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Culture As A Personality Or An Organism?

1063 words - 5 pages

Roy A. Rappaport and Ruth Benedict both held very strong opinions regarding the subject of culture and ritual. They lived in slightly different overlapping historical time periods, Benedict being influenced by WWII in the 18th century and Rappaport growing up during the Great Depression in the early 19th century. Influences of Franz Boas carried through the theories of both of these anthropologists. Although Benedict never succeeded in conducting her own fieldwork, she wrote ethnographies based on fieldwork done by Boas, this particular case focusing on the Kwakiutl of the Northwestern Coast of America. The focus of Rappaport’s fieldwork in this context is the Tsembaga of New Guinea. ...view middle of the document...

Despite this, she firmly believes that while being compared, judgments on morality should not play a factor because each culture is simply conforming to their own distinctive internal logic, and judging with an overarching set of morals or values would be ineffective. This is a very idealistic view of the bond between peoples of a culture or group, focusing on the internal bonds holding members together rather than the external environment and material world that constitutes a specific region.
Rappaport, on the other hand, would like to focus on the broader territory, mainly the environmental and materialistic aspects that make up a culture. He views culture as an organism constantly being affected by its surroundings. The relationships between the people of a culture and their environment, as well as between these people and neighboring groups in the same territory are very important. It is this environment that creates ceremonial rituals, rather than rituals stemming from the inherent instincts of the people, as Benedict claims. Rappaport challenges previous anthropological notions of rituals, stating his view that rituals serve more of a complex function than to simply symbolize, validate, and intensify previously existing relationships within a community. In his opinion, rituals serve a profound variety of additional imperative purposes, including regulating the ecosystem of nonhumans and populations of humans that the Tsembaga share their territory with. In addition to this, he feels that rituals maintain the environment, limit regional fighting and warfare, encourage trade, aid in land distribution, and help with the circulation of pigs and pork to assure that their allies in surrounding areas are obtaining enough protein. Rappaport is not disputing the previous notions of ritual, just asserting that they are far more multifaceted than previously believed.
Rappaport documents a series of religious rituals practiced by the Tsembaga. These rituals are largely based around the materialistic and external aspects of this community’s lives. The Tsembaga are fairly isolated, and within their egalitarian community there are many rituals that are practiced to maintain peace with surrounding groups. They are unmissionized and did not have contact with the ‘outside world’ until the 1950’s. Describing their community and surrounding territory as biotic, or as...

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