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1. Discuss intellectualist theories of religion.
Ans. The Soul exists independent of its physical home, the body. Tylor’s definition of Religion is that Religion originated from a belief in spiritual beings.
The Soul theory of Tylor has elements of the sacred and the supernatural. Tylor’s definition being general labels all faiths and beliefs as Religion.
Sociological and anthropological theories about religion (or theories of religion) generally attempt to explain the origin and function of religion. These theories define what they present as universal characteristics of religious belief and practice.
From presocratic times, ancient authors advanced prescientific theories about religion. Herodotus (484 – 425 BCE) saw the gods of Greece as the same as the gods of Egypt. Euhemerus (about 330 – 264 BCE) regarded gods as excellent historical persons whom admirers eventually came to worship.
Substantive (or essentialist) theories that focus on the contents of religions and the meaning the contents have for people. This approach asserts that people have faith because beliefs make sense insofar as they hold value and are comprehensible. The theories by Tylor and Frazer (focusing on the explanatory value of religion for its adherents), by Rudolf Otto (focusing on the importance of religious experience, more specifically experiences that are both fascinating and terrifying) and by Mircea Eliade (focusing on the longing for otherworldly perfection, the quest for meaning, and the search for patterns in mythology in various religions) offer examples of substantive theories.
Functional theories that focus on the social or psychological functions that religion has for a group or a person. In simple terms, the functional approach sees religion as “performing certain functions for society” Theories by Karl Marx (role of religion in capitalist and pre-capitalist societies), Sigmund Freud (psychological origin of religious beliefs), Émile Durkheim (social function of religions), and the theory by Stark and Bain bridge exemplify functional theories. This approach tends to be static, with the exception of Marx’ theory, and unlike e.g. Weber’s approach, which treats of the interaction and dynamic processes between religions and the rest of societies.
Social relational theories of religion that focus on the nature or social form of the beliefs and practices. Here, Charles Taylor’s book The Secular Age is exemplary,[ as is the work of Clifford Geertz. The approach is expressed in Paul James’s argument that religion is a ‘relatively bounded system of beliefs, symbols and practices that addresses the nature of existence through communion with others and Otherness, lived as both taking in and spiritually transcending socially grounded ontologies of time, space, embodiment and knowing’. This avoids the dichotomy between the immanent and transcendental.
Early essentialists, such as Tylor and Frazer, looked for similar beliefs and practices in all societies, especially the more primitive ones, more or less regardless of time and place. They relied heavily on reports made by missionaries, discoverers, and colonial civil servants. These were all investigators who had a religious background themselves, thus they looked at religion from the inside. Typically they did not practice investigative field work, but used the accidental reports of others. This method left them open to criticism for lack of universality, which many freely admitted. The theories could be updated, however, by considering new reports, which Robert Ranulph Marett (1866-1943) did for Tylor’s theory of the evolution of religion.
Field workers deliberately sent out by universities and other institutions to collect specific cultural data made available a much greater database than random reports. For example, the anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard (1902-1973) preferred detailed ethnographical study of tribal religion as more reliable. He criticised the work of his predecessors, Müller, Tylor, and Durkheim, as untestable speculation. He called them “armchair anthropologists”.
A second methodology, functionalism, seeks explanations of religion that are outside of religion; i.e., the theorists are generally (but not necessarily) atheists or agnostics themselves. As did the essentialists, the functionalists proceeded from reports to investigative studies. Their fundamental assumptions, however, are quite different; notably, they apply methodological naturalism. When explaining religion they reject divine or supernatural explanations for the status or origins of religions because they are not scientifically testable. In fact, theorists such as Marett (an Anglican) excluded scientific results altogether, defining religion as the domain of the unpredictable and unexplainable; that is, comparative religion is the rational (and scientific) study of the irrational. The dichotomy between the two classifications is not bridgeable, even though they have the same methods, because each excludes the data of the other.
2. Evaluate Max Weber’s studies on religion and economy.
3. Discuss the factors influencing the relationship between religion and politics.
4. Discuss Malinowski’s perspective on ritual.
5. Explain the types of pilgrimage described by Turner.
6. Explain Weber’s view on priest.
7. What is Sufism?
8. What is the difference between belief and ritual?
10. What are the three phases of rites of passage outlined by Van Gennep?
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