David Marshall’s Use and Abuse of Anthropology: Émile Durkheim and Australian Aborigines

Émile Durkheim
In his recent debate with Richard Carrier, David Marshall made the following claims (Debate video):
“Not only is Christianity reasonable in that it makes practical sense to believe it, and that Christians have always reasoned to and for their faith. There are also good reasons to believe -- good evidences -- that Christianity is true. Let me give three, briefly. (1) Miracles. (2) Anthropology, a God that transcends particular cultures. (3) New Testament criticism -- the person of Jesus” (apx. 10:18-10:32 on YouTube video).
For his anthropological evidence, Marshall principally cites the claims of Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), the putative father of modern sociology, on the religion of Australian aborigines. 
Having received my undergraduate degree in anthropology, and having undertaken a year of graduate work in anthropology, at the University of Arizona, I was curious to see what Marshall’s powerful “anthropological” argument would be.
Not surprisingly, I found that Marshall blatantly misrepresented Durkheim.  In addition, his discussion of Durkheim shows that he is poorly read in the anthropological debates surrounding the nature of the religion of Australian aborigines.
In particular, I will show that:
A. Durkheim did not claim that all cultures believe in a Supreme being.
B. Durkheim did not even claim that all Australian cultures believed in a Supreme Being.
C. Durkheim’s interpretations were challenged from the beginning, and are now widely rejected.
D. Christianization or misinterpretation of native terminology remains a viable explanation for the reports quoted by Durkheim that show any belief in a “Supreme God.”
E. Multiple cultures, or even all cultures, having similar concepts of God does not demonstrate the perception of some transcendent reality.

Marshall’s general apologetic strategy is to prove that all cultures have a concept of a Supreme Being. Presumably, this would demonstrate that there must be some transcendent reality that all cultures are authentically perceiving.
So, Marshall enlists the aid of Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist who is also towering figure in the anthropology of religion. In 1912, Durkheim published The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (originally in French as Les Formes elémentaires de la vie religieuse), which is now regarded as a classic in the anthropology of religion.
In his debate with Carrier, Marshall set up his use of Durkheim as follows (Opening Statement Transcript):
“And Richard Carrier also say [sic], ‘Were the Christian God genuinely communicating with us, his communications would be consistent across all times and regions." (43) (Carrier, Why I am not a Christian, 43)
So here's the argument: If God existed, he would transcend the creation of any given culture. But God does NOT transcend the creation of any given culture: he arose maybe during the reign of King Josiah in the Old Testament, and then radiated out to form Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 
But, as Durkheim also noted, the Australian God was ‘fundamentally the same everywhere.’ ‘Eternal,’ ‘a sort of creator,’ ‘father of men,’ ‘made animals and trees,’ ‘benefactor,’ ‘communicates,’ ‘punishes,’ ‘judge after death,’ and they ‘feel his presence everywhere’” [See also 17:53-18:53 on YouTube video].
Marshall’s reference to Durkheim in the debate with Carrier was actually a summary of a longer extract that he previously quoted in his book, Jesus and The Religions of Man (p. 185).
To understand how thoroughly Marshall misrepresents Durkheim, and how poorly informed Marshall is in this area, it will be useful to quote more extensively what he said in that book:
“Anthropologists reasoned that if one wanted to study the origins of religion, one had better go to the most primitive tribes, assumed to be the aborigines of Australia. So a great deal of the debate swirled around the Outback. The first reports claimed aborigines had hardly any religion, certainly no concept as advanced as a Supreme God. Then reports came in from many directions of an omniscient being known as Bunjil, Daramulun, Baiame, or Nuralie. Tylor blamed missionaries for planting this concept among the aborigines.
