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Phenomenology of Religion and the Art of Story-Telling: The Relevance of William Golding'S ‘The Inheritors’ To Religious Studies*

  • C. J. Arthur (a1)


One of the most extensive yet least conclusive methodological debates within religious studies revolves around the question of what, precisely, the phenomenology of religion is and what contribution it can make to the study of religion. I do not intend to answer this important question here. To do so satisfactorily would require a range of historical, philosophical and methodological inquiry which would go quite beyond the bounds of a single article. My intention in this paper is, by comparison, unambitious. It is to take one view of what phenomenology of religion is and to consider an area outside that usually explored by students of religion which can, nonetheless, shed some light on how religions might be studied in a way which is in accordance with the phenomenology of religion so understood. What follows will offer an answer to the question of what contribution one particular understanding of phenomenology might make to the study of religion, but no attempt will be made to establish whether or not this particular understanding ought to be regarded as normative.



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page 59 note 1 Perhaps the most famous example of the rift between talking about and doing phenomenology of religion occurs in Gerardus van der Leeuw's Religion in Essence and Manifestation. It would be an interesting exercise to present readers with works such as this [or King's, Winston L.Introduction to Religion, a Phenomenological Approach (1968), or Jurji's, Edward J.The Phenomenology of Religion (1963)], with the few pages of methodological reflection taken out, and ask them to deduce from the remainder of the text what methodological principles had been applied. One suspects that this would lead to a widespread endorsement of the sort of verdict which Herbert Spiegelberg reached concerning van der Leeuw's ‘Epilogomena’, namely that it ‘has very much the character of an afterthought’ (The Phenomenological Movement, The Hague, 1960, p. II). If the confusion about phenomenology of religion is to be ended, it is surely essential that methodological preaching and subsequent practice are part of an unbroken procedural continuum.

page 60 note 1 Wiebe, Donald, ‘Is a Science of Religion Possible?’, Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, VII (1978), 15.

page 60 note 2 Penner, Hans H., ‘Is Phenomenology a Method for the Study of Religion?’, Bucknell Review, XVIII (1970), 29.

page 61 note 1 These versions of what phenomenology of religion consists of are suggested, respectively, by: Bleeker, C. J., The Sacred Bridge (Leiden, 1963), p. 136;Koestenbaum, Peter, ‘Religion in the Tradition of Phenomenology’, in Feaver, J. Clayton and Horosz, William (eds.), Religion in Philosophical and Cultural Perspective (Princeton, 1967), p. 213;Kristensen, W. Brede, The Meaning of Religion (The Hague, 1960), p. I;Hultkrantz, Åke, ‘The Phenomenology of Religion: Aims and Methods’, Temenos, vol. 6 (1970), Pp. 74–5.

page 61 note 2 Sharpe, Eric J., ‘Some Problems of Method in the Study of Religion’, Religion, vol. I (1971), p. II.

page 61 note 3 Sharpe, Eric J., Comparative Religion, A History (London, 1975), p. 221.

page 61 note 4 Klostermaier, Klaus, ‘From Phenomenology to Metascience: Reflections on the Study of Religions’, Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, VI (19761977), 554.

page 61 note 5 Davis, Charles, ‘The Reconvergence of Theology and Religious Studies’, Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, (19741975), 215.

page 62 note 1 Pettazzoni, Raffaele, Essays on the History of Religions (Leiden, 1954), p. 217.

page 62 note 2 Hultkrantz, Åke, op. cit. (see note I, p. 61, above), p. 68.

page 62 note 3 Pye, Michael, ‘Problems of Method in the Interpretation of Religion’, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, I (1974), 108–10.

page 62 note 4 Ricoeur, Paul, Husserl, an Analysis of his Phenomenology (Evanston, 1967), p. 202.

page 62 note 5 Ibid.

page 62 note 6 Spiegelberg, Herbert, op. cit. (see note I, p. 60, above), p. 8.

page 63 note 1 Quoted in Chaudhuri, Nirad C., Scholar Extraordinary, The Life of Friedrich Max Müller (London, 1974), p. 345.

