Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion

By Stewart Elliott Guthrie | Go to book overview

Preface

I am pleased and excited but also a little apprehensive to be offering a new theory of religion. To offer a new theory of anything invites scrutiny, but a theory of something as important as religion may invite skepticism or outright dismissal. I fear, too, that some believers, including some of my own kin, may be dismayed. At the same time, I feel exhilaration and a culmination.

Writing about a modern Japanese religious movement some years ago, I found that the movement resembled other religions primarily in its anthropomorphism—in viewing the world as humanlike. In a later article I developed the underlying idea that all religion is a kind of anthropomorphism. Readers of various persuasions found this theory of religion provocative and wanted more evidence.

In pursuing the idea, I came to see anthropomorphism as pervading human thought and action. It ranged from spontaneous perception in daily life, to art, to science; from voices in the wind, to Mickey Mouse, to the Earth as Gaia. It also seemed central to religious belief, so much so that explaining it would explain religion.

Because the study of religion clearly needs a new theory, the enterprise has been even more exciting. Although theories abound, none is powerful and none prevails. Religious studies remains a welter of ideas and approaches.

In this confused arena, I admittedly am an outsider—not a scholar of religion but an anthropologist—emboldened, perhaps by his innocence.

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