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Religions are found all over the world today. Different religions which include ancient religions, modern religions and religions that are mixture of different ancient religions exist all around the world. What really is religion and where did it come from are questions that are answered by many definitions and theories from different philosophers. Some of the most common definitions of religion are: (1) it is a strong belief in a supernatural being and that this supernatural being controls human destiny, (2) it is an institution that believes in divine power, (3) it is a belief concerning the supernatural, divine, and sacred, which includes the practices that involve such ideas, (4) the belief that there is an existing relationship between human and universe which involves an entity (Definition of Religion, 2002). According to dictionaries, religion is "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs" (Random House Dictionary, 2010). An important question is why does religion exist, what are the motives and ideas behind the creation of religions? Two famous personalities, Karl Marx and Edward Burnett Tylor, tried to answer these questions and were able to formulate a theory of religion. Karl Marx defined religion to be the opium of society, that it is the unworldly substitutes for misery of the masses amidst the oppression in the society (Smith, 2005). On the other hand, Edward Burnett Tylor defined religion to be a belief in spiritual beings (Blasi, n.d.). These definitions have both earned their places in defining religion. In this paper, Marx's and Tylor's theories of religion will be compared and contrasted to be able to arrive to the more plausible sense on how religion was explained.
Karl Marx is a German philosopher, self-taught political economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, communist, and revolutionary, who pioneered communism and socialism. He was born on May 5, 1818 in Trier, Prussia. He studied philosophy under Georg Wilhelm Friedrich von Hegel. Hegel's philosophies influenced Marx's thinking and own philosophies. Hegel was known to be an "idealist". He believed that material things are only expression and manifestation of ideas. Young Marx joined the Hegel group where he learned and believed that materials were what are fundamental in the world and that ideas are simple expressions of material necessities (Cline, n.d.). From this point of view, two most important ideas were developed: (1) the economic realities are the determining factor for all human behavior and (2) human societies must work to survive (Cline, n.d.). He married Jenny von Westphalen and had seven children out of which only three survived due to poverty (Singer, 2000). Marx was forced to go to London in 1849, and there Friedrich Engels helped him financially in every step that he made. Their relationship was like Marx is a better philosopher and Engels is a better communicator (Cline, n.d.). He wrote the books Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto (Walmsley, n.d.). Much of his ideas today are collectively named as Marxism, but it is to be clarified that these ideas was not solely his (Cline, n.d.). He died on March 14, 1883. Marx believed that religion is just another social institution that is economic-dependent. It is a functionalistic definition of religion wherein it depends on the social purpose it serves and not the motives and ideas of the religion itself (Cline, n.d.). Furthermore, he believes that religion is an illusion that man created to escape and justify the things that they do and also, to help them cope.
Edward Burnett Tylor is an English anthropologist who was born on October 2, 1832 in London, England. He attended school in at Tottenham, but he stopped at the age of 16 to work for the family business (Voelker, 2007). After seven years of working, his health weakened and he was forced to travel. Even without formal knowledge in Anthropology, he was able to gain credit from the anthropological science in England. He worked as the head of the university museum in 1883 and even became a professor of anthropology from 1896 until 1909. He worked on subjects such as primitive people's mentality and animism (Voelker, 2007). Basically, Tylor believed that "Culture, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" (Tylor, 1920). Tylor asserted that the human mind is essentially the same for all human generations and that it is independent of the human social evolution, the only element that matters is that the education, learning and technology requires years to acquire and polish (Tylor, 1920). He died on January 2, 1917. Tylor believes that religion is the belief in the supernatural, divine beings. He proposed "animism" which is a belief that "all things have spirit and soul, animate and inanimate" (The contributions of Edward Tylor, Julian Steward, Bronislaw Malinowski, Franz Boas, and Clifford Geertz to Anthropology, n.d.). His belief is claimed to be the first step to the development of a religion. His theory is a substantial definition of religion compared to the functional definition of Karl Marx. Karl Marx believed that religion came from the need of humans to justify and comfort them through the times of oppression they are experiencing from the society and government; on the other hand, Tylor believed that religion is an innate sense of wanting to find a connection of human from the universe (Blasi, n.d.). He believes that religion came from the thinking of man that things and objects have spirits.
