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I (lilt 'd Ini



Cieoffreij P;m iikler




From Ancient History

to the Present



From Ancient History

to the Present

Editor: Geoffrey Parrinder

Facts On File



World Religions

From Ancient History to the Present

Copyright © 1971 by The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, Newnes Books

1983, a division of The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.

World Religions is a revised and updated edition of the book first published in 1971 as Man and His Gods in the United Kingdom and as Religions of the

World in the U.S.

1985 First paperback edition

Published in North America by Facts On File, 460 Park Avenue

South, New York, NY. 10016

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any

form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,

recording or by any information storage and retrieval systems, without permis- sion in writing from the Publisher.

For copyright reasons this edition is only for sale within USA, its territories

and possessions, the Philippines and Canada.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Main entry under title:

World religions.

Bibliography: p.

Includes index.

1. Religions.

I. Parrinder, Edward Geoffrey.

BL80.2.W67 1984



ISBN 0-87196-129-6 (he) ISBN 0-8160-1289-X (pb)

10 9


Printed in the United States


Foreword page 7


Introduction page 9

Ancient Iran page 177



Prehistoric Religion page 22

Hinduism page ig2



Tribal Religions in Asia page 33

Jainism page 241



Early Australasia page 4Q

Sikhism page 250



Traditional Africa page 60

Buddhism page 262



Aztecs and Mayas page 6g

China page 304



Andean Religion page go

Japan page 353



Northern Europe in the Iron Age

Judaism page 383

page 101



Mesopotamia page 114


Ancient Egypt page 133


Ancient Greece page 146


Christianity page 420


Islam page 462

Conclusion page 308

Bibliography page 516

Acknowledgements page $ig


The religions of the world provide a great record of human thought

and artistic expression. From the earliest times of prehistory down to the present day people have expressed their deepest convictions about

the universe and mortal life in worship and symbol. All the arts have

been brought into the service of religion: architecture and sculpture,

painting and writing, music and costume.

This book brings together studies of religions past and present. It seeks to present not only a study of religion in a narrow sense, but

a picture of history, geography, social life, current affairs and inter-

national relationships.

An encyclopedia can be arranged alphabetically, with many long

or short articles, on major items and trivial details. But such a book

tends to become merely a work of reference, to be put aside and

rarely consulted. The method adopted here is to provide articles on

all the major religions, with reference to minor ones, and a compre-

hensive alphabetical index which refers back to the great and small topics discussed in the body of the work. This makes for a much

more attractive and interesting display of the great variety of religious

life in all countries of the world. The chapters can be read consecu-

tively or at random, as each is complete in itself though often themes

are continued in other chapters. The different religions described in this encyclopedia are expounded by experts, all of them specialists on the particular religions which

they study. It will be of interest to the average person, and it also

provides reliable and scholarly work for the student. The illustrations help to explain beliefs and practices. Those who wish to continue

with further study will find references and lists of authoritative books in the various fields described.

The arrangement of chapters must be arbitrary to some extent, but

the one that is adopted here aims both at showing something of the

development and historical position of the religions, and at including

a wider range of religions than is generally found in such a compre-


religions, and these can be noted in the list of contents, running from

Ancient Iran to Islam, with China including Confucianism and

Taoism as well as Buddhism. But such a division of living and dead, though excluding the virtually extinct religions of ancient Europe and

hensive work.



sometimes said that there are eleven

the Near East, ignores those still living faiths of other continents

which chiefly remain outside the scope of the historical religions.

Many pre-literate peoples, in Africa, Asia, Australasia and America, have been studied in recent times and more is now known of them

than before. These continents have many tribes, and it is not possible to give accounts of all the tribal religions of Asia and Africa, so that

a representative selection has been given. But in America the problem is even more acute, for before Columbus there were great cultures

and religions in America which perhaps had no literature, in the

strictest sense of scriptures, but they had complex calendars and

symbolism. Pre-Columbian America has been placed therefore be- tween the pre-literate African world and Northern Europe, to be

followed by the literate cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and


There are many common themes in religion: 'human being, etern-

ity, and God', as Wordsworth said. But there is also great diversity.

