The Search for New Meaning
What happens when small-scale societies are
drawn into a larger, more complex world?
What happens to their religion?
Does it cease to exist, or does it adapt to survive?
• Most religious practices will be
– A society’s belief system is often considered
to be ancient and sacred.
– Rituals, the repetition of the same, ensures
that religious meaning is preserved.
• Change is not often welcomed, but is
necessary for a religious system to
Mechanisms for Change
Nothing in this world is stagnant.
Everything changes in one way or another.
Think of the most permanent thing you can. Perhaps a mountain? The fact that humans
breathe oxygen? The Sun?
• In regards to culture, there are a few factors we can label as
gentle agents of change…
– Discovery: A new awareness of something that exists in the
– Invention: When a person, using the technology at hand, comes
up with a solution to a particular problem.
– Diffusion: The apparent movement of cultural traits from one
society to another. When two groups, such as those within a
culture area, face similar problems, solutions that are developed in
one group through discovery and invention might be adopted by
the other.
– Stimulus Diffusion: A new trait invented by a culture based
upon a similar trait introduced by a neighboring culture.
Mechanisms for Change cont.
• There are also more intense agents of change, change that comes from
economic/political/social control of one society over another…
– Acculturation: The process whereby a culture received traits from a
dominant society.
» When two technologically unequal societies come into contact with each
other, the subordinate society will experience change as traits are accepted
from the dominant society. (Often at a rate that is too rapid to properly
integrate the traits into the culture.)
– Assimilation: A condition whereby a dominated culture has changed so
much because of outside influences that it ceases to have its own distinct
» Ex: Many Native American groups
– Syncretism: A fusing of traits from two cultures to form something new and
yet permitting the retention of the old by subsuming the old into a new form.
» Ex: Sarapis, Trobriand Cricket, The influence of “Western” culture (Coke,
McDonald’s, Starbucks, Hollywood, etc.)
Haitian Vodou
An example of syncretism
• Vodou is a concept often
misunderstood in Western culture
and conjures up images of evil,
sorcery, dolls w/ pins, etc.
jZZ4 (Godsmack: Vodoo)
• Arose in Haiti during the first half
of the 19th century (~1804-1860)
centered around the symbols of
music, art and dance.
Chromolithographs: Color printed posters
of the saints used by early priests who
attempted to bring Christianity to Haitian
slaves. Seen as symbolic of West African
Haitian Vodou
An example of syncretism
• Mainly Yoruba (with some Fon,
Kongo) beliefs of West Africa
combined with Christian elements
to form Vodou.
Vodou means “spirit” or “deity” in the Fon
Pantheon of deities called Lwa and are very
similar to the Yoruba orisha that we have
previously studied. 2 important sub-groups of
Lwa: The Rada nanchon which are similar to
the Yoruba gods, and the Petwo nanchon,
aggressive/assertive gods born out of the slave
Legba, or Papa Legba is the first Lwa to be
contacted when trying to breach the threshold
between the human and supernatural worlds.
Same function as the Yoruba Orisha EsuElegba, but not so much of a trickster, rather
seen as a more compassionate figure, hence
the “Papa.” Papa Legba is often syncretised
with the Catholic St. Peter (shown above).
Haitian Vodou
An example of syncretism
• Fon, Kongo and Yoruba
beliefs of West Africa
combine with Christian
elements to form Vodou.
– Haiti:
– Brooklyn and the diaspora (the
movement of a population out of their
FL3Bj2LU&feature=related (Brooklyn
• Have pg. 247 (Table 11.1) open as a
references while watching the above. Pay
attention to mentions of “Legba” and
“Gede”. The Lwa here are called spirits.
Look for the Vede (sign) for Papa Legba
(symbol shown here on the right).
Similar to Vodou. Developed in Cuba
combining mostly Yoruba beliefs with
Roman Catholicism.
