McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams

Can History decipher religious practices from the past? Discuss

In the process of investigating the changing ways in which religious meaning has been imagined and disseminated among generations, and then either assimilated, negotiated or resisted, historical analysis is elemental. However, it is only one component of an analytical complex, which in co-ordinating a variety of social scientific perspectives can decode past ritual and practice.

Religion is governed by historical social and cultural factors that define and shape systems of belief, meaning and personal well-being. As well as being shaped by social, cultural and political contexts, religion acts as an agent providing social structure and control. By integrating the individual into a supportive psychological and sociological network it helps to overcome individual and societal stresses. Popular religion is therefore a critical vector in an economically determined Marxist vision of history. Religion acts as a unifying, harmonising social infrastructure helping to dissipate the pressures of socio-economic (and psychological) tensions.

Religion, as the prime location of medieval identity, sought (unconsciously, perhaps) to strengthen its popular cohesion by displacement of an 'Other' through cathartic violence and discrimination. Much akin to the processes described by Edward Said's contemporary analyses of cultural discrimination. The key victims of this process were characteristically polarised against the most powerful traits of public religious identity that, notionally, needed defending. In Jewish discrimination, we can see a defence of socio-economic cohesion and control against rising Jewish sectarian influence. In persecution against the heretics, we witness a struggle to suppress the heterodoxy that aggravated latent insecurities of spiritual identity. And finally, in the moral persecution of leprosy, a "divine retribution for breaches of the moral law," a defence is waged against perceived amoral, secular infringements and the perceived weakening of moral and religious bonds.   

As we can see from these key works, religion was inevitably embedded to the social and cultural institutions, customs and conventions of the period. In order to accurately recover the nature, meaning and significance of these practices, the work of focused historical enquiry is vital. However, this approach must have a sociological and anthropological armoury to fully realise the hopes of such enquiries. Principally, to help strengthen our understanding of the patterns of meaning which shape culture, and by implication, "the concrete religious experiences embedded in all great cultural phenomena." The fusion of theology, history and sociology, in analysing religious markets and identity through quasi-scientific deconstruction, will ultimately provide greater insight into the 'symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking animal' that defines mankind.

Related Links
To Top