Evolutionary origin of religions

The evolutionary origin of religions and religious behavior is a field of study related to evolutionary psychology, the origin of language and mythology, and cross-cultural comparison of the anthropology of religion. Some subjects of interest include Neolithic religion, evidence for spirituality or cultic behavior in the Upper Paleolithic, and similarities in great ape behavior.

Nonhuman religious behaviour

Humanity's closest living relatives are common chimpanzees and bonobos.[1][2] These primates share a common ancestor with humans who lived between six and eight million years ago. It is for this reason that chimpanzees and bonobos are viewed as the best available surrogate for this common ancestor. Barbara King argues that while non-human primates are not religious, they do exhibit some traits that would have been necessary for the evolution of religion. These traits include high intelligence, a capacity for symbolic communication, a sense of social norms, realization of "self" of continuity.[3][4] There is inconclusive evidence that Homo neanderthalensis may have buried their dead which is evidence of the use of ritual. The use of burial rituals is thought to be evidence of religious activity, and there is no other evidence that religion existed in human culture before humans reached behavioral modernity.[5] Other evidences have revealed that Homo neanderthalensis have made cave art, which would be a way of symbolic thinking close to the religious one.[6]

Elephants demonstrate rituals around their deceased, which include long periods of silence and mourning at the point of death and a process of returning to grave sites and caressing the remains.[7][8] Some evidence suggests that many species grieve death and loss.[9]

Relevant prerequisites for human religion

Increased brain size

In this set of theories, the religious mind is one consequence of a brain that is large enough to formulate religious and philosophical ideas.[10] During human evolution, the hominid brain tripled in size, peaking 500,000 years ago. Much of the brain's expansion took place in the neocortex. The cerebral neocortex is presumed to be responsible for the neuronal computations underlying complex phenomena such as perception, thought, language, attention, episodic memory and voluntary movement.[11] According to Dunbar's theory, the relative neocortex size of any species correlates with the level of social complexity of the particular species.[12] The neocortex size correlates with a number of social variables that include social group size and complexity of mating behaviors.[13] In chimpanzees the neocortex occupies 50% of the brain, whereas in modern humans it occupies 80% of the brain.[14]

Robin Dunbar argues that the critical event in the evolution of the neocortex took place at the speciation of archaic homo sapiens about 500,000 years ago. His study indicates that only after the speciation event is the neocortex large enough to process complex social phenomena such as language and religion. The study is based on a regression analysis of neocortex size plotted against a number of social behaviors of living and extinct hominids.[15]

Stephen Jay Gould suggests that religion may have grown out of evolutionary changes which favored larger brains as a means of cementing group coherence among savannah hunters, after that larger brain enabled reflection on the inevitability of personal mortality.[16]

Tool use

Lewis Wolpert argues that causal beliefs that emerged from tool use played a major role in the evolution of belief. The manufacture of complex tools requires creating a mental image of an object which does not exist naturally before actually making the artifact. Furthermore, one must understand how the tool would be used, that requires an understanding of causality.[17] Accordingly, the level of sophistication of stone tools is a useful indicator of causal beliefs.[18] Wolpert contends use of tools composed of more than one component, such as hand axes, represents an ability to understand cause and effect. However, recent studies of other primates indicate that causality may not be a uniquely human trait. For example, chimpanzees have been known to escape from pens closed with multiple latches, which was previously thought could only have been figured out by humans who understood causality. Chimpanzees are also known to mourn the dead, and notice things that have only aesthetic value, like sunsets, both of which may be considered to be components of religion or spirituality.[19] The difference between the comprehension of causality by humans and chimpanzees is one of degree. The degree of comprehension in an animal depends upon the size of the prefrontal cortex: the greater the size of the prefrontal cortex the deeper the comprehension.[20]

Development of language

Religion requires a system of symbolic communication, such as language, to be transmitted from one individual to another. Philip Lieberman states "human religious thought and moral sense clearly rest on a cognitive-linguistic base".[21] From this premise science writer Nicholas Wade states:

