Summarize the primal religions according to Huston Smith.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Primal religions are thought to predate most well-known historical religions, and some of those continue around the globe, in places like Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and North and South America. In these religions, there is a blending of the experiences of life and the mythical world, and adherents...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Primal religions are thought to predate most well-known historical religions, and some of those continue around the globe, in places like Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and North and South America. In these religions, there is a blending of the experiences of life and the mythical world, and adherents typically reach far back into their ancestries to form common bonds with nature and time.

Most people who practice these religions are not literate. Instead, they rely on the beauty of an oral tradition to convey truth. This tradition involves using rhythms, intonations, and pauses as need to convey meaning. Each member of the religion learns these stories, becoming a part of the tradition and a walking library of information.

These religions also have a unique attachment to space and place. A place is concrete (one specific lake), but a space is abstract (one cubic foot of space is the same anywhere). Adherents to primal religions consider their surroundings with great significance; they believe that one's environment has specifically contributed to the person one has become and will continue to exert that influence.

Primal religions also focus on the past, always trying to get closer to the originating source of creation. They include gods who structured the world and the belief that the world is renewed every year.

Primal religions are deeply connected to their physical world. Their adherents are connected to their tribe and don't seek a strong sense of individualism. They cooperate with nature instead of seeing to exert power over it. They often link to an animal species as a means of protection and strength.

In the end, these religions have no goal of "salvation"; instead, they have a vague goal of existence after life, which typically isn't clearly defined.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In his book The World's Religions, Huston Smith defines the primal religions as those practiced by Indigenous people in different areas across the world, including parts of Asia, Africa, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and among the Indians in North and South America. He writes that these groups practice religion in a way that has been discontinued in industrialized societies.

Primal religions, according to Smith, share several features. One is the focus on orality over written language. Another aspect of primal religions is their sense of time as eternal rather than chronological; their concept is that the current time lasts forever. The third feature they share is a connection to a place. Primal religions are practiced in that place, and they cannot be separated from that place. People of primal religions often believe that inanimate objects such as mountains are alive and have souls. Finally, primal religions have the idea that their god can see everything and that there is a connection between the physical and the metaphysical world; this way of seeing the world is called the symbolist mentality.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to Huston Smith, the primal religions appear all over the earth, ranging from Australian Aboriginal groups to African and Native American faiths. But while the primal religions may span the globe, each faith group is small and local. Three common features unite the primal religions:

First, oral speech is valued over writing. The primal religions build community by transmitting their religious values and traditions face-to-face in small groups. They depend on people, not written documents, to pass down the faith.

Second, the primal religions value place over space. By this, Smith means that their faith is tied to their specific geographic location. The primal religions have a great reverence for nature, seeing the divine in it—but not just any space will do. They revere a particular rock or body of water.

Third, primal religions live in the eternal now. Unlike Western faiths, such as Christianity, time is not linear, heading toward a future fulfillment or end of history, but is understood as a repetition of an eternal present.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team