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Anthropology Optional Paper I Section A by Sourabh Mishra (150 Words)

  • Category
  • Test Date
    2022-06-29 07:00:00
  • Evaluated


  • Attempt both questions
  • The test carries 30 marks.
  • Write Each answer in 150 words.
  • Any page left blank in the answer-book must be crossed out clearly.
  • Evaluated Copy will be re-uploaded on the same thread after 2 days of uploading the copy.
  • Discussion of the question and one to one answer improvement session of evaluated copies will be conducted through Google Meet with concerned faculty. You will be informed via mail or SMS for the discussion.

Question #1. How is the construction of power linked to the notion of conspicuous consumption and its impact on distributive justice.

Question #2. Critically explain anthropological approaches to study religion. Are these concepts still applicable today?

(Examiner will pay special attention to the candidate's grasp of his/her material, its relevance to the subject chosen, and to his/ her ability to think constructively and to present his/her ideas concisely, logically and effectively).

Model Answer

Question #1. How is the construction of power linked to the notion of conspicuous consumption and its impact on distributive justice. (15M)


  • Introduce the topic.
  • Thinkers’ Perspective on conspicuous consumption
  • Social impact of conspicuous consumption by anthropologists.
  • Potlatch in the Present Context
  • Potlatch-based Redistribution
  • Conclusion


Conspicuous consumption is exemplified by purchasing goods that are exclusively designed to serve as symbols of wealth, such as luxury-brand clothing, high-tech tools, and vehicles.

Mass production in the modern era resulted in economic crises whose resolution in tum has necessitated mass distribution, mass advertising, and transformation of the household from a unit of production to a unit of consumption (Kearl and Gordon 1992).

Thinkers Perspective:

  •   Veblen (1979) portrays modern consumerism as conspicuous consumption. He delineates conspicuous consumption broadly as all consumption in excess of the subsistence minimum. He does not deny that economic situations largely determine the patterns of conspicuous consumption, he suggests that the forces underlying modern consumerism are more than material.
  •   Simmel (1904, 1950) suggests that conspicuous consumption is a status conferring game played among socioeconomic status equals.
  •   In Simmel's (1950) terms, a game is a form of human activity which originates from basic human needs, but evolves and takes on a life of its own within human activities. For example, hunting originated because people had a need for the meat provided by the animals. But now hunting has become a sport (or game) existing for its own sake.

The Potlatch:

  •   The Potlatch, a typical feature of some of the British Columbians and their neighborhoods, involves mass-scale gift-giving and massive destruction of valuables- blankets, grain, and metals. Basically, an event highlights the role of display and destruction in the estimation of status.
  •   Potlatch may be regarded as an absolute waste of the economy, an anti-economic act that should be done away with. Ironically, studies have shown that these Potlatches regulate the total social economy of the area as also the social order.

Potlatch in the Present Context:

  •   The knowledge about the diversities in the patterns of production, distribution, exchanges, ownership, consumption, and variations in these concepts in different societies prevent us to have a satisfactory definition of economy.
  •   Yet, all acts mentioned above constitute important components of any economy. In the subsequent discussion, we shall try to explore some of the highlighting features of primitive economies with respect to various parameters of the economy and in comparison, with a modern industrial economy.

Potlatch-based Redistribution:

  •   In a potlatch, a chief or a host accumulates materials for redistribution among its members.
  •   Potlatch ceremony among the North-west coast Kwakiutl Indians of America is also a form of redistribution. It involves a ritual display of wealth and distribution of goods among the guests for the purpose of confirming and increasing the hosts' privileges and prestige.
  •   There are different types of potlatches such as the funeral potlatch and house-building potlatch. In the funeral potlatch, when a chief dies, the heir inherits the house of the deceased chief. To validate his claim to the house of the chief, the heir apparent gives a funeral potlatch.
  •   For this potlatch, he invites the members of the opposite moiety and entertains them with a feast. The guests carve and erect a totem pole to the dead chief. Then, the heir distributes the property to the guests. Here the accumulation of wealth does not take place.
  •   The occurrence of potlatches is not uncommon in modern societies. During the time of marriage, some parents exhibit their power and prestige through the process of potlatches. They redistribute the huge amount of wealth they accumulated to the public in the form of grand feasts and entertainment programs which they do not expect to be reciprocated.


In the case where conspicuous consumption mediates a link between inequality and unsustainable borrowing, one suggested policy response is tighter financial regulation. Conspicuous non-consumption is a phrase used to describe a conscious choice to opt out of consumption with the intention of sending deliberate social signals. The rapid economic development leads to conspicuous consumption.

Question #2. Critically explain anthropological approaches to study religion. Are these concepts still applicable today? 

  • Approach-
  • Introduction
  • Evolutionary Approach to Study of Religion
  • Auguste Comte’s Theory
  • Psychological Approach to Study of Religion
  • Functional Approach to Study of Religion
  • Conclude the topic to justify the applicability.



The religious studies approach seeks to understand other faith traditions on their own terms. The approaches to studying religion are based on thinkers like- Max Müller, William Robertson Smith, Edward Burnett Tylor, Emile Durkheim, and Ninian Smart.

Evolutionary Approach to Study of Religion:

The evolutionary perspective on religion proposes that religious ideation is natural and plausible because innate mechanisms are the product of evolution. It leads humans to imagine reality through egocentric, anthropocentric, animistic, or teleological processes. The evolutionary theories are based on Darwin’s biological theory of evolution.

