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Full text of "[untitled] The Journal of Religion, (1921-11-01), pages 652-653"

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For a long time to come it will be a daring feat for any single man 
to write a history of the religions of the world. When one remembers 
the vast array of scholars who have labored in the fields of documentary 
criticism, history, and doctrine to achieve what we know of the develop- 
ment of Christianity, the task before the writer who would deal with all 
religions seems appalling. Why not then a co-operative work done by 
a group of specialists? The answer is that there is no such group of 
specialists who are sufficiently agreed on method to make their work a 
unity. Until that consensus as to method is achieved we shall be 
grateful that individual scholars like Professor Soper are brave enough 
to undertake the task. His work deals with all the great living religions 
as well as those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome. It is 
delightfully easy to read and has the great virtue of clarity. Most 
writers of history of religions get lost in the forest of facts, confuse and 
weary the reader, so that the main line of the religious development is 
lost. Professor Soper avoids that danger and has produced a work 
which is probably the best in English for the beginner in the field. 

One questions the advisability of including the chapter on "animistic 
religion." Certainly it should not be under that antiquated Tylorean 
title, but "primitive religion," the author notes, is no better. As a 
matter of fact there is no such thing as animistic or primitive religion 
which can be described in one sweeping picture. Perhaps "Beginnings 
of Religion" might be a better title, but then does not the subject belong 
to the psychology rather than to the history of religion ? Magic, taboo, 
fetishism, totemism, sacrifice, are not precisely the same in all religious 
groups and the historical thing would seem to be to deal with them as they 
appear, carrying their peculiar meaning, in the story of the beginning 
of each religious development. 

A serious defect of the book is that the religions are interpreted too 
much in terms of gods, beliefs, and ideas, rather than in terms of social 
situations. Religion is rooted in life; and gods, cult, and creeds emerge 
as a people solves its life problems. The history of a religion should 

' The Religions of Mankind. Edmund Davison Soper. New York: Abingdon 
Press, 1921. 344 pages. $3.00. 



follow the developing social life, its interests, needs, and problems and 
show how their satisfaction, solution, or frustration produced the char- 
acteristic religious forms and beUefs of the people. Only so is it possible 
to understand their joy in a religion different from that of other peoples. 
This probably accounts for the fact that the author condemns some 
things and often regrets that other religions did not achieve the exalted 
ideas of God and salvation attained in Christianity. The reason is in 
the social situation and the task of the historian of religion is to under- 
stand it. 

Professor Soper has chosen deliberately to give to his book an apolo- 
getic cast in the interest of Christianity as he interprets it. His philoso- 
phic presupposition is that God has been progressively revealing himself 
to the peoples as they were able to receive the truth and that he has 
revealed himself most completely in Jesus Christ. There can be no 
objection to this position if one is writing apologetics. It is just so 
that modern Buddhist and Moslem writers are presenting their own reli- 
gions. But for all things there is a time — a time for apologetics and a 
time for history of religions. They do not belong together. The sacred 
duty of the scientific student of religions is not to pity, nor to preach, 
nor to condemn, but to understand and to interpret. And yet, in spite 
of its apologetics, which may indeed commend it to the general reader, the 
Christian pastor, and beginning students to whom it is addressed, the 
book is a welcome addition to the literature of the science. 

A. Eustace Haydon 



This is the work of a busy pastor in Glasgow. The amount of labor 
that has gone into the making of this book is amazing. Mr. Knight 
has read almost everything of importance upon the subject and he has 
reported his reading accurately. The care that is shown in the proof- 
reading is typical of the whole work. The book is a veritable mine of 
information upon Egypt and Palestine and will constitute a monument 
to the diligence of the author. 

The historical value of this book is open to serious question. The 
reviewer will not concern himself with its contribution to the history of 
Egypt, except to point out that Mr. Knight takes Petrie as his guide for 

^Nile and Jordan. An Archaeological History of the Inter-Rdations between 
Egypt and Palestine from the Earliest Times to the Fall of Jerusalem in A .D. •jo. G. A. 
Frank Knight. London: James Clarke and Co., 1921. 3di-l-572 pages. 5 maps. 36^.