When that was no longer feasible, Emile Durkheim tried to tie the Aussie God to his theory of totemism, and to marginalize him by calling him a ‘high god,’ as [Karen] Armstrong marginalized him by using the term ‘Yahwism.’ But the fact remains, when they looked for the most primitive religion, this is what they found:
The characteristics of this personage are fundamentally the same everywhere. It is [an] immortal and indeed an eternal being, since it is derived from no other...He is spoken of as a sort of creator. He is called the father of men and is said to have made them...At the same time as he made man [sic] this divine personage made the animals and the trees...He is the benefactor of humanity...He communicates...the guardian of tribal morality, he punishes...he performs the function of judge after death distinguishing between the good and the bad...they feel his presence everywhere’” [my underlined emphasis].

Marshall is quoting pages 288-292 of the English edition of The Elementary Forms by Karen Fields published in 1995. One need only check Fields’ translation to see that Marshall’s ellipses hide a lot of pertinent information.
I have no problem with using ellipses per se, but I do have a problem when the information left out can undermine the very thesis that Marshall dismisses—namely, that Christianization was responsible for the reports of a Supreme Being among these aborigines.
Items left out, seemingly systematically so, were those that would show how much Jesus parallels other gods or those that show biblical parallels indicative of Christianization. Otherwise, parallels between Jesus and other gods is something that Marshall spends much of his time trying to deny or minimize.
For example, here are some other “characteristics of this personage” omitted by Marshall in his extract from Fields’ edition:
-“After having lived on earth for a time, he lifted himself or was carried into the sky.” Compare the story of Jesus’ ascension in Luke 24 and Acts 1.
-“He made a statuette out of clay; then he danced around it several times, breathed into his nostrils, and the statuette came alive and began to walk.”  Compare how the male is created in Genesis 2:7 (RSV): then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
Durkheim definitely DID NOT believe that all cultures had a notion of a Supreme God. In the very first chapter of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Durkheim emphatically declared:
“In the first place, there are great religions from which the idea of gods and spirits is absent or plays only a secondary and inconspicuous role. This is the case in Buddhism” (The Elementary Forms, p. 28).
French: En premier lieu, il existe de grandes religions d'où l'idée de dieux et d'esprits est absente, oh, tout au moins, elle ne joue qu'un rôle secondaire et effacé. C'est le cas du bouddhisme” (French edition p. 37).
So, apparently Marshall did not read Durkheim’s book at all. It looks as if he followed his old custom of cherry-picking some quote he found to support his position, and then did not bother to read any further.
And if he did read Durkheim’s book, then he very clearly is unscrupulous in his representation of that thinker.
If this misrepresentation is not alarming enough, it is also clear that Durkheim did not even believe that “the Australian God was ‘fundamentally the same everywhere.’ ‘Eternal,’ ‘a sort of creator,’ ‘father of men,’ ‘made animals and trees,’ ‘benefactor,’ ‘communicates,’ ‘punishes,’ ‘judge after death,’ and they ‘feel his presence everywhere.’”
Durkheim, in fact, made it very clear that he was speaking of a subset of Australian tribes, and not anything that can be generalized as “the Australian God.” 
In the pages just prior to the one quoted by Marshall, Durkheim had discussed other tribes that did not have a concept of any Supreme God, but rather a mythology that involved many gods whose relative rank to each other was not clear. 
In the very first page of the section of The Elementary Forms cited by Marshall himself (Jesus and the Religions of Man, p. 207, n.4), Durkheim marks his transition to tribes that do believe in a Supreme Being as follows:
“Yet even this mythological formation is not the most advanced that is to be found among the Australians. Several tribes have achieved a conception of a god who, if not the only one, is at least the supreme one, and one to whom a preeminent position among other religious entities is ascribed” (The Elementary Forms, p. 288, my underlined emphasis).
So, how did Marshall miss the fact that Durkheim is only talking about some tribes when Marshall himself is citing the very page from Durkheim that undermines his claim? And if he did read what Durkheim said on that page, why did he not tell us the truth? Why generate such a canard?
