Archaeology of religion and ritual

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The archaeology of religion and ritual is a growing field of study within archaeology that applies ideas from religious studies, theory and methods, anthropological theory, and archaeological and historical methods and theories to the study of religion and ritual in past human societies from a material perspective.

Definitions[edit]

Religion may be defined as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs,” [1] whereas ritual is “an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite.” [2] Archaeologists may study the material traces of religious ritual (for example, the ritual destruction of ceramic vessels during the Aztec New Fire ceremony [3]) or the material correlates of religion as a totalized worldview (for example, Elizabeth Kyder-Reid’s study of the Southern Redemptorists’ reconfiguration of landscape and artifacts to reflect their ideals of community and poverty in material form [4]).

As in religious studies and the Anthropology of religion, many archaeologists differentiate between “world religions,” and “traditional” or “indigenous religions.” “World religions” are defined by Bowie (2000: 26) [5] as:

  1. Based on written scriptures.
  2. Has a notion of salvation, often from outside.
  3. Universal, or potentially universal.
  4. Can subsume or supplant primal religions.
  5. Often forms a separate sphere of activity.

while indigenous religions are defined as:

  1. Oral, or if literate, lacks written/formal scriptures and creeds.
  2. ‘This worldly’.
  3. Confined to a single language or ethnic group.
  4. Form basis from which world religions have developed.
  5. Religious and social life are inseparable.[6]

However, Timothy Insoll (2004: 9) [7] has argued that these categorizations arise from a much-critiqued neo-evolutionary perspective. Strict dichotomies of religious forms may also contribute to skewing research toward state religions, leaving household religious practice, and the relationships between these, under-investigated (a trend noted by Elson and Smith, 2001 [8]). Insoll (2004:9) argues that archaeologists may contribute to blurring the boundaries of world and indigenous religions.

The archaeology of religion also incorporates related anthropological or religious concepts and terms such as magic, tradition, symbolism, and the sacred.

Theory[edit]

Anthropology of religion[edit]

Theory within the archaeology of religion borrows heavily from the Anthropology of religion, which encompasses a broad range of perspectives. These include: Émile Durkheim’s functionalist understanding of religion as serving to separate the sacred and the profane;[9] Karl Marx’s idea of religion as “the opium of the masses” or a false consciousness,[10] Clifford Geertz’s loose definition of religion as a “system of symbols” that orders the world,[11] Victor Turner’s work on ritual, including rites of passage and liminality,[12] Max Weber’s religious types [13] and thoughts on the relationship between economics and religion;[14] Claude Lévi-Strauss’ structuralist understandings of totemism and myth;[15] and Mary Douglas’ idea of the division of “purity and danger”.[16]

Religion, identity, and practice[edit]

Archaeological studies of religion increasingly recognize religion as an organizing principle in social life, rather than as a separate sphere of activity. They include religion as an axis of identity that structures social life and personal experience. Therefore, entire artifact assemblages (rather than specifically “religious” artifacts, such as rosary beads) can be interpreted according to the ways that they simultaneously create, display, and constrain notions of self according to religious ideas. For example, John Chenoweth (2009) [17] interpreted ceramic assemblages and burials according to Quaker ideals of plainness and modesty.

Because social identity is both imposed and negotiated through social practice, including material practice, archaeologies of religion increasingly incorporate practice-based theory. Building upon Anthony Giddens’ idea of structuration [18] and Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas of both practice [19] and cultural capital,[20] theories of material practice posit that people use material goods to negotiate their places within social structures. Examples of the archaeological interpretation of religion and ritual as part of social negotiation, transformation or reinforcement include Chenoweth’s work on Quaker religious practice,[17] Kyder-Reid’s work on the Southern Redemptorists,[21] and Timothy Pauketat’s work on feasting in Cahokia (Pauketat et al., 2002 [22]).

Religion, power, and inequality[edit]

Because religion and political power are often intertwined[23][24] particularly in early states, the archaeology of religion may also engage theories of power and inequality. John Janusek’s study of Tiwanaku religion, for example, explored the ways that religion served to integrate societies within the Andean state.[25] Colonial regimes frequently justified expansion through a commitment to religious conversion; archaeologies of coloniality may therefore intersect with the archaeology of religion. James Delle’s 2001 article on missions and landscape in Jamaica [26] and Barbara Voss’ work on missions, sexuality and empire [27] demonstrate how religion has intersected with colonial regimes.

