Part of the purpose of this paper has been to reassert the value of the writings of Sir James Frazer in the face of the revilement that has frequently been directed against them by present-day and twentieth century scholars. Frazer was by temperament a synthesiser, and on the largest scale. He showed the great and universal importance of magical and animistic beliefs and practices in the history of the human race. He showed how people had held such beliefs and practised such traditions across the world, including Europe, and over millennia of time. Rationalist academia’s contempt for this picture of the past may be the root reason why Frazer is a despised figure today.
Frazer could be over-ambitious in proposing theories and he may well have changed his mind about some issues. He was also a person who did not share at all the beliefs that he wrote about on such a large scale. He was himself a rationalist, and he saw the animist and magical mindset as an unevolved, superstitious stage of development of the human mind. Even so, Frazer was a remarkable scholar and thinker. In contrast to Professor Hutton, whose work is a large collection of details of customs and religious history in Britain and Ireland, Frazer had a vision about how the human mind had developed and expressed itself across the millennia and throughout the world. He also did as Hutton does in collecting details of customs and traditions, and on a much larger scale. His was the most ambitious project in the history of anthropology. There was also nothing inherently erroneous about his project of comparing beliefs and customs across different cultures. Further, some of the criticisms of his theories are clearly ill-founded. He was also a far more careful and painstaking scholar than some of his critics at the present day. It is time for a more appreciative reassessment of his achievements.
Putting all these issues into a broader context, we will often find, in dealing with issues of this type, that matters cannot be conclusively settled one way or the other. Rationalists will tend to prefer rationalist interpretations of history. Those who believe in religion and spirituality may prefer non-rationalist interpretations. But if researchers should claim that views about history that those in a religious or spiritual movement would naturally incline to have been debunked, the researchers’ arguments should be carefully checked. In this area, unfortunately, the goal of impartially documenting history seems to have been compromised by rationalist assumptions in the minds of twentieth and twenty-first century academics. In particular, there has been a tendency to assert that beliefs about historical events have been positively disproved, in the absence of evidence that actually achieves this. As shown in this paper, propositions can be asserted as the clear truth established by academia, when really those propositions are without any sensible foundation. So it is unwise for non-academics to assume that the academics’ arguments are always sound. If their aim is to debunk, rather than just express a view, the academics need to be able to show conclusively that the views they criticize cannot represent what actually happened in the past. If they can’t show that, the matter falls properly within the domain of belief or disbelief.