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A Comparative View of Religions   By: (1811-1885)

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Note: Images of the original pages are available through the Making of America collection of the University of Michigan Libraries. See idx?c=moa;idno=AJF2939.0001.001


Translated from the Dutch of

J. H. SCHOLTEN, Professor at Leyden,

by Francis T. Washburn.

Reprinted by permission from "The Religious Magazine and Monthly Review." Boston: Crosby & Damrell, 100 Washington St. 1870.



The conception of religion presupposes, a , God as object; b , man as subject; c , the mutual relation existing between them. According to the various stages of development which men have reached, religious belief manifests itself either in the form of a passive feeling of dependence, where the subject, not yet conscious of his independence, feels himself wholly overmastered by the deity, or the object of worship, as by a power outside of and opposed to himself; or, when the feeling of independence has awakened, in a one sided elevation of the human, whereby man in worshiping a deity deifies himself. In the highest stage of religious development, the most entire feeling of dependence is united in religion with the strongest consciousness of personal independence. The first of these forms is exhibited in the fetich and nature worship of the ancient nations; the second in Buddhism, and in the deification of the human, which reaches its full height among the Greeks. The true religion, prepared in Israel, is the Christian, in which man, grown conscious of his oneness with God, is ruled by the divine as an inner power of life, and acts spontaneously and freely while in the fullest dependence upon God. Since Christ, no more perfect religion has appeared. What is true and good in Islamism was borrowed from Israel and Christianity.

Although it is probable that every nation passed through different forms of religious belief before its religion reached its highest development, yet the earlier periods lie in great part beyond the reach of historical investigation. The history of religion, therefore, has for its task the review of the various forms of religion with which we are historically acquainted, in the order of psychological development.




The lowest stage of religious development is fetichism, as it is found among the savage tribes of the polar regions, and in Africa, America, and Australia. In this stage, man's needs are as yet very limited and exclusively confined to the material world. Still too little developed intellectually to worship the divine in nature and her powers, he thinks he sees the divinity which he seeks in every unknown object which strikes his senses, or which his imagination calls up. In this stage, religion has no higher character than that of caprice and of love of the mysterious and marvelous, mixed with fear and a slavish adoration of the divine. The worship and the priest's office (Shaman, Shamanism) consist here chiefly in the use of charms, to exorcise a dreaded power. From this savage fetichism the nature worship found among the Aztecs in Mexico, and the worship of the sun in Peru, are distinguished by the greater definiteness and order of their religious conceptions and usages. In them the gods have names, and an ordained priesthood cares for the religious interests of the people. The highest form to which fetichism has attained is the worship of Manitou, the great spirit, which is found among the ancient tribes of North America.


When man reaches a higher development, caprice and chance disappear from religion. Having outgrown fetichism, man begins, as is the case among the Chinese, to distinguish in the world around him an active and a passive principle, force and matter (Yang and Yn), heaven and earth (Kien and Kouen)... Continue reading book >>

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