Monotheism and modernity: W. E. Hearn, Ireland, empire and the household gods

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Foley, Tadhg
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ISASR in association with the Study of Religions, University College Cork.
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Operating with Darwinian categories, and beginning with Sir Henry Maine's Ancient Law (1861), scholars in comparative ethnology, jurisprudence, and philology claimed that some societies evolved organically in a series of stages while others failed to develop. In religious discourse a key indicator of modernity was a belief in monotheism. This belief, however, like the related achievement of 'civilisation', was generally held to be incapable of spontaneous growth in savage or barbaric societies and the transition from archaic polytheism to the monotheism of modernity was powerfully enabled by the spread of empire. W. E. Hearn (1826-1888) published The Aryan Household in 1878, with the subtitle An Introduction to Comparative Jurisprudence. He saw archaic society as household-centred, lacking both a state and law, operating a regime of what Maine termed 'status' rather than 'contract', where the foundation of human association was religion rather than kinship. This shared worship was symbolized by a common meal in honour of the household gods, the spirits of deceased ancestors. In Hearn's words, 'The common meal was the sole means by which a communication could be maintained between the spirit-world and the earth'. Christianity waged a 'war without parley and without truce' against the household gods but its victory in 'clannish' Ireland was far from complete, for Hearn saw Ireland, in many respects, as closer to archaic society than to modernity with its unreformed majority religion and its still unvanquished household gods.
Household gods , Monotheism , Empire , Ireland , Brehon laws , Patriarchy
FOLEY, T. 2016. Monotheism and modernity: W. E. Hearn, Ireland, empire and the household gods. Journal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions, 3(1), 84-107.
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(c)2016, The Author(s).