As well as an underlying search for reality, there is an infinite variety

of doctrine and mythology, of symbolism and ritual. This encyclo-

pedia seeks to illustrate and explain these things.


Religion has been present at every level of human society from the earliest times. But what exactly is it? The Oxford English Dictionary

defines religion as 'the recognition of superhuman controlling power, and especially of a personal god, entitled to obedience'. Belief in a

god or gods is found in most religions, but different superhuman

powers are often revered, particularly those connected with the dead.

There are many other elements of religious life which cannot be

included in a short definition, but which appear in this encyclopedia.

The remains of prehistoric peoples reveal some aspects of their religious belief, which will be discussed in the next chapter, but there

may have been much more which by its ephemeral nature could not

leave physical traces for archaeologists to dig up thousands of years

later. Many historical peoples have believed in a supreme god or providence, but often they built no temples and made few sacrifices,

and so nothing tangible remains. There may have been further com-

plicated systems of belief and worship in prehistory, which expressed the reactions of thinking men and women to the universe, but which have left no clues for later ages to piece together.

That religion has been universal, at all stages of history and human geography, does not necessarily mean that all individuals are religious, or religious to the same degree. Today some people claim to be

irreligious, doubtful about or even hostile to all forms of religion,

and they are called atheists if they deny the existence of any super-

human power, or agnostic if they hold that this cannot be known or

established with certainty.

It is likely that this was so to a lesser

degree in the past, though such people probably appeared more

among literate and individualistic peoples than in closely-knit so-

cieties. Socrates was condemned to death at Athens for teaching atheism to the young men, but in fact he had only criticized the

myths about the Greek gods for being immoral. He believed in the

immortality of the soul and in a divine genius which, he believed,

guided him.

Psychologists tend nowadays to deny that there is a religious in-

stinct, because it seems to be absent in animals with whom we share

many physical instincts. But at the same time the capacity for religious

response may be found in all people, though its quality vanes con-

siderably from individual to individual. Both social environment and


upbringing are very important in the development of religious life,

but differences between individuals, when they are allowed scope, produce various religious types.

Some people have supernormal experiences, while others are in- trospective thinkers, and both of these may be specially or persistently

religious. Some others show an interest in religion only occasionally,

in times of great need or when taking part in a social ritual. Even in

apparently atheistic countries there are not only state rituals which

resemble religious ceremonies but also special personalities who either

lead the social pattern or break through it and seem to have a sig-

nificance akin to the religious. The study of religion reveals that an important feature of it is a longing for value in life, a belief that life is not accidental and mean-

ingless. The search for meaning leads to faith in a power greater than

the human, and finally to a universal or superhuman mind which has

the intention and will to maintain the highest values for human life.

There is an intellectual element in religion's search for purpose and

value, and an emotional element in the dependence upon the power

which creates or guarantees those values.

Religion and Morality

The intellectual and emotional sides of religion affect behaviour.

Religion has always been linked with morality, though moral systems

differ greatly from place to place. Whether morals can exist without

religion or some supernatural belief has been debated, but at least all

religions have important moral commandments. The famous laws of Hammurapi of Babylon, which date from about the eighteenth cen-

tury bc, gave royal, feudal, legal and social prescriptions, but were

said to have been received from the god of justice.

The philosopher A.N. Whitehead defined religion as what 'the in-

dividual does with his own solitariness', but religion always has a

social side and it is expressed in patterns of behaviour. Sometimes there is a strong organization, such as a church, while at other times

the model of religious life may be that of a lonely ascetic in a forest.

But even the latter depends upon society for support: giving food is

regarded as an act of religious merit and in return he or she blesses those who offer charity. The rules of moral behaviour in most so-

cieties have a strong religious basis, and they are supported by the

teachings of scriptures and the actions of religious officials.

