chapter  12
16 Pages

Symbolism and Functionalism in the Anthropological Study of Religion

ByMelford E. Spiro

A relevant case is the rejection of functionalism by the practitioners of the new symbolist approach to religious anthropology, much as the functionalists had rejected the evolutionary approach of the generation before them. The Buddhist Teaching, or Law, stresses two themes: suffering and release from suffering. Since, according to Buddhism, suffering is one of the three essential attributes of sentient existence—the other two are impermanence and nonself—any attempt to change the world which is based on the assumption that suffering can thereby be eliminated is irrational. The chapter shows that there are differences between Buddhist and Judaic soteriologies, that each of these soteriologies is associated with a set of three sacred symbols which, though structurally isomorphic, are semantically dissimilar. Buddhism and Judaism not only share a common trinity of formal soteriological symbols—a sacred person, a sacred law, and a sacred group—but these symbols share a common attribute—none of them is feminine.