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The Science of Religion in Britain, 1860–1915

Marjorie Wheeler-Barclay

Publication Year: 2010

This book offers a history of the creation of a scholarly study of religion in the Victorian period, highlighting the contributions of six anthropologists who attempted to define religion apart from the polemics of traditional orthodoxy, on the one hand, and of Enlightenment materialism, on the other.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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pp. vii-vii

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pp. ix-x

In the course of writing this study I have received essential support—intellectual, financial, and emotional—from many individuals and institutions. It is a pleasure to attempt here to acknowledge some of these debts.T. W. Heyck guided and advised me through the first stages of this project many years ago, and his support and thoughtful criticisms were invaluable....

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pp. 1-15

Loss of faith in traditional Christian beliefs and the accompanying erosion of the intellectual and cultural authority of the churches have long been central problems in the history of Victorian Britain. Historians have approached the topic from several angles, examining the complex causes and sources of unbelief, pursuing an understanding of its impact through biographical studies of famous ‘‘doubters,’’ and more recently, turning to the investigation...

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1. The Study of Religion before 1860

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pp. 17-36

To characterize the science of religion as a response to secularizing trendswithin a single national culture may seem myopic from the perspective of amore cosmopolitan history of the human sciences. After all, it was not only in Britain that religion became an object of supposedly scientific scrutiny. To name just a few of the more prominent thinkers—Emile Burnouf and Ernest...

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2. The Annunciation of a New Science

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pp. 37-70

In 1845 and 1846, F. D. Maurice preached a series of sermons entitled ‘‘The Religions of the World and Their Relations to Christianity,’’ the aim of which, as he said, was not to ‘‘search’’ for the ‘‘absurdities’’ of non-Christian faiths but to discover the ‘‘living wants’’ and the permanent ‘‘necessities of man’s being’’that all religions were called upon to satisfy. The project had been an...

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3. The Forging of an Anthropological Orthodoxy

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pp. 71-103

Among the many observers who hailed Max Müller’s ‘‘science of religion’’ as a welcome sign of the times, few displayed greater enthusiasm than Edward Burnett Tylor, the man who was to become the founding father and first academic representative of British social anthropology. Tylor, writing in 1868,saw in the public response to Müller’s work an unmistakable indication that...

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4. The Antipositivist Critique

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pp. 104-139

In the end, the most searching critique of Tylor’s message came not from Christian thinkers or their allies, but from one of his own earliest and most ardent disciples, Andrew Lang. But then Lang was always somewhat out of place in the role of ‘‘jackal’’ to Tylor’s ‘‘lion.’’ Tylor had journeyed from liberal Dissent via an intentionally modern, science-oriented program of...

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5. A New Departure

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pp. 140-180

In his attempt to defend the autonomy of religion from an all-embracing evolutionism, Andrew Lang had lashed out against the anthropological establishment that had grown up in Britain during the 1870s and 1880s. Of course, his attitude was an ambivalent one, for while attacking the positivistic tendencies which seemed to him to be gaining ground in the new field, he also...

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6. The Orthodoxy Monumentalized

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pp. 181-214

In a memorial tribute to William Robertson Smith written in 1911, the French scholar Salomon Reinach concluded a recital of his subject’s virtues and accomplishments by pointing to the greatest achievement of all—‘‘Genuit Frazerum!’’ Forty years later, it would have been difficult to find many anthropologists or sociologists who would...

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7. The Redefinition of Religion

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pp. 215-242

The work of Jane Ellen Harrison, pioneering female classicist and contemporary of Frazer, regularly met with caustic criticism from well-establishedmale colleagues. For example, in a letter to her friend and intellectual ally Gilbert Murray, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, the famed philologist, dismissed Harrison’s Themis thus: ‘‘In matters of religion I remain...

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pp. 243-256

In 1962, the distinguished anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard delivered a series of lectures entitled ‘‘Theories of Primitive Religion’’ which included a historical survey and critical analysis of the contributions of British scholars during the period from about 1850 to the First World War. His concluding judgment was harsh: the theories themselves were as ‘‘dead as mutton,’’ and it...


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pp. 257-287


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pp. 289-304


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pp. 305-311

E-ISBN-13: 9780813930510
E-ISBN-10: 0813930510
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813930107
Print-ISBN-10: 0813930103

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 755618478
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Science of Religion in Britain, 1860–1915

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Subject Headings

  • Religion historians -- Great Britain -- History -- 20th century.
  • Religion -- Study and teaching -- Great Britain -- History -- 20th century.
  • Religion historians -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Religion -- Study and teaching -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
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