Types of Religious Practices: Animism, Monism, Pluralism, Sects, Cults | Sociology Optional (UPSC Notes)

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Animism upsc

Animism is the view or faith that all things, including people and things that aren’t people, are spiritual beings or at least have some kind of life principle. Animism is the belief that there is no difference between the spiritual and physical (or material) worlds and that souls or spirits exist not only in humans but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, natural events like thunder, geographical features like mountains or rivers, and other things in nature.

Animism is most common in the religions of indigenous people. Shinto, Sererism, and some types of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Pantheism, and Christianity are perhaps the most interesting examples.

During the history of Europe, many philosophers, like Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, thought about the chance that animals, plants, and people have souls. But sir Edward b. came up with the meaning of animism that is used today in the 19th century. Tylor, who made animism “one of the earliest ideas in social anthropology.”

Based on what Sir Edward b. Animism is the belief in ghosts, Tylor. E.B. Taylor wrote about “the thesis of animism” in his popular book “Primitive Culture.” Later, he wrote about the difference between “magic, religion, and science.”In his animism theory, he said that the word “anima” means “spirit.” “Animism” is a type of faith in which a person believes that there is a spirit in everything around him.

He said that most of what people think about ghosts comes from their dreams. In his dreams, the man met his double for the first time.He realised that his copy or double is more active and flexible than he is. He also thought that, even though his double looked like his body, it was much better quality than his body. He went on to say that the flexibility of pictures in dreams is due to the fact that people have souls.

Taking this into account, “primitive mind” thought that a person’s “anima or soul” goes out of his body “temporarily” when he sleeps and “permanently” when he dies.After that, man came to the conclusion that “every embodiment that is born, grows, and dies is obviously connected to anima or spirit.”So, people thought that soul was present in things like trees, rivers, and mountains, which change a lot and are subject to a lot of decay and growth. “When people realised this, they began to worship all of these manifestations, and that’s how animism as a type of religion came to be.”Taylor says that ancestor worship is the oldest form of animism.

Man realised that when his ancestors died, they turned into spirits or souls that could be “good” or “bad.”When people realised this, they made “periodic offerings” to turn these “spirits or souls” into “protecting spirits.” This is called ancestor cult and ghost worship in very old societies.

Taylor says that primitive man was not able to tell the difference between living and nonliving things.So, he thought that, just as “life and soul” are connected to the human body, they should also be connected to every living and nonliving thing. When he realised this, he began to worship rocks, trees, streams, and everything else around him, giving them all souls and spirits. Taylor says that religion in the form of animism grew out of man’s need to make sense of death, dreams, and visions. This need came from his logical nature.

In many animistic ways of looking at the world, people are often seen as being about the same as other animals, plants, and natural forces. Because of this, it’s the right thing to do to treat these people with respect.In this view of the world, people are not better than or different from nature; they are part of it. In these kinds of societies, rituals are seen as necessary for life because they win the favour of the spirits who provide food, shelter, and fertility and keep evil spirits away. In more complex animistic faiths, like Shinto, people have a stronger sense that they are different from animals and things in general. However, rituals are still needed to ensure good luck, good harvests, and so on.

Most animistic beliefs say that the spirit lives on after the body dies. In some systems, the “anima or spirit” is thought to go to a better world with more land or foods that are always ready to eat. In other systems, the spirit stays on earth as a ghost, which is usually evil. Still other systems blend these two ideas, saying that the soul must travel to the world without getting lost and then wandering as a ghost. People often think that a funeral, traditions for mourning, and honouring the dead’s ancestors are necessary for this journey to end successfully.

Because people thought the dead would come back to life, they would leave food, light fires, etc. at their graves. At first, this may have been a sign of friendship or filial respect, but later it became a way to honour their ancestors. The simple act of leaving food at the grave or shedding blood grows into a complex system of sacrifice. Even in places where people don’t worship their ancestors, the desire to give the dead comforts in the afterlife can lead to the sacrifice of wives, slaves, animals, etc., the breaking or burning of objects at the grave, or the ferryman’s toll, which is a coin put in the mouth of the corpse to pay for the soul’s travel costs.

But not everything is over when the soul goes to the land of the dead.The soul may come back to get revenge on the person who killed it or to get revenge for itself.There is a common belief that people who die violently become evil ghosts who put the lives of people who go near their graves in danger. In Malay myth, a woman who dies while giving birth turns into a Pontianak, a vampire-like spirit who tries to kill people. People use magic or religion to get rid of these evil souls because they pose spiritual dangers.Not surprisingly, many people respect and even worship animals, and they often think of them as family members. It’s clear that animals were treated with a lot of respect because they were thought to be the homes of dead relatives. Many cults about dangerous animals can be traced back to this idea, but there’s no need to say that it came from animism.

