Religion and hegemony : A Gramscian approach to the Chavín Staff God

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2000
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Small, Sharon Willson
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Coinman, Nancy
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This thesis uses Antonio Gramsci's theory of the hegemonic process to conjecture the political meanings of the Chavín Staff God icon. This religious symbol appears at Chavín de Huántar around 500 BC and is reconficured in the iconography of succeeding states and egalitarian groups to the present. Although the Andean archaeological sequence indicates that accelerated religious activities coincided with shifting power relationships, processual theorists have been reluctant to assign social meanings to religious imagery or ritual practices. By idealizing religious practices, their responses to the Staff God icon and its rituals fail to adequately explain why generations of leaders, to the Inka, invested resources of material and labor on expanding a religious symbol system and implementing ceremonial building programs. Gramsci's central argument is that any diffused ideology, including religious beliefs, explains social practices and is the product of strategies to win support for an unambiguous class system. In Gramscian theory, religious traditions are viewed as legitimizing the practices of former dominating systems and religious hierarchies as tools of the elite classes. This thesis seeks to determine if the Chavín archaeological record supports viewing the Staff God icon as the product of a hegemonic process to win compliance. As more than one model is necesary to reconstruct prehistoric social life, Gramscian theory will be supplemented with a number of post-processual models that unite ideology with material culture; namely, comparative shamanic studies, ritual studies and peer-polity theory.
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