This article is concerned with the basic nature of religion as such and with the common elements found in the various religions of mankind.
Problems of Definition
A precise but comprehensive definition is difficult. The problem can be examined best by considering religion from several different points of view or under several distinct aspects.
Nominal Definition and the Universal Fact of Religion. The etymology of the Latin word religio is disputed. Some have tried to connect religio with other Latin terms (relegere, religare, reeligere, relinquere ), but each scholar has been influenced by his personal ideas, and no accord has been reached. Philological investigation of the use of the word has revealed some interesting aspects of Roman religiosity, which was characterized by a scrupulous attention to all signs or manifestations of invisible powers or forces. But the problem becomes much more complicated when one wishes to examine the phenomenon of religion in cultures that do not use the Latin word. The languages that have an equivalent general term are rare, and the terms selected for comparison have turned out, ordinarily, to be descriptions merely of one of the duties considered essential by the respective civilization. In fact, there are very few cultures in which the question of the essence of religion has been formally raised; as a general rule, each takes its own religion as an obvious norm. Furthermore, the same thing happened in the development of the science of religions itself. In the 19th century some scholars maintained that there were peoples without religion, until it was recognized that such investigators had simply failed to find religion, as they themselves conceived religion, among certain primitive tribes.
Empirical Definition. Even when it was once admitted that all peoples have a religion, the question remained: how could investigation be carried on if the investigators had no precise idea of the object of their research? This was a purely theoretical question, which in practice did not hamper scholarly investigation. As in the case of other sciences, the science of religions began with working hypotheses, which were more or less exact and which were gradually corrected in the process of research itself. In the end it was possible for this science to isolate and delimit empirically a specific object proper to it.
In the totality of human experiences and activities the religious phenomenon presents itself as irreducible to any other category save its own and as definitely and always belonging to its own category and no other. At the same time every religion implies a choice that is so total and exclusive, affecting as it does the personal destiny of every human being in irrevocable fashion even where no clear notion of a transcendent absolute exists, that no religion seems able to tolerate its inclusion in the cadre of a general definition. Therefore, for the religious man, the definition of religion could be only that of his own religion. Actually the disagreement or diversity is such that the outsider can operate only with a selection of a minimum of statistical religious data that will be admitted by any of the existing religions.
Religious-minded men, concerned with the problem of general accord, will appeal instinctively to a revelation. It is clearly established that there are civilizations, however, among which it is necessary to include all the "primitives" and also the major polytheistic groups, that profess theoretical and practical relativism in matters of religion and affirm that no one religion in particular, but all religions together, fulfill the religious function of mankind in the world and before God. And those who, like Plato and the Aztecs, awaited a future revelation adopted the same attitude regarding their contemporary world. Accordingly, to come to closer grips with the problems, it seems necessary to distinguish between the religions founded on a revelation in the strict sense and other religions.
Theological Definition. In the case of revealed religions, which are at the same time religions of salvation, the problem of definition seems simple, for it is given by revelation itself, at least implicitly. Revelation indicates specifically under what conditions a man can fulfill his destiny and be saved. The theology of the salvation of unbelievers indicates precisely under what conditions the individuals who do not know the revelation can participate in salvation. But the interpreters of the revelation do not say whether there are really any nonrevealed religions that deserve the name of religion. The special polemical character of the inspired writings that criticize the pagan religions do not permit on the basis of their arguments a definitive judgment to be passed on the religions in question.
The revealed religions, however, do not make salvation the primary end and immediate object of religion. From the subjective point of view, religion is a virtue that leads man to render to God the homage that is due to Him. As an objective manner of behavior and concrete manifestation of virtue, it comprises belief in one God, personal and infinite in His attributes; an attitude of absolute respect and submission; exterior acts that express this belief and this attitude in worship; and, as required by all exterior human activity, institutions to regulate that activity.
Historical Definition. There is a science of religions, however, that is a branch of anthropology. This science does not teach the norms of the true religion, and it is not occupied solely with the institutions that have come from revelation. It includes within its scope what men have come to employ, so to speak, as substitutes for revelation, along with many contradictions that baffle science itself. Yet it is precisely the tentative efforts of science in themselves that make possible a better grasp of the whole amplitude of the problems of man and religion.