Today, modern definitions of religion have been formulated and institutionalized. Understanding of the formal definitions of religion will enable the accurate and fair comparison and contrast of Marx's and Tylor's theories of religion. These modern definitions can be justified at its best using common dictionaries. (1) Religion is the service and worship of god or the supernatural; it is a commitment or devotion to a religious faith or observant (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010). (2) It is "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." (Random House Dictionary, 2010). (3) It is the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices (Random House Dictionary, 2010). (4) "belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny" (Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition, 2009) (5) the attitude and feeling of one who believes in a transcendent controlling power or powers (Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition, 2009). These are five of the dictionary definitions of religion. It is very important to include them in the study because theories of religion tell about the origins or starting point of the ideas that make up religion as it is today. From these definitions, the Tylor's theory of religion prevails. Almost all of the definitions relate to what Tylor's theory suggested. Religion is a belief in the supernatural in its simplest sense. On the other hand, Marx's theory was not present in all the religion definitions in the dictionaries. However, the history of religion will be a more effective way to criticize both religions.
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Looking through the history of religion, further understanding of the theories will arise and comparison of whether Marx's or Tylor's theories have effectively defined what religion means at their specific time frames. The study of religious history was called Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, which it was the first systematical study of religion as a socio-cultural phenomenon. The earliest known form of religion was found to be dating back several hundred thousand years to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic periods. Evidence of religious existence such as symbolic artifacts from Middle Stone Age in Africa suggests that even in the early times, religion exists (Rossano, 2007). Other artifacts that were dated as existing in the Upper Paleolithic (50,000-13,000) period are the lion man, Venus figurines, cave paintings from Chauvet Cave and the elaborate ritual burial from Sungir (Diamond, 1997). Organized religions were also found to have emerged as a means for social and economic stability. These served as justification of the central authority which possessed the right to collect taxes in return for providing social and security services to the state. In Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, emperors and kings serve as political and spiritual leaders as a package (Shermer, n.d.). The chief or head of the organization is the one to be giving the divine punishment. Another period that is important is the Neolithic period, which believes in the existence of deities. Evidences were found as "...statues of a female deity far outnumber those of the male deity, who moreover, does not appear to be represented at all after Level VI" (Mellaart, 1967). These have symbolized many aspects of the believer's lives such as abundance in harvest (Mellaart, 1967). Evidence found in this period is The Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt that are one of the oldest known religious texts in the world dating to between 2400-2300 BCE (Budge, n.d.). The newer present-day religions were found to be formed during the middle ages. These religions were Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam (Diamond, 1997). These beliefs are centralized in an entity that is divine and sacred. Many wars were brought by these religions, islam to Christianity, Christianity to Buddhism, etc. Modern day religions were spread during the wars. Christianization of the world was aimed by Europe. This lead to wars and the religions that are existing today (Dubuisson, 2003).
From the following historical context, one can believe in the assessment that theories of religion can be criticized according to that. Evolution of religion will be a perfect proof of the real meaning or theory behind religion. Comparison of Marx's theory and Tylor's theory will be a very credible job. One, as in the former statements, religion in the Middle East grew to be a socio-political institution that is the means of justifying the central power. In accordance to Marx's theory, religion is a belief that is existing as a means to comfort oppressed people. Relation to Marx's theory is that, religion in the early times exist as political and social institution which also agrees to Marx's that it is used as a justification for something. In the context of Marx, that something is comfort from the oppression, while in the context of early times, it justified control of power. That is the only history that affirms to Marx's definition. Tylor's definition exists as a belief in the supernatural to which all of the history affirms. In all of the evidences, they suggest the divine, sacred, supernatural, deities, etc. which aligns to Tylor's theories. This is why, Tylor's theories is the more effective way of defining religion.
There are many theories that explain the existence of religion. However, only some survive because they are the ones that really have substance and sense to define religion. This is what Tylor's theory suggests. Tylor's theory surpassed Marx's theory in terms of defining religion in its most precise sense.
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