In its history of origin and development religion has been a product of the interplay of socio-cultural, political, economic and even metaphysical forces – to wit, change – change in man, his cosmology, his environment, his world. Yet we cannot appreciate the full meaning of change – social change for our purpose, without reference to the impact of religion itself on society – man and his world. In a sense therefore, religion is both cause and consequence of change. This question is of fundamental importance not only to sociologists but also to social anthropologists, theologians and humanists. Indeed for Susan Budd: …the first task of the sociologist is to find what religion means to any social group … what power and influence do religious institutions have and by what are they influenced? (Budd 1973.84-85).
The question of religion as both cause and consequence of social change calls for our definition of religion and social change within the context of the people, and the society as the wider setting within which the two – way interaction takes place.
Religion is perhaps the most pervasive of social institutions in any society. It effects and reflects the society even with the variableness characteristics of peoples and places. According to Bolaji Idowu, every member of the human race is involved with religion in one fbrm or the other (Idowu 1973.2). Ironically the true meaning of religion is still a problem of definition for many writers. To J.S. Mbiti “religion is a difficult word to define”, (Mbiti 1969.15). short of mysti religion, and removing it from the realm of sociology. Tylor defined it as belief in spirits (Peil 1977.213). Others would prefer to see it as one way of interpreting reality (Wells, 1972.244, Mazrui 1980.80).
In the 19th century, religion was regarded as the science of the simple “societies which have no tradition of experimental science…” (Mair, 1965.211). There is no doubt that religion arose from the cognitive needs of man even as science grew out of man’s urge “to know”.
Unlike Tylor, Emile Durkheim (who was one of the main critics of Tylor’s, concept of religion) preferred to situate his concept of religion within the context of the social milieu of the adherents. Thus at the end of his persuasive argument, Durkheim reached his conclusion:
Religion is a system of Ideas with which the individuals represent to themselves the society of which they are members, and they obscure but intimate relations which they have with it… for it is an eternal truth that outside of us there exists something greater than use, with which we enter into communion. (Quoted in Wells 1970.245-246).
But it would appear that Durkheim had laid too much emphasis on the sociological interpretation of religion. But again, his often quoted classical definition of religion shows, that for an unbeliever that he was, Durkheim recognized the spiritual and moral angles of the concept of religion. He defined religion as: a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things … beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church all those who adhere to them. (Durkhehn, 1915.47).
Surely Durkheim could not have equated society with the Church; and that which was able to delineate society into the sacred and profane must itself be “something greater than” and beyond society.
However, between Tylor’s spiritualization and Durkheim’s socialization of the concept of religion we can regard religion as a regulatory system of beliefs and practices which affects and reflects man’s conception of himself in relation to a Creative God, the socio cultural, the physical and the metaphysical, social and spiritual spheres. It is also evident from the theories of the origin of religion that religion arose as a response to man’s quest to know himself in relation to these spheres of human existence.
THEORIES OF ORIGIN OF RELIGION
Religion is the consequence of man’s quest for self-discovery, and the coming to terms in meaningful relationship with the world in which he lives. A set of theories have been proposed in this regard. These include the cognitive theory of religion which traces the origin of religion to man’s desire to know or to seek for explanations about things around him; the emotional theory which sees religion as a consequence of man’s urge to meet his emotional needs and a third, which sees religion as a product of man’s “interaction and group life”. We will examine each of these three theories in a bit more detail.
THE COGNITIVE THEORY OF RELIGION
The cognitive theory traces the origin of religion to man’s attempt to explain the phenomena of dreams, echoes, visions and above all death.” (Yinger in Rose 1961.706). In this regard religion was to “provide a patterned and familiar way of 0 life and environmental crises and of the preparation and hope for a comfortable future.” (Otitie and Ogionwo 1979.155).
According to E.B. Tylor in his work Primitive Culture (1871) man’s attempt to find explanations to the puzzles around him led to man’s spiritualization of plants, animals, natural features or objects e.g. mountains, seas, moon, sun, stars, This he called “animism” – the theophohia of modern time. Frazer went further to describe “animism” as the “bastard science” which provided the “savage mind” the explanation for the wonders he had to live with.