On the level of the collection of documents to be studied, science ought to begin, then, with a very broad conception of its object and thus let nothing escape it that may sometime be able to clarify an aspect of the religious phenomenon. The definition of the latter, accordingly, will be entirely pragmatic, and will embrace belief, rite, and institution that occupy in a group the place that revelation reserves for religion. Furthermore, it is well known how difficult it is to enter into the spirit of an environment in which one has not been reared. Hence it is rash to try to decide too quickly whether this or that conception is closely connected or not with what other religions believe and practice. This kind of judgment and distinction can be made only after long work and study.
It is possible, it seems, to employ a criterion that is less pragmatic, negative, or exterior, for marking out or defining the object of research. A specific domain may be circumscribed, once that is distinct, e.g., from metaphysics and techniques, by a characteristic aspect inherent in all that is religious in the broadest sense of the term and that is proper to itself. This is the concept of "the sacred."
The Sacred. The sacred is opposed to the profane. Although the majority of primitive and ancient peoples never separated the two domains in their interpretations and usages, they distinguished them sharply enough by their different psychological reactions. The sacred, as distinct from the profane, represents an order of reality, the presence of which commands man's attention and at the same time escapes him; it is simultaneously desired and regarded with awe. In other words, it possesses an essentially ambivalent character, which makes man feel at once irresistibly attracted by its grandeur and frightened by its superiority.
This double character of the sacred, which R. Otto called fascinans and tremendum, is one of the keys to the discovery and interpretation of religious phenomena. But research becomes science only from the moment it occupies itself with putting order into the material collected and when it succeeds, by comparison and distinction, in producing a classification. It is then necessary to select from the categories obtained that which should be called religion. The discussions that have agitated the science of religion for more than a century demonstrate clearly that all that was believed "to take the place of religion" cannot be included in its essence and its history. Many essential facts of history have changed category as progress has been made in understanding.
Religion and Magic. One of the facts to emerge clearly from the constant revision of ideas mentioned is this: two kinds of phenomena exist that can indeed occupy the place of religion but that assume conceptions of the world and of the position of man that are diametrically opposed, namely, religion and magic. The fact that so many theories have been advanced to explain the hypothetical passage of one to the other by an evolutionary process and the fact also that the civilizations that claim to include magical practices in religion had to invent myths to explain this inconsistency show that both science and religions perceive an essential difference between religion and magic.
The opposition between them is clearly evident from both their respective conceptions of the order of the world and of man's attitude in this world. Magic believes in an ensemble of automatic forces that gives the man who knows their techniques an unconditional efficacy or power independent of every other will except his own. Religion, on the other hand, acknowledges a universe that always remains, and one in which man always remains, dependent on a good will that is absolutely beyond the reach or power of techniques effective in themselves. Even if man, in order to reconcile the two conceptions, claims that he has received his knowledge and power from the divinity, who then loses control over them in such cases, there is an implication that the feeling of an ultimate dependence that one tries to avoid is still present. This distinction made, the inductive work required to determine the constituent elements of religion becomes feasible.
Double Usage of the Term "Religion." The science of religions always studies religion and magic together because their opposition clarifies problems. For the sake of simplification, the two continue to be studied under the one heading, religion, and the specific religion studied is even defined according to the proportion and combination of the two in the theory and practice of its environment. This is the pragmatic usage, the broad sense of the term, and it is so employed in the expression science of religions.
But on a different level of research, science is not merely concerned with each "religion." It tends to make comparisons and then to distinguish and establish constants in order to define religion more precisely as a system of coherent phenomena, distinct from other concurrent phenomena, and in opposition to magic in particular. It is not yet a philosophy of religion but rather a synthesis of historical data. Few peoples have produced a conscious and critical elaboration of these elements. Therefore, it is precisely the function of the science of religions to explain in their name, without misrepresenting them, what they conceive implicitly, namely, the precise content and trends of their religious feeling, which is often complex but coherent in practice—their religion in the strict and exact sense.