A. W. Howitt, one of Durkheim's sources
As Durkheim himself acknowledges, much of his information came from the British-Australian anthropologist, Alfred W. Howitt (1830-1908). But Howitt himself says that such a belief in any Supreme Being is not generalized, but regional: “If the Queensland coast tribes are included, then the western bounds might be indicated by a line drawn from the mouth of the Murray River to Cardwell, including the Great Dividing Range, with some of the fall inland in New South Wales. This would define the part of Australia in which belief exists in an anthropomorphic supernatural being, who lives in the sky, and who is supposed to have some kind of influence on the morals of the natives. No such belief seems to obtain in the remainder of Australia, although there are indications of a belief in anthropomorphic beings inhabiting the sky-land” (A.W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia [London: Macmillan, 1904] p. 500; my underlined emphasis).
In sum, Marshall has taken Durkheim’s description of the beliefs of “several tribes” and transformed it into a description of some generalized “Australian God,” who was “fundamentally the same everywhere.”
Understanding Durkheim’s claims involves understanding that he was part of a larger debate about the origin and nature of religion. For our purposes, two positions, here greatly simplified, were at issue:
A. Scholars who thought that the most primitive cultures did not have “religion” or a concept of a Supreme Being. Representatives included Edward Burnett Tylor (1832–1917), who believed that religion had progressed through the following stages: Animism > Polytheism > Monotheism, and James George Frazer (1854–1941), who thought that he could identify an evolutionary path as follows: Magic > Religion > Science. Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929) and Francis J. Gillen (1855-1912), two of the authors on which Durkheim depends for his information about Australian aborigines, belonged to this camp.
B. Scholars who thought that notions of a Supreme Being were found in every culture, regardless of how “primitive” it was. Representatives included Carl Strehlow (1871–1922), a Lutheran missionary who also was one of the sources quoted by Durkheim, and Wilhelm Schmidt (1868-1954), a Roman Catholic priest who wrote a monumental work, The Origin of the Idea of God (1912-1955), which sought to prove that monotheism was present in the most primitive religions.
As already mentioned, Durkheim did not believe that every religion had a god, let alone a Supreme Being. 
However, Durkheim did claim that a belief in a Supreme Being could be found in a group of Australian aborigines called the Arunta, and also known as the Aranda or the Arrernte.
The Arunta Aborigines
This group of people, which bears many subgroups, centered around the town of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia.
Insofar as the Arunta were concerned, Durkheim sided with Strehlow, and not with Specer and Gillen. In fact, in the passage just prior to the extract quoted by Marshall, Durkheim says (Elementary Forms, p. 289): 
“Finally, in contrast to Spencer and Gillen, who claim not to have observed a belief in a god proper among the Arunta, Strehlow assures us that this people, as well as the Loritja, recognize a true ‘good god’ with the name Altjira.”
So, Marshall’s extract actually describes the beliefs of the Arunta (and Loritja), and not those of every group in Australia.
Carl Strehlow, another of Durkheim's sources
Carl Strehlow was a German Lutheran missionary, who was one of Durkheim’s sources for information about the Arunta.
Strehlow’s main ethnography was Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australien (The Aranda- and Loritja Tribes of Central Australia) published in 1899. You can find a digitized version on-line here: Strehlow's Ethnography.
It was Strehlow who helped to popularize the belief that the Arunta had a concept of a Supreme Being.
In 1894, Strehlow started his work at Hermannsburg, a mission established by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1875 to the west of Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory, and named after the Hermannsburg Mission Institute in Germany. Thus, Strehlow arrived after an entire generation of natives had had contact with Christian missionaries in that area.
Yet, note Marshall’s facile dismissal of Christian influences on the aborigines: “Tylor blamed missionaries for planting this concept among the aborigines. When that was no longer feasible...”
Actually, Marshall provides no evidence for why that charge of Christianization “was no longer feasible,” and he is completely unfamiliar with the fact that Christianization is still a widely held conclusion for Strehlow’s reports of a Supreme Being among the aborigines.