“Santeria” name originally stemmed
from a perceived over-concentration
on the Saints (“San”). Proper name for
the religion is Regla de Ocha or “Rule
of the Orisha.
Deities are, as in Yoruba religion,
referred to as Orisha
Similar to Vodou practitioners who
refer to their religion as “serving the
Animal sacrifice is used in ritual,
which has caused conflict between
religious freedom and animal rights
Revitalization movements
• A movement that forms in an attempt to deliberately bring about
change in a society
Usually occurs when a dominating culture overwhelms (politically, socially, economically) a
subordinate one.
Introduction of items/technologies to the subordinate culture might mean the destruction of the
culture and assimilation into the dominating culture.
If people from the subordinating culture survive, they are more often than not living on the
fringes of the dominating society and are demoralized (their worldview, culture, mythology has
either been destroyed or changed so radically as to be unrecognizable).
Revitalization movements then occur, including…
• Nativistic Movements
A type of revitalization movement that develops in traditional societies that are threatened by the
activities of more technologically advanced societies. These movements stress the elimination of
the dominant culture and a return to the past, keeping the desirable elements of the dominant
culture to which the society has been exposed, but with these elements now under the control of
the subordinate culture.
Ex: The Ghost Dance (1890) (Wavoka, Nevada Pauite, Lakota Sioux, South Dakota Massacre at
Wounded Knee)
• Revivalistic Movements
A type of revitalization movement that Attempts to revive what is often perceived of as a past
golden age in which ancient customs come to symbolize the noble features and legitimacy of the
repressed culture.
Ex: Celtic revival Ireland
Revitalization movements cont.
• Millenarian Movements
A type of revitalization movement that envisions change through an apocalyptic transformation
Ex: Unarians (see later slidea type of UFO religion)
Branch Davidians (Students of the Seven
Seals): An example of a Millenarian group. Begun in 1940s by Victor Houteff a branch of the 7
Day Adventists. Secret information about the return of Jesus, contained in a scroll with 7 seals, hence the
name. Vernon Howell (“David Koresh”) believed that the apocalypse would come soon with an assault on
the Branch Davidians. They stockpiled weapons for this event. 1993, Waco Texas Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms decided to arresh Koresh on the grounds of illegally possessing these weapons.
Thinking the apocalypse had come, a gunfight broke out, lasting 51 days. In the end 71 Branch Davidians
(21 children) died due to fires.
• Messianic Movments
A type of revitalization movement that is based on the appearance of a divine savior in human
form who will bring about the solution to the problems that exist within the society.
Ex: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism): Founded in early 19th century
by Joseph Smith (1804-1844). Smith was a Prophet who received a message from Jesus and the angel
Moroni (hence “Mormonism”) that all the various versions of Christianity cropping up were all in error.
Smith would then go on pen the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ based on golden
tablets on which were written supposed supplements to biblical history. Brigham Young would later take
over the cult (his accession based also on prophecy) and moved the group to Utah.
Ex: Cargo Cults …(next slide)…
Cargo Cults
A Messianic Revitalization Movement
Late 19th century-end of WWII in Melanesia
“Cargo” in Melanesia, was seen to be made
by ancestors. The U.S. military had
somehow intercepted the goods meant for
the Melanesians.
Cults emerged based on prophets who had
foreseen how to control the cargo. Rituals
were developed that mimicked activities of
the soldiers (marching with sticks over
their shoulder, marking on paper, wearing
European clothes.)
When these rituals failed, groups went so
far as to destroy sacred objects, crops and
food sources, thinking that cargo would
not arrive for them as long as they had
these items. Results were tragic.
50 years ago:
Present day: acculturation has occurred, still
keep rituals of original cult, but the mood is
no longer desperate:
Neo-Paganism and Revival
• Neopaganism: pre-Christian religious traditions that have
been revived and are practiced in contemporary times. A
revivalistic movement.
