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A Cybernetic Approach
to the Definition of Religion.

by Paul B. Gosselin (Laval U. ©1986)*

In anthropological litterature it is commonplace to find definitions of religion[1] which are framed in terms of oppositions. Murray L. Wax points out:

Up until the seventies, the more common approach to the definition of religion was, as Wax notes, the 'contrast' approach with religion defined in contradistinction to science/the empirical or some variation on this theme. Since then a growing number of authors have developed a more cognitive perspective, interesting themselves principally with the problem of how religions answer the question of meaning. In this group one will find authors such as J. M. Yinger, Thomas Luckmann, Marc Augé and Mary Black. Between the 'contrast' approach and the cognitive approach other authors such as Clifford Geertz can be found. Geertz, for example, regards religions as cultural systems and does not identify them by the use of a particular cultural content (i. e. belief in supernatural beings, the sacred, etc.). However, on the issue of the religion/science relationship, Geertz continues to express it in terms of opposition (Geertz 1973: 111, 112). Even with Emile Durkheim one can perceive a certain indecision relative to this relation. On one side Durkheim underscores the religious origin of science and of a number of other social institutions (1960: 598) and on the other he notes that one must inevitably recognize the religion/science contrast as without yet supplying any content to this supposed antithesis (1960: 635). The approach taken in the following pages involves the introduction of the concept of entropy allowing the development of an information theory view of religion.

The entropy concept.
Before proceeding any further here one might ask what precisely is entropy and what is it's use in the natural sciences ? The laws of thermodynamics are amongst the best demonstrated laws in science today. Jeremy Rifkin, in a volume on this subject, remarks:

The laws of thermodynamics were initially developed in the 19th century in relation with contemporary research on the efficiency of steam engines and understanding the transformation of heat (caloric energy) into work. The first law postulates that in a closed system where energy is expended (due to chemical or other reactions) the quantity of energy always remains the same. The second law establishes that the quality of this energy degrades in an irreversible fashion, that is, that in any physical process, part of the energy produced by the reaction will be dissipated (through friction, radiation, etc. ) and will become unusable. Thus, in this context, entropy measures the amount of unavailable energy. Kenneth Wark makes the following remarks on this law.

Isaac Asimov provides an example of the classical view of the second law:

Conversely, the amount of energy which cannot be converted into work must increase. This increase in the amount of unavailable energy is the inevitable consequence of the heat flow predicted by the Second Law. Therefore to say that in any spontanous process (one in which energy flows from high to low) the amount of unavailable energy increases with time, is just another way or stating the Second Law." (Asimov 1972: 171-172)

Rifkin notes (1980: 35) that work can only be accomplished when energy passes from a state of high concentration to a state of lower concentration or from a high temperature to a lower temperature. More importantly, each time energy passes from one level to another, the result is that less energy will be available to accomplish work at a later occasion.

If one observes for example, a quantity of water going over a dam and falling into a lake, the water, in falling can be used to turn a wheel and subsequently to accomplish some form of mechanical work. Once in the lake, however, the water is incapable of performing any useful work. Its kinetic energy is spent. Man can intervene and store the energy of falling water under one form or another (battery, spring, etc.), but he can only slow down the process resulting in the fact that in the long run in entropy or unavailable energy becomes maximum.

It must be pointed out that since its development in the context of classical thermodynamics the concept of entropy has been borrowed and applied in two other distinct fields of research. First of all, in statistical mechanics (developed principally in relation to the kinetic theory of gases) entropy is a measure of disorder or growing probability in the structure of a system and, more recently, in the theory of information where entropy is used as measure of information loss which occurs in the transmission of any coded message. In each case entropy is understood as an irreversible process, notwithstanding intervention from outside the system.

Asimov explains entropy in the following manner:

Another way of looking at it is to say that something which is "in order" is so arranged that one part can be distinguised from another part. The less clear the distinction, the less "orderly" it is, the more "disorderly"." (Asimov 1976: 176-177)

Concerning the relationship between probability and disorder Emmet L. Williams makes the following comments (1981: 19): "The second law of thermodynamics is an empirical law, directly observable in nature and in experimentation. This law implies that the direction of all natural processes is towards states of disorder. From the standpoint of statistics, natural operations proceed in a direction of greatest probability. The most probable state for any natural system is one of disorder. All natural systems degenerate when left to themselves." If we consider the definition of entropy as it is found in the theory of information (where it is understood as a form of "noise" in a communications channel) Joël de Rosnay notes:

In statistical mechanics and in the theory of information one also encounters the term negentropy (or negative entropy) which is expressed as a reverse form of entropy. It generally corresponds to a form of order (a structure) or information. It should be noted that in each of the previously mentioned areas of research there are innumerable mathematical expressions used daily by engineers applying these principles in their field of work. One observes that in the natural sciences the most important criteria permitting the valid extension (through analogy[3] It should be noted) of the concept of entropy from one field to another is the demonstration of mathematical equivalence of two definitions.

One must point out that in many texts, scientific or non-scientific, the word entropy is used in a general manner without specifying which of the three definitions is being used. For example, often one will see affirmations such as "in all X, Y, and Z cases entropy increases"... without specifying which form of entropy is involved. In the case of a human society, the situation as regards entropy becomes considerably complicated, as all three forms of entropy can be seen in action, and often at the same time. First of all there is a continuous effort, in all societies, to provide energy in order to ensure the day to day operation of the basic production mechanisms (entropy = dissipated energy[4]). Secondly, this same society must provide supplementary energy (and information/intelligence) in order to maintain the structural integrity of the basic production mechanisms in proper working order (entropy = disorder)[5]. And last of all, a society must provide a context or institution where it can maintain and reproduce its knowledge, whether it be ideological, technological or artistic knowledge (entropy = loss of information). In the West this institution is the school. Actually, it is quite likely that a close examination of any social production or reproduction process over time will reveal our three forms of entropy in action simultaneously.

If we go back to our example of the school, we can see that, first of all the school requires a continuous input of energy which is used to maintain the institution's basic operations and which appear in the form of heating and electricity bills, expenses for teaching materials and personnel salaries[6]. On a second level a school requires an input of energy which is employed to maintain the structures of the institution, that is for repairs and the upkeep of buildings, replacement or maintenance of teaching materials, etc... (entropy = disorder). Lastly, a school serves as transmitter of information, which as a cybernetic system (by means of feedback reactions) must evaluate if the transmitted information has been correctly received or not (entropy = information loss due to noise).

Religion: a cybernetic definition
Let us now proceed, first of all, to present the cybernetic definition of religion, then to make explicit relations between the religious phenomenon and entropic processes.

Taking into consideration the constraints put upon human society by the laws of entropy, religion then is firstly a cultural anti-entropic mechanism, supplying a cosmology, that is a conceptual framework, an "order" in which the world which surrounds us can be interpreted and understood. Secondly, a religion supplies a strategy or a specific logic, coherent with the presuppositions underpinning it's cosmology, permitting it to deal with the various disruptive entropic processes. Religion would then be understood here as a cultural system supplying[7] order/meaning to existence and also a strategy enabling individuals (and/or societies) to deal with the entropic processes in various ways, either in "fighting against" or in "accepting" them. In individual cases some religions will appear to provide more meaning than others. This will be discussed in greater detail further on.

In order to fill out the various aspects of the entropic processes and their interaction with a religious system we will begin our analysis with a list of phenomena which will allow us to cover a number of points of contact between entropic processes in a society and a religion. It should be noted that the four "fields" of the following table (and the sub-fields which they comprise) are only arbitrary categorizations; other categorizations might work as well. The reader will likely notice that these categories overlap to a certain extent, but this is inevitable to a certain extent as the objective here is not creating watertight categories but illustrating processes.

Entropic phenomena affecting societies and/or individuals

Before going any further, it would be appropriate to note that it will be postulated below that a religion, as a system of beliefs, is a form of order, and because of this basic fact it must battle the entropic tendency and its resulting increase of disorder and loss of meaning[8]. These points will be covered in a more detailed manner in the following pages.

1- Physical a- (nature): diseases; famines; disabilities; epidemics catastophies and death.
When discussing entropic processes, a number of phenomena could be enumerated that contribute in divers manners to the degradation of the order[9] and information which are present in a society and in the physiology[10] of the individuals which form it. I expect it will not be necessary to emphasize the fact that the physical disappearance of the members of a religious system or of a society constitute one of the most serious attacks that can be sustained by a religion and this forces this system to develop mechanisms which will allow it to survive the passage of generations (by means of various methods of recruitment, initiation ceremonies and funerals) It is generally admitted today, for example, that death constitutes an important increase in the entropy (disorder) of a living organism[11]. Léon Brillouin makes the following comments on the subject.