Northern Territory where Strehlow worked
For example, consider this very detailed study of the issue by Angus Nicholls, “Anglo-German Mythologics: the Australian Aborigines and Modern Theories of Myth in the Work of Baldwin Spencer and Carl Strehlow,” History of the Human Sciences 20, no. 1 (2007): 83-114.  Nicholls concludes:
“There is no doubt that Carl Strehlow could not have been highly self-reflexive in relation to the fundamental presupposition that lay behind all of his research: namely, his conviction that all human beings on the earth are the children of a monotheistic God and his consequent desire to convert the Arrernte to the Christian faith. It was this presupposition, perhaps combined with the suggestive questions of Leonhardi, that arguably led him to interpret the concept of Altjira as referring to something resembling the High God of Christian monotheism” (“Anglo-German Mythologics,” p. 107).
At the very center of the debates is the meaning of one Arunta word: Altjira. This is the word that Carl Strehlow had interpreted as the Supreme Being. However, Spencer and Gillen disagreed, and thought it referred to some mythical past or “Dreamtime” epoch.
An enormous amount of work has been expended to decide the issue, but to this day it is difficult to know what that word meant in pre-colonial times. The main difficulty comes because Carl Strehlow was interacting with aborigines who had already been influenced by Christian missionaries.
The first piece of evidence for this Christianization is the aformentioned work by Strehlow on these Aborigines:  The Aranda- and Loritja Tribes of Central Australia.
On the very first page of this work, Strehlow begins by identifying his informants. There is a photograph with the caption: “Die vier Schwarzen, die die meisten sagen erzählt haben.” (= “The four black [men], who related most of the legends”). They are dressed in western clothes, and they don’t seem to be fully following their aboriginal culture any longer.
In addition, Strehlow did not like to do all the fieldwork necessary to understand native religious practices. For example, Nicholls makes the following observation:
“Although he lived and worked with the Australian Aborigines for over 30 years, he nevertheless continued to regard them as being heathens who were ultimately alien to his own Christian cultural orientation, and for this reason he refused to attend corroborees or to investigate sacred aboriginal sites and objects. Moreover, he also punished baptized Aborigines for attending corroborees, presumably on the basis that Christian and aboriginal religious ceremonies were fundamentally incompatible, and that the former belief system represented the only true path to salvation” (Anglo-German Mythologics,” p. 97).
Given those oppressive circumstances, which forced many natives to depend on the missionaries for their food and sustenance, it would not be surprising that they would say whatever the missionaries needed to hear to obtain food or avoid punishment.
Baldwin Spencer was Strehlow's opponent
Spencer and Gillen seized on this reluctance by Strehlow to do actual fieldwork in order to show that the latter was not really interested in gathering authentic information, but rather in Christianizing aborigines.
When a Scottish historian named Andrew Lang (1844-1912) sent an inquiry to Spencer about Strehlow’s reports of a Supreme Being among the Arunta, Spencer explained why he disagreed.
Spencer’s disagreement is detailed in a letter (dated December 9, 1903) that he wrote to Frazer, and part of which reads as follows:
Twenty years ago a man named Kempe, one of the first missioners, seized upon the word Altjira (= our Alcheri) and adopted it as the word for ‘God’. He knew nothing of its significance to the natives, or of its association with the word ‘Alcheringa’ (Acheri = dream; ringa = of, belonging to), but he saw that it had some special or sacred significance. Now after these twenty years (when the station has not been closed or the missioners away) of endeavouring to teach the poor natives that Altjira means ‘God’, Strehlow comes forward with the momentous discovery that in the Arunta ‘there is a Being of the highest order called Altjira or Altjira mara(mara = good) [and] that ‘Altjira is the highest divinity; he is the creator of the world and the maker of men’ (sounds rather Scriptural). The paper only occupies 1 12 pp. foolscap, but has more utter misleading nonsense packed into a small space than I recollect coming across before” (Marett and Penniman, Spencer’s Scientific Correspondence, pp. 95–96; my underlined emphasis).
