Religious Reinforcement for Social Stratification

In a recent report at Discovery News, Zahra Hirji discusses some exciting Aztec archaeological finds:

Aztec archaeologists can almost taste the jack pot. None of the empire’s royal burial sites have ever been found, but researchers participating in the Templo Mayor excavation project in downtown Mexico City think an emperor’s tomb is just around the corner.

In 2006, researchers discovered a 4-meter (13-foot) long carving of Tlaltecuhtli, the Aztec earth goddess. Since then, further digging has revealed bizarre offerings that archaeologists believe indicate the presence of a near by royal burial.

Tlaltecuhtli was one of the most feared deities. She represented life and nurturing, as well as death. Stories recount her insatiable appetite for blood and the large, unearthed carving depicts a stream of blood rushing out of her mouth.

Why does the discovery of artifacts related to the Aztec earth goddess suggest that royalty is nearby?  Because Aztec rulers associated themselves with deities or claimed to be deities.  This reinforced the stratified social order and clearly attests to the long relationship between organized religion and political power.

Few places have a more stratified social order than India, where religion and caste go hand in hand.  Reuters reports that so-called “honor killings” are on the rise:

Three men were arrested by Delhi police this week for “honour killings” days after the Supreme Court asked eight Indian states to stop these so-called “honour” killings, where family members, typically men, kill daughters and their husbands for apparently bringing dishonour to the family by marrying below their caste.

The killings, in a posh neighbourhood in Delhi, brought the tragic and shameful story of honour killings closer home to Delhi residents, who had so far dismissed the rising instances of these killings as a feature of rural India, equating them to a more traditional and conservative India they claim not to inhabit.

In a country where a majority of youngsters still have marriages “arranged” by their parents, caste and religion dominate matrimonial conversations.

Caste — which Indian religion mystifies and justifies as the proper spiritual order — serves the earthly economic and political interests of the higher classes.  Another instance of elites using religion to maintain power.

Did you like this? Share it:

2 thoughts on “Religious Reinforcement for Social Stratification

  1. admin Post author


    I think it would take an entire book to exhaust all the cases in which religion reinforces social stratification. Indeed, one can argue that the transition from shamanisms to religions is largely the story of social stratification — moving from egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers to socially stratified city-states — and that organized religion is itself a product of that process and stratification.

Leave a Reply