Paragraph on The Origin of Religion

Paragraph on The Origin of Religion!

When did religion first appear among men? No definite answer can be given to the question.


The origin of religion is veiled in mystery. There is a great deal of disagreement among thinkers on the subject.

Some writers like David Hume, Max Muller and Giddings claimed that religion as a creation of man was based on an illusion and that fear accounted for its origin.

Other thinkers, notable among whom are Spencer and Tylor, contended that religion originated primarily in ghost-fear and that animism lies at the very basis of all religion. According to Tylor, “Religion has evolved through the sequence of animism-polytheism and monotheism.” According to the noted British anthropologist Robert Ranulph Marett, “Animatism i.e., belief in impersonal power designated as mana which preceded animism should be regarded as underlying all religion. W. Robertson Smith maintained that ancient religions consisted primarily of institutions and practices, i.e., of rites and ceremonies which are to be regarded the most elementary forms of religion.

Durkheim also ascribed to this view. For him totemism is the very core out of which religion develops. He concluded in his book. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life that society itself is the ultimate source of religion and thus arrived at sociological explanation of religion.


Sumner and Keller are of the opinion that religion arose in response to a definite need-adjustment to the supernatural or imaginary environment which appears just as real as the actual environment and adaptation to which is just as impelling. According to them had there been no aleatory element, religion might not have come into existence.

The origin or religion cannot be traced to a single source. It cannot be placed on any single element—fear, belief in impersonal power, rites and ceremonies or response to a definite need. Neither will nor emotion alone can explain its origin. The beginning of reli­gion is as old as the human consciousness.

There is no primitive society which was without a religion. And if religion is a universal phenomenon, it cannot be considered as an artificial state of human nature but as something permanency embedded in man’s psychology. Galloway observes, “The fact that men everywhere and always have developed religion, for there is no evidence that any tribe or race has existed without it points to the truth that religion must have its roots in human nature.

No accident of environment or tenacity of tradition can account for what is constant and persistent; that which is universal in experience must be genuine expression of man’s life. Like other social institutions, religion also arose from the intellectual power of man in response to certain felt needs of man, or because of conditions accompanying his life on earth.

Thus to speak of the historical origin of religion has no sense, because it is as old as mankind. As a matter of fact social institutions cannot be explained by an account of their origin. It is impossible to recover traces of the earliest social beginnings. Since institutions are not stones and cannot be dug up, any evidence concerning their origins must be indirect and inconclusive.

The speculations of the evolutionists contain many false premises. Religion is a very ancient institution. The Neanderthal men who lived 25,000 years ago seem to have had it. All the preliterate societies known to us have religion, even those with the simplest food-gathering cultures. Religion goes back to the beginnings of culture itself. It is a unique institution. While all other institutions can be traced back to the animal needs of man, to his physical characteristics, it is not clear upon which of the human traits is religion built.

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