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animism

animism, belief in personalized, supernatural beings (or souls) that often inhabit ordinary animals and objects, governing their existence. British anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor argued in Primitive Culture (1871) that this belief was the most primitive and essential form of religion, and that it derived from people's self-conscious experience of the intangible, such as one's reflected image or dreams. He has been criticized for deducing that the chief function of religion is to explain various phenomena. Robert Marett studied among the Melanesians of the South Seas, noting the concept of mana, or supernatural power independent of any soul. He described the belief in such a force as animatism. People may also use mana; for example, a weapon that has killed many animals may be thought to have mana, and charms believed to have mana may be placed to protect gardens. French sociologist Emile Durkheim, in his Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912, tr. 1965), argued that the roots of religion lay in totemism (see totem), where certain objects or animals are treated as sacred objects. Although these early conceptions of animism, animitism, and totemism have been contested and revised, the terms are still used by some anthropologists to describe certain religious beliefs and rituals. See fetish; taboo; amulet; idol; shaman; ancestor worship.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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