Andrew Lang – Making and Creating as the Origin of Religious Belief

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Andrew Lang (1844-1912) was a student of E. B. Tylor (1832-1917) and a Scottish literary figure who had a keen interest in folklore, anthropology, poetry, and fairy tales. He wrote a history on English literature, and was particularly interested in Homer’s writings.

Lang was critical of Tylor’s view that religion had its origins in beliefs in souls and that belief in God developed later in the development of self-consciousness. Rather, belief in God was in fact found among the earliest and most simple people. He also could not agree with Tylor’s view concerning the chronological primacy of the animistic stage, and argued that there were earlier stages of human awareness that preceded the animistic stage, suggesting that animism was not the origin of humanity’s first instance of religious awareness. As such, Lang challenges Tylor’s view,

“Now in addition to the the objections already noted in passing, how can we tell that the Supreme Being of low savages was, in original conception, animistic at all? How can we know that he was envisioned originally as Spirit? We shall know that he probably was not, that the Maker and Father in Heaven, prior to Death, was merely regarded as a deathless Being, no question of “spirit” being raised. If so, animism was not needed for the earliest idea of a moral Eternal” (1).

Lang proposed the idea that religion was the result of the functions of making and creating for as “Soon as man had the idea of “making” things, he might might conjecture as to the maker of things which he himself had not made” (2).

Earliest human beings realized that some of the items they encountered had been made or created by someone else. The human thus “might conjecture as to the maker of things which he himself had not made, and could not make. He would have regarded this unknown Maker as a “magnified non-natural man.”” He believed that humans would give this Maker other attributes such as “Fatherhood,” and “goodness,” and that through the evidence provided by anthropology the “intermediate idea of a Supreme Being,” may have originated before the evolution of the idea of the ghost or spirit.

References and Recommended Readings

1. Lang, A. 2007. The Making of Religion. 1st Word Publishing. p. 219.

2. Lang, A. 2007. Ibid. p. 14.

Capps, W. 1995. Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline. p. 83-85

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