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Comparative Religion: A History Paperback – March 1, 1999
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Top Customer Reviews
The 19th century belief in the science of this and that -- anthropology was "the science of man," comparative religion was "the science of religion," and so forth. And they saw, not just biology, but everything through the lense of evolution. As he writes, evolution became not just a theory but a mind-set. Hence, the meaning of religion was sought in its origins and it was assumed to go through a sequence of upward phases, just as the meaning of government was sought in its origin and stages and so for other fields.
Then there is a period in which psychology and subjective experience become central -- in a reductionist and unlearned way in Freud, in a high minded way in Otto's Idea of the Holy.
These are turns in the culture at large that are reflected in how people try to understand religion and religious phenomena.
Sharpe is himself an open-minded and sensitive student of religion, and brings an honest, respectful tone to his narrative. I was sad to learn that he died a few years ago. I have read one other of his books -- he left an excellent legacy behind.
In some ways, this is a very straight-forward history of comparative religion. Sharpe begins with a few ancients, a few missionaries, and Enlightenment precursors, then plunges into early theories about fetishes, totems, animism, and the "evolution of religions" schools of the late 19th Century. His discussion of The Golden Bough, of Fraser, and all the rest of that era, is excellent. I also appreciate his fair and judicious take on Andrew Lang and the "high god" phenomena -- which confuses a lot of moderns. [...]. He takes a chapter out to describe the early psychology of religions school, centered around James and a few other Americans.
In later chapters, Sharpe veers off to discuss Freud's zany horror-flick theory of the origins of religion, and (with deservedly more respect) Jung's interest in and influence on comparative religion. He talks a bit about structuralism, diffusion of cultures, and more about phenomenology. In each case, he tells the history of the movement -- and almost always offers reasonable and temperate evaluations. He has, perhaps, learned from John Farquhar, because in some ways his approach is very like Farquhar's in The Crown of Hinduism -- he finds something of value even in conflicting takes on religion.
Sharpe knew the subject deeply.Read more ›