1- Physical b- (cultural): the destruction brought on by wars and all violent human conflict.
Wars and armed conflicts in general usually bring in their wake major increases in physical disorder affecting in an obvious manner the infrastructure of a society (political and economic aspects). In some cases the superstructure[12] of a society will be affected too. This can be true for example in the case of an invasion where annexation of territory is not the sole objective.

Perhaps it would be appropriate here to explain why point 1 has been sub-divided into two levels, even if the processes in question all bring about a physical increase in entropy (disorder). The reason is the following: in the first case the increase in entropy is simply the result of natural processes, whereas in the second the entropy results from the encounter of two social systems with antagonistic objectives.

2- Social a- (structural): degradation or elimination of various cultural institutions such as languages, belief systems, economic, administrative or political systems.
As in the preceding cases, the collapse or elimination of social institutions constitutes an increase in entropy (primarily as a loss of information) but there is a difference. In the preceding cases, the total destruction of a society can lead to a permanent and irreversible increase of entropy, but if we consider the disappearance of a language, for example, the entropy increase is not so obvious as it generally is coincides with the imposition of another, dominant, language. One may be tempted to thing that perhaps there is no real increase in entropy here, just an exchange of communication codes, one order replacing another ??

Let us take a hypothetical case. Group A speaking an unwritten language x is defeated in a war with Group B speaking language y and its territory invaded. After a certain period of acculturation, language x is totally eliminated, no "xphone" speakers remain. If one were to consider the language itself as an anthropomorphized entity, the loss of information entailed by its elimination would have to be considered just as irreparable as if all the individuals speaking x had suddenly died in a nuclear blast or from a plague. It should be noted that in the theory of communication, entropy has been generally understood as a measure of the noise level in a channel used to transmit information. The theory of communication also postulates (Weaver 1966: 17) that the transmission of any message requires a code, and one might consider that if the code should itself be eliminated by a "certain event", this "event" will have contributed to increase the entropy of the system in a manner incomparable to that of a little "noise" in a channel.

In the same way, if in a grocery store X a bag of apples rots, this represents an increase of entropy (probably a measurable increase too) and an economic loss for the owner of the grocery. However, if a "certain event" occurs which entails the destruction of the distribution system which this grocery store relies on for its supplies this "event" will bring a much greater increase in entropy (and probably impossible to measure). The same could be said of the other social institutions mentioned above.

2- Social b- (inter-individual): animosities, lies, adultery, blasphemy, murder, rape, treason, etc.
Here we find ourselves getting away from physical entropic processes as such and approaching the processes of creating order operating in religious systems. Religions in the processes of creating (social) order can be observed to forbid certain behaviours and to prescribe others. One might say all religions involve prescriptions and taboos[13]. The importance of this process can be explained by the central fact that religion is and projects an original form of order and as such must, to maintain itself, establish categories of behaviour compatible (prescribed or allowed) with its particular order and those which are considered incompatible (forbidden) otherwise in the long term behavioural "noise" in society will eventually destroy it. Discussing this problem, Mary Douglas points out the implications for "primitive" societies.

As Douglas indicates in the first lines of this citation, each religious system breaks down the spectrum of human behaviour according to its own principles. Thus behaviour which would appear reprehensible or depraved in one religion would appear in another... insignificant. From the preceding citation I believe one must primarily retain the idea that reality in itself is un-ordered and meaningless and that it is only due to the previous elaboration of a cosmology that one can attempt to make any sense of it at all. In an essay on the concept of entropy in the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mauro W. Barbosa de Almeida discusses the implications of this concept for the study of human behavior (1990: 375):

We may imagine Maxwell's demon (in society - PG) assuming the form of a variety of mechanisms: repression, collective conscience, tradition, voting, constitutions, rules, taboos, preferences, maps, styles, and cosmologies. An antientropy machine restricts the universe of possible worlds, introducing constraints on the to-and-fro movement of objects. This is just what happens with marriage rules and taboos in small-scale societies or with customs and immigration regulations, educational systems, and even styles in large-scale ones."

David Moyer, in an essay on the 19th century Sumatran legal code, examines the English word "law" and points out the fact that judicial systems can be conveniently analyzed in terms of mechanisms developed to combat entropy (disorder).

One must expect some form of feedback relationship between the "definition of the nature of society" and the "system for maintaining social order" where the definition of society (which will inevitably refer to a myth or ideological discourse) will serve, within the system of order maintenance, as a standard permitting the evaluation (acceptance or rejection) of human behaviour in that society[15]. In order to better understand the processes whereby order is created in the realm of behaviour and social attitudes it must be pointed out that a society must first of all elaborate a cosmology containing a definition of human nature (individual and/or collective), then it can begin to distinguish between forms of behaviour and attitudes compatible or contributing positively in some way to the form of order implied by the cosmology and those which would be incompatible or contributing to the disintegration of the order implied by the cosmology. Using this observation, we may go on to explore an ancient ideological dichotomy which may, in a number of cases, be useful in understanding the process whereby social and ideological order is created... that is the good - evil dichotomy.

Good <-> Evil
According to Monica Wilson (1957: 3), the concept of evil is, while expressed in diverse manners, a reality encountered in all cosmologies. In the following examples of the good/evil dichotomy we will be able to observe the feedback relation between specific cosmological conceptions (concerning man and nature) and the creation of social order. Here we can see the form taken by this relation amongst the Tangu of New Guinea.

In Africa, other formulations of this dichotomy may be found.

Amonst the Lele one may find a formulation which, on a number of points, approximates that of the Zulu described above. Douglas, in the following quotation, underlines the importance of mythical conceptions and/or cosmologies vis-a-vis the formulation of the good - evil dichotomy and the subsequent ordering (of human behaviour) that this formulation permits.

It should be noted in the quotation by Kiernan that one case, that of the Tallensi, which does not appear, at least at first glance, to be analyzable in terms of behaviours/attitudes compatible with a particular ideological-social order. The concepts of "Good and Bad Destiny" cannot actually be related to forms of behaviour or attitudes, but seem to refer to a mysterious "something" whose powers surpass those of the individual (and, possibly, those of the group). This "something" is capable of impeding the full participation of an individual, even against his/her will, in the social order. This particular postulate can be better understood not as a directing principle for individual behaviour or attitudes but as a segment of the general religious cosmology, specifically the segment having to do with human nature and the factors that may influence it. It would be quite reasonable to expect, on another level, beliefs concerning good and evil amongst the Tallensi, beliefs which would direct the behaviour and attitudes of individuals and those of the group relative to an ideal social order[16].

We may close this section in indicating that one should expect an intimate relation between concepts of human nature which can be found in the various cosmologies of particular societies and the manner in which these same societies break down the spectrum of human behaviour[17]

3- Intellectual a- a lack of knowledge in relation to various human problems; the realization, by the individual, of the lack of meaning of his/her existence.
Here again we find ourselves moving away from physical entropic processes and beginning to touch the structural aspects of religious systems themselves. Following the postulate presented previously (with the definition of religion) that religions are, in general, attempts to impose meaning and coherence on reality, we will now turn to the implications of such an observation in a situation where fortuitous events expose structural weaknesses in the religious order, that is a lack of information or deficiency of meaning. Pierre Maranda, in an essay on metaphor, explains what the battle against entropy can involve for a mythical discourse while noting that this process actually affects all cultural texts.

If, in effect, it is agreed that religion is basically an attempt to impose meaning on reality. If an event (or series of events) appears to bring into question the value of this meaning, then one can suppose that such an event will constitute a major source of anguish and stress, especially if it brings to the surface doubts as to the validity of the entire structure of meaning as supplied by a ideological-religious system. Geertz, observes in his essay "Religion as a Cultural System", that there are three types of situations which can bring into question the meaning of the world around us, three situations where chaos may annihilate the structure of meaning erected by an ideological-religious system. They are the following (Geertz 1973: 100):

Geertz notes that if one of these situations occurs in a particularly intense fashion or if it lasts a long time, this situation can give rise to the doubts about the idea that life is comprehensible and that thought is sufficient in orienting ourselves in it. Further on, Geertz describes the discovery of a major deficiency of meaning in a ideological-religious system and the impact that such a discovery can have.

