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aa.1966.68.5.02a00050

aa.1966.68.5.02a00050

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Published by u2go4him
aa 1966
aa 1966

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Published by: u2go4him on Apr 24, 2014
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Transcendental and Pragmatic
Aspects
of
Religion
DAVID
G.
MANDELBAUM
University
o
California, Berkdey Indian diagers gmerdLy separate the transcudentad
fwwk
o
thcir
rdigion
jrom the more pragmatic
fw ons,
assigning diJerd
deities,
rijds,
and
practitioners
to each. The
two
complexes
oj
religious bdiejs and praciicw are taken
ar
comfikmmtary
to
each
other.
Some
tribd
grwps
in
India
make a
simh,
ess
sharp,
di&b,
wMe
Sin ae
d
lagers maintain a
more
rigid
ford
eparation and
still
tm
the
two
in complementary lash-
ion.
Such
separation
of
religiow complexes
is
found
in
many
other
cdbures.
It
servw
to
dLay certain common
dilcmmar
thd peopJe ojtm
encou r
in
thcir
rdigh.
Pmw
categm’es
is
voloing
difcrcnt
degrees
of
this
separation may be
dhcerncd-wndiffcrent&cd,
partty differentiated, more fully
differmtiated,
and reform Thejirst appears
in
very simple
socielies
the
second
holds trMe in many
tribal
sOEidjbs,
the
third
m
been
cko*a&rMc
of
the
major
cdMza w,
wh e the forcrth
indudes
the
widcspP cad
dern
rend
to
do
away
with ths pragmatic aspects
o
rebigdon.
NTHROPOLOGICAL studies of religion have long demonstrated that
A
each people uses its religion to serve a number of purposes, but it has not often been noted that
in
some cultures two of the general functions of religion are separated, with different deities, rites, and practitioners being assigned to ,each. The one complex
is
geared to the transcendental functions of religion
and
the other
to
the more pragmatic functions. Each complex is taken as being complementary to the other, rather than
as
a rival or an alternate.
If
we then use this separation of function as a criterion for comparing religions, we can classify them into several categories.
It
will be seen that these categories have interesting implications for formulating sequences of develop- ment from one religious category to another, a kind
of
formulation that,
as
is well known, has not been conspicuously successful in a good many previous attempts. Religion as used here means
all
of
a
group’s beliefs and acts relating to their concept of the supernatural. The term “religion” thus includes abstract cosmology as well as specific “magical” devices used to cure
or
exorcise. The
test
of
what
is
to be taken
as
eligious
is
whether those who hold the beliefs and perform the acts believe that in doing so they are dealing with forces beyond those that men, by their own power, can control and command.
It
covers all that they believe to be superhuman and supernatural, beyond the ordinary grasp
of
man and above the natural world
cf.
Spiro
1964:
102-103;
1966:96-
98).
While the scope of the supernatural can be very differently defined in
dif-
ferent cultures, the distinction between natural and supernatural has been made by most peoples. We start with the two functional aspects of religion
as
they appear in village Hinduism and other religious forms in India and in village Buddhism
in
Ceylon. These were noted in an earlier paper (Mandelbaum
1964),
which .discussed the studies in
Religion
in
South Asia
(edited
by
Harper 1964), par- 1174
 
