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Author: Zach Lamb

Identify the historical implications of animism.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, and welcome to Sociological Studies. Thank you for joining me. In this lesson, we're going to give a brief introduction to animism.

Animism is a form of religious belief, one of the earliest forms religious belief, in fact. And animism holds that the natural world and the elements within it, like plants, animals, rocks, even wind, storms, have a consciousness that affect the happenings of humanity and are related to human society. Religion is a cultural universal, meaning that all cultures have religious institutions. But yet they're different.

All cultures try to answer this question of why are we here? What does life mean? What happens after we die? This is the human propensity to question these things. But each culture then has its own responses. And so sociologists are interested in the relationship of these responses to the society as a whole.

A key to understanding how sociologists look at religion is to see that sociologists view the form that religion takes each society is related to the society itself. And animism is one of the earliest attempts. Animism is most typically found in hunter-gatherer societies. So these are primitive societies where the men typically do the hunting, and the women and children do the gathering of produce from the environment.

So think about if you're living in one of these societies. You're going to try to impute consciousness to everything around you because you don't necessarily understand the forces of the world in a scientific fashion and the way that they affect you. So if you're trying to track deer or something-- that's one of the primary game that you eat-- when all of the sudden, one year, there's just no deer. What happened?

Or all of the sudden, a huge storm comes by and just decimates the forest. Well, what happened? Why is this happening? And so you might think the deer are gone because they're worried about something, or the wind destroyed the forest because we did something bad.

So typically we'll see in hunter-gatherer societies, which are very tethered to nature, and societies that are very close to nature still-- so traditional American Native American societies, for instance-- you will see animism because it's a reflection of their engagement with the natural world and their inability, then, to control the natural world. Being subject to the natural world's vicissitudes makes them view objects in the natural world as having consciousness that affect human society.

So again, this is one way that humans have answered this religious question. And it's sociologically interesting because the beliefs flow from the nature of the society itself and the environmental constraints that the society faces. Thank you very much for joining me. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know

A religious belief that holds that the natural world, and elements within it like plants, animals, rocks, and clouds, have consciousness and affect the happenings of humanity.