RL200 Study Notes Terms
Jonathan Z. Smith on three features of our modern use of “religion”: 1) “Religion” is not a native category, 2)
“Religion” is universal, and 3) It is an anthropological, not theological term. It describes human thought and action,
especially in terms of belief and behavior.
The Protestant Reformation: the authority of the Church of Rome found itself under attack by protestant movements.
Christians might accept that divine truth was singular and eternal, but no institution could claim full authority on its
interpretation any longer and the idea of singular religious truth was in tatters.
“Natural Religion”: one very important development in this regard was the concept of “natural religion”. It represents
the Age of Enlightenment searching for a rational and tolerant account of global diversity. Understood as a pure and
ancient religion of nature that had been embraced by all human beings in its earliest development. Proposed religion
was a universal feature of human beings. An inclination to perceive and relate to “supernatural beings” was part of
being human in all places and all times. New era of representation of religion in Europe: in line with the natural religion
concept, they often used data about different religions to come up with descriptions that privileged similarity, and
made claims for universality, innateness, and a shared origin. Difference was attributed to historical development
(progressive or degenerative)
David Hume set out to answer in his essay Natural Religion (1751) (part of his 1757 Four Dissertations) makes
two very important moves:
1) he throws away the idea that religion is some kind of original human instinct, exactly the same everywhere,
and says that religion comes from something else in the human experience.
2) that “something else” is hope and fear, whose unknown causes are personified through imagination
“Survivals”: for Tylor, all human societies are on one evolutionary road, but at any given moment different societies
are at different stages. Even within a given society, we will find examples of older, less-evolved thought patterns. This
was his idea of “survivals”: “processes, customs, and opinions, and so forth, which have been carried on by force of
habit into a new state of society different from that in which they had their original home, and they thus remain as
proofs and examples of an older condition of culture out of which a newer has been evolved.” How do we identify what
is a “survival” and what is “modern” and “civilized” (an up to date cultural form)??? For Tylor it is really straight
forward! whatever “the existence, in practice or memory, within the limits of modern civilized society, of... customs
which civilized ideas totally fail to account for.” (Pals 2012, 7)! In other words, whatever can’t be rationalized from the
point view of a certain sort of educated western European male must be a survival!
Animism: two occurrences that intrigued the “savage philosopher”, whose explanation started religion: death and
dreams. At death, some life force seems to leave the body, and in dreams, a shadow image appears tod o the same. Tylor
argues that primitive peoples took the next logical step and came up with a basic idea of a soul that animates the person
from within. Tylor then argued that primitive peoples began to apply the concept to all aspects of their life-world
(oceans, stars, plants, animals, etc.). The next step in this logic was the idea that behind all phenomenon was a trope of
good and bad spirits (like gods of Greece and Rome) helping to animate the whole world, disconnected from any
specific objects or people. This basic animism idea then evolved into the monotheism of Islam and the Judeo-Christian
The “savage magician”: Frazer argued that primitive peoples had tried to develop a way of controlling the world (not
just explaining it) that had to do with two types of influence: Imitative magic: “like affects like”, mimicking the sound
of thunder to bring rain, drawing a deer kill in order to make it come about in real life, etc. And Contagious magic:
“part affects part”, for instance when a shaman gets ahold of someone’s hair or clothing and can then exert control over
them. In this way again, the savage magician and his magic is the primitive other of the enlightened scientist and his
Reductivist approach to the study of religion: asks what is the thing that explains and unites all these people Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics (1913): Not history but a
meditation on the psyche. Original religious moment in human experience is the totem sacrifice.Like animism for Tylor,
and magic for Frazer, however for Freud it is neurosis and illusion, not misplaced rationalism.The totem is the
substitute for the absent father figure, Freud interpreted the emotional ambivalence of children in his own day to their
fathers as the evidence for a childish ambivalence in all times and places. This is externalized into a belief in a
supernatural Father figure (God, etc.). Elaborates based an ancient case of patricide and incest, whose emotional legacy
of guilt, fear and memory. Our moral complex, social organization, and religious attitdes are for Freud founded in a
moment of intense hatred and guilt in relation to the father. This is exactly the same story he heard from his neurotic
patients; of the repressed urges and memories he identified as emanating firm the unconscious of those suffering from
neurosis. So, what is the hatred guilt all about in the end? Craving for power and sexual desire of course.
