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Gimme That Old Time Religion: Rethinking the Role of Religion in the Emergence of Social Inequality

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Gimme That Old Time Religion: Rethinking the Role of Religion in the Emergence of Social Inequality

by Mark Aldenderfer

Religion is a part of every society and it has a very powerful influence on everything. When archaeologists look back at the past, they tend to forget how much influence religion had social inequality, instead archaeologists tend to think that inequality is due to some economic reason instead. The author belives that religion needs to be one of the reasons why persistent inequality emerged and persisted. The author focuses on what religion does and not what it is. He also argues that "reliogion ultimately provides the sanction for the emergence of persistent social ineuality or creates resistance to it." (P. 77)

Brian Hayden made assumptions that social inequality were based more in economic based factors than in other forms of inequality such as: sex, age and ritual knowledge, which are all not based in economic and therefore not having as big or long of effect as economic reasons. Hayden had a good amount of research to support his argument and so many anthropoligists have believed his argument. One question that both Hayden and the author have thought about is how others come to dominate others and how individuals get others to give up their surpluses. The generation of debt is one possible answer to this question.

Defining religion is hard because finding it is hard. Archaeologists do agree that there is some sort of spiritual experience in every culture but they are not so sure that there is religion "proper" in simplier societies. But even if there is no universal definition of religion, it's still not impossible to understand what it does within a society whether that society is simple or complex. What is important is that religion is an enabler, meaning that it can be used by people to maintain tradition, rules and roles. It can also be transformative and challenge egalitarian rules. Because archaeologists obviously aren't able to see how decisions are made over short time frames, they instead examine the broader societal, econoic, and ecological contexts where religion could have influenced. For the most part, religion in small-scale socities do change all the time but never anything dramatic. For religion to be an enabler for cultural change it has to have both circumsciption and contraditction. Circumscription is characeterized by reduced resdiential mobility. Contradiction is a context where religion cn enable people to justify social changes or resist them, where social roles and rules are blurred. traditional relationships are threatened and differences between people are worsen.

Cults became something that big men would use to create some ideological justification for their wealth, that stemmed from the introduction of the sweet potato in highland New Guinea. Clan leaders and big men purchased cults that had messages that they wished to convey to their followers. So cults were used to justify the wealth of big men and clan leaders but eventually expanded what they initially were for to re-emphasize the importance of cooperation and reduce social tension. I thought the role of the cult was interesting because "While the cult may not have extended hierarchy in the sense of alllowing big men to take on new social roles, it served as a justification for their continued violation of the egalitarian ethos." (P. 86)

There were cults, such as the Ain cult, that was created as a response to the differeces in wealth, so it was a reaction to the increasing inequality among the people and the big men. Anyone, regardless of their status were able to be a part of this cult but big men usually did not participate, although women and children sometimes did. Big men didn't participate because this new cult did not allow for their welath to be justified. Soon the idea that any clansman coould acquire wealth became a central feature of the cult. The Ain cult ultimately failed because it wasn't to give all the followers the wealth it had promised. The Ain cult is an example of how people used religious belief to resist changes to their world. The author also talks about cults among the Gabrileno, where there was a level of cooperation between secular leaders and religious specialists. The cults formed here had influence within the village.

Aldenderfer believes that archaeoloogists need to pay attention to cults because they can show ways in which new rituals, old rituals, or anything in between were created. He does admit that doing this will be hard but important to understanding the social inequality in socities and he does end with that "religion in and of itself does not appear to be capable of creating a lasting foundation for persistent inequality." (P. 93)

Before reading this article, I did not even really pay too much attention to the role of religion and how strong of a force it is in social inequality. I liked that I learned something new from this article. I really also hasn't thought about how there is a disconnect with archaeologists and when they are looking at socities from the past and failing to realize that religion has a lot to do with social inequality. I felt that the auhor made a lot of good points. His definition for religion was very long and I think quite accurate. because he tried to incorporate eveything every theorist ever said about religion, which all were true dfinitions of religion at one point or another. I think that the examples about the highland New Guinea people did help his points on religion and it definitely helpped to make me understand and believe him. Overall, I think that he is right, that relgion is a powerful influencer and needs to have more attention paid to it. But, like the author said, it is hard to find religion, even in etnographies, let alone in archaeological data.

A Processual Study of Inka State Formation by R. Alan Covey

There has not been a lot of attention given to the processes of how the Inka empire was able to expand so rapidly. Many people believe that the Inka empire's was an achievement of "a few charismatic rulers." The Inka empire covered a vast area, what is now Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. The Inka made their conquests in only a century or less. The problem with earlier accounts of Inka history in the 16th century was that the writers were eqauting their work with /europen history, so the accounts were incomplete and inaccurrate. John Rowe's rapid expansion model is what people continue to believe because it is the best explanation currently of Inka imperialism but there are problems with the dates.

In this paper, the author uses data collected by the Sacred Valley Archaeologial Project in 2000 to identify archaic states. He also uses ethnohistoric record from the Spansih chronociles to identify qualitative changes. But using these two different kinds of data, he believes that he can demonstrate the processes of Inka state formation.

To the north of Cusco is the Vilcanota Valley, where an early Inka state was formed because it developed according to the four-tier settlement hierarchy and had established secondary administrative centers and was dominated by an urban capital, Cusco. There was a major increase in settled area and population after A.D. 1000. And between A.D. 1000 and 1400, Cusco grew rapidly and expanded to become an urban center with villages forming on the hills near it. In the Vilcanota Valley, settlement was hierarchical and centrally integrated before the imperial expansion of the Inka. This control was not uniform throughout the Cusco region and many groups living there were able to resist incorporation into the Inka state untila much later time.

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