Theories Of Primitive Religion

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I,
THEORIES
OF
PRIMITIVE
RELIGION
BY
E.
E.
EVANS-PRITCHARD
PROFESSOR
OF
SOCIAL
ANTHROPOLOGY
IN
THE
UNIVERSITY
OF
OXFORD
OXFORD
AT
THE
CLARENDON
PRESS
19
6
5
II
i
Oxford
University
Press,
Amen
House,
London
E.C.4
GLASGOW
NEW
YORK
TORONTO MELBOURNE WELLINGTON
BOMBAY CALCUTTA MADRAS KARACHI
LAHORE
DACCA
CAPE TOWN SALISBURY
NAmCBI
mADAN
KUALA LUMPUR HONG KONG
© Oxford
University
Press,
1965
h
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PRINTED
IN
GREAT
BRITAIN
Ai::
THE
UNIVERSITY
PRESS,
OXFORD
BY
VIVIAN
RIDLER
PRINTER
TO
THE
UNIVERSITY
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FOREWORD
F
0 U R
of
these Sir D. Owen Evans Lectures were delivered
at
the University College
of
Wales, Aberystwyth,
in
the
spring
of
1962.
They
are presented almost entirely as
written for
that
occasion, though some paragraphs were
not
spoken because the lectures would otherwise have exceeded
the time allotted to me.
The
Lecture appearing as no.
IV
here was written
at
the same time,
but
as
I was asked to
give only four lectures,
it
was
not
delivered.
It
will be appreciated
that
these lectures were for the
ear
and
not
for theeye;
and
also
that
they were spoken to a highly
educated,
but
none the less a non-specialist,
that
is, non-
anthropological, audience.
Had
I been speaking to pro-
fessional colleagues
or
even to anthropological students,
I would sometimes have expressed myself
in
somewhat
different language, though to the same import.
In
my
comments on Tylor
and
Frazer, Levy-Bruhl,
and
Pareto I have drawn heavily on articles' published very
many
years ago
in
the Bulletin
of
the
Faculry
of
Arts, Egyptian
University (Cairo),
in
which I once held the
Chair
of
Socio-
logy-articles
which have circulatedbetween then
and
now
in
departments
of
Social Anthropology
in
a mimeographed
form,
and
the main points
of
which are here set forth.
For
criticism
and
advice I
thank
Dr.
R.
G. Lienhardt,
Dr.
J.
H.
M. Beattie, Dr.
R.
Needham, Dr.
B.
R.
Wilson,
and
Mr. M. D. McLeod.
E. E. E.-P.
CONTENTS
I.
INTRODUCTION
I
II.
PSYCHOLOGICAL
THEORIES
20
III.
SOCIOLOGICAL
THEORIES
4
8
IV.
LEVY-BRUHL
7
8
v.
CONCLUSION
100
BIBLIOGRAPHY
12
3
INDEX
13
1
,
\,
!
~
~
I
INTRODUCTION
T
HESE
lectures examine the
manner
in which various
writers who can be regarded
as
anthropologists,
or
at
any
rate
as
writing
in
the anthropological field, have
attempted
to understand
and
account for the religious be- (
liefs
and
practices
of
primitive peoples. I should make
it
clear
.
at
the outset
that
I shall be primarily concerned only with
theories
about
thereligions
of
primitivepeoples. More general
discussions
about
religion outside those limits are peripheral
to
my
subject. I shall therefore keep to
what
may
broadly
be considered to be anthropological writings,
and
for the
most
part
to British writers.· You
will
note
that
our
present \
interest
is
less
in
primitive religions
than
in
the various
theories which have been
put
forward purporting to offer
an
explanation
of
them.
If
anyone were to ask
what
interest the religions
of
the
simpler peoples can have for us, I would. reply
in
the first
place
that
some
of
the most
important
political, social,
and
moral philosophers from Hobbes, Locke,
and
Rousseau to
Herbert
Spencer, Durkheim,
and
Bergson have considered
the facts
of
primitive life to have great significance for the v
understanding
of
social life
in
general;
and
I would remark
further
that
the men who have been most responsible for
changing the whole climate
of
thought
in
our
civilization
during the last century, the great myth-makers Darwin,
Marx-Engels, Freud,
and
Frazer (and perhaps I should
add
Comte), all showed
an
intense interest
in
primitive peoples
and
used
what
was known
about
them
in
their endeavours to
convince us that, though
what
had
given solace
and
en-
couragement
in
the past could do
so
no more, all was
not
lost; seen down the vistas
of
history the struggle
did
avail.
