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The Journal of Religion 



Volume I JANUARY 1921 Number 1 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGION 



SHIRLEY JACKSON CASE 
University of Chicago 



Professional historians have not always included religion 
within the purview of their science. Toward Christianity in 
particular their attitude has often been one of deliberate 
reserve or outright indifference. The task of exploring this 
phase of humanity's past has usually been left to the theologian, 
who might or might not employ the methods of study approved 
by historical science. 

Fear of trespassing upon the preserves of the theologian 
is probably not the sole reason for the historians' neglect of 
religion, nor is this the only topic that he has been wont to 
sUght. Frequently he has been content to chronicle the deeds 
of militant princes or scheming statesmen, as though a record 
of poUtical events constituted the sum total of history. 
Scarcely a generation ago an eminent professor of modern 
history at Oxford could still affirm that history is "past 
poUtics." This penchant for politics has resulted in fixing 
the gaze upon monarchs and battles and legislative chambers, 
to the neglect of those more ordinary activities of mankind 
which though less spectacular are none the less significant for 
an understanding of the past. 

Today the horizon of the historian is rapidly enlarging. 
His vision ranges beyond the doings of kings and armies and 
senates to the life of common humanity. Here he discovers 



2 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

a complex stream of interest, thought, and action which has 
been cahnly but imperiously moving on its course down through 
the ages. It is not peculiar to one region or to one people, 
but is the common denominator of all history from the very 
beginning of man's existence down to the present moment. 
Nations rise and fall, warriors and politicians come upon the 
scene only to disappear from view, while the rank and file of 
men in every age continue to make history in their own modest 
fashion. Their quest for food and clothing and other neces- 
sities of existence never ceases; they continue their struggle for 
the acquisition of wealth and power; they constantly strive 
to safeguard health and happiness through the establishment 
of various social institutions; they seek aesthetic satisfaction 
in the production of works of art and music and literature; 
they search for wisdom in the fields of invention, discovery, 
and intellectual discipline; and they ever yearn for protection 
and help in the presence of those mysterious forces of the 
universe which have so often become objects of fear, love, and 
worshipful adoration. 

With this widening of vision the historian is no longer 
content to center attention simply upon political happenings. 
The scope of his observation enlarges to include those common 
daily interests which have characterized the life of men in 
general at all times. But no one of these interests has been 
more conspicuous or persistent than religion. Of hmnanity's 
past it can still be said with a large measure of truth that 
"a man's religion is the chief fact with regard to him — a man's 
or a nation of men's" Therefore the study of religion falls 
properly and of necessity within the domain of the historian. 

During recent times the horizon of the theologian has also 
been enlarging. Formerly he was concerned for the most part 
with maintaining the validity of beUefs and practices cunent 
in the religion of his own day. He was interested in the past 
only as it was thought to furnish guaranties for the present, 
and he unconsciously overlooked, or deliberately ignored as 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGION 3 

unessential to his religion, those features of the past that he 
found no longer tenable. He saw only the world of his own 
immediate interests, and so did his work quite unaware of the 
distortions that inevitably resulted from his lack of historical 
perspective. 

The developments of recent years have tended seriously 
to disturb the accustomed complacency of the theologian. 
The static world of yesterday has become the dynamic and 
evolving universe of the twentieth century. Past and present 
no longer coincide, but are clearly differentiated stages in the 
historic process. This process of becoming is disclosed to 
view throughout the whole range of mankind's experience, not 
excepting even his religion. Hence the theologian is gradually 
coming to recognize that religion — even Christianity— is a genu- 
inely historical phenomenon and that if he is to remain master 
in his own household he must learn the ways of the scientific 
historian. 

The appUcation of scientific historical principles to the study 
of religion might be a somewhat simpler task if historians were 
entirely agreed among themselves regarding their own method- 
ology. But just as there is a " new " theology, whose propriety 
and validity have often been called in question, so there is a 
"new" history which has been gradually winning its way to 
recognition in recent tunes. In the first place, we shall attempt 
to state in summary fashion the distinctive characteristics of 
this modem science of history. 



