I am an anthropologist.
That’s anthropology with a Y not an IE. And I don’t know if I can really call myself one without that doctorate, but I basically spend all day every day reading, writing, or thinking about anthropology. Technically, medical anthropology, which focuses health behaviors and beliefs across cultures. My particular interests lie in critical medical anthropology or political economy of medical anthropology, which studies the effects of capitalism and globalization on social determinants of health.
But still, I’m anthropologist. Which means I get excited about things like the Clovis-first theory being disproved and peppering my husband with fun facts about tool usage among chimpanzees when were at zoos. I like looking at our world now, here and today, but I like thinking about where we came from too.
(and yes I believe we came from a common ancestors as gorillas but that’s an argument for a different day).
I have a secret that I’ve kept from the anthropology department, though. I believe in God.
Most anthropologists I know are atheists, although it’s a topic that doesn’t even often come up for discussion. We look at the world and see initiation rituals in the !Kung San, female circumcision rites in Africa, shamanic ceremonies in Seoul, voodoo in Haiti. We see the multi-tiered Hopi creation story and the totems of the Tlingit. And it’s so easy, so tempting to think, “Look at this world with it’s 7 billion people and 7.5 billion belief systems. They can’t all be right. But there can’t be just one that’s right. It’s illogical.”
And it is. It is illogical to think that there is one specific interpretation of the world and someone has already got it figured out down to a T. It’s tempting to write off religion as an adaptation, a coping mechanism, a survival strategy.
But to me it’s as real as arrowheads and Ayurvedic medicine.
Because I can’t look at the world and think, “They all must be wrong. All these beliefs, all these ideals, all these people who have ever lived. They all must be mistaken.” There is evidence that Neanderthals had a religious belief system and thoughts of the afterlife. (Okay people always ask me things like “how do they know that?” There is pollen sprinkled on Neanderthal grave sites. When you spend your day simply trying to survive, actions that have no meaning don’t usually make the top of your to-do list. So they probably weren’t sprinkling flowers around to be pretty, but because they believed in something outside of themselves).
And so I believe. I believe in something other, something bigger. In the sacred. I believe in a God, and I believe in a certain interpretation of that God. Though that too might be a story for a different day. I believe in an ultimate truth and I believe in searching to find that truth. Be it through anthropology, microbiology, epistemology, soteriology, ontology.
I believe that the world is not as simple as it looks.