Skip to main content

Full text of "The Universality of Religion"

See other formats


STOP 



Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world byJSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 
purposes. 

Read more about Early Journal Content at http://about.istor.org/participate-istor/individuals/early- 
journal-content . 



JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 
contact support@jstor.org. 



The Universality of Religion. — By E. Washburn Hopkins, 
Professor in Yale [Jniversity, New Haven, Conn. 

It is now a full century since the German scholar Meiners 
said that anyone who writes on the history of religion should 
first define religion. Sir John Lubbock has been repeatedly 
cited as authority for the statement that there are tribes and 
races which have no religion, but though Lubbock's theme was 
indeed the non-universality of religion, he yet says again and 
again that such and such a tribe has no religion in the proper 
sense of the word, or that it has only what might be called 
religion. In other words, the result of Lubbock's investigation 
was simply the proof that Lubbock's idea of religion was not 
universal. On the other hand, E. B. Tylor showed that relig- 
ion as defined by himself was universal. It is not difficult to 
show that Lubbock's general statement, as usually interpreted, 
is incorrect. Only by making an artificial distinction between 
religion and superstition can we predicate the irreligion of any 
social group. Everywhere man has language and religion of 
some sort. Reduced to its lowest terms, religion still contains 
two elements, the credo and the action induced thereby, belief 
and cult. The belief may be of the vaguest, the cult no more 
than an act of fear based on belief; but, as there is no cult 
without belief (at least among savages), so there is no -religious 
belief without a corresponding activity.' This activity, again, 
must be correlated with the supposed demands of the object of 
belief, and thus to be religious is, in short, to square human life 
with superhuman life, belief always being implied. 

1 Otherwise the belief is not religious. For example, the intellectual 
conviction on the part of a member of tribe A that tribe B has gods 
becomes religious only when the member of tribe A is brought under 
the influence of those gods, and the individual reacts to the new stimu- 
lus. For the same reason, even witljin one social group, a divinity 
recognized as existent but not as active is really withdrawn from the 
religion of the believer. Thus the god Brahman forms no part of ordi- 
nary Hindu religion. The Hindus frankly say that Brahman's sole busi- 
ness was to create. Having created, his work is done and the believer 
takes no further interest in him, as he is powerless to affect man's weal. 
It is not denied that Brahman exists, but the Hindu feels that he can 
ignore this god and does so. He believes in Kim, but only as he believes 
in America. 



Vol. XXV.] Hopkins^ The Universality of Religion. 333 

But though I have here made superhuman synonymous with 
spiritual, as is usually done, there remains the question whether 
belief in the spiritual is really belief in the superhuman, and if 
not, whether a belief in spiritual beings ought to be held as 
equivalent to a belief in superhuman beings. In 1885, Gruppe 
promulgated the view that man was by nature irreligious, and 
that all religion, like printing, has spread out from one or two 
centers, the chief center being the Semitic cradle of all religions. 
Over a world hitherto destitute thereof, religious notions spread 
on the one hand, into India, the farther East, and eventually 
into America ; and on the other, into Greece and Europe, origi- 
nally starting from a drunken Semite. This Semite first of all 
got drunk and being drunk imagined himself a god. Intoxica- 
tion was the first religious rite. Some ethnologists who believe 
that sub-Arctic man came without religion to the South have 
rather favored this idea, but in the light of what we know 
to-day in regard to savage religions, Gruppe's theory seems to 
be too crude for serious discussion. According to Lubbock, 
" If superstitious fear and the consciousness that other beings 
inhabit the world be religion, then there is no race without 
religion." But do superstitious fear and the belief in "other 
beings " imply a belief in the superhuman ? 

This is an important question, for it is this fear and belief 
which are often exploited as constituting an argument in favor 
of universal innate religious ideas, though there is of course no 
universality of religion in a theistic or deistic sense any more 
than in the Christian sense.' 

To come now to the chief point of this paper: There are 
tribes credited with no other religious ideas than ,a belief in 
ghosts. This appears to be true of some of the South Ameri- 
cans, and practically the cult of many tribes in India is merely a 



^ Andrew Lang and Sayce (in his recent Qifford Lectures) have both 
apparently reverted to Dr. Whateley's idea that savages have a demoral- 
ized culture, and they rather leave their readers to prove that man was 
not a primitive deist with a general tendency to progress downward. 
But the burden of proof rests with him who asserts that this is the prob- 
able explanation of Australian or Patagonian superstition. There is, as 
Professor Toy has said, no reason to assume that man's religion was 
usually in inverse proportion to his culture. That the lowest savages 
had first of all the lowest kind of religion, must be taken for granted as 
the general law, even though there are special historical cases of spir- 
itual downfall from a former higher estate. 



