What is the relationship between religion and folk culture

Popular Religion | senshido.info

what is the relationship between religion and folk culture

While Folk Religion might not be as widely accepted by the modern, Western NeoPagan community as a stream of Pagan religion, we are grouping Folk. Furthermore, the relationship or the distinction between the religious and the One of the goals of the early studies of folk, peasant, and popular cultures was to . lations: the religious dimension of folk-culture, or the dimension of . by the preconceptions held by various disciplines in relation to non- standard religious.

While the role and function of such occupations is understood by the rest of society, and is felt to have a place in its general cosmology, they nevertheless form the basis for an alternate understanding of the nature of society. Examples of the ethnic and racial meaning of this form of popular religion may be seen in the history of the Jews within Christendom or the religions of African Americans in the New World.

This is a variation on the difference between the laity and the clergy in hierarchical and traditional societies.

Reference is made in this form of popular religion to a meaning of the masses that is the product of democratic polities and industrialism. Whereas in the older, traditional, hierarchical societies, the clergy and the laity both possessed traditions, the modern definition of "the masses" implies the loss of tradition and canons of value and taste, which are now defined in terms of a privileged class order of the elite who have had the benefit of special education.

Alexis de Tocqueville 's comments on the meaning of democracy in America imply that democracy and mass culture are synonymous. The form of popular religion will tend to express the existential and ephemeral concerns of the mass population at any moment of its history.

From the very beginning of the study of popular culture and religion, the discovery, meaning, and valuation of "the popular" was undertaken by elites within the society. Especially with the coming of industrialization and the rise of the nation-state, the provincial traditions of the peasant and rural folk within a culture had to fall under the political and ideological meanings of larger generalizing and centralizing orders of the state and its bureaucracy.

To the extent that the ideological meaning of the rural and peasant cultures served the aims of the state, it was promoted as the older, traditional meaning of the state deriving from its archaic forms. Popular culture and religion in this mode was invented and promoted by the state through folklore societies, museums, and by the promotion of historical research into the past of the society. On the basis of a genuine and authentic folk and peasant tradition of culture and religion, a new meaning of the popular forms is now embraced and supported by the state.

Given this variety of forms and meanings of popular religion, it is appropriate to ask what is the common element in all of them.

There are two common elements. First of all, "the popular" in any of its varieties is concerned with a mode of transmission of culture. Whether the group be large or small, or whether the content of the religion be sustaining or ephemeral, "the popular" designates the universalization of its mode of transmission. In peasant and folk situations, this mode of transmission is traditionally embodied in symbols and archetypes tht tend to be long-lasting and integrative.

In modern industrial societies, the modes of transmission are several, including literacy, electronic media, newspapers, chapbooks, and so on. Such modes of communication bring into being a popular culture that is different from, but may overlap with, other social strata within the culture. Due to the intensity of these forms of communication, the content of the forms of popular culture is able to change quickly. It is not, however, the content that is at the fore here, but the type of cognition afforded by the modes of transmission.

Given the intensification of transmission and the ephemerality of content, this form of popular religion and culture is semiotic—it is embedded in a system of signs rather than in symbols and archetypes. The Nature of Culture The meaning of popular religion presupposes an understanding of the nature of culture that is capable of making sense of differences and divisions within the totality of any culture.

what is the relationship between religion and folk culture

Furthermore, the notion of culture must allow room for the meaning of religion as one of the primary modes of transmission of the cultural tradition. Clifford Geertz's description of religion as a cultural system is one of the most adequate understandings of culture as a mode of transmission. His definition is as follows: Religion is 1 a system of symbols that acts to 2 establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in people by 3 formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and 4 clothing these conceptions with an aura of factuality so that 5 the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.

This notion of religion as a cultural system enables one to understand how religion is the expression and transmission of a conception of the reality of the world, and it is clear that such a powerful and pervasive notion must of necessity imply a mode of transmission. If this notion of religion as a cultural system is seen in relationship to Robert Redfield's analysis of the divisions and distinctions within a cultural system, a basis for the meaning of popular religion within a cultural milieu is established Redfield, Redfield makes a broad distinction within a culture between what he calls the "great tradition" and the "little tradition.

His combination of these two theories provides an understanding of the meaning of popular religion from the point of view of culture as a whole. However, in all parts of the world, due to industrialization and modernization, it is becoming increasingly difficult to define the meaning of culture in these terms.

