E.B. Tylor and James Frazer
Animism, Magic, and the Origins of Religion


1.    Evolutionary Theory: Origin of Species (1859)

a.    Natural selection: contrary to scriptures. One of many scientific challenges to faith: historical accuracy of the bible, divinity of Jesus

b.    Primitive Culture (1871)

                                     i.     A trend toward naturalistic explanation of all things: no appeal to the supernatural

                                   ii.     A new method of study: ethnology. Ethno = “people” or “nation”; Logos = “to study”; Grapho = “to write”

                                 iii.     Find the patterns or laws that govern human culture

2.    Two principals:

a.    Principal of psychic unity within human race. Uniformity of human mind: basic mental capacities the same. In logic: ability to follow certain formal and necessary procedures of reasoning

b.    Pattern of intellectual evolution. All human beings reason the same, level of knowledge differs

                                     i.     From hunting and gathering to industry and science

                                   ii.     Survivals: superstitions, magic

                                 iii.     Mythology = attempts to explain how things happen

3.    The Origin of Religion

a.    Tylor defines religion as “beliefs in spiritual beings”.  The essence of religion = “animism.”  The belief in living powers behind all things.  Latin anima = spirit.

b.    Tylor’s question: How and why did the human race first come to believe in spiritual beings?

c.    Two impressive observations: death and dreams

                                     i.     Death: the difference between a living body and a dead one

                                   ii.     Dreams: the human shapes in dreams, phantoms

d.    Answers: every human being is animated by a soul.  The soul animates the body (combination of life and phantom).  This applied to the rest of the natural world.  As soul is separable form the objects they animates, there are beings behind the visible scene of nature (spirits).  Souls animate persons, so spirits animate the world.

4.    James Frazer

a.    Primitive thinking governed by two different systems of ideas: magic and religion

                                     i.     Magical thinking: imitative (principal of similarity) and contagious (principal of attachment)

                                   ii.     Impersonal principals.  Proper ritual or action, natural effects must occur.  Certainty about natural world, control of its processes.

                                 iii.     Religion: The real powers behind the natural world are not principals at all, they are personalities.