In
the second place, I would reply
that
primitive religions
.;/
are species
of
the genus religion,
and
that
all who have
any
823123 B
2
INTRODUCTION
interest
in
religion must acknowledge
that
a study
of
the
religious ideas
and
practices
of
primitive peoples, which are
of
great variety,
may
help us to reach certain conclusions
about
the
nature
of
religion in general,
and
therefore also
about
the
so-called higher religions
or
historical
and
positive religions
or
the religions
of
revelation, including
our
own. Unlike
these higher religions, which are genetically
related-
I
Judaism, Christianity,
and
Islam,
or
Hinduism, Buddhism,
and
J
ainism-primitive
religions
in
isolated
and
widely
separated parts
of
the world
can
scarcely be other
than
in-
·fiependent
developments without historical relations between
I them,
so
they provide all the more valuable
data
for a com-
I parative analysis aiming
at
determining the essential charac-
, teristics
of
religious phenomena
and
making general, valid,
and
significant statements
about
them.
I
am
of
course aware
that
theologians, classical historians,
Semitic scholars,
and
other students
of
religion often ignore
primitive religions
as
being
of
little account,
but
I take
comfort in the reflection
that
less
than
a
hundred
years ago
Max
¥iiller
was battling against the same complacently
entrench'ed forces for the recognition
of
the languages
and
religions
of
India
and
China
as
important
for
an
under-
standing oflanguage
and
religion
in
general, a fight which
it
is
true has yet to
be
won (where are the departments
of
com-
parativelinguistics
and
comparativereligion
in
this country?),
but
in
which some advance has been made.
Indeed
I would
"-
go further
and
say that, to understand fully
the
nature
of
l:evealec!~~eligion,
we have to understand the
nature
of
so-
calleaiJ.aturaL[~ligion,
for nothing could have been revealed
about
anything
if
men
had
not
already
had
an
idea
about
that
thing.
Or
rather, perhaps we should say,
th~J;lichoJ9my
between
natural
and
revealed
religionis:.J()Jg:~p-d
makes for
obscurity, for there
is
a good sense
in
which
it
may
be said
that
all religions are religions
of
revelation: the world
around
them
and
their reason have everywhere revealed to
men
something
of
the
divine
and
of
their own
nature
and
destiny.
We
might
ponder
the words
of
St. Augustine:
'What
is
now
called the Christian religion, has existed among the ancients,
and
was not absent from the beginning
of
the
human
race,
)
.'.,
,
INTRODUCTION
3
until Christ came
in
the flesh: from which time the true
religion, which existed already, began
to
be
called Christian.'I
I have no hesitation
in
claiming furthermore
that
though
students 'ofthehigherreligions
may
sometimes look down their
noses
at
us
anthropologists
and
our
primitive
religions-we
have no
texts-it
is
we more
than
anyone who have
brought
together the vast material
on
a study
of
which the science
of
comparative religion has been, however insecurely, founded;
and, however inadequate the anthropological theories based
on
it
may
be, they could serve,
and
sometimes have served,
classical,Semitic,
and
Indo-European scholars,
and
also
Egyptologists
in
the interpretation
of
their texts.
We
shall
be reviewing some
of
these theories
in
the
course
of
these
lectures,
so
I
may
here merely say
that
I have
in
mind
the
impact on
many
learned disciplines
of
the
writings
of
Tylor
and
Frazer
in
this country
and
of
Durkheim,
Hubert
and
Mauss,
and
LeVy-Bruhl
ill;
France.
We
may
not
today find
them acceptable,
but
in
their time they have played
an
important
part
in
th
·storyof
thought.
It
is
not
eas t define)
what
we are to understancl.by re-
ligion for the
purp2.se
of
these lectures.
W~re
theirempl1a-sls-'----
'fu-oe-on
beliefs
and
practices, we might well accep(lnitially
Sir Edward Tylor's minimum definition
of
religion (though
there are
diffiCiiiti.es
attached to it) as
beliefin
spiritual
. beings,
but
since the emphasis
is
rather
on
theories
of
primi-
tive religion, I
am
not
free to choose one definition
rather
than
another, since I have to discuss a
number
of
hypotheses
whjch go beyond Tylor's minimum definition. Some
wouldrr
include
under
the religious rubric such topics
as
magic, l
totemism, taboo,
and
even
witchcraft-everything,
that
is, )
which
may
be
covered
by
the expression 'primitive men-
tality'
or
what
to the European scholar has appeared
tobe'
irrational
or
superstitious. I shall have
in
particular to make :
repea1ecf
references to magic, because several influential
writers do
not
differentiate between magic
and
religion
and
speak
of
the magico-religious,
or
regard
them
as
genetically
related
in
an
evolutionary development; others again,
1 August. Retr. i. 13. Quoted
in
F.
M.
Miiller,
Selected
Essu,ys
on
Language,
Mythology
and
Religion,
1881,
i.
5.
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