Content of Religions
At the outset it is essential to consider a matter of basic importance, namely, the object of religion and the conception of this object.
Object of Religion. Religion is opposed to the anarchy of magic by an attitude of dependence that is felt and accepted within definite limits. This attitude itself, therefore, assumes a certain conception of its object. Investigation shows that this attitude is always directed to a reality superior to man, a reality that is beyond the control of man's will and all the forces of nature. Those who maintain that this reality is merely the projection of the attitude itself emphasize at least that such an attitude and such an object are connected and that man does not have the choice or decision.
This reality belongs to the category of the sacred, with its characteristic ambivalence. But while magic tries, in spite of the fear it provokes, to make itself master of the sacred in order to use its power, religion sees in fear a reason for respect because it sees in the attraction of the sacred a reason for acknowledgment or surrender. This is accepted dependence. The difference, however, is not only in the subjective attitude, but in the object itself, because it is conceived in a different manner.
Specialists in the science of religions believed for some time that there were two successive attitudes in the history of religion. According to this view man first tried to control the sacred by "incantation," and often-repeated failure then forced him to resign himself to "invocation." This is the theory of "From Spell to Prayer," according to the formula of R. R. Marset (1866–1943). A knowledge of the facts, which was less distorted by evolutionary theory, then suggested that man in all periods felt inclined to try one method or the other—a procedure that is closer to the historical and psychological truth. But invocation, prayer—the religious act par excellence—assumes that the sacred is conceived as having ears for hearing, a heart for understanding, and a freedom to reply—in brief, that the sacred is regarded as a person. Furthermore, it may be noted in passing that an act such as prayer implies that man by his reason did not merely construct an object of thought as a logical response to a question on existence, a first principle. It was necessary also that, in some manner, he should "feel" it as living, for otherwise, he would not have prayed to it. As U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848–1931) once said, "Zu einem Begriff betet kein Mensch" (No man prays to a concept).
Vagueness in the Concept of Divinity. It must be kept in mind, however, that religion finds expression not only in prayer but also in sacrifice, purifications, and consecrations, whose mechanism of efficacy and objective presuppositions are much more ambiguous than in the case of prayer. They can leave the personal character of the divine very vague. Likewise, the much Divine (Θε[symbol omitted]ον), the One, the Logos, the Brahman, etc., may well inspire a strong feeling of complete dependence; but all these seem to be limited to the representation of a transcendent order that is hardly favorable to dialogue, but an order that men seek to recognize and to venerate by a strict submission.
In this case, however, one notes quickly a discord between speculative conceptions and the religious attitude in which the personal representation unfailingly reappears. Whether this situation results from psychological need or is due to the power of religious experience is not clear. Yet this Absolute, the alleged impersonal divine force, is prayed to in moving fashion by the Sioux as Wakonda, by the emperor of China as Heaven, or by the Stoic Cleanthes as Zeus. Perhaps this inconsistency exists only for modern Westerners, who find difficulty in thinking of the personal except in anthropomorphic terms. More deeply, however, it is perhaps the religious sense itself that perceives that this lofty Reality is so different from all other human experiences that it cannot be included in any of the contradictory categories of Western thought. On the other hand, the knowledge that man has of this Reality is so closely connected with the immensity of the universe and its order—impressive even for a primitive in his own little universe—with this All that is at once calm and agitated, that man, as the whole history of religions bears witness, is led to hesitate constantly between the personal and the impersonal, looking now at the one and now at the other according to the circumstances in which he believes that he encounters, or desires to approach, the one or the other. The religious sense itself influences him to respect what he knows of the nature of the sacred reality without imposing his own ideas upon it. Nevertheless, a historical description of the manner in which men conceive the object of their acts of submission and homage cannot assume a rigorous and exclusive precision. In any case, the inclusion of a strict notion of person would limit to an extreme degree the range of a historical definition of the object of religion. On the other hand, the personal aspect always makes itself felt.