page 63 note 2 On ‘passing over’ see the trilogy of books in which John S. Dunne says he has adopted this method: The City of the Gods (1965); A Search for God in Time and Memory (1967); and The Way of All the Earth (1972).

page 64 note 1 My avoidance of technical terms in this paper (‘epoché’, ‘eidetic vision’, etc.) is quite deliberate. Such terms tend to call to mind various philosophical assumptions which are not necessarily being made.

page 64 note 2 King, Winston L., ‘The Phenomenology of Religion’, The Drew Gateway, XLIII (1972), 33.

page 64 note 3 Smart, Ninian, The Science of Religion and the Sociology of Knowledge (Princeton, 1973), p. 20. My emphasis.

page 64 note 4 Leeuw, Gerardus van der, ‘Confession scientifique’, the quotation is taken from the translation given in Sharpe, Eric J., Comparative Religion, A History (London, 1975), p. 231.

page 64 note 5 Otto, Rudolf, The Idea of the Holy, translated by Harvey, John W. (Oxford, 1936), p. 62.

page 65 note 1 Thus in a letter to Otto, dated 5 March 1919, Edmund Husserl wrote, ‘Your book on the holy has affected me more powerfully than scarcely any book in years. It is a first beginning for a phenomenology of religiousness.’ Quoted in Courtney, Charles, ‘Phenomenology and Ninian Smart's Philosophy of Religion’, International journal for Philosophy of Religion, IX (1978), 48.

page 65 note 2 Woods, James Haughton, The Value of Religious Facts (New York, 1899), pp. 1314.

page 65 note 3 Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, The Meaning and End of Religion (London, 1978), p. 188.

page 65 note 4 Evans-Pritchard, E. E., Theories of Primitive Religion (Oxford, 1965), pp. 43, 47.

page 67 note 1 Anderson, David, ‘Is Golding's Theology Christian?’, in Biles, Jack I. and Evans, Robert O. (eds.), William Golding, Some Critical Considerations (Kentucky, 1978), p. 14. Of course not all anthropologists would agree with Anderson's apparent characterization of their discipline!

page 67 note 2 Anderson, Davidop. cit. (see note 1 above), p. 14. Anderson's point raises the question of whether anamnesis may, perhaps, have a role to play in religious studies. On its possible relevance, see Kim, Jay J., ‘Belief and Anamnesis: is a Rapprochement between History of Religions and Theology Possible?’, The journal of Religion, LII (1972), 150–69.

page 67 note 3 Gerardus van der Leeuw, quoted in translation by Sharpe, , op. cit. (see note 4, p. 64, above), p. 231.

page 68 note 1 Kinkead-Weekes, Mark and Gregor, Ian, William Golding, A Critical Study (London, 1975), p. 71.

page 68 note 2 Ibid.

page 68 note 3 Adriaens, Mark, ‘Style in W. Golding's “The Inheritors”’, English Studies, LI (1970), 16.

page 68 note 4 Kinkead-Weekes, Mark and Gregor, Ian, op. cit. (see note 1 above), p. 71.

page 68 note 5 Golding, William, The Inheritors (London, 1975; 1st published 1955), p. 69.

page 68 note 6 Ibid.

page 69 note 1 Lieberman, Philip and Crelin, Edmund, ‘On the Speech of Neanderthal Man’, Linguistic Inquiry, 11 (1971), 220–1.

page 69 note 2 Lieberman, Philip, Crelin, Edmund and Klatt, Denis, ‘Phonetic Ability and the Related Anatomy of the Newborn and Adult Human, Neanderthal Man and the Chimpanzee’, American Anthropologist, LXXIV (1972), 298.

page 69 note 3 Ibid.

page 69 note 4 Solecki, Ralph, Shanidar, The Humanity of Neanderthal Man (London, 1971), p. 187.

page 70 note 1 Golding, William, op. cit. (see note 5, page 68, above), p. 87.

page 70 note 2 Blanc, Alberto C., ‘Some Evidence for the Ideologies of Early Man’, in Washburn, Sherwood L. (ed.), Social Life of Early Man (Chicago, 1966), p. 126.

page 70 note 3 Golding, William, op. cit. (see note 5, page 68, above), p. 87.

