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Totemism Theory By James Frazer Theology Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Religion
Wordcount: 1897 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Zengotita, T. d. (1989). On Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough. In T. d. Zengotita, Cutlural Anthropology (p. 390). New York: American Anthropological Association.

In his book, Wittgenstein viewed metaphysics as a kind of magic. He was careful not to defend it or mock it and maintained that whatever that could not be seen or understood will remain kept. His work was not to try and create connections between things but rather to conjure up something of higher order. Frazer believed that mythology provided explanation for savages and primitive societies for their existence through a totemism theory.

He faulted Frazer by trying to say that the rituals and myths depended upon people’s opinions about the world. He sees myths and rituals as connected to people’s emotions. Wittgenstein observes that ritual gestures may also have the same meanings in words.

Robert, F. (1990). The Making of the Golden Bough: The Origins and Growth of an Argument. London: Macmillan.

Robert Fraser notes that the “The Golden Bough is one of the greatest classic of the world…… a foundation stone of the modern sensibility…..” He notes that the book is a dangerous and has the ability to retain to disconcert.

Frazer talks of strange phenomenon. During the period of religious seriousness, Frazer did not adhere to any doctrinal belief. He chose to shed light on obscure issues: religion and the root cause of taboo. Frazer knew the importance of taboo and the power of infringement in the society. Taboo informed members of the society of who they were. Christians believed too much in taboos and believed that they had a special divine revelation. The Victorians did not like being second to anything. They believed that they had a strong religion, belief, and faith. They also did not like being told that sacrifice could be interpreted simply as a mere magic lying at the roots or in animals.

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Frazer was much interested in sameness other than otherness. The notion that all people had an ‘essential similarity’ was viewed as a threat to Victorian minds. Robert writes that Frazer had a deep cultural roots and had also carried thorough investigation of others cultures. In this context, he was much more interested in the notion of combining experience, life and reading together.

Ackerman, R. (2002). The Myth and Ritual School: J.G. Frazer and Cambridge Ritualists. London: Routledge.

Robert Ackerman notes that the “The Golden Bough” James Frazer is among the most prominent figures in the study of modern religion. Frazer’s work was the solely base influence on myth and ritualism in Cambridge school of thought.

Ackerman highlights Frazer’s attitude toward his works. He claims that Frazer did not think of relying on secondary data sources, and due to his personal obligation to the family, he was unable to conduct a more first-hand studies by himself.

He goes further to include the works of other scholars like Jane Harrison, A.B Cook, F.M Cornford who are also credited by huge contribution towards myth theory, classical works and anthropology.

Ackerman traces the each work of these scholars and highlight their interests in myths, rituals and religion, through to sources of tragedy, comedy, art etc.

Encyclopedia.com. (1968). International Encyclpedia of the Social Sciences. Retrieved April 29, 2011, from encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2- 3045000431.ht

The theory of tetomism is about the looks at the human thought processes, belief and taboos in man’s attempts to search for the truth and control over his environment. He highlighted three most important issues in his works: the magical aspects of which he believed is similar science, the religious and the scientific ideas.

Frazer dwelt too much on religious and taboo issues. He portrayed man has primitive growing up. He associated magic to childhood, adolescent associated with the religious belief while maturity was dominated with scientific discoveries.

Frazer’s work is of great importance in the field of anthropology. His works associated with the taboo, death and totemism has now been abandoned due to developments and changing anthropological views. However, these scholarly works were more cherished during his time than in the modern world.

Due to changes and extensive field work, the author says that it is now difficult to appreciate Frazer totemism theory. He acknowledges it’s important, but also point out that even Frazer knew that their theories would be obsolete some day and would only be remembered or referred to out of curiosity. Frazer further wrote that his works on religion, magic, taboo and science were just the theories of thought; perhaps one day would be overtaken by new approaches of studying anthropology.

His contemporaries were dragged into social controversy by the religion, notably William Robertson Smith. The author point out that Frazer was treated religion with great respect and never adopted any doctrinal teachings. He compared Christianity to paganism with a lot of tact. This denied Christianity its uniqueness in the society. He never attacked the firmly doctrinal beliefs of his peers but rather undermined them. Because of his contribution to literature and anthropology, was rewarded by the state. His wife is said to have devoted her success single-mindedly to him alone.