Transcendence and Unicity of the Object of Religion. The same ambiguity marks the question of the transcendence and unicity of the object of religion. These are two interdependent aspects, and in their regard the majority of religions are uniformly vague. Just as very few cultures are concerned about the absolute origin of the universe, although they consider it vitally important to fit man into the totality of the universe that actually exists, so also, like the ancient philosophers, they are much more conscious of the sovereignty of divinity than of the need of defining its internal nature. The chief preoccupation of religions that are not strictly and aggressively monotheistic is the multiplicity of the elements or relations that mark man's dependence. Concrete expression is given to these relations under the form of spirits or gods.
At first sight it would seem rather easy to oppose polytheism and monotheism. But when one begins to interpret images and names, this opposition between the one and the many frequently eludes precise analysis. The Great Gods of many African peoples can bear collective names and not belong to the grammatical class of animate beings, and yet they are treated as persons. Similarly, in the most highly developed religions of the Greco-Roman world and the ancient East there is a constant intermingling of notions of many individual gods and of unique divinity. One gets the impression that the sovereignty of the gods, which is their essential prerogative, is a collegiate sovereignty, with or without hierarchy, in which each god is absolute ruler of a part of reality, and all the gods together are absolute Master of the universe in its totality. In worship each god, when he is invoked, seems to be regarded as the momentary expression of all divinity (Kathenotheism), and in popular piety one god is in practice given a place above all others as the equivalent of all (henotheism). Accordingly, many ethnologists in dealing with very primitive peoples do not hesitate to state that some of their gods appear as "hypostases" of the cosmic God, as a remote foundation or beginning from which they do not separate themselves completely. Perhaps a total manifestation of Divinity, always identical with itself, is beyond the range of human experience. In fact, the knowledge of the divine that men have is always acquired through perception in depth of particular aspects of the universe. Hence the transcendence of the divine is never perceived except through its immanent manifestations.
Philosophy is primarily concerned with examining thoroughly and describing precisely each and every aspect of experience. Religion, on the other hand, is concerned essentially with taking a thing just as it thinks that it perceives it, and it adopts practical behavior to it in accordance with this perception. But even the ancient philosophers, although deliberately remaining very close to myth, which among ancient peoples gave expression to constructions of reality actually experienced, were always tempted by the idea that impersonality and indetermination were characteristic of transcendence, while its manifestations in the universe could only be limited and therefore multiple.
On the basis of historical investigation, apart from revelation, it must be concluded as very probable that transcendence and a certain unicity are consciously present even when a multiplicity of gods is recognized and that, in spite of its various manifestations in the universe, divinity remains entirely other and, above all, sovereign. It is only as a result of reactions of very complex origin that the monotheistic religions rejected other systems and thus opposed in a consistent and strict manner every tendency that would lead to involvement in cosmic manifestations—especially biological and immanent manifestations—of the absolute Reality, transcendent and unique, and regarded before all as sovereign.
Attitudes. It is easy to see that the manner in which religion is conceived determines man's attitude toward it. As a matter of fact there is necessarily a reciprocal reaction between religious representations and attitudes, and scientific observation can hardly do more than note a complex ensemble in which it is difficult to distinguish what is tendency or trend and what is experience. But to suppose that everything in religion is merely a subjective projection is an opinion that is not based on science but reflects rather philosophical criticism. On the contrary, the fact that the divine is represented as personal, endowed with consciousness, freedom, and initiative, seems to indicate clearly that men feel themselves really at grips with objective forces of a spiritual character: religiously minded men have thought even that God is not so much the object of religion as its subject, the active agent who determines even man's own initiative. In revealing Himself in a certain manner, He actually directs even man's reaction. It is very likely for this reason that in religions that are strictly theistic there is recourse also to divination in order to know exactly in a given case what the Divinity expects of man or will, on His side, accept.
