restricted access An unsigned first review of Group Theories of Religion and the Individual, by Clement C. J. Webb
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[ 417 An unsigned first review of Group Theories of Religion and the Individual, by Clement C. J. Webb London: Allen & Unwin, 1916. Pp. 208.1 The New Statesman, 7 (29 July 1916) 405-06 This book has a greater importance than even the name of Mr. C. C. J. Webb upon its cover would lead us to assign it. It represents the resistance of the orthodoxy, the brains, and the scholarship of Oxford to a new heresy in religion . Mr. Webb is an Aristotelian; his religion is based upon Aquinas, and brought up to Bosanquet and Royce.2 The writers whom he attacks are studentsofanthropologyandsociology ,nourisheduponSpencerandComte;3 those in Cambridge–Miss Harrison, Mr. Cornford4 –are touched with the infection of Bergsonism. Mr. Webb stands for the humane tradition; his opponents, for the novelties of science. This is a chapter in the history of classicism and romanticism. The actual content of the book consists of an examination of two works: Durkheim’s Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse5 and Lévy-Bruhl’s earlier Fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures.6 Mr. Webb objects strongly to Lévy-Bruhl’s theory of a “prelogical mentality.” Undoubtedly M. LévyBruhl has made too much of this distinction between the mind of savagery and the mind of civilisation. But the exaggeration can be more or less discounted from his own writings. The mind of the savage is not a different type; it is merely a mind, to use M. Lévy-Bruhl’s own words, “differently oriented.” The “law of participation”–the union of the worshipper with his god, the identity of the individual and his totem–is not confined to primitive societies; nor, on the other hand, is the primitive mind indifferent to the law of contradiction.7 And the theory of “collective representations,” which Mr. Webb criticizes at some length, is obviously overworked.8 Both these doctrines Mr. Webb subjects to an acute examination. In more fundamental criticism Mr. Webb is not so successful. This is due to the fact that he vacillates between criticism of the sociological theories on their own merits and criticism of what he construes to be their tendency for religion and philosophy. He deprecates, and justly, a tendency to reduce religion to feeling, a tendency to underestimate the value of the individual (the mystical 1916: journalism 418 ] heresy), and a tendency to regard religion as essentially a feature of primitive society, destined to disappear in a world of positive science. All of these tendencies are undoubtedly present, but in a latent form, and if made explicit are not altogether compatible. Mr. Webb’s book is therefore not an introduction to the work of the sociologists mentioned, but an original polemic in an important struggle. Notes 1. This book originated as the 1914 Wilde Lectures at Oxford by The German embryologist Clement C. J. Webb (1865-1954), fellow of Magdalen College. TSE wrote two different reviews of this book, the second of which appeared in the IJE in Oct 1916 (430). This, the first, was attributed to him in Henry Ware Eliot’s catalog (Houghton): bMS Am 1691.14 (67), 5. Gallup listed it as C26 in the first edition of his bibliography (1953) and stated erroneously that it was merely reprinted in the IJE in Oct 1916. In the second edition (1969), he dropped, without explanation, the listing of this first review and included the second as C30. 2. In the Summa theologiae (1266-73), Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) explored the relationship between reason, which seeks knowledge from evidence, and faith, which seeks understanding through revelation. Bosanquet and Royce were Neo-Idealists who also attempted to reconcile faithwithreason.Webb’sbookconcludeswithcommentsonRoyce’sTheProblemofChristianity (1913) and Bosanquet’s The Value and Destiny of the Individual (1913). 3. In 1948, in a sermon given at Magdalen College, Cambridge, TSE was to recall: “Herbert Spencer’s generalized theory of evolution was in my childhood environment regarded as the key to the mystery of the universe.” 4. The work of Harrison and Cornford in Greek mythology was shaped by post-Darwinian work in the social sciences. In “The Interpretation of Primitive Ritual,” TSE referred specifically to Harrison’s Themis (1912) and more generally to works with a similar evolutionary thesis, such as Cornford’s From Religion to Philosophy (1912). See 106. 5.TSEhadusedDurkheim’sLesRèglesdelaméthodesociologique(1895)in“TheInterpretation of Primitive Ritual” and reviewed the English translation (1916) of Les Formes elémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912) twice...