Lecture 3 September 18, 2013
What is religion? What is the purpose of religion? These are the sort of questions we are
thinking about in the 19CE. There is major diversity about these questions and religion.
Theories of the Origins of Religion:
Edward Tylor Anthro approaches. What is human organization and how people live
together? One of the earliest thinkers. He formed the argument that the essence of
religion is located in an observation that human beings make about the difference
between what is dead and what is alive. What is the essence of life and existence. What is
the difference between living and dead bodies? People understand the difference and how
living bodies have spirit and enlightenment and anime. We can see the seas have spirit
and life. They come to this idea that living things are attributed to things like trees, sky,
water, etc. The normal people saw the natural world as Godlike. This was primitive
times (Tylors words.) The essence of religion is in people’s perception of a spirit or a sore
of being at the heart of all living things.
Max Muller Muller studied some of the oldest texts of existence in his time. These texts
were the script of India. He argued that ancient people were really odd and terrorized by
natural forces. We are at the mercy of the natural world. They had a sort of ‘awe’ for
these forces. The ancient people tried to manage their feelings about this by addressing
these natural forces to the: sun, moon, sky, water, etc. This was to make them kindly
exposed to themselves. Muller claims that the process in which you are scared of these
forces to addressing the Gods and speaking kindly to them, is the process of language.
Language has the power of naming and shaping. Ex. When you see someone on the street
and saying they are a female… and mother. This puts different connotations into your
mind if you hear the word, “mother.” The use of language helps give things personality.
As soon as we give a name to something, we start to view it with personality. Ex. “Fire.”
Muller was studying the ancient script of India, for ex. The God of Fire. Through
language, we give natural forces personality, names, form, shape and this is how we come
up with the idea of Gods.
James Frazer student of Tylor Ancient people believed in magic. We started thinking
about the relationship between cause and effect. Religion in Frazers views is not that
different from magic. We chant prayers, we perform rituals, etc. We believe if we pray,
we can make things happen. Religion is a somewhat more sophisticated way of thinking
about cause and effect as magic. We are hoping to affect uncontrollable forces and make
them better disposed to us.
Durkheim 19 CE Major contributions to thinking about religion, through research on
Australian aboriginals. Through analysis of those nations he develops the term:
Totemism. He is less concerned with the question, “is there a god, what is reality, is their ultimate reality…” He is more concerned with how religion functions in society. His
conclusion was: Religion is totem in society. Totem means: what society believes to be
sacred. Ex. Canada may believe Moose to be sacred. All religions, according to
Durkheim, are broadly Totemist, they have symbols and something they consider sacred,
what they consider sacred really contains their values and the personality of the culture,
and totem to the specific person. Profane is our everyday world and the sacred is what we
consider to be deeply valuable. The function of the Totem is to give identity to the group,
hold the group together, unique, etc. He was highly influential, Father of Sociology. He
is a functionalist what is the function of religion in a society… To hold people together.
Sigmund Freud wanting to understand how we develop psychologically in the stages of
development for personality. His perspective on religion is reflected on psych. He thinks
Religion represents humanity in a trapped infancy dependence upon a super empowered
being. His view was that human beings focus on religion and god for three different
things: 1) we look for Gods to comfort our selves and to cope with the terrors of the
natural world, things we can’t control. 2) We look to god to reconcile ourselves to the
cruelty of fate and the cruelty of things that have happened to us. 3) We look to god to
compensate us for what we have to look forward to and live through in culture and life.
Like infancy we depend on the father we have a deep attachment to the idea of “father.”
Religion is a mild form of mental illness as we mature, as we become more selfreliant
and more confident and psych healthy, independent, able to handle the difficulties of the
world, our NEED for religion diminishe