What is Religion?

Lesson Objectives

• Define Key Terms

• Understand the way human choices lead to culture

• Understand how part of culture arises from the sacred/profane distinction

• Understand the deep relevance of totem and taboo in culture

• Appreciate the evolution of the Greek threskeia into the Latin religio

• Appreciate the evolution of religion from public ritual to private belief

Key Terms


Raw vs Cooked








Public vs Private

Before Religion


• 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

The Beginning of Culture*

• Humans encounter the world and leave their mark on it

• An example of this is how we treat food

     • Raw plants exist out in the wild

     • But cooked plants represent human activity and choice

     • This is the essence of what is called culture

          • Culture is humans choosing what will remain raw and

          what will be cooked within our social group

*Note, however, that culture does not require a written language