Review of Sociology of Religion by J. Wach
The author of this work is a former student of Max Weber, on whom he leans heavily but with generous acknowledgment and with no uncritical subservience. Sociology of religion is treated as a descriptive science, leaving to theology and philosophy of religion the task of evaluation. A brief account of the points covered in the discussion will be here set down, followed by a few comments.
Seven chapters are devoted to the task of setting forth the types of religious groups, fellowships, and associations and their relation to society. One chapter is devoted to the three forms of expression: doctrine, ritual, and association or communion, all of which the author finds in some degree in even the simplest of societies.
Next, the sociological consequences of religion are set forth,, and these are primarily integrative in character, all three: doctrine, rite, and association. But it is obvious, and the author so declares, that religion may be very divisive, for the heretic is something of an alien and sometimes a very uncomfortable alien.
The body of the book, Part II, discusses religion and society, taking up first the "natural" groups-families, tribes, racial and national religions-and contrasts the religion of these with its expression in the "specifically religious groups," of which the most important are the "founded religions" such as Christianity, Islam, and Confucianism. The differentiation and divisions within these latter are treated under the concept of "the protest," which gives rise to independent groups and sects.
The discussion of religion and differentiation within society is largely ethnological with brief descriptions taken at random from a few tribes such as Eskimo, Melanesians, Amerindians, and half-a-dozen others, illustrating the endless variety of practices termed "religious" nd the countless spirits that are invoked. The chapter concludes with some eighteen pages in which the differentiation in Asia, Europe, and America is given summary treatment.
Next follows a chapter on religion and the state, in which the "founded religions" are discussed. As contrasted with the religion of the "natural groups," the founded religions are the result of the work of charismatic individuals who had to begin "completely de novo"—a statement surprising to read and impossible to accept. Three types, or rather stages, are distinguished, and brief examples of three are given in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
Types of religious authority describes quite objectively the prophet, the seer, the magician, the diviner, the saint, and the priest. In the final and concluding chapter the author's loyalty to his own faith seems to overcome his resolution to avoid value judgments. There are "genuine" religions or at least genuine religious
( 405) experiences as contrasted with those which have lost their value and validity. The criterion pro-posed is the presence of aims that are "social, political, economic, esthetic, or personal," all of which are signs of the spurious. The genuine is solely the search for God. It is admitted that men have always been mixed in their motives, and the reviewer found himself wishing that this distinction had been made at the outset and applied to the many descriptions of religion in-stead of appearing at the end, almost like an afterthought.
One of the most impressive features of this book is the evidence of great labor and diligence. It would require a good library to hold the books cited in the text, with footnotes that prove they were actually consulted. Equally noteworthy is the fairness and good nature of the author in dealing with writers with whom he takes issue. The book covers such a wide range that no one could expect the author to be equally at home in all the fields he had to enter. He does not employ the concept "preliterate," which would be peculiarly useful in dealing with the religion of the uncivilized tribes, for there would seem to be a fundamental difference between the practices and beliefs of those who have a sacred and divinely given book in which is written the tenets of a faith "once for all delivered," as contrasted with the ceremonies and rites of the tribes where no uniformity of doctrine is ever of any concern. The evolution of religion is presented by Dr. Wach as if all the fundamentals of the developed faiths were present in the simplest of the tribes. It is difficult to see how one could read Brown's account of the Andaman Islanders and so conclude. People who have no ruler cannot conceive of a god who rules, and the polytheism of the Greeks as well as the henotheism of the early Hebrews bears a definite relation to their political experience. Monotheism seems not to have appeared before the rise of the great empires.
There is much that one could wish to have included in the discussion of the sect, but what is written seems convincing.. Park's distinction between denominations as accommodation groups and sects as conflict groups would have shed light on the problem.
The style of the writer is, in general, clear and pleasingly irenic. It is marred by needless Latin phrases, some of them trite (cum grano salis), and by expressions like "caesaropapists" and other offenses against good English style. The reader will find the Index very irritating.
Scores of important concepts are listed with long columns of page numbers and no analysis or subheads. "Political" in the Index is followed by 91 page numbers and nothing more. "Individual" has 79. No more were actually counted, but the Index is Largely useless. This is a book that should deserve a second edition, and a better Index is to be hoped for.
One can predict for this hook a wide reading among sociologists who are interested in religion, and this should include our whale fraternity, for, of all the forms of human association, the religious is among the important. The author disclaims the title of sociologist, but he is surely not far from the kingdom.
Lake Forest, Illinois