Anthropology Study: Scales of Society and Religious Specialists Found There
Organized belief systems normally function as a stabilizing influence within society. Religions do this by emphasizing the importance of tradition and perpetuating beliefs & rituals handed down from the past . It is usually the formal religious specialists ( priests ) of a society who are charged with the task of maintaining, interpreting & disseminating the important elements of a belief system.
Religious beliefs seem to correspond with the nature of reality itself. Therefore the small scale community almost always represents a breaking in social norms and institutionalized religious rituals.
Shamans and Prophets
The shaman is often found in small scale multifunctional societies of food gathers (foragers), who are flexible and mobile. There’s a belief in a multitude of gods, deities, nature spirits, or ancestral shades, making a shaman a perfectly suited vessel for societies with low moral density and segmental organization. Whereas the shaman is found in small scale, loosely structured, societies, the prophet is found in diminishing large-scale societies, incapable of cross cultural relationships with small scale communities. This does, once again, represent a person who resides in a large scale society who breaks from the accepted institution to represent the small scale society. In that aspect, inspirational functionaries can reside in large scale societies.
Shamans and Mediums
In simple societies, there’s a tendency towards a specialization is herbal remedies, trance like states, communication with spirits, and bleeding. Therefore, many women and elders are responsible for their own religious capacity. This means, of course, we can see shamans and spirit mediums present in socially fragmented and unsophisticated societies. This can be seen in Michael Gelfand’s research with the Shona nganga, translated as “medicine man” or “witch doctor”, who is an herbalist, diviner, and medium. This exemplifies the sociocultural situation of similar practitioners in very many preliterate societies.
Priests can be found in complex and literate societies, which have the resources to support a non-working class. Not everyone has to devote themselves to getting or producing food. In this particular setting, the individuals have the right to opt out of an affiliation with the organized religious sector. The structure is highly impersonal and includes several religious specialists, perfect example being the Catholic Church.
Consequently, this is not to say that Priests cannot be found in medium scale societies who often recruit mediums, or rather they control the medium’s experience of possessions. This can be found in several West African cults. Of course you have to consider, if there are national gods, then there will be national priests, found in temples or shrines.
Religion can be viewed in different historical and social contexts, leading us to question the roles of religious specialists over the centuries. Do they have a defined status? Do they hold power, whether supernatural or personal?
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