Idols of Our Tribes?: Relativism, Truth and Falsity in Ethnographic Fieldwork and Cross-cultural Interaction.

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  • Author(s): Shanafelt, Robert
  • Source:
    Critique of Anthropology. Mar2002, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p7. 23p.
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    • Abstract:
      This article discusses relativism and the evaluation of belief in contemporary ethnography. Various examples of conflicting beliefs are described, as well as the author's experience of a disagreement with members of a Christian community, the New Order Amish, over the nature of evolution and spirituality. Because conflicts over 'truth' are an increasingly prominent feature of our globalizing world, now more than ever they must be dealt with directly. With this in mind, pragmatic suggestions are given about how to evaluate beliefs in terms of differing domains of truth. If we believe in any revealed religion and, for instance, we have to admit that Christ is the son of God, then he is not the Messiah still awaiting in Jerusalem. And if Mohammed is the prophet of Allah, then it is mistaken to offer sacrifices to the Plumed Serpent. If we follow the most enlightened and indulgent of deisms, prepared to believe at once in the Communion of Saints and the Great Wheel of the Tao, then we will reject, as fruit of error, the massacre of infidels and heretics. If we are worshipers of Satan, we will consider puerile the Sermon on the Mount. If we are radical atheists, every faith will be nothing but misunderstanding. Therefore, given that in the course of history many have acted on beliefs in which many others did not believe, we must perforce admit that for each, to a different degree, history has been largely the Theater of an Illusion. This article discusses relativism and the evaluation of belief in contemporary ethnography. Various examples of conflicting beliefs are described, as well as the author's experience of a disagreement with members of a Christian community, the New Order Amish, over the nature of evolution and spirituality. Because conflicts over 'truth' are an increasingly prominent feature of our globalizing world, now more than ever they must be dealt with directly. With this in mind, pragmatic suggestions are given about how to evaluate beliefs in... [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
    • Abstract:
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