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Seven Theories of Religion Paperback – 5 Dec 1996

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Nine Theories of Religion
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA; Reprint edition (5 Dec 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195087259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195087253
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 2 x 13.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 522,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Pals provides an incisive and lucid overview of seven of the most influential modern theories of religion. Cutting across disciplinary lines and cutting out disciplinary jargon, his book will prove invaluable for introductory and advanced courses on the nature of religion."--Robert Segal, Department of Religious Studies, Lancaster University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Our survey begins with not one but two theorists whose writings are related and whose ideas closely resemble each other. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 Mar 1997
Format: Hardcover
This is a very easy to read yet detailed discussion of some of the more prominent theories and thinkers on the subject of religion over the past several hundred years. Pals gives honest attention to the strengths and weaknesses of each theory and provides thoughtful critique of each. Most refreshing is his ability to look across many different disciplines for insight into the mystery of religion. The result is a book which emphasizes the value of religion without placing a judgment as to religion's validity. It is a book that should be read by both believers and skeptics.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Excellent 5 Jan 2004
By Jeff Jordan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a very good, even-handed look at some of the great thinkers of the last 150 years, and what they thought about the phenomenon of religion, whether Judaism, Christianity, Taoism, polytheism, etc..
These thinkers can be categorized as either "reductionist" or "non-reductionist." Tyler, Frazer, Freud, Marx, and Durkheim are reductionist. To Tyler and Frazer, religion can be reduced to "irrationality" or the "primitive mentality." Freud reduces religion to "neurosis." For Marx, religion is the "opium of the masses" and nothing more than a symptom of the "class struggle." Durkheim reduces religion to "the social"; that is, religion is society, society is religion.
Eliade is non-reductionist. He thinks religion cannot be reduced to psychology, sociology, economics, theology or anything else, but has to be seen as something unique in its own right. Eliade studies myths and other phenomenon of religion, compares them, tries to find universal similarities.
Evans-Pritchard and Geertz are also non-reductionist. But they don't try and "theorize" like Frazer or Eliade; they don't try to find the "origin" of religion. They are content to do in depth studies of particular culures.
The History of Religion, anthropology, ethnology--these are all fuzzy sciences. The debate over what religion is, how it came to be in various cultures, whether or not it is needed or unneeded, whether or not it is rational or irrational or just a product of the "prelogical" mind--all this still rages on amongst anthropologists, ethnologist, pyschologists, sociologists, and historians of religion. The reductionists vs. the non-reductionists. Who will win?
Overall, a good and fair-balanced read.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
A good summary of religious thought. 12 Sep 2001
By Jeff Nyman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book was definitely a good summary of the thoughts of eight main historical figures (with a few others thrown in here and there). However, in many cases, the summaries were not so much about religion, but rather mythologies that sometimes masquerade as religion, at least in some people's opinions. For example, the ideas of Mircea Eliade, to me, are simply mythologies and barely constitute the basis of a veritable religion (and are pretty boring reading, to boot). And Karl Marx's ideas are so stepped in the socioeconomic realm that one cannot really call his work a "theory" of religion. On the other hand, the interesting work of Freud and Durkheim are specifically related to the subject of religion and are good additions to the book.
Thus, for me, this book is sort of a smattering of material that is worthwhile and entertaining reading - but may not be living up to the title of the book. As just one example, there is actually no discussion of the major thinkers who have put forward cognitive and biological hypotheses (for they are not "theories") of religion. (The section on Freud does not really count towards this because his work was not so much cognitive, as psychoanalytic.) Thus, for me, this book did not really discuss theories of religion, per se, but theories of various aspects of what some might call religion and others might call folklore, legend, or mythology.
This is a worthwhile book because you get a condensed view of the thoughts of many notable thinkers from wide ranges of disciplines (such as anthropology, sociology, etc.) but keep in mind that these are not "theories" of religion. They are, if anything, hypotheses and they are, if nothing else, only about relative aspects of various belief systems. If you are more concerned about the origins of religion (and thus a true "theory") I recommend a book like Pascal Boyer's "Religion Explained" or the books by Michael Shermer, such as "How We Believe."
Another problem I had with the book were the footnotes. Sometimes they contained just references and other times they contained material worth reading. In all cases, the "material worth reading" was short enough that it should have been placed in the main text. The constant shifting back and forth in this book made it a slower (and less entertaining) read for me than it probably otherwise would have been.
Overall, however, I think this was a well-researched book and contains a lot of good material. It just did not really cover the aspects of religion that I was hoping for.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This is a good, useful survey of major theories of religion. 13 Oct 1998
By Tim Murphy (txm55@po.cwru.edu) - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It is written primarily for an undergraduate audience and would work well as a text book. Theorists include: E.B.Tylor, Marx, Freud, Durkheim, Eliade, Evans-Pritchard, and Geertz. Several disciplines are brought together here in one volume--an advantage over other such books. Pals give a very standard reading of all these theorists. The biggest problem with the book is the exclusion of any discussion of structuralism. He also omits more current theorists such Althusser, Lacan, or Bataille. This makes the book somewhat dated and conservative. His standard explication is, however, very solid and clear.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
a great explanation of religion from several disciplines 23 Nov 2003
By Stefanie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This was used as the primary textbook for my senior seminar as a religion major in college. Pals provides a great introduction to the major theories of religion, which we then used to help us understand the primary writings of Freud, Eliade, Marx, Durkheim, Geertz and others. In the years since taking the class, this is one of the few books that I have recommended to a number of friends along the way who have been interested in learning more about religion from a philosophical/academic standpoint.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
way underrated 21 April 2006
By Wyote - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Before reading further, please note that a new edition of this book, with expanded coverage of Max Weber, is out: "Eight Theories of Religion." I'm sure that my praise below applies to that book as well; however, you certainly want to get that one rather than this one!

This is the best book I've read so far on the history of theories of religion. It's definitely the best introduction to the basic theories, kinds of theories, and theorists that I'm aware of. (The one book that might compare is Sharpe's history of comparative religion: I haven't read it and you might check it out in addition to this one.)

Actually, I don't think this could be done much better, aside from including more theorists. Pals covers each theorist in adequate depth; he's fair and charitable, yet he presents the common criticisms of the theories with equal fairness.

Besides that, the "Further Reading" sections and notes are very helpful to enthusiastic students. The binding is tough. The index isn't as helpful as it could be: the footnotes and further readings are not included. But relative to the quality of the book as a whole, that's a minor point.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the academic study of religion; and very strongly to students majoring in religion.

After this book, I suggest looking at Kippenberg's "Discovering Religious History in the Modern Age," which is excellent, and of course at Sharpe's book I mentioned earlier.
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