Essay Example: Why Does History Matter to Anthropology?

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Anthropology puts into view the study of human culture and the society in addition to significant developments. It includes diverse elements of humanity including biology to comprehend the origin of humankind in addition to the development of various cultural customs and beliefs. The analysis puts into view the significance of history on anthropology or rather the relevance of history in understanding the studies associated with human culture and the society. By analyzing the history behind certain aspects of the culture in South East Asia, it becomes easier to comprehend the relevance of history to anthropology.

Veena Das, in the article The Dreamed Guru presents a situation regarding the Islamic beliefs which makes it easier to comprehend some of the beliefs and practices of the Islamic community. The scholar includes several beliefs especially on dreams whereby there are various beliefs associated with them. His experience with an Islamic healer, whom he identifies as Hafiz Mian makes it easier to comprehend the relationship between the history and the beliefs of the South Asia community particularly when it comes to the supernatural world. The scholar tells of his experience with Hafiz Mian after requesting him to make interpretations of his dream. The healer opens a book by the name Kamil Al-Tabir which explains that dreams are divided into three; dreams caused by the physiological processes, dreams caused by Allah and dreams caused by Shaiytan (Das 134). The belief associated with the dreams caused by physiological processes is that they are not given much attention as they do not contain news from any time or place. The dreams from Allah are viewed as true since they emanate from him and that they contain predictions of what is to happen in future. The dreams from Shaiytan are viewed to bring about confusion in the minds of the faithful individuals and hence viewed with serious caution. The healer then tells the scholar that his expertise in dealing with illnesses caused by the unseen beings makes him prone to attacks from Shaiytan and hence quite cautious on the meanings of dreams that he experiences. The scholar then includes the different perspectives on the meaning of his train dream whereby he asked for its interpretation from an anthropologist and the healer. According to the anthropologist, who had incorporated psychoanalysis in her work, the scholar should not look for a deeper understanding of the dream and that the dream possibly implied that he was aware of his incapacity to comprehend terrorism. However, the healer cautions him of telling his dreams to individuals who are not fully capable of interpreting certain dreams. From the healers perspective, if the train was moving to a peaceful place, then it was a good dream, but if it was moving towards wilderness or a bad place, then the dream was a warning. The healer then warns the scholar on the lack of clarity on his dreams and recommends to him diviners and healers who would give him a clear interpretation of his dreams and provide him with the necessary precautions. The scholar then tells the healer that he has his goddess and that all is left as per her wish. The conversation then takes a different turn (Das 135). The article makes it easier to comprehend the source of the beliefs present in the communities in South Asia. It highlights the history or rather the story behind certain beliefs and hence significant in anthropological analyses of South Asia. Most of their beliefs are rooted to the powers of the supernatural world whereby they believe that there are both good and bad unseen beings who play a crucial role in the events that take place in the human world. The aspects of fear and the need for divine interventions are also a big part of their beliefs in which they believe that associating themselves with certain gods and goddesses, their prayers might be answered and experience the goodness emanating from them. Therefore, through the history of the beliefs of the people in South Asia and how they interpret various events, it becomes easier to conduct an anthropological analyses of the region.

The history of the caste system is also viewed to be a significant aspect in understanding the anthropology associated with the South Asian culture. Dirk explains that the caste system is always associated with the Indian culture whereby it is viewed as the communitys core symbol. It is viewed as the defining element in the social organization of India despite the criticisms both from the people in India and the outsiders. The views associated with the system differ whereby there are those who view it as a religious construct, those who view it as an economic construct, those who view it as a social construct, those who esteem the associated spiritual foundations, and those who view the tyranny of the Brahmans. There are also people who view it as an important part of the Indian community while there are those who view it as a detrimental aspect to the Indian community. Nonetheless, Dirk highlights the support of the caste system from various scholars whereby he states, and specifically caste forms of hierarchy, whether valorized or despised-is somehow fundamental to Indian civilization, Indian culture, and Indian tradition, (Dirk 5). The scholar bases his argument on the view that the system, is a modern phenomenon, that it is, specifically, the product of a historical encounter between India and western colonial rule. (Dirk 5). An important aspect highlighted by the author that allows the understanding of the origin of the caste system is that, through the British, using the singular term caste made it possible to organize, express, and systematize the diverse features of the Indian culture in terms of organization, social identity, and community. The system is viewed to have gained foundation with the modernism ideology introduced by the British colonial rule for over two hundred years. In other words, by comprehending the colonial rule that took place in India, it becomes easier to comprehend the caste system and why it is perceived differently by various groups (Dirk 5). The scholar states, In short colonialism made caste what it is today. It produced the conditions that made possible the opening lines of this book, by making caste the central symbol of Indian society, (Dirk 5).