Submission to a person considered as superior and free necessarily includes respect in the state of dependence. But some pagans have gone even further. Sometimes they give feminine titles to God without, however, making him a mother goddess. But the great majority of those who believe in a Sky God, i.e., the most transcendent form of the divine, call him Father. This name, however, does not allude to creation or to any kind of filiation but rather to the nature of his general comportment toward man and that of man toward him. Again, fear can be dominant when the transcendence of the divine is associated with cosmic manifestations like the great calmness of the sky and its violent storms. Yet one should not forget that a terrible mother goddess, such as the Hindu goddess Kali, is at the same time a beloved mother. Reasoning is certainly not the determining factor in such cases, but rather man's experience in his daily life in the world. At a lower level, yet very close to the one just mentioned, God can be conceived in a manner little different from the spirits of nature, those manifestations of multiple and contradictory forces that are anthropopathic, i.e., having the same feelings or passions as man. In this case even respect disappears, and transcendence is reduced to a low level. Magic can take the upper hand.
These last phenomena mark the limit of religious facts and go even beyond it. If there were not other nuances and other conceptions, which come into play at the same time, it would no longer be possible in these instances to speak of religion in the strict sense of the term.
Expression by Religious Rites. An interior attitude, especially if it is felt with at least some intensity, is expressed normally by gestures, words, or actions. These manifestations should be the starting point for the observer who wishes to study the spiritual content of religions. At any rate, they are of prime importance for verifying the affirmations obtained by questions, discussions, or literary speculations in which the presence of the stranger and the judgments that are unconsciously suggested by his attitudes exercise a marked influence on the spontaneity and sincerity of statements made.
It is well established that there are no civilizations without religious rites. These rites may be reduced to the minimum, even to the point that many inexperienced observers do not perceive them, especially if they are spontaneous, and have little that is formalistic or ceremonial about them. Such is the case in the majority of the religions of the primitives with regard to the Supreme Heavenly Being.
Prayer. Prayers are found everywhere and range from spontaneous invocations without fixed formulas to hymns of literary character, which cannot always be successfully distinguished from incantations. They are addressed to all entities that a religion conceives as representing the divine in any manner. They relate to all needs and desires and may include moral and spiritual values. Even among the pagans, and perhaps especially among the primitives, there are prayers stressing social justice, individual virtues, and unity.
Sacrifice. But the rite that is most significant and at the same time most difficult to analyze is sacrifice. The term is often employed to designate rites that are very dissimilar and ambiguous. But in such a phenomenon, since it is a human act, what ought to be decisive respecting a definition is the interior attitude of the subject and then, indirectly, the nature of the Being to which appeal is made. The sovereign gods only, either alone or on a sharing basis, are objects of sacrifices. These sacrifices are direct offshoots of the primitive offerings of first fruits of the chase or gathering. Accordingly, they are acts whereby man deprives himself of his goods in order to recognize by so doing the absolute rights of divinity over his property and over himself. But when excessive anthropomorphism enters into the representation of the divine or when the destruction of goods is made to satisfy inferior beings, eventually there is no longer any idea of true sacrifice. There is then a question rather of gifts that are sent on their way by death or fire to the world of spirits. Between these two extremes all ambiguities are possible. If the same word is applied to all cases in which there is destruction of property or offering, it loses all precise meaning and designates an aspect that is merely exterior and material. Hence it is necessary to distinguish sacrifices, offerings, gifts, presents, contracts (do ut des ), magic, blackmail, etc.
Passage Rites. Another rich category of rites comes from the ambivalence of the sacred, namely, passage rites, i.e., purifications, consecrations, and other precautions that are intended to protect the man who approaches the sacred or who leaves the domain of the sacred to return to the profane world. In this case, especially, it is difficult to draw the line between religion and magic because the interested parties themselves do not try to define precisely their interior attitude. This is the situation particularly respecting "confessions," "taboos," or interdicts, the meaning of which depends entirely on the circumstances and on the mentality of the milieu.
