Cultural Relativism and Ethnocentrism: Defining Differences between Religion and Magic

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Cultural Relativism and Ethnocentrism may attribute to the differences btw Religion & Magic. Ethnocentrism is a cultural attitude that one’s own culture is the best, thus we evaluate other cultures on the basis of our own cultural perspective. On the other hand, Cultural Relativism is opposite of ethnocentrism and is based on understanding other cultures in the context of that culture only and not from our own cultural standard. According to Durkheim religion is a system of beliefs and practices related to sacred things; and was essentially communal, conversely he posited that magic consisted primarily of private acts carried out for individual gain. Consequently Durkheim defined magic in terms of its social function whereby sacred objects are manipulated by the magician on behalf of clients (Durkheim 2012). Theorist such as Karl Marx may oppose this belief since he believes not in the supernatural but religion as the opium of the masses. I believe that different cultures view religious practices differently, for what we may define as magic may well be religious practices in another culture. For example, a foreign observer of Christianity, may deem a miracle or being filled with the Holy Spirit in the Christian religion as magic or something spiritual, while another may view Voudun practices also as magic, yet it is considered a religion in West Africa. Bailey (2008) stated, “In many cultures individuals do not typically designate themselves as magicians or practitioners of magic, those are labels ascribed to them by society, or by specific authoritative elites within a society”. Personally I do not believe in magic, but from an abstract view, I believe the differences between magic and religion is based on cultural relativism and ethnocentrism.

Additional Info
Bailey, Michael. "The Meanings of Magic." Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 1, no. 1 (2008): 1-23. Durkheim, Émile. The elementary forms of the religious life. New York: Free Press, 1912. Frazer,...
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