James George Frazer’s Views on Religion

This article gives a brief but comprehensive description the views of Scottish anthropologist, James George Frazer (1854-1941) on religion and science. As an important topic of discussion in Moral philosophy, his views are part of academic discipline, Ethics which I teach at college level.   

Who was James George Frazer?

James George Frazer (1854-1941) was a Scottish social anthropologist. His book ‘the Golden Bough’ written in 1890 is famous for its discourse on primitive religion and culture. 

James George Frazer’s views

You will come across three important terminologies i.e. magic, religion, and science while reading about James George Frazer’s views on religion.  

Frazer believed primitive people practiced magic which gradually developed into religion which in turn led to science or rational thinking. To justify his viewpoint, Frazer gives an example of Alchemy which eventually ended up becoming chemistry. 

In Frazer’s view, both science and magic have some common things i.e. experimentation and practicability. With reference to religion, he says it is a momentary departure from truth in the path of human thought. According to him, religion is a belief in personal and supernatural powers rather than a product of any rational thinking. Belief in supernatural beings influences people to attempt to appease at all times. 

Difference between magic and science  

The table given below illustrates the difference identified by Frazer between magic and science. 

Difference between magic and science 



Magic is related to belief in the supernatural world Scientific discussion revolves around the natural world.


It is based on wrong assumptions regarding daily life situations and human relations.   It is based on true and logical assumptions.


According to Frazer, magic carries an attitude of fear, awe, amazement, expectation, unpredictability, etc.  Science carries a posture shaped by facts and objectivity. 



 People with belief in magic make their judgments and decisions based on presumptions and pre-supposition rather than any empirical approach.  It assumes only natural causes and arrives at results only after observation, experiment, and unification.

What does James George Frazer (1854-1941) propose?

James’s George Frazer proposes that real human development should be based on a narrative of secularization and disenchantment. 

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