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The sociological explanation of ‘religious’ beliefs

  • W. G. Runciman
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The aim of this paper is methodological, not substantive. In the first section I shall discuss the familiar problem of how ‘religious’ beliefs can, if at all, be usefully distinguished from beliefs of other kinds (1). In the second, I shall try to suggest what constitutes an adequate sociological explanation of beliefs in general. In the third, I shall illustrate my argument by a direct comparison between Max Weber and fimile Durkheim (2).

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(1) The perennial controversies on this and related topics have been reanimated by a number of recent articles by both anthropologists and philosophers, including among others: Horton, R., A Definition of Religion and its Uses, J. Royal Anth. Inst., XC (1960), 201226; Ritual Man in Africa, Africa, XXXIV (1964), 85104; African Traditional Thought and Western Science, Ibid. XXXVII (1967), pp. 50–71, 155–187; Neo-Tylo-riasnism: Sound Sense or Sinister Prejudice?, Man n.s. III (1968), 625634; Goody, J., Religion and Ritual: the Definitional Problem, Brit. J. Sociol. XII (1961), 142164; Gellner, E., Concepts and Society, Trans. Vth World Congress of Sociology, 1962, I, 153183; Winch, P., Understanding a Primitive Society, Amer. Philos. Quart., I (1964), 307324; Spiro, M. E., Religion: Problems of Definition and Explanation, in Banton, M. (ed.), Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religions (London, Tavistock, 1966), pp. 83126; Beattie, J., Ritual and Social Change, Man n.s. I (1966), 6074; Jarvie, I. C. and Agassi, J., The Rationality of Magic, Brit. J. Sociol., XVIII (1967), 5574; Lukes, S., Some Problems about Rationality, Arch. eur. sociol., VIII (1967), 247264; Hollis, M., Reason and Ritual, Philosophy, XLIII (1968), 231247.

(2) I have used the first edition of É. Durkheim, 's, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (Paris, Alcan, 1912), but the fourth of Weber, M.'s Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Tübingen, Mohr, 1956) in which the section “Typen religioser Verge-meinschaftung (Religionssoziologie)” appears as I, 245–381. All references to Durkheim and Weber are to these except where otherwise specified.

(3) Harrison, J. E., Themis (Cambridge U.P., 1912), p. 29, quoted by Goody, J., op. cit. p. 142.

(4) Nadel, S. F., Nupe Religion (London, Routledge, 1954), p. 7.

(5) Lukes, , op. cit. p. 259, n. 57.

(6) See Warner, W. Lloyd, A Black Civilization (New York, Harper, 1937), pp. 229 sqq. for a criticism based on Australian fieldwork. For a criticism which seems to be directed against Durkheim, although not by name, see Weber, , pp. 259–60:

Oder aber man behandelt als entscheidend für den Priesterbegriff: dass die Funktionäre, sei es erblich oder individuell angestellt, im Dienst eines vergesellschafteten sozialen Verbandes, welcher Art immer er sei, tatig werden, also als dessen Angesrelke oder Organe und lediglich im Interesse seiner Mitglieder, nicht wie die Zauberer, welche einen freien Beruf ausüben. Auch dieser begrifflich klare Gegensatz ist natürlich in der Realität flussig. Die Zauberer sind nicht selten zu einer festen Zunft, unter Umständen zu einer erblichen Kaste, zusammengeschlossen, und diese kann innerhalb bestimmter Gemein-schaften das Monopol der Magie haben. Auch der Katholische Priester ist nicht immer ‘angestellt’, sondern z.B. in Rom nicht selten ein armer Vagant, der von der Hand in den Mund von den einzelnen Messen lebt, deren Wahrnehmung er nachgeht.

(7) Horton, , Ritual Man…, p. 95 claims that “few anthropological fieldworkers suffer from much doubt as to which of the behaviour they deal with is religious and which is not. And most of them tend to accept as a working definition the proposition that religion includes a belief in one or more spiritual beings”.

(8) This statement does, perhaps, call for a note in view of the distinctions which Durkheim explicitly makes. Not only does he claim that magic has no church; he also claims that «il n'y a pas de péché magique» (p. 430). But it also follows from his theory that «les forces magiques ne sont, croyons-nous, qu'une forme particulière des forces religieuses» (p. 320, n. 1; cf. p. 463, n.1), and «la foi qu'inspire la magie n'est qu'un cas particulier de la foi religieuse en general» (p. 577).