The study of religions depends upon many elements. Archaeology

is particularly important for a knowledge of the prehistoric and an-

cient historic periods of human life. Anthropology and sociology

consider the role of religion in the lives of individuals and societies,

especially among modern illiterate peoples. The psychology of

religion studies both the role of individuals and the effect of social

activities upon their participants. The comparative study of religions takes account of both similarities and differences between religions,

traces their history and examines similar patterns of behaviour. In addition to these, folklore, mythology, philosophy and theology,


linguistics, music, art and almost any human activity can be important INTRODUCTION for understanding religious life.

The Origins of Religion

In his Theogony Hesiod made one of the first attempts to shape the

stories of the Greek gods into a consistent whole, and Herodotus

claimed that 'all men know equally about divine things'. But neither

of these great writers can be reckoned as a critical historian of religion

nor, despite their antiquity, did they discover its origin.

Speculations as to how, when and why religion began have flour-

ished only in the last hundred years. Previously, in medieval and

modern Europe, it was assumed that the first human beings, or Adam and Eve, in the creation myth of Genesis, had received a perfect revelation from a divine being, or that they had worked out a pure

religion based upon the principles of reason. Theologians held that this early religion was corrupted by sin and the fall from grace, and

rationalists declared that priests and ignorance had produced the idol-

atry and diversity of religion now found all over the world. In the

nineteenth century the theory of evolution and the growth of a critical

science of history forced people to consider the evolution of religion and speculate upon its possible origins.

In 1 871 Edward B. Tylor coined the word 'animism' to describe

his theory of religion. Derived from anima, the Latin word for the

soul, the theory of animism suggested that primitive people had

deduced from dreams, visions, delirium and the fact of death that they were inhabited by an immaterial soul. Since the dead appeared

in dreams it was assumed that their spirits continued to exist after

death, that they might dwell in various objects, and it was suggested that the dead gradually came to be regarded as gods. About the same

time the sociologist and philosopher Herbert Spencer suggested that

religion had its origins in visions or the appearance of the ghosts of

the dead, and these ancestors were worshipped as gods. But Tylor, Spencer, and others who expounded such theories could not prove

that really primitive people, in prehistoric times, had thought in this

way, and the jump from ghosts or souls to divine spirits and gods was based upon conjecture. Even if it had happened sometimes there

is no certainty that it was universal. Animism in this form is virtually

abandoned as a scientific explanation of religion today. A refinement of the theory of animism was suggested by R.R.

Marett in 1899,

who said that primitive humans did not at first

conceive of personal souls, but believed in an impersonal force or

forces which animated the world; this he called 'animatism'. His

hypothesis was linked, rather unfortunately, with the word mana used

by the Mclancsians of the Pacific to express the idea of a spiritual

power. It was assumed that all peoples had such a notion and that

belief in this impersonal power was the origin of religion. Moreover,

Marett considered that early peoples were actors rather than thinkers,

saying that their religion was 'not so much thought out as danced out', and so it was very little different from magic in its early stages.




But later investigation showed that by tnana the Melanesians did not

mean an impersonal force animating the universe such as Marett and

others supposed, but rather a quality in spirits and people which gave

them distinction.

The Golden Bough

In 1890 James Frazer began publication of a long series of books, the

chief of which was The Golden Bough. This opened with the story of

a sacred tree guarded by a priest of Diana at Aricia in ancient Italy.

Frazer thought that the view of the world as pervaded by spiritual

forces was the idea behind the practice of magic, used by priests who were seeking to control nature.

He held that magic was the first stage of human intellectual devel-

opment, a sort of primitive science, in which people imagined that

they could influence their own lives and those of others by means of

magical objects or incantations. Some magic could be described as

sympathetic, because it had a resemblance or contact with its object

by a 'law of similarity' or a 'law of contagion'. An example of the

law of similarity was that many magicians made images of their

enemies and stuck thorns into the places where they wished to pro-

duce pain. Following the law of contagion they used the hair or nails

of the victim, or some object close to the person, in a ceremony

designed to cause harm.

