Environmental Variation and the Plausibility of Religion: A California Indian Example
Sociology and Anthropology
Coast Miwok Indian religion before the European conquest of California appears to have been bimodal. Its public face -- a world-renewal cult -- brought together peoples from surrounding regions in great celebrations. More privately, sorcery pitted neighbor against neighbor, village against village. This essay -- an exercise in historical reconstruction -- argues that the variable California environment let both aspects of this religion make sense, but at different times and to different degrees. The Coast Miwok environment was rich in resources, but each was subject to periodic failure. In most years there was enough food for all, and the common ceremonies were an expression of good fortune. In bad years, all sought common renewal. In some years, however, only certain lineages' resources might fail. Because all property was private, and there was no system of redistribution, sorcery "explained" (and provided retribution for) such inequities in fortune. In each situation, one or another aspect of native religion "made sense."
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)