(9) See e.g. Spiro, , op. cit. pp. 9294 for factual (quite apart from methodological) criticism of Durkheim's view of Buddhism.

(10) For Durkheim's views, see:

Pour lui [le primitif], il n'y a rien d'érange à ce que l'on puisse, de la voix ou du geste, commander aux éléments, arrêter ou précipiter le cours des astres, susciter la pluie ou la suspendre, etc. Les rites qu'il emploie pour assurer la fertilité du sol ou la fécondité des espèces animates dont il se nourrit ne sont pas, à ses yeux, plus irrationnels que ne le sont, aux nôtres, les procédés techniques dont nos agronomes se servent pour le même objet (p. 35).

Le wakan, en effet, joue dans le monde, tel que se le repréentent les Sioux, le même rôle que les forces par lesquelles la science explique les divers phénomènes de la nature (p. 290).

Les explications de la science contemporaine […] ne diffèrent pas en nature de celles qui satisfont la pensée primitive (pp. 341–342).

(11) P. 272; cf. e.g. p. 32:

Les nécessités de l'existence nous obligent tous, eroyants et incrédules, à nous représenter de quelque manière ces choses au milieu desquelles nous vivons, sur lesquelles nous avons sans cesse des jugements à porter et dont il nous faut tenir compte dans notre conduite.

(12) Weber, Similarly, “Die Wirtschafts-ethik der Weltreligionen: Eintleitung”, Ges. Aufs. zur Religionssoziologie (Tübingen, Mohr, 1922), cited hereafter as GAzR, I, p. 254:

Die Einheitlichkeit des primittven Weltbildes, in welchem allea konkrete Magie war, zeigte dann die Tendenz zur Spaltung in ein rationales Erkennen und einerationale Beherrschung der Natur einerseits, und andererseits ‘mystische’ Erlebnisse, deren unaussagbare Inhalte als einziges neben dem entgotteten Mechanismus der Welt noch mögliches Jenseits: in Wharheit als ein ungreifbares, hinterweltliches Reich gottinnigen, individuellen Heilsbesitzes, übrig bleiben.

Cf. the remark made by Jarvie, and Agassi, , op. cit. p. 57, that “few people these days bother to claim that religion is rational in either the weak or the strong senses”; or Horton, , Ritual Man…, p. 96: “The primary intention of much African religious thought seems to be just that mapping of connexions between space-time phenomena which Christian thought feels is beyond its proper domain”.

(13) Evans-Pritchard, E. E., Theories of Primitive Religion (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1965), p. no.

(14) Op. cit. p. 235. Cf. the comments of Spiro, , op. cit. pp. 105106, on the “extraordinary statement” of Leach, E. R., Political Systems of Highland Burma (London, Bell, 1954), p. 182, that “the various sorts of Kachin religious ideology are, in the last analysis, nothing more than ways of describing the formal relationships that exist between real persons and real groups in ordinary Kachin society”.

(15) Evans-Pritchard, E. E., Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1937), passim.

(16) Cf. Leach, , op. cit. p. 14: “It is nonsense to ask such questions as: ‘Do nats have legs? Do they eat flesh? Do they live in the sky?’”. In this case, however, Leach is giving his own view rather than that of a native informant, and it would need further evidence to establish that a representative sample of Kachins would regard “Do nats eat flesh?” as a meaningless question. Leach's own evidence suggests that they might rather regard the assertion that nats eat flesh as meaningful but false, since at sacrifices nats are held to take only the ‘breath’ (nsa) and leave the carcase to be eaten by human beings (p. 173).

(17) Evans-Pritchard, , Nuer Religion (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1956), p. 132.

(18) It is sometimes implied in the [neo-Durkheimian] anthropological literature that it is ethnocentric and patronizing to take alien beliefs too literally. This may or may not be so in the particular case. But the imputation can work both ways. Compare, for example, Bloch, Marc, Feudal Society, tr. Manyon, (London, Routledge, 1961), pp. 8384:

Though the instinctive reactions of a vigorous realism were never lacking, a Robert the Pious or an Otto III could nevertheless attach as much importance to a pilgrimage as to a battle or a law, and historians who are either scandalized by this fact or who persist in discovering subtle political manoeuvres in these pious journeys merely prove thereby their inability to lay aside the spectacles of men of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

(19) See for example Spiro, , Virgin birth, parthenogenesis and physiological paternity: an essay in cultural interpretation, Man, n.s. III (1968), pp. 242261, and the exchange of letters, ibid. pp. 651–656, for argument on a representative topic which goes back at least as far as the observations of Carl Strehlow (Durkheim, , p. 358, n. 2).

