chapter  6
16 Pages

Religious Systems as Culturally Constituted Defense Mechanisms

ByMelford E. Spiro

Since the range of beliefs, values, and rituals related to supernatural beliefs and events is enormous, it is obvious, as Durkheim observed long ago, that no belief, value, or ritual is intrinsically identifiable as “religious.” Since the “religious,” on the contrary, is a quality capable of being attached to almost any instance of these three dimensions of religious systems, the latter, to use a modern idiom, are in large measure projective systems. The persistent controversy over cultural relativism has been confounded by implicit disagreements concerning its proper antithesis. Anthropological data—and, one might add, historical and sociological data as well—are unambiguous so far as the universalisticparticularistic dichotomy is concerned. In Burma, one of the centers of Theravada Buddhism, the monastic vocation is the most venerated of all patterns of life. Burmese monks, as Rorschach data and clinical observations agree, are characterized by serious emotional conflicts.