“Systems of Belief” In order to understand a society, it is necessary that we take a holistic approach. However, on of the most important aspects of a civilization is its system of beliefs. This is their religion. Religion is such an important tool for anthropologists because religion seems to be connected to every other aspect of the civilizations social life. These religious beliefs are very important in telling the anthropologist the civilizations views on how one should live their life. It is also important because it tells the anthropologist the civilizations view on death and the existence of an after-life or of reincarnation.
As you will see though the study of a civilizations religion is much more important than just simply gods but religion is in fact connected to every other aspect of a societies social life. Catholicism plays a major role in the lives of its practitioners. By studying the Bible that contains the teachings of Catholicism, an anthropologist can learn many things about countries such as the United States, which have large Catholic communities. A noticeable fact about the Catholic Church is how it is structured as a hierarchy. The priests have a low status in the church, followed by the cardinals, bishops, and finally the pope has the most exclusive rank.
Countries such as the United States have such a social order as well with lower, middle, and upper classes. By studying religion, anthropologists can learn about the social structure of a society. The Bible also dictates marriage patterns. The Bible states a man can only have one wife. In the United States, there is a law, which enforces this. The Bible also states that pre-marital sex is sinful.
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Those in the United States are commonly looked down upon as being promiscuous by conservatives. These laws can be traced in the United States all the way back to the earliest European settlers. As can be seen, anthropologists can learn about courtship, sexual behavior and marriage patterns. Religion can also tell you something about settlement patterns of a civilization. Catholicism is commonly practiced in elaborate churches or cathedrals. Because of this view it could be inferred that Catholics live a sedentary lifestyle due to the feeling that an elaborate building is needed to praise their god.
Healing is closely tied to religion. In Catholicism, the sick commonly pray for a cure to their ailments or the ailments of others in their communities. In some African tribes or Native American tribes in the Northwest United States, shamans are used as a gateway to the gods to help cure the sick. They combine both medicinal and spiritual cures. Religion is closely tied with healing in many civilizations throughout the world. In order to understand a society, it is necessary to understand the religion of the society.
As was seen, religion can be seen as affecting every aspect of life. Without comprehension of religion, it would be difficult to gain a full understanding of the values of a society.