"Like most behaviors that are found in societies throughout the world, religion must have been present in the ancestral human population before the dispersal from Africa 50,000 years ago. Although religious rituals usually involve dance and music, they are also very verbal, since the sacred truths have to be stated. If so, religion, at least in its modern form, cannot pre-date the emergence of language. It has been argued earlier that language attained its modern state shortly before the exodus from Africa. If religion had to await the evolution of modern, articulate language, then it too would have emerged shortly before 50,000 years ago."[22]

Another view distinguishes individual religious belief from collective religious belief. While the former does not require prior development of language, the latter does. The individual human brain has to explain a phenomenon in order to comprehend and relate to it. This activity predates by far the emergence of language and may have caused it. The theory is, belief in the supernatural emerges from hypotheses arbitrarily assumed by individuals to explain natural phenomena that cannot be explained otherwise. The resulting need to share individual hypotheses with others leads eventually to collective religious belief. A socially accepted hypothesis becomes dogmatic backed by social sanction.

Morality and group living

Frans de Waal and Barbara King both view human morality as having grown out of primate sociality. Although morality awareness may be a unique human trait, many social animals, such as primates, dolphins and whales, have been known to exhibit pre-moral sentiments. According to Michael Shermer, the following characteristics are shared by humans and other social animals, particularly the great apes:

attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group.[23]

De Waal contends that all social animals have had to restrain or alter their behavior for group living to be worthwhile. Pre-moral sentiments evolved in primate societies as a method of restraining individual selfishness and building more cooperative groups. For any social species, the benefits of being part of an altruistic group should outweigh the benefits of individualism. For example, a lack of group cohesion could make individuals more vulnerable to attack from outsiders. Being part of a group may also improve the chances of finding food. This is evident among animals that hunt in packs to take down large or dangerous prey.

All social animals have hierarchical societies in which each member knows its own place. Social order is maintained by certain rules of expected behavior and dominant group members enforce order through punishment. However, higher order primates also have a sense of fairness. In a 2008 study, de Waal and colleagues put two capuchin monkeys side by side and gave them a simple task to complete: Giving a rock to the experimenter. They were given cucumbers as a reward for executing the task, and the monkeys obliged. But if one of the monkeys was given grapes, something interesting happened: After receiving the first piece of cucumber, the capuchin monkey gave the experimenter a rock as expected. But upon seeing that the other monkey got grapes, the capuchin monkey threw away the next piece of cucumber that was given to him.[24]

Chimpanzees live in fission-fusion groups that average 50 individuals. It is likely that early ancestors of humans lived in groups of similar size. Based on the size of extant hunter-gatherer societies, recent Paleolithic hominids lived in bands of a few hundred individuals. As community size increased over the course of human evolution, greater enforcement to achieve group cohesion would have been required. Morality may have evolved in these bands of 100 to 200 people as a means of social control, conflict resolution and group solidarity. According to Dr. de Waal, human morality has two extra levels of sophistication that are not found in primate societies. Humans enforce their society's moral codes much more rigorously with rewards, punishments and reputation building. Humans also apply a degree of judgment and reason not otherwise seen in the animal kingdom.

Psychologist Matt J. Rossano argues that religion emerged after morality and built upon morality by expanding the social scrutiny of individual behavior to include supernatural agents. By including ever-watchful ancestors, spirits and gods in the social realm, humans discovered an effective strategy for restraining selfishness and building more cooperative groups.[25] The adaptive value of religion would have enhanced group survival.[26][27] Rossano is referring here to collective religious belief and the social sanction that institutionalized morality. According to Rossano's teaching, individual religious belief is thus initially epistemological, not ethical, in nature.