Another author, Thomas O'Dea, who defines the situation of lack of meaning as a "breaking point", provides a list of certain issues which can bring an individual to the discovery of a lack of meaning in his/her ideological-religious system and points out what may be the result of such a discovery (O'Dea 1966: 5-6). "Why should I die? Why should a loved one die, and in unfulfilled youth? Why did that venture, in which our heart's desire reposed, go awry? Why illness? Such questions demand meaningful answers. If they are found to be without meaning, the value of institutionalized goals and norms is undermined. How can morale be maintained when disappointment lurks at every step, and death, the ultimate disappointment, strikes at our defenselessness in the end?"

O'Dea also underlines the vulnerability of meaning structures implied by all ideological-religious systems.

Lauriston Sharp, in a classic essay on the Yir Yoront (an Australian aboriginal group), explains what effect of the encounter with white culture had on a neighbouring group and, in doing so, gives a glimpse of what the consequences of a total collapse of an ideological-religious system can be.

Actually the reaction described by Sharp here is an extreme case of loss of meaning, other reactions are possible following such an event, amongst which that described by O'Dea in the previous quotation (development of a new religion). The potential disrupting effect an event may have will vary in relation to a number of factors, such as the event's capacity to directly expose a weakness in the structure of the ideological-religious system, its novelty, its persistence and the degree to which the ideological-religious system has penetrated the culture[20]. If no adequate explanation of the disrupting event is possible within the old ideological-religious system and if there isn't one around that could be borrowed, then the sages will, of necessity, have to invent one. In some cases, where an adequate answer in a particular ideological-religious system seems impossible, it may be tempting or useful to simply ignore the phenomena[21]. Again, in Sharp's essay, we find the description of a situation which coincides perfectly with the preceding observations.

Maranda illustrates the fragility of belief systems in the following manner "A belief system can therefore be defined as a "machine" that works as an interpretation, storage and retrieval unit. In principle, it can receive any input, absorb it by mapping it into a system of categories, and it is never wrong, until it is destroyed by an input too strong for the system capacity." (Maranda 1979: 225):

Syncretism and Exclusivism
In societies where more than one ideological-religious system is accessible, borrowing may be one of the ways of resolving a crisis caused by disrupting "events", thereby diminishing the chances of a collapse as described by Sharp above. Two possibilities appear: If the two systems present are basically syncretistic, in general transposition of an explanation/resolution of an event can take place with relative ease. In the case of systems with a basically exclusivistic outlook (that is each system considers itself an absolute form of knowledge or truth[24]) certain concepts or dogmas can be transposed, but if a new element is found to be in conflict with major beliefs or dogmas of the system then transposition will generally not take place. In addition, in such circumstances an apparently superior explanation (or belief) on the part of system X for example will be considered (or at least for propaganda purposes) as proof of superiority relative to other systems present in the same society (which may be unable to produce a satisfactory explanation or belief). A long-term inability to produce satisfactory explanations on the part of an ideological-religious system can have various effects on individuals or groups: the development of cynicism, or of a relativistic attitude towards religious knowledge, insanity, suicide or perhaps conversion to another system offering alternative explanations, when such a system is available.

Concerning the distinction made above between exclusivistic systems and syncretistic systems, there are no doubt intermediary cases which will be situated somewhere between the two extremes. Some groups develop systems which are exclusive mainly at a technological level. Sharp's data seems to indicate that this would be the case with the Yir Yoront[25] A number of Christian denominations, such as the Hutterites and the Amish, also seem to have developed similar characteristics[26] to a certain point. Other systems may be exclusive in ideological matters but not at a technological level. This situation corresponds with that of the West (mostly Christian) during the 19th century industrial revolution or to that of most countries behind the Iron Curtain up until autumn 1989. In other cases, we may be confronted with groups with exclusivistic tendencies at the technoligical level and syncretistic at the ideological level, where new technology will be regarded with suspicion but the addition of a new deity, saint or ancestor will cause no trouble other than that of finding a group to support the new deity's cult[27]. J.-P. Dozon, in studying such matters, notes (1974: 84) that syncretism can also operate at an institutional level and relative to symbolism.

It has been observed above that amongst syncretistic systems elements of dogma and ritual can readily be exchanged. These systems see themselves as basically complementary and not as competitors. When a syncretistic system and an exclusivistic system (both at the ideological level) meet, a strange fact appears, namely that all systems are exclusivistic or intolerant "in the last instance". In reality, the only element that cannot easily be absorbed by a syncretistic system, is another belief system which puts itself forward as an absolute truth or form of knowledge because this will, in fact result in the elimination of the syncretistic principle itself[28]. If the syncretistic view is taken, imposition of a truth criteria will appear as an aberration seeing as, a priori, all ideological-religious systems have equivalent epistemological value. We find this view expressed in the following fragment of an interview with a Malaitian reflecting on White religion (Christianity) and that of Malaita.

Thus, in contact situations, a certain tension will always be present between systems characterized by exclusivism and systems characterized by syncretism. Systems characterized by syncretism will have a tendency to incorporate exclusivistic systems as just 'one more form of discourse', especially if for some reason they are popular or prestigious. On the other hand, systems characterized by exclusivism will operate basically by elimination mostly rather than addition or absorption[29].

3- Intellectual
b- Loss of information over time.

We shall now examine entropy as an information degrading process, affecting not only religion, but culture as well. A number of researchers are of the opinion that the possibility of extending the concept of entropy as developed in the context of the theory of communication[30] to activities related to the production of knowledge and human communication in general should be seriously taken into consideration. On this point Léon Brillouin notes:

A. E. Wilder-Smith remarks on this issue:

Nicolas Georgescu-Roegen brings up two important technical points which give a solid basis to the idea of extending the concept of entropy to all forms of human communication.

It must be fairly obvious by now that an ideological-religious system, like any other form of cultural information or order, cannot avoid being affected by the processes described above. The problem, basically, is to insure the retransmission of religious and cultural information beyond the passing of generations[31]. As we all know our memory faculties are not only subject to degradation over time, but eventually the organism that supports this faculty will die. Generally the problem is resolved in a rather simple manner in that societies, if they are to survive, must all supply contexts (formal or otherwise) where this information can be duplicated and re-transmitted. In Western societies the school accomplishes a large part of this task (though the family cell contributes in many ways too). In numerous non-Western societies (before contact with Whites) this task of information re-transmission was performed by rites or ceremonies which, usually, have primary functions other than pedagogy: healing rites, dramatic celebrations, exorcisms, initiations, pilgrimages, etc...

4- Psycho-emotional: feelings of insatisfaction, of hatred, of love, of worry and also depression, joy and psychosis.
Like the human behaviour we examined in point 2-b, feelings and emotions constitute a form of 'raw material' with which part of the structure of meaning of an ideological-religious system can be erected. Geertz, on this point, writes:

Claude Lévi-Strauss discusses how, in the case of shamanistic healing rites , this process of ordering emotions and sensations can take place.

Exploring these questions Thomas Luckmann explains how, in general, these ordering processes can operate and give rise to "the meaning of things".

Ideally, an adequate ideological-religious system will be capable of responding to the basic cognitive, psychological, moral, aesthetic or other needs of its adherents. In the real world however, ideological-religious systems are not all adequate. As we have indicated previously, they sometimes conceal weaknesses or contradictions in their structure of meaning. When these weaknesses are recognized as crucial by the adherents of a particular system, this recognition can give rise to reactions such as anguish, worry, insatisfaction, etc... Thus, our previous discussion seems to allow the conjecture that the various human psychic states can be categorized in three groups relative to an ideological-religious system. First of all, these emotions or sensations may be integrated to the system, that is they will serve as "raw material" which is integrated in the course of initiations, ceremonies, etc. The second possibility is that these diverse psychic states may be non-integrated into the system and, as such, they may end up, in the long term, giving rise to doubts as to the validity of the system and, eventually, contribute to its final disintegration[33]. The third possibility is that certain psychic states may be the consequences or 'symptoms' of a lack of meaning. For example, as individuals we all have a mental image and expectations vis-a-vis the social and physical reality which surrounds us, but if at certain points in time, it becomes obvious that there is an important discrepancy between our image of reality and that which it is, then frustation, insatisfaction, etc. will result.

