I have just discovered Mike William’s absorbing book entitled ‘Prehistoric Belief’. I think it is unusual and rather special. It is well written and beautifully illustrated and this makes it special. The author has taken many hours to ensure that everything is just right. It’s attention to detail is spot on, as only a professional archaeologist can achieve. Scholarly, and in tune with modern thinking, there is one more thing that makes it special.
A lot of modern scholarship on religions reduce them to a series of social processes. Scott Atran’s work, for example, as stimulating as it is, reduces religion to ‘a community’s costly and hard-to-fake commitment to a counter-factual and counter-intuitive world of supernatural agents which master people’s existential anxieties, such as death or deception.’
The power and limitations of this statement lie in its reductionism: because it can apply to each and every religion, the content of any one religion becomes of little consequence. All religions are the same as long as they are costly, counter-intuitive and counter-factual.
Mike Williams takes a different stance: he is interested enough to undergo similar experiences to the early shamans to explore their ‘internal worlds’, to look for their ‘gods’. In doing so, he has gained a real respect and affection for these primitive (or lost) ways of thinking.
It is the combination of the academic and the experiential that makes this book unusual and rather special. If any of the above has intrigued you, then please read Mike’s book for yourselves. Read Mike’s blog here.