Evolutionary psychology of religion

Cognitive scientists underlined that religions may be explained as a result of the brain architecture that developed early in the genus Homo, through the history of life. However, there is disagreement on the exact mechanisms that drove the evolution of the religious mind. The two main schools of thought hold that either religion evolved due to natural selection and has selective advantage, or that religion is an evolutionary byproduct of other mental adaptations.[28] Stephen Jay Gould, for example, believed that religion was an exaptation or a spandrel, in other words that religion evolved as byproduct of psychological mechanisms that evolved for other reasons.[29][30][31]

Such mechanisms may include the ability to infer the presence of organisms that might do harm (agent detection), the ability to come up with causal narratives for natural events (etiology), and the ability to recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions (theory of mind). These three adaptations (among others) allow human beings to imagine purposeful agents behind many observations that could not readily be explained otherwise, e.g. thunder, lightning, movement of planets, complexity of life.[32] The emergence of collective religious belief identified the agents as deities that standardized the explanation.[33]

Some scholars have suggested that religion is genetically "hardwired" into the human condition. One controversial proposal, the God gene hypothesis, states that some variants of a specific gene, the VMAT2 gene, predispose to spirituality.[34]

Another view is based on the concept of the triune brain: the reptilian brain, the limbic system, and the neocortex, proposed by Paul D. MacLean. Collective religious belief draws upon the emotions of love, fear, and gregariousness and is deeply embedded in the limbic system through socio-biological conditioning and social sanction. Individual religious belief utilizes reason based in the neocortex and often varies from collective religion. The limbic system is much older in evolutionary terms than the neocortex and is, therefore, stronger than it much in the same way as the reptilian is stronger than both the limbic system and the neocortex.

Yet another view is that the behavior of people who participate in a religion makes them feel better and this improves their fitness, so that there is a genetic selection in favor of people who are willing to believe in religion. Specifically, rituals, beliefs, and the social contact typical of religious groups may serve to calm the mind (for example by reducing ambiguity and the uncertainty due to complexity) and allow it to function better when under stress.[35] This would allow religion to be used as a powerful survival mechanism, particularly in facilitating the evolution of hierarchies of warriors, which if true, may be why many modern religions tend to promote fertility and kinship.

Still another view, proposed by F.H. Previc, is that human religion was a product of an increase in dopaminergic functions in the human brain and a general intellectual expansion beginning around 80 kya.[36][37][38] Dopamine promotes an emphasis on distant space and time, which is critical for the establishment of religious experience.[39] While the earliest shamanic cave paintings date back around 40 kya, the use of ochre for rock art predates this and there is clear evidence for abstract thinking along the coast of South Africa 80 kya.

Prehistoric evidence of religion

The exact time when humans first became religious remains unknown, however research in evolutionary archaeology shows credible evidence of religious-cum-ritualistic behaviour from around the Middle Paleolithic era (45-200 thousand years ago).[40]

Paleolithic burials

The earliest evidence of religious thought is based on the ritual treatment of the dead. Most animals display only a casual interest in the dead of their own species.[41] Ritual burial thus represents a significant change in human behavior. Ritual burials represent an awareness of life and death and a possible belief in the afterlife. Philip Lieberman states "burials with grave goods clearly signify religious practices and concern for the dead that transcends daily life."[21]

The earliest evidence for treatment of the dead comes from Atapuerca in Spain. At this location the bones of 30 individuals believed to be Homo heidelbergensis have been found in a pit.[42] Neanderthals are also contenders for the first hominids to intentionally bury the dead. They may have placed corpses into shallow graves along with stone tools and animal bones. The presence of these grave goods may indicate an emotional connection with the deceased and possibly a belief in the afterlife. Neanderthal burial sites include Shanidar in Iraq and Krapina in Croatia and Kebara Cave in Israel.[43][44][44][45]

The earliest known burial of modern humans is from a cave in Israel located at Qafzeh. Human remains have been dated to 100,000 years ago. Human skeletons were found stained with red ochre. A variety of grave goods were found at the burial site. The mandible of a wild boar was found placed in the arms of one of the skeletons.[46] Philip Lieberman states:

"Burial rituals incorporating grave goods may have been invented by the anatomically modern hominids who emigrated from Africa to the Middle East roughly 100,000 years ago".[46]

