Religion as Cultural System- A few questions

A religion is: 1.a system of symbols which acts to 2. establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by 3. formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and 4. clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that 5. the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.

Clifford Geertz

In the “Religion as a Cultural System”, Clifford Geertz’s has argued religion as symbols with his lengthy five parts definition. He argues that any kind of religious activity or belief is a symbol for something that works together to create powerful and long-lasting moods. It thus, formulates the idea of world around us and our existence. It than makes these ideas factual although it is artificial. Therefore, our motivations to it seem uniquely realistic.

One of the analogies that Geertz use to explain it is building a dam. He mentions that while constructing a dam according to the specifications of hydraulic theory or the conclusions drawn from the flow chart, “the theory is a model under whose guidance physical relationships are organized: it is a model for “reality”.” However, for  psychological and social systems, and for cultural models, he said  that it would not be ordinarily referred to as “theories,” but rather as “doctrines,” “melodies,” or “rites.”

While I partially agree to Geertz’s argument, there are also some questions that arises, Is religion simply a system of culture and not more than that? Isn’t religion also a process of understanding beyond worldview? Where would super natural or para normal fit in his definition?

His study through a research using a few selected religious practices for his case study does not seem to cater to all the religions. For example, an insider Buddhist would find a foot print on a stone real and is a mark left by somebody who have attained the realization beyond life and death. An outsider might think somebody might have carved it in his/her foot’s shape. Or Geertz would say it is a symbol to establish powerful motivation to understand world with the help of that symbol. How can we actually known all that?

Note: I am not well read on Geertz’s works. Therefore, there might be a lot of his arguments that I might have not grabbed in my ting head. This short reflection is just on his definition of Religion and how I understood it (Maybe how I understood is not what he meant).

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