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AN INTRODUCTION

TO

THE HISTORY OF RELIGION

CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTORY

The book now before the reader is not a History of Religion, but an Introduction to the History of Religion : its object is not to place a history of religion before the student, but to prepare him for the study of that history, to familiarise him with some of the elementary ideas and some of the commonest topics of the subject. Much which would fill a large part of a history of religion finds no place in this Introduction : thus, for instance, religions such as Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, which are the outcome of the teaching of their individual founders, are not included within the scope of this book. But these religions—which, on the analogy of “ positive ” law, i.e. law enacted by a sovereign, have been termed Positive religions—were all designed by their founders to supersede certain existing religions, which, not being enacted by the authority of any single founder, but being practised as a matter of custom and tradition, may be called customary religions. It is with these religions, their customs and institutions, that this Introduction deals.

Now, religious institutions are not the only institutions which an early people possesses : it has also social institutions, such as those which regulate marriage, the organisation of the family, the vengeance to be taken for the murder of a

kinsman, the holding of property, the government of the community, etc.; and the study of these social institutions forms one branch of the science of anthropology. But religious institutions also all have their social side : religious worship is a public institution; the gods are the gods of the community as a whole, and all the members of the community are required by custom to unite in the performance of the rites and sacrifices with which it is the custom of that particular society to approach its gods. Thus, religious customs and institutions seem, on their social side, to require to be studied, like other social institutions, on the principles and methods of anthropology. Of late years they have been largely so studied ; and in this book it is proposed to collect together the principal results of these recent investigations — an undertaking the more necessary because the studies in question are at present scattered and on single topics, and have not yet been focussed in such a way as to show what their total bearing on the history of religion is.

But the proposal thus to apply the methods of science and the principles of anthropology to the study of religion, meets in some quarters with not unnatural and certainly not unreasonable objections. We must therefore at the outset make a brief statement of the methods in question, and consider the objections that may be made to them. To begin with, anthropology employs the Comparative Method : the customs of some one uncivilised or semi-civilised people are compared with the customs of another people in the same stage of culture, and considerable resemblance is found to exist between them, just as the flint arrow-heads made by man bear always a striking likeness to each other, whether they come from Europe or from Mexico, and the rudest

pottery from Greece cannot be distinguished from the v pottery of the ancient Peruvians. These resemblances enable

us to extend our knowledge considerably ; thus the way in which cave-men-contrived to fasten their stone axe-heads to wooden handles becomes clear when they are placed side by side with the axes, having stone heads fastened on to wooden handles, which are used by some savages at the present day. The purpose for which a stone implement was used by primitive man may be very doubtful until it is compared

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