Religion: a total social fact.
Let us take into consideration a point briefly brought up with the presentation of the definition of the religious phenomenon, that is, potentially, a religion can supply meaning to all the divers aspects of life in society. This phenomenon is especially significant in non-Western societies with a low level of technological development and it is in these societies that religion constitutes a quasi-archetypic example of a "total social fact" as first defined by Marcel Mauss.

That religion, as a "total social fact", is encountered most frequently outside of the West does not imply that it does not exist in this form here. Religion can most certainly become a "total social fact" in the West as well and it is most obvious in cases of groups with an intense community life (i. e. the Ammish communities of the American Mid-West). As an aside however, one must point out, concerning the cultural penetration of a religion, that in its initial stages a religion may only exist in the head of its founder. Obviously much development and recruitment will be required before it becomes a "total social fact", but each religion, even in its initial stages, must be considered as having the potential to become a "total social fact".

The political realm.
Considering religion as a "total social fact" has the advantage of permiting the analysis of certain data which often come to the attention of anthropologists in the field, data which the traditional monographic categories (economics, politics, law, religion, etc.) are incapable of coming to terms with. Raymond Firth, in an article on the domains of religion and politics exposes a number of facts that confirm the notion that these two "domains" (religion and politics) are hardly water-tight compartments and, in some cases, the two are inextricably bound together. Here is one example (Firth 1981: 588). "A guiding theme of all the 'religions of the Book' has been their holism - what may be called the alpha and omega view of religion. The religious canons are believed to contain within themselves all the rules necessary for the life and salvation of the believer, including all provisions for his political behaviour." (emphasis mine) Islam is an excellent example of this type of phenomenon.

Further on in the article, discussing the traditional Marxist position on religion, Firth makes the following remarks:

Discussing the relation between politics and religion in Ancient Greece Richard Olson notes:

Jonathan Friedman in an article entitled "Religion as Economy and Economy as Religion" supplies evidence supporting the fact that religion can, at times play an important economic role (see also note no.19??).

Friedman's final position is fairly radical and, in my view, it precedes an approach such as Augé's which considers religion a "total social fact".

Cases where religions play 'extra-religious' roles are legion and can be found in many anthropological works. Geertz, for example, in Ideology as a Cultural System underscores, in a section on political life in Indonesia (1973: 220-229), the sometimes frenetic interaction that can occur between religious and political ideas in a situation where syncretism is a basic cultural fact. Another example we might think of is Judaism and the Exodus account where Jehovah becomes a political liberator ! Since it must be obvious by now that religion as a "total social fact", is capable of playing roles considered specifically political (at least relative to our Western categories), it would appear reasonable to continue in this vein and ask the reverse question: Is it possible that our own political ideologies (especially when they proclaim themselves Truth or sole objective discourse on the reality of social relations), might only be, unpalatable though it may appear, Western forms of religion whose only particularity would be of having a materialistic cosmology (generally) and a preoccupation/obsession with the taking and the maintaining of political power in a State[35]. ?

It must be admitted that comparisons between political ideologies and religions have appeared in the social sciences for some time now but in general are of little use as they proceed in a fairly superficial manner, content only in alluding to the emotional aspects of both belief systems. Lévi-Strauss, who avoids this tendency somewhat, has put forward the following comments relative to the cognitive functions carried out by the two systems.

Obviously we can always suppose that it is possible to maintain the distinction between political and religious behaviour in the West, and perhaps (theoretically) relative to certain non-Western peoples too, but too often authors are content to slice the Gordian knot in imposing our categories of behaviour on the ethnographic data and pay little attention to the questionable results which such analysis produces... as one can see in the case of the following quotation.

Unfortunately such analysis adds little to our ethnological knowledge and appears more like a last-ditch effort to validate our own behavioural categories. If one examines data put forward by Henri Desroches in a study on the 'prehistory' of 19th century socialist movements, the distinction between political and religious movements is not easier to discern in the West than elsewhere. (Desroches 1974: 168)

Discussing the universality of myths, Pierre Smith criticizes superficial comparisons between ideologies and religious or mythical discourse and puts forward particularly interesting remarks on the profound implications of the universality of mythical (or religious) thought. (Smith 1974: 261)

As Smith points out, one must agree that superficial comparisons between political ideologies and religious systems must be avoided. However, picking up the idea put forward by Smith above relative to the universality of mythico-religious thought, I believe we can arrive at a deeper understanding of these two systems if they are compared on the basis of their cognitive functions. Starting from the definition of religion proposed previously in this essay, one can consider that Western political ideologies as "partially successful religions". Perhaps an explanation would be in order here...

First of all, it must be pointed out that Western political ideologies operate, as do all the traditional religions, on the basis of certain irrefutable (and usually implicit) metaphysical conceptions concerning man and society, and that these conceptions serve as a form of cosmology and reference point permitting the critique and modification of individual behaviour or certain aspects of social relations. Marxism, for example, analyzed from such a perspective, will produce the following results.

On this subject Joachim Israel notes:

But what exactly is a "successful" religion ? Does it have to do with religions that are "functional", that is having capable leadership and recruitment potential ensuring their long-term survival ? Does it involve a judgement on the ethical or epistemological value of a belief system ?

The answer to both questions is no. Success, in the present context, is evaluated strictly on the basis of cultural penetration. For the individual, judgements on the ethical or epistemological value of a belief system are useful and in fact unavoidable, but they are of no use for anthropological analysis. For our purposes here then, religion can be successful if it is capable of providing meaning to fields of activity as diverse as politics, psychology, technology, health care, economics, nutrition, the natural sciences, law and the arts. A religion will become successful in 'permeating' all of these aspects of social life. The more successful a religion becomes, the deeper its penetration of the most intricate details of everyday life. Concerning fig. 1 The Domains of a Successful Religion (see following page) it should be pointed out that the arrangement of the various domains in no way presupposes a form of hierarchy of human activities. This arrangement was selected simply because it illustrates the fact that emotions, language, and cosmology are involved in all aspects of culture. That emotions appear in the centre is simply an arbitrary choice and implies no preeminence. It should also be noted that if Ritual does not cut across Politics this should not be taken as an indication that in real life there is no interaction between the two.

A good example of a successful religion we might consider is Québec before the "Révolution Tranquille" (the "Quiet Revolution" of 1960-70) where Catholicism gave meaning (or more precisely the meaning) and, in fact, managed human activities such as education, health care, attitudes towards sexuality, worker's movements and exerted great influence over politics, the arts, literature (both through censure and promotion) and demography in this society. Going on, we may now explore a concept logically derivative from that of "successful religion", namely incomplete religion. Catholicism, in Québec since the "Révolution Tranquille" again provides us with a good illustration. An incomplete religion is an ideological-religious system which provides meaning to only a few areas of human activity, it has only partially succeeded in penetrating and impregnating its host culture. It still has a long way to go before becoming a "total social fact". Catholic religion in Québec since the sixties has in fact much less influence on the major social institutions and to a large

The Domains of a Successful Religion.

fig. 1

extent has been reduced to a moral discourse aimed at individuals. But let us go back to political ideologies.

To say, then, that Western political ideologies are incomplete (or partially) successful religions implies that they supply meaning, but only in a limited manner (in comparison to a successful religion). Generally they produce a discourse (and 'responses') relating to man's collective life and the struggle for power, but pay little attention to problems in the family or with individuals. They do not provide meaning to these aspects of human life. Psychiatric problems that might be treated without too much difficulty within the context of a successful religion, in the context of a political ideology will have to be treated 'outside' by specialists operating in other paradigms (or sub-cosmologies) more adapted to these particular problems. There are obviously a few cases of political ideologies which are more successful than others. In Cold War era China and USSR one could find for example "science for the people", "education for the people", "sports for the people" and "arts for the people", etc. though socialist morale is not what it used to be. Given a little time however, perhaps even a political ideology may become a successful religion

The philosophical realm.
In this section we shall take a look at the categories of knowledge designated in the West by the terms philosophy and metaphysics. If viewed from the same perspective given above relative to political ideologies it is unlikely we shall cause much consternation in indicating that these two categories of thought should be considered specifically Western forms of religion. On this question Jan Van Baal indicates:

Just as Desroches established above that there was a time when religion and politics were inextricably intertwined, Henri Rousseau has studied the same fact relative to religion and philosophy. Discussing the original expansion of Christianity and its first gentile converts, Rousseau notes (1973: 15-16) : "Mais il en est autrement des convertis (Grecs ou Romains-P.G.): pour nombre d'entre eux, la conversion au christianisme était l'aboutissement d'un itinéraire philosophico-religieux. Il ne faut pas oublier qu'à l'époque il n'existait pas de distinction radicale entre philosophie et religion; toutes deux étaient étroitement imbriquées dans une recherche de la sagesse, de la connaissance vitale, de la gnose." As Van Baal has pointed out above, philosophy is generally characterized by specialized and abstract terminology and by a low level of institutionalization and/or ritual[39]. Because it tends to be less accessible to the masses, it is usually less complete (or successful) than political ideologies or traditional religions except for a few exceptions such as Existentialism and Confucianism which have had a fairly large impact outside the ranks of professional philosophers. One could say that these two latter philosophies have been more successful than most.

