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ReligionMaterial Dynamics$
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David Chidester

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780520297654

Published to California Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520297654.001.0001

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(p.23) 1 Animism

David Chidester

University of California Press

This chapter examines the emergence of a category, “belief in spiritual beings,” which drove certain “intellectualist” assumptions about the essence, origin, and persistence of religion. Like many terms in the study of religion in Europe during the late nineteenth century, animism arose through a global mediation in which an imperial theorist, in this case the father of anthropology, E. B. Tylor, relied on colonial middlemen, such as missionaries, travelers, and administrators, for evidence about indigenous people all over the world. Among other colonial sources, E. B. Tylor relied on the Anglican missionary Henry Callaway for data about Zulu people in South Africa. Drawing on Callaway’s reports about Zulu dreaming and sneezing, Tylor distilled his basic definition of religion as belief in pervading and invading spirits. Against a broad imperial and colonial background, this chapter explores the historical emergence and ongoing consequences of the category animism in the study of religion.

Keywords:   animism, colonialism, dreaming, E. B. Tylor, Henry Callaway, history of the study of religion, imperialism, origin of religion, spiritual beings, Zulu religion

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