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Social Origin Of Religion

( Originally Published 1915 )

The Influence of Religion on Social Development. — The importance of religion as a factor in social evolution, particularly in tribal organization and race differentiation, has been acknowledged by nearly all students of sociology. Some have placed so much emphasis upon its importance as to lead to the conclusion that it is the primal influence in securing primitive social unity. Others have either ignored it or insisted that it has retarded social progress. Neither of these views is correct. While it has had a strong influence in cementing the social group, in bringing about its unity, and in developing social forms and social order, nevertheless it is not the fundamental factor of social organization in primitive society. On the other hand, it has been asserted that it retards the progress of social life and that it is possible for philosophers to devise some better agency than religious organization for the advancement of civilization. Whatever may be the degree of truth in these assertions, it must not be forgotten that the careful student of the historical growth of society will find religion an ever present factor, indeed a force that must be reckoned with everywhere. In this respect it works peculiarly, for, while, on the one hand, it has favored differentiation between the races and between the independent growth of certain groups, on the other hand, it has been a potent force in increasing the unity of the group ; that is, it has brought the interior life of the group or tribe into harmonious unity. When we consider how strong religion has been in the primitive culture of early society, it is easy to infer its great power as a society builder.

The Origin of Religion and Revelation. — The question of the origin of religion has no bearing upon the question of whether there was or was not a revelation by which man became conscious of the will of God. The scientific and philosophical inquiry concerning the origin of religious sentiment is a matter quite apart from the inquiry which might be raised as to whether God has revealed His will to men. This chapter concerns itself solely with the natural history of the way in which the religious feelings, ideas, and practices arose in human society. Its question is, What natural conditions in man's early history induced in him the religious attitude? What facts in the history of his mental development determined the form of his religious expression ? What conditions in his physical and social environments shaped his early religious ideas and practices ?

Historic Theories of the Origin of Religion. — The question of the natural origin of religion before the time of the English Deists was raised first by the Roman skeptical philosopher-poet, Lucretius, who in his de Rerum Natura characterized all belief in gods as an illusion and ascribed its genesis to fear. Hume, in 1755, in his Natural History of Religion, took essentially the position of Lucretius, saying that fear of the forces of nature led man to ascribe the phenomena of nature to powerful gods whom he hoped to bring to his side by proper attention such as would avail with persons.'

Modern scholars have been influenced by these suggestions, yet not finding them adequate, have sought other natural explanations of the origin of religion.

Sir John Lubbock, in his Origin of Civilization, published in 1870, has given considerable evidence to show that primitive man personified nature and also that he worshiped the ghosts of ancestors. More than that, he indicated that the worship of the ghosts of ancestors often grew out of his worship of living beings .2 Indeed, long before that time Comte had a theory of animism. He said, " The theological period of humanity could begin no otherwise than by a complete and usually very durable state of pure fetishism, which allowed free exercise to the tendency of our nature by which man conceived of all external bodies as animated by a life analogous to his own with differences of their intensity." 3 In concluding his argument he said, " Thus fetishism is the basis of the theological philosophy, deifying every substance or phenomenon which attracts the attention of humanity and remaining traceable through all its transformations to the very last."

Edward E. Tylor had a large influence upon the scholars of his time. He developed his theory most completely in his work on Primitive Culture. In a word, the theory is that primitive man attributed conscious life like his own to natural phenomena such as trees, stones, rivers, the sky, and the mountains. Seeking a cause for the phenomena that he saw about him, he began, according to Tylor, with the belief that each one was the action of some conscious personality. Knowing nothing about impersonal causes, he attributed to all the striking phenomena of nature a soul or spirit resembling his own. According to Tylor, out of this fact has grown religion. Tylor regarded this form of religion as the earliest type found among men, and traced its development from its inception to its survivals among civilized men. According to this theory, primitive man personified all nature with a spirit much like that which he and his fellows possessed.

The criticism made of this theory is that, while at a certain stage of culture animism is almost universal among primitive men, it is not necessarily the earliest form of religion. Anthropologists have learned that not all peoples with a backward civilization have Tylor's animistic conception. Before primitive men came to that state in their mental and social development when it seemed to them that all the world was teeming with active unseen spirits, they had a mere jumble of ideas concerning the mysterious in nature and man.

