traditions. The two case studies (the Dao of the Dao De Jing and God of St. Anselm) present two contrasting examples of Sacred Power.
E. B. Tylor is often termed “the father of anthropology.” Although not often read today in Cultural Anthropology courses he was a major early figure in Anthropology and Religious Studies. His view of religion can be termed an “evolutionist” view (see Week Two lecture on Types of Definitions of Religion.) That is to say, he was looking for the origin or beginning of religion; where did religion start and how has it evolved. In asking this he was influenced by the thought of Charles Darwin, the father of biological evolution. Darwin had proposed that species of life (bugs, animals, etc.) had not been created all at once, but had evolved from other, less complex life forms (see the reading from Darwin on Canvas.) In a similar way, Tylor and other social scientists influenced by Darwin believed social forms (such as social groups, education, politics, etc.) also evolved over the centuries from less complex to more complex forms (this approach to social science is usually termed Social Darwinism.) Tylor belongs to this tradition. (see pages 46-47 in the textbook.) In the reading on Canvas from Tylor he asks “how should we study religion, and where does religion come from? What is the simplest, most basic version of religion?” Read the Tylor selection to see his answer, but part of the answer is “spirits” and “animism.” As the book states, “Animism refers to religious practices and beliefs centering on the notion that spirits or souls inhabit and animate most, if not all, natural phenomena.
Given this context, here is the writing assignment for Week Four. After reading Chapter Three of Studying Religion, and the Canvas readings by Darwin and Tylor, write one-two pages addressing the following: a) Explain E. B. Tylor’s theory of the origin of religion. Give examples from his writings. b) How might Tylor have been influenced by Darwin’s discoveries? Give examples from the Tylor and the Darwin readings.