(20) This variant of the ‘neo-Durkheimian’ view was already being argued by Collingwood against Frazer in 1937: see Collingwood, R. G., The Principles of Art (Clarendon, Clarendon Press, 1938), pp. 5769.

(21) Lienhardt, Godfrey, Divinity and Experience (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1961), pp. 2324; cf. p. 234.

(22) Horton, , A Definition…, p. 203.

(23) Cf. the observation of Malinowski, , Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays (Glencoe, Free Press, 1948), p. 14, that: “It is most significant that in lagoon fishing, where man can rely completely on his knowledge and skill, magic does not exist, while in the open-sea fishing, full of danger and uncertainty, there is extensive magical ritual to ensure safety and good results”.

(24) Dodds, E. R., The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley, University of California, 1951). p. 136, citing among others (n. 6) Levy-Bruhl and Malinowski.

(25) Royal Anthropological Institution, Notes and Queries on Anthropology6 (London, 1951). p. 176.

(26) Snell, Bruno, The Discovery of the Mind, tr. Rosenmayer, (New York, Harper, 1960), p. 14.

(27) On the absence of a hard-and-fast distinction between myth and history, see Finley, M. I., Myth, Memory and History, History and Theory, IV (1965), 281302.

(28) Op. cit. p. 318.

(29) Theories of Primitive Religion, pp. 1314. Cf. e.g. his Foreword to Levy-Brohl, Lucien, The ‘Soul’ of the Primitive, tr. Clare, (London, Unwin, 1965), p. 6.

(30) Cohen, L. Jonathan, The Diversity of Meaning (London, Methuen, 1966), p. 68.

(31) Op. cit. p. 231.

(32) Cf. Cohen, , op. cit. pp. 8587; or Haas, W., The Theory of Translation, in Parkinson, G. H. R. (ed.), The Theory of Meaning (New York, Oxford U. P., 1968), p. 107:

In the Kikuyu Bible, for instance, ‘the Holy Ghost’ is rendered by words which, if they were matched with English words, would correspond to something like ‘white liver’. But they are not so matched. There is no bilingual dictionary of metaphors. If the powers of combination and contrast of the Kikuyu metaphor, in its Kikuyu context, are parallel to those of the English expression ‘the Holy Ghost’, in its place amongst other English expressions, then the internal difficulty of the corresponding Kikuyu phrase stands to be resolved in the required way by those who hear it. The language will have been made to provide the required correspondences, as English once was, when missionaries introduced the strange expression ‘haleg gast’ into their sentences.

For the general “principle of expressibility”, see Searle, John R., Speech Acts (New York, Cambridge U. P., 1969), pp. 1819.

(33) Those who do wish to retain ‘religious’ in a putatively explanatory sense might do well to clarify their proposed use of it by a Venn diagram, as is done by Klausner, Samuel Z., Kommentar zu: Cohn, 1st Religion Universal?, Int. Jahrb. f. Religionssoziologie, II (1966), p. 214.

(34) A broad definition along these lines is to some extent sanctioned by common usage, but often with the implication that talk of atheistic religion is a joke, or at least a metaphor. This uncertainty is nicely brought out by Weber in a passage where he refers to Confucianism as “Die religiose (oder wenn man will: irreligiSse) Stan-desethik dieser Schicht […]” (GAzR, I, 239).

(35) For fuller discussion of this notion, and of the model of explanation implied by it, see various papers by Michael Scriven, such as: Truisms as the Grounds for Historical Explanations, in Gardiner, Patrick (ed.), Theories of History (Glencoe, Free Press, 1959), pp. 443475; Explanations, Predictions and Laws, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, III (1962), 170230; Review of Ernest Nagel, The Structure of Science, Review of Metaphysics, XVI (1963), 403424; and Causes and Connections in History, in Dray, William H. (ed.), Philosophical Analysis and History (New York, Harper, 1966), pp. 238264. I should make clear, however, having once cited Scriven, that I do not agree with either his critique of the ‘deductive-nomological’ model of explanation and qualified endorsement of the so-called ‘rational’ model where human behaviour is in question, nor with his extravagantly broad use of the term ‘explanation’ itself (on which see e.g. the remarks of May Brodbeck in Minnesota Studies, III, 240).