Giddings rightly says that all interpretations of religion which start from the assumption that either fetishism, animal worship, nature worship, or ancestor worship was the primitive form from which all later forms were derived, are destined to be overthrown. He adds that the earliest belief was a jumble of ideas and it was long before the different elements of religion were discriminated in those ideas. His suggestion that the primitive man first believed in a Great Dreadful, an impersonal power or something, before he learned to identify it with a spirit form of any sort is worthy of consideration?

Dr. King has suggested a term for the object of religious regard in this stage of man's development, which seems very much better. He denominates it more vaguely The Mysterious Power." Probably the vagueness of the term corresponds very closely with the vagueness of the idea in the mind of primitive man who held in awe and fear that Something which he did not understand, but of which he was cognizant. Among the Algonquins of North America the term " Manitou " was the synonym for this Something. Many other people, among them the Japanese, have this same idea of a vague Something pervading the universe.'

After a certain stage had been reached, doubtless primitive man began to read into the universe his own experiences and feelings and thoughts. Then he began to personalize nature. Out of that animism arose. It was a crude philosophy and, at the same time, a crude religion.

Tylor's work on Primitive Culture appeared in 1871. In 1876 Spencer's first volume of The Principles of Sociology was published. In that volume he developed a theory of the origin of religion, as well as a theory of the origin of primitive man's notions concerning the universe. Spencer's theory of the origin of religion was somewhat different from that of Tylor. Spencer traced all religious practices back to fear of the ghost of an ancestor. He did not ignore Tylor's theory of animism ; he supplemented it with his " ghost " theory. He laid the basis of his theory in the experiences of primitive men in sleep and dreams, echoes, shadows, reflections in the water, swoons, epilepsy, and death. These experiences Tylor had used as the basis for his doctrines of animism. Tylor had also referred to the worship of ghosts. He had, however, not given it the primary place in the development of religion which it occupied in Spencer's opinion. According to Spencer, these experiences led primitive man to conclude that he was a double personality. Out of these and other experiences grew his belief in a life after death. He connected with this continuance of personality after death his fear of the dead ancestors. The ancestor revered in life was awe inspiring in death. Any calamity which happened to the individual after the death of an ancestor was an indication of the latter's displeasure. He must be placated in death as he had been in life. Hence arose sacrifices to the dead.'

Spencer illustrated his theory with a wealth of material which indeed made it seem plausible. His chief difficulty came when he attempted to explain the worship of plants, animals, and other objects of nature. Here his theory became labored. He accepted the animistic conception formulated by Tylor, but, differing from Tylor, he held that the spirits inhabiting natural objects like mountains, springs, heavenly bodies, plants, and animals were conceived by primitive man in all cases to be the ghosts of dead ancestors. He gave definiteness and completeness of form to the animistic theory of the origin of religion by this suggestion.

But while the hypothesis is attractive, one feels that Spencer has failed to be convincing when he attempted to explain nature worship by the " ghost theory." On the other hand, every new piece of evidence obtainable makes it perfectly apparent that when a people once reaches a stage of social development in which either the mother group or the patriarchal family is the characteristic social organization, ancestor worship may arise in much the way Spencer has suggested? This same evidence, however, indicates that among many primitive people existing to-day, as well as in certain historic peoples, religion existed before ancestor worship arose. For example, Sven Hedin's description of the present-day Thibetans, who are not ancestor worshipers, but fetish worshipers, makes it perfectly plain that religion does not always arise from the worship of ghosts of ancestors. Like Tylor's animistic theory, Spencer's " ghost theory " is incomplete. Moreover, it was overworked by Spencer suggestions, and approaching the problem not from the side of history but of ontology, proposed that the source of religion in the human heart is " the perception of the Infinite " aroused in man's mind by his experiences with the world about him. The steadfastness of nature in contrast with his own ephemeral existence and his sense of the power of nature in contrast with his own weakness, according to Müller, stirred this perception of the Infinite within his mind.'

Tiele, the Dutch philosopher of religion, is at one with Müller in searching for the origin of religion not in its historical beginnings, but in some spiritual fact in primitive man's life, in some philosophical basis. This ontological basis he finds, not in Max Müller's theory of man's " apprehension of the Infinite," but in the Infinite within man. " The origin of religion consists in the fact that man has the Infinite within him, even before he is himself conscious of it, and whether he recognizes it or not." " It is man's original, unconscious, innate sense of infinity that gives rise to his first stammering utterances of that sense, and to all his beautiful dreams of the past and future. These utterances and these dreams may have long since passed away, but the sense of infinity from which they proceed remains a constant quantity. It is inherent in the human soul. It lies at the root of man's whole spiritual life."

