Perseverance of Folk Religion

As I reviewed the readings while writing the paper, I could not help but see the overwhelming practice of folk religion at some lever. While obviously many of the folk practices that we discuss are not universal, they appear to be very common in the regions where the practices originated. This leads to the observation that the  pre-monotheistic practices that were practiced still outweigh the the practices sanctioned by the formal religions that the people are a part of. In the Patai reading, The Seed of Abraham, he offers a multitude of examples that show common folk practices among Jews and Muslims. Traditions such as the jinn, the evil, magic, ingestion of the foreskin, as well as others all represent folk practices. Jinn is formally mentioned in the Koran as well as some references to the evil eye. However, the extent to which people observe them and how they deal with them varies on the culture.

In these examples, much of what is practiced comes from the pagan rituals that were seen in the areas before the presence of Islam and Judaism. The evidence of this comes from the fact that many of the practices are very similar between Judaism and Islam. Initially, these practices were not sanctified by the religions. However, when the folk traditions continued for hundreds of years regardless of what was believed by the formal religion. It was at this point that the formal religions of Islam and Judaism were forced to incorporate and reinterpret many of the folk practices. Instead of attempting to ostracize these people, the formal religion wanted them to feel as if they could still practice their traditions in addition to practicing sanctified practices of the formal religions.

My concern comes more from the other members of the religion. I mentioned in a previous blog that too much incorporation dilutes the formal religion. Now, I wonder how other members of the religion view the people who practice folk traditions that are not universal. Does folk religion make someone any less of a devout Jew or devout Muslim? I think incorporation is necessary in some aspects, but the truth is that the folk practices would continue regardless of whether or not the formal religion sanctifies them.

Incorporation and Regulation

As we have discussed in class, the ideas of incorporation and regulation are present in many aspects of life. Nearly all topics have discussed the relationship between lived religion and formal religion. Specifically, the practices of death rituals, the observation of jinn, and the observation of saints and shrines. As seen with saints and shrines, the initial response is to regulate and state that all of the pagan practices that don’t match up with the formal religion must be expunged. However, the pagan practices always seem to find a way to be incorporated into the formal religion for that area. While certain religious schools of law declare the worship of saints at shrines to be heretic, others make exceptions to fit the folk practices into the formal religion. By doing this, formal religion is trying to incorporate the folk traditions into the religion so that the people will be more willing to practice the religion. This concept makes sense to one who understands that people do not respond well to being told that they must discontinue all of their previous practices.

Although this may be too drastic, I don’t really see the point. This may be a very basic concept of religion, but I don’t necessarily understand the use of incorporation over regulation. I understand the use of halalkhah and shariya initially to bring about conversion to religions. However, after the first few hundred years of religion, I don’t see why religions are more willing to accept informal practices that are not supported by the formal religion. With the saints and shrines example in medieval Syria, I don’t see why some laws of the religion were willing to incorporate these pagan practices when they clearly oppose the formal religion. I feel that the goal of a certain religion is to share the same beliefs with your peers. At some point religion becomes so spread-out that members of the same religion have very different intrinsic beliefs about the religion. I understand that there have to be grey areas and my concern is somewhat unrealistic, but I just wonder about where the line gets drawn. This question can be raised with just about every topic that we discuss, but class today really got me considering what the point truly is.