Religious Meanings in the Symbolic Functions of Food: Tunisia and Japan as Case Studies

Conference: The Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion & Philosophy (ACERP2022)
Title: Religious Meanings in the Symbolic Functions of Food: Tunisia and Japan as Case Studies
Stream: Comparative Religion
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Tamaki Kitagawa, University of Tsukuba, Japan


In recent years, traditional food habits have been reconsidered positively due to discoveries of their health and beauty functions. Traditional foods such as superfoods are often attracting attention in the global food market. The North African region has multi-layered cultures, religions, and distinguished food customs with well-evidenced bioresources with worldwide recognition for their functionality, such as argan and olive. However, in their lifestyles surrounding these bioresources, people do not intend to use them only for their purely rational purposes of health functionality, but they are deeply embedded in their worldview and the understanding of people and nature. In principle, people’s contacts with these bioresources are based on their symbolism. In this presentation, by comparing two traditional food cultures in Tunisia and Japan, the roles of the traditional food culture and the cultural and religious meanings of the bioresources in the indigenous culture which have been neglected while their functionality attracts attention will be considered. This study will be based on the results of fieldwork surveys conducted in Southern Tunisia from 2014 to 2017. This led to the discovery of a series of customs around olives unique to North Africa, the act of adoring the olive tree. They are "living religions" that are not prescribed in the Islamic doctrine and it becomes apparent that the same structure can be seen in the religious practices related to food as that of Japan with animistic backgrounds.

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