334 E. W. Hopkins, [1904. 

fear-service of ghosts, that is, not kobolds, gnomes, tree-spirits, 
but the spirits of departed human beings. The almost mono- 
theistic belief attributed to some of the Wild Tribes of India 
resolves itself, on closer examination, into an apotheosis of the 
maternal ancestor with a more active sub-cult of deities that 
revert to the human stage. Now in so far as the religion of 
such a tribe is really based on ghosts, malevolent or benevolent, 
it is not superhuman, because every man is potentially a ghost 
and every god is only man in a different sphere of activity. 
There is, in other words, in mere ghost-belief no acknowledg- 
ment of anything which is not eventually human, no belief in a 
spiritual power other than that of man (and beast). The sav- 
age whose whole religious creed consists in the belief that his 
drowned grandfather, for example, is still alive and liable to 
help or annoy him, does not really believe in any power higher 
than man himself. He believes only in spirits as forms of 
human life (or animal life). We must then credit him with a 
belief in spiritual powers, but we may not imply that this belief 
involves also a belief in some power not man's, not human, a 
power not ourselves, "other beings" in the sense implied by 
this phase.' If the savage merely believes his father's ghost to 
be still alive and tries to feed it or drive it away, then he simply 
believes in his father, or, for the next generation, in himself, as 
existing after death. In and for itself, this is only a philosophy 
of existence, a religion, if one chooses to call it so, but with no 
implication of a superhuman power in the world. 

On the other hand, there is some ground to question whether 
we can absolutely trust all the modern reports and studies in 
comparative religion. At least it is questionable whether 
reports, however honest, are unbiassed when the observer 
records all religious phenomena as " due to ghost- worship " 
without further discussion. I have in mind various little papers 
of much interest describing religious cults in some out-of-the- 
way place in India and the frequent assertion (without evidence 
to support it) that the cult originated in the worship of ghosts, 
though now it is directed to the sun or other objects of nature. 
Some of these assertions may be correct, for it is quite possible 
for a ghost to become sun, moon, or star, but it is slightly dis- 
concerting to discover that as an illustration of the evolution of 

' It is curious that this expression of Lubbock reproduces exactly the 
Hindu notion of iiara^ana, •'• otlier beings," viz. demons, chief of whom, 
however, is the ghost Kubera. 



Vol. XXV.] The, Universality of Religion. 335 

ghost-worship the specimen offered is simply assumed to be 
such. For my own part, I think that most savages believe in 
many more powers than those of ghosts (for, to them, all is ani- 
mate or animately endowed), but that these powers are really 
material, powers inseparable from matter as light from flame. 
The ghost-theory, moreover, is certainly true in so far as it 
asserts that in some cases the only much-respected deities are 
of human origin. The savage often shrinks from sundry little 
powers, while acknowledging as the sole great powei's maternal 
or paternal ancestors. Ghosts and matei-ial force, that is force 
accepted as inherent in forms of matter, without any belief in 
superhuman and extra-material powers, may constitute the 
whole object of religious regard. In such a case it can scarcely 
be said that the savage has any notion of a spiritual power which 
in origin stands apart from man or matter. Even the disease- 
devil is in the first instance only the implicate of the disease or 
rather it is the disease itself, and hence is material and not spir- 
itual. Religion then cannot be said to be universal if the term 
is used as connoting a belief in purely spiritual powers (of non- 
human and non-material origin). In its lowest form religion is 
an active acknowledgment of any power. For this reason the 
living chief or dangerous wild animal is recognized as an object 
of worship, and for this reason the dead chief and the whirl- 
wind; but a spiritual power disconnected from man and matter 
is not recognized. The dead chief is only a sublimated man. 
In the last analysis the only form of religion which can be said to 
be universal is that based upon a power supposed to be inherent in 
or derived from the human or material world. The greater the 
distance from this world the less the power. Hence the abolition 
of worship of older ghosts or only a formal acknowledgment of 
their foi-mer prowess, while the real religion of the savage is 
averted from the creative but dim grandmother or great-great- 
grandfather ghosts and concerns itself with the powers that are 
more immediate. Hence, too, the indifference toward the most 
dreaded powers till they actually manife.st themselves materially. 
Even in the modern half-civilized Punjab, for example, the 
shrine of the small-pox goddess is quite deserted until small-pox 
actually rages in the vicinity. Thei'e is no attempt even then 
to propitiate a spirit, only to get rid of an obnoxious material 
power regarded as present and potent in disease.