The purpose of this research is to examine ways in which the difference between oral and written culture affects the ritual life, with reference to the religious traditions of Christianity and Buddhism, as well as the religion of the Lakota/Teton Native American tradition. The plan of the research will be to set forth the cultural context in which the anthropology of religion predicated of a linguistic tradition marked by written and unwritten modes of communication may be discerned, and then to discuss how the linguistic shape that a culture assumes may have an impact on the ritual practices of Buddhist, Christian, and Native American cultures.
That there is a connection between the shape of cultural development and the language of a given culture has long been acknowledged by the scholarly community. As Wells puts it: "[W]hat a common language does do, is to show that a common intercourse has existed, and the possibility of intermixture; and if it does not point to a common origin, it points at least to a common future" (Wells 125). Undoubtedly, a religious belief helps define the shape of a given culture. But this definition has a certain circularity, inasmuch as religious expression must be a product or function of embedded--and idiosyncratic--cultural forms and customs. As Eliade explains:
If one goes to the trouble of penetrating the authentic meaning of an archaic myth of symbol . . . this meaning shows a recognition of a certain situation in the cosmos and that, consequently, it implies a metaphysical position. It is useless to search archaic languages for the terms so laboriously created by the great philosophical traditions: there is every likelihood that such words as "being," "nonbeing," "real," "unreal," "becoming," "illusory," are not to be found in the language of the Australians or of the ancient Mesopotamians (Eliade 3).
Eliade argues more generally that a culture's religious ritual is meant to commemorate t...