Historical method and theory[edit]

Historical archaeologists have made major contributions to the understanding of the religion and ritual of peoples who have remained underrepresented (or misrepresented) in the historical record, such as colonized peoples, indigenous peoples, and enslaved peoples. Mandatory religious conversion was common in many colonial situations (e.g. the Spanish colonization of the Americas), which led to syncretic religious practice, rejection or resistance to new religions, covert practice of indigenous religions, and/or misunderstandings and misinterpretations of both indigenous and colonizer religions (Hanks 2010 [28] Klor de Alva 1982,[29] Wernke 2007[30]).

This research combines archaeological and anthropological method and theory with historical method and theory. In addition to recovering, recording, and analyzing material culture, historical archaeologists use archives, oral histories, ethnohistorical accounts. Researchers read texts critically, emphasizing the historical context of the documents (especially regarding underrepresented peoples whose voices may be distorted or missing) in order to better understand religious practices that may have been discouraged or even severely punished. Combined archaeological, historical, and anthropological data sets may contradict each other, or the material record may illuminate the details of covert or syncretic religious practice, as well as resistance to dominant religious forms. For example, our understanding of the religious practice of enslaved peoples in the United States (e.g. Leone and Frye 2001,[31] Fennell 2007 [32]) has increased dramatically thanks to research in historical archaeology.

Material correlates[edit]

Because archaeology studies human history through objects, buildings, bodies, and spaces, archaeologists must engage theories that connect anthropological and sociological theories of religion to material culture and landscapes. Theories of materiality [33] and landscape [34] serve to connect human activities, experiences, and behaviors to social practices, including religion. Theories of embodiment [35] also serve to interpret human remains as they relate to religion and ritual.

The archaeology of religion makes use of the same material evidence as other branches of archaeology, but certain artifact classes are particularly emphasized in studying religion and ritual in the past:

  • Human remains and burial assemblages can offer many clues to religious and ritual activity.[36] Human remains themselves are used in all branches of archaeology for information on sex, age, occupation, and disease. Methods of interment (including burial position, cremation, burial location, primary and secondary burials, etc.) contribute to understanding changing religious practice, as well as social difference within groups (e.g. Lohmann 2005 [37]). Total burial contexts, i.e., the setting, artifacts, ecofacts, and human remains themselves, may provide evidence of religious beliefs about death and the afterworld.
  • Religious buildings, such as temple complexes, kivas, and missions, are often used to examine communal religious and ritual activity (e.g. Barnes 1995,[38] Graham 1998,[39] Reid et al. 1997 [40] ). Part of archaeoastronomy is the investigation of how buildings are aligned to astral bodies and events, such as solstices, which often coincide with religious or ritual activities. Archaeological examinations of religious buildings can reveal unequal access to religious knowledge and ritual. Religious buildings frequently contain religious iconography that provides insight into the symbolic dimensions of religious life.
  • Within landscape archaeology, sacred landscapes are an increasingly important focus of study (e.g. Clendinnen 1980 [41]). Landscapes are imbued with sacred meaning throughout the world; aboriginal Australian songlines, and the related belief that mythical events are marked on the landscape, are one example. Human modifications to landscapes, such as Kyder-Reid’s study of the Redemtorists’ modifications of their estate to emphasize communality,[42] may point to the enactment of religious views.
  • Religious iconography, symbols,[43] ethnographic texts and ethnographic analogy are important tools that archaeologists use to compare with the material record to examine religions in the past (e.g. Clendinnen 1980,[44] Elson and Smith 2001 [45]). Though texts are not direct “windows to the past,” particularly for societies with few or no written records, they are valuable lines of evidence that may be contradicted or supported by the material record.
  • Common artifact classes such as ceramics have been increasingly reinterpreted within a religious framework. According to the idea of religion as a form of social practice and a total worldview, any artifact may potentially be used to embody religious ideas and ideals in material form. Patterns of artifact and ecofact use within ritual contexts may expose preferences or sacred meanings of certain materials; the ritual use of pine among the ancient Maya is one example (Morehart, Lentz, and Prufer 2005 [46]).

