The Vertical Integration of Religion

Covering in the past few lectures was the Indus Valley Civilization.  As someone from the region, it is extremely interesting for me to hear how these particular ancient people lived.  The extremely organized city-state (the civilization’s most identifiable quality) we studied made me think of the island I come from in India, Sri Rangam.  The differences in infrastructure and public institutions between India and Western countries are so stark now.  Why is this?  What pivotal event(s) or state policy made it so; was it economic or institutional?  The island itself is extremely agricultural focused, and known internationally for being home to a relatively large, old Hindu temple.  And there apparent social stratification between not only socioeconomic levels, not only between gender but also between sex and gender.  Unlike most Western civilizations, culture in the Indian Subcontinent (ancient & modern) has impressions of religious rhetoric ingrained in it.  And its vertical integration into the Indus Valley Civilization is what led to the eventual collapse.

A perfect example of this, the story that Ethan talked about in the Rig-Veda that led the the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization.  It was often was to me as a bedtime story, and like most traditions, was only passed down orally.  This oral nature of reciting history further reinforces the influence of religion on culture, as exemplified when Hindus call the Rig-Veda the “breath of Bhraman”.  This is one of the main reasons I think anthropologists are so unclear as to the true nature of collapse in the Indus Valley.

The predominately auditory characteristic could be why the civilization died out: no meticulous agricultural records or weather patterns by the state (or other institutional authority).  Assuming the state placed some sort of tariff/tax on agricultural utility, citizens must have realized that the land had gone over usual yield.  If this is the case, then the “State” does not seem that powerful: a perfect explanation for why smaller settlements became a more popular form of community rather than urbanism.

Coming back to Sri Rangam’s infrastructure, architectural design of the community is in direct correlation with that of the temple.  A sanctum sanatorium surrounded by bands that decrease in importance.  Thus, socioeconomic stratums are literally built (along with the caste system which came much later).  But does this drive competition, which is necessary for social innovation and cultural progressivism.  How long is it before this civilization collapses upon itself?

1 thought on “The Vertical Integration of Religion

  1. Kari Edington

    I liked reading your perspective on the connextions between past and present. It makes me wonder how similar present states in different areas really are to the Ancient ones in those areas. (Like the Mississipian culture in southern Wisconsin next door to my hometown that is being excavated this summer). If we are similar to the Ancient states, what does that say about collapse? Has our technology really made us better able to stay together and in statehood? The fact that we truly have a global recognition of our interdependency I think makes it more likely we will collapse. (Look at the scare with the Euro this past year). We are in a situation like the Indus Valley was with their trade system. If one country/state in our global economy fails we will all at least struggle to stay together.

    I also think your point about auditory culture in debateable. Why would not having written records help a culture die out? I am not sure that it would since auditory culture does seem to be so prominent as you point out from your childhood. There are a lot of spaces where culture seems to be auditory. For a long time the Wiccan spirituality was auditory. Now it is a lot more written, yes, but it stayed around with not that much (internal) record for keeping. I guess I wonder what makes a culture stay around then? Books can be burned, harddrives can crash, stones can crack or wear, and other documentation can disappear as well. Having an aural culture means that it only dies if no one is left to say it. Having a written culture means it dies when the documents die. Maybe neither really works. Maybe both do. I do not know which works longer.

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