Both these scholars are dealing with a different phase of the origin of religion from that considered by Spencer and Tylor. Tylor, in seeking the origin of religion, was endeavoring to get a clear view of the natural history of religion„ He emphasized the psychology of the experience only that he might explain the genesis of the religious attitude. His chief interest was not philosophical, but historical and anthropological. He sought to ascertain the earliest form of religion and to explain the way in which that form arose. His problem was quite different from that set themselves by the philosophers of religion such as Müller, Tiele, and more recently by Jastrow. For the morphological sociologist interested in the evolution of forms, Tylor and Spencer will have superior value. To the sociologist with his chief interest in the philosophy or the psychology of religion, the other method of approach will appeal more strongly.

Before leaving the history of the subject, two other writers more recent than any of these mentioned may be cited. One of these, Professor J. Mark Baldwin, approaches the subject of the origin of religion from the standpoint of psychological development ; the other, Dr. King, views the origin of religion from the standpoint of group psychology with illustrations from anthropology and sociology.

In approaching the inquiry concerning the origin of religious sentiment, Baldwin asks, " How do these sentiments arise and develop in the process of the personal growth of a child? " In general, his answer is that these sentiments arise in the child from the reverence, love, devotion, trust, and dependence which he feels towards those with whom he is immediately associated?. Out of these attitudes towards persons grow his feelings and sentiments towards an ultimate religious ideal. According to Baldwin, the development of the religious sentiments follows the development of personality. In the development of the child's personality there is opened a facet that reflects other persons. In the interplay of his own personality and that of these other persons in his immediate environment there grows up what Baldwin calls " the ejective personality " or ideal. That is, as he looks upon these other persons, he tends to ascribe to them characteristics and qualities which perhaps they do not possess, but which he feels they should possess. He finds in them some elements of his ideal. He feels that somewhere there must be a personality which contains all of these elements and characteristics. Consequently, out of this feeling there gradually develops the ideal personality in his own thoughts. On the other hand, just as the real person whom he knows here in life manifests to him attitudes which he does not expect, and yet which, when they are manifested, appeal to him as something better than he has ever thought of, so he comes to feel that this ideal personality will manifest attitudes which he does not expect, and with which he is not prepared to cope. This gives him the sentiments of awe, reverence, and fear. In this way, says Baldwin, the two elements in the religious sentiment develop, the feeling of dependency and the feeling of mystery. Both are the result of his contact and experience with other persons.

In this same process, or, as Baldwin calls it, " dialectic of personal growth," both in the child and, Baldwin thinks, also in the race, the struggle of the human spirit with physical environment also arouses both the religious sentiment and religious ideas.' Whether it be in the child, dreadful of the dark, or in the primitive man, awed by the majestic display of the storm, the trembling of the earthquake, or the belching smoke and fire of the volcano, there is the same consciousness of the awe-inspiring fact pressing itself in upon the mind and stirring both the feeling of dependence and the feeling of mystery. Here are the feelings out of which may develop religious ideas and religious practices. Both in the child and in the race, says Baldwin, this fearsome stage is characterized chiefly by the sense of mystery and awe, and lasts only so long as these feelings are predominant over thought. When the child, or the primitive man, begins to question the rationale of these and other strange phenomena, ideas arise which may be described as at once philosophical, scientific, and religious.

" What are these mighty forces in comparison with which I am such a pygmy? " thinks the child and the primitive man. " What is their nature ; how may I deal with them? " The only cause that either can understand is a personal cause. Therefore, to primitive man, these phenomena must seem to be the effects of personal volitions like those of himself and of his fellows. Consequently, he reads into these phenomena of nature, personality. His conception of this personality will be no different from his conception of other persons. He will interpret it largely in terms of activities and desires. The tumult of the heavens must denote anger, especially since he finds that out of the tumult come death and disaster. Strange mysterious sounds which fill the woods and plains about him must also be caused by beings like himself and his fellows. He personalizes, therefore, every strange, unknown force in nature which he identifies as the cause of some fear-inspiring phenomenon.