Examples of research by area[edit]

Africa[edit]

  • Evolving religious structure in Egypt (Baines 1987) [47]
  • Ritual and political process in Tanzania (Hakansson 1998) [48]
  • Tswana religion and Christianity in Botswana and South Africa (Reid et. Al. 1997) [49]

Americas[edit]

  • Contemporary Maya shrines (Brown 2004) [50]
  • Landscape and Yucatec Maya religious practice (Clendinnen 1980) [51]
  • Christian missions in the Americas (Graham 1998) [52]
  • Religion and the State in the Andes (Janusek 2006) [53]
  • Religious architecture and religious transformation in colonial Peru (Wernke 2007)[30]
  • Early American slavery and African American religion (Leone and Frye 2001),[31] Fennell (2007)[32]

Asia[edit]

  • Buddhism in India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia (Barnes 1995) [54]
  • Early Hinduism in Rajasthan (Hooja 2004) [55]

Europe[edit]

  • Christianity and Anglo-Saxon burial practices (Crawford 2004) [56]
  • Religion in Minoan Crete (Herva 2006) [57]
  • Women and medieval burials (Gilchrist 2008) [58]

Australia/South Pacific[edit]

  • Burials and religious practice in Papua New Guinea (Lohmann 2005) [59]
  • Dreaming cosmology and Australian seascapes (McNiven 2003) [60]

Related topics[edit]

Modern religious use of archaeological sites[edit]

Contemporary religious groups often claim archaeological sites as part of their heritage, and make use of archaeological sites and artifacts in their religious practice (e.g. Wallis 2003 [61]). These practices and religious interpretations of sites may clash with archaeological interpretations, leading to disputes about heritage, preservation, use of sites, and the “ownership” of history (Bender 1999 [62]).

Biblical archaeology[edit]