Whereas political power may continue to reside in an elite ruling class that has hegemony over many forms of cultural expression, the modes of transmission, through literacy and electronic media are so intense that the distinction between the elite and the lower class as well as between the urban and rural milieus fail to mark a line of demarcation that is true to social reality.

From this point of view, the modes of communication and transmission have as much or more to do with the integration and wholeness of the culture as the content of symbolic clusters or ideological meaning. Considerations of this sort raise issues regarding the locus and meaning of religion in contemporary industrialized societies.

Because of the intensity of transmission, the content of what is transmitted tends to be ephemeral; thus, the notion of religion as establishing powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations is shifted away from content and substance to modes of experience. Popular religion is thus no longer defined in terms of sustaining traditions, but in the qualitative meaning of the nature of experience.

Thus, in attempting to describe popular religion in modern societies, the investigator may undertake research in a wide variety of media where members of the culture express their experiences, such as television, radio, and newspapers; and in occurrences such as sports and recreational events, political activities, and so on.

Seen from this point of view, the popular approximates some aspects of the older and original notion of "popular" as the peasant-folk and organic meaning in a society.

In the peasant-folk, organic society, the mode of transmission were relatively slow, and thus the content of the transmission predominated, allowing for the comprehension of the symbolic content to consciously and unconsciously inform the life of society. In modern industrial societies, transmission is almost universal throughout the society, but the content is no longer the bearer of organic and integrative form.

Social Change The notion of an organic social orderwhether defined as a primitive, peasant, or folk culture, often implies complete equilibrium, integration, and stasis in a society. This is hardly ever true: All societies exhibit divisions and segmentations of various kinds, and these are often expressed in religious terms. They may be seen in the religious meanings defined by gender as well as in the gradations of the types of religious knowledge wherein certain types of esoteric or secret knowledge is held by an elite, and a more public and general religious meaning is present in the society at large.

This type of knowledge and these types of human beings are found in many traditional societies. A similar situation is present in societies where shamans possess a different and superior knowledge to that of ordinary persons. In addition to internally induced changes in organic societies based on differences of thought or social divisions, change may also arise from certain pervasive rituals.

The rite of initiation is especially conducive to the influx of new religious orientations and changes in the social order. Initiation is that ritual concerned with the creation of new human beings.

It introduces the initiand into the human community through the religious experience of the world of sacred beings in mythic times. Often in initiation rituals, the candidate is made to experience a regression to a time before creation and then to ritually imitate the archetypal stages of the first creation. The ability to imitate, re-create, or renew the cosmos is a possibility present in every initiation ritual, and this experience may become the basis for social change within the society.

The notion that there can be a new mode of being is the basis for radical change in this religious ritual. There is hardly any knowledge available on the expression of initiation leading to broad societal change in non-European societies prior to the coming of the Europeans; however, initiation cults of this kind in pre-Christian European cultures attest to their implications for changes in the societal order.

The Greco-Oriental mystery religions posed an extreme tension between the public religious cults of the Hellenistic period in their expression of a deeper and more personal experience of sacred realities. The preponderance of the data regarding the relationship between popular religion and social change has come primarily from religious traditions defined by their geographical extension in time and space, where the religious tradition has become synonymous with a cultural tradition e.

These traditions cover a wide variety of forms of social divisions and thought. As such, the tensions among and between them are many, and are much more intense. It is in such traditions that the distinctions between the organic structure of society and the elite ruling class is most pronounced.

what is the relationship between religion and folk culture

Exchanges of thought and experience between these two major structures of society may occur in ritualized forms such as the festival, carnival, and pilgrimage. These ritual forms allow for a lessening of the social divisions, and for the communication and integration of modes and styles of life that are not governed by the everyday power defined by the political and social differences between the two groups. Not only do such rituals permit the relaxation of social differences, they allow for the interchange of vital knowledge between the two groups.

Bahktin shows how these particular ritual forms have led to the creation of specific literary genres among the elite and literate members of the culture, especially as this is related to the carnival and the festival. Literary critics have long attested to the effect of the ritual pilgrimage on the literary imagination.

Le Roy Ladurie, in his work Carnival in Romanshas shown how the carnival provided the setting for revolutionary activities of the peasants and townspeople. Overmyer has described a similar situation in the White Lotus sect and the school of Luo Qing — in China in the sixteenth century Overmyer, Movements and actions of this kind from the popular strata of the society have been called "pre-political" by Eric J.