(36) The ethnographic literature is full of such parallels between cultures so far separated that a diffusionist explanation seems out of the question. What social-cum-psychological explanation will account, for example, for such a specific coincidence as that of the eating of raw flesh before sunrise both at Saracen sacrifices reported by Robertson Smith and Dinka sacrifices reported by Lienhardt (op. cit. p. 143, n. 2)? It is surely a sensible presumption that there is some common explanation of the two, even though we may be unable to say (pace book III, chapter II of The Elementary Forms) why sacrifice is practised anywhere at all in the first place.

(37) Thus Popper, Karl, The Open Society and its Enemies3 (London, Routledge, 1957). II, p. 210:

I don't wish to quarrel with the metaphysical determinist who would insist that every bar of Beethoven's work was determined by some combination of hereditary or environmental influences. Such an assertion is empirically insignificant, since no one could actually explain a single bar of his writing in this way.

(38) Kirk, G. S., Homer and the Epic (New York, Cambridge U.P., 1965), p. 2.

(39) It is perfectly possible that the satisfactory explanation of belief does, in fact, depend more on psychological than social variables, once given a certain minimum of necessary social conditions. That this is true of religious beliefs is explicitly argued by Spiro, , op. cit. pp. 109 sqq. in terms of the question: “What desires are satisfied by religion?” (which Spiro wishes to define in such a way as requires a belief in ‘superhuman beings’). It is, however, a matter to be settled by empirical research, and it is pointless to try to dogmatize about it in advance.

(40) Some such division is often made explicit in the writings of sociologists of religion: thus, for example, Yinger, J. Milton, Religion in the Struggle for Power (New York, Russell, 1961), p. 3: “Sociology's general interest in religion concerns its relation with interhuman behaviour patterns”, or Mühlmann, Wilhelm E., Elementare Fragen einer Soziologie der Religion, in Goldschmidt, D. and Matthes, J. (eds.), Probleme der Religionssoziologie (Köln, Zeits. f. Soziol. und Sozialpsychol., Sonderheft 6, 1962), p. 52: “Die Aufgabe der Religionssoziologie ist vielmehr, die Fäden blosszulegen, die das Religiöse mit den weltlichen Bedingungen seiner Entstehung und seiner Existenz verbinden”.

(41) That the contributions of many different disciplines may be necessary to the satisfactory explanation of religion is said often enough: thus, for example, Firth, Raymond, Problem and Assumption in an Anthropological Study of Religion, J. Roy. Anthrop. Inst., LXXXIX (1959), p. 136: “We can no longer afford to neglect the more professional theoretical analyses of religion not only by sociologists, with whom we have kept in comparative general touch, but also by psychologists, historians, philosophers, theologians and other students of comparative religion, some of whom have displayed a growing sociological awareness”. But this way of putting it assumes a collaboration between specialised disciplines rather than specialisation in some denned category of beliefs and practices as such (quite apart from the condescension implicit in the concluding phrase). Of course, it is true that ‘religious’ beliefs and practices, or any other designated category, can be studied from a variety of different aspects; but this does not amount to a vindication of the view that ‘historical’, ‘sociological’ or ‘anthropological’ explanation is somehow distinctive from, let alone superior to, the others.

(42) For a fuller development of this argument, see Runciman, W. G., What is Structuralism?, Brit. J. Social., XX (1969), 253265.

(43) Spiro, , op. cit. p. 114 questions the appeal to ‘unintended social functions’ on the ground that it implies the claim that if the efficacies of Hopi rain ceremonies, the Catholic Mass and the like “for the attainment of these designated ends were to be disbelieved, they would nevertheless be performed so that their solidarious functions might be served”. This, however, is too extreme. As I suggested above, there are people who see an aesthetic value in such ceremonies even after they are no longer taken literally, and their retention for this quite different reason may equally well serve the ‘solidarious functions’. In such a situation, we could say that a ‘neo-Fra-zerian’ situation has given way to a ‘neo-Durkheimian’ one. However, it remains true that if the literal belief is what appears to sustain the ceremony in question, the observer will need always to be able to show that it really is held. Thus, for exampie, Fortes, Meyer, Œdipus and Job in West African Religion (New York, Cambridge U. P., 1959), p. 61: “What ancestor-worship provides is an institutionalized scheme of beliefs and practices by means of which men can accept some kind of responsibility for what happens to them and yet feel free of blame for failure to control the vicissitudes of life”. This is a perfectly respectable ‘functional’ argument. But it depends on the ancillary argument that the customary rituals of placation and expiation are “effective simply because the ancestors are believed [my italics] not only to exact punishment for wrong conduct but also to behave justly and benevolently in the long run”.