In the process of writing this essay I submitted the idea presented above to two anthropologists that if one observes religions in a number of non-Wester oral societies to amount to what Marcel Mauss calls "total social facts" and often fulfilling functions that we Westerners would consider specifically political, then it seemed to me that one had to seriously consider the possibility that our own political ideologies might only be religions whose forms are particular to the West. To this, I one reader objected, "but as you see it, in the case of non-Western oral societies, the concept of religion becomes almost impossible to distinguish from the wider concept of culture, .... which serves only to confuse things in the long run."

At the time, this remark did not strike me much, but later as I reflected on the question I realized that when a religion is successful on large scale, that is, when it touches and brings meaning to almost all the aspects of social and individual life as it is often the case in our classic precontact non-Western societies, religion does in fact become the equivalent of our concept of culture. and in such situations the two cannot be easily distinguished. Edward Sapir provides clear evidence to this characteristic of religion in "primitive societies".

Augé, in discussing symbolic practices in the West, has also taken up the idea that religion and culture can in some cases be identical.

As I developed my own position on this question, I noticed a surprising convergence between certain definitions of culture and the definition of religion that I have proposed above. The most striking case was a definition of culture elaborated in relation to Structuralism in an essay by Maranda.

O'Dea, for his part, sees in religion a mechanism having many properties parallel to those of culture.

If one can then admit to considering successful religion as conceptionally equivalent to our idea of culture one must, however, be aware of the fact that certain phenomena do not, at first glance seem to fit with this perspective. In all societies and, even in the case of successful religions, there is a day-to-day fluctuation of technological, ornamental, linguistic and other elements[40] whose meaning is not provided in any obvious way by the existing ideological-religious system. These are elements whose meaning 'escapes' the obvious control of the system[41]; yet generally would be considered part of the notion of culture, at least in usual anthropological practice. How can this discrepancy be explained ?

"Top" and "Bottom".
From the perspective adopted in this essay, this discrepancy can best be explained by the fact that in ideological-religious systems we find, to some extent, a hierarchy of meaning or belief. The closer we get to the "top" level, the more precise and sacred meanings or beliefs become. At the "top", belief cannot be left to improvisation or the discretion of individual whimsy. The conceptual framework of a religion or its Weltanschuungen, for example, will always be localized in the inner core. The closer we get to the "bottom" level, the chances of encountering polysemy increase. Basically, one might say that an ideological-religious system will be closed at the "top" and open at the "bottom"[42]. Another important point which should be remembered in this discussion (and which Augé has already made) is that beliefs, wherever they appear, can be held unconsciously[43]. Considering cognitive systems in general, Roy Ellen makes the following remarks on the limits of their integration and/or development.

If one agrees with Ellen that individual behaviour can be an important source of 'disorder' (from the system's point of view), one must nonetheless add that the degree of liberty or constraint available will vary to a great extent from one ideological-religious system to another as well as the 'locus' of this liberty or constraint. That time should be both a factor necessary for the integration of an ideological-religious system and also one contributing to its disintegration constitutes a paradox more apparent than real. The paradox disappears if one takes into account the fact that time in itself cannot be considered a cause of anything. However, time + human efforts + a strategy (or blueprint) can easily be understood as integrating factors. And again, time + a lack of human efforts + an inadequate strategy (or blueprint) can just as easily be understood as factors contributing to the ultimate disintegration of an ideological-religious system.

Perhaps we may turn now to an example drawn from a study done by Martin Southwold on a Buddhist group which, in a limited manner, illustrates the difference (relative to cognitive attitudes) between "top" and "bottom" levels in an ideological-religious system.

On this same issue Ernest Gellner remarks:

There are obviously constraints and taboos which apply even at the "bottom" of the hierarchy of meaning, but nonetheless one will still find more freedom (a directed 'freedom' to be sure) and flexibility there than anywhere else. At the "bottom" one will also have more opportunities to borrow, innovate or modify elements. This freedom is possible at the "bottom" of the hierarchy of meaning because, as Gellner has pointed out above, modifications at this level generally have fewer repercussions than they might at the "top" of the hierarchy. Modifications made at the "top", if they are too radical, risk bringing the whole structure down. Allowing this, one should also take into consideration the fact that each ideological-religious system may have its own quirks. Each systems imposes, in some domains, taboos and in others, freedom. A group of elements, which in one system may be part of the "top" of an ideological-religious system, may not have the same importance in another. Though we have pointed out that the "top" level of an ideological-religious system will generally be closed, this does not mean that it is immutable or totally impervious to change. It only means that change at this level will be opposed vigorously in most cases and may have enormous repercussion on the credibility of the system in general[44] whereas the effects of change at the "bottom" will be much less traumatic.

Other researchers in the social sciences have studied parallel issues. A few anthropologists using the ethnoscience approach such as Black and some of the Russian semioticians seem to agree that the "top" and "bottom" (Black speaks in terms of micro and macro levels in belief systems, see Black 1973: 514-515) are linked logically due to the fact that they are formulated by means of a particular natural language[45]. In my opinion one cannot really expect to find a logic or coherence linking both the "top" and "bottom" except in situations where groups have been subjected to or chosen various forms of isolation, whether geographic, linguistic, ideological or others, and this over a prolonged period of time. Such groups will have more opportunities (especially if their isolation was self-imposed, rather than the result of a historical accident) of developing a "bottom" which is visibly integrated to the "top". The Yir Yoront which we have mentioned previously are a striking example of such a well developed integration (see note #26), however it would seem that such a level of integration leaves a society more vulnerable when confronted with novel cultural elements which cannot be easily integrated nor avoided or ignored. A high degree of integration will also have the effect of making such ideological-religious systems particularly difficult, if not impossible, to export to other socities, as they will have become inextricably bound to their social and physical/ecological context. Concerning the Tikopia Firth remarks:

If one considers the great world religions (Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and others) which through the centuries have been exported to numerous different societies, once 'transplanted' in this manner one can no longer expect to find an obvious coherence between the 'top' and the everyday cultural elements found at the 'bottom'. If one takes for example Jews and their religion, though a large number of elements from the 'top' of their belief system have survived many centuries of exile and persecution, one cannot expect to find today, but a very limited number of the original links between 'top' and 'bottom' (of their ancient pastoral-agricultural culture). This would seem to imply that the 'top', or the 'macrosystem' as Black calls it, can form a distinct cognitive unit which can be 'torn' out of a specific social, technological, linguistic, etc. context and 'transplanted' into another and, with time, will take 'root' there. That is it can eventually produce an original integration of the 'bottom' elements in its new environment. One should note the fact that some ideological-religious systems seem to survive better than others the process of exportation to another cultural environment. It appears even in some cases that the integration of the 'top' and the 'bottom' can be too successful and in such cases a radical change in technology or in the environment may cause the total collapse of the system[47].

Cosmology and strategy.
In order to explain a few concepts involved in the definition of religion given previously I will now elaborate on the terms cosmology and strategy for treating entropic processes.

In an article by Suzanne Lallemand the major elements involved in the cosmology concept are exposed as well as the more restricted term cosmogony.

A cosmology supplies in effect a conceptual framework or, to employ a more metaphorical language, a "stage"[49] where the events of the "theatre of life" may take place. One could also say, using the terms provided by Thomas S. Kuhn, that the cosmology of an ideological-religious system provides an ultimate paradigm in which the events of life, the environment's characteristics, social relations, etc..., can be integrated and given meaning. Successful religions generally provide, in their cosmologies, data on the origin of man (in general and/or that of a particular human group), that of the cosmos and, related to this data, beliefs concerning human nature and what might be considered the ideal human relations, etc. Another element frequently found in cosmologies is a story explaining the origin of human alienation (broadly taken), either relative to death and disease, or then again perhaps relative to the relations and antagonisms existing between the sexes or various human groups.