Probably not even the most ardent champion of new 
methods in the study of history would care to deny the funda- 
mental importance of documents, or to abandon the slogan 
"no documents, no history." If historical investigation is to 
be in any sense scientific it must deal with concrete data. 
Where specific documents or other sunilarly tangible evidences 
from the past are lacking, no sound historical knowledge is 



4 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

obtainable. The new history shares with the old the latter's 
insistence upon the acquisition of accurate statistics. 

On the other hand mere study of documents may become 
a serious handicap to the would-be historian. The ultimate 
unit in history is not the document, but the contemporary 
social order, of which the document may have been merely 
an incidental product. Yet sometimes the study of Uterary 
records and archaeological remains becomes so inherently 
absorbing that no appreciable effort is made to visualize the 
social background necessary for the correct interpretation of 
all historical data. One may be an expert in documentary 
statistics and yet utterly ignore the task of the historian in the 
larger sense of the term. The new history asks its represen- 
tatives to make society rather than documents their point of 
departure in reconstructing the story of the past. 

Now society in any age is an exceedingly complex affair. 
Even our professional sociologists, with the rich materials of 
the present at their disposal, do not find it easy to unravel the 
intricacies of the modern social nexus. Much less can it be 
expected that the historian, dependent as he is upon relatively 
meager sources of information, will be able to lay bare all the 
secrets of society's life during the centuries that have passed. 
Nevertheless acceptance of the social f)oint of view does 
signify some very definite things for the historian's method. 

At the very outset this social emphasis calls for the aban- 
donment of the static conception of history attaching so readily 
to the notion of documents, which by their fixity of form have 
become specific entities for all time. Similarly the historical 
institutions of any period or people have often been treated 
as though they were fixed quantities that might be studied in 
isolation from the social miUeu by which they were produced 
and maintained. When, on the other hand, one centers 
attention upon the great on-going process of society's evolution, 
out of which documents and institutions have from time to 
time emerged, histor}' can no longer be regarded as primarily 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGION 5 

a study of static entities. Its more comprehensive and funda- 
mental aim must be to exhibit, as far as possible, the on-flowing 
currents of real life throughout the ages. Thus a developmental 
conception of the past dominates in the method of the modern 
historian. 

Adoption of the developmental point of view in historical 
thinking leads on to another important item in the definition 
of method. Frequently historians assume that their task is 
simply to describe, with such accuracy of detail as the records 
may justify, the happenings of the past. They deliberately 
refrain from attempting to discover the causes that have deter- 
mined the course of events. So long as it was customary to 
seek these causes entirely in the realms of supernaturalism and 
metaphysical speculation the historian wisely left this quest 
to theologians and philosophers. He, as a mere historian, 
had no objective data from the realms in question. But when 
historical processes are viewed as facts of social evolution they 
become amenable to laws of empirical investigation and so 
constitute a suitable subject for scientific inquiry. In fact 
it is an established canon of the new history that he alone is 
historically minded in the true sense of the term who sees the 
happenings of the past in their proper genetic connections. To 
have real historical knowledge one must be familiar, not only 
with specific events, but also with the casual nexus underlying 
phenomena. 

Search for the genetic forces that enter into the determi- 
nation of the historical process leads, further, to consideration 
of the environment by which men of the past have found them- 
selves surrounded. Since society in the last analysis is an 
aggregation of hiunan beings more or less closely organized 
and acting under the impetus of varied stimuH, the question 
of environmental contacts justly occupies a place of consider- 
able importance in the historian's attention. Peculiarities 
distinguishing different groups of the hiunan family from one 
another used to be dismissed offhand on the hypothesis of 



6 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

inherent racial traits, but nowadays the influence of habitat 
and cUmate is taken into account as among the significant 
factors determining racial characteristics. Even within more 
homogeneous groups the physical environment cannot be ignored 
in one's quest for the genetic forces that have determined the 
course of history 

