Social Scientist. v 23, no. 260-62 (Jan-Mar 1995) p. 91.

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Social Functions of Religion in Pre-Capitalist Societies—The Case of Kerala

These reflections are based on the research of Genevieve Lemercinier on Religion and Ideology in Kerala, first published at Louvain University (Belgium) in 1976. We would like first to recall briefly the terms in which its general scope was formulated. The starting point was a simple observation: the existence in Kerala of religious pluralism without conflict, which appeared to be linked with the role played by the various religions as the central cultural factor in the construction of the identity of the existing social groups.

This observation, however, raised two questions. What were the social conditions accompanying the genesis and the reproduction of this phenomenon, and to what extent the situation in Kerala contradicts (if indeed it does so) the classical theories in the sociology of religion, concerning the ideological function of religion in societies in which the productive forces are weakly developed.

In trying to answer the first question we formulated the hypothesis of the existence of social structures favouring the autonomy of the existing social groups. But if this was the case, it became necessary to inquire into the possible relationship between the types of social relations and the functions of the various religions, which might well enlarge the field of our theoretical reflection.

Hence the research sought to establish, by means of synchronic analyses, the links existing-Jbetween the different types of social relations and the symbolic production in the social formations dominated in turn by kinship relations, by the political system (tributary societies), and later by the religious system (caste system). The last part of the research was devoted to the study of the effects of the introduction of capitalist social relations on the traditional social structures and to the description of the socio-religious reactions to which they gave rise in the various social groups.

* Louvain University, Belgium.

** Louvain University, Belgium.

Social Scientist, Vol. 23, Nos. 1-3, January-Marchl995

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