Dr. King approaches the problem from the standpoint of group psychology. He analyzes the evolution of the consciousness of value in the mind of primitive man. Briefly stated, his theory is that the consciousness of value seems to be closely associated with, if not conditioned by, the various active attitudes of persons or groups of persons associated with active life processes developing or modified by social life. Among these are included all complications of activity whether due to chance variations accumulated mechanically, or to conscious adaptation to situations of stress or conflict.' The religious attitude, according to King, is simply one phase of the result of the consciousness of value, " a special development of the valuational attitude," as he puts it. Starting from the postulate that the social body has been at least an important factor in the process of the development of valuational attitudes, he argues that many of the so-called highest religious conceptions, like those of God, Freedom, and Immortality, owe their existence to the influence of the social group upon the simpler values. As the atmosphere of the social group was an important aid in the development of language, so social surroundings influenced the development of religion. In general, his theory is that religion grew out of certain activities in which the group was interested, those activities which cluster about the problems and crises which affect the group as a whole. In proof of this, he cites Robertson Smith, who says that the primitive family thought of their gods as caring only for the tribe and not for the individual. Moreover, only those values which have the sanction of the group would be of permanent value to the individual. In accordance with this theory, therefore, King argues that wherever the social organization of a group is loose and ill defined, there the idea of religion will be indefinite and vague. Furthermore, the religious values of the group and of the individuals supporting it will be very closely connected with the life activities of that group. In groups where the problem of securing food is of serious interest there the religious attitude will be connected with that activity, for example, with the fruiting of the date palm ; or it is connected with a water course or a spring upon which the very existence of the group depends. He says, " We may hold that the religious aspects of a people's life are special differentiations of the social order which appear under certain favoring conditions." ' At the close of harvest, moreover, or the end of a long winter, there is that intensity of feeling in the group that leads to certain functional activities. In the course of time these functional activities come to have religious value, because they bear upon the welfare of the group. Special customs, therefore, and habits of practical value to the welfare of the group often tend to establish themselves as religious practices. As an example he cites the connection of the care of milk with religious ritual among the Todas. He says that much of the dairy ritual has grown up as a means of counteracting the danger involved in giving the sacred substance milk to peoples whom they regard as inferior beings. This same people, the Todas, have other ceremonies which are directly connected with seasons of stress or of emotional tension. They are distinctly social in character and they may be supposed, says King, to be the outcome of such psychological conditions rather than to have been caused by any original religious motive.

Summing up the discussion of certain of these religious features of the Todas and of the Semites, he says, " In other words, the fundamental expedients of the life process, because they are of necessity carried on by groups of people, naturally gained many accretions from these people's social and play impulses, and these accretions may become of almost more importance than the fundamental acts about which they gather even to the extent of obliterating them." In other words, then, according to King, the accumulation of habits in various directions is one of the first steps in the evolution of Religion. Now on the basis of this development of the consciousness of value in the minds of primitive men King builds his theory of " the Mysterious Power." Belief in this Mysterious Power he holds to be the real significance of the forms of worship as found among primitive men. He believes that savages conceived it as an impersonal force filling the universe of which they must beware. It was something which they did not understand, and against which they stood on guard, frightened, curious, and fascinated.

In summarizing the development of thought concerning the origin of religion up to the present time, we may note that beginning with Lucretius, followed by Hume, we have the general theory of fear, Primos in orbe deos fecit timor. Tylor said that religion originated in fear of the spirit or spirits inhabiting all nature. Spencer specified the form of fear as the fear of the ghosts of ancestors. Baldwin adds the element of reverence developing in the process of growth by reason of the unexpected in other people. Giddings roots the origin of religion in awe of the Great Dreadful. King finds the origin in the psychological development of the consciousness of value growing out of the emotional stress connected with some crisis bearing upon survival. In this evolution of thought there has developed two distinct methods of approach, the one from the standpoint of anthropology, the other from the standpoint of psychology. The significance of King's contribution is that it combines both of these methods of approach and adds still another, namely, the social. These various methods of approach have helped greatly in tracing out the many ways in which religion has developed. We are certain of this, that religion developed from the interplay of the human mind and the external universe. The phenomena of the universe falls into two categories so far as they affect the human mind. The one is the world of unreasoning nature, and the other is the world of men.