In a number of ideological-religious systems, origins myths often constitute, especially when combined with ritual, excellent cognitive mechanisms for creating order and, by themselves, efficient storage devices for fundamental cultural information. Obviously such observations do not conflict with the idea, presented above, that religion is, in general, an anti-entropic cultural mechanism. In itself, the theme of 'extracting' order from chaos, from formless matter, without name nor category, is very explicit and frequently encountered in origins myths the world over. For example, in the Genesis narrative one finds God creating time (day, night and the first week), light, the stars, living organisms and man. Towards the end of the narrative, God gets man involved in the creation process in allowing him to name the animals[50]. According to Lévi-Strauss the 'extraction' of order from chaos is also a fundamental theme in Pawnee cosmology "...; all of Pawnee metaphysical thought in effect is actually based on the idea that at the time of the creation of the world, antagonistic elements were intermingled and that the first work of the gods consisted in sorting them out."[51] (Lévi-Strauss 1963: 234) One must note that a certain number of origins myths pay little or no attention to the origins of the physical world, being more preoccupied with the origin of the various social groups or social relations in their immediate environment. In fact, the elements which will be considered meaningful will vary significantly from one cosmology to another. The content of an origins myth may not be prejudged. Origins myths provide large amounts of information on the order contained in (and to be imposed on) reality which surrounds us as one can see from the following remarks by Burridge relative to Tangu mythology.

According to Mircea Eliade (in Beane and Doty 1975: 3-4), myths tell a sacred story: they describe how a thing has come to be part of the reality which we now know. Thus myth describes the intrusion of the sacred into the world and it is this intrusion which establishes the reality we know. All in all, myth provides the why of things, crucial information for the structure of meaning of any cosmology. Barbara Sproul simply indicates:

André Reszler, who has spend much time studying the myths of Western political ideologies, makes the following comments.

One should note however that the common view of myth, that is a narrative, written or oral, concerning the activities of gods or cultural heroes in times past, is only one pedagogic vehicle amongst others which may be used to transmit the information contained in a cosmology. It is not necessarily universal. In some cases rituals, ceremonies or feasts can provide 'packaging' just as appropriate for this information[52]. One still should be aware of the fact that the narrative format as found in myths is a particularly popular form of cosmological information 'packaging'. Perhaps this is due to the efficiency in storage, transmission and accessibility (comprehension) when information is presented in this form. Beyond this, if one considers some anthropologist's astonishment at encountering societies with no elaborate mythological system to speak of, one might be inclined to think that this is the result of Western biais producing in his/her mind the expectation that all ideological-religious systems 'should' use the same 'packaging' methods (as the ones we are already familiar with) or else... he/she will find that something 'odd' is going on.

Another point we can usefully make is that the beliefs involved in cosmology can often be implicit and may be transmitted at times in a completely unconscious manner. Dorothy Rowe, a psychiatrist, remarks on this subject:

Now a look at the strategy concept. A strategy for the processing of entropic phenomena is a group of well-known[53] means of action and/or attitudes by the adherents of an ideological-religious system allowing the imposition of a certain type of order on a stubborn reality (human or physical). One should distinguish between primary and auxiliary strategies. Primary strategies are characterized by a wide cultural impact and can be generalized, that is, are applicable by individuals or groups in a wide variety of circumstances, thus supplying a logical basis for ritual technology. Auxiliary strategies, however, have a more limited application and often contribute, though sometimes indirectly, to put into action the primary strategy and usually can be recognized in the more specialized secondary rituals. Depending on which fundamental beliefs are involved in its cosmology (materialism, monotheism, polytheism, personal god, impersonal supernatural forces, reincarnation, economic determinism, etc.) each system takes a different approach vis-à-vis the entropic processes. It will define in an original manner what it considers as alienating phenomena or which should be considered incompatible with itself[54] and consequently, elaborates attitudes and/or means of action which are coherent with the rest of the system. For example, Dorothy Lee brings to our attention the fact that the Hopi believe that alienation or evil is the result not of an original Fall from Grace, nor of an individual's unresolved sexual frustrations, but rather as the result of deviance from an inner transcendental order.

Maranda makes the following general remarks. " "Belief... puts us in such a condition that we shall behave in a certain way, when the occasion arises." Occasions are encounters, dreams, ordinary or extraordinary events, routine or exceptional behavior. An adequate belief system will respond to most if not all inputs by an appropriate output, having interpreted the event in a way consistent with its structure." (Maranda 1979b: 255) Strategies, then, are beliefs usually coupled with modes of behaviour, whose characteristic is that of forming a 'defence mechanism' to protect the ideological-religious system from things defined as 'foreign bodies' (events, attitudes and/or doubts), that is elements which are in contradiction with basic aspects of the system and which, if left unattended, might cause its breakdown. Though the strategies of various ideological-religious systems can be hard to recognize[55], they supply nonetheless an important reference point to society in that they allow us to understand how these systems break up reality and also the different reactions which the adherents (of various systems) may have when confronted with human problems. R. A. Rappaport, who has spent much time studying the ecological implications of various cosmologies (R. uses the term "cognized model"), points out the different attitudes towards the environment which result from the beliefs implicit in different cosmologies.

Perhaps it might be appropriate at this point to go over a few brief examples of primary strategies. Christianity, for example, minimally implies the recognition of Jesus as God, Saviour of humanity and source of salvation. Beyond this, the various forms of Christianity diverge and a number of different strategies can be uncovered. The more traditional types are oriented towards the accomplishment of a birth to death cycle of ritual duties which, if properly performed, is understood to ensure entrance to heaven. In more contemporary variations, Christianity finds itself often reduced to the status of moral discourse directed at all 'men of good will' and, again ensuring entrance to heaven to complying and sincere adherents. The typical evangelical view, specifies that humans are a fallen race and that salvation can be recieved through an act of will (conversion) in which the individual admits his/her's sins against God's law, accepts God's grace (through Christ's sacrifice on the cross) and submits his/her life to Christ and asks for grace to live a life reflecting that of the Saviour. In the case of Marxism, the primary strategy revolves around a collective political project involving, amongst other things the seisure of political power by the proletariat (socialist/communist party), the abolition of private property and the management of the economy by a more or less centralized government. In Theravada Buddhism human suffering is a central theme (Gananath Obeysekere 1968: 7). Buddhist cosmology proposes the notion of karma which involves the idea that the happy or unhappy condition of man is the inevitable result of actions committed in preceding reincarnations[56]. The individual can better his/her future fate (and the state of his/her karma) in following the prescribed measures by the rules of Buddhist life. He/she knows that when calamity strikes he/she is reaping a just reward for actions committed in a previous life. Obeyesekere notes:

In Buddhism, in fact, we find ourselves with two primary strategies of almost equal importance. Obeyesekere points out the ultimate state attainable in Buddhism is the nirvana, a state where all suffering is eliminated. This state can be attained by following a number of rigorous ascetic practices destined to eliminate all desire and attachment to this world. In practice, only Buddhist monks, who renounce the world completely and follow the 227 precepts (Obeyesekere 1968: 34), have a chance of breaking the grasp of karma and attaining nirvana. This is the first primary strategy of Buddhism. In the case of lay Buddhists, a second strategy is proposed as nirvana is conceived as being unattainable by non-monks, a secondary compensation is proposed in the form of a temporary heaven after death and of a good subsequent reincarnation if they observe at least the basic Buddhist precepts[57]. If these are not observed then it is thought that the individual concerned will be punished in subsequent reincarnations by appearing in animal forms.

