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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 658)...

    I have a question about religion. In mother culture it appears that religion and the state have been tied up together since the dawn of civilization. Even though in the United States they claim there is a separation, it appears that many of the state ("state" as in government) laws appear to originate from our deeply held Christian belief system. Religion's place in mother culture mainly appears to inflict rules of behavior and conduct. My question is regarding indigenous tribal religion. I want to have a better understanding of the purpose religion serves in an indigenous tribal culture. Are tribal laws and religion one and the same? Or does religion serve only to help them understand their spiritual place in the world? Or is it neither?

    ...and the response:

    I'm afraid it isn't possible to give you one answer that will apply to all tribal peoples. As part of their cultural heritage, they do all have practices that we dub "religious," but tribal peoples don't have "religions" in the same sense we do; for us, a religion is a body of beliefs and practices that occupy a domain that is separate from (and sometimes even in conflict with) the rest of our lives (so that someone who goes to church on Sunday may make his living swindling people during the week). I've never come across anything like this in an aboriginal group. Nonetheless, some aboriginal peoples seem to us to be very "spiritual" (and others less so). The Gebusi have lively contacts with spirits that would strike most of us as not the least bit "spiritual" but rather downright profane. This is why, in the end, the most I can say about them as a whole is that they share a common worldview, which I've summarized in this way: The world is a sacred place, and humans belong in a sacred place.


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