chapter  12
24 Pages

Religion and Community in Indigenous Contexts

ByArmin W. Geertz

Communities are wonderful things. They provide standards for human behaviour and human relations. They regulate relations between individuals and groups. They decide on important issues like what constitutes a man, what constitutes a woman, and how relations between them ought to be. They create contexts for identity, meaning, morality and politics. They decide what is good and what is evil. They are, in sociologist Emile Durkheim’s words, ultimate authorities, forces that raise individuals above themselves. A community is a consciousness of consciousnesses and the highest form of human mind (Durkheim 1995, pp. 16-17, 211-16, 445, 447-8). Indigenous peoples are good examples to choose when exploring the

relationship between religion and community, because they demonstrate the variety and creativity of humanity. But it should be noted here that I am not suggesting that indigenous peoples are communalistic with no individualism, as some Western social philosophers have claimed. There are enough examples of individualism and dissidence in indigenous societies to dissuade from this point of view.1