By this he means that the people have not found a specific form of political ideology in which to express their aspirations about the world. While this may be true in most cases, such aspirations expressed in religious terms, and it is on this level of expression that unique dimensions of the meaning of popular religion emerge. In a manner reminiscent of the initiation structure of primitive societies, peasant and folk societies express a new self-consciousness of their solidarity through archaic symbols drawn from the genres of their lives and from a reinterpretation of the traditional religion.

In many cases, symbols and teachings of the traditional religion are understood in a more literal manner, expecially as these symbols and teachings express renewal and change, the end of one order and the beginning of a new one.

Folk Religion - Culture and Youth Studies

Banditry, outlawry, and other actions that violate the social order are permitted in the revolutionary milieu, for they are sanctioned by what Victor Turner has called the liminal state, which forms the context of the revolutionary activity. This state is a regression to chaos on the level of society. Two major types of religious personages appear in popular religious movements of this kind: The prophet as a religious personage is not unique to the situation of popular religion.

In most cases, figures of this sort are a part of the traditional teaching of the culture. From the stratum of popular religion, the meaning and role of the prophet is enhanced as the critical and condemnatory voice of the people against the abuses and injustices of the ruling and elite class. It is the prophet who relates the existential situation of the people to primordial religious depths forged from the life of the people and a new interpretation of the religious tradition.

The outlaw is the heroic religious figure in popular revolutionary religious movements. The archetypal outlaw is the one whose banditry establishes justice within the society; the outlaw takes from the rich to give to the poor. The religious meaning of renewal of the world is a prominent theme of popular revolutionary movements.

Within Western religious traditions, this theme is derivative of the religious symbol of the Messiah, whose coming announces the destruction of the old world or the radical renewal of the world.

The world will be reversed—turned upside down—thus there will be a redress of all wrongs. These millennial expectations are not only goals of a movement; they pervade all the activities of its followers, allowing for a reordering of psychic structures as well as opening up the possibility of a new social religious order on the level of popular religion. Global Structures With increasing rapidity and intensity since the late fifteenth century, the Western world—through exploration, conquest, and military and economic exploitation—brought the non-European world under its modes of communication through the structures of the modern industrial system.

The Western systems of economics and communications were the bearer of Western forms of religious mythology and ideology, often characterized by millennial hopes. From this point of view, the West became the center of the world; the other areas, the peripheries.

In other words, the West took over the role and function of the ruling elite, with other parts of the world playing the role of the older peasant or folk societies.


There has been a religious response to this hegemony of the West in almost all parts of the world. In many cases, a new elite comes into being in the colonized countries, imitating the structures and forms of the Western center.

This, in turn, creates a new form of the popular—the traditional religion of the indigenous culture becomes a popular religion and must reorder itself in relationship to the power and authority of the new, indigenous elite. The situation does not simply create a tension of opposition.

The religious and ideological meaning of the West will inform, in varying degrees, the whole of the society, and the reordering of the indigenous tradition will represent an amalgam of the older indigenous forms and a reinterpreted Western religious tradition.

Folk religion

New meanings of popular religion will emerge in this context. Making use of the communication systems of the Western colonizers, many of these movements will move beyond the provincial confines of their local culture in one of their modes.

A notable example is the universal influence and acceptance of African American music in almost all parts of the world. Hollenweger has argued in his work The Pentecostals that this form and style of religion represents a global phenomenon, an alternate and critical response binding together religious communities in all parts of the world. Bibliography While religious institutions exist on the popular, folk, and peasant levels of culture, the meaning of religion is not centered in the segmented religious institution.

Because of the nature of these kinds of societies, religion is more often diffused throughout the forms of societal life. Given the various forms and modes of popular, folk, and peasant societies and communities, it is too much to say that religion is identical with the totality of the community.

However, almost all aspects of the communal life are capable of expressing the religious life. This bibliography thus covers those works dealing specifically with popular religion as well as the wider range of the forms of popular, folk, and peasant communities.

For Herder, see Frank E. Manuel's abridged edition of his Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind Chicago, Interpretive studies of Herder are H. Barnard's Herder on Social and Political Culture For a short and illuminating essay on the impact of the Grimm brothers on the study of modern literature, see William Paton Ker's Jacob Grimm, Publications of the Philological Society, vol.

A highly critical study of the Grimm brothers' method and scholarship is found in John M. Essays in Sociology, translated and edited by Hans H. Wright Mills Oxford, Wach's work remains the only sociology of religion written by a historian of religions and is thus valuable for that reason.