Feasts and Ceremonies. Finally, the extremely important category of rites, or rather of cycles of rites, namely, that of feasts and ceremonies, is difficult to classify as religious in the strict sense. But these rites must be studied carefully if one wishes to get a precise idea of the religious phenomenon. They are passage-rites in one of their aspects, but the passage in question is no longer that from the sacred to the profane or vice versa. They celebrate and effect rather the passage of an individual or of a group, or of all nature, from one state to another—age, religious or social function, or season. Their internal structure leads scholars to classify them more and more as mystery rites because of the parallel with the Hellenistic mysteries. From the religious point of view it is to be noted that these rites disregard, but do not exclude, the idea of homage or invocation to a divinity. On the other hand, they express a deep and strongly felt submission to a superior cosmic order, which is often characterized by greater intensity than submission to God. Their function is to subject all growth in man and nature to a process of total renewal of being. This process is carried out ordinarily under the form of various symbols of death and rebirth. The complete acceptance of the conditions of human existence exhibits subjectively all the characteristics of the religious attitude. But, objectively, these rites are marked by the absence of the worship of divinity, for the sovereign will and intervention of divinity are not evoked. The "gods," if mentioned at all, are only models who were the first themselves to experience the operation of the cosmic law of renewal.
These rites, despite their aspect of dependence, are easily exposed to magic interpretations and deformations, which are all the more dangerous because they corrupt a highly spiritual element. Their danger is inherent in the fact that the universal structure to which man recognizes that he belongs and to which he wishes to be closely joined is not explicitly represented as an order willed by God. On the other hand, it seems that religious life can gain in depth only where, as in Christianity, the mysterical rite is an integral part of the worship of God. There is then no longer question of mysteries but of sacraments.
Mythology. A separate place must be given to mythology. At the outset it is necessary to understand "myth" in the correct sense that has only recently become clear. myth is the normal form for expressing the content of religion before the elaboration of philosophical definitions, and even side by side with them. Myth is also rite. It cannot be said that a myth is always the explanation of a rite or that every rite postulates a myth. The recitation itself of the myth is a rite, as is shown by the conditions required for communicating it: secrecy, night, ceremonies, etc. The myth seeks to give expression to religious experience without separating it from the concrete elements of that experience. To maintain this connection is properly the function of symbols. Only the myth projects this experience beyond actual and profane time in order to emphasize the absolute value attributable to it.
Religion in Relation to the Individual and Society
After the explanation of the objective elements (representations) and subjective elements (attitudes) of religion, which are both expressed by exterior acts (rites), it must now be emphasized that because of the importance of the social factor in the life of men, especially in the realm of expression, religions necessarily have a social aspect. The significance of the social expression of religion is brought out by the latest classification of types of religion into tribal, national, and universal. The first two types show clearly that the religious experience of individuals, which is the basis of all religious life, becomes a religion, i.e., an institution that leaves a trace in history, only if other individuals participate in it. This participation is the guarantee and necessary sanction of the objectivity and authenticity of the private experience. In the two types mentioned the collectivity whose sanction is decisive is the natural collectivity (cultural or political) whose exclusive solidarity encompasses strictly the life of the individuals concerned.
But the need of collective sanction, even outside the revealed religions, is much more evident in the universal religions that rise in some way on the ruins of the natural collectivities whose authority has been shattered by the contact and mingling of cultures. Religious experience and its exigencies remain, but they seek their collective guarantee in a collective organization proper, founded on the one religion only, and with its specialized officers.
Priesthood. Priesthood, however, is earlier than the universal religions. It is not found, it is true, at the tribal stage, at which there are specialists for the efficacious rites of magic and animism, while the relation with the supreme divinity remains the prerogative of tribal members, each acting for himself and for the natural groups for which he is responsible. Priesthood appears first in the national religions as a specialization of all religions functions, after the manner of specialization of political functions. Just as the nation develops out of the political centralization occasioned by foreign aggression or by the initiative of individuals who, in order to assure their domination over their group and neighboring groups, make use of a power that was acknowledged in their case as needed for the protection of tribal territory, so this new unity embraces generally a nonhomogeneous collection of cultural groups that had traditionally been independent.
This new situation calls for a religious justification in accordance with the mentality of tribal cultures. Political power, which is of profane origin, seeks an alliance with the natural representatives of these groups. These representatives are stripped of their political functions, but by way of compensation they are invested, in the name of these groups, with the specialized religious function. A universal reflex is to be noted in ancient civilizations in this respect: a religious solidarity is reestablished when the cultural solidarity is destroyed. At the tribal stage secret societies then have their birth. At the national stage, the sacerdotal function comes into being. In the universal religions the priesthood becomes completely independent, at least in essence, of the political power, and vice versa. Even in these religions, however, some mutual understandings are necessary and are deliberately sought in order to take into account the religious mentality of the masses and to regulate the conflicts of authority and interest between specialists.