When observation is centered upon the smaller units of 
society the importance of environment usually increases in 
proportion to the minuteness of one's analysis. Within a 
complex organism a multiplicity of social stimuli are in constant 
operation shaping the direction of history. The power of 
inherited customs and ideas is easily recognized by even a 
casual observer in the field of social motivations. At times 
crucial political experiences have furnished noteworthy incen- 
tives for action. Less spectacular and also less sporadic in 
its occurrence is the pressure of the never ceasing economic 
quest in which the vast majority of men are always involved. 
These are but a few of the more easily recognizable forces to 
be taken account of by one who would even approximate a 
full analysis of the genetic forces that operate within the 
average social order. 

While man is a social creature, it is also true that he is 
possessed of both conscious and unconscious mental life. No 
study of his past is scientific which does not recognize the 
significance of the psychological factor in history. There is 
on the one hand the mental life of the individual and, perhaps 
more significant for history as a whole, the psychology of the 
group. The mental interests and activities of the group, as 
it reacts to heritages and environmental stimuU, determine 
the social customs of any particular age or people. It is also 
in this psychological world of the mass, so to speak, that new 
tendencies and convictions, emerging from time to time in the 
course of historical evolution, attain general recognition. 

The new history does not deny the great man a place in 
its esteem, nor would it necessarily reject outright the famiUar 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGION 7 

assertion that "the history of what man has accomplished in 
this world is at bottom the history of the great men who have 
worked here." But the life of the great man is always socially 
conditioned both in its genesis and in its operations. Were 
it possible for his interests and ideas to become so entirely 
novel as to separate him completely from the common life of 
his contemporaries, history undoubtedly would adjudge him 
a freak rather than a hero. The significance of the individual 
mind is not necessarily obscured, but on the contrary may 
become more apparent, by a fuller recognition of the so-called 
social mind than was formerly customary among historians. 

Furthermore, the will of the mass, whether operating 
imconsciously imder the force of circumstances or voluntarily 
pursuing its own intelligent purposes, finds its characteristic 
expression in the institutional life of the group. For this 
reason the modern historian is quite as much interested in 
institutions as in persons. An established institution reveals 
more or less clearly the common habits and beUefs of a par- 
ticular age, while an individual, however conspicuous, may 
not be truly representative of the historical process in the 
large, and indeed the more striking is his personaUty the less 
likely is he to be representative at all. 

To restore a picture of ancient society in whole or in part 
along the foregoing lines is no easy task. One might fear that 
the "new" history had attempted the impossible. At best 
literary remains and archaeological finds are but secondary 
witnesses to the actual performances in real life of peoples long 
since deceased. True, their institutions may in some instances 
survive, but immediate contact with the vital social processes 
of antiquity is no longer possible. In this respect the students 
of modern society have a marked advantage over their co- 
laborers in the historical field. It is only by the most rigorous 
effort to orient himself psychologically in the ancient world 
that the historian may hope to acquire the proper perspective and 
the trustworthy historical imagination necessary for his task. 



8 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Fortunately for modem historians, at the present time 
valuable assistance may be derived from workers in other 
fields closely related to the study of history. From the 
sociologist and the psychologist one may learn much about the 
nature of society both in its material and in its mental aspects. 
While it would be absurd to assume that modern civilization 
is merely a replica of ancient society, nevertheless it is unques- 
tionably true that the more elemental interests and the 
characteristic impulses of the human species, particularly in 
its group life, have perpetuated themselves from generation 
to generation substantially unaltered. It is in the realm of 
presuppositions underlying thought and conduct that change 
has been most pronounced, but at this point the assistance 
of the anthropologist may be sought. Until within relatively 
recent times the scientific bases of modem thinking were quite 
unknown, hence the unscientific presuppositions entertained 
by primitive societies and individuals, as disclosed especially 
by the modern study of anthropology, may often be of far 
greater service than twentieth-century scientific concepts in 
helping the historian to orient himseK within the life of the 
ancient world. 