Modern animist beliefs and practises:

African traditional religions are a set of beliefs in different nature spirits.

The native Guanches of the Canary Islands, which are in Spain, believed in spirits.

Shinto, which is Japan’s ancient religion, has a strong belief in spirits. Shinto believes that spirits of nature, called kami, are everywhere, from the big ones like the goddess of the sun to the small ones that are more likely to be seen as a form of animism.

Some Hindu groups might be thought of as animist. Karnataka, which is on the coast, has a long history of praying to ghosts.

Many people in the New Age movement believe in nature spirits and fairies, which is a sort of animism.

Monism vs. Pluralism:

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Monism upsc

Monism is a religious and philosophical worldview in which all of reality can be reduced to one “thing” or “substance.” This is in contrast to dualism, in which all of reality can be reduced to two substances, such as good and evil, light and darkness, form and matter, body and soul, and pluralism, in which all of reality is made up of many different substances. In all of these philosophical views, the word “substance” is used in a technical way to mean “essence,” or something that things stick to.

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Many early, pre-Socratic thinkers tried to figure out what was really going on in the world around them.They wanted to know how everything could be boiled down to one thing.Thales, who lived from 624 to 546 BC, thought that water was the source of everything else.Anaximenes (585–528 BC) thought that it was the air. Heraclitus (535–475 BC) and Parmenides (early 5th century BC) were two more well-known monists who tried to explain reality in terms of becoming (change) and being (permanence), respectively. Heraclitus saw that everything around him was always changing, so he thought that all of reality was just things changing from one form to another. His most famous example was when he said that because water is always moving, you can never step into the same river twice. Heraclitus took a different approach. Parmenides, on the other hand, said that ultimate truth can only be found in something that doesn’t change.

People who believe in a sort of pantheism have a worldview called monism. This is a shift from a metaphysical analysis to a more religious and spiritual one. Pantheism is the belief that God (not necessarily the Christian god) is the ultimate source of being and that all of reality is an expression of this god. Pantheism says that there is no real difference between God and the rest of the world.Plotinus, who lived from 204 to 270 AD and was the founder of Neoplatonism, was a well-known pantheist. His brand of philosophy said that the one was the centre of all being. The divine mind (nous) comes from the one after a number of necessary emanations. The next level is the world soul (psyche), and the last level is the material world (cosmos). Baruch Spinoza, a liberal philosopher who lived in the 17th century, was another famous pantheist.

People who believe in naturalistic materialism are also monists in the science world. According to this point of view, the only real thing is the physical world. There is no spirit, no soul, and no God. Only things that can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled are real.This is the default position of many atheists (at least those who are true to their outlook). You can see what would happen if you took this point of view to its natural end. If everything is made of matter and ruled by physical rules, then love, morality, justice, etc., don’t mean anything. What do these things mean in a world where only things matter? They are simply weak attempts to find meaning in a cold and predetermined universe.

All of these ideologies, whether they are monistic, dualistic, or pluralistic, try to solve the problem of universals, which is also known as the problem of the one and the many.It’s easy to show why universals are a problem. Take a chair as an example. We can all picture a chair in our minds and apply that picture to different “chairs.” These “chairs” may be different, like a simple wooden chair vs. a fancy office chair with soft cushions and a lift mechanism, but they all have the same basic qualities that make them “chairs.” The question is, which is more real: the concept of “chair” or the “chairs” that we see?

Monism is the belief that there is only one God, one set of rituals, and one set of ideas and moral teachings. During the Middle Ages, faith was a key part of building a political state. People used to think that the different religions around the world could only make the political identities of the states more interesting.One example is that the Roman Empire became a Christian state. Post-Egyptian culture led to the rise of Islamic states in the Middle East.

But during the slave trade in the 18th century, wars caused the borders of states to grow, which led to the rise of societies with many different cultures. But the most important thing for the government was to turn diversity into cultural uniformity.So, the state supported one faith and let missionaries try to convert ethnic minorities to that religion. Because of this, multiethnic groups were forced and persuaded to join newly made monolithic societies. These monotheistic societies praised one sovereign leader, one philosophy, and one culture, which made people less tolerant of differences between cultures.

Europe in the 18th century shows how people from different cultures were forced into ghettos and treated like slaves. They were also forced to fight in wars and had to pay big fines if they didn’t do what their leaders said.That led to the rise of an authoritarian state that wanted to bring different cultures together.