[MANDELBAUM]
Transcendental Pragmatic
Aspects
of
Religion
1175
ticularly those by Michael Ames, Gerald Berreman, Edward Harper, and Nur Yalman.
STRUCTURAL SEPARATION
IN
INDIAN RELIGIONS
Hindu beliefs and practices vary not only among the regions of India, but also among thejatis, the castes, of a village, and often even among the families of a jati. Yet, as the available evidence shows, the distinction between trans- cendental and pragmatic forms and practitioners is observed by villagers through much of the subcontinent. This evidence is far from full, but from it we can postulate the following two complexes of religious patterns and test the validity of the formulation against further information. The transcendental complex is used to ensure the long-term welfare of society, to explain and help maintain village institutions, to guarantee the proper transition of individuals from stage to stage within the institutions.
It
is concerned with the ultimate purposes of man. The pragmatic complex, by contrast, is used for local exigencies, for personal benefit, for individual wel- fare. While acts of the transcendental complex are directed toward such con- cerns as the proper fate of the
soul
after death and the proper maintenance of the social order, the pragmatic looks to the curing of a sick child, the location of a lost valuable, victory in a local tussle. In form, each complex has a generally different set of deities, separate symbol systems, and different rites. The transcendental deities are conceived as having universal domain; their message for men is conveyed in scripture, especially in Sanskrit texts. Their rites and ceremonies are staged in a regular, cyclical round and are believed necessary in order to maintain the social sys- tem. Their worship is conducted not only in villages and in regional centers, but also in religious supercenters, such as Benares, which attract pilgrims from all
of
Hindu India. The supernaturals of the pragmatic complex are seen as be- ing more local in power and scope. They are more apt to be malevolent than are the high gods. Their messages and stories are mainly transmitted in the folklore of the vernacular; their rites are partly cyclical but are often im- promptu or contingent, staged whenever a need for them arises. The specialist practitioners of the two are usually different people with differing attributes. The transcendental complex is carried on by priests who are ritual technicians holding their office through hereditary right. They are often, though not always, from one of the Brahmin jatis. That is, they belong to one of the hereditary endogamous groups within the highest social category of priests and scholars. They are accorded prestige and high social rank be- cause of their caste category and its calling. They are expected, ideally, to be exemplars of ritual purity. Their clients are traditionally in a stable, bound relationship to them. The practitioners of the pragmatic complex may be curers or diagnosti- cians or exorcisers; in many regions they are shamans who become possessed by a supernatural being and through whom the spirit speaks. There may also be ritual caretakers and technicians who look after the shrines of the local
 
1176
American Anthropologist
[68,
1966
gods, but characteristically these gods impart direct messages to men, either through a shaman in possession, through divination, or by other means. These special communicants achieve the role, rather than have
it
ascribed to them because of hereditary calling. Whatever prestige a shaman gains by the exer- cise of his powers accrues to himself alone and is not shared by his kin and caste fellows. His clients are not bound to him in any regular relationship, but patronize him as their need arises and as his reputation attracts them. He is not an exemplar, but rather a demonstrator of the power and presence of the supernaturals, and is considered to be the instrument by which these spirits convey their will to villagers. The shaman is usually from the lower ranks
of
the caste order, as the transcendental priest is from the higher. The transcendental complex as a whole is in the keeping of the higher jatis, since only their men could be versed in scripture and in scriptural ritual; yet villagers at the bottom of the caste order revere the high gods and to some degree participate in their worship. Conversely, the rites for local spirits are usually conducted by villagers of low rank; yet those of the highest jatis, especially the women, may seek the aid of the local godlings. All agree that the transcendental deities are far superior in power and importance, but most villagers also believe that the pragmatic gods have their own sphere of power over men. Traditionally there was little or
no
rivalry between them. The Brahmin priest did not denigrate the services of the shaman, and the shaman, whether in possession or not, did not deny the priest and the high gods. Religious doc- trine did not set one against the other, as might seem likely from a literal read- ing of Sanskrit scripture. The transcendental doctrine of karma, of each life being fated to a certain course because of deeds or misdeeds in prior existences, and the concept of maya, of the immateriality of the flesh and of all earthly trappings, did not prevent a Brahmin or any other villager from trying to get the help of local godlings to cure his sick child and for similar pressing though mundane purposes
(cf.
Kolenda
1964).
Villagers do not insist on an absolute segregation of the two complexes be- cause they see all beliefs and acts that are directed toward the supernatural as part of the same overarching reality. For certain purposes they use mainly patterns of the one kind and for other purposes mainly those of the other. Both are taken as necessary and useful aspects of religion. Although the functions, forms, and practitioners of the two are generally distinguishable, there may be a good deal of overlap between them under cer- tain circumstances. Thus a childless woman generally tries every conceivable supernatural resource in her anxious attempts to bear a child. She appeals to diverse kinds of high gods
or
local godlings, tries recommended procedures of whatever complex or creed. The beings that announce their presence through the voice of the shaman- in-possession are usually local spirits, but sometimes the voices identify them- selves as one or another of the scriptural deities. One particularly versatile shaman told how he negotiated in
1958
with a ghost that had entered a girl of
a

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