Such in barest outhne are the more noteworthy principles 
of scientific method employed today in the field of historical 
study. We may now ask, in the second place, how a recog- 
nition of these principles affects the study of rehgion. 

II 

The historian who undertakes the study of reUgion is 
confronted at the outset by a serious challenge. Has he the 
equipment and capacity for dealing with the subject in hand ? 
As a professed scientist his method of procedure must be 
strictly inductive; all of his conclusions are to be derived from 
concrete and empirically verifiable data. He lacks chart and 
compass for navigating those treacherous seas of poetic fancy, 
mystical emotion, and metaphysical speculation which in vary- 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGION g 

ing degrees have always played a conspicuous role in all 
religions. To be sure, he possesses tolerably accurate instru- 
ments for measuring the extent to which such phenomena have 
been current in the past; he can trace with some degree of 
certainty their historical evolution; frequently he is able to 
define the circumstances by which they have been produced 
and maintained; and he can note the function served by them 
in the various religions. But beyond these experimentally 
ascertainable facts he, in the capacity of historian, may not go. 

This is not to say that the historian would deny religion 
its right to be fancy free in exploring those regions of emotion 
and speculation that lie beyond the present boundaries of 
empirical knowledge. But he would distinguish sharply 
between his own task, as an observer and interpreter of his- 
torical data, and that of the speculative theologian whose 
principal concern has always been with problems l)dng outside 
the realm of experimentally attestable knowledge. The very 
nature of his science compels the historian to choose the former 
field for his operations. He works under the conviction that 
religion can be best understood by giving first attention, not 
to its theoretical aspects, but to its actual historical manifes- 
tations; and when speculative interpretations and historical 
research meet on common ground he will insist that all 
hypotheses be judged at the bar of his science. 

In his search for the historic facts of religion the student 
who adopts modern methodology will aim ultimately to inter- 
pret religious movements, and only incidentally to expound 
sacred literatures. This observation, while true in connection 
with the study of all religions, is peculiarly in point for the 
student of Christianity. Particularly durmg the last half- 
century its sacred book, especially the New Testament, has 
been engaging the attention of numerous scholars. Scientific 
methods have been employed in recovering the most original 
form of its text, note has been taken of the circumstances under 
which its various parts were composed, and the documents 



lO THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

have been expounded as expressions of the minds of their 
several authors. These results are of immense significance 
for a historical understanding of the New Testament, but they 
are scarcely more than introductory to the work of the modem 
historian of early Christianity. His ultimate concern is with 
the real people who constituted the personnel of the Christian 
communities, and who acquired and exhibited their rehgion 
in actual life as members of a definite social order. When 
viewing religion thus as a vital factor in the social evolution 
of humanity, the historian clearly differentiates his task from 
both that of the speculative theologian and that of the 
distinctively biblical interpreter.' 

When linked up thus inseparably with the evolution of 
society, religion must be viewed as essentially a developmental 
rather than a static phenomenon. Religions, like other factors 
in the social order, emerge and increase by a gradual process 
of growth from simpler to more elaborate forms. It is the 
business of the historian to follow the course of this evolutionary 
process from first to last. Within the last half-century this 
developmental conception has completely transformed our 
study of the ethnic faiths. Instead of assuming, as was for- 
merly the custom, that heathen religions are the result of a degen- 
eration from a purer and nobler type of faith, we now recognize 
that they are products of actual growth resulting from a gradual 
process of expansion increasing in complexity under the con- 
tinued stimulus of social environment. 

Perhaps it is less easy to appreciate the significance of the 
developmental conception of religion as apphed to Christianity. 
Its history has usually been read not in the language of evolu- 
tion but in terms of definite quantities of doctrine, custom, 
and organization. But modem historical study treats these 
entities as products of the Christian movement which itself is 
visuahzed and interpreted primarily as a process of historical 

' As an indication of this growing interest in vital religion socially conceived, 
one may note that the present Jot<rnal of Religion supersedes a journal of "theologj'" 
and a "biblical world." 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGION ii 

evolution in religious living on the part of persons ^nd groups 
of persons affected very immediately by the contemporary 
social order. 

