Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion

Oxford University Press, 6 d’abr. 1995 - 670 pàgines
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Religion is universal human culture. No phenomenon is more widely shared or more intensely studied, yet there is no agreement on what religion is. Now, in Faces in the Clouds, anthropologist Stewart Guthrie provides a provocative definition of religion in a bold and persuasive new theory. Guthrie says religion can best be understood as systematic anthropomorphism--that is, the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman things and events. Many writers see anthropomorphism as common or even universal in religion, but few think it is central. To Guthrie, however, it is fundamental. Religion, he writes, consists of seeing the world as humanlike. As Guthrie shows, people find a wide range of humanlike beings plausible: Gods, spirits, abominable snowmen, HAL the computer, Chiquita Banana. We find messages in random events such as earthquakes, weather, and traffic accidents. We say a fire "rages," a storm "wreaks vengeance," and waters "lie still." Guthrie says that our tendency to find human characteristics in the nonhuman world stems from a deep-seated perceptual strategy: in the face of pervasive (if mostly unconscious) uncertainty about what we see, we bet on the most meaningful interpretation we can. If we are in the woods and see a dark shape that might be a bear or a boulder, for example, it is good policy to think it is a bear. If we are mistaken, we lose little, and if we are right, we gain much. So, Guthrie writes, in scanning the world we always look for what most concerns us--livings things, and especially, human ones. Even animals watch for human attributes, as when birds avoid scarecrows. In short, we all follow the principle--better safe than sorry. Marshalling a wealth of evidence from anthropology, cognitive science, philosophy, theology, advertising, literature, art, and animal behavior, Guthrie offers a fascinating array of examples to show how this perceptual strategy pervades secular life and how it characterizes religious experience. Challenging the very foundations of religion, Faces in the Clouds forces us to take a new look at this fundamental element of human life.

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FACES IN THE CLOUDS: A New Theory of Religion

Revisió d'Usuari  - Kirkus

An erudite argument that religion is ``systematic anthropomorphism: the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman things or events.'' Students of religion and philosophy may sniff a familiar ... Llegeix la ressenya completa

Faces in the clouds: a new theory of religion

Revisió d'Usuari  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Guthrie (anthropology, Fordham Univ.) critiques previous theories of the origin of religion and explains his view that religion is systematic anthropomorphism, which attributes human characteristics ... Llegeix la ressenya completa


1 The Need for a Theory
2 Animism Perception and the Effort After Meaning
3 The Origin of Anthropomorphism
4 Anthropomorphism as Perception
5 Anthropomorphism in the Arts
6 Anthropomorphism in Philosophy and Science
7 Religion as Anthropomorphism
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Pàgina 128 - Sometime we see a cloud that's dragonish; A vapour sometime like a bear or lion, A tower'd citadel, a pendent rock, A forked mountain, or blue promontory With trees upon't, that nod unto the world, And mock our eyes with air.
Pàgina 69 - There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious.
Pàgina 124 - Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Pàgina 27 - a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.
Pàgina 159 - Cave are the Idols of the individual man. For every one (besides the errors common to human nature in general) has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolors the light of nature; owing either to his own proper and peculiar nature; or to his education and conversation with others; or to the reading of books, and the authority of those whom he esteems and admires; or to the differences of impressions, accordingly as they take place in a mind preoccupied and predisposed or in a mind indifferent...
Pàgina 127 - Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherised upon a table...
Pàgina 22 - It seems as though thinking men, as yet at a low level of culture, were deeply impressed by two groups of biological problems. In the first place, what is it that makes the difference between a living body and a dead one; what causes waking, sleep. trance, disease, death? In the second place, what are those human shapes which appear in dreams and visions?
Pàgina 127 - And once a thing is put in writing, the composition, whatever it may be, drifts all over the place, getting into the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally of those who have no business with it; it doesn't know how to address the right people, and not address the wrong. And when it is ill-treated and unfairly abused it always needs its parent to come to its help, being unable to defend or help itself.

Sobre l'autor (1995)

Stewart E. Guthrie is Professor of Anthropology at Fordham University and is the author of A Japanese New Religion.

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