Sigmund Freud




Chapter Outline:
The Fact of Belief
Nonreligious Explanations of Religion
    The Search for Intelligibility
       Belief in Mana
       Belief in Spirits
       Primitive Closeness to the   Spirits and Mana
    Psychological Theories of the Origin of Religion
    Sociological Functions of Religion
    Theories of Genetic Influence
Religious Explanations of the Origins of Religion
    Syncretism as a Theory
    Experience of the Sacred

The Fact of Belief

All cultures throughout human history have included some form of belief in the numinous.  Though skepticism about invisible causes is common in modern times, the presence of doubt in archaic and primitive times was rare.  Four non-religious and two religious arguments are presented here to explain the phenomenon of belief.

Non-Religious Explanations of Religion

A Search for Intelligibility

Belief in invisible causes can arise from a search to understand why things happen.  Where no visible cause exists, it is reasonable to suppose there is an invisible cause at work.  Primitive folktales often serve to explain why the world is as it is.  This can help people feel secure.  Archaic cultures often have similar myths of explanation, often more complex than folktales, however, especially in cultures that have literacy.

Social and Natural Scientific Explanations of Belief

Some thinkers have explained religious belief by examining its social and psychological advantages.  Religious belief brings intellectual and psychological comfort.  In addition, religion can give credibility to social arrangements that are necessary for group survival. The field of evolutionary psychology can also shed light on the origin and function of religious belief.  According to this theory, genetic traits that encourage survival become more common.  Some religious tendencies may aid in individual and group survival, such as the human tendency to ascribe human-like thought and feelings to things in the world, especially whatever seems alive.  This tendency is known as “anthropomorphism.”


Religious Explanations of the Origins of Religion

Non-religious explanations are sometimes called reductionist, because they “reduce” religious beliefs to the status of human inventions created to serve human needs.  Some reject reductionistic explanations by interpreting religious belief as a divine gift, not a human invention.  
Others claim that all the many gods and God and other numinous beings are just a single divine reality under different names.  This is called syncretism.  So all religion is basically valid, even though it comes in many forms.

Experience of the Sacred.

Some religious scholars point to a religious experience which they claim is the root of all  religions.  Closely related to this is the argument that religious experience cannot be reduced to an object to analyze scientifically because it is an experience of something that is not part of nature, the sacred.

End of notes to Chapter 2.

This page last changed Tuesday April 27, 2004


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