Edward Burnett Tylor (1832–1917) is often considered the father of the discipline of anthropology. Despite such eminence, his biography has never been written and the connections between his life and his work have been largely obscured or ignored. This article presents Tylor's main theories in the field of anthropology, especially as presented in his four published books, the most famous of which is Primitive Culture, and in the manuscript sources for his last, unpublished, one on ‘The natural history of religion’. One of Tylor's major areas of interest was the use of anthropological evidence to discover how religion arose. This preoccupation resulted in his influential account of ‘animism’. Drawing upon biographical information not known by previous scholars, Tylor's Quaker formation, later religious scepticism and personal life are connected to his intellectual work. Assumptions such as his evolutionary view of human culture and intellectualist approach to ‘savage’ customs, his use of the comparative method, and distinctive notions of his such as ‘survivals’ are first explained, and then the discussion is taken a step further in order to demonstrate how they were deployed to influence contemporary religious beliefs and practices. Tylor argued that the discipline of anthropology was a ‘reformer's science’. Working within the warfare model of the relationship between faith and science, I reveal the extent to which this meant for him using the tools of this new field of inquiry to bring about changes in the religious convictions of his contemporaries.