This description is generally accurate, but Frazer's further theories

were severely criticized. He supposed that after the first magical phase

had produced failures people imagined that there were supernatural

beings which could help them, and so they turned to religion. This

also turned out to be an illusion however, and eventually there came

the knowledge of science and humans became logical and experi-

mental. This hypothesis was attractive for a time because it seemed

to fit in with the theory of evolutionary progress. But it was soon pointed out that there is no evidence for the assumption that magic came before religion - they have existed together at many levels of

culture. The notion of a progress from magic to religion to science

is unhistorical and many advanced and highly civilized peoples have

been profoundly religious. Frazer's theories on the origins and de-

velopment of religion are now abandoned, though some of his dis-

tinctions between the different kinds of magic are useful.

In 1922 Lucien Levy-Bruhl advanced the theory of primitive men-

tality, in which he suggested that 'savages' used a 'pre-logical think-

ing' which was different from our own. He criticized the assumptions

of other writers who stressed the similarities between all humans and

imagined how they would act and think under primitive conditions. Levy-Bruhl emphasized the different conditions and mental processes

of civilized and primitive people. For example, he said that all 'un-

civilized' races explain death by other than natural causes, as being

due not simply to disease or the weakness of old age, but rather to

the agency of a mystical force. He thought this a kind of socially

accepted reasoning upon which experience had no effect.


But Levy-Bruhl,

like so many other writers on the origins of

religion in the last hundred years, was an armchair theorist who had

no experience of modern primitive peoples, and of course he had

little knowledge of how prehistoric men and women thought. He

made primitive people out to be much more superstitious than they

are, since they do not live simply in an imaginary world but are close

to nature and can only survive if they direct their lives by reason and

experiment. Primitive people understand well how death is caused

physically, though generally they also add a spiritual explanation.

The Social Importance of Religion

Another Frenchman, Emile Durkheim, had in 1912 already published

his book on the elementary forms of religious life. He emphasized

religion as a social fact and not simply the product of the psychology

of certain individuals. It could not be an illusion, for religion was

universal and had appeared in every age, producing great cultures and

systems of morality and law. For Durkheim, however, religion is the

worship of society itself, though it may be disguised by myths and

symbols. Society is an abiding reality: it has full control over people

and they depend upon it and pay it their reverence.

Durkheim tried to support his case from the example of some of

the aborigines of Australia, an unhappy choice because he never went

there, based his theory upon the incomplete researches of others, and

then deduced that all primitive peoples have behaved like the abori-

gines. These aborigines belong to clans which hold certain plants or

animals sacred and do not harm or eat them. Their sacred objects and pictures made of them were described as totems, because of their

similarity to the totems of the North American Indians. Durkheim

saw the totems as embodying the ideals of the clan, so that in fact

people worshipped society itself. But the meaning of the Australian

totems is still being debated: it differs from place to place, and the

assumption that this was the earliest form of religion is unwarranted.

Moreover, people do not usually worship society but claim to revere

something greater and more abiding, often in opposition to the dom-

inant organization of society.


Illustration page 1

An even less likely account of the origins of religion was put

forward by the Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud in 1913, in his book Totem and Taboo. Freud produced a theory based upon infor-

mation about the behaviour of some Pacific tribes, and also of wild

horses and cattle, that in ancient times the powerful father of the

horde kept all the females to himself and drove away his growing

sons. But the latter eventually became strong and 'one day' they

joined forces, killed the father, and shared out the females among

themselves. 'Of course these cannibalistic savages ate their victim,'

said Freud, and by this meant that they identified themselves with

the father whom they had feared, both acquiring his strength and giving him honour in repeated totcmic feasts. They made totems of

animals which were symbols of the power of the father. So, the totem

feast would be the commemoration of this criminal act with which,



he argued, social organization, morality, art and religion began. There is no historical evidence for this astonishing theory. Freud was mistaken in thinking that primitive peoples ate their totems, for

there is only one instance in the world where this has been noted, in Australia, and even there the evidence is confused. There is no his-

torical, archaeological or other evidence for the supposition that

religion began with a murderous attack on a father by jealous sons, or that religion spread from one place to all other lands, or that it

began in such a manner all over the world. Great psychologist as he

was, Freud went as wildly astray in his hypothesis of religious origins


he did




on Hebrew history in Moses and


One Supreme Being

In opposition to psychological or sociological theories of religious origins, some writers have put forward the claim that the earliest

religious belief was in one supreme being. Andrew Lang in The

Making of Religion in 1898, and Wilhelm Schmidt in The Origin of the

Idea of God (1912-55), were two leading exponents of this view.

