Contemporary Views on Comparative Religion - In Celebration of Tim Jensen’s 65th Birthday - Peter Antes

Contemporary Views on Comparative Religion - In Celebration of Tim Jensen’s 65th Birthday - Peter Antes

30. The Alimentary Construction of Social and Supernatural Identities: Religious Commensality Codes of the Penan with a Comparative Twist

Contemporary Views on Comparative Religion - In Celebration of Tim Jensen’s 65th Birthday - Peter Antes

Mikael Rothstein [+-]
University of Southern Denmark
Mikael Rothstein is Associate Professor of Comparative Religion, University of Southern Denmark (SDU), Odense and Visiting Professor at Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania.

Description

What I propose in this brief discussion is an interpretation that identifies the act of sharing food and eating together among the Penan of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, not as a matter of simple physical survival or social association alone, but also as a significant ritualized context for the production and maintenance of supernatural beings. Apart from this approach, my subject matter will be discussed as a cultural feature formed during the evolution of our species. Recent explorations into human cognition and collective behaviour with particular regard to sharing, reveals that people, like other primates, have very good evolutionary reasons to share food, and that sharing itself is one of the constituents of human sociality. We share, not for altruistic reasons, but because it has proven the most effective way of survival during the long cause of human evolution. It is hypothezised, then, that this mechanism is reinforced whenever gods or spirits are implied in the process. In short, this article argues that the implicit presence of divinities in the Penans’ communal meals has, in the short run, stimulated life in a challenging rainforest environment, while in the long term helped our species evolve. The discussion will include comparative examples.

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Citation

Rothstein, Mikael. 30. The Alimentary Construction of Social and Supernatural Identities: Religious Commensality Codes of the Penan with a Comparative Twist. Contemporary Views on Comparative Religion - In Celebration of Tim Jensen’s 65th Birthday. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 389-400 Feb 2016. ISBN 9781781791394. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=28128. Date accessed: 09 Aug 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.28128. Feb 2016

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