Eight Theories of Religion

Eight Theories of Religion

Eight Theories of Religion

Eight Theories of Religion

Synopsis

Why do human beings believe in divinities? Why do some seek eternal life, while others seek escape from recurring lives? Why do the beliefs and behaviors we typically call "religious" so deeply affect the human personality and so subtly weave their way through human society? Revised andupdated in this second edition, Eight Theories of Religion considers how these fundamental questions have engaged the most important thinkers of the modern era. Accessible, systematic, and succinct, the text examines the classic interpretations of religion advanced by theorists who have left a majorimprint on the intellectual culture of the twentieth century. The second edition features a new chapter on Max Weber, a revised introduction, and a revised, expanded conclusion that traces the paths of further inquiry and interpretation traveled by theorists in the most recent decades. Eight Theories of Religion, Second Edition, begins with Edward Burnett Tylor and James Frazer--two Victorian pioneers in anthropology and the comparative study of religion. It then considers the great "reductionist" approaches of Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim, and Karl Marx, all of whom haveexercised wide influence up to the present day. The discussion goes on to examine the leading challenges to reductionism as articulated by sociologist Max Weber (new to this edition) and Romanian-American comparativist Mircea Eliade. Finally, it explores the newer methods and ideas arising from theAfrican field studies of ethnographer E. E. Evans-Pritchard and the interpretive anthropology of Clifford Geertz. Each chapter offers biographical background, theoretical exposition, conceptual analysis, and critical assessment. This common format allows for close comparison and careful evaluationthroughout. Ideal for use as a supplementary text in introductory religion courses or as the central text in sociology of religion and courses centered on the explanation and interpretation of religion, Eight Theories of Religion, Second Edition, offers an illuminating treatment of thiscontroversial and fascinating subject.

Excerpt

On a February day in the winter of 1870, a personable middle-aged German scholar rose to the stage of London’s prestigious Royal Institution to deliver a public lecture. At the time, German professors were famous for their deep learning, and this one was no exception, though as it happened, he had also become very English. His name was Friedrich Max Müller. He had first come to Britain as a young man destined for Oxford, where his plan was to study the ancient texts of India’s Vedas, its books of sacred knowledge. He soon settled in, married a proper English wife, and managed to acquire a position at the university. Müller was admired for his knowledge of ancient Hinduism, but he also acquired a mastery of written English, which he applied with admirable skill in popular writings on language and on mythology that appealed widely to curious Victorian readers. On this occasion, however, he proposed a different subject: He wished to promote something he called “the science of religion.”

Those words in that combination doubtless struck some in Müller’s audience as puzzling in the extreme. After all, he was speaking at the end of a decade marked by furious debate over Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) and its startling theory of evolution by natural selection. Thoughtful Victorians had heard so much of science pitted against religion that a science of religion could only fall on the ears as a curious combination, to say the least. How could the age-old certainties of faith ever mix with a program of study devoted to experiment, revision, and change? How could these opposing systems, these two apparently mortal enemies, meet without one destroying the other? These were understandable concerns, but Müller was of a different mind. He was quite certain that the two could meet and that a truly scientific study of religion had much to offer to both sides in that controversy. His lecture, the first in a series that was later published as an Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873), was designed to prove just that point. He reminded his . . .

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