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rockfan's avatar

I want to study religion, and the social history of religion. Where should I start?

Asked by rockfan (3431 points ) December 13th, 2013

Are there any particular books by historians/scholars that I should read first?

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16 Answers

JimTurner's avatar

The Egyptian Book of the Dead

lx102303's avatar

James George Frazer’s book The Golden Bough .

kevbo's avatar

The World’s Religions by Huston Smith.

antimatter's avatar

Fingerprints of the Gods?

DWW25921's avatar

Start on Wikipedia. I just gave them $5. It’s a good service.

MadMadMax's avatar

Anthropology and Religion: What We Know, Think, and Question
By Robert L. Winzeler

http://www.amazon.com/Anthropology-Religion-What-Think-Question/dp/0759121907

talljasperman's avatar

The man who would be king.

boffin's avatar

The Cathars

MadMadMax's avatar

@boffin The Carthars? 1300 plus years into the establishment of the Catholic Church?

Not the first signs of a concept of spirituality in early man? Like formal graves etc?

We start with a Protestant sect?

That is not the social history of religion,

MadMadMax's avatar

“The earliest evidence of religious ideas dates back several hundred thousand years to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic periods. Archaeologists refer to apparent intentional burials of early homo sapiens from as early as 300,000 years ago as evidence of religious ideas. Other evidence of religious ideas include symbolic artifacts from Middle Stone Age sites in Africa. However, the interpretation of early paleolithic artifacts, with regard to how they relate to religious ideas, remains controversial. Archeological evidence from more recent periods is less controversial. A number of artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic (50,000–13,000) are generally interpreted by scientists as representing religious ideas. Examples of Upper Paleolithic remains associated with religious beliefs include the lion man, the Venus figurines, cave paintings from Chauvet Cave and the elaborate ritual burial from Sungir.”

Neolithic revolution

Through the bulk of human evolution, humans lived in small nomadic bands practicing a hunter gatherer lifestyle. The emergence of complex and organized religions can be traced to the period when humans abandoned their nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyles in order to begin farming during the Neolithic period. The transition from foraging bands to states and empires resulted in more specialized and developed forms of religion that were reflections of the new social and political environments. While bands and small tribes possess supernatural beliefs, these beliefs are adapted to smaller populations.
Neolithic religions

The religions of the Neolithic peoples provide evidence of some of the earliest known forms of organized religions. The Neolithic settlement of Çatalhöyük, in what is now Turkey, was home to about 8,000 people and remains the largest known settlement from the Neolithic period. James Mellaart, who excavated the site, believed that Çatalhöyük was the spiritual center of central Anatolia.[4] A striking feature of Çatalhöyük are its female figurines. Mellaart, the original excavator, argued that these well-formed, carefully made figurines, carved and molded from marble, blue and brown limestone, schist, calcite, basalt, alabaster, and clay, represented a female deity of the Great Goddess type. Although a male deity existed as well, “…statues of a female deity far outnumber those of the male deity, who moreover, does not appear to be represented at all after Level VI”.[5] To date, eighteen levels have been identified. These careful figurines were found primarily in areas Mellaart believed to be shrines. One, however – a stately goddess seated on a throne flanked by two female lions – was found in a grain bin, which Mellaart suggests might have been a means of ensuring the harvest or protecting the food supply.
Organized religion emerged as a means of providing social and economic stability to large populations through the following ways:

Organized religion served to justify the central authority, which in turn possessed the right to collect taxes in return for providing social and security services to the state. The empires of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were theocracies, with chiefs, kings and emperors playing dual roles of political and spiritual leaders.

Virtually all state societies and chiefdoms around the world have similar political structures where political authority is justified by divine sanction.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prehistoric_religion

Seek's avatar

I don’t think one should read history from Day One straight through. That’s one really good way to become incredibly bored and quit.

What are you interested in? Research your interests first, then let that inform where you should go next. If you’re interested in Egypt start there. Then read about the cultures that opposed or conquered Egypt. Do a little study on the similarities and differences between Egyptian mythology and Abrahamic mythology. Then head backward. Egypt traded openly with several different cultures with very varied religious views.

Basically, let your fancy lead you.

As far as specific books:

If you’re going to read The Book of the Dead, try to find a WHD Rouse translation.
For Medieval Europe: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchmann

Required Reading in this field is Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and Edith Hamilton’s Mythologies.

MadMadMax's avatar

Respectfully, you have to start antrhropologically – what did the Paleolithic cave painting represent?

When did people begin formal burials of their dead and what did they bury with them? There is a story there and mysticism, ritual, all evolves into religions. And one religion borrows from another religion which it has had contact with or heard in stories. .

You sure can’t jump to Christianity or equally jump to the Egyptians. They are all late in the game.

I hate always using Wiki but it’s easy to read and understand. More academic sites require more focused research:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_religion#300th_to_51st_millennium_BCE

Seek's avatar

If they are studying for their own enjoyment, why must they follow a rubric?

MadMadMax's avatar

I want to study religion, and the social history of religion. Where should I start?
Are there any particular books by historians/scholars that I should read first?

That sounds like one is studying the basic concepts of society and religion. OP did not ask:
“I want to study my religion, and the social history of my religions. Where should I start.

ISmart's avatar

Science.. learn about science first.. you might not need to study religion.

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