The Origin of Religion. — Let us now synthesize the suggestions concerning the manner in which religious activities and ideas arose from man's struggle with the problems presented by this external universe. These problems are extremely complicated and their interrelations delicate. The human mind, struggling to find its way through the maze presented by the phenomena of nature, and the yet stranger and more intractable phenomena of human beings, creates the situation out of which grew religious practices, sentiments, and ideas. We may suggest, therefore, that in its origin religion pursued some such course as the following : Primitive man, just emerging from the animal world with a mind not much above that of the animal, looked out upon this universe with its savage forces, and its savage men, and was afraid. What he was afraid of he did not define. Its nature was unknown. He feared because he did not understand the Great Dreadful which pressed itself upon him and demanded that he take some attitude towards it. How should he interpret it, how should he act towards it?

Even as an animal man had learned the meaning of superiority and inferiority, of prestige and submission. Some things, like his fellows, he had learned to understand. He had learned how to get on with his fellows. What more natural than that he should extend this method of understanding and of adjustment with his fellows to the natural phenomena around him which he did not understand, yet desired to propitiate? There-fore, he explained every strange, unknown thing in his experience by his own feelings and the feelings of his fellow men. He treated these unknown things in the same way in which he had been able to get on with his fellow men.

Moreover, man had the experience that the same methods which availed in securing the cooperation of his fellow men had secured the cooperation of animals. The process of domesticating certain of these animals had taught him that. His constant conflict with the wild animals about him even before domestication had begun, taught him also that the minds of these animals were somewhat like the minds of the men with whom he had to deal. If, therefore, he could live with men and deal with animals by following certain principles, what more logical than to conclude that the same methods would avail in his endeavor to understand and to propitiate other equally incomprehensible things about him in the universe?

This attitude is preserved through man's whole life and all his activities. Without a conception of impersonal causation he necessarily personalized every real and supposed cause. If the thing that produces this result is a person, it must necessarily be a person like those he knows. It is a person of love and of hate, a strange, mysterious power with which he must deal in some way. If angry, this power must be placated. The only way that suggests itself is the method which placates human beings when angry. Hence all nature is conceived by man as being filled with spirits like himself. His own personality is no less a mystery to him than the phenomena and events of nature. He shouts ; a voice mocks him from the hills or forests ; he leans down over the pool to drink, and behold, out from its depths there looks up at him a face like his own or like that of his fellows who may be with him. He sleeps and dreams, and in those dreams he goes far away and performs various actions. He awakes, behold, he is where he lay down to sleep. On other occasions he sleeps and walks about in his sleep until he strikes some object and awakes. Therefore, these dream experiences, he argues, in which he walks and talks are real experiences. How can this be? How can one both sleep and walk abroad at the same time? His only explanation is a conviction gathered from all these observations that he is a double personality. One of his selves remains, while he sleeps, and the other walks abroad. He has a spirit, there-fore. This spirit, when he is awake, is his constant companion. When sleeping or in an ecstasy or a swoon, this double departs from his body and walks abroad. It is invisible ; seek howsoever hard he may, he cannot find it ; yet here is the incontestable evidence of its existence. It is a spirit more or less like this that inhabits all nature, he concludes. It is a person with personal characteristics like himself and his fellows. It loves, it hates, it has appetites and passions, it becomes angry, it desires gifts, it is subject to caprices like himself, therefore it is something of which to stand in awe and with which to come to terms.

Then there is the strange, mysterious fact of death. Every evidence we can gather from primitive peoples who have reached the stage when they reflect upon events at all shows their concern about death. Constantly in the midst of savage forces which civilization has either destroyed or shackled and tamed for the service of man, primitive man seldom died a natural death. When he did live to die such a death, it was a strange phenomenon and was to be explained by some occult means.' Usually he died before the evil days of old age had come when he could say he had no pleasure in them, while life was still sweet, and death seemed not a relief, but a calamity. Wild animals, or still wilder men, lay in wait for him at every turn. The natural, instinctive fear of death was ever upon him. When he thought of these things the question naturally arose, What is death? Where could he look for an answer but to other experiences which seem very like death? He slept and awoke. Some-times a man was smitten in fight and lay unconscious for a time and revived again. Occasionally one fell in a swoon or ecstasy and when he revived he told of the things he had seen and heard. Was not death like sleep, swoon, or ecstasy, except that the absence of the soul from the body was more prolonged? In death man's other self was alive elsewhere, seeing, enjoying, knowing, and with the same appetites and passions, likes and dislikes, as when present in the body.