(44) Thus Spiro, , op. cit. p. 122: “Many studies of religion, however, are concerned not with the explanation of religion, but with the role of religion in the explanation of society”.

(45) Op. cit. p. 207.

(46) Ibid. p. 222.

(47) On millenarism in general, see particularly Cohn, Norman, The Pursuit of the Millennium2 (New York, Harper, 1961); Thrupp, Sylvia L. (ed.), Millennial Dreams in Action (Comp. Studies in Society and History, suppl. vol. II, 1962); and Talmon, Yonina, Millenarian Movements, Arch, eur. social., VII (1966), 159200. On cargo-cults, see particularly Worsley, Peter, The Trumpet Shall Sound (London, MacGibbon, 1957); Burridge, Kenelm, Mambu (London, Methuen, 1960); and Lawrence, Peter, Road Belong Cargo (Manchester, Manchester U. P., 1965).

(48) Jarvie, I. C., On the Explanation of Cargo Cults, Arch. eur. sociol., VII (1966), p. 300, crediting the suggestion initially to Tanner, W. E. H. S, The South Seas in Transition (Sydney 1953).

(49) Talmon, Yonina, Pursuit of the Millennium: the Relation between Religious and Social Change, Arch. eur. social., III (1962), p. 126.

(50) Medieval Millenarism: its Bearing on the Comparative Study of Millenarian Movements, in Thrupp, , op. cit. pp. 4043.

(51) Op. cit. p. 42.

(52) Thus Worsley, , op. cit. p. 237 suggests that a ‘religious’ element can be due to the need of a political leader to avoid identification with any particular section of society. I do not know how far this may be plausible in any given instance. But a secular millenarian doctrine need not necessarily be sectional (though they often are); and in any case, the usefulness of a theistic ideology to a political leader is not an explanation but a specification of function.

(53) Jarvie, , op. cit. p. 310; cf. Burridge, , op. cit. p. 274: “They are typical millenarian movements acted out in terms of a particular cultural idiom”, or Mircea Eliade, in Thrupp, , op. cit. p. 139: “It is impossible either to grasp the full significance of ‘cargo-cults’ or to appreciate their extraordinary success without taking into account a mythical-ritual theme which plays a fundamental role in Melanesian religions: the annual return of the dead and the cosmic regeneration which this implies”.

(54) Op. cit. p. 235.

(55) Another recent discussion to which the model might equally well be fitted is Walzer, Michael, The Revolution of the Saints (London, Weidenfeld, 1966). Walzer is concerned, once again, with the function of Puritanism as an ideology of transition as much as with its origins. But once given that Puritanism is “one possible way of perceiving and responding to a set of experiences that other men than the saints might have viewed in other terms” (p. 309), there is required to account for it a set of necessary and contingently sufficient conditions such as the separation of politics from the household, the appearance of ‘formally free’ men, pragmatism in political thought, the emergence of large-scale political units and the ‘sociological competence’ of particular social classes, both clerical and lay.

(56) This is to some degree true of Lévi-Strauss, whose assumptions about the workings of the human mind, although not based on any psychological research carried out by himself, are nonetheless more fully articulated than is usual among anthropologists: see Fleischmann, Eugène, L'esprit humain selon Claude Lévi-Strauss, Arch. eur. sociol., VII (1966), 2757.

(57) MacIntyre, Alastair, Weber at his Weakest, Encounter, XXV (1965), p. 87.

(58) Apart from his influence on the anthropological tradition, see e.g. the invocation of The Elementary Forms by Swanson, Guy E., The Birth of the Gods (Ann Arbor 1960), p. VII: “Like many other sociologists and social psychologists, I have found this book one of the most stimulating in all the literature about society. Its point of view is part of the foundation on which I have built”.

