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date: 08 May 2021

Water and Religionfree

  • Terje OestigaardTerje OestigaardUppsala University


This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.

There are many different and distinct types of religious waters: holy, sacred, neural, and even evil water. The ways various divinities invest waters with specific qualities and capacities depend upon a wide range of ecological, theological, and eschatological factors; some are shaped by the environment, while others are purely ontological—concerned with otherworldly realms—and often there is an intimate relation between the mundane and the divine. Rivers, rain, lakes, springs, and waterfalls are some specific forms of religious water, which also relate to seasonality and changing hydrological cycles, and all these variations create different dependencies not only on ecological factors, but more importantly on divine actors. Religious water may heal and bless individuals and be a communal source for fertility and plentiful harvests, but also it may also work as a penalty, wreaking havoc in society as floods or as the absence of the life-giving rains in agricultural communities. Given the great variation of religious waters throughout history, where even the same water may attain different qualities and divine embodiments, divine waters define structuring practices and principles in ecology and cosmology.