ALLEN T. OLATUNDE
Religion is human beings' relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine. Religion is commonly regarded as consisting of a person's relation to God or to gods or spirits. All religions are system of cult institutions, sets of rituals all having same general goal, all explicitly rationalized by a set of similar or related beliefs and all supported by the same social group. The various relationships that is possible within a religion, between a certain number of set factors that, in more or less differentiated state, one encounters in most religion: cultic practices, myths, beliefs, dogma, symbols etc makes internal relationship of a religion an organization.
Characteristics of Religious Social Organization
1. Cult institutions
2. Sets of rituals
3. Same general goal
4. Similar or related beliefs
5. Same supportive social group
Cult: Formal religious veneration: worship; a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of devotee; and a religion regarded as unorthodox (unconventional) or false.
Rituals: The established form for a ceremony; the order of words prescribed for a religious ceremony.
Sects: A dissenting or schismatic religious body; esp: one regarded as extreme or heretical.
The four kinds of cult institutions are:
Individual Cult Institution
Sorcerers and witches are classified into this institution. They perform magical rituals.
Shamanic Cult Institutions
Shamanism was the oldest and simplest of religions. Shaman is part time religious practitioner, religious innovator and specialist. Religious phenomenon centered on the shaman, a person believed to achieve various powers through trance or ecstatic (blissful) religious experience. Although shamans' repertoires vary from one culture to the next, they are typically thought to have the ability to heal the sick, to communicate with the otherworld, and often to escort the souls of the dead to that otherworld. Shamans are said to be born to their role, as is evident in certain marks distinguishing them from ordinary people. For instance, a shaman may be born with more bones in his body—e.g., teeth or fingers—than other people. He does not become a shaman simply by willing it, for it is not the shaman who summons up the spirits but they, the supernatural beings, who choose him. The classical form was characterized by the following traits:
1. A society accepts that there are specialists who are able to communicate directly with the transcendent world and who are thereby also possessed of the ability to heal and to divine; such individuals, or shamans, are held to be of great use to society in dealing with the spirit world.
2. A given shaman is usually known for certain mental characteristics, such as an intuitive, sensitive, mercurial, or eccentric personality, which may be accompanied by some physical defect, such as lameness, an extra finger or toe, or more than the normal complement of teeth.
3. Shamans are believed to be assisted by an active spirit-being or group thereof; they may also have a passive guardian spirit present in the form of an animal or a person of another sex—possibly as a sexual partner.
4. The exceptional abilities and the consequent social role of the shaman are believed to result from a choice made by one or more supernatural beings. The one who is chosen—often an adolescent—may resist this calling, sometimes for years. Torture by the spirits, appearing in the form of physical or mental illness, breaks the resistance of the shaman candidate and he (or she) has to accept the vocation.
5. The initiation of the shaman, depending on the belief system, may happen on a transcendent level or on a realistic level—or sometimes on both, one after the other. While the candidate lies as if dead, in a trance state, the body is cut into pieces by the spirits of the Yonder World or is submitted to a similar trial. The spirits' reason for cutting up the shaman's body is to see whether it has more bones than the average person. After awakening, a rite of symbolic initiation, such as climbing the World Tree, is occasionally performed.
6. By attaining a trance state at will, the shaman is believed to be able to communicate directly with the spirits. This is accomplished by allowing the soul to leave the body to enter the spirit realm or by acting as a mouthpiece for the spirit-being, somewhat like a medium.
7. One of the distinguishing traits of shamanism is the combat of two shamans in the form of animals, often reindeer or horned cattle. The combat rarely has a stated purpose but is a deed the shaman is compelled to do. The outcome of the combat means well-being for the victor and destruction for the loser.
8. In going into trance, as well as in mystical combat and healing ceremonies, the shaman uses certain objects such as a drum, drumstick, headgear, gown, metal rattler, mirror, and staff. The specific materials and shapes of these instruments are useful for identifying the types and species of shamanism and following their development.
9. Characteristic folklore (oral and textual) and shaman songs have come into being as improvisations on traditional formulas used to lure or imitate animals.
Communal Cult Institutions
It can be individual or shamanic
Ecclesiastical Cult Institutions
Priests are the religious specialists who perform ecclesiastical rituals. The religious functions of priests are quite varied. In his specific role as the officiant of the rites that unite the sacred and the profane realms, celebrates or administers at the rituals of initiation into the cult or church, presides over ritual reenactments of creative, redemptive, or salvatory (salvation-working) events, and offers sacrifices to the gods or to one God. He also functions as a perpetuator of the sacred traditions, practices, and beliefs and as a teacher, healer, counselor, and diviner The function of the priest as the mediator and maintainer of the equilibrium between the sacred and the profane in human society, and as the stabilizer of the social structures and the cultic organizations, determines the various criteria for holding the priestly office. The priests perform rituals on behalf of entire congregation. He is the religious conservator and authority is by office.
Prophets differs from other religious functionaries and representatives of religious authority in that he claims no personal part in his utterance. He speaks not his own mind but a revelation “from without.” The prophetic or charismatic state may occur spontaneously, or it may be induced by a variety of techniques: by meditation, by mystico-magical formulas and gestures, by music, by drumming, dancing, or the ingestion of intoxicants or narcotics. He claims on personal revelation from supernatural, not studying of theology. Prophet is charismatic innovator that modifies existing rituals to meet needs of clients specifically.
Religions are system of two or more cult institutions
• Communal cult institutions can have: Individualistic and Shamanic
• Ecclesiastical cult institutions can have: Individualistic, Shamanic, Communal, and Ecclesiastical.
Sects and Cult – are in small group and in odds with values and beliefs of society while Churches are in larger congregation, supportive to the mainstream of value of society.
Mehl, Roger. The Sociology of Protestantism. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1970
Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010.