Matt Rossano suggests that the period between 80,000–60,000 years before present, following the retreat of humans from the Levant to Africa, was a crucial period in the evolution of religion.[47]

Use of symbolism

The use of symbolism in religion is a universal established phenomenon. Archeologist Steven Mithen contends that it is common for religious practices to involve the creation of images and symbols to represent supernatural beings and ideas. Because supernatural beings violate the principles of the natural world, there will always be difficulty in communicating and sharing supernatural concepts with others. This problem can be overcome by anchoring these supernatural beings in material form through representational art. When translated into material form, supernatural concepts become easier to communicate and understand.[48] Due to the association of art and religion, evidence of symbolism in the fossil record is indicative of a mind capable of religious thoughts. Art and symbolism demonstrates a capacity for abstract thought and imagination necessary to construct religious ideas. Wentzel van Huyssteen states that the translation of the non-visible through symbolism enabled early human ancestors to hold beliefs in abstract terms.[49]

Some of the earliest evidence of symbolic behavior is associated with Middle Stone Age sites in Africa. From at least 100,000 years ago, there is evidence of the use of pigments such as red ochre. Pigments are of little practical use to hunter gatherers, thus evidence of their use is interpreted as symbolic or for ritual purposes. Among extant hunter gatherer populations around the world, red ochre is still used extensively for ritual purposes. It has been argued that it is universal among human cultures for the color red to represent blood, sex, life and death.[50]

The use of red ochre as a proxy for symbolism is often criticized as being too indirect. Some scientists, such as Richard Klein and Steven Mithen, only recognize unambiguous forms of art as representative of abstract ideas. Upper paleolithic cave art provides some of the most unambiguous evidence of religious thought from the paleolithic. Cave paintings at Chauvet depict creatures that are half human and half animal.

Origins of organized religion

Social evolution of humans[23][51]
Period years ago Society type Number of individuals
100,000–10,000 Bands 10s–100s
10,000–5,000 Tribes 100s–1,000s
5,000–3,000 Chiefdoms 1,000s–10,000s
3,000–1,000 States 10,000s–100,000s
2,000*–present Empires 100,000–1,000,000s

Organised religion traces its roots to the neolithic revolution that began 11,000 years ago in the Near East but may have occurred independently in several other locations around the world. The invention of agriculture transformed many human societies from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a sedentary lifestyle. The consequences of the neolithic revolution included a population explosion and an acceleration in the pace of technological development. The transition from foraging bands to states and empires precipitated more specialized and developed forms of religion that reflected the new social and political environment. While bands and small tribes possess supernatural beliefs, these beliefs do not serve to justify a central authority, justify transfer of wealth or maintain peace between unrelated individuals. Organized religion emerged as a means of providing social and economic stability through the following ways:

  • Justifying the central authority, which in turn possessed the right to collect taxes in return for providing social and security services.
  • Bands and tribes consist of small number of related individuals. However, states and nations are composed of many thousands of unrelated individuals. Jared Diamond argues that organized religion served to provide a bond between unrelated individuals who would otherwise be more prone to enmity. In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel he argues that the leading cause of death among hunter-gatherer societies is murder.[51]
  • Religions that revolved around moralizing gods may have facilitated the rise of large, cooperative groups of unrelated individuals.[52]

The states born out of the Neolithic revolution, such as those of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, were theocracies with chiefs, kings and emperors playing dual roles of political and spiritual leaders.[23] Anthropologists have found that virtually all state societies and chiefdoms from around the world have been found to justify political power through divine authority. This suggests that political authority co-opts collective religious belief to bolster itself.[23]

