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The book Seven Theories of Religion

Written by Daniel L Pals, speaks volumes to the copious conflicting perceptions and discoveries of religion as humans know it. Pals also offers cogent introductions to the seven elucidations of religion, taking the reader methodically through the arguments presented by each thinker. Religion as outlined by the numerous cultural, intellectual, humanitarian and academic theorists in the book; garnered its roots from a vast amount of sources; including prehistoric, physiological and social amongst other specific and supplementary scientific sources. For humans; religion is one of the most indispensable parts of their life; regardless of: gender, age, race, demography or socio-economic status.

The seven theories that the theorists’ discovered incorporated: Animism and Magic, Religion and Personality, Society as Sacred, Religion as Alienation, The Reality of the Sacred, the first theory Animism and Magic was presented by E. B. Tylor an English anthropologist and representative of cultural evolutionism and J. G. Frazer a Scottish social anthropologist and influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion. E. B. Tylor believed that the customs of primitive cultures; where their levels of thinking and ingenuity were concerned could be directly linked to the origin of religion. He also believed that primitive people were superstitious and utilized magic and the belief that every conceivable object possessed some form of spirit. He gave the example where it was forbidden to save someone who was drowning because it was perceived that the river was duly punishing the drowning person and whomever tried to save that person would be revenged by the same river in question. He further invoked that primitive humans believed that if a spirit animated them then it was likely that these same spirits animated the world and everything else in it.

J. G Frazer likewise Tylor believed in the activation of spirits in inanimate objects in nature. On a visit to Arabia he found the use of totems and linked it to what was later known as Totemism. The totem is usually an animal or other natural figure that spiritually represented a group of related people such as a clan. Frazer also linked the primitive culture to the use of magic which enabled them to receive good fortunes where hunting, farming and superstitious rituals were concerned. Frazer assigned the title sympathetic magic to that practiced by primitive people because of their assumptions that nature worked by a process of sympathies or influences. Frazer also outlined the use of this magic to get rain and fortuitous crops. Frazer liked the origin of religion with the use of magic because according to him both terms incorporated the belief in spiritual beings and uncritical association of ideas. Both Tylor and Frazer stressed the fact that religion and animism are purely based on intellectual moves rather than social moves.

The second theory Religion and Personality was presented by Sigmund Freud an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis. Freud discovered early in his life that ambivalence; a state of divided emotions can be linked to the whole concept of religion. According to him, religion is a form of mass neurosis. It exists only as a response to deep emotional conflicts and weaknesses. Freud also expounded on the fact that one must recognize that there can be hidden psychological motives behind religion and religious beliefs. He also linked the conscious and unconscious states of human beings and how the emotions aligned to each affects what they believe. He stated that when a person is conscious he or she is able to suppress emotions that arise from the unconscious state of mind. Freud confabulated that one’s beliefs are illusions and thoughts envisaged by the mind and wished for. He later stated that religion is psychological and it is all that a human wants it to be by attaching there virtues

The third theory Society as Sacred was presented by Émile Durkheim a French sociologist whose guiding philosophy is “the idea of society is religion.” Durkheim revealed religion to be a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things concluding things set apart and forbidden. He focused on the importance of the concept of the “sacred” and its relevance to the welfare of the entire community. He stated that society played a monumental role in the development of people through: laws, customs, values, traditions and technique which encompass religion. He claimed that religion is eminently social and he claims that although we are all individuals and make choices in our lives we make them within a social framework that is given to us from birth set by society’s standards.

Durkheim also clarified that not all religious groups believed in a supernatural power but that at one point they all believe in a sacred being and concept. Religion according to Durkheim is the most prized part of a social treasury because it serves them by bestowing rituals and sentiments that guides everyone’s life.

The fourth theory is Religion as Alienation was presented by Karl Marx was a German philosopher, sociologist, historian, political economist, political theorist and revolutionary socialist, who developed the socio-political theory of Marxism. Marx theorized that religion is one of those social institutions which are dependent upon the material and economic realities in a given society. It has no independent history but is instead the creature of productive forces. Marx's opinion of religion is simple: it is an illusion whose chief purpose is to provide reasons and an excuse to keep society functioning just as it is. Just as capitalism takes our productive labor and alienates us from its value, religion also takes our qualities our highest ideals and aspirations and alienates us from them, projecting them onto an alien and unknowable being called a god.

The fifth theory is based on the Reality of the sacred and was presented by Mercia Eliade was a Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. Eliade conjured two definitive fundamental concepts of what religion is: the sacred and the profane. Religion is how the two are divided and the focusing on the first, the sacred. Although this sounds like Durkheim, Eliade does not assert that the concept of the sacred is simply an expression of underlying social realities. Instead, like Tylor and Frazer, he says religion is primarily about belief in the supernatural and gives this the "sacred" label. The sixth theory Society’s’ “Construct of the Heart” was presented by E. E. Evans Pritchard an English anthropologist who was instrumental in the development of social anthropology.

Evans Pritchard developed the concept that witchcraft, magic and oracles are directly liked to the concept of religion based on his anthropological researches. He theorized that magic is the belief that certain aspects of life can be controlled by mystical forces or supernatural powers. He also stated that societal customs are linked to the ideology of how religion was formed. He gave examples of this when he observed the “nuer’s religion,” a group of people whose religion is based solely on kwoth (spirit). Evans Pritchard based most of his discoveries on a social scientific micro-theory of religion approach; where he focused solely on how the individual lived, breathed and practiced religious customs at a specific point in time. The seventh and final theory was is Religion as Cultural System and was presented by Clifford Geertz a highly influential American anthropologist who is known mostly for his strong support for and influence on the practice of symbolic anthropology.

Geertz is fervent of the fact that culture plays a huge role in religion. He stated that religion was a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful , pervasive and long lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seems uniquely realistic. Geertz expounded that religion makes people feel and want to do things. He stated that the value system of people prompted then to do what was right and not wrong relating to the same essence where the belief in a sacred soul would alter one from doing wrongs and sticking to the right things.

In conclusion after a close look at two pioneering Victorians, E. B. Tylor the father of the animistic theory and James Frazer (author of The Golden Bough, the monumental study of primitive custom and belief, Pals explored the controversial "reductionist" approaches of Freud, Emile Durkheim, and Marx. The thinkers who appeared in the pages of The Seven Theories of Religion deserve wide attention, because of the influence of their ideas which have been felt far beyond the sphere of religion, affecting our literature, philosophy, history, politics, art, psychology, and, indeed, almost every realm of modern thought.

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