I am a Religious Studies major; therefore, learning about religion is a genuine interest of mine. In addition, from my first anthropology class, Introduction to Anthropology 103, learning about different cultures and people who may or may not be different from myself became an interest. Anthropology of Religion provides me with the best of both worlds. Not only do I get the opportunity to learn about different religious practices such as Tiwah among the Ngaju but how to anthropologically examine snake handlers in the Appalachians. One issue remains concerning the definition of religion. The semester began with us using theorists and their theories to construct a definition of religion. However, due to how convoluted religion is we changed our mind. In an attempt to synthesize the work done this semester, I wish to form some sort of definition of religion base on the ethnographies we have studied.
In order to create such a definition, I wish to go through the three major books that we read and make a conclusion as to the authors’ understanding of religion. In other words, in my own words, a conclusion on each authors’ take on religion. Afterwards, I wish to use all three to form an overall definition of religion based on the work we have done throughout the semester. The three books that I am referring to are Ann Schiller’s Small Sacrifices, Rane Willerslev’s Soul Hunters, and Dennis Covington’s Salvation on Sand Mountain.
Ann Schiller’s Small Sacrifices explores religious change among the Ngaju in Borneo, Indonesia. She elaborates on the Indonesian government’s demand on the Ngaju to conform to one of the religions they deem acceptable. In conforming to Hinduism, however, the Ngaju lose their culture, eventually their identity, and are influenced by other religious traditions. Constructing a definition of religion can be drawn from Schiller’s book. In particular, when one focus on the influence that Christianity has on the Ngaju as Schiller describes. Before that, it is important to revisit the Ngaju tradition before Christian influence. Schiller describes the three stages of mortuary rituals: primary treatment (mangubar), chants by ritual specialist (balian tantulak matei mampisik liau), and completion of processing the soul and the physical remains (tiwah) (Schiller 35) to show the importance of these stages in the culture and identity of the Ngaju. To place emphasis on the importance for completing the stages for decease Nagju, Schiller writes, “were the rituals not performed on the deceased’s behalf, his or her soul (s) would be doomed to slumber endlessly in a cosmological limen or to remain mired in the decomposing corpse” (Schiller 35). The practice of making sure the soul of the decease correctly goes through the mortuary ritual defined the identity and culture of the Ngaju people; however, that altered after their conformation to Hinduism and the influence of Christianity.
The Christian influences on the Ngaju are one of the most...