Invention of writing

Following the neolithic revolution, the pace of technological development (cultural evolution) intensified due to the invention of writing 5000 years ago. Symbols that became words later on made effective communication of ideas possible. Printing invented only over a thousand years ago increased the speed of communication exponentially and became the main spring of cultural evolution. Writing is thought to have been first invented in either Sumeria or Ancient Egypt and was initially used for accounting. Soon after, writing was used to record myth. The first religious texts mark the beginning of religious history. The Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt are one of the oldest known religious texts in the world, dating to between 2400–2300 BCE.[53][54][55] Writing played a major role in sustaining and spreading organized religion. In pre-literate societies, religious ideas were based on an oral tradition, the contents of which were articulated by shamans and remained limited to the collective memories of the society's inhabitants. With the advent of writing, information that was not easy to remember could easily be stored in sacred texts that were maintained by a select group (clergy). Humans could store and process large amounts of information with writing that otherwise would have been forgotten. Writing therefore enabled religions to develop coherent and comprehensive doctrinal systems that remained independent of time and place.[56] Writing also brought a measure of objectivity to human knowledge. Formulation of thoughts in words and the requirement for validation made mutual exchange of ideas and the sifting of generally acceptable from not acceptable ideas possible. The generally acceptable ideas became objective knowledge reflecting the continuously evolving framework of human awareness of reality that Karl Popper calls 'verisimilitude' – a stage on the human journey to truth.[57]

See also


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  • Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, New York: Basic Books 2001.

External links

Anthropological Perspectives on Religion

Anthropological Perspectives on Religion (Anpere), is an open access journal founded in 2006 by Swedish anthropologists Pierre Wiktorin and André Möller. The journal's focus is anthropology of religion.

Anthropology of religion

Anthropology of religion is the study of religion in relation to other social institutions, and the comparison of religious beliefs and practices across cultures.

Arnold van Gennep

Arnold van Gennep, in full Charles-Arnold Kurr van Gennep (23 April 1873 – 7 May 1957) was a Dutch-German-French ethnographer and folklorist.


A Bobohizan (Tangaa' Kadazan term) or Bobolian (Bundu Liwan Dusun term) is a high priestess, a ritual specialist and a spirit medium in Kadazan-Dusun pagan rites. The office of Bobohizan or Bobolian, is also the chief preserver of Momolianism, i.e. the philosophy and way of life of the Kadazan-Dusun people.

One of the primary roles of a Bobohizan is to appease the rice spirit Bambaazon during harvest festival or Kaamatan. During the event, she will lead a procession of people from her village through the paddy field under the full moon, to give thanks and to seek a bountiful harvest for the rice-cultivating Kadazan-Dusun people. A Bobohizan also plays a role as a mediator between the spirits and the people. One of the commonest duties of a Bobohizan is to heal and cure illnesses with herbal remedies and rites.

Bora (Australian)

Bora is an initiation ceremony of the Aboriginal people of Eastern Australia, descended from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands before European colonisation. The word "bora" also refers to the site on which the initiation is performed. At such a site, boys, having reached puberty, achieve the status of men. The initiation ceremony differs from Aboriginal culture to culture, but often, at a physical level, involved scarification, circumcision, subincision and, in some regions, also the removal of a tooth. During the rites, the youths who were to be initiated were taught traditional sacred songs, the secrets of the tribe's religious visions, dances, and traditional lore. Many different clans would assemble to participate in an initiation ceremony. Women and children were not permitted to be present at the sacred bora ground where these rituals were undertaken.

Divine language

Divine language, the language of the gods, or, in monotheism, the language of God (or angels) is the concept of a mystical or divine proto-language, which predates and supersedes human speech.

History of Ayyavazhi

The History of Ayyavazhi traces the religious history of Ayyavazhi, a belief-system originated in the mid-19th century in Southern India. Ayyavazhi came to be noticed by the large number of people gathering to worship Ayya Vaikundar in the middle of the 19th century. The majority of the followers of Ayyavazhi were from marginalised and poor sections of society.Right from the beginning of its development Ayyavazhi was seen in competition by the Christian missionaries on their mission. This is evident by the reports on Ayyavazhi presented by the Christian missionaries. Although the majority of the followers of Ayyavazhi were from the Chanar caste (a social group), people of other castes also crowded around Vaikundar. It was not usual at the time for people of different castes to intermingle.

