Primitive religion is a name given to the religious beliefs and practices of those traditional, often isolated, preliterate cultures which have not developed urban and technologically sophisticated forms of society. The term is misleading in suggesting that the religions of those peoples are somehow less complex than the religions of "advanced" societies. In fact, research carried out among the indigenous peoples of Oceania, the Americas, and sub Saharan Africa have revealed rich and very complex religions, which organize the smallest details of the people's lives.
Since the 17th century in the Western world scholars have speculated on the problem of the beginnings of human culture by making use of the empirical data collected about religious belief and practice among the non European cultures of the New World, Africa, Australia, the South Pacific, and elsewhere. Religion thus became one of the areas of study that shaped current ideas about the origins of human consciousness and institutions. Religion, both as a human experience and as an expression of that experience, was viewed as a primitive model of human consciousness, most clearly seen in primitive cultures. It is significant that the first systematic treatise in the discipline of Anthropology, Edward B Tylor's Primitive Culture (1871), had "Religion in Primitive Culture" as its subtitle, and that the first person to be appointed to a professorial chair of social anthropology in Britain was Sir James Frazer, author of the monumental study of comparative folklore, magic, and religion, The Golden Bough.
Theories of Primitive Religion
Theories of the nature of primitive religion have moved between two poles: one intellectualistic and rational, the other psychological and irrational. Tylor and Frazer, both of whom saw primitive religion as characterized preeminently by a belief in magic and unseen forces or powers, represent the intellectual - rational position. Tylor based his... [continues]
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