Dirk explains that the colonial rule by Britain in India played a significant role in the production and recognition of the Indian culture (Dirk 10). To support this view, Dirk explains that the recent arguments on tradition and modernity do not appreciate the levels in which the jumbles of customs, beliefs, convictions, and practices that are viewed as traditional are complex byproducts of the colonial period (Dirk 10). He states, India was redefined by the British to be a place of rules and orders; once the British had defined to their satisfaction what they construed as Indian rules and customs, then the Indians had to conform to these constructions, (Dirk 11).

It can be perceived for an anthropologist to understand the culture of South Asia fully, he or she must dig deep into the colonial system and identify the ways in which the colonial rule influenced its culture. From an individual perspective, as per the arguments presented by the scholar, comprehending the history of the caste system and the different views towards the system makes it easier to understand the role of the system in the Indian culture and why knowledge is relevant in anthropology regarding South Asia. In other words, understanding past events and how they shaped culture, contributes greatly to studying and understanding the systems of beliefs in a particular culture and hence contributing to the field of anthropology.

Barbara D. Metcalfe, in her book, Islam in South Asia in practice, can be viewed to highlight the significance of the Islamic history to the anthropologic analysis of the region. The article under analysis is A college Girl gives a Quran Lesson in Bangladesh by Maimuna Huq. Huq puts into view the significance of the Islamic religion in the South Asia community whereby the Quran, Islams holy book, contains themes which are used as tools for the practical and moral training for the Islamic activists (Huq 250). The lessons from the Quran are viewed to provide support in personal self-cultivation, and equipping the activists with the capacity to perform their obligations regarding Islamic sociopolitical transformation. The training, in this case, is done in classes referred to as tafsir classes. To support the essence of the Quran training, the author includes a dars which are described to be a form of meeting of colleagues but highly integrates a religious perspective. The dars in the article take place in the home of a young college girl. An aspect that puts into view the involvement of a historical perspective is the use of a copy of Tafhim Al-Quran which is a commentary of the Quran done by Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-1979) who was an Islamist in South Asia (Huq 252). The presence of the book in such a setting implies that there is a connection between the current Islam practices and the works of past Islamists with respect to the Quran. It, therefore, becomes important to recognize the works of the Islamists for the anthropologists to comprehend the significance of certain practices in the Islamic religion in South Asia. It also becomes easier to comprehend the history of the Quran and its role in shaping the beliefs of the Muslims in the region.

As stated earlier, by analyzing the history behind certain aspects of the culture in South East Asia, it becomes easier to comprehend the relevance of history to anthropology. From the analysis, it is evident that understanding past events and how they shaped culture, contributes significantly to studying and understanding the systems of beliefs in a particular culture and hence contributing to the field of anthropology. Issues such as the sources of cultural beliefs, colonialism, and the Islamic history are highly affiliated with the history of South Asia and hence making it important to consider them in comprehending the anthropology aspect of the region. In other words, the history of the region in terms of beliefs, colonialism and the Islamic history makes history a significant tool in the anthropological analyses of South Asia.

Works Cited

Das, Veena. The Dreamed Guru. The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Eds. Jacob Copeman and Aya Ikegame. New York: Routledge, 2012. 133-153. Print.

Dirk, Nicholas B. Castes of Mind. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. Print.

Huq, Maimuna. A college Girl gives a Quran Lesson in Bangladesh. Islam in South Asia in practice. Ed. Barbara D. Metcalfe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. 250-261. Print.

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