Biblical archaeology is a field of archaeology that seeks to correlate events in the Bible with concrete archaeological sites and artifacts (Meyers 1984,[63] Richardson 1916[64]).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Religion) Based on the Random House Dictionary, Random House, Inc. 2010
  2. ^ Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ritual) Based on the Random House Dictionary, Random House, Inc. 2010
  3. ^ Elson, Christina and Michael E. Smith (2001) Archaeological Deposits from the Aztec New Fire Ceremony. ‘’Ancient Mesoamerica, ‘’ Vol. 12, Issue 2, pp. 157–174
  4. ^ Kyder-Reid, Elizabeth (1996) The Construction of Sanctity: Landscape and Ritual in a Religious Community. In ‘’Landscape Archaeology: Reading and Interpreting the American Historical Landscape.’’ Rebecca Yamin and Karen Bescherer Metheny, eds. University of Tennessee Press.
  5. ^ Bowie, F. (2000) The Anthropology of religion. Oxford: Blackwell. Quoted in Insoll, Timothy (2004) ‘’Archaeology, Religion, Ritual.’’ New York: Routeledge, page 8
  6. ^ Ibid
  7. ^ Insoll, Timothy (2004) ‘’Archaeology, Religion, Ritual.’’ New York: Routeledge
  8. ^ Elson, Christina and Michael E. Smith (2001:157) Archaeological Deposits from the Aztec New Fire Ceremony. Ancient Mesoamerica, Vol. 12, Issue 2, pp. 157–174
  9. ^ Durkheim, Émile. (1998) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.’’ Oxford University Press
  10. ^ Marx, Karl (1992) ‘’Early Writings.’’ Penguin Classics.
  11. ^ Geertz, Clifford (1973:90) The Interpretation of Cultures.’’ New York: Basic Books. P. 90
  12. ^ Turner, Victor (1995) The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure.’’ Aldine Transaction.
  13. ^ Heydebrand, Wolf (1994) ‘’Sociological Writings: Max Weber.’’ Continuum Press.
  14. ^ Weber, Max (2002) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: and Other Writings. Trans. Peter Baehr. Penguin Classics.
  15. ^ Tremlett, Paul-François (2008) ‘’Lévi-Strauss on Religion: The Structuring Mind (Key Thinkers in the Study of Religion’’). Equionox Publishing.
  16. ^ Douglas, Mary (2003 [1966]) Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concept of Pullution and Taboo. Routledge Classics
  17. ^ a b Chenoweth, John M. (2009) Social identity, material culture, and the archaeology of religion: Quaker practices in context. Journal of Social Archaeology 9: 319
  18. ^ Giddens, Anthony (1986) ‘’The Constitution of Society: Outline of A Theory of Structuration.’’ Berkeley: University of California Press.
  19. ^ Bourdieu, Pierre (1977) ‘’Outline of a Theory of Practice.’’ Cambridge University Press.
  20. ^ Bourdieu, Pierre (1987) ‘’Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.’’ Harvard University Press.
  21. ^ Kyder-Reid, Elizabeth (1996) The Construction of Sanctity: Landscape and Ritual in a Religious Community. In Landscape Archaeology: Reading and Interpreting the American Historical Landscape. Rebecca Yamin and Karen Bescherer Metheny, eds. University of Tennessee Press.
  22. ^ Pauketat, Timothy, Lucretia S. Kelly, Gayle J. Fritz, Neal H. Lopinot, Scott Elias, and Eve Hargrave (2002) The Residues of Feasting and Public Ritual at Cahokia. American Antiquity, Vol. 67, No. 2, pp. 257–279
  23. ^ Firth, Raymond (1981) Spiritual Aroma: Religion and Politics. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 83, No. 3, pp. 582–601
  24. ^ Wolf, Eric (1991) Religious Regimes and State Formation: Perspectives From European Ethnography. State University of New York Press (August 13, 1991) ISBN 978-0791406519
  25. ^ Janusek, John Wayne (2006) The changing ‘nature’ of Tiwanaku religion and the rise of the Andean state. World Archaeology Vol. 38(3): 469–492
  26. ^ Delle, James (2001) Race, Missionaries, and the Struggle to Free Jamaica. In Race and the Archaeology of Identity. Charles E. Orser, Jr., ed. Pp. 177–195. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press
  27. ^ Voss, Barbara (2008) Domesticating Imperialism: Sexual Politics and the Archaeology of Empire. American Anthropologist 110(2): 191–203
  28. ^ Hanks, William F. (2010). Converting Words: Maya in the Age of the Cross. Berkeley: University of California Press,
  29. ^ Klor de Alva, J. Jorge (1982). Spiritual Conflict and Accommodation in New Spain: Toward a Typology of Aztec Responses to Christianity. In George A. Collier, Renato Rosaldo, and John D. Wirth (eds), The Inca and Aztec States, 1400–1800: Anthropology and History. New York: Academic Press
  30. ^ a b Wernke, Steven (2007) Analogy or Erasure? Dialectics of Religious Transformation in the Early Doctrinas of the Colca Valley, Peru. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Vol. 11, No. 2, June 2007
  31. ^ a b Leone, Mark P. and Gladys Marie Frye (2001) A Coherent Religion among African Slaves. In Race and the Archaeology of Identity, ed. By C. Orser. University of Utah Press
  32. ^ a b Fennell, Christopher (2007) Crossroads and Cosmologies: Diasporas and Ethnogenesis in the New World. University of Florida Press,
  33. ^ Meskell, Lynn (2005) Archaeologies of Materiality. Wiley-Blackwell.
  34. ^ Johnson, Matthew (2006) Ideas of Landscape. Wiley-Blackwell
  35. ^ Hammelkis, Yannis, Mark Pluciennik, and Sarah Tarlow (eds) (2001) Thinking Through the Body: Archaeologies of Corporeality. Springer.
