Accepted paper:

Hume, Tylor and Lang: Of Miracles, Marvels, Animism and Materialism


Nathan Porath

Paper short abstract:

This paper will explore Andrew's Lang's original critique of the David Hume/E.B.Tylor's genealogy through the philosophical as well as methodological problem of Religious Experience in the research field.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropological irreverence towards the enlightenment existed at the very birth of the discipline. E.B Tylor, whose Primitive Culture was an immediate genealogical development out of David's Hume's History of Natural Religion, (NHR) saw many of the enlightenment philosophers as being 'advanced animists' perpetuating surviving concepts from the dawn of humanity. His defecting student Andrew Lang (who claimed to have had numinous experiences) showed his own irreverence towards the enlightenment by contesting David Hume's own critique of miracles and religious healing. Lang was the first to raise the problem of numinous (Religious) experience within anthropology. The problem of religious experience in anthropology is not only a philosophical problem (ontological/phenomenological) but also a research methodological one - what do we do with those phenomena, which David Hume would have called 'miracles, prodigies and 'enthusiasm' that are sometimes experienced during field research? This paper will explore the philosophical, anthropological and methodological problem of religious experience in relation to the works of David Hume, E.B.Tylor and Andrew Lang. It suggests that the irony might be that the materialist meta-frame which provides anthropology with its ontological point of discursively referencing religious data, also provides the context for religious experience in the field. This raises an interesting question of whether anthropology can develop a totally monist approach that can embrace the ontology of spirit-based knowledge systems beyond their semiotic phenomena or must it be always locked into a naturalist ontological dualism in relation to them?

panel P05
'True religion' and the anthropology of the Scottish Enlightenment