Prophetism. Yet in this evolution of the sociology of religions toward specialization of functions, reactions in an opposite direction are not lacking. On the religious plane prophetism makes its appearance, and its characteristic note is universality. prophetism may be described as a protest of the individual conscience against the excesses of specialization. The prophet himself, however, needs collective sanction. If he gets it within his own group, he becomes a reformer; if not, he will become the founder of a new religion more independent of the cultural or political structures of his milieu.
But in this connection it is necessary to correct the sociological classification of religions since the term "universal religion" is ambiguous. In fact, universality is inherent in genuine religious experience. Hence, even in the most primitive religions, as soon as they give an important place to the personal Sky God, universality is present, since they consider, often in a touching manner, that their cult is necessary for the maintenance of the whole universe, including other religions and cultures. This kind of thinking, however, does not limit itself to the creation of a single universal religion, but it continues to regard every religion as charged with a function in the whole. It has a prophetic tendency, but this confines itself to stressing the necessity of individual religious experience by visions (Native North Americans) or by ecstasy (shamanism; see shaman and medicine man).
The prophet is not only universal in his outlook but tends to pass beyond the national religion into a single universal religion by the deepening of his experience in respect to the transcendent Creator or Sky God. Such a universal religion is opposed to the utilitarian or egoistic preoccupations of the specialists or of societies closed in upon themselves.
Morality. The problem of the relations between religion and morality must be situated in a similar perspective (see religion and morality). If morality is identified with fidelity to the individual conscience to the point of excluding all collective sanctions and all objective norms, one may be tempted to consider tribal or national religions as completely amoral. Correspondingly, universal religions will be relegated to the domain of strictly private life. But if it is considered that tribal and national religions arise in groups in which the individual feels that he is truly himself, both in security and defined by function only in the perfect solidarity of the group, it follows that the group's religion and its morality are completely identified. The one expresses and effects the desired integration of the individual into the human group; and the other, his integration and that of the group into the universe. Man and society regard themselves as members of this universe. It should be noted, furthermore, that the individual desires this integration intensely, for it gives him a meaning. And this integration is not purely passive or impersonal, since even in the most strictly clannish religions the protest of the individual expresses itself in his belief—so surprising to the ethnologist—in the "distant god," who is invoked in precise terms as a recourse against the community that has become unjust. There is no effective revolt but solely an appeal to the transcendent witness because the experience of life teaches daily the necessary reality and practical primacy of group solidarity.
On the other hand, if it is true that the apparent history of human societies is that of a "progressive laicization," there are grounds for questioning the rationalistic optimism of the 19th century and for observing, furthermore, that the so-called rational system of morality influences consciences only to the extent that they are sustained, however unknowingly, by religious values still widespread in the milieu that follows it. Such a system of morality collapses as soon as individuals change their milieu without taking their religion with them, just as every detribalized individual finds himself without moorings and lost.
Salvation. The sociological classification of religions and the corrections required have been covered sufficiently. It is necessary to pass to other distinctions that, strictly, concern aspects only of religions. These aspects are wrongly regarded as being capable in themselves of defining a religion, such as monotheism, polytheism, and animism. They are only ingredients, however, the combination of which characterizes each particular religion. Yet there is one aspect that appears to be more specific, namely, the idea of salvation. Some think that every religion is a salvation religion, while others hold that only universal religions can be salvation religions. The former, however, can find the idea of salvation in all religions only on condition that they recognize that, in tribal religions in particular, the idea of salvation is entirely implicit. The tribal religions do not have a pessimistic metaphysics that would teach the necessity of a savior since they propose and effect a perfect integration of individuals into their group and into their universe, in order that they may participate in their values, without separating the sacred and the profane. The attitude of these religions is not one of preoccupation with saving or transforming their world but of maintaining it, and themselves with it, by adhering scrupulously to its actual structures.
It is to be emphasized that Christianity does not belong in either category. It is not solely a religion of salvation, but a religion of redemption.
