Religion: An Anthropological View.
ANTHONY F. C. WALLACE. New York: Random House, 1966. xv, 300 pp., bibliography, index, 14 tables. $5.95 (text ed.), $8.95 (trade ed.).
Reviewed by CLIFFORD GEERTZ University of Chicago
Advertised as a "systematic examination of the ubiquitous and enduring form of human behavior known as religion," Anthony Wallace's new book is, in fact, a promiscuous collection of the ideas about the subject he has found helpful, in one way or another, in describing or analyzing it. Some of these ideas are original and perceptive, most of them are familiar and rather less perceptive, and all of them are pursued for a very short distance before being dropped for others whose moment in the sun is equally brief. Darwinism, information theory, Karl Mannheim, cognitive dissonance theory, various versions of psychoanalysis, cross-cultural correlationism, Malinowskian functionalism, atomistic behaviorism, Max Weber, structuralism raw and cooked, and Goffmanesque concepts of identity are brought into one another's presence, but only physically. Their relationships are not exposed, their relative value not assayed. Coming from a man of Wallace's established ability, this scrapbook of what looks like tidied-up lecture notes is a distinct disappointment. As well-equipped as anyone in anthropology to give us a truly original reconceptualization of the entire field of religious studies, or, failing that, at least a definitive text, he has given us a rambling discourse on an assortment of topics.
Wallace's general point of view is psychocultural, his method of procedure mainly taxonomic. Feeling that "sociological viewpoints (including much of social anthropology) tend to focus on the scaffolding and milieu of religion rather than religion itself," he concentrates his attention on the psychological functions of religious practice, reviewing its role in fulfilling basic human needs, reducing anxiety, expiating guilt, supporting or reconstructing personal and social identity, altering cognitive structures, and so on. On the other hand, the means by which these psychological functions are fulfilled are cultural, so that parallel with the concern for psychological process must be a concern for behavioral form, that is to say, ritual. "The primary phenomenon of religion is ritual. Ritual is religion in action .... It is ritual which accomplishes what religion sets out to do." The formal classification of ritual patterns and functional classification of the psychological processes they serve are but complementary endeavors in the effort to understand religion as "a product of the same laws of nature that determine other natural phenomena."
The book is divided into five chapters, the first of which is a rather routine, up-from-Tylor summary of the various theoretical approaches to the study of religion that have been taken by anthropologists. Evolutionism, the "primitive thought" debate, degenerationism, Jungian and Freudian psychoanalytic interpretations, and Durkheimianism are all given a very rapid (Durkheim gets two lines, LevyBruhl one), but, for the most part, just review. As a transition to his own approach, Wallace then summarizes his work on revitalization movements to arrive at what seems to me to be a curiously oldfashioned form of general proposition:
Religion maximizes [the organization of experience], perhaps, beyond what rational use of the data of this experience would justify, but in so doing it satisfies a primary drive. We must, I think, postulate an organization "instinct"--an "instinct" to increase the organization of cognition and perception. Religion and science, from this point of view, would seem to be direct expressions of this organizational "instinct" [p. 39].
Of the making of "instincts," especially cultural instincts, there is, apparently, no end.
The second chapter sets forth an "anatomy" of religion, a system of classification of, first, what Wallace calls the 13 minimal categories of religious behavior, its basic structural units, and, second, the four main types of religion as conglomerates of these units. The minimal categories include such things as prayer, music, imitation, myth recitation, mana ("touching things"), taboo ("not touching things"), feasts, sacrifice, symbolism, and so on; in short, a grab bag. The four main types of religion are then outlined as shamanic (e.g., the Eskimos), communal (e.g., the Trobrianders), olympian (e.g., Dahomey), and monotheistic (e.g., rather unexpectedly, Hinduism). And finally, the distribution of these types over the world is briefly indicatedthe Andamans and Lapps are shamanistic, the Puebloans and Australians communal, the Burmese and Maya olympian, the Muslims and-another surprise-the Chinese monotheistic. Each of the ca tegories and each of the religious types are, along with short sections on "ritual" "belief" and "cult institutions," briefly described, usually in two or three generalized paragraphs. It is all rather breathless ["Oceanic (including Micronesian and Polynesian) communal cults stressed fetishes (statuary residences of gods), taboo systems, age-grading, and subsistence"], undeveloped and, in particular, ad hoc. Why thirteen? why four? Fact and convenience, Wallace seems to say. But the classification does not really seem convenient (there is no attempt to organize it into any overall pattern), and how the facts compel these particular categories rather than others is simply not made clear. Indeed, just why one should go through this elaborate and arbitrary classificatory exercise at all is never really discussed.
In any case, the third chapter on the goals of religion, which has mainly to do with ritual as the central religious phenomenon, continues the typological enterprise. Five categories of ritual (as technology, therapy and anti-therapy, ideology, salvation, and revitalization) are set forth and subcategories (divination under technology, witchcraft under therapy and anti-therapy, rites of passage under ideology, etc.) are outlined within them, after which the chapter concludes with a seven-fold typology of revitalization movements. The fourth chapter then discusses the functions, mainly the psychological functions, of each of the five types of ritual in turn, employing, as tests of the hypotheses advanced, a series of cross-cultural four-fold associational tables from Swanson, B. Whiting, LeVine, Young, Cohen, and so on.
In the final chapter, there is a shift to a concern with religious process. The possible origins of religion in animal rituals is discussed, as are the traces of religious activity from the paleolithic. "The ritual process" as a form of "communication without information" (because its messages are stereotyped) is then analyzed, with passing allusions to neurotic behavior, learning theory, and information theory. There follow brief discussions of Levi-Strauss (largely a potted summary of his Oedipus analysis), Eliade and the comparative historians, and neoevolutionism (in which Wallace proposes his shamanic, communal, olympian, monotheistic typology as stages in the world-historical development of religion). Shifting gears yet one more time, he ends his book with prophecy. In a section on "the future of religion," he concludes that it has none:
Thus, in starkest form the question about the evolutionary fate of religion is a question about the fate of supernaturalism. To the question put in this way, the answer must be that the evolutionary future of religion is extinction ... As a cultural trait, belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world as a result of the increasing ad eq uacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge and of the realization by secular faiths that supernatural belief is not necessary to the effective use of ritual. The question of whether such a denouement will be good or bad for humanity is irrelevant to the prediction that the process is inevitable [pp. 264-265].
Possibly. But it will take more than this sort of nervous eclecticism to prove it. Wallace in his concern with a psychocultural analysis of religion, with his work on revitalization movements and the role of cognitive reorganization in them, with his interest in interpreting the significance of ethological findings for human religious behavior and in his desire to develop a more sophisticated: empirically testable functionalism has embarked on what is surely a valuable line of attack. And when he is not absorbed in multiplying entities beyond necessity summarizing Africa in a paragraph, or trying to incorporate the entire corpus of modern science into his "anthropological view," he has, in this book, some tantalizing, perceptive, and often strikingly original things to say about all of them. But for this line of attack to be realized rather than merely celebrated it will b.e necessary to leave off tinkering With ideas and begm systematically and persistently to develop and interrelate them. There is more to architecture than piling up stones.
Book Review, in: American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 70, No. 2 (Apr., 1968), 394-396.
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