John Frum

John Frum (also called John Brum, Jon Frum, or John From) is a figure associated with cargo cults on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. He is often depicted as an American World War II serviceman who will bring wealth and prosperity to the people if they follow him. He is sometimes portrayed as black, sometimes as white. Quoting David Attenborough's report of an encounter: "'E look like you. 'E got white face. 'E tall man. 'E live 'long South America."

Megaliths in Ethiopia

Megaliths in Ethiopia are large, monumental stones, that exist in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is one the country where several megalith site exist. The megalithic monuments exist in all regions. Most of the megaliths sites are located in the Southern Nation Nationalities and peoples Regional State (SNNPRS). The major megalithic sites are found in Gedeo Zone, Gurage Zone and Sidama Zone. Tiya is one of the megalithic sites registered by UNESCO. Stele, tumuli and dolmens are the common megalithic monuments found in Ethiopia.

Megalith is a Greek word meaning big stone. The term megaliths first coined by Algernon Herbert in 1849. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2003) describes megaliths as a general term applied to monuments of Neolithic and early Bronze Age in northwest Europe. It is used for tombs and standing stones, forming circles Dolmen, Alignment and Menhir. Megaliths are large stone structures built without mortar.The existence of stelae, dolmens, tumuli, stone pillar and stone circle/ stone have been reported from North Africa and West Africa East Africa. Megalithic tradition was one of the common practices in most part of Africa. The megaliths have direct or indirect related to ritual activities. The ritual activities conducted by the Bodi peoples in the Omo Valley, southern Ethiopia, can be mentioned as a good example. The Bodi are one of the pastoral peoples who perform ritual activities related to stone platform. It would have a socioeconomic role among the people who practice of such activities. There are different arguments about the evolutionary origin of religions. One of the theories of evolutionary origin of religions is based on the neocortex size. According to this argument human social complexity is related to brain size. Human brain evolved through time, and religion is assumed to be part of this process. But recent studies show that some hominin could have religious behaviors. Another theory of evolutionary origin of religions is based on theory of mind. Theory of mind is related to imagination. Imagination is the mental ability to produce images, thoughts, and feelings. The human perception and feeling might have connected to various things. Human imagination might evolve through time. The ritual concept among human might not easy to analyze. Because religion believes to be supernatural.

Pascal Boyer

Pascal Robert Boyer is a French and American cognitive anthropologist, mostly known for his work in the cognitive science of religion. He taught at the University of Cambridge for eight years, before taking up the position of Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory at Washington University in St. Louis, where he teaches classes on psychology and anthropology. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and a visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Lyon, France. He studied philosophy and anthropology at University of Paris and Cambridge, with Jack Goody, working on memory constraints on the transmission of oral literature.

Purity and Danger

Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo is a 1966 book by the anthropologist and cultural theorist Mary Douglas. It is her best known work. In 1991 the Times Literary Supplement listed it as one of the hundred most influential non-fiction books published since 1945. It has gone through numerous reprints and re-editions (1969, 1970, 1978, 1984, 1991, 2002). In 2003 a further edition was brought out as volume 2 in Mary Douglas: Collected Works (ISBN 0415291054).

Religion Explained

Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought is a 2001 book by cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer, in which the author discusses the evolutionary psychology of religion and evolutionary origin of religions.

Rite of passage

A rite of passage is a ceremony or ritual of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. In cultural anthropology the term is the Anglicisation of rite de passage, a French term innovated by the ethnographer Arnold van Gennep in his work Les rites de passage, "The Rites of Passage". The term is now fully adopted into anthropology as well as into the literature and popular cultures of many modern languages.

