chapter  11
24 Pages

Some Reflections on Family and Religion in East Asia

ByMelford E. Spiro

The family and religion were among the core interests of anthropological inquiry from its very inception, and they have remained among its most perduring subjects of investigation. This chapter argues that the invariant conditions that account for the cross-cultural regularities in family systems are no less important for the understanding of family behavior than are the culturally variable rules and norms that govern family relationships. It examines some possible links between the putative tensions in the East Asian family discussed in the previous section and certain aspects of East Asian religion. The extraordinary nurturant-dependent nature of the mother-son relationship in East Asia, at least in Japan, is stressed in the reports by Tanaka and Sofue. The chapter suggests that the monastery is attractive to those few men for whom the relationships with mother and wife are too threatening to sustain because it allows them to escape the former and avoid the latter.