In numerous Amerindian and aboriginal religions the primary strategies frequently revolve around a ritual cycle meant, not to ensure entrance to heaven in the afterlife, but rather to restore the order of nature and of society as it was established in the mythical times at the beginning when culture heroes and gods were active. In fact, all ideological-religious systems which propose a desirable state, for the individual or for society (which involves the elimination of suffering, injustice or psychological frustrations), must supply strategies making the attainment of this state plausible. In certain ideological-religious systems, entropy processing strategies will in no way resemble a form of salvation or a utopia such as one may encounter in the West, but rather will be limited to an explanation resolving the entropic attacks at a cognitive level only. The resulting explanation often takes the form, in such cases, of a fatalistic discourse declaring for example that suffering and hardship are inherent and inevitable elements in this life which must be accepted for one reason or another (the economic climate, destiny, Allah's will, the god's whim, etc...). Obeyesekere comments on this point: "Many present-day religions in primitive Melanesia do not have a notion of salvation at all. Some have concepts of the other world which offer no radical solution to the problem of suffering, even though they may, on the cognitive level, provide a meaning for suffering." (Obeyesekere 1968: 14)

Concluding remarks
Let us briefly go over the points covered in this essay. First of all the definition of the religious phenomena itself. In this essay we have proposed the hypothesis that ideological-religious systems are forms of order in interaction with the diverse entropic processes occurring in nature (and in society). Ideological-religious systems can also be considered cybernetic systems involving first of all information concerning (in the case of a 'successful' religion) all aspects of human life. This information gives meaning and context to self, to other living beings and to the environment. This constitutes the cosmology of an ideological-religious system. Next a religion supplies a number of means of acting upon reality such as ritual, meditative, revolutionary or ascetic and other practices which allows the creation and/or maintenance of the order proposed by the cosmology. These are what I call the strategies of an ideological-religious system. In my opinion an ideological-religious system must be considered a cybernetic system (involving feedback and response) because it is not a static form of order, passively subject to the passing of time, but it is (if one includes the human factor, the adherents of a beliefs system) active, operating on (living and non-living) nature and on other forms of order having objectives incompatible with its own. This perspective should prove useful in allowing us to more fully understand various events in the life of an ideological-religious system such as it's birth, confrontations with other systems, systems propagation, conversion from one system to another and causes for the disintegration of such systems. Futhermore, we break here with the 'rigid' (and basically ethnocentric) view of religion which links religious phenomena with one or more Western cultural traits: presence of a church-type organisation, origins myths, beliefs in supernatural beings, etc... The universal must take precedent over the particular.

As it is understood here, religion is related to a basic need for meaning of the same type as postulated by Geertz and Augé. This need/capacity for/of meaning would seemingly be linked to a fundamental cognitive structure 'printed' into the 'circuitry' of the human brain[58]. Such a structure would explain how, amongst other things, the passage from one ideological-religious system to another can occur. If one accepts the idea proposed here that a successful ideological-religious system which has proven capable of permeating and giving meaning to almost all aspects of human life will in effect be equivalent to our concept of culture. In such cases one must then reverse Geertz' definition (Religion as a Cultural System), as Augé points out, and culture becomes a religious system. Geertz' definition does, however, remain appropriate in cases of partially successful religions.

I would like to underscore the fact that the approach developed above does not presuppose some form of determination of the infrastructure by the superstructure (or the reverse; as in Marxist theory). I have yet to come across data which would lead me to believe that ideological-religious systems are something more than just one influence (though it may be important) amongst others in social praxis. These other influences; economic, linguistic, physiological, etc. are all necessary in one way or another for the maintenance of life in society. As I understand them (and on this point I agree with Augé and others) then, ideological-religious systems are both cognitive, that is involving stories, beliefs, prescriptions, taboos, etc... and material, that is involving relics, writings, monuments, sacred vestements, temples, sacred places, etc... They give meaning (or at least attempt to) to a social, physical and psychic reality. Without these elements no society, small though it may be, would be conceivable on a long-term basis[59], but then again without this raw matter to 'work' with, no ideological-religious system would be logically conceivable either.

As we have seen in this essay, the development of the idea of a successful ideological-religious system (understood in terms of cultural penetration) establishes an important reference point giving rise to a renewed and critical perspective on political ideologies in the West and, potentially, on the complex problem of the separation of Church and State. In the previous pages we have also studied the effects of entropic processes (naturally or socially based) on culture and, particularly, on ideological-religious systems. This study enables us to draw a clearer and more detailed portrait of what are the 'responsibilities[60]' of a successful ideological-religious system. Surprisingly, the analysis of the interaction involved in such systems sheds new light on an ancient ideological antithesis, that of Good and Evil. Such a 'discovery' would seem worthy of more elaborate study even though such a question has been touched (indirectly) by researchers such as Douglas.



[*] - Paul Gosselin is the author of the French series Fuite de l'Absolu (or Escape from the Absolute). Volume I explores postmodernism from the Social Anthropologist's point of view, that is, as a belief system and, in volume II, pursues the issue in exploring origin myths in the West and looks at the cosmology that modernism and postmodernism has used as a basis for it's worldview.

[1]- In this essay, the term "religion", "ideology" and "belief system" are used interchangeably. The term "ideological-religious system" is used to underscore the fact that all human belief systems are alike in that they cater to the basic need for meaning, irregardless of whether or not they involve a reference to the supernatural.

[2]- Unless otherwise indicated, emphasis in quotations is always original.

[3]- Anatol Rapoport explains the process involved in the case of extending the concept of entropy to information theory:

As Rapoport mentions briefly here, mathematical equivalence is not a magical formula explaining everything. It remains that good common sense and the observations of the scientific community serve also to establish the limits of a particular analogy. Looking at the question from a cynical point of view one might get the impression that the preoccupation with establishing at all costs a mathematical equivalence derives from an incapacity to conceptualize a relation between two domains unless a mathematical equation can be supplied to express it. (See also on this point Georgescu-Roegen 1971: 79-83).

[4]- Example: transportation, industry.

[5]- As Williams points out, this is true for any manufacturing process in any society.

As the garment deteriorates, it is increasing in entropy. No matter how the garment is cleaned and restored, it never can maintain its "newness". The cleaning and restoring processes are inefficient and no amount of energy output will keep the garment in its original state. Eventually the garment will reach a state of maximum entropy when it has degenerated into dust (a state of high disorder)" (Williams 1981: 18)

[6]- Perhaps it is not too obvious that salaries represent an energy expenditure, but it does if we suppose our school were operating in the context of a barter economy where salaries would be paid in gallons of gas or with bags of groceries.

[7]- Or at very least, attempting to supply order.

[8]- Here we are relying on the definitions of entropy as provided by statistical thermodynamics and information theory.

[9]- Perhaps it might be useful at this point to clarify a little further what is meant by the concept of order, especially when discussed in the context of social studies. To some it may bring to mind notions of "Law and Order" and the "American Way of Life" or rigid Right-wing regimes. In this essay, I will be approaching the question from the point of view that the forms of "order" that are devised in the context of various human belief systems. As such specific variations these forms of order may take are only limited by human imagination. That which may appear as order to one group will be seen as a form of disorder to another. (Or what is music to one ear will be "noise" to another.) A striking example of this phenomenon are the Avlekete priestesses (Togo) whose only taboo is that of never respecting the taboos of other cultural groups (see Augé 1977: 114-115). At first glance that which might seem an invitation to total liberty or disorder, in final analysis one' finds an order in reverse as the Avlekete priestesses must always do the opposite of others, not just what they might feel like doing !! Augustine, (who lived during the decline of the Roman Empire) discussing his own reflections on the creation of the world and matter, adroitly expresses the basic subjectivity (or the inevitable anthropocentrism) of conceptions of order and disorder.

It would appear that such considerations have also been recognized in the area of physics.

[10]- On this question Braines and Svetchinsky note:

Further on, I admit, it would appear rather probable that the same would be true of any form of cultural exchange or communication, that is involving necessarily energy expenditures, material structures and an investment in information.

[11]- Here is a partial list of authors who concur with this point of view. It must be pointed out however that since the metabolism and the aging process of living organisms is still incompletely understood, various approaches appear in the literature covering the effects of entropic processes on living organisms, which eventually result in Rosnay (1975: 229)

[12]- ie. belief systems

[13]- Despite the fact that the manner of compensating obedience, expressing the taboo and punishing transgressors will vary considerably from one belief system to another.

[14]- I suspect this problem can be avoided if one postulates (as my definition of religion does) that religion is an attempt (more or less successful) to impose order on reality. This explains, for example, the gap often noted between prescriptions/taboos and observed behaviour. Another point that can be made inthis matter is that the lack of coherence of religious or ideological discourse can, in some cases, be due to the presence of unrecognized systems of thought having a logic running counter to that of the official or orthodox view (see B. Morris 1982 on this subject). In theological language these 'unrecognized systems of thought' may be called heresies.

[15]- In real life things become even more complex if one considers that in each specific religion (and potentially, each judicial system) certain behaviours will be condoned or accepted under special circumstances and rejected in others i.e. the taking of a human life (ex. murder or execution).
In times of war (and if the life taken is that of an enemy) such an act will be seen as acceptable. In times of peace (if an act of vengeance is involved) the act will be punished in most societies. The classification of behaviour in human societies will not operate like an inspection stop on an assembly line with a simple binary result: object accepted or rejected. The question of context intervenes, both enriching and complicating the process of classifying behaviour.