Australia again was called upon to provide information for Lang,

since it was said that some tribes there did not worship souls or spirits

but all of them had an idea of a supreme god. And Wilhelm Schmidt,

probably influenced by the story of Adam's knowledge of God in

Genesis, followed by the Fall, spent many years accumulating evidence

from all over the world to show that belief in god existed among the

most primitive peoples and might be called the earliest form of

religion. Later writers, while agreeing that many peoples have a belief

in a heavenly god, who by location is high and lofty and often

supreme over others, try to show that this belief has existed alongside

faith in many other spiritual beings and gods, so that this is not a

primitive monotheism, belief in one god, but an aspect of polytheism,

belief in many gods.

In recent times the errors in speculations about the origins of religion have made scholars cautious. If religion is as old as thinking human beings, as seems likely, then its origins are so remote that it

is improbable much evidence will appear to explain its beginnings.

In any case religion is a complex phenomenon and may be the result

of many causes. The great Rumanian authority, Mircea Eliade, says

that the modern historian of religions knows that it is impossible to reach the origins of religion, and this is a problem that need no longer

cause concern. The important task today is to study the different

phases and aspects of religious life, and to discover from these the

role of religion for humankind.

Some scholars have stressed the importance of the scientific study

of the religious beliefs and practices of specific peoples, at different

levels of material culture. Beliefs and rites must be studied as facts,

whether or not they are appealing to the investigator. In the past too

many theorists were concerned not simply to describe or explain

religion but to explain it away, feeling that if the early forms were


shown to be based upon illusions then the later and higher religions

might be undermined. But in studying religion the believer may have

a better chance of understanding other faiths than the sceptic, for the

unbeliever often seeks to explain religion away, as psychological or

sociological illusion. E. Evans-Pritchard says that 'the believer seeks

rather to understand the manner in which a people conceives of a

reality and their relations to it.'

The theory of evolution propounded by Charles Darwin in 1859

has been one of the most influential ideas of modern times and has

affected many studies. It was applied to the development of religion

by Herbert Spencer and others though some assumptions were made

which later had to be discarded. It was assumed that evolutionary

growth proceeded everywhere in the same manner, that all peoples

passed through the same stages and that progress was inevitable.

Those who now seem to be at a low stage of material culture were

thought to have remained there from prehistoric times, while other

peoples had progressed beyond them. Little attention was given to the fact of degeneration as well as progress. Thus those who are

'primitive' today were believed to show what religion was like in

its earliest forms. On the other hand, the 'higher religions' were

supposed to represent the supreme peak of religious development. Clearly many of these assumptions were unfounded, biased, or in-

capable of proof. There is no reason why all peoples should pass

through the same stages of religious growth, and there are great

differences that cannot be explained simply by inevitable develop-

ment. Some quite 'primitive' people believe in a supreme god, while

many advanced Buddhists do not.

Developing Beliefs

At the same time there is clearly development in many religions. The Buddhism of Tibet is widely different from that of Burma, and some

forms of Christianity in Europe or America have travelled far in ritual

and faith from those of the ancient Holy Land. There are many

similarities of religion, but the differences are also numerous and need

proper attention. Some religions have influenced each other histori-

cally, such as Judaism and Christianity, or Hinduism and Buddhism,

but they also have their own internal dynamism and particularity. The decision as to which religions are 'higher' or more true than

others is an act of personal assessment and faith, belonging to apolo-

getic and mission, and it is beyond the purpose of this encyclopedia. Belief in a god is a natural feature of most religions and is included

under the general term 'theism'. Belief in one god alone is 'mono-

theism', and is seen in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and in some


of the most important religious groups in Hinduism and elsewhere.

Belief in many gods is