After industry, free trade, and the culture of freedom came to Europe in the 19th century, it was important for people from different countries to be able to get along well with each other. During the 19th century, the Catholic Church’s orthodox beliefs and relationship with the state were put to the test in a big way. As a result, a new education system, free market, and reasonable governmental structure came into being, as well as a state with a written guarantee that no citizen would be treated unfairly because of their ethnic or religious background.


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Religious pluralism is the idea that two or more religious worldviews are just as valid or accepted as each other. Religious diversity is more than just tolerance because it allows for multiple ways to get to god or gods. It is often compared to “exclusivism,” which is the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know god.

Here are four thoughts to start with:

First of all, pluralism isn’t just variety; it’s also how people actively work with that diversity. Diversity can and has led to faith enclaves that don’t interact much with each other. Today, there are many different religions, but tolerance is not a given; it is something that people have to work for. If people don’t meet and get to know each other, there will be more tension in our communities.

Second, diversity isn’t just about being tolerant; it’s also about trying to understand people who are different from you. Tolerance is an important public virtue, but it does not require Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about each other. Tolerance is not a strong enough basis for a world with many different religions that are close together. It doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know much about each other and keeps the stereotypes, half-truths, and fears that lead to separation and violence. In the world we live in now, it will cost us more and more to not know each other.

Third, diversity is not relativism; it is the meeting of people with strong beliefs. We don’t have to give up our identities and commitments to fit into the new model of pluralism, because pluralism is the meeting of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even faith differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to each other.

Fourth, diversity is built on talking to each other.Pluralism uses the language of conversation and meeting, giving and taking, criticism and self-criticism.Dialogue involves both talking and listening, and this shows both what people agree on and what they disagree with. Dialogue doesn’t mean that everyone at the “table” agrees with everyone else. Pluralism means making a promise to be at the table, with your promises.

Religious diversity has been around since at least the 17th century, but it has become more popular in Western Europe and North America since the second half of the 20th century. In particular, the idea of “religions working together as one” (called “religious ecumenism”) and the newly popularised “interfaith movement” have made it easier for people to accept different religions.Studies by the Barna Group and others have shown that views about religious pluralism have become more popular in American culture over the past few years. In many cases, even a lot of people who call themselves Christians think there are more than one way to get to heaven.

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Pluralism is more than just agreeing on some social problems or sharing some values.Buddhists and Christians both think it’s important to help the poor, but that’s not pluralism. Pluralism means giving equal weight to different truth claims and being open to different ideas about God and salvation.Also, two or more faiths can have some doctrines in common while still being fundamentally different. Muslims and Christians both agree that there is only one God, but they have different ideas about what God is and many other ideas that can’t be reconciled.

Religious tolerance can only exist if people are free to worship how they want. Freedom of religion means that people of different faiths in a certain area have the same rights to worship and speak out in public.Freedom of religion is hurt when one religion gets special rights or privileges that other religions don’t have. This happens in some European countries where Roman Catholicism or local forms of Protestantism have a higher standing than other religions. There has never been any religious freedom in communist countries where the government limits or bans the public display of religious beliefs and may even go so far as to persecute certain religions. Since the rise of Buddhism around 500 BC, there have been many different religions in the Indian Subcontinent. This diversity grew during the Delhi Sultanate (1276-1526 AD) and the Mughal Empire (1526-1857 AD). In the 8th century, a lot of Zoroastrians fled from Persia to India, where they were given refuge. This is how Zoroastrianism spread there. The British brought about the colonial period, which ran until 1947 and led to more low caste Hindus becoming Christians.

The Reformation and the Enlightenment have a lot to do with the rise of religious diversity in the modern West.In their book “From Uniculturalism to Multiculturalism,” Blackledge and Hunt argue that cultural diversity is the key to building a society with many different kinds of people. He said that multiculturalism was a European idea that wasn’t very popular on the African subcontinent, where people liked to have a mix of different ethnic groups. Cultural uniformity was forced on socialist societies and most Islamic states in the Middle East, and the Jews’ search for a home in Israel made the idea of making a government state based on a single culture more popular. When Europe chose diversity, the rest of the world did not agree with this choice. Because of this, monotheistic societies turned to religious revivalism and unity, with an emphasis on religious education. As a result, religious laws are becoming the civil laws of the state.So, there is a big difference in how monistic and pluralistic cultures think.

