In and that not one theory stands alone
In order to discuss theories I regard to be ‘salient’ I believe it is first important to outline what it is exactly that I look for in order to define a theory as such. For me, a salient theory is one which has influenced other, equally significant theories. In my reading of this field of work, I have seen that cross referencing is common, and that not one theory stands alone from the influence of others. Thus, all theories to which I have chosen to explore in this essay are those which have been seen to influence other important thinkers.* It is also important to add here that my criteria of a salient theory is not an objective one, as for some who firmly believe in the soul, these theories are to be disregarded of any salience. *Hume; 1779 Tylor; 1965 Frazer: 1890 Muller:1893 Freud; 1912 Durkheim:1913 Webber; 1905* A table to show how cross referencing.The opening quote is found at the heart of an enormously influential theory in this discussion- namely that of Durkheim. Although undeniably important, I must first outline theories which came before this one, due to the structure I have chosen. I have chosen to split my essay into two sections; the first, on the intellectual, or psychological theories of belief in the soul, the other on sociological, or social theories. I might add that some writers who, too, have searched to give an overview of this topic have chosen to use different structures. Some used a time order (such as Strenski), others focus on a select amount of theories, and write about them without reference to each other (such as Daniel. L. Pals). However, I found that time order ignores the fluctuation of a writer’s influence through time, and that a case by case approach lacked momentum. As such, I have decided to use a structure similar to that of Evens-Pritchard, 1965, who uses two subheadings, ‘psychological’ and ‘social’. In this essay I aim to discuss the most influential theories in this field of work, and to do so in regards to the two schools we find them. I will begin looking into intellectual (or ‘psychological’) theories, assessing intellectualists, linguists and psychologists, and then address the most influential social (or sociological) theories of belief in the soul, touching on some powerful political theories and arguments. We start our discussion with what many theorists have categorised as ‘intellectualists’, who argue belief in the soul arrived to humans as a result of rational thinking in our primitive state. Here, I will then discuss three theories which attempt to explain the intellectual origin of belief in the soul. Tylor (1832- 1917), as we can see in the table provided, has caused huge waves of influence, with Durkheim detecting a whole chapter to his thinking of belief in the soul, and Freud and Evens-Pritchard also referencing his theory. He claims that belief in the soul was what caused the origin of religion itself, and that we came to this belief mainly through dreams. The primitive man lead a double life; one awake and one asleep, and to him, both states of being are of the same importance. When primitive humans dreamt, he would notice his body, which looks and feels the same, can travel through space and time. This same sensation would also occur through fainting, or through ecstasy. Therefore, they believed that if in all other forms of unconsciousness they would go into this dream state, then when they died their bodies would too. Thus, creating an idea of a duality, life after death, and souls. (Durkheim, 1912) He then moves on to explain how this belief in the soul caused belief in religion, and worship of spiritual beings. He claims that because people believed that these souls could travel where they wanted, that they could go inside their bodies. This caused primitive people to start to imagine that when they felt illness, bad luck, etc, it was the soul of a dead relative who was now in the form of a soul, and was avenging all those who did wrong. This, he argues, lead to sacrifice and offerings. Tylor’s work had an impact on many thinkers of the time, but had an especially large impact on Spencer (1820-1903), who made some slight alterations to Tylor’s work. Durkheim points out that both theories offer the same ‘solutions’ from their theory (Durkheim, 1912). Spencer claims that it isn’t belief in the soul that came first, but instead, belief in ghosts, and ancestor worship; “Ancestor worship is the root of every religion” (Spencer, 1879, p. 441). Evens-Pritchard claims that “both the ghost theory and the soul theory might be regarded as two versions of a dream theory of the origin of religion” (Evens-Pritchard, 1965, p.25). Like Spencer, Frazers theory, in ‘The Golden Bough’, was very similar to that of Tylor. Frazer, (1854-1941) was a student of Tylor’s. His work has been called a monumental study of primitive customs and beliefs, (Pals, 1965) and has been influential to many thinkers such as Freud and Durkheim. He argued that it was magic that first started off belief in the soul and religion. He asserts that primitive man, through rational thought, tried to understand the world and change it so that they could have more animals to kill, and rain for crops. Through trying to control our world, we made rituals, sacrifices, and offerings to bring beneficial changes. He suggests three stages of intellectual development, in which human thought, then, went through; ‘magic, religion, science’. Thus, belief in the soul, unlike Tylor’s theory, comes laters on, in the ‘religion’ sphere. However, it is not just theories which are influential to other theorists, but also their criticisms, as these signify the gaps to which the next theorist might try to close. Here I will outline three of their most common criticisms for their intellectual theories. Many have argued that the causal approach taken by these intellectualists is not sufficient enough to provide evidence. Frazer, for example, often speaks of religion and magic co-existing at the same time, but historically has no way of pinning when either actually happened or when they began. Evens-Pritchard (1965) also criticises these theories for the same reason, using ‘If I were a horse’ fallacy to explain how this is an issue. He writes that ‘A logical construction of the scholars mind is posited on primitive man, and put forward as the explanation of his beliefs.’ (Evens-Pritchard, 1965, p.26). Durkheim also adds to this, explaining ,”It grants as self-evident that the soul is altogether distinct from the body”. (Durkheim, 1912, p.52). Further from this Swanton also adds saying it isn’t an obvious rational decision to believe in another life just because of a dream. (Evens-Pritchard, 1965)There are also some scholars who completely disregard dream theories altogether. Some reasons for this include the fact that when a primitive person would have had a dream about another person, they would have woken up to find that person had an entirely different dream in which they were not in. This would lead us to think it is far more natural for primitive man to see dreams for what they really are- rearranged memories.Hume, although writing before these intellectualists time, would also have disregarded their theories. He argues that the origin of belief in the soul is nothing to do with reason at all, but instead, the exact opposite. He claims; “we feign the continued existence of the perceptions of our senses, to remove the interruption: and run into the notion of a soul, and self, and substance, to disguise the variation” (Hume, 1740, p. B.1- 4.6). Thus, he tells us how the notion of the soul is a way of humans filling a gap in our understanding of nature which we could not fill with reason.There are also other intellectual theorists who worked to address the question of the origin of the soul. Muller, (1823-1900), for example, famously claimed that religion was a ‘disease of language’ (Evens-Pritchard, 1965, 22)’. Thus, unlike the other few, he explains religion to have begun as a response to misuse of language over time, instead of that of dreams or ghosts. He argued belief language, was nothing more than a personified expression of the natural phenomena of the sun, moon, etc, claiming that these worked as a symbol as something majestic in the world they understood. These words, he argues, would loose their understanding as symbolic, and over time through language would become a deity in its own right. Once he has established this, he moves on to the origin of belief in the soul, claiming that this came from when men wanted to communicate a difference between his body and the something within themselves which was not their body, they used words for ‘breath’ (psyche) which was immaterial, but also connected to life to do so. He claims that over time, this word began to mean something different to what they originally set it out to mean; the principle of life, the soul or the mind (Evens-Pritchard, 1965, p22). Muller has been celebrated for being powerful in this domain, however, some argued that his theory was not adequate, for similar reasons. Again, we face the issue of assumption, or as Evens-Pritchard refers to it, the ‘If I were a horse’ fallacy. There is no historical evidence to support Muller’s theory, it is simply what he thinks would have happened if he was around at that time. Durkheim also criticises this theory, for contradicting itself. Frazer assets that they were not complex enough to understand a misunderstanding of language, but then states that they were developed enough to understand negation- to call something supernatural, they must have already had an understanding of what was the natural order of things (Durkheim, 1912, p. 4). Freud is, of course, one of the most influential writers on the human mind. He argued that Tylor, Spencer and Frazer all underestimated the function of the dream, as it is where the human mind shows another layer, of profound, hidden, powerful being. He links those who are religious to children, or ‘neurotic’ patients. He called the phenomenon that he found in all of these ‘omnipotence of thought’ (allmacht der gedanken). He claims that savages, like neurotics and children “believes he can change the outer world by a mere thought of his” (Freud, 1913, p.145). He sets out his 3 stage theory of how an individual mind should develop into maturity, and then sets out his 3 stage theory for how the intellectual development of man would look to achieve the same end. He does this to highlight the similarities. In the individual, he explains first is narcissism, found in a child, who overcomes its problems through imagination, to Object finding, to maturity. For the intellectual development of man, he explains man starts in Animism (or magic), where people over estimate their power of thought. Then, people moved to religious, which is equally an illusion, and finally end up in the scientific. For Freud, religion was a way of letting out individuals suppressed emotions and fears, in a way that let them escape their own perils. Thus, for Freud, the idea of the soul began out of mans fear of death, and want to be eternal. This was not a rational thought process, but one which was the result of man overestimating his power, and created a belief system which then reflected their own sense of self inflation, which was not the case. It has been seen to be consistent to say that fear and intense emotion do often occur during religious rites at critical times, such as funerals. However, sociological theories, to which we will address next, would question whether it is the emotion that brings out the religious ceremonies, or is it the ceremonies