Online College Courses for Credit

4 Tutorials that teach The Transcendent in Primal Religions
Take your pick:
The Transcendent in Primal Religions

The Transcendent in Primal Religions


This lesson will provide an overview of ideas of the transcendent emerging from primal religious traditions.

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

29 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

314 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 26 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.


Video Transcription

Download PDF

Welcome to this tutorial on the transcendent and primal religions. One of the reasons that we have a hard time understanding primal religions, is that we often live with several modern assumptions that come from the enlightenment, that we don't even really realize that we have. Assumptions about progress, and technology, and rationality, and these break down along the lines of a series of dichotomies. The terms on the left are often privileged over, are considered more important and better than, the terms on the right. So embedded in these modern assumptions are all kinds of hierarchies, that we're not even really aware of. So we often think of culture as superior to nature, the divine as superior to the human, the male as superior to the female, the animate is better than, more privileged, than the inanimate, the cultured over the primitive, people over animals, and the rational over the irrational. These are just the assumptions that western societies have deeply embedded in them, and that can't simply be ignored or overridden.

Compare that to indigenous religions, or native religions, or what we're calling here primal religions. Where categories are so much more fluid, where the animate in the inanimate bleed into one another. The animal and the divine, you can have divine animals, or God can manifest as an animal. The male and the female might fluidly bleed into one another. So in indigenous traditions, these categories are permeable, and they flow into one another all the time. So this is a much less hierarchical, less orderly, much more fluid conception, of these different categories of entities.

So in primal religions, almost anything is capable of being a manifestation of the divine. Hills, rocks, oceans, plants, rivers, people, most anything can be a manifestation of God, a manifestation of the divine. And we should keep in mind that places are very important for primal religions. So when we talk about hills, and oceans, and plants, and so forth, we're not talking about just any hill, we're talking about particular places. We're so used to-- people who were raised in Western societies, are so used to thinking in grid like Cartesian terms about space. We think of space in terms of interchangeability, that one place is just as good as any other and they're all sort of equal and interchangeable. That's not the indigenous conception of place, or the conception of place in primal religions where particular places matter.

In primal consciousness, we could say that God is nature, there is no separation between the supernatural and the natural realms. This has a lot in common with philosophical pantheism, the belief that God sort of pervades all of nature. Although philosophical pantheism tends to be more generic, and to not emphasize particular places as much as primal consciousness. And finally animism, which is just the belief that everything has a soul, or at least is capable of having a soul. We shouldn't over generalize-- someone who practices an indigenous religion doesn't necessarily think that every single rock is holy, that every single tree is holy, but some rocks are holy, some trees are holy, and there may also be certain species of animals that are considered more sacred than others. So it's not as though everything were uniform, and the divinity were evenly spread throughout nature. That is more of a pantheistic idea. In primal religions, there are some entities that are more holy, more sacred than others. It's also worth bringing up the Sioux term for wakan tanka, which means "the great spirit," or "the sacred," or "the divine." So we can see commonalities across various different indigenous traditions, and their closest analog in western philosophy and theology is pantheism.

Thanks for watching this tutorial on the transcendent and primal religions. We said that primal or indigenous religions have a completely different view of nature, and the place of humankind in nature. We said that spirit can manifest itself in the form of plants, or animals, or inanimate objects. We also talked about pantheism, the belief that God or divinity is spread throughout nature. And animism, the belief that all living things, and sometimes physical objects, have a soul. We discussed the Sioux term wakan tanka, which means "the great spirit."

Terms to Know

The belief that all living things (and sometimes physical objects) have a soul ("anima").


The belief that God and/or divinity is spread throughout creation.

Wakan Tanka

In the language of the Native American Sioux tribe, "the divine"— only rendered in English as "The Great Spirit".