In countries with a lot of different kinds of people, poverty and inequality led to sectarian mobilisations.In America, black people came together as a challenge to the political theory of pluralism at the beginning of the 19th century. This led to the integration of black immigrants from all over the world. From the inside, sectarian mobilisation and the outside praise of monolithic states are both threats to diversity.

Clifford Geertz’s book “Islam Observed” talks about his study of Indonesia as a case study.He found out that their exposure to Spanish colonialism, Dutch colonialism, and then western values did not change their commitment to Islamic principles.So, instead of multiculturalism, there was a big rise of culture monoism in Indonesian society.He says that looking for monoism is more of a rebellion and a revolution than a narrow focus on one’s own culture and faith. Their independence was based on Islamic revivalism, so culture monoism became the main force in Indonesia.

R. Robinson argues in her book “Sociology of Religion in India” that Gandhi’s call for Ramarajya was largely driven by his call for implicit monism and explicit plurality. Gandhi wanted Hindus and Muslims to stay together as equal partners in modern India. But he was very sure that Hindu cultural ideals could show people how to live in a disciplined way. In a society where monasticism is important but pluralism is the law, people who are driven by their emotions will stay dedicated to religion. She thinks that anti-conversion movements and friction between different groups in the country are signs of glorified monism that challenge the state’s commitment to pluralism.

In his piece “Secularism in India,” Amartya Sen says that India’s pluralism has always been a state doctrine that most people don’t understand because they don’t know how to read or write and because they value tradition. He thinks that these ways of thinking can only change if modern education, modern jobs, and urbanisation spread to more rural parts of Indian culture.

Cults and sects

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A sect is a small group of people who share the same religious, political, or philosophical beliefs. Most sects grew out of bigger religious groups. The word “sect” comes from the Latin word “secta,” which means “a religious group or organisation that is organised around a course of action or way of life.”

The most important thing about a faith sect is that people join it on their own. It’s a small religious group that split off from a bigger, more well-known religion. Sects share many of the same beliefs and practises as the faith as a whole, but they have split off and have their own set of beliefs. Sociologists often use the word “sect” to describe a religious group that has a lot of trouble getting along with the rest of society, but whose views are mostly traditional within that society.

A group wants its members to follow a strict set of rules about how they should act, but it wants the rest of society to tolerate them rather than change. Sects care about how pure the religion’s teachings are and how real the religion’s feelings are.So, as proof of his faith, the member is expected to be an active player, even a leader or missionary. Focusing on the purity of religion tends to make people less tolerant of other groups and moves the sect towards a critical view of the secular world, which is in line with the gospel’s ideals.

Sect has the following traits:

1. A sect is a small group of religious people. It is a group of people who have joined together to build a religious consciousness and become a major critic of mainstream religion.

2. Sect is closed on both a spiritual and a practical level.

3. Its members are often from the lower classes and the poor, but this is not always the case.

4. Sects often reject many of the rules and values of society as a whole and replace them with their own, which can seem strange to people who don’t believe.

5. Sects started to criticise the basic religion.

6. At first, a sect is focused on its leader, but it may go on even after the leader dies. Peter Berger says that this makes sects “in tension with the larger society and closed off from it.”

7. Sects are small, closed groups that usually don’t let people in who haven’t gone through the introduction process.

8. Members of a sect have to follow strict rules about how to act, and the sect makes strong claims about their loyalty.

9. Sect membership is often the most important thing in the life of a member.

10. Most sects are run by small groups of people who meet face-to-face. They don’t have paid leaders or a bureaucratic system.

11. Worship is often marked by a level of passion and open commitment that isn’t found in most religions.

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Sect came from:

Max Weber says that people on the outside of society are most likely to form sects.People who are part of groups that aren’t in the mainstream of society often feel like they aren’t getting the respect or money they deserve. A sect based on what Weber calls a “theodicy of the deprivileged” is one way to solve this problem. A “theodicy” is a religious explanation and defence. These sects explain why their members are poor and promise them a “sense of honour” either in the afterlife or in a coming “new world” on earth.

Other sociologists say that any understanding of sects must take into account that their members come from a wide range of social backgrounds. Sects are not just for people at the bottom of society. For example, most people who join the Christian Science group are from the middle class. The idea of relative hardship can be used to talk about people from every social class. Relative hardship is how people actually feel about their own lack of things. As a matter of fact, the poor have less than the middle class. But from a personal point of view, some middle-class people may feel worse off than the poor. The middle-class hippy in California who rejects the values of materialism and success and looks for happiness in transcendental meditation is a good example of someone who is relatively poor. It also applies to a black American who is out of work and joins a black Muslim group.From their own points of view, they both feel like they’re missing out on something. So, sects can be seen as one way to deal with being relatively poor.