Origin and Evolution of Religion
The analysis presented above has eventually led to the question—at least in simplified form—of the origin and historical variations in religion. Since the prehistoric documentation is obviously inadequate by its very nature, it is necessary to employ ethnological comparisons as much as possible to clarify origins. It may be stated without qualification that no culture, however primitive and backward, has been found that does not have ideas on divinity, spirits, human survival, and supernatural forces, along with corresponding rites. The problem of religion seems indeed to be identical with the problem of man (hominization).
The whole evolution of religion seems to be summed up in a diversification of syntheses and proportions of the same universal elements. Apart from a few notable exceptions, a certain parallelism is evident between the inordinate development, on the one hand, of magic, animism, fertility rites, and finally, polytheism, and on the other, the cultural changes that have produced civilizations that became more and more complex in their economic and political techniques. The great civilizations belong to general history rather than to the history of religions since they, in particular, have only developed further a political and philosophical heritage that was constituted in its entirety before history. Revealed religions alone pose specific problems, since they constitute conscious reactions against the tendencies of evolution. The Bible, and to some extent Zarathushtra, go very definitely against the trend of their contemporary milieus. All else that can be said on these subjects falls in the sphere of philosophy and theology, and not in that of sciences such as anthropology and sociology.
See Also: religion (in primitive culture); religion, philosophy of; religion, sociology of.
Bibliography: General works. h. pinard de la boullaye, L'Étude comparée des religions, 3 v. (3d ed. Paris 1931). g. mensching, et al., Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 5:961–975, 986–991, with good bibliog. f. kÖnig, ed., Religionswissenschaftliches Wörterbuch (Freiburg 1956). f. kÖnig, ed., Christus und die Religionen der Erde: Handbuch der Religionsgeschichte, 3 v. (2d ed. Vienna 1961). p. tacchi venturi, Storia delle religioni, 2 v. (4th ed. Turin 1954). m. brilliant and r. aigrain, eds., Histoire des religions, 5 v. (Paris 1953–56). f. heiler, Erscheinungsformen und Wesen der Religion (Stuttgart 1961). a. brunner, Die Religion (Freiburg 1956). m. eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. r. sheed (New York 1958). m. eliade and j. kitagawa, eds., The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology (Chicago 1959). j. wach, The Comparative Study of Religions (New York 1958). p. schebesta, Der Ursprung der Religion (Berlin 1961). w. schmidt, Der Ursprung der Gottesidee, 12 v. (Münster), v. 1 (2d ed. 1926), v. 2–12 (1925–55). Special works. r. caillois, L'Homme et le Sacré (2d ed. Paris 1953). b. hÄring, Das Heilige und das Gute (Freiburg 1950). m. eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, tr. from Fr. w. r. trask (New York 1959); Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries, tr. from Fr. p. mairet (New York 1960); Birth and Rebirth, tr. from Fr. w. r. trask (New York 1958). r. otto, The Idea of the Holy, tr. j. w. harvey (2d ed. New York 1958). r. allier, Magie et religion (Paris 1935). c. h. ratschow, Magic und Religion (2d ed. Gütersloh 1955). t. ohm, Die Liebe zu Gott in den nichtchristlichen Religionen (Krailling, Ger.1951). a. kirchgÄssner, Die mächtigen Zeichen: Ursprünge, Formen und Gesetze des Kultes (Freiburg 1959). b. malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion (New York 1955). r. will, Le Culte, 3 v. (Paris 1925–35). f. heiler, Das Gebet: Eine religionsgeschichtliche und religionspsychologische Untersuchung (5th ed. Munich 1923). a. vorbichler, Das Opfer auf den uns heute noch erreichbaren ältesten Stufen der Menscheitsgeschichte (Mödling 1956). a. e. jensen, Myth and Cult among Primitive Peoples, tr. m.t. choldin and w. weissleder (Chicago 1963). j. de vries, Forschungsgeschichte der Mythologie (Freiburg 1961). p. radin, The World of Primitive Man (New York 1960).
"Religion." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/religion
"Religion." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/religion