In view of the foregoing, the cognitive theory of religion can he said to he based on the evolutionary principles of change and progress. It is also intellectualistic as animism is more or less a man’s worship of his ignorance. As Yinger has argued:
If animism is a primitive effort to explain the puzzling facts of a complicated world, it will undergo step by step modification as man’s knowledge of the world increases. (Yinger in Rose (Ed). 1967.706).
Even at its weakest point, the cognitive theory still makes case for the existence of religion in a modern and scientific age, as there are many puzzles still baffling the scientific mind. Examples of such puzzles include the suspended nature of planetary locations, and the questions of life and death. In September 1990, A Russian Research Team was reported to have met a mystery heir at the bottom of ocean off the Coast of Cuba. The puzzle of the mystery being who talked with the research team (apparently in Russian language) has up till date not been solved. Besides, the being had warned that Russia would “suffer terrible misfortune” (Sunday Tribune, 9 September, 1990 Pg. 4) Lagos. In less than a year of the report, disaster struck in Russia ending their seventy years of socialist experiment on 3rd January 1992.
Science cannot be said to he a substitute for religion, both serve a cognitive purpose for man.
Our second theory of the origin of religion is credited to Freud in his Totem and Taboo and Spencer in his Principles of Sociology. Both traced the origin of religion to ancestor worship as a means of coping with emotional stress between the living and the dead. Freud traced such emotional stress to a primordial incidence in which the children killed their father out of jealousy and sex rage. The proponents of this theory might have overlooked some factors associated with inheritance which could have given rise to ancestor worship, especially “in those societies which attach important to descent groups which corporate interest in land, political positions exclusive symbols and treasure” (Otitie and Ogionwo 1979.154). However, there is no doubt that religion meets much of man’s social and emotional needs. On occasion when we have to part company with our loved ones, and friends, especially without the hope of ever meeting again, it is religion that gives us the hope of ever meeting again, it is religion that gives us the needed courage to hear with such moments of emotional strain and stress.
Similar to the emotional theory of religion is that which sees religion as a man’s response to the demands of his social life. In this regard religion is seen “as 50 larger than the individual, 5 for the collective representations of society’. (Pci1 1977.214). This was the view of Levy – Bruhl and Durkheim. But this theory appears to have ignored the theological, Philosophical psychology and the historical origins of religion in favor of the sociological (Peil ibid P. 215).
The concept of social change adopted here for our purpose subscribes to change in human societies. This change can be ‘social’ (when it refers to change in the social structure and the social relation and ‘cultural’ (when it refers to change in the culture of the people). The difference is so thin that it would serve our purpose better to use “social change” in society. It was in this sense John Veatie used the concept as follows:
Social change cannot he studied as though it were a separate social field distinguishable from the other topics which have been discussed in the second half of this book. The student of change is concerned with all these fields ofenquiry, regarded in their temporal and dynamic aspect. He can no more study ‘social change” in general His data are specific social and cultural institutions and he has to study the modifications of these through time, in the context of other co-existing social, cultural and sometimes, ecological factors. (Beatie 1966.241).
Change like the element of time is an on-going phenomenon in society. It can be slow, fast or even sudden as when a violent revolution occurs. Besides change is usually within the context of a social system, it is not restricted to a single entity: a multiplicity of social processes is involved and these often operate concurrently (Beatie Ibid.) social change can then be defined as a continuous process of events occurring over time and space resulting in the modification, displacement and replacement of ideas, values, attitudes, phenomena or of systems within a particular society.
It is evident from our definition that events or occurrences are at I the center of change which take place all the time. As Odetola and Ademola (1985.202) have observed “there is no society that is still and unchanging … as long as human activity is going on, some change is being enacted.” The change may be as imperceptible as new ideas and attitudes or as dramatic as collective actions or social movements or as violent as a bloody revolution. Besides, the rate and effects of change are only noticeable in the various social institutions that constitute the nerve center of society.
We also notice that change is a process; and as a process it can he induced by external or internal forces. These are known as exogamous and endogamous change respectively.
THEORIES OF CHANGE
The origin and process of change have been a matter of speculation by early social anthropologists. However much