Requiems and Pyres: a morbid cross-cultural comparison
Anthropology attempts to make other groups intelligible to a secular, humanistic academic audience. To a person without faith, who does not accept religious dogma, the rituals of other communities can seem arbitrary and without significance. Investigating the anthropology of religion, based on the perspective of Clifford Geertz (1973), I have found a language and body of literature that makes the rituals I’ve witnessed in India and Brazil intelligible. I will argue that ritual creates a cosmic framework for Catholic and Hindu communities, which corresponds to their personal experience. Religion gives meaning to people’s bodies, impulses, and social roles by incorporating individual experience into eternal time. I believe that the sacrifices individuals’ make for communal stability serves a similar function to sacrifices for Gods. Pollution or sin can be understood as estranging the individual from the social group. The separation between the physical world and the social world is most evident when an individual dies. Mortuary customs are the strongest case of humans trying to impose their agency on the cosmos. Through the investigation of mortuary customs the symbolic worlds of religion become intelligible to a secular humanist.