– Wicca: Popularized by Gerald Gardner in the1950s. An amateur
anthropologist who found and joined a coven of witches who he
believed to be one of the last from a line of pre-Christian
• Wicca is a polytheistic religion with varying gods and goddesses.
Gender equality is stressed. Rituals and holidays often Celtic in
• An Athame (ritual knife) and a Chalice are used in ceremonies to
represent the balance of male/female.
• Magic is used, but only for good, unlike in Satanism.
New Religious Movements
Denomination vs. Sect vs. Cult
– Denomination: A religious group that differs on just a few points from the
mainstream religion
• Ex: Within Christianity: Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, etc.
– Sect: A new branch of a mainstream religion, usually involving new
revelations, new scriptures, and a new leader
• Ex: Mormons (from Christianity)
• Ex: Unification Church (“Moonies”):Founder Sun Myung Moon 1954 Seoul,
Korea. Goal is to unite all Christian denominations. The Divine Principle contains
“new truths” as revealed through Rev. Moon and serves as the cult’s main literature.
Moon and his wife alternately seen by members as the “Spiritual Parents” of humanity.
– Cult:
• Historical meaning: A particular form or system of religious worship.
Used to describe a small, recently created, and spiritually innovative group, often with a single charismatic
leader. However…
Connotations of the term include that the leader is evil, is in total control of his followers, and believes that the
end of the world is imminent. These allegations usually in reaction to a religion classified as a…
• High Demand Religion: A religious group in which much is demanded of members
in terms of strict adherence to rules for thought and behavior
– Ex: Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Heaven’s Gate
UFO Religions
Usually see Extraterrestrials as advanced spiritual beings that have come to
help humanity in some way.
Heaven’s Gate: Founded by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles. Lived in a
communal house in San Diego. Believed the soul was a superior entity to the body.
Spiritually evolved individuals would be taken to join the ranks of extraterrestrials who
were coming to Earth, hidden in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. March 1997, masssuicide of 21 men and 18 women.
Marshall Applewhite initiation video:
Raelians: Founded in 1973 by Claude Vorlihon “Rael”
Unarians: An example of a Millenarian movement. Founded by Ernest and Ruth
Norman in LA, 1954. An apocalyptic event, extraterrestrials will provide knowledge and
spiritual salvation for humanity. Along with Raelians, often accused of becoming the
next “Heaven’s Gate”
Unarius Academy of Science
From “The Unarius Educational Foundation provides information about the evolutionary design of life, the
physics describing the mind and brain/body system, explaining the nature of consciousness substantiated by an
interdimensional science of life…The founders laid down a bridge that is a cosmic link to the Space Brothers. Unarius, an
acronym for Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science is dedicated to exploring the frontiers of science
and expanding our awareness and connection with galactic intelligence. The Unarius Science of Life teaching is the basis of the
galactic intelligence of advanced, intelligent persons.”
Not UFO religions!:
Universalists, Unitarians, Unification Church (Moonies)
A religious movement characterized by a return to fundamental principles,
usually including a resistance to modernization and an emphasis on certainty
through a literal interpretation of scriptures.
Characterized by:
Totalism: The belief that religion is relevant to, and should be a part of, all parts of a society.
Scripturalism: The practice of justifying beliefs and actions by reference to the religious text.
These texts are generally held to be inerrant and represent certainty and stability in a rapidly
changing world.
Traditioning: The idea that religious texts are relevant to life today
Example (not in book): Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
This community at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas practices polygamy, originally
sanctioned and encouraged by Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism). An example of a High
Demand Religion.
In the last few months has garnered much media interest due to accusations of a sex offenses
against minors, mainly by its behind bars leader Warren Jeffs. There was a State raid on the
ranch, where all the children (~450) were removed from their parents…
Most up-to-date coverage from CNN here:
Charges against Warren Jeffs:
History of raids at the Yearning for Zion ranch:
Fallout from raid, interview with community mothers:
Freedom of religion vs. human rights?

The Search for New Meaning