Anthropologists claim to have made mankind aware of its own prehistory and its importance to human self-understanding. Yet, anthropologists seem hardly to have discovered their own discipline's prehistory or to have realized its importance. William Y. Adams attempts to rectify this myopic self-awareness by applying anthropology's own tools on itself and uncovering the discipline's debt to earlier thinkers.
Like most anthropologists, Adams had previously accepted the premise that anthropology's intellectual roots go back no further than the moral philosophy of the Enlightenment, or perhaps at the earliest to the humanism of the Renaissance. In this volume, Adams recognizes that many good ideas were anticipated in antiquity and that these ideas have had a lasting influence on anthropological models in particular. He has chosen five philosophical currents whose influence has been, and is, very widespread, particularly in North American anthropology: progressivism, primitivism, natural law, German idealism, and "Indianology". He argues that the influences of these currents in North American anthropology occur in a unique combination that is not found in the anthropologies of other countries. Without neglecting the anthropologies of other countries, this work serves as the basis for the explanation of the true historical and philosophical underpinnings of anthropology and its goals.
Throughout history, religion has been the primary tool used by human societies to understand the inexplicable and the powerful. Religion and Adaptation examines how this role of religion affects the development of human society and individual identity.
The volume uses a wide variety of ethnographic and historical sources to support its analysis, beginning with two detailed case studies of the religions practiced by Navajo Indians and Arab villagers. An intriguing comparison of these two systems of faith reveals the difficulty of finding one definition of religion. William Adams explores this problem of definition, suggesting that religion and science actually share the role of providing logical explanations in human society. In subsequent chapters, he considers the development of religious systems, the growth of religious consciousness in the individual, and the dynamics of religious change. The book ultimately aims to be a purely empirical study that probes the reasons for the existence of religion and its role as a moral and stabilizing force in human societies.