In treating of factors that influence the evolution of reli- 
gions, the historian is restricted by the very canons of his science 
to such items as can be discovered in the actual personal 
experiences of the devotees of a religion. For the student of 
Christianity in particular, this phase of modern method may 
prove at the outset somewhat disturbing. The time-honored 
custom of resorting to an alleged revelation, which is assumed 
to operate independently of ordinary human experiences, and 
the habit of regarding Christianity as inherently possessed 
of an unhistorically conditioned quantity of generative 
spiritual energy, not only has prejudiced one against consider- 
ing seriously the possibility of normal social influences but 
has left nothing to be gained from this source of inquiry. This 
attitude of mind is incompatible with the method of the 
scientific historian. In discussing the question of genesis he 
insists that the fountains of empirical knowledge are to be 
exhausted before the problem is passed on to the metaphy- 
sician. 

Consequently the modern student vigorously interrogates 
the environment in order to extract its secrets regarding the 
genetic forces that have gone into the shaping of religions. 
It should be noted that his concern is with concrete religions 
and not with religion in the abstract, for no mere historian can 
hope to snare this creature of speculative fancy. But where 
definite people and specific religions alone are involved, the 
question of environmental influences is capable of thoroughly 
scientific treatment. From the point of view of historical 
study, life in relation to surroundings is the primal stuff out of 
which religions evolve. They result from man's effort to 
secure and perpetuate the welfare of the group or of the indi- 
vidual in contact with environment, particularly in its less 
thoroughly mastered aspects. 



12 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

It follows that the vital interests which are dominant at 
any particular period or in any specific community, and the 
means available for the satisfaction of these interests, are, 
historically speaking, the determining factors in the making 
of a rehgion. Except in the most primitive of societies, these 
factors are exceedingly complex and the task of the historian 
is correspondingly difficult. But no study can hope to approxi- 
mate accuracy and completeness if it omits analysis of the 
surroundings amid which the adherents of any specific religion 
live. Even the common place facts of habitat and climate 
are not without their influence. The Iranian plateau, the 
mountain-girt districts of Greece, the detached territory of 
Palestine, all left their mark in one way or another upon the 
religion of their respective inhabitants. Frequently poUtical 
events have affected very materially the course of religious 
history. Not less significant, though much less frequently 
observed, are those incentives which operate in the sphere of 
common daily experience. These more ordinary social motiva- 
tions may emerge in the form of economic interests, group 
rivalries, or a host of other elemental impulses, all of which 
must come under the observation of the historian in his study 
of religion. And in case of a religion which emerges and devel- 
ops within a social order already highly organized, as was the 
case with Christianity, the fact of acquisitions derived from 
predecessors and contemporaries becomes peculiarly important. 

That the student of religion should be fully cognizant of 
the psychological factor in history goes without saying. In no 
other realm of human experience does mental life, whether 
of the individual or of the community, figure more prominently. 
Conversion experiences, ecstatic visions, marvelous revelations, 
and other mental phenomena both ordinary and extraordinary 
are always in evidence. The student who ventures upon the 
interpretation of these items without some knowledge of 
modern psychological science will find himself greatly hampered 
in his work; and he will be a bUnd guide indeed if he fails to 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGION 13 

appreciate the immense influence which psychological interests 
have exerted within the sphere of religion at all times. 

The student of religion needs especially to be reminded of 
the significance of institutions as a factor in history. There 
is a very strong temptation to be content with portraying the 
careers of distinguished individuals, or recounting the popular 
myths, or expounding theological systems. But one who 
should desire, for example, to comprehend the real significance 
of religion as a fact of Ufe among the Greek people, would 
hardly find his quest satisfied in the Homeric description of 
the Olympian deities or in the theogony of Hesiod. The Greek 
religion of real life is to be discovered most truly from a study 
of specific cults operating as institutionally organized move- 
ments. But this latter aspect of reUgion often lacks those 
picturesque features that appeal to the imagination and accord- 
ingly its importance for the historian is not always appreciated. 
Similarly among interpreters of Christianity, particularly in 
Protestant circles, interest in persons and dogmas has com- 
monly towered far above interest in institutions. Modern 
historical method calls for a correction of this one-sidedness 
and emphasizes the fundamental place of institutional activities 
in the evolution of religions. 