Mol, H. (1978). The Origin and Functions of Religion. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion , 379-389.

Hans Mol notes the Frazer was not among the first to be interested in totemism. However, his four work volumes had a major impact on the subject. His ideas were influenced by his childhood. Therefore his approach to totemism is individualism perspective rational which was seen as the only way to evolution goal. To Frazer, totemism was therefore to meet the needs of an ordinary individual in the society.

His approach to religion and magic makes his views unsatisfactorily and therefore viewed as errors. Savages were treated with ambivalence and opposing statements. He implied that primitive thoughts were part of human tradition. The agents and his priests self -deceived were also considered agents of human progress.

newworldencyclopedia.org. (2006, June 5). http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Totemism. Retrieved April 29, 2011, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Totemism

To them religion was essentially believing in the spiritual beings. This resulted into concept of animism (belief that nature has soul; the belief that things in nature, e.g. trees, mountains, and the sky, have souls or consciousness).

In their explanation, religion exists to assist human beings understand things which would be too complicated to understand. This was through relying on the unseen and hidden forces of nature. This merely served the social function of religion. Totem brought people together and helped in human development and civilization. It also helped to explain the ideas of conception and birth.

The modern development in totemism has seen individuals adopting animals and attaching meaning to them as personal totem. Totemism can also be seen in naming of teams, choice of national symbols. The names or character seems to have symbolic importance associated with the natural force. The feeling of importance bestows some kind of euphoria to the team or nation.

The urge to label some of the plants and animals with totemism is alive and exists today. It is still widely practiced universal human activity. This is supported by the surrounding environment providing such imagery to the people as well as symbols associated with them. Scholars see totemism as something which will continue to exist for many years to come.

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Frazer’s magical ideas were conceived out of the notion that the universe is regulated by anonymous and unchanging constant laws i.e. he compared magic to science and both were alike. The laws were known to these magicians through their art applied as though technical procedures to control occurrences. These beliefs were faulty based on reasoning; not like scientific ones. The reasoning was logically shallow and lacked in-depth like in science. They assumed that the characteristics of one’s object e.g. trees were supposed to give similar characteristics in another.

The magical ideas were gradually dismissed because its failures were apparent. This paved ways for religious ideas. In this regard, there was a belief that superhuman beings were in control. Nature was no longer taken for granted. Man turned to agents of supernatural beings for help by acts of appeal and favor. Frazer also recognized the limitations of his own ideas and admitted that man achieve more with scientific ideas.

Petrunic, J. (2009, January). Gifford Lecture Series. Retrieved April 29, 2011, from giffordlectures.org: http://www.giffordlectures.org/Author.asp?AuthorID=67

This is rather attack on the works of James Frazer. The long tirade is a scathing attack on the works as well as the personality of Frazer. The author identifies his personal weakness, his relying on other scholars and missionaries. Petrunic also claim the Frazer was less travelled and therefore was unable to conduct a thorough research on anthropological issues.

Petrunic observes that Frazer treated religion with exceptional degree of objectivity, he still had his critics. The academicians accused him of holding his knowledge to himself and rarely willing to discuss them with the others or even elaborate them. The article also notes that Frazer did his work on his study desk. He therefore had little original work to share. He read large amount of works by other authors. The article also claims that Frazer had the ability to record notes and categorize.

Frazer rarely travelled. He relied on historical works of ancient anthropologists. He also worked closely with his fellow scholars like Sigmund Freud, whom they agreed with on several works, Bronislaw Malinowski with whom they wrote a similar subject about; functionalism. T. S Eliot, the underlying themes of death, life cycle and rebirth in his poetry were shared with Frazer.

However, the article gives him credit on his systematic category of various works he came across such as people’s culture. His fame and success can only be from popularizing his theories of religion and magic which later had a great impact on the literary works of his contemporaries.

Frazer’s work was a comparative approach to religion and mythology. Its target was great literary audience. The work of Frazer now is used by modern anthropologists as an approach to the study of religion, from a cultural perspective rather from perspective of theology. The influence of The Golden Bough on the literature of the time was significantly felt.

Frazer is credited by bringing forth the anthropological knowledge to modern scholars and anthropologists. The struggle to introduce the same now would have long and tiresome. In this regard, he made the modern anthropology possible.


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