Religious Materialism

“The attempt to connect myth to social structure has mostly been a failure.”

“There is this great article called ‘Explaining the Political Ambivalence of Religion‘. It’s focused on political science, but I think it’s lessons apply broadly: religion and religious stories neither is defined by the area it comes from, nor does religious tradition define the culture of that area. Instead, how people use those stories and traditions are used is what’s important. After all, we all know the same stories and traditions have been used to justify both the violent conquests of Crusades and the austere, collectivist pacifist Amish and Hutterite communities. The Catholic Church helped prop up right-wing dictatorships in Europe and South America, fight against those same South American dictatorships through liberation theology, and bring down the Communist dictatorships in Poland and Slovakia all in the 70’s and 80’s. That’s what Philpott means by the political ambiguity of religion: each religious tradition can do many things, its specific political theology that matters most. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s famous Islam Observed also speaks to this: the Islam he experienced in Morocco and Indonesia were very, very different as they had been shaped by local conditions (and also shape local conditions).”

“I remember encountering one as an undergraduate (which unfortunately I have never been able to find again) which connected creation myths with primary crops. In areas where cereals dominated, people tend to grow out of the ground or be created from dust (cf. Genesis 2:7). In areas where tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava) were the primary crops, however, creation myths tend to involve chopping up a ceremonial figure and scattering their parts. [For those who don’t know, tuber crops are propagated not by seeds but by chopping them up and letting them grow anew in the ground–every eye on your potato could become a new potato plant if chopped and cared for properly.] I wouldn’t be surprised if this could be to some degree extended to other forms of agriculture. The original Indo-European creation myth was likely something like one twin slaughtering another (see Bruce Lincoln’s work on this–I think it is is still accepted), obviously related to their most important food source of flocks and herds of various animals.”

via This /r/AskHistorians Comment