Tylor, ‘ Fetishes ’ and the Matter of Animism

Harvey, Graham (2017). Tylor, ‘ Fetishes ’ and the Matter of Animism. In: Tremlett, Paul-François; Sutherland, Liam and Harvey, Graham eds. Edward Tylor, Religion and Culture. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 29–46.

URL: https://bloomsbury.com/uk/edward-burnett-tylor-rel...


Edward Tylor adopted the term ‘ fetishism ’ for what he considered to be a significant subset of animism. If animism is a ‘ doctrine of spirits in general ’, fetishism is ‘ the doctrine of spirits embodied in, or attached to, or conveying influence through, certain material objects ’ (Tylor 1871, 2: 132). I have previously contrasted the animism theorized by Tylor with that of Irving Hallowell in the mid-twentieth century (e.g. Harvey 2005a discussing Hallowell 1960). For Tylor, animism ( ‘ belief in spirits ’ ) is synonymous with religion. For Hallowell, animism is a relational ontology and epistemology which generates the rituals and narratives of non- supernaturalistic religion within wider cultural life. Material things play vital roles in both anthropologists ’ work and invite further attention. Whether fetishism is a useful word for some human relationships with material things, is a question to which this chapter returns towards the end.

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