Then some untoward event occurred which had no apparent cause. Some dead person must be displeased. When alive such a person had wreaked vengeance when offended; now dead, he had become angry and must be appeased in the same way as when living. Perhaps the dead man had been some great chief. If society had become strongly centralized and control was rigid, the person to be appeased was naturally supposed to be an ancestor, the natural ruler of the group. He was feared in death as much as he had been honored in life, even more, because less was known about him when dead than when living, and therefore he was more mysterious and awful. Thus ancestor worship arose.

In these ways the first incongruous religious ideas struggled to expression. They are full of contradiction like the thoughts of primitive man or like the thoughts of the child who is just beginning to think. These ideas, like the sentiments and emotions aroused by his contact with the universe of things and men, are not clearly defined, but often are a jumble. They are, however, the first struggling efforts to relieve an unpleasant situation by activity of some sort, the first gleams of an explanation of the world in the midst of which man lives and the first blundering attempt at a method whereby he may bring it under his control. As already suggested, they are reflections of the social universe of which he was a part. Their patterns are to be found in his own soul and in the souls of those with whom he is in contact — the group of which he is a part. The gods that he makes for himself are like unto himself and his fellows, only greater, more powerful, more wise, and less understandable than they.

Summarizing the way in which religious practices arise, we may say that the practical results of this contact of primitive man with nature and men was the invention of religious practices. They begin with men. As a child grows and comes in contact with other personalities, he learns to accommodate himself to them. By doing certain deeds he comes to terms with these personalities. He finds that certain things please them, while others displease them. Out of this perpetual surprise of experience, he learns what to do when he wishes the favor of the other person. On the basis of this experience he generalizes and adopts a code of practice which suits all persons. Now, believing as he does that natural phenomena are caused by persons, he will adopt the same practice in dealing with the spirit of the mountain or the spirit of the storm as he does in dealing with men. The beings who control these phenomena must be like the beings with which he is acquainted, therefore he adopts certain attitudes toward them, placates them by gifts, assuages their anger or pleases their vanity and secures their favor by praise and prayer.

The Complexity of the Problem. — This survey has certainly made it apparent that the endeavor to find the origin of religion in some one simple fact such as the desire for union with the deity as suggested by Ross is like the quarrel as to whether man is material or spiritual. Light is thrown upon the way in which religious sentiments develop by a genetic study of its development in the child and in the race. The process is further illuminated by a psychological analysis of this sentiment into awe and reverence, feeling of dependence, affection, etc. The forms of religious practice and their accompanying sentiments found among various primitive people make it quite possible to reconstruct the early religious feelings, ideas, and practices, and to retrace essentially the paths along which they have developed. Are the religious ideas attributed to primitive man indefinite? Do they lack the transparency of meaning which we demand? They were the first crude efforts of mankind, it must be remembered, to come to an understanding of the universe. How often the thoughts of even the cultivated man, when they first struggle forth to birth, are vague and lack clearness. Animism is a philosophy of the world which very well fits the mental equipment of primitive man and his lack of that precious heritage of civilized man, the treasured-up discoveries of the ages of civilization. Ancestor worship is most natural after a certain mental development has been reached, and certain social relationships, like a strong family tie, have been established. Sacrifices to the ancestral spirits with all their social consequences, like female infanticide, early marriage, and overpopulation, are natural and fitting rites when the center of social control is a dominating personality.

The Genius and the Origin of Religion. — In discussing religious origins, the far-seeing man must not be forgotten. We know that historic religions have owed very much to their " founders," those prophets and seers to whom was revealed the vision denied to their fellows. What would the Hebrew religion have been without the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah? What would Christianity have been without its Jesus, its Paul, its St. Augustine, its Cyprian, its Calixtus, its St. Francis of Assisi, its Wesley, its Luther, its Cardinal Newman, and Pope Leo XIII? Can you imagine the rise of Islam with-out Mohammed, or of Buddhism without Gautama? Doubt-less the time was ripe in each case, the age was awaiting the man who saw the harvest ripening. But the man who among the thousands of those days thrust in the sickle to the golden grain — what would have happened without him? Without a doubt the age would have declined and passed on into another without a crisis and without the dramatic evolution which each of these leaders put in motion. The world would have waited for a leader.

