I should dig out that old Mary Douglas piece about frustrated anthropologists confronted with cultures that don’t have religion or don’t care very much about it.

(I think it’s in Implicit Meanings. The important takeaway for me was that lots of cultures just don’t care very much about about religion, despite the expectations of early generations of anthropologists... but it’s bedtime and I need to check my paper copy.)

Here we go: “Heathen Darkness” (1970), collected in Implicit Meanings. Covers more ground than just the parts I remembered and there doesn’t seem to be an online text anywhere obvious, but...

“Pity the poor anthropologist who expected his fieldwork to yield the usual interesting information on ritual symbolism. If he comes home without it, his monograph will lack its crowning chapter. Knowing this only too well while he is in the field, he works towards a nervous collapse or an angry showdown with his hosts, whom he suspects to be holding out on him.”

(Lot of use of “primitives” and allied terms in the text, sadly. I’ll CW where appropriate if I quote anything more.)


“...most tribal societies which believe in ancestral ghosts and magic spells regard them as part of their ordinary day to day existence. Philosophers would be taxed to identify the supernatural in other cultures which do not make our traditional set of distinctions enclosing the concept of the natural.”

@suivran She’s talking about very broad definitions of religion that extend to “dealings with the supernatural” - her objection (as I read her) being that you can’t really claim dealings with the supernatural as “religious” in a culture that doesn’t make a distinction between natural and supernatural in the first place.

@suivran Yeah, sorry - it’s not always easy to know how much context to include, and there’s a limit to how much text I can quote without hitting the tl;dr barrier.

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