In the pursuit of these various lines of inquiry the historian 
of religion no less than his colleague in the so-called secular 
field — and perhaps even to a greater degree — ^needs the assist- 
ance of co-workers in allied departments of research. From 
the sociologist he seeks information regarding those social 
motivations and activities that may be found to characterize 
the life of mankind. To the psychologist he goes for knowledge 
of the ways in which mental interests may determine the 
behavior of individuals and communities. And the anthro- 
pologist may render him indispensable service by making more 
clear the contrast between the presuppositions of a primitive 
age and those postulates by which he as a man of the twentieth 
century is accustomed to regulate his conduct and thinking. 



14 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

III 

Finally, we may ask what practical value results from the 
application of scientific historical methods to the study of 
religion ? It is a very old notion that history is "the handmaid 
of providence, the priestess of truth, and the mother of wisdom." 
For centuries men have been accustomed to look upon the past 
as the unique source of ideals and norms for the guidance of 
life in the present and the future. Within the sphere of religion 
this reverence for antiquity has often been enhanced— as is 
the case for example in Judaism and Christianity — ^by resorting 
to the hypothesis of a special revelation to guarantee the 
authority of ancient customs and beUefs. From this point of 
view it is the business of the student to derive from history, 
especially from the history of religion, authoritative examples 
and normative precepts without which subsequent generations 
would be quite incapable of realizing a worthy type of life. 
And such reformers as may appear from time to time must 
make their egress out of the past into the present with their 
faces turned steadfastly toward antiquity. 

BeUef in the normative function of history rests ultimately 
upon that pessimistic philosophy of life which interprets the 
present as a deterioration of humanity, a condition to be 
remedied only by the restoration of an idealized past. This 
was a widespread mode of thinking among the ancients, who 
were wont to believe that remote antiquity veiled a golden age, 
in comparison with which present times were sorely degenerate. 
But when history is viewed scientifically, as an evolutionary 
process in human living, the past inevitably loses its authori- 
tative character. The order of progression throughout the 
ages is seen to be from the simpler to the more complex, and 
there is no discoverable warrant for affirming that the attain- 
ments of any past age should be regarded as normative for 
all subsequent times. There is no apparent reason for pre- 
ferring the past above the present, or for rejecting the poet's 
hope that "the best is yet to be." 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGION 15 

Cultural features of a past age are to be evaluated strictly 
from the standpoint of their social and functional significance. 
The extent to which they meet the needs — ^both material and 
spiritual — of mankind in a particular age and environment, 
is the true measure of their worth for the people of that day. 
Likewise, their value for subsequent generations will be con- 
ditioned by pragmatic tests. Where environments repeat 
themselves substantially unchanged for a succession of years 
and the great mass of human interests moves along in accus- 
tomed channels, the cultural attainments of an earlier day 
easily retain their grip on society and assume the dignity of 
an absolute authority. But a radical change in surroundings 
or a powerful awakening of new interests leads sooner or later 
to revolutions and reformations. This fact is seen to be true 
of all history whether in its secular or in its religious aspects. 

Thus one very significant result of modern historical study 
is the deUverance which it gives from bondage to the past as 
an ideal for modem living. But to abandon the notion of 
normativeness does not mean a denial of history's value for 
the man of today and tomorrow. On the contrary, it takes 
on a new and larger meaning in the light of modem methods. 
One is able now to understand as never before how present 
society in all its various phases has actually come into being. 
Viewed as an evolutionary process, the course of history dis- 
closes how existing institutions and beUefs have arisen through 
the operation of definite genetic agencies within the life of 
humanity. Thus one is led to realize that the character of 
future societies will also be determined, not by forces acting 
from without, but by a process of vital growth from within. 
This fact emphasizes in a new and helpful way that the oppor- 
tunity for bettering mankind's condition and the responsibility 
for accompUshing this task he with men themselves. 

