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Elements of the Science of Religion
Morphological Being the Gifford Lectures delivered before the University of Edinburgh in 1896. By C. P. Tiele, Theo.D., Litt.D. etc.,


The University of Edinburgh has been fortunate in securing the services of Dr. Tiele as its Gifford Lecturer. In the Science of Religion, to which he has devoted himself these many years, Dr. Tiele is one of the chief masters, and by his various publications has won a reputation for himself which is more than European—a reputation which will be considerably and deservedly enhanced by the lectures before us. As might have been expected from his previous studies, he here regards his subject from the point of view of science, rather than from that of speculative philosophy, and deals with the facts connected with religion not as a basis for speculation, but as objects for analysis, classification, and generally for scientific treatment. His aim, in short, in the ten lectures here printed, as it will be in those which are to follow, is to furnish the student not with a philosophy of religion, but with a handbook to serve as an introduction to the scientific study of that immense variety of phenomena which are generally known as religious. Such books are not altogether wanting, but as far as it goes Dr. Tiele's promises to occupy a position peculiarly its own. By religion Dr. Tiele understands 'the aggregate of all those phenomena which are invariably termed religious, in contradistinction to ethical, aesthetical, political, and others,'—'those manifestations of the human mind in words, deeds, customs, and institutions which testify to man's belief in the superhuman, and serve to bring him into relation with it.' The object of the Science of Religion he is careful to point out is not the superhuman itself, but religion based upon belief in the superhuman, while the task of investigating religion as a historical, psychological, social and wholly human phenomenon, he says, undoubtedly belongs to the domain of science. The term 'Science of Religion ' has been objected to, but Dr. Tiele maintains that the study of religion is as much entitled to be called a science as philology is. The attitude of the student towards the various forms of religion, which he carefully distinguishes from religion itself, is set out by our author with great felicity in a passage which is, however, too long to quote. In the course of it he remarks that no religion is beneath the student's notice, but he knows nothing of heretics, schismatics, or heathens; 'to him as a man of science, all religious forms are simply objects of investigation, different languages in which the religious spirit expresses itself, means which enable him to penetrate to a knowledge of religion itself, supreme above all.' As to the kind of science to which the Science of Religion belongs, Dr. Tiele maintains that it is neither natural nor historical in the usual sense of those terms, but philosophical, and does not hesitate to apply to it the method adapted to all philosophical branches of science, namely, the deductive. 'Not,' he remarks, 'the one-sided empirical method, which culminates in positivism, and only ascertains and classifies facts, but is powerless to explain them. Nor the one-sided historical method, which yields exclusively historical results. Nor again the so-called genetic-speculative method, a mixture of history and philosophy which lacks all unity. Still less, I must hasten to add, the warped speculative method, which has no foothold on the earth, but floats in the clouds. For, when I speak of the deductive method, I mean this speculative method least of all. On the contrary, our deductive reasoning starts from the results yielded by induction, by empirical, historical, and comparative methods. What religion is, and whence it arises, we can only ascertain from religious phenomena. Our inmost being can only be known by its outward manifestation.' Consequently in Dr. Tiele's opinion the chief, though not the whole of the material upon which the Science of Religion builds, is to be obtained from mythology and from doctrine in which cult, ritual and ceremonies all find their interpretation, or as he elsewhere puts it—' Conceptions mythically or dogmatically, symbolically or philosophically expressed, must ever be the fountainhead of our knowledge of that religious spirit which is the true essence of religion.' Of the two main divisions into which the subject divides itself Dr. Tiele devotes the remaining lectures in the present course to the morphology of religion, which concerns itself with the constant changes of form, resulting from an ever progressing evolution, and leaves the other or ontological division of the subject to be treated in the following course. For the rest we must refer the reader to the volume itself. What strikes us most about these lectures is their complete sanity. A more judicious writer than Dr. Tiele, or one who is more alive to the difficulties of his subject, or who has them more thoroughly in hand, it is scarcely possible to meet with. Seldom has the subject been treated with an equal fulness of information and richness of thought. Complaints which have been brought against former Gifford Lectures can scarcely be brought against these. Their attitude towards Christianity is all that can be desired, and no one can read them without rising from their perusal with large conceptions of religion and admiration for the enlightened and sympathetic treatment the subject receives from beginning to end from author. The translator of the volume, whoever he is, deserves great credit for the excellent way in which he has done his work. Few will imagine that the volume is a translation. Besides being perfectly idiomatic the style is simple and clear as crystal.

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