History of Religion

Lesson Objectives

• Appreciate how the passing down of knowledge leads to culture

• Understand the cultural significance of totems and taboos

• Understand how ritual works even outside of religion

• Appreciate the shared prehistory of Indo-European cultures

• Appreciate the history of monotheism in Israel

• Appreciate the isolated wisdom tradition of China

Key Terms





Yi Jing (I Ching)

Before Religion

Prehistory: Before Writing

• Prehistoric (Pre–written) human culture can be traced from about

30,000 years ago to about 5,000 years ago

• Humans have been participating as small groups in social rituals since thousands of years before written history

     • Cave Paintings celebrating the hunt

     • Concerns over life and death

• Hundreds of indigenous tribes continue to exist

     • Huge variety of folkways

     • Anthropology covers this in more depth

Culture & Making Meaning

• Transmission of Useful Knowledge in Prehistoric Times

     • Passing knowledge through generations

     • Advantages of hunting in groups

     • Improved tools for hunting and protection

• Development of Culture in Ancient Tribes

     • Role of shared experiences

     • Accumulation of skills-based knowledge

     • Emergence of cultural traditions

• Culture as Social Information Transfer

     • Knowledge and stories passed down

     • The formation of a tribe's culture

     • Continuation of cultural transmission

The Raw & the Cooked

• Claude Levi-Strauss and the Concept of Culture

     • "Raw" vs. "Cooked" food analogy

     • Transformation from nature to culture

     • Continuity of this concept today

• Variations of food = Cultural adaptations

     • Shepherd's pie (England), Curry (India), Kugel (Jewish), etc

     • This is the essence of what is called culture

          Humans choose what will remain raw and

          what will be cooked within our social group

• Culture is social information that is transmitted from one generation to the next