[16]- Fortes indicates (1959: 53) that the Tallensi consider evil behaviour or attitudes those which threaten kin relations (including neglect of duties towards parents and dead ancestors). In the following quotation we find an example of individual behaviour incompatible with the Tallensi system, it's consequences and it's resolution (integration)

[17]- R. B. Lindsay establishes an explicit relation between entropy and human behaviour described as "anti-social". (Lindsay 1963: 290-298). Unfortunately, Lindsay, at the time of writing did not note that the concept of "order" may vary from one society to another. This oversight causes Lindsay to run into serious problems when he attempts to erect as an ethical principle the idea that mankind must continually combat disorder or entropy. The obvious problem here is that he neglects to specify just what kind of "order" must be preserved !!

Nevertheless, relative to our subject, the following text by Lindsay is worth being brought to the reader's attention.

[18]- Victor Turner has observed similar phenomena amongst the Ndembu of Zambia.

[19]- Another interesting case of an ideological-religious system collapse (accompanied by a subsequent revitalisation movement) has been described by A. F. C. Wallace (1961: 144-146). which happens to be that of the Seneca of the late 18th century.

[20]- The greater the degree of penetration, the greater the disruption once the system begins to fall apart. More on this point further on.

[21]- Apparently this can even happen in the domain of the "hard" sciences.

It appears that the rejection of inconsistent or 'dangerous' phenomena is a rather common human trait. Solzhenitsyn, in the course of his stay in the Gulag, seems to have encountered this strategy among certain communists who also happened to find themselves imprisoned there.

[22]- Or as the American landing on the Moon was ignored (and censured) by the media in USSR for over 10 years...

[23]- It must be noted here that the present essay in no way supports the technological determinism put forward by Sharp relating the collapse of Yir Yoront culture to the introduction of one simple Western product: the steel axe. As the citations presented here show, Sharp's own material tends to contradict such an analysis. Actually the evidence points in the opposite direction, demonstrating that this collapse must be related to a the appearance and imposition of a group of new attitudes, customs, technology, etc. and the loss of political autonomy which coincided with the acculturation process in the case of the Yir Yoront.

[24]- This is especially characteristic of the major Western ideological-religious systems: Judaism, Christianism, Islam and Marxism.

[25]- Here's an interesting example drawn from his essay.

It should be noted that technological exclusivism does not imply also the concept of truth or of absolute. Another example of technological exclusivism, from the West in this particular case, is that of the Catholic Church relative to contraceptives.

[26]- These denominations appeared in 18-19th century Europe and function as rural communities in the Western United States and Canada. To a large extent, they have preserved the rural life-style of the time of their founders (excepting perhaps agricultural technology in some cases): clothing, architecture, music, language, etc.

[27]- A. F. C. Wallace remarks that in certain groups the means by which a new element is introduced will considerably affect its chances of being accepted, that is, it will serve as an admissibility criterion.

[28]- Here are a few historical examples which highlight the diverse attitudes that syncretistic and exclusivistic systems can take in contact situations.

[29]- The following is an example which illustrates this difference in epistemological strategies which exists in a contact situation between a syncretistic system; Hinduism in this case,and an exclusivistic system; Christianity, which exposes the basic exclusivism involved in both ideological-religious systems.

[30]- The degradation of information transmitted in a channel, caused by the channel's background noise.

[31]- Firth makes the following comments on the problems this causes in the case of the Tikopian cosmology.

[32]- The moment of death seems also another important point in time where a form of "control" over sensations and emotions by the ideological-religious discourse is exerted as observed by Raymond Lemieux here.

Victor Turner, writing on the Isoma ritual amongst the Ndembu, notes:

[33]- Discussing this matter from a psychological point of view, Gregory Bateson illustrates what the effects of such a process can have on the ego.

[34]- p. 11, in L. Dickinson: The Greek View of Life. U. of Michigan Press, Ann Arbour 1959

[35]- In this regard, Western political ideologies can be distinguished only with difficulty from certain religions such as Islam which also demonstrate a central preoccupation with questions of political power, but which happen to be equipped with a monotheistic, rather than materialist cosmology.

[36]- The following brief remarks by Pierre Smith are particularly useful in regard to this discussion.

[37]- For maximum effect in the following citation displace the term 'normative' by 'religious'.

[38]- Van Baal's definition is as follows.

[39]- Though a close study of philosophical associations might disprove this...

[40]- Some coming into existance or being imported from elswhere and others dying off.

[41]- Especially if they have been developed in the context of completely different conceptual frameworks and subsequently imported.

[42]- It should be noted here that though the "top" and "bottom" concepts may seem to imply hierarchy they are only used as a means of illustration. The metaphor of a hierarchy of meaning or belief could be replaced by a systems approach to ideologies or religions. One could then, speak of primary, secondary and tertiary beliefs or concepts, etc... rather than "top" and "bottom".

[43]- D. Rowe (quoting Danto) provides a couple of interesting examples of the unconscious status of certain fundamental beliefs and of their tenacity.

[44]- Mary Black, discussing the works of W. Goodenough, notes that G. establishes three categories of truths or belief. First of all "self-evident" beliefs, secondly "inferred" (which are deduced from the "self-evident" beliefs) and thirdly "unifying" beliefs. Black remarks on the latter.

[45]- More specifically Black notes:

The Russian semioticians for their part indicate:

[46]- It appears to me quite likely that the proselytism tendency, that is the proclivity to 'export' a religion or win converts is linked not only with human enthousiasm but to a larger extent with the presence or absence of the concept of truth or absolute knowledge. Buddhism may be a possible exception to this 'rule' though.

[47]- One could mention in this respect the case of the Plains Indians whose way of life was for all practical purposes destroyed when the buffalo herds were decimated.

[48]- This term (myth) is admissible, in my opinion, only if its definition is taken in an extended sense as understood by authors such as P. Smith (1974), E. MacCormac (1976), A. Reszler (1981) and others. This extended definition of myth would not necessarily require a story of past events involving supernatural beings or forces, but would be understood simply as a pedagogic vehicle (or form of packaging) permitting the transmission of cosmological data.

[49]- With it's costumes, backdrops and props...

[50]- Here are a few comments by Gregory Bateson on this narrative.

[51]- One finds this theme also in Hindu cosmology too. Jaki notes:

[52]- Taking this fact into account one can enlighten situations such as the following observed by V. Turner among the Ndembu.

[53]- This is true in most cases except with systems characterized by gnostic tendencies where the more important beliefs or doctrines are known only by a select group of initiates.

[54]- Raymond Firth notes on this point:

[55]- One may quite logically ask "Is there a simple way of discovering what are the most important beliefs involved in an ideological-religious system ?". I, myself am inclined to answer simply "No". Ernst Gellner makes the following remarks on this sort of question.

[56]- Obeyesekere remarks that the fundamental doctrines of Buddhism recognize that even the gods are caught in the grasp of karma (1968: 22).

[57]- Obeyesekere indicates:

[58]- Maranda makes the following comments on this point:

A hypothesis which is beginning to take shape in the social sciences, and which appears plausible, postulates that diverse cultural phenomena such as religion owe their existence to a very flexible mechanism enabling the acquisition of culture, a mechanism similar to that postulated by Chomsky for language acquisition. Gregerson explains:

Kenneth L. Pike has also explored similar ideas in discussing his concept of "Hypermeanings" or a hierarchy of meanings built up from words and categories of words (see Pike 1967: 614). In the same way one can conceive of an inherent capacity for language acquisition, one could suppose that there is a need/capacity for formulating or learning an ideological-religious system and which would be 'printed' into the basic 'circuitry' of the human brain. The various ideological-religious systems would then constitute, in a manner of speaking, 'programs' which can be 'entered' into the culture acquisition mechanism, each 'program' proposing its own strategies attempting to explain or resolve the universal tendency towards disorder. In the absence of such a 'program' an individual (or group), with the help of this mechanism (and a little luck) and using the cosmological elements available in its environment, should be able to put together an original ideological-religious system. Cargo cults in Melanesia would be a typical example of this process.

[59]- A. M. Greeley remarks:

Greeley also notes that many attempts in the 60's to establish communes failed because of a lack of a viable ideology which might have united such groups and supplied prescriptions and taboos with which disputes might be resolved and direction given to the life of these mini-societies.

[60]- Though another, less politically correct, term might be used: "functions".