(59) I need not offer a list of these criticisms here; what is perhaps more to the point is that a recent study like Prades, J. A., La sociologie de la religion chez Max Weber (Louvain, Nauwelaerts, 1966), should still concentrate almost exclusively on The Protestant Ethic.

(60) Weber did have a better knowledge of the ancient world, and particularly of Rome, than did Durkheim. But the material on it is not, of course, based on trained anthropologists' fieldwork; and Weber is not always reliable—as for example in assuming without argument the existence of an Orphic church (on which see the remarks of Dodds, , op. cit. pp. 147149).

(61) Cf. Matches, Joachim, Vorbemerkungen, Int. Jahrb. f. Religionssoziologie, I (1965), p. 8: “[…] ist die vertiefte geschichtliche Perspektive, die von Max Weber für die Religionssoziologie zurückgewonnen ist, der neueren Kirchensoziologie wiederum weithin abhanden gekommen”.

(62) See particularly Parsons, Talcott, The Structure of Social Action (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1937).

(63) Compare, for example, Durkheim, , p. 57: « Même le christianisme, au moins sous sa forme catholique, admet, outre la personnalité divine, d'ailleurs triple en même temps qu'une, la Vierge, les anges, les saints, les âmes des morts, etc. » with Weber, , p. 314:“[…] der katholische Messenund Heiligenkult faktisch dem Polytheismus sehr nahe steht”; or some of their occasional remarks on magic and taboo.

(64) Tiryakian, Edward A., A Problem for the Sociology of Knowledge, Arch. eur. social., VII (1966), p. 332, n. 7.

(65) But he was not, of course, so much concerned with the ‘functional’ consequences of ethical or metaphysical beliefs in maintaining the social order as with the effects of such beliefs in either promoting or inhibiting economic activity of various kinds—for example, leaving aside the Protestant ethic, the beliefs and rituals of both the Jews and the Jains which turned them towards financial and away from industrial capitalism (GAzR, II, 212213).

(66) Contrast, for example, the interpretation of Antoni, Carlo, Front History to Sociology, tr. White, (London 1962), pp. 166167, who accuses Weber of analyzing the evolution of religious and ethical systems entirely in terms of class interests, with that of Bendix, Reinhard, Max Weber: an Intellectual Portrait (London, Heinemann, 1960), who talks only about a “very general compatibility between status groups and systems of belief” (p. 115) and about ideas as “more than intentional or unwitting adjustments to the exigencies of the social situation”.

(67) Worsley, , op. cit. pp. 266272. It is noticeable that Talmon, by contrast, does cite Weber's GAssR on ‘multiple deprivation’ as the root of millenarism (Millenarian Movements, p. 181), and Cohn likewise includes Weber (but not Durkheim) in the bibliography appended to The Pursuit of the Millennium.

(68) GAzR, I, 238 sqq.

(69) Ibid.:

Im Einheitsstaat hörten die Chancen der Konkurrenz der Fursten um die Literaten auf. Jetzt konkurrierten umgekehrt diese und ihre Schüler um die vorhandenen Aemter und es konnte nicht ausbleiben, daß dies die Entwicklung einer einheitlichen, dieser Situation angepassten, orthodoxen Doktrin zur Folge hatte. Sie wurde: der Konfuzianismus.

(70) Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre 2 (Tübingen, Mohr, 1951), p. 432. The essay from which this phrase is drawn (“Ueber einige Kategorien der verstehen-den Soziologie”) is much taken up with the problem of ‘rationality’; but it is worth noting that in the course of it Weber makes the point (echoed later in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft) that magic can be wholly ‘zweckrational’ to the participants. It is also worth noting that Weber does occasionally proffer a psychological speculation, as in his suggestion that the Gnostic mysteries were “ein sublimer masturbatorischer Ersatz für die Orgien der Bauern” (p. 307); and his whole emphasis on the problem of theodicy rests on implicit psychological assumptions about attitudes to suffering. For his acceptance of “the translatability of deep anxieties, feelings of insecurity and impotence into religiously denned guilt feelings”, cf. Gerth, H. H. and Martindale, Don, “Preface” to their translation of Ancient Judaism (New York, Free Press, 1952), p. xxi, n. 37 and the passages there cited.

