Religious Symbolism Essay

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Symbolism is an important part of religion and has been used by all religions on Earth. The term “symbolism” can be defined as the use of symbols and signs to convey key concepts, ideas, or events and the effect that they have on society and religion. These symbols and signs often take the form of acts, artwork, language, rituals, statues, texts, and other types of artistic representation. Symbols help reinforce religious ideals, strengthen each individual’s faith, and cultivate moral values in cultures around the world. Anthropologists such as Sherry Ortner, Susanne Langer, and Clifford Geertz have studied various cultures and come up with unique theories, definitions, and sub-definitions of symbols. Each author’s work presents his or her own explanation of symbolism and how symbols and signs can be clearly defined into separate categories. In Ortner’s piece entitled “On Key Symbols”, she defines certain symbols as being “key” and divides them into two separate categories, with further sub-categories. Langer’s essay entitled “The Logic of Signs and Symbols” highlights the difference between signs and symbols, and that symbols are the vehicles for the conceptualization of objects. Geertz offers a similar, more general picture of symbolism, stressing that symbols are the driving force for understanding world order. Through the descriptions of each author’s theories on religious symbolism, it is evident that all three anthropologists have many comparative and conflicting terms and definitions. Sherry Ortner presents her own theory of symbolism in her article “On Key Symbols.” Ortner is an American anthropologist who studied at the University of Chicago and Michigan. She started the trend in American anthropology to go further than before and find religious symbols that could sum up the particular ethos, world view, or character unique to a culture.

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