Flashcards for Anthropology of Religion
Topic 3:  Religious Leaders
(15 cards)

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Copyright © 2004 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.

A kind of religious leader who is part of an organized religion. They are the keepers of the sacred law and tradition. Different religions have different terms for these individuals--they may be known as rabbis, ministers, mullahs, Imams, or other terms. They are found mostly in large-scale societies.

priest or priestess

A kind of religious leader who is not part of an organized religion and is in direct contact with the spirit world, usually through a trance state. Spirit helpers are at his or her command to carry out curing, divining, and bewitching.


How a shaman usually acquires his/her knowledge and power.

Shamans most often acquire it individually, usually in physical and/or mental isolation from other humans. Spirits are revealed and he/she learns how to control them. Older shamans help in learning how to use the knowledge and power.

The term for an individual who receives divine revelation concerning a restructuring of religious practices and usually of society as well. This type of religious leader calls for dramatic change in society saying that it is the will of the supernatural being(s).


The usual attitude of priesthoods towards prophets.

Priests generally consider prophets to be disruptive trouble-makers because priests are the keepers of religious traditions while prophets demand that those traditions be abandoned or radically changed.

The kind of religious leaders who personally do not have supernatural powers at their command, but they are authorized by their religious organization to perform religious rituals designed to influence the supernatural world and to guide the believers in their religious practices.


The general term for a magical procedure by which the cause of a particular event or the future is determined.


The general term for using magical acts and/or the assistance of supernatural beings to cause something to occur.


Techniques commonly used by shamans and others to enter an altered state of consciousness.

fasting, self-torture, sensory deprivation, breathing exercises and meditation, prolonged repetitive ritual dancing and/or drumming, and hallucinogenic drugs

The kind of religious leader who is essentially a religious entrepreneur acting for human clients. He/she intervenes on behalf of a human client to influence supernatural beings to perform some act such as curing an illness or discovering the cause of an unexpected death. This kind of religious leader essentially acts as a middleman in this.


The kind of religious leader who tells people what to do to appeal to the supernatural being(s) instead of telling the supernatural beings what to do. This leader has knowledge but does not have supernatural power.


The kinds of societies in which shamans are most common. (Hint: think in terms of small-scale and large-scale societies.)

small-scale societies

The kinds of societies in which priests are most common. (Hint: think in terms of small-scale and large-scale societies.)

large-scale societies

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), was this kind of religious leader. (Hint: he had divine revelations that led him to create the L.D.S. religious movement in the 1830's and early 1840's. Think in terms of priests, shamans, and prophets.)


People in the Philippines and in some American Philippine communities who perform "spirit surgery" are this kind of religious leader. (Hint: Think in terms of priests, shamans, and prophets.)