Lessa and Evon Z. Vogt New York, Regional Studies of Popular Religion Numerous publications have been devoted to popular, folk, and peasant religions around the world.

Without attempting to cover all areas of the globe, I offer here a sampling of works that are valuable for their contribution to theory as well as for their descriptive detail. Africa African Folklore, edited by Richard M. Dorson New York,covers most of the genres of folklore in Africa.

Two sections, "Traditional Narrative" and "Traditional Ritual," are especially relevant to the notion of popular religion. She makes a strong argument for the literary nature of oral literature and finds many interpretations by anthropologists and folklorists wanting because they fail to appreciate the literary character of this form of literature.

She devotes a chapter to religious poetry, but she confines the meaning of religion to a very conventional usage. Jan Vansina's Oral Tradition, translated by H. Wright Chicago,is a thorough working out of the problems and methods involved in using oral testimony as historical data. The data for his work are the traditions of the Kuba.

This work has bearing on the relationship between the modes of transmission and the nature and meaning of the knowledge that is transmitted. Japan Cornelis Ouwehand's Namazu-e and Their Themes Leiden, is important for the light it sheds on the reception and alternate interpretations of events on the folkloric levels of Japanese society.

Especially in the case of catastrophic event, on the folkloric levels there is the appearance of a kind of savior figure as a motif of the understanding of these events. Kitagawa and Alan L. Miller Chicago,is the best general study of the forms and structures of folk religion in Japan.

Studies in Japanese Folklore, edited by Richard M.

Culture & Vocabulary: Major religions of the world

Dorson Port Washington, N. Michael Czaja's Gods of Myth and Stone New York, is a thorough study of the mythic and religious significance of certain forms of fertility symbols and rituals in Japan; it is informed by sophisticated methodology. Fustel de Coulanges, The Ancient City, new ed.

Baltimore,Martin P. Europe Most studies of popular religion in Europe are to be valued as much for their detailed content as for their theoretical approach and methodological contributions. Marc Bloch 's Feudal Society, 2 vols. Manyon Chicago,is a pioneer work in focusing on the entire range of the cultural reality of the feudal period.

Two representative works dealing with the amalgam of religious traditions in Europe are Albert B. Symbolic Transformation in Romanian Ritual Chicago, Norbert Elias's The Civilizing Process New York,Power and Civility New York,and The Court Society New York,all translated by Edmund Jephcott, demonstrate the social behavior patterns and psychological attitudes that define the processes that create the class and value orientation of the ideology of civilization.

Similar processes, but directed from a centralized governmental center, are described in Eugen Weber's Peasants into Frenchmen Stanford, Calif.

Folk religion - Wikipedia

One of the most prolific and brilliant scholars of popular religion and culture in France is the Annales historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. His works include Montaillou: The importance of this work lies not only in the detailed description of such phenomena as the cult of Mary on the popular level but equally in the way it raises the issue of the forms of perception and knowledge that stem from certain modes of religious apprehension.

Concrete historical detail is given to issues of the sociology of religious knowledge that are discussed more abstractly by Georges Gurvitch in The Social Frameworks of Knowledge, translated by Margaret A.

Thompson and Kenneth A. Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms, translated by John Tedeschi and Anne Tedeschi Baltimore,an account of the cosmology of a sixteenth-century Italian miller, is fast becoming a classic of popular religion. Oberman Leiden,contains essays covering almost all aspects of late medieval and Renaissance religion. Of particular interest is part 2, "Lay Piety and the Cult of Youth. What Is Folk or Traditional Religion?

Even a definition of Folk Religion is slippery.

In a tribal context, Folk Religions typically exist outside of a larger religious tradition and are closely connected to a particular people, ethnicity, or tribe, embedded in a particular place. They are Folk Religions in the sense that they are ties to a particular folk culture and locale. Folk Religion can also refer to the synthesis of popular beliefs and practices often animistic and indigenous with larger religious traditions, to explain and handle every-day problems and phenomena.

Folk Religions are outside of strictly theological and liturgical forms of official religions and represent a combination of beliefs and practices. Typically no formal creed or sacred text. Tend to be animistic, the belief that the supernatural is present within and affecting the physical realm.

Particular cities or regions, have a particular embodied god, as do mountains, rivers, the sun and moon, and so forth. Often employ divination, magic, or special religious rituals to understand the spiritual beings and forces at work and find a way to improve or remedy the situation. Often employ talismans or ascribe spiritual power to particular objects for protection or good luck.