Thinkers Perspective:

  •   E.B. Tylor expounds in his book Primitive Culture, that animism is the earliest and most basic religious form of the evolution process.
  •   Robert Ranulf Marrett describes the evolution of religion into five stages, i.e., Animism, Animatism, Nature worship, Polytheism, and Monotheism.
  •   Emile Durkheim says totemism is the most elementary form of religion.
  •   Max Muller says that naturalism is the earliest form of religion.
  •   Anthony Wallace describes the evolution of world religions into four stages:
    • Shamanic religion: It is organized in terms of individual and shamanic cults. This type of religious organization is characteristic of food gatherers.
    • Communal religion is organized in terms of individual, shamanic, and communal cults.
    • Polytheistic religion: In these types of religions, the individual believes in many gods.
    • Monotheistic religion: The monotheistic religion is organized in terms of the individual, shamanic, communal, and ecclesiastic but believes in one Supreme Being.
  •   According to Frazer, the institution of divine kingship derived from the belief that the well-being of the social and natural order.

Auguste Comte’s Theory:

Auguste Comte has given three stages in the evolution of human thinking. His law of three stages provides a sociological dimension to the development of human thinking. According to him, the three stages passed by human thinking are:

Theological Stage- According to Comte, human societies moved historically from a theological stage. In which the world and the place of humans are explained in terms of gods, spirits, and magic. Comte classified the theological stage into three stages:

Theological or fictitious stage-

  • Fetishism: The first and primary stage of theological thinking is fetishism. It is an emotional attachment that leads to a belief that there is some living spirit in non-living objects.
  • Polytheism is the belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religious sects and rituals.
  • Monotheism: It is a belief in one God that replaced the belief in many gods.

Metaphysical Stage-

  • Metaphysical stage of society, people viewed the world and events as natural reflections of human tendencies. It is an abstract transcendental entity that would replace the belief in personal concrete God.

Scientific Stage-

  • The scientific or positive stage is not only the most evolved stage but also this stage is best for mankind.
  • Comte hoped that humans would perfect their knowledge of the world and make real progress to improve the welfare of humanity.

Comte's law of three stages has been criticized by:

  • According to Bogardus, Comte failed to postulate a fourth mode of thinking, i.e., socialized thinking, a system of thought which would emphasize the purpose of building constructive, just, and harmonious societies.

Psychological Approach to Study of Religion:

The psychology of religion tries to understand the cause-effect relationships between religious experiences and religious consciousness to be able to predict behaviours. It aims to study religious consciousness with investigations into religious behaviour patterns.

Origin of the concept-

The nineteenth century saw a complete turnaround in the intellectual climate in Europe where evolutionary approaches based on Darvin genesis were questioned. It led to the development of psychological and other approaches based upon religion.

Thinker Perspective-

  •   Sir James Frazer - Religion is a conciliation of powers and superior to the men, who believe in the direct control of nature and human life.
  •   George Galloway - Religion is a faith in a power to satisfy emotional needs and gain stability in life through worship and service of God.
  •   Robert Ranulph Marrett - According to him, religion is a profound emotional response to various aspects that are usually characterized by emotional overtones.

The theories are based on the emotive factors according to various scholars:

  •   Wilhelm Wundt says that religion is a projection of fear into the environment.
  •   Rudolf Otto says that religion is identical to numinous feelings pertaining to divinity.
  •   According to William James, religion is not associated with any specific type of emotion.

Criticism of Psychological Approach to Religion

Religion forces people to rely on an outside authority, rather than becoming self-reliant. It imposes irrational rules of good and bad behaviour. It divides people and is a cause of conflict and war. The hierarchical structure of most religions is anti-democratic and offends basic human rights.

Functional Approach to Study of Religion:

A functional definition of religion is concerned about the function religion performs for society and the individual. According to Functionalism, religion acts as a conservative force by reinforcing social norms and promoting social solidarity.

Thinker Perspective-

Emile Durkheim: Religion provides social cohesion and social control to maintain society in social solidarity.  Collective consciousness, which is the fusion of all our individual consciousness, creates a reality of its own.

Malinowski: He argued religion had more specific functions than Durkheim. Religion helps individuals to deal with the psychological stresses which occur in times of social change- such as births, marriage, and deaths. For example, The Trobriand Islanders used religious rituals when fishing in the dangerous, unpredictable ocean, but not in the calm lagoons.

Talcott Parsons: He says the main function of religion is to maintain the social order. Religion promotes value consensus. It can also help people make sense of contradictory events. Parsons' belief in religious rituals helped to maintain social order in times of social change such as ceremonial rituals, birth, and death.

Social Functions of Religion-

Religion explains individual suffering. It is a source of social cohesion. Religion takes care of social welfare. The religious scriptures are storehouses of knowledge. It is the agency of social control. Religion controls and affects economic life- Max Weber.

Universal Functions of Religion-

  •   Religion is an instrument of social integration. Talcott Parsons: Social control in the present society brought through individual control and moral responsibilities or obligations.
  •   Religion is a source of conflict. It gives meaning to subjective experiences. It helps in normative reinforcement. It stimulates aesthetic expression. It is a source of social welfare. It strengthens moral values.

Criticism of Functional Approach of Religion-

Religion does not always promote harmony. It promotes conflicts within the religion. Ignorance is the role religion can play in promoting social change. Secularism led religion to perform fewer functions in society. Functionalism may be less relevant.


The evolutionary theories are based on Darwin’s biological theory of evolution. However, the nineteenth century saw a complete turnaround in the intellectual climate in Europe where evolutionary approaches based on Darvin’s genesis were questioned. It led to the development of psychological and other approaches.

The Psychoanalytic theory has been given by Sigmund Freud. But it fails to lead the psychological view of the human regarding religion. It was questioned and led to the emergence of the functional approach to the study of religion.

According to Functionalism, religion acts as a conservative force by reinforcing social norms and promoting social solidarity. It is the key idea of the functionalist theory of religion. Religion is successful to lead the functionality of society.

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