E. E. Evans-Pritchard is one of the most important anthropologists of the last century. Unlike many of his predecessors (and contemporaries), he actually went to live with the people he studied and meticulously detailed their beliefs and practices. If he teaches us nothing else, it is that close research is vital to understanding religion.
Like Eliade, Evans-Pritchard rejected evolutionary, reductionist, and functionalist views of religion. Unlike the other thinkers we have reviewed, he did not think that the “primitive religions” of the people he studied were less logical or coherent than the “civilized nations.” He believed that religions provided a coherent world-view, even though it didn’t seem so to outsiders. For example, he uses this tolerant view to understand the logic of magic. Once the assumptions are accepted, it makes perfect sense. Although he believes it to be mistaken, he seeks to understand it from the point of view of an insider.
Does Evans-Pritchard’s view of religion as a coherent system explain aspects of Mormonism? Do our metaphysical assumption cause us to believe things that simply don’t make sense, or worse, seem irrational to outsiders? Do certain views about authority, heaven and the afterlife affect the way that many LDS understand homosexuality, feminism, or anything else that simply doesn’t make sense unless you are a Mormon?