Most sects start when there is a lot of change in society at once.When this happens, traditional norms are broken, social ties often don’t make sense, and the traditional “universe of meaning” is weakened.So, Bryan Wilson thinks that the rise of methodism was a reaction by the new urban working class to the “chaos and uncertainty” of life in the newly settled industrial areas.He says that “newly emerging social groups are likely to need and develop new patterns of religious belief to fit into their new situation, at least in a society where the religious view of the world dominates.”In times of change and doubt, the sects offer the support of a close-knit community organisation, clearly defined and strongly enforced rules and values, and the promise of salvation.It gives people a new, stable “universe of meaning” that is backed up by their religious views.

Sect’s lifespan:

Sociologists say that sects don’t last long. H. Richard Niebuhr says that groups can only last for a short time because:

Members can’t keep up their zeal and dedication after the first generation;

The group may no longer be socially isolated and on the outside, which was a big reason why the sect started. Sects that follow a strict way of life tend to get rich, which lets them join the rest of society.

The cult then either dies out or grows into a religious group.Its extreme beliefs and rejection of the rest of society don’t fit with how its members live their lives now. If it becomes a denomination, its views change to fit in with those of the rest of society. It also creates a bureaucratic organisation with paid officials in a hierarchy. This is the way that some groups follow. As the standing of the Methodists grew in the 1800s, the strict rules of the sect and its opposition to society as a whole were dropped, and the group became a religion.

If big sects form in response to major religions, it could lead to conflict or religious intolerance, or it could lead to the rise of a pluralistic society (because people are willing to accept different beliefs).

The cult:

The American sociologist HOWARD P. BECKER brought the idea of a “cult” into sociology in 1932. He did this as an extension of German theologian Ernst Troeltsch’s church-sect typology. Troeltsch wanted to make a clear distinction between churchly, sectarian, and mystical religious actions.Becker turned Troeltsch’s first two groups into four by dividing church into “ecclesia” and “denomination” and sect into “sect” and “cult.” Like Troeltsch’s “mystical religion,” Becker’s cults were small religious groups that didn’t have a lot of structure and put a lot of emphasis on how personal views should be kept private.

Later definitions built on these traits and put more stress on the fact that cults are “deviant religious groups whose ideas come from outside the predominant religious culture.”People often think that this difference causes a lot of tension between the group and the more common society around it. This is something that religious sects also have in common.

This word is often used to describe smaller religious groups or movements with a lot of religious devotion.The cult is a group that anyone can join and take part in if they want to. Johnson says, “In general, cults are not strict, except when it comes to money.” Still, it tries to keep its members in line with its clear philosophy and set of rituals.A cult focuses on one belief more than any other, or it focuses on a god or goddess who has certain traits.

Cults have these traits:

1. A cult also has a lot of tension with the society around it, but its beliefs are new and different in the setting of that society. It might try to change society, but most of the time it focuses on making the group feel good.

2. Cults are neither radical nor conservative. Instead, they are revisionary. Religion and cult are not at odds with each other.

3. Cults are more of an addition to faith than they are a threat to it.

4. The head of a cult has a lot to do with how long the cult will last.People who like him or her say that he or she has a lot of charm.

5. Cults try to help people with their everyday problems.Cults may have contradictions in them, but when followers ask questions, the charismatic leader of the group answers them.

6. Over time, a Cults can change into a sect. Protestantism came from Calvinism.

7. According to k.m. Panikkar, it was during the rule of the Mughals that sectarian differences among brahmins, such as Shaivism and Vaishnavism, were greatly praised. This was because Hinduism was losing its great traditions because it didn’t have enough government support.

8. If people aren’t close to religion, they will support different cults.

How Cult Began:

Sociologists still say that, unlike sects, which are the result of religious splits and keep the same beliefs and practises, “cults” are made up of new beliefs and practises that come up on their own.

Heroic acts are at the heart of the social fact of cults. This act is a system of worship, a set of feelings and attitudes about symbols (gestures, words, rites, and rituals), and most importantly, a connection with a holy object and the world beyond. It requires people to work together and has a social limit. In it, the connection between God and the clergy is not unimportant, but it is not the most important thing.

Cults seem to thrive in big cities where people from different cultures live together and where social change happens quickly and has a big effect on everyone.It creates a situation of uncertainty and lack of control, which makes it hard to make changes. Meet that situation is a cult.