From a scientific point of view, there are many explanations for religion, its meaning, and its origin. According to a functionalist perspective, religion performs various functions in society that benefit or harm people. For example, religion can be used to control social norms, find emotional comfort, or explain the world. According to the conflict perspective, religion serves to maintain and justify the inequality of people. Most religions say that people should be satisfied with what God gives, which supports financial and social inequality between elites or people of power and ordinary people.
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One of the most famous examples of a religious ritual is the baptism of people, most often infants, by Christians. Children are submerged in holy water several times while the priest reads prayers and, usually, family friends are appointed as Godfather and Godmother to guide and protect them spiritually. This ritual means that a person belongs to the Christian religion and is protected by God. However, this ceremony is harmless and often does not matter for adults who were baptized in childhood if they choose another faith or refuse it.
However, the rituals of Nacirema cannot be called harmless as they leave physical marks on the bodies of people. For example, the annual ritual of cleaning the mouth means that a holy-mouth-man partially ruins the person’s teeth undergoing the ritual and filled them with special magical mixtures (Miner). This procedure is painful and unhealthy, but it is of great importance in the culture of Nacirema because its people believe that without these rituals, their mouths will be infected with diseases, and they will not be respected in society (Miner). However, this ritual confirms the theory of conflict from a scientific perspective, since healers have a privileged status in society, and all rituals are available only after payment. Using Nacirema as an example, we can learn that the isolation of community and limited information is one of the most powerful incentives for religion. People have no other ideas about the structure and principles of the world, and a closed community does not allow them to deny and refuse traditions, even if they destroy them.
Miner, Horace. “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”. American Anthropologist, vol.58, no.3, 1956.