In Seven Theories of Religion, Daniel L.
Pals offers cogent introductions to seven
“classic” explanations of religion, taking the reader methodically through the arguments presented by each thinker. After a close look at two pioneering Victorians, E.B. Tylor (the father of the animistic theory) and James Fraz-
er (author of The Golden Bough, the monu-mental study of primitive custom and belief),Pals explores the controversial “reductionist”approaches of Freud, Émile Durkheim, and Marx. Freud, for example, argued that religion is very similar to neurosis: just as neurotic
people believe and do irrational things, so religious people also believe and do irrational things. Marx, the guiding spirit of communism, is shown to have presented not so much a theory of religion as a total system of thought that itself resembles a religion. The discussion then turns to the work of Mircea Eliade, the influential Romanian-American scholar who as reductionism’s most outspoken opponent insisted that religious behavior and ideas can be rightly understood only when seen from the standpoint of the believer. Moving beyond the debate over reductionism. Pals concludes with accounts of two of the twenti- eth century’s most celebrated anthropologists,E.E. Evans-Pritchard and Clifford Geertz,whose extensive fieldwork has led to an appreciation of religion’s distinctively human dimension—the ideas, attitudes, and purposes
that inspire it. Throughout the discussion, each theory is presented in a common format that offers not only biographical background and exposition of its main ideas, but also comparative analysis and critical assessment.The thinkers who appear in these pages deserve wide attention, explains Pals, because
the influence of their ideas has been felt far beyond the sphere of religion, affecting our literature, philosophy, history, politics, art,psychology, and, indeed, almost every realm of modern thought. Easily accessible to students and general readers, Seven Theories of Religion is an enlightening treatment of this much-debated and fascinating subject.
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