(71) This is perhaps most explicitly stated in the concluding words of the essay on “Hinduismus und Buddhismus” (GAzR, 11, 378):

Das Auftreten dieser [sc. ethische, ihren Alltag rational formende, Sendungsprophetie] aber in Occident, vor all em in Vorderasien, mit denweittragenden Folgen, diesich daran knüpften, war dutch höchst eigenartige geschichtliche Konstellationen bedingt, ohne welche, trotz alien Unterschieds der Naturbedingungen, die Entwicklung dort leicht in Bahnen hätte einmünden können, welche denen Asiens, vor allem Indiens, ähnlich verlaufen waren.

(72) See particularly Lowie, Robert H., Primitive Religion (London, Routledge, 1925), ch. VII and his citation of Goldenweiser, A. A., Religion and Society, J. Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, XIV (1917), pp. 121 sqq. Lowie does allow some merit to Durkheim's treatment of symbolism, but he is unreservedly critical otherwise.

(73) P. 3; cf. e.g. P. 497: « Pour que nous soyons fondé à voir dans l'efficacité attribuée aux rites autre chose que le produit d'un délire chronique dont s'abuserait l'humanité, il faut pouvoir établir que le culte a réellement pour effet de reproduire périodiquement un être moral dont nous dépendons comme il dépend de nous. Or cet être existe: c'est la société », or more generally still, p. 99: « Qu'est-ce qu'une science dont la principale découverte consisterait à faire évanouir l'objet même dont elle traite? ».

(74) Cf. e.g. pp. 307–308 on the soul:

Voilà ce qu'il y a d'objectif dans l'idée de l'âme: c'est que les représentations dont la trame constitue notre vie intérieure sont de deux espèces différentes et irréductibles l'une à l'autre. Les unes se rapportent au monde extérieur et réel; les autres, à un monde idéal auquel nous attribuons une supériorité morale sur le premier. Nous sommes donc réellement faits de deux êtres qui sont orientés en des sens divergents et presque contraires, et dont l'un exerce sur l'autre une véritable prééminence […]. II reste vrai que notre nature est double; il y a vraiment en nous une parcelle des grands idéaux qui sont l'âme de la collectivité.

Or p. 513 on ‘mimetic’ ritual:

Une erreur aussi manifeste semble difficilement intelligible tant qu'on ne voit dans le rite qu'un but matériel où il paraît tendre. Mais nous savons qu'outre l'effet qu'il est censé avoir sur l'espèce totémique, il exerce une action profonde sur les âmes des fidèles qui y prennent part […]. Comment cette sorte d'euphorie ne donnerait-elle pas le sentiment que le rite a réussi, qu'il a été ce qu'il se proposait d'être, qu'il a atteint le but où il visait?

(75) Cf. notes (8) and (10) above; and for the virtual identification of science with religion, cf. p. 613: « La pensée scientifique n'est qu'une forme plus parfaite de la pensée religieuse ».

(76) Cf. p. 352:

Une expérience dont les résultats, comme ceux de toute expérience bien faite, seront susceptibles d'être généralisés.

Or pp. 593–4:

Quand une loi a été prouvée par une expérience bien faite, cette preuve est valable universellement […]. Si donc, dans les très humbles sociétés qui viennent d'être étudiees, nous avons réellement réussi à apercevoir quelques-uns des éléments dont sont faites les notions religieuses les plus fondamentales, il n'y a pas de raison pour ne pas étendre aux autres religions les résultats les plus généraux de notre recherche.

(77) For ‘vraisemblance’, cf. p. 402, n. 2:

II resterait à rechercher d'où vient que, à partir d'un certain moment de l'évolution, ce dédoublement de l'âme s'est fait sous la forme du totem individuel plutôt que sous celle de l'ancêtre protecteur. La question a peut-être un intérêt plus ethnographique que sociologique. Voici pourtant comment il est possible de se représenter la manière dont s'est vraisemblablement opérée cette substitution […].

(78) Cf. p. 550, n. 2: « L'objet de ce livre est d'étudier les croyances et les pratiques élémentaires; nous devons done nous arrêter au moment où elles donnent naissance à des formes plus complexes ».

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European Journal of Sociology / Archives Européennes de Sociologie
  • ISSN: 0003-9756
  • EISSN: 1474-0583
  • URL: /core/journals/european-journal-of-sociology-archives-europeennes-de-sociologie
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