Vexen Crabtree (vexen) wrote,
Vexen Crabtree

Cultural Religion Versus Scholarly Religion

"Cultural Religion Versus Scholarly Religion" by Vexen Crabtree (2008) This is a complete re-write and re-launch of the 2005 original. It now has a large concentration on common magical and superstitious practices and their relations to official religion. The introduction and menu follows:

If you explain a basket of beliefs to a large crowd, you can be assured that in your absence they will form conclusions and opinions about their new religion that you didn't want them to form. So, is the 'religion' you have founded best described as the beliefs of the masses, or the beliefs of the 'experts' at the top? When the top priests disagree with the guys on the ground, which set of beliefs and practices is the 'real' religion? Is a religion the grassroots beliefs of people on the ground, or is it the well-considered philosophies and beliefs of the founders and scholars? The problems involving the tussle between popular cultural forms of religion (low-brow religion) and intellectual faith (high-brow), have concerned scholars through history.

  1. Cultural Religion, Scholarly Religion
  2. Should the Grassroots or the Experts Define a Religion?
  3. The Indomitable Market of Magic, Versus Religious Professionals
  4. Conclusions
The conclusion reads: Religions are combinations of grassroots practices and cultural norms with high-brow theologizing and intellectualization. The two forms of a religion often battle against each other. It is not right to limit definitions of what the 'true' religion is to either the beliefs of most of the adherents (who might en masse be taken in by fads) nor limit it to what the academics and clerics say, who only represent a small portion of the religion. Therefore the only sensible pragmatic route is to consider religions to be pluralities and umbrella terms. Folk practices are often resilient to top-down declarations of what is or isn't supposed to be part of a religion, and often reforming popular beliefs results only in name-changes and other surface changes, leaving underlying practices more or less as they were. The grassroots of a religion is nearly always a combination of beliefs and practices from multiple historical sources. Magical thinking, ritualistic habits and popular beliefs all tend to survive within a culture even though its official religion may change. On the other hand, the formal and scholarly religion of clerics and religious professionals is complex, more complete, text based and resilient to change. It is demanding to study and frequently convoluted because the religion's scholars debate the weakspots and difficult spots of the tenets and work out complex theologies to circumvent them. The more difficult the area of study of a religion, the more maze-making its scholars will do in attempts to explain away irrationality. But the more complex and difficult the intellectual aspect of a religion, the more the lowly masses will fail to comprehend or implement it, and the bigger the divide will be between the cultural and scholarly versions of the religion. A religion is always a contradictory mix of both what the leaders say the religion is, plus what the mass of the actual followers believe.
Tags: culture, magic, religion
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