  36. ^ Carr, Christopher (1995) Mortuary Practices: Their Social, Philosophical-Religious, Circumstantial, and Physical Determinants. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 105–200
  37. ^ Lohmann, Roger Ivar (2005) The Afterlife of Asabano Corpses: Relationships with the Deceased in Papua New Guinea. Ethnology, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 189–206
  38. ^ Barnes, Gina L. (1995) An Introduction to Buddhist Archaeology. ‘’World Archaeology,’’ Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 165–182
  39. ^ Graham, Elizabeth (1998) Mission Archaeology. ‘’Annual Review of Anthropology’’, Vol. 27, pp. 25–62
  40. ^ Reid, Andrew, Paul Lane, Alinah Segobye, Lowe Borjeson, Nonofo Mathibidi, and Princess Sekgarametso (1997) Tswana Architecture and Responses to Colonialism. World Archaeology, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 370–392
  41. ^ Clendinnen, Inga (1980) Landscape and Worldview: The Survival of Yucatec Maya Culture under Spanish Conquest. Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 374–393
  42. ^ Kyder-Reid, Elizabeth (1996) The Construction of Sanctity: Landscape and Ritual in a Religious Community. In Landscape Archaeology: Reading and Interpreting the American Historical Landscape. Rebecca Yamin and Karen Bescherer Metheny, eds. University of Tennessee Press.
  43. ^ Robb, John E. (1998) The Archaeology of Symbols. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 27, pp. 329–346
  44. ^ Clendinnen, Inga (1980) Landscape and Worldview: The Survival of Yucatec Maya Culture under Spanish Conquest. ‘’ Comparative Studies in Society and History,’’ Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 374–393
  45. ^ Elson, Christina and Michael E. Smith (2001:157) Archaeological Deposits from the Aztec New Fire Ceremony. Ancient Mesoamerica, Vol. 12, Issue 2, pp. 157–174
  46. ^ Morehart, Christopher T., David L. Lentz, and Keith M. Prufer (2005) Wood of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Pine (PINUS SPP.) by the Ancient Lowland Maya. Latin American Antiquity'’, 16(3), pp. 255–274
  47. ^ Baines, John (1987) Practical Religion and Piety. ‘’The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology,’’ Vol. 73, pp. 79–98
  48. ^ Hakansson, N. Thomas (1998) Rulers and Rainmakers in Pre-colonial South Pare, Tanzania: Exchange and Ritual Experts in Political Centralization. ‘’Ethnology’’, Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 263–283
  49. ^ Reid, Andrew, Paul Lane, Alinah Segobye, Lowe Borjeson, Nonofo Mathibidi, and Prinecss Sekgarametso (1997) Tswana Architecture and Responses to Colonialism. ‘’World Archaeology,’’ Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 370–392
  50. ^ Brown, Linda A. (2004) Dangerous Places and Wild Spaces: Creating Meaning with Materials at Contemporary Maya Shrines on El Duende Mountain
  51. ^ Clendinnen, Inga (1980) Landscape and Worldview: The Survival of Yucatec Maya Culture under Spanish Conquest. ‘’Comparative Studies in Society and History,’’ Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 374–393
  52. ^ Graham, Elizabeth (1998) Mission Archaeology. ‘’Annual Review of Anthropology,’’ Vol. 27, pp. 25–62
  53. ^ Janusek, John Wayne (2006) The changing ‘nature’ of Tiwanaku religion and the rise of the Andean state. ‘’World Archaeology’’ Vol. 38(3): 469–492
  54. ^ Barnes, Gina L. (1995) An Introduction to Buddhist Archaeology. ‘’World Archaeology’’, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 165–182
  55. ^ Hooja, Rima. Icons, Artifacts, and Interpretations of the Past: Early Hinduism in Rejasthan. ‘’World Archaeology,’’ Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 360–377
  56. ^ Crawford, Sally (2004) Votive Deposition, Religion, and the Anglo-Saxon Furnished Burial Ritual. ‘’World Archaeology’’, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 87–102
  57. ^ Herva, Vesa-Pekka (2006) Flower Lovers, after all? Rethinking Religion and Human-Environment Relations in Minoan Crete. ‘’World Archaeology’’, Vol. 38, No. 4, pp. 568–598
  58. ^ Gilchrist, Roberta (2008) Nurturing the dead: Medieval women as family undertakers. In Monton-subias, S. and Sanchez-Romero, M. (eds) Engendering Social Dynamics: the Archaeology of Maintenance Activities. British Archaeological Report International Series, Oxford, pp. 41–47.
  59. ^ Lohmann, Roger Ivar (2005) The Afterlife of Asabano Corpses: Relationships with the Deceased in Papua New Guinea. ‘’Ethnology’’, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 189–206
  60. ^ McNiven, Ian J. (2003) Saltwater People: Spiritscapes, Maritime Rituals and the Archaeology of Australian Indigenous Seascapes. ‘’World Archaeology’’, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp. 329–349
  61. ^ Wallis, Robert J. and Jenny Blain (2003) Sites, Sacredness, and Stories: Interactions of Archaeology and Contemporary Paganism. ‘’Folklore’’, Vol. 114, No. 3, pp. 307–321
  62. ^ Bender, Barbara (1999) ‘’Stonehenge: Making Space’’. Berg Publishers
  63. ^ Meyers, Eric M. (1984) The Bible and Archaeology. ‘’The Biblical Archaeologist,’’ Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 36–40
  64. ^ Richardson, G.H. (1916) The Value of Biblical Archaeology. ‘’The Biblical World,’’ Vol. 47, No. 6, pp. 381–387

External links[edit]