Modern study of religion is largely a product of techniques of scholarship developed in the 19th century. The use of historical, archaeological, and philological methods led to a new range of explorations into the ancient past of religion. The advent of Darwinian evolutionary theory and other factors increased interest in the problem of the origins of religion. Sometimes attempts at a "scientific" account of religious origins have been in conflict with traditional religious views, especially because the new methods seemed to be a challenge to the literal accuracy of the Bible. Most scholars today think that the Bible stands up well as a historical source, though its conceptual framework, being ancient, diverges from present-day views.
The question of the origins of religion is complicated by the distinction between asking what religion was like for the earliest humans and searching for a possible structural explanation of religion in terms of some basic factor in human psychology and experience.
The structural approach is concerned with principles that operate in later as well as earlier societies.
Religious Experience. The adherents of traditional religions often have claimed that their faith has its origin in some kind of revelation from God or some authoritative insight into the Ultimate. Leaving aside the theological claims involved, it is possible to discern differing patterns of experience through which revelation expressed itself, as, for example, the mystical intuition of the Buddha, Mahavira, and the authors of the Upanishads or the prophetic visions and calls of Moses, Isaiah, Paul, and Mohammed. These major instances of spiritual experience are echoed at a lower level of intensity in the experience of other devout individuals. Some patterns of religious experience are undoubtedly "autonomous" in the sense that they have their own character and help explain religious developments, whatever may be said about...