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The Origin of Religion by Tylor and Frazer

Through anthropological studies of human society, Edward B. Tylor gives foundations to religious study.
Pursued the origin of religion by examining comparisons among wide range of religious facts from
various period and places, Tylor underlined that the essence of primitive religion is animism, the belief in
spiritual beings. Furthermore, he shows that animism is built from consistent misinterpretation of
dream, phantom image, or hallucination. By observing this kind of phenomenon, primitives peoples
draw a concept about human soul, spirit, and the immortality that lead them into particular belief: not
only human, the spirit is also endowed in animal, plants, and object. However, this religious concept is
sufficient for the primitive people to understand the world better so they can better survive in it (Pals,
2009:38). From this point of view, Tylor noted that religion is a part of human development. It is not
some unique entity which is revealed from the sky. The origin of religion could be tracked from the
worship of multiple spirits in various places on the globe that leads into monotheism system belief in
modern people back to the animist thinking in earliest stage of society.
Tylors works inspire Sir James Frazer to write extended and deepened outlook about the origin of
human religion. Frazer explain further that animism isnt the only, even not the oldest, dominating belief
in primitive culture. Frazer proposed magic as the early phase of religious belief. Primitive magicians
believe nature power isnt controlled by some spiritual beings, or god, but by certain influences and rites
with two principles: imitation and contact. Thus, Frazer distinguished between magic, which depends on
humans individual power and knowledge to dominate nature, and religion, which rely on greater power
outside human. Similar with Tylor, Frazer also assumed magic originally comes from constant mistaken
application of associations on natures works. Therefore, over time, magic is failed to perform its duty
and primitive people is betrayed by the magic. The failure of magic gives rise to the religion.

Both Tyler and Frazer underlined religion as intellectual history of human beings. Simple form of magic
and animism comes gradually to be replaced by complex polytheism, and polytheism supplanted by
monotheism (Pals, 2009:39). Consequently, religion as the way how nature was explained would be
superseded by observations and experimental proof of science. Religion is mere fossil from the age of
savage that survive in modern era.
However, the origin of religion theory from Tylor and Frazer raise critical questions. Animism and also
religion concept, which is centered on greater power of spiritual beings in nature, become irrelevant to
many aspect of local religion which is centered in the intersubjectivity of human and nature. Tylor
animism couldnt cover premodern society practices that unify daily activity, such as farming, fishing, or
eating, as religious act. For extend, religion isnt always about godness or spiritual beings but also daily
ritual and morality of its adherent.
In addition, both Tylor and Frazer only look up the reason and motivation of religious belief from the
inner perspectives of religious people. In certain degree, social function of religion play a great roles in
society and this could be a reason why religion still alive and actively expressed by people nowadays
when the science already becoming a part of human life. Moreover, in postmodern situation there are
tendency to rejuvenate religious expression from the past as a respond to overwhelming, but
unsatisfied, scientifically way of thinking.

m. rizal abdi | 15/389545/PMU/08504