As mentioned, by the time Strehlow arrived in the Australian mission in 1894, the Lutherans had been teaching aborigines about Christianity for about 20 years.
Another problem is that some of the earliest published descriptions of altjira did not refer to a Supreme being.
By most accounts, the earliest published reference to the word altjira is by Louis Gustav Schulze (1851-1924), another missionary who worked among the Arunta.
Schulze’s relevant report was published in “The Aborigines of the Upper and Middle Finke River: Their Habits and Customs, with Introductory Notes on the Physical and Natural-History Features of the Country,” Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 14 (1891):210-246. On p. 242 of that article, Schulze remarks:
“It must be mentioned here that the natives possess small disks of slate and wood, about as large as the hand called tjurunga arknanoa (festival plates), which are secreted in caves, and which neither woman nor child must see. Upon these various markings are engraved, which the respective old man to whom they belong alone understands, describing the whole meaning of this tjurunga, as to its origin and purport. They pretend that these tjurunga arknanoa were altjira—that is, were not made—but I suspect, as they occasionally give some to white people, that the old men and sorcerers make them themselves.”
So, from Schulze’s report, we understand that altjira:
A. Could refer to plural objects or entities;
B. Means “were not made.”
Furthermore, “altjira” seems adjectival (“not made”) rather than the name for one God.  If altjira = “Supreme Being,” then it would make little sense in a sentence such as: “They pretend that these tjurunga arknanoa were the Supreme Being.”
On p. 220 of that same article, Schulze also remarks: “To explain spiritual matters to them is not easy, especially as there are not words to express the ideas, and will have to be coined for that purpose.”
Thus, we do have evidence that words were coined and constructed for concepts and beliefs that really had no Christian counterparts.
Further confusion was caused by the publication, in the same periodical, of a grammar and lexicon of the Arunta language by the aforementioned Rev. Hermann Kempe (1844-1928), another Lutheran missionary.
Kempe’s relevant publication is “A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language Spoken by the Aborigines of the MacDonnell Ranges, South Australia,” Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia” 14 (1891):1-54.
Kempe did translate altjira as “God” when he used a form of altjira in a sentence: “altjirala jingana etata ntema [=] “God to me life gives” (“A Grammar and Vocabulary,” p. 9).
However, Spencer reports that, in a later communication, Kempe clarified his position:
“Many years ago we discussed the question with Mr. Kempe who agreed with us that the word Altjira did not connote “God,” as understood by the white man, but said that it was regarded by the missionaries as the word in the Arunta language that seemed to approach most nearly in meaning and significance to ‘God,’ and therefore, in the absence of a definite term for the latter, they had adopted the word Altjira.
In 1910, after the publication of the first part of Mr. Strehlow’s work, we again communicated with the Rev. H. Kempe, and received the following reply: ‘As regard to the word ‘Altjira’ in the language of Central Australia, I beg to tell you that, so far as I know the language, it is not ‘God’ in the sense in which we use the word—namely a personal being—but it has a meaning of old, very old, something that has no origin, mysterious, something that has always been so, also, always. Were Altjira an active being they would have answered Altjirala; the syllable la is always added when a person exercises will (force) which influences another being or thing. We have adopted the word ‘God’ because we could find no better and because it comes nearest to the idea of ‘eternal.’ The people through the usage of a word often use it as a name for a person. This, according to my conviction, is the true meaning of the word Altjira” (Spencer, The Arunta, p. 596; my underlined emphasis).
At the same time, Spencer’s theory that the word Altjira pertained to some “Dreamtime” has come under severe criticism. So has the nature of his fieldwork, which did not always meet the best standards.
According to Spencer’s biographers, Spencer’s partner, F. J. Gillen, sometimes staged ceremonies for the benefit of photographs and bribed natives to give the answers they wanted to hear (Mulvaney and Calaby, So Much That is New, pp. 169, 173).
Indeed, Marshall does not seem to appreciate how we must be critical of all ethnographies, especially at a time when standards of ethics were not what they are today.  And even today, there are still questions about how much we should trust ethnographies. We often cannot verify the reports of these ethnographers ourselves.