Robert Ranulph Marett

Robert Ranulph Marett (13 June 1866 – 18 February 1943) was a British ethnologist. He was an exponent of what is sometimes called the Evolutionary School or more precisely the British Evolutionary School of Cultural anthropology. Founded by Marett's older colleague, Edward Burnett Tylor, it asserted that modern primitive societies evidence remnants of phases in the evolution of culture, which it attempted to recapture by comparative and historical methods. Marett focused primarily on the anthropology of religion. Asserting with Tylor the evolutionary origin of religions he modified Tylor's animistic theory to include the concept of mana. His anthropological teaching and writing career at Oxford University spanned the earlier 20th century prior to the Second World War. He trained many notable anthropologists. He was a colleague of John Myres and through him connected to the world of Aegean archaeology.

Roman School (history of religion)

In the history of religions, the Roman School is a methodology that emerged after World War II and was prominent in Italy throughout the 1950s. It was a competitor to the French structuralist approach.

One of its main characteristics was the ambition to study religion from a neutral or politically aloof perspective. It began with Raffaele Pettazzoni, who had been one of the first academics to propose a historical approach to the study of religion. One of its most influential contributors was Angelo Brelich, whose works on rituals and initiation have had a lasting impact. Other prominent disciples of the Roman School include Dario Sabbatucci and Giulia Piccaluga.The school and its body of work have been examined by later scholars including Giampiera Arrigoni (2003, "Il ritorno di Angelo Brelich", Mythos 11:3-8) and Marcello Massenzio (2005, "The Italian school of 'history of religions'", Religion 35:209-222).


The slametan (or selametan, slamatan, and selamatan) is the communal feast from Java, symbolizing the social unity of those participating in it. Clifford Geertz considered it the core ritual in Javanese religion, in particular the abangan variant. The feast is common among the closely related Javanese, Sundanese and Madurese people.

A slametan can be given to celebrate almost any occurrence, including birth, marriage, death, moving to a new house, and so forth. Depending on the intention, the mood and emphasis may vary somewhat, but the main structure is the same. Geertz categorizes them into four main types:

Those relating to the crises of life: birth, circumcision, marriage, and death

Those associated with events of the Islamic calendar

The bersih désa ("cleaning of the village"), concerned with the social integration of the village

Those held irregularly depending on unusual occurrences: departing for a long trip, moving residence, changing personal names, illness, sorcery, and so onThe ceremony takes its name from the Javanese word slamet, from Arabic: salam, which refers to a peaceful state of equanimity, in which nothing will happen. This is what the host intends for both himself and his guests, by experiencing the egalitarian structure of the slametan and the petitions of supernatural protection from spirits.In Geertz's fieldwork in Mojokuto in the 1950s, he found that costs of slametans varied from 3 to 5,000 Indonesian rupiahs, depending on the type and the relative wealth of the host.

Timeline of Jainism

Jainism is an ancient Indian religion belonging to the śramaṇa tradition. It prescribes ahimsa (non-violence) towards all living beings to the greatest possible extent. The three main teachings of Jainism are ahimsa, anekantavada (non-absolutism), aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Followers of Jainism take five main vows: ahimsa, satya (not lying), asteya (non stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha. Monks follow them completely whereas śrāvakas (householders) observe them partially. Self-discipline and asceticism are thus major focuses of Jainism.

Timeline of religion

The timeline of religion is a chronological catalogue of important and noteworthy religious events in pre-historic and modern times. This article reaches into pre-historic times, as the bulk of the human religious experience pre-dates written history. Written history (the age of formal writing) is only c.5000 years old. A lack of written records results in most of the knowledge of pre-historic religion being derived from archaeological records and other indirect sources, and from suppositions. Much pre-historic religion is subject to continued debate.


A totem (Ojibwe doodem) is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe.

While the term totem is derived from the North American Ojibwe language, belief in tutelary spirits and deities is not limited to indigenous peoples of the Americas but common to a number of cultures worldwide. However, the traditional people of those cultures have words for their guardian spirits in their own languages, and do not call these spirits or symbols "totems".

Contemporary neoshamanic, New Age, and mythopoetic men's movements not otherwise involved in the practice of a tribal religion have been known to use "totem" terminology for the personal identification with a tutelary spirit or guide, however this is generally seen by the originating cultures as cultural misappropriation.

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