page 70 note 4 Levy, G. R., The Gate of Horn (London, 1948), p. 66. My emphasis.

page 70 note 5 Solecki, Ralph, op. cit. (see note 4, page 69, above), p. 191.

page 70 note 6 Levy, G. R., op. cit. (see note 4, above), p. 6.

page 70 note 7 See Solecki, Ralph, op. cit. (see note 4, page 69, above), passim.

page 71 note 1 Inaccuracies can, of course, be spotted in The Inheritors. For example, Solecki holds that Homo neanderthalensis ‘used skin coverings for his body’ (Shanidar, p. 179), while in The Inheritors they go (hirsutely) naked. It also seems likely that Neanderthalers were more carnivorous than those in Golding's group. I have, admittedly, stressed those points which stand in favour of treating The Inheritors as being fundamentally well informed and informing, rather than trying to trace out any flaws in its factual background. This is attempted in a rudimentary and, I think, unconvincing way by Rexroth, Kenneth, in ‘William Golding’, The Atlantic Monthly, CCXV (1965), 96–8, and by Fackler, Herbert V., in ‘Palaeontology and Paradise Lost: a Study of Golding's Modification of Fact in “The Inheritors”’, Ball State University Forum, X (1969), 64–6. But even if serious flaws could be substantiated conclusively, and I do not think that they can be, my main point remains unaffected: namely, that whether completely correct or not, The Inheritors demonstrates a mode of writing in which facts may be imaginatively ‘brought to life’ in a way that does not rely on, or necessitate, twisting them out of shape.

page 72 note 1 Jordan, Louis Henry, Comparative Religion, Its Genesis and Growth (Edinburgh, 1905), p. 163.

page 72 note 2 Woods, G. F., Theological Explanations (Welwyn, 1958), p. 2.

page 72 note 3 Sharpe, Eric J., op. cit. (see note 3, page 61, above), p. 2.

page 72 note 4 Schmid, Georg, Principles of Integral Science of Religion (The Hague, 1979), p. 19.

page 72 note 5 Johns, Eric, ‘Some Skills for Religious Education’, British Journal of Religious Education, V (spring 1983), p. 69.

page 72 note 6 Swinburne, Richard, Faith and Reason (Oxford, 1981), p. 196.

page 72 note 7 On this, see my In the Hall of Mirrors, Some Problems of Commitment in a Religiously Plural World (Oxford, 1986), passim.

page 73 note 1 Bleeker, C. J., op. cit. (see note I, p. 61, above), p. II. My emphasis.

page 73 note 2 Ibid.

page 73 note 3 Haydon, Eustace A., ‘Twenty Five Years of History of Religions’, The journal of Religion, VI (1926), 32.

page 74 note 1 See Tiger, Virginia, William Golding, The Dark Fields of Discovery (London, 1974), p. 72.

page 75 note 1 Bambrough, Renford, Reason, Truth and God (London, 1969), p. 59.

page 75 note 2 Ibid. p. 120.

page 75 note 3 See Kellenberger, J., ‘The Ineffabilities of Mysticism’, American Philosophical Quarterly, XVI (1979), 312f.

page 76 note 1 Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, op. cit. (see note 3, page 65, above), p. 153. My emphasis.

page 76 note 2 Ibid. p. 138.

page 78 note 1 Eliade, Mircea, The Forbidden Forest (Indiana, 1978), p. 192.

page 79 note 1 Eliade, Mircea, No Souvenirs (London, 1978), p. 310. It is interesting to note a comment which Eliade makes in the preface to this volume (p. ix), ‘for me, a historian of religions and an orientalist, the writing of fiction became a fascinating experience in method’.

page 79 note 2 Jastrow, Morris, The Study of Religion (London, 1901), p. I.

* An early draft of this paper was presented at St Mary's College, University of St Andrews, during my time there as Gifford Research Fellow in 1985/86. Among members of the seminar group who contributed to the discussion, I am particularly grateful to Professor Colin Grant, Mount Allison University, Canada, and to Dr George Hall and Mr Michael Keeling, both of St Mary's college, for remarks which were instrumental in my subsequent revision of the argument.

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