ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO THE STUDY OF RELIGION

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Anthropology/Religion 265

In writing of Axial Age religions, Robert Bellah makes this argument: “Religious
concern, focused on this life in [primal] religions, now tends to focus on life in the
other realm, which may be either infinitely superior or, in certain situations with
the emergence of various conceptions of hell, infinitely worse. Under these
circumstances the religious goal of salvation is for the first time the central
religious preoccupation.”

“Religious Evolution,” pp. 82-8 in Bellah, Beyondfielief

On the other hand Eisenstadt points out that while the Axial Age brought forth
religions focused on the the other world, they came into some kind of
accommodation with local traditions, sometimes known as the Little Tradition-
Islam is the Great Tradition in this case-embodying folk traditions that might be
characterized as magical, animistic or superstitious (p. 802). Sometimes the Great
Tradition ignored the Little, sought to eliminate or absorb it, or to replace the local
Little Tradition with the Great Tradition’s own attempt at everyday, practical
religion-call it the Great Tradition’s Little Tradition.

Take the contrast between these two characterizations of Axial Age religions, and
think about Islam in Dj enne in terms of the relationship between the Great and
Little Traditions.

Can you find evidence of the Malian marabouts seeking salvation? Is there a
tension between their preoccupation with the otherworld and the demands of this
world? How do these clerics serve the interests of their followers? How are
practices such as numerologr fitted to Islam and justified ideologically?

Islam is a religion that favors the written word. How is that emphasis reflected in
Djenne?

What do you make of Islam as it is practiced in Djenne? What surprises you; what
follows logically from what you know about Islam? What do you think caused Islam
to become different from what Bellah attributes to salvation religions? What
exactly counts as the Little Tradition in Djenne?

Last Updated on March 18, 2018 by EssayPro