You will prepare and submit a term paper on The Contrasts and Similarities between Superstition and Religion. Your paper should be a minimum of 1250 words in length. In other words, their focus is on a kind of cultural relativism (1). Therefore, during the first part of this essay, I will concentrate on an emic view of superstition and religion whilst examining examples of each. I will then go on to attempt an outline of the differences and similarities between the two before drawing conclusions on their continued importance to today’s world.
Superstition can be loosely defined as the belief in ideas that are not founded in either knowledge or reason. From an outsider’s position, the term is often used in a somewhat derogative manner, referring to it in terms such as old wives’ tales. Nonetheless, many superstitious practices date back to a pre-religious era and many people from various cultures still firmly believe that events can be predicted, often
based on the outcomes of previous events. For cultures steeped in superstition practice, nothing has a natural cause as such. Indeed every event was the work of spirits. These spirits could punish or reward, ruin, or save the individuals of peoples.
Let us take the example of the ritual practices and beliefs of the Azande tribe. If we were to study these practices from an etic standpoint, using techniques of ethnography, for example, we could effectively explain every outcome in terms that would be outside the understanding of this tribe, but to us would effectively prove that the rain dance this tribe performs had no effect on the rain. However, at the same time the peoples of this tribe could also effectively show that, if carried out correctly, this ritual could indeed affect the outcome of the rain. Here we have an example of cultural relativism. The practice of astrology is another area that falls into the category of superstition, simply because, despite practitioners’ attempts to tie the practice to precise mathematical formulas, it is not strictly based on scientific truths. However, proponents of astrology – including the areas of horoscope and Tarot readings – would claim the validity of the practice simply because of its long history. In fact, the use of horoscopes was first recorded in Ancient Mesopotamia where they were used to predict affairs of the state, while they became more individual-focused in Ancient Greece. So that is a basic outline of superstition, let us now take a closer look at religion.