In the book, the second chapter on the origin of religion is the important since it is speculative and fascinating, as the author suggests. The author notes in the introduction that a number of studies are simply concerned with explaining the reasons why people are religious, but they do not delve into the issue touching on the origin of religion. The focus of the chapter is to report on where religious ideas and practices came from.
Moreover, the chapter evaluates the idea of God or supernatural powers since such powers are sacred forces that influence the behaviour of individuals in a number of ways. The author is of the view that answers to the origin of religion are numerous, even though they can be grouped into a few categories.
To establish the real origin of religion, the use of scientific methods is inadequate hence the use of theories is the only valid method of tracing the origins of religion. Before proceeding to look at the theories that the author provides regarding the origin of religion, it is prudent to define sociology of religion.
Sociology of religion refers to the study of cultural beliefs, practices, and forms of organizations. Sociologists study religion through some of the established tools and methods. Sociological explanation of the origin of religion is very different from the views of other scholars from different fields.
Prehistoric people had no reason to trace the origin of religion since they were not concerned with understanding the dynamics of society. In the modern society, religion plays a critical role of uniting people.
This paper discusses various theories that explain the origin religion in the modern society. Religion in the modern society is very complex, unlike in the traditional society whereby it was considered an individual’s belief system.
Origins of Religion
Revelation is one of the theories that sociologists employ in trying to explain how people started worshiping the supernatural being. The author notes that people believed in God, who was the creator, in the early days of Christianity. In this regard, God was the originator of all religions in the world, including the traditional ones. The theory suggests that God created everything on earth, including people.
In the Garden of Eden God instituted some principles and laws that were supposed to govern the first man. Later on, God would pass his message through prophets, as he did in the Old Testament. Through this process, he was creating religion since he expected people to follow his commandments. A number of religions believe in this theory, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism.
Gautama Buddha claimed that he had a revelation, which inspired him to spread the Buddha teachings. Mormonism was inspired by a revelation that was in form of golden plates that were buried in a hill referred to as Cumorah in New York State (Johnstone 23).
One of the founders of religion, John Smith, claimed that God gave him the power to interpret and translate what was in the plates. In the Islamic religion, Muhammad claimed to have received visions from one of the angels referred to as Gabriel in a cave near Mecca.
Christian theologians who claim that they received direct revelation from God for the gift of true religion hold the natural knowledge of God theory (Johnstone 23). Those who believe in the Holy Bible give such explanations. In fact, the existence of other religions disturbs them so much.
In this regard, Christian theologians wonder how other religions came about since God revealed himself through the chosen people of Israel. The theory answers their question since it claims that people have a fundamental knowledge regarding the existence of God.
Johnstone is of the view that all human beings are born with an elementary knowledge of the heavenly, which is a basic awareness that God or some power is, in due course, responsible for what they witness around them (24). Other religion, other than Christianity, tries to be aware of their surrounding and make sense out of the little knowledge they have in relation to God.
Anthropologists have a different theory explaining the origins of religion. According to anthropological theories, religion emerged as a response to the experiences of various individuals, who tried to construe the world around them. Individuals in the traditional society came across awesome, mysterious, and terrifying events that forced them to reconsider their religious positions.
Some of these terrifying events include sickness, thunder and lightning, earthquakes, tidal waves, and floods (Johnstone 24). Many people sought to find the real causes of these horrifying events. Traditional religious systems were relied upon in explaining these events, which facilitated the growth of religion. People would then allocate causes for the so-called natural observable facts, as well as other recurrent incidents.
Within anthropological explanations, at least two schools of thoughts exist, one of them being naturalistic school headed by Max Muller. This school of thought insists that physical acts of nature, such as storms, sunrises, and tides, contributed to the development of religion (Muller 88).
In this regard, individuals in the prehistoric societies were fearful and defenceless since they existed at the mercy of these horrifying events. Some were worried why a tragic even would happen to them and not other people. Such individuals were of the believe that all natural disasters were either caused by human beings or other human-like agents since they witnessed people killing each other and pushing rocks.
Through this reasoning, this believe, believe in sprits was eminent since individuals thought that some agents must be hiding somewhere, with the power to natural disasters, such as death. Edward Tylor led a different school of thought that held an animistic view, which believed in personal experiences, such as dreams and reflections (Johnstone 25).
Psychologists have a different view as regards the origin of religion, which treats the origin of religion in terms of people’s emotional needs (Johnstone 25). As anthropologists focused on cognitive needs in explaining inexplicable events, psychologists are more focused on giving an emotional explanation.
In this regard, they note that people are always in need of maintaining an emotional stability whenever they experience danger, uncertainty, and interference. People ask themselves how they would get out of danger, particularly when faced with disruptions such as sickness, accident, and threats of death.
An individual would wonder why a disaster would happen to him or her or even to those he or she loves. At this stage, an individual tries to make sense out of the disaster by asking how he or she can find strength to move on. An individual would be aiming at finding some hope in the future. Brown was of the view that religion is a response to constant threats to security, safety, and future existence (12).
Sociologists offer a different explanation concerning the origins of religion. In fact, sociologists do not use the term origins, but instead they employ the word correlates in their analysis of religion to explain its origins. This means that religion is an ever-present aspect in the lives of individuals. Sociologists are focused on establishing the relationships between modern religion and other social forces.
According to modern sociologists, religion is everywhere meaning that tracing its origins would be an exercise in futility since it exists in a number of varieties. George Simmel was one of the sociologists who analyzed religion, as well as its interactions with other social variables. He was of the view that a number of no-religious aspects influence tremendous effect to various forms of religions in the modern society.
In this regard, a number of views and prototypes of expressions frequently referred to as spiritual are also found in other areas of life (Johnstone 30). These patterns are general ingredients of social interactions. They include adulation, loyalty, fervour and worship. Durkheim analyzed the role of religion in legitimizing social values and norms. Through setting standards, religion offers divine sanctions for human behaviour.
When people come together to perform rituals, their feeling of unity is strengthened. Durkheim went ahead to discuss two important concepts, which are totem and totemic principle. He observed that a totem is an object or something alive, including a bird, an animal and plants (Johnstone 31). The object is not so important to human life, but what matters is what the object worships.
Brown, Laurence. Advances in the Psychology of Religion. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1985. Print.
Johnstone, Ronald. Religion in Society: Sociology of Religion. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.
Muller, Max. Anthropological Religion. Whitefish: Kessinger Publication, 2005. Print.