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Edward Tylor's concept of Animism

Edward Tylor attempted a minimum definition of religion. Religion is the belief in spiritual beings. Hence he found essence of religion in Animism. The term animism is derived from the Greek word anima means soul or spirit and animism means the belief in soul or spirit. Tylor's theory consists of two parts: He determines how the concept of spiritual as opposed to material existence could have ever arisen. He attempts to show how when that concept had once evolved all types of supernatural beings evolved from it.

Tylor considered that the belief in spiritual beings has arisen in response to an intellectual need - the desire to explain the phenomena of sleep and life that lead to two crucial experiences of dream and death. Since various figures and objects like animals, plants, rocks etc also appear in man's dreams; the concept of soul must be extended to these also. He defines soul as a thin, unsubstantial human image, in its nature a sort of vapor or film or shadow; the cause of life and thought in the individual it animates independently possessing the personal consciousness and volition of its corporal owner past of present.

Some societies believe in existence of a single soul other in double souls and some in multiple souls. The soul resides in the breath, heart, hair, head or elsewhere depending upon the belief system of each society. The soul is considered to be in the breath by Java people. The term nawa among them means breath or life or soul. The Malays believe that life escapes through the nostrils. The Seminoles of South east America have the custom of holding a child very close to the nostrils of a dying mother so that the life force of the mother may come to the child. The Hebrew term nepesh means breath or soul. Among the Karibs the word iouanni refer to heart or life or soul. The Tongans also believe that the soul resides in the heart.

The soul is considered as a shadow in few societies. Thus the Arabs believe that soul which they call uija to be an image or a shadow. For the African Zulus,tunzi means a shadow or a ghost. The Basudos of Africa conceive of the soul or serati as a shadow.

The Bagobo tribe of Philippines believe in a left hand soul and right hand soul. The right hand soul is considered to be benevolent and it is this soul that remains with the body always during the lifetime. After death it goes to the lower world to lead a life almost like the one that it led on this earth. The left hand soul is considered to be malevolent and after death it roams about sometimes causing illness to people and becomes one of the demons.

The Yuchi tribe believes in four souls. One is rooted at the place of death, two souls roam about the kin of the deceased, and the fourth soul joins the world of spirits. The peninsular Malays believe in as many as seven souls.