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Native American Religion and Philosophy

The Native Americans of South America are believed to arrive in this region during the Ice Age period from Northeastern Asia. They brought with them their cultures and adapted to the geographical and environmental condition of the region. These early settlers occupied the many parts of South America and established their own cultures that are known today as Peru, Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Guatemala, etc. Among the indigenous groups that were formed by this migration were known as “Maya civilization, Aztec Empire, Inca Empire, Olmec, Teotihuaca, Toltec and Zapotec civilization.

Each group settled independently for many centuries until the first Spanish explorer arrived to colonize them in 1492. Their colonization had led to the lost of these civilizations rather majority of them were Christianized under the Roman Catholicism and their ancient culture were lost; only recent studies made links to the culture of these peoples to find their true identity. The lost cultures become the interest of many studies in this region to trace their history, to fully understand their behavior and appreciate their heritage.

In particular, the study would like to carefully examine both the religion and philosophy of ancient Mayans, which according to many historians made a great contribution in the concept of lunar calendar. The Difference between Native and Western Worldviews According to Gary Laderman and Luis D. Leon, Native American people had highly complex systems of government that were grounded in religious conception of the world. Laderman and Leon stated, “The haudenosaunee (Iroquois) confederacy, whose system of democracy was used as a model by the framers of the U. S.

constitution, conceived of their government as a gift from a spiritual being who brought peace to the six nations of confederacy” (Laderman & Leon, p. 218). The statement above depicts that as early as that period, the Native Americans had already profound concept of governance and religion. The statement reflects a world view that society must have a government and the people should live in peace and harmony with each other. It appears that the Native American world view is grounded on a strong emphasis on social organization, ethics and religious ceremony and in government.

Furthermore, Laderman and Leon cited that most Native American creation stories “designate specific boundaries in which the people would thrive and for which they were given the responsibility of ecological care (Laderman & Leon, p. 219). The Native Americans sees both the development of stable economic basis and cultural regeneration and maintenance as equally important in nation building efforts. In other words, the Native American world views are anchored on religious and cultural orientation in which religion has become an important component of their social lives.

On the other hand, it appears that Western American world view is more secular compared to that of Native Americans. Laderman and Leon points out that they are “aimed at achieving strictly secular goals” (p. 219). The main issue therefore in the differences between Native Americans and Western American world views in terms of religion is that, for the Native Americans religion is integral in their national life so there is no such thing as secular or religious or individualism.

Their view of things was grounded on the religious conception of the world. While for Western Americans there is a clear distinction between the two and they are rather secular than religious. The Western Americans, drawing from Western religious ideas, believe nature as gift from God to man and is subject to man’s domination. The implication of this view is that the Western Americans conception of the world is grounded secular assumption of man’s control and domination of the world. Critique of the differences

While the Western Americans were supposed to be more educated and religious in view of their European origin and exposure to Judeo-Christian religion, yet their religious orientation did not translate to their national life. They were only concern of their own rights and their philosophy in life is contained in the following statement, “owe no man anything and hardly expect anything from anybody. ” In other words, the Western American world view is more on individualism and secularism.

Jean Leslie Bacon described this individualistic views as follows, “They form the habit of thinking of themselves in isolation and imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands” (Bacon, p. 18). This could be the reason why today’s Americans emphasized on individualism and secularism. The Puritan roots that once made the American nation great in terms of values and religiosity is gone. Thus, it appears that religiosity is something that greatly affects both the Native and Western American world views either positively or negatively.

The Role of Languages in the Process of Understanding Native Worldviews Another important factor affecting the process of understanding Native World Views is the languages. Michael Jennings stated, “Languages and the cultures in which those languages are spoken, depict worldviews…” (Jennings, p. 26). While this may hold some truth, it appears that it would be difficult to understand any particular people’s world view based on subjective use of language.

It means that while the Native Americans may have their own world view and every one of them understood it, yet their lack of suitable vocabulary that would define such views making it difficult for those outside their context to understand such views. Unlike the English language, most of the Native languages do not have words for such words as emotion, guilt, and so forth which are important in defining the social meanings and the social behavior that are forming the background for such views. As Clara Sue Kidwell and Alan R.

Velie affirmed, Language “is a way of categorizing experience, and the study of categories gives insight into the way that people give structure to the world” (Kidwell & Velie, p. 83). The role of language therefore, in the process of understanding Native world views is that it provides necessary medium by which people can study and learn the context of the particular world view and also the existing social behavior in which those views had been formed. As Jennings noted, that a world view is “the filter through which one looks at and interprets the world…” (Jennings, p.

25). By this, a world view expressed in a foreign language could only be meaningful to the people that speak that language, but outside that language, it may not be comprehensible. Clare Mar-Molinero stated, “Not only does language have an instrumental role as means of communication, it also has an extremely important symbolic role as marker of identity” (Mar-Molinero, p. 3). Understanding languages therefore plays an important role in understanding the Native American World views.

It may be relatively easy for any particular groups that have their own language and culture to form their own world views, but without understanding their language; it would be difficult to understand them. However, given the fact, that we are profoundly linked by language, there is no reason that we cannot understand the Native American world views and learn from them for us to understand their cultures and to respect them. How can we translate one worldview into another for understanding and respecting diverse cultures on earth?

Exploring and examining other cultures can help us create a greater understanding and respect for the diversity of humanity. One way to we can translate one worldview into another for understanding and respecting diverse culture on earth is first to learn of the culture by which these world views are grounded. Learning the language is the first step towards understanding diverse culture. Interaction among diverse cultures can help foster essential relationships that can produce an understanding and respect for other cultures.

Joel Macht described the American nation as “one of history’s first universal or world nations—people are a microcosm of humanity with biological, cultural, and social ties to all other parts of the earth” (p. 128). This becomes the reason why there is a need to translate one world view into another so that differences and cultural distinctions should not hinder the premise of equality. Developing an understanding of culture is critical in promoting an understanding of others and an ability to relate cooperatively with them.

Therefore, in order for us to translate one world view to another, it is important that we recognized our cultural diversity and participate in sharing of cultural knowledge. Without understanding of the importance of diversity of culture in human life and openness to cooperative sharing of knowledge it may be impossible to translate one world to into another. In this case the role of language, especially one’s mother tongue is important in cultural understanding which is essential in understanding world view and in translating it to another.

Work Cited Bacon, Leslie Jean Life Lines USA: Oxford University Press, 1996. Christenson, Allen J. Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya. USA: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. Kidwell, Clara Sue & Velie, Alan R. Native American Studies Malta: U of Nebraska Press, 2005. Laderman, gary & Leon, Luis D. Religion and American Cultures USA: ABC-CLIO, 2003 Macht, Joel Special Education’s Failed System USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. Mar-Molinero, C. The Politics of Language in the Spanish-Speaking World London: Routledge, 2000.

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