Opedipus Complex: Out of guilt and fear comes what Freud calls the “Two taboos of totemism and of the Oedipus
compelx”: Forbidding the killing of the totem/father, and the prohibition of sexually possessing his wives/incest. Basic
point: religion enforces taboos that help keep at bay our all too human violent and sexual urges. Like other theorists like
Marx and Durkheim, religion is reduced to its role in keeping social order. Freud identifies the Opedipus complex at the
root of our collective and individual experience. It is the root of all art, religion morality, and society itself, just as it is
at the root of our own psychological complexes, dreams, unconscious urges, repressed feelings, and human
relationships. We all share a “heritage of emotion”.
Future of an Illusion (1927): In this text Freud further connects faith in God (the Judeo-Christian God of his own
environs, we must remember) and obsessional neurosis. Belief in God is connected to a regression to a childhood need
of a father (not a mother) to protect us from fear. Freud wants to know why religion is compelling, why it has strength,
even though its claims are irrational? Because religion has psychological origins of course! Religious beliefs don’t
come from experience or reason. The promise to fulfill our own deepest wishes (individually and collectively). For that
reasons, they are illusions )but not entirely false). Freud again appeals to the past, here again assuming that our
collective social evolution mirrors the evolution of our individual personality. Society and each of us is a constantly
evolving psychosexual complex. Just as infantile neurosis must be repressed in order to develop into a functioning adult
(civilized state), so too human society moved through infantile to civilized states defined by greater or lesser
manifestations of neurosis and its repression.
Id: this is the dark realm of our unconscious, where our repressed urgers, memories, images lie. It is the only part of the
personality that is present from birth. Its antisocial tendencies (sex and violence) need to be repressed and balanced with
the superego by the ego, in order to live stable, happy, fulfilled human lives
Superego: the internalization of society’s rules and conventions, which we originally receive from our parents. This is
the “reality principal”, where we eventually internalize the parent’s (and teachers, etc.) normative voice. This is our
conscience and is in direct opposition to our id. This is also,
Ego: this is the part of us that acts according to the reality principle the ego must constantly satisfy the demands of the
Id and superego , or reality. This is what we often acall reason and common sense. It is our conscious planning,
memory, strategizing mind.
A ‘theory of religion’: is an answer to one of at least two questions: 1) what is the origin of religion and 2) what is the
function of religion SO.....a theory of religion could try and answer when, where, why and how a specific religious
movement (or even religion as a universal feature of humanity) arose. OR it could try and answer when, where, why
and how a religious movement (or religion as a universal feature of humanity) functions alongside other features of
society and culture (like a political or economic system, for instance).
Collective Consciousness: Durkheim wanted to understand how social cohesion was created and maintained in human
communities. Aforce arising from participation in a shared system of beliefs and values, which mold and control human
behavior. This originates in the communal interactions and experiences of members of a society.
Social Facts: the social and behavioral rules that exist before an individual is born into a society and which
that person learns and observes as a member of that society. sacred vs. profane:‘first criterion of religious belief’. all known religious beliefs display this most fundamental
opposition, which divide the world into two domains. all religions, beliefs, myths, dogmas etc. are representations that
express the nature of sacred things (and their relationship to profane things). sacred things are held on a higher order
than the profane, and on a higher order than humans as well.
Protestant ethic: laid out his thesis that the Protestant Work ethic, which had developed in Northern Europe after the
Reformation, contributed to the organization of labor which cause the rise of capitalism. The origins of capitalism in the
Reformation: Protestant ethic: something which motivated adherents to work hard, be successful in business and
reinvest their profits in further development rather than frivolous pleasures.
Worldly asceticism (or calling): each individual had to take action in order to be saved; just being a member of the
Church was not enough. Salvation shown through material success.
Historical Materialism: "Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations
within which these individuals stand." Karl Marx, Grundrisse, 1858: "I use 'historical materialism' to designate the view
of the course of history, which seeks the ultimate causes and the great moving power of all important historic events in
the economic development of society, in the changes in the modes of production and exchange, with the consequent
division of society into distinct classes and the struggles of these classes." A theory of history that responded to:
Idealism (Hegel),that the main driver of historical change and evolution was ideas and an abstracted Spirit (Geist), and
Materialism(Feuerbach),which saw religion and all other flights of cultural fancy as being firmly rooted in human
beings. Marx was dissatisfied with Feuerbach’s reference to an abstracted human beings. Also, Marx wasn’t content to
explain to religious world on the basis of the secular one