Now, while the facts lie hidden in the dim mists of the pre-historic, is there much probability that the man of genius assumed an importance in social attention and leadership only after history had lifted the curtain from the unknown past? No, for out of those shadows of the prehistoric dim figures of leaders in those days appear in fables and myths which have survived. There is Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and shared it with men, and for his high presumption was condemned to spend his eternities chained to the fastnesses of Asia Minor, with the eagle forever tearing at his vitals. Out of the shadows of Hebrew memories there flits for a moment the heroic figure of Tubal-Cain, the first worker in metals. These and a few others mentioned in folk legends show that in the morning of social development there existed the leader at least in the arts and religion. We must assume the work of gifted individuals to explain the origin of religious ideas, emotions, and practices. They led the way and quickened the pace for whole peoples. Every people had its great men, but some had superior leaders in religion and their history was meteoric as compared with that of others. Israel is an example. In pre-prophetic times the religion of Israel was much like that of her neighbors — a compound of nature worship and ancestor worship, celebrated under every green tree and upon every high hill by a cult that was largely ceremony and in which was mingled much that from our point of view was sensual and unethical. She had her seers who were but little, if at all, removed from the medicine men of modern savage tribes. Her priests served for hire and supported the reigning house no matter what its sins. Into that religious world burst the prophet Amos, with a voice that was entirely new, with a message that scandalized the nation and that found no response at the time save in a few hearts. Followed by men like Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, he turned the whole current of religious life into new channels. Without the prophets of that time the teachings of Jesus and Paul, humanly speaking, would have been impossible. We hear that Israel had a genius for religion ! If she had, it was born of the work of those eighth-century prophets and their followers, and fostered by the circumstances of her later history. It was a legitimate offspring of prophetic vision and national suffering. Similar men of lesser vision, but of greater significance, have appeared elsewhere. Who can deny that the animistic interpretation of the universe and the religious awe that accompanied it arose from keen-witted primitive men who saw better than their fellows ! Or, again, what more natural than that with the change in the form of the family, some brooding savage should visualize the dead ancestor's spirit hovering near with good or ill intent as in life. The presumption, from all that we know of history, is that the great man, the religious genius, was there in the beginning as in the later development.

Given, therefore, untutored man, knowing only his relationships with his fellows, growing up in the midst of a nature which he did not understand, but having some conception of social relationships and feeling an absolute necessity of understanding, and coming to terms with the world in which he lived, and, finally, given the superior person, the superior mind, we have the elements out of which could naturally grow that awe and reverence and, finally, that love, that make religion.


BALDWIN, J. MARK. Social and Ethical Interpretations, 1913, pp. 336—366.

CLODD, EDWIN. The Childhood of the World, Chaps. XXIII—XXVII, XXXII.

ELLWOOD, C. A. The Social Problem, pp. 68-71; 203—206.

KING, IRVING. The Development of Religion, 1810, Chaps. I -VI.

LUBBOCK, SIR JOHN. Origin of Civilization, 1874, Chaps. IV VI.

SPENCER, HERBERT. Principles of Sociology, Vol. I, Chaps. VIII—XXVI.

STARR, FREDERICK. Some First Steps in Human Progress, Chaps. XXIV, XXV.

TYLOR, EDWARD. Primitive Culture, Chaps. XI—XVII.

TYLOR, EDWARD. Anthropology, 1889, Chap. XIV.


1. Of what social importance is the study of the origin of religion?

2. If possible, observe a little child and note carefully how its conceptions of religion originate and develop.

3. Converse with a half dozen children of different ages in the public schools or among your acquaintances, and ascertain and write down their conception of God. Notice what are the conceptions which seem to be derived from the teaching of others and what are those that they naturally reason out for themselves.

4. How does the conception of the Deists in regard to the origin of religion differ from that of modern scholars?

5. By introspection try to retrace the steps in the development of your own religious conceptions, apart from what you were taught by others.

6. Write out a dear definition of what Tylor meant by animism.

7. How did Herbert Spencer's theory of the origin of religion differ from Tylor's?

8. Try to ascertain the religious conceptions of a number of your friends or acquaintances among people of ordinary intelligence, but without any advanced education. Which of these ideas can you trace as being survivals from primitive originals?

9. In what senses is religion a reflection of social usages and practices?

10. Note the religious ideas and practices current in some one church with which you are acquainted and estimate which of these are survivals from an earlier type of religion.

11. Make a list of the things that children fear in the dark. Explain why they fear these things.

Outlines Of Sociology:
Theory And Function Of The State

Social Phases Of Production And Consumption Of Wealth

Exchange As A Social Function

Evolution Of Ethics

Social Origin Of Religion

Development Of Religion

Processes Of Socialization

Social Forces

Social Laws

Social Mind

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