History also has a significant word to say with regard to 
the nature of the reformer's ideal. The normativeness of 
criteria adopted from antiquity is found to be illusory. 



i6 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Whether a new social order is to be "good" or "bad" will 
depend entirely upon the degree to which it satisfies the vital 
needs of real people then Uving. At first glance the student 
of religion in particidar may hesitate to accept this dictum of 
the historian, for religion has been accustomed to insist perhaps 
more strenuously than any other phase of our culture upon the 
authority of the past. Yet historical inquiry readily shows 
that even the rites and dogmas of rehgion have not been able 
to withstand permanently the imperious demands of prag- 
matic necessity. Once upon a time it could have been held — 
and in fact was so held — that to accept the Copemican astron- 
omy would mean a rejection of authoritative Christian teaching. 
Nevertheless the views of Copernicus have triumphed, for they 
have come to be regarded by men in general as necessary 
to intelligent thinking about the heavenly bodies. 

The mighty pressure of human needs, as they increase in 
extent and intensity, cannot be resisted for long even by the 
powerful conservatism of reUgions, and one who has read 
history wisely will not be found spending his energies in a 
futile effort to lay the dead hand of the past upon the spon- 
taneous life of the future. History teaches the prophet that 
he must justify his message, not by the norm of theory, but by 
the mandate of efficiency, and that ultimately he must derive 
his sanctions not from the past but from the future. The 
attainment of this conviction cannot fail to mean in the end 
a tremendous gain in effectiveness among all classes of workers 
for the advancement of human welfare. 

It may not be inappropriate to note in passing that history 
raises many a signal of warning for the well-meaning enthusiast 
who would transform an old order into a new with a single 
turn of the wheel. The process of social change is necessarily 
slow, and transformations, to be genuinely effective, must 
inhere in the very structure of the evolutionary process. This 
is a fact needing to be noted particularly by students of religion. 
Programs hastily superimposed, before a general demand has 



THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF RELIGION 17 

been awakened for the values they aim to conserve, are fore- 
doomed to failure. How often zealous prophets of a new day, 
lacking the steadying power that might have been derived 
from a better knowledge of history, have gone down to defeat 
chiefly in consequence of their determination to save the world 
by their favorite program in their own generation! But the 
mills of the gods grind slowly in the making of history as in 
the administration of justice. 

Although history may not yield authoritative norms for 
future conduct, has it no prophetic function? Does it not 
reveal laws that enable one to forecast the destiny of man 
from the handwriting on the walls of time? Having at the 
outset relinquished the privilege of appeaUng to metaphysics, 
the historian is unprepared to affirm that there is an abstract 
theological principle governing the progress of social evolution. 
He hesitates also to posit for history a mechanistic order of 
development fashioned after the analogy of biological laws. 
He recognizes that social progress moves forward by the method 
of trial and error, so to speak, and that the course of develop- 
ment is on the whole determined by forces inhering within the 
social order itself, but to predict the exact way in which these 
complex factors will combine to produce the society of the 
future is too venturesome an undertaking for the historian. 

Even though he aspires to no prophetic function, the 
modern student of history is not without his faith in the future. 
To be sure, adherence to his scientific principle of empirical 
research makes him unwiUing to seek guaranties beforehand 
either in a metaphysical theory or in a biological analogy, but 
he is gravely impressed with the stately progress of society's 
evolution throughout past ages. Man is seen keeping step 
with the rest of the universe — nay, leading the van — ^in the 
procession of the ages. And that confidence which is born of 
faith in the future of the cosmos carries with it faith in the 
future of society. Thus derived, the laws of history are laws 
of the universe, and the laws of the universe are laws of God.