THE INFLUENCE OF DARWINISM ON THE STUDY OF RELIGIONS
BY JANE ELLEN HARRISON
Hon. D.Litt. (Durham), Hon. LL.D. (Aberdeen), Staff Lecturer and sometime Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge. Corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute.
THE title of my paper might well have been "the creation by Darwinism of the scientific study of Religions," but that I feared to mar my tribute to a great name by any shadow of exaggeration. Before the publication of The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, even in the eighteenth century, isolated thinkers, notably Hume and Herder, had conjectured that the orthodox beliefs of their own day were developments from the cruder superstitions of the past. These were however only particular speculations of individual sceptics. Religion was not yet generally regarded as a proper subject for scientific study, with facts to be collected and theories to be deduced. A Congress of Religions such as that recently held at Oxford would have savoured of impiety.
In the brief space allotted me I can attempt only two things; first, and very briefly, I shall try to indicate the normal attitude towards religion in the early part of the last century; second, and in more detail, I shall try to make clear what is the outlook of advanced thinkers to-day 1. From this second inquiry it will, I hope, be abundantly manifest that it is the doctrine of evolution that has made this outlook possible and even necessary.
The ultimate and unchallenged presupposition of the old view was that religion was a doctrine, a body of supposed truths. It was in fact what we should now call Theology, and what the ancients called Mythology. Ritual was scarcely considered at all, and, when considered, it was held to be a form in which beliefs, already defined and fixed as dogma, found a natural mode of expression. This, it____________________