Ancestors and Ancestor Worship

in Vocabulary for the Study of Religion Online
Nicola Harrington
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(2,492 words)

This entry begins with a consideration of the basic terms: Are “ancestors” and “ancestor worship” appropriate in describing the interaction between the living and the dead? The main characteristics of deceased forebears and their associated cults are presented, followed by an assessment of the wider sociological significance of beliefs and activities related to the dead. Ancestors may be considered beneficent, malevolent, ambivalent, or childlike, depending on the context and the roles they are expected to fulfill. The difference between the revered and the generic dead is analyzed. The place of women in rituals, the importance of the child-parent relationship, and the political influence of ancestors are also considered. ⸙

Vocabulary for the Study of Religion Online

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