Explaining Together: The Excitement of Diffusionist Ideas

Daniel Gold

in Aesthetics and Analysis in Writing on Religion

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 2003 | ISBN: 9780520236134
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520929517 | DOI:
Explaining Together: The Excitement of Diffusionist Ideas

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This chapter traces the fate of some British and German diffusionist theories in the early twentieth century and reveals how explanatory hypotheses really can provide common grounds for working groups, even if these dissolve and become forgotten, as their hypotheses have been proven false. Diffusion theories appeared in the first few decades of the twentieth century, positing diversity among human cultures. Radical diffusionist projects were often promoted by just one or two people taken up with a daring new idea about the origin and spread of cultures. Championed by outspoken proponents able to arouse an initial exhilaration among a group of colleagues, these ideas have led to collaborative work that eventually petered out. In contrast to interpretive phenomenological visions, diffusionist explanations provided concrete programs of collective research. In the study of early cultures and civilizations at the turn of the twentieth century, diffusion vied with evolution as a concept that could explain the similarities found in the lifeways of diverse peoples.

Keywords: diffusionist theories; diffusion; interpretive phenomenological visions; collective research

Chapter.  19346 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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