Religion and Population Control Presentation

Elizabeth Crampton



Religion and Population Control Presentation

Reading: Tanner, R. and Mitchell C., "Religion and the Environment", Ch. 8 and Ch. 10, Palgrave Publ., 2002

  • Contraception-10.1
    • Celibacy-most effective form of contraception

1. Middle Ages- 5% of population was committed to celibate religious life

B. Monasteries etc. become a container for excess population

C. Religious Injunctions

1. Koran encourages breast-feeding to space out children

2. Days to refrain from sexual activity

-> Roman Catholic church worried that some of these injunctions might    decrease their population-fewer members of their faith

            -Policy of wet nurses

D. Marriage

      1. Monogamy vs. Polygamy

   a. Polygamy=less children per woman

  ->polyandry-two brothers sharing a wife because of cost

2. Remarriage of Widows

3. Christianity- No divorce so farmers must ensure their wives are fertile before marriage

  • Infant Mortality-10.2
    • Illegitimacy

1. Children less likely to survive-mitigated by marriage practices and church support systems

    • Girls vs. Boys
      • Girls need a dowry while boys can provide income for the family-yet can get more work out of girls within the household while they’re there
  • Survival of girls is what maintains the population levels and leads to recovery after wars/massacres
  • Why women weren’t expected to go to war?
    • Objections to Modern Medicine as a result of religious rulings

1.  Christian Scientists

  • Marital Arrangements-10.3
    • Stable families give children a better chance at survival
      • Religious injunctions to ensure that kids only go to those who can afford them
  • Judaism-martial relations daily for “a man of independent means” but only once a month for camel drivers
    • Divorce reduces population by reducing birth rate
      • Roman Catholic Church prohibits divorce-keep up numbers
    • Female Circumcision as a method of population control
      • Decreases sexual activity of women and results in increased infant mortality
  • Violence as a result of Religion-8.3 and 10.7
    • Mayans
      • Human sacrifice- death of a few for the good of many- please the gods=sustain agricultural system
  • Not enough resources to support anyway
    • Religious Wars

->only 10% of all wars between 1820 and 1952 had no Christian or Muslim component

1. Death of Men

2. Effects on Non-Combatants

            a. Crossfire

            b. disruption of agricultural work-less manpower/producers

            c. Increase in widows to be taken care of-break down of family?

            d. Environmental Destruction

            e. neglected public works

     V. Impact of the Dead on the Living-10.4 and 10.5

            A. Take resources from the living

                        1. Graveyards-take up potentially viable land

a. 3% of arable land in the communist Shantung Province is occupied by graves and tombs

-burial clothing of the deceased used up to 24 million feet of cotton cloth and the lumber that was used to build the coffins could have been used to make 200, 000 houses (annual figures)

-> Can be positive-English law (Middle Ages) required people to be buried in cotton shrouds to support the nation’s main export

2. Inadequate disposal of the dead (rivers, displaced ashes) pollutes water    sources-Example-Ganges 

3. Offers resources to gods/ancestors

4. Bury them in their best clothing

B. Inadequate disposal of the dead (rivers, displaced ashes) pollutes water


  • Example-Ganges

C. Positive: Cadavers could be used for research-prevent diseases-but not allowed by most religions

VI. Prohibition of Contraception

A. Overpopulation is countered by benefits

      • Labor
      • More Souls to covert

           B. Some Hindus and Buddhists- contraception interferes with reincarnation

VII. Other

            A, Religious and travel-spread disease

            B. Religion and disease-fatalism

            The class seemed interested in the material and the ideas that were presented within the text; however, the main problem was found to be the close ties between religion and culture. Many of the arguments that were proposed by the text as religious mechanisms of population control could have also been a result of cultural biases and trends. We finally determined that the ties between religion and culture were too fluid for a clear boundary to be drawn between them; for culture influences religion just as much as religion influences culture.

            The question of whether or not these religious or cultural influences would in fact cause a significant decrease in a community’s population was also brought up for discussion. We eventually determined that the scope of the reading was too broad and so in order to find out whether or not this hypothesis was really true a study of a specific population and the changing birth and death rates as a result of religious traditions would need to be examined.

            However, we also had a series of interesting discussions on the nature of fatalism within a community, the impact of religious wars throughout history, the idea of celibacy within Medieval populations and the role of the dead and the resources that they demand from the living.   




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