that brings the emotions? Evens-Pritchard also adds critique to Frauds theory, arguing that if we define religion as that which brings around emotion and fear, then would a man running away from a buffalo would be performing a religious act? (Evens-Pritchard, 1965, p. 44). We then move onto sociological theories of origin of belief in the soul. The first sociologists we must address, is Durkheim. His overarching structure on the importance of society in understanding human thought and behaviour is one of the most salient theories of origin of belief, and is one which caused British Anthropology to be shaped by its influence. Where as Tylor, Frazer and Freud all thought that religion was belief in supernatural beings, Durkheim had a different definition of religion. He agreed that not all religious people believe in divine things, it isn’t the supernatural that defines religion, but instead, the idea of the ‘sacred’ and of the ‘profane’. Thus, Durkheim quotes; “”religion is a unified system of beliefs and practises relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden” (Durkheim, 1912, p.47). He claims that sacred things are things in society which are forbidden, superior, where as the profane is the opposite of this, being things which are normal, and take part in our every day routines. Durkheim outlines that the purpose of these sacred things is to “unite into one moral community called a church” (Durkheim, 1912, p.47). Where Frazer argued that religion along side magic try to do the same thing in two ways, Durkheim argues that the two things are completely separate. Whereas magic is something personal, religion is a group concern, quoting “there is no church of magic” (Durkheim, 1912, p.47). All theories to which I have outlined previously, to Durkheim, completely missed the point when trying to explain the origin of belief. He calls Muller and Tylor ‘ambitious’ in their attempt to travel backwards through history to imagine the thinking of the very first human. Instead, Durkheim suggests we should look into the causes of religions which are the most fundamental. This brought around his work on what he calls, “the most elementary religion we can possibly know” (Durkheim, 1913, p.168), Australian Tribal religion. He found that each clan had their own sacred totemic object, and that the clan would self identify with the totem, in order to make themselves sacred, because they possessed the totem. He found their whole life became shaped by these totems. This lead Durkheim to conclude that Totem, is in itself the most basic and most simple form of religion we can find. It is “an impersonal god without name or history, immanent in the world and diffused in an innumerable multitude of things” (Durkheim, 1913, p.188). Thus, Durkheim suggests that these totems stand as a symbol for society , in order to explain group worship. Claiming, “it is in the midst of these effervescent social environments and out of this effervescence itself that the religious idea seems to be born” (Durkheim, 1913, p.218-9). However, Pal has outlined three of the most commonly used critiques of this theory, to which I believe it is important we draw attention to. Like all of the theories before, we first meet the issue of assumptions. The idea that the sacred is social, is something Durkheim has tried to prove, but seems to have already envisioned before he even went to find his research to suggest this is the case. This brings us on to the next issue, which is of confirmation bias.. Gaston Richard, who Durkheim had worked with in the past, decided to look into his research, and found that the evidence was actually very subjective, and could have actually been taken to show the opposite. (Pickering, 2011) . Lastly, many have argued that both Durkheim and Fraud can be seen to be reductionist in their arguments; to say that religion has only one function is too simplified for some. Marx, 1818-1883, is another famously influential sociologist who too addresses this question, famously calling religion the ‘opium of the masses’. Until recently, Marx was embraced by nearly one third of the population of the work (Pals, 1996, p.144). He argues all belief in the soul originates from illusion of the most evil results. He claims all religious ideology including that of the soul is only there to provide excuses for retaining the class division. He asserts that in order to claim there is a soul which will leave the body of suffering and suppression, and will finally be free also means that people become patient and compliant to their situation. He claims, “Man makes religion, religion does not make man” (Marx, 1977, p.42.). However, his theory only focused on Christianity, of those of similar faiths, that mention God and the afterlife, Thus, this theory cannot be generalised to the whole of religion. He also asserts his theory is scientific, however, when he claims that religion is simply down to economics, he does not evidence base this claim, and seems to leave an assumption that cannot be systematically assessed the way he claims all this theories can be. To conclude, with each theory stated, there can be seen some internal criticisms, and also some external criticisms. Internally it is clear that many of the theories lack evidence, historically and scientifically, which leaves a gap for new theories to try to fill in order to further our quest into the origin of belief in the soul. However, there are also plenty of external criticisms that each theory faces, for example, social theorists often seem to believe that psychological theorists in this field make only assumptions, and underestimate the power of the group. We can see, then, that there is much more work to be done here, in order to find ourselves at a universally agreed upon origin of belief in the soul- if, in fact, there is one.