Review of Manaism: A Study in the Psychology of Religion

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Review of Manaism: A Study in the Psychology of Religion  (1919) 
by Mary Whiton Calkins

Published in The Harvard Theological Review, 1919-01-01

Manaism: A Study in the Psychology of Religion. Ivy G. Campbell. (American Journal of Psychology, January, 1918). Pp. 49.

Students of either the psychology or the history of religion should not overlook Professor I. G. Campbell’s study of manaism. By manaism Dr. Campbell means the preanimistic theory “that man first explains things, not in analogy to his own soul, as animism holds, but rather by postulating a great force” (p. 2). This force is known as mana, Wakanda, or orenda. The author bases her analysis of manaism on a painstaking examination of field workers’ reports. The following quotation indicates the extent of Dr. Campbell’s sources: “Not only the beliefs of primitive people quoted by the holders of this theory [manaism] but also comparable ones from other parts of the world have been considered. … In presenting the compilation of material gathered from reports of primitive peoples, selection has been made of that gathered from parts of the world which have not previously found a large place in the literature of preanimistic discussions. Since the data from North America and Australia have been previously extensively cited, this study, in order to uphold its contentions, stresses the data of Africa and Australasia, exclusive of Australia” (p. 2).

From her study of this material Dr. Campbell reaches the significant conclusion that primitive people do not, as a matter of fact, regard mana as impersonal. The conventional view that mana means impersonal force is attributed by Dr. Campbell to a confusion of three uses of the word “impersonal.” The term, she truly says, “has been used in one of three ways, as equivalent to (1) mechanical, (2) non-bodily, (3) super-individual” (p. 17). She admits that mana is impersonal in the second and third of these senses—that it does not belong to one concrete individual human body and that it is a super-individual or collective power. But she contends that mana may be both incorporeal and over-individual without being impersonal or mechanical in the first, the literal sense of the term. The conception of mana as literally impersonal, though held by Leuba, Schmidt, and others (p. 17) is, in Miss Campbell’s opinion, flatly opposed to the testimony of “nearly all the field-workers,” for they “report mana as spiritual.” She herself conceives of mana as personal power experienced by man “when he is acting with his group” (p. 353)—a power which he may “eject” into a higher being, and even into a God (p. 422 et al). In the following comparison with Durkheim’s theory she accentuates the significant features of her own: “Both,” she says, “make the contrast of the social and the individual self the basis on which religion is built up; but whereas he makes everything connected with the social sacred and hence religious, we would include within a religious complex only those objects which are regarded as capable of giving help. … Moreover we differ from Durkheim in regarding the power which makes the object capable of being a religious object a personal and not an impersonal one. Our theory agrees with animism in holding that the soul is the important thing in religion, but it is the soul or self that is experienced as very efficient that is anthropomorphised to become a god” (p. 403).

It is evident that manaism thus conceived is no longer sharply opposed to animism, the belief that the soul is “the principle by which all things” are to be “explained.” And the hotly debated question of the relative priority of manaism and animism thus becomes, as Miss Campbell says, “irrelevant”; for mana cannot be prior to the soul when it is part of the soul (p. 224). “ W cannot,” she says, “find any culture where the concept of mana is present” in which “there is not also a belief in spirits in the sense of ghosts or dream-doubles. Either concept,” the writer adds, “may assume the leading rôle (p. 253). … Manaism as well as animism results from the tendency of the human mind to interpret things in terms of its own inner experience.”

Mary Whiton Calkins.

Wellesly College.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.


The author died in 1930, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.