In this entry I'll be paraphrasing Daniel L. Pals' book Eight Theories of Religion. I'll be discussing the philosopher E. E. Evans-Pritchard and his particular theories of religion in society and its key features.
E. E. Evans-Pritchard was born 1902. He was the second son to an English clergyman in Crowborough, Sussex, southeast England. He attended Oxford Unversity and graduated with a MA in modern history. He surpassed the armchair theorists because his degree actually required an apprenticeship abroad. Bronsilaw Malinlowski, someone Evans-Pritchard looked up to, suggested he do as he did, go abroad and immerse himself in a different land. Evans-Pritchard took the advice and went to the Sudan region of East Africa and studied the natives there between 1926 and 1931. He also served in the British army during World War 2. After, he taught social anthropology at Oxford. His most popular books published are Nuer Religion, Theories of Primitive Religion, and Withcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande.
Evans-Pritchard admired Durkheim, whom he called the central figure in development of social anthropology. He said primitive people were not mentally deficient, or subhuman. They are equally but differently mature humans and intelligent beings. He believed we did not need reductionist theory to explain why people believe in "irrational" thoughts. Evans-Pritchard felt most theorists simply made clever guess work. Those theorists thought primitive people wanted to explain everything in their world, thus settled upon religious beliefs as a methodology of how their world functions. Evans-Pritchard argued, however, when the theorists took the "if-I-was-a-horse-approach," however, the interpreter still does not know how the primitive person thinks, they can only conjecture about the people. Evans-Pritchard believed people of a specific society are shaped by their language, values, and ideas of that specific place. He also said other sociological theorists construct theories that crumble the moment new evidence comes along to show that totemism is different.
Similarly, Durkheim claimed the framework for life is fixed for every person by society before birth, and remains in place through generations. Evans-Pritchard worked during a World War 2, in a time when Freud and Marx were the most impressive thinkers of the age. Evans-Pritchard rejected their modes of thought and took a more sympathetic approach. He differed from other theorists and philosophers because he stated there ought not be lapses in evolutionary thinking because it always places primitive people at the bottom and progressive western cultures at the top.