In general, anthropologists today are much more critical of ethnographies, especially after the well-known controversies involving Margaret Mead (See Freeman) and Napoleon Chagnon (See Chagnon controversy).
However, the conclusion that Altjira does not mean Supreme Being or High God remains convincing. Nicholls assesses the situation this way:
“Later scholarship– which includes but is not confined to work done by Carl Strehlow’s son T. G. H. Strehlow, a native speaker of Arrernte as well as a trained linguist – has found in Carl Strehlow’s favour concerning the definition of Altjira, while at the same time not confirming his grander High-God hypothesis” (Anglo-German Mythologics,” p. 105).
Similarly, Erich Kolig (“Religious Power and the All-Father in the Sky: Monotheism in Australian Aboriginal Culture Reconsidered,”Anthropos 87 [1992]:9) concluded: the All-Father concept is not an indigenous belief form, but is essentially of Christian provenance skillfully adapted to an Aboriginal cognitive background.
To be fair, Strehlow sometimes seems to have been ambivalent himself, as is suggested by his note (“Anmerkung”) on p. 2 of his Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme, where he admits that he cannot find a linguistic derivation for the word Altjira (“Eine sprachliche Ableitung des Wortes Altjira konnte noch nicht gefunden werden...”).
Given my own independent readings of the relevant primary sources and ethnographies in the original languages, I do concur with Nicholls (“Anglo-German Mythologics,” p. 105), who says: “In short: both Spencer the Darwinian biologist and Strehlow the missionary misunderstood the Arrernte culture by viewing it in terms of the presuppositions and prejudices that were peculiar to their respective cultural backgrounds and professions – presuppositions that were in turn reinforced and encouraged by the Europe-based ‘armchair anthropologists’ (Frazer and Leonhardi) who oversaw their research.”
In addition to a lack of sophistication in how he reads ethnographies, Marshall simply followed this long ethnocentric tradition.
David Marshall claimed in his debate with Richard Carrier that “There are also good reasons to believe -- good evidences -- that Christianity is true. Let me give three, briefly. (1) Miracles. (2) Anthropology, a God that transcends particular cultures. (3) New Testament criticism -- the person of Jesus.”
Given the examination of the primary sources on this issue, we can conclude that his second reason should now be banished forever from that list, and the other ones should have been banished long ago.
Indeed, we have demonstrated that:
A. Durkheim did not think that all cultures believe in a Supreme Being. Marshall shows again why he is regarded as a lackadaisical researcher who simply cherry-picks quotes without bothering to read thoroughly the authors he is quoting. He stops when he thinks he found something that supports his views.
B. Durkheim did not even claim that all Australian cultures believed in a Supreme being. This was a particularly egregious misrepresentation by Marshall because the evidence was there in the very pages he cited. Either Marshall knowingly misrepresented what Durkheim said, or he just copied quotes from other sources without bothering to actually read Durkheim.
C. Durkheim’s interpretations were challenged from the beginning, and are now widely rejected.  Marshall shows that he is poorly educated in almost any subject outside of the fields in which he received training. Marshall’s claim that the idea of Christian contamination was no longer feasible shows that he is not reading the relevant anthropological literature of the time nor the modern scholarship that examins those first ethnographies.
D. Christianization or misinterpretation of native terminology remains a viable explanation for the reports quoted by Durkheim that show any belief in a “Supreme God.” This is a conclusion supported by the earliest sources on the meaning of Altjira, as well as by knowledge of the history of the missionaries among the aborigines.
E. Multiple cultures, or even all cultures, having similar concepts of God does not demonstrate the perception of some transcendent reality.  Even if all cultures in the world had a concept of a Supreme Being, that would not constitute proof of the existence of God or the reasonableness of Christianity.
Cultures are human products, and so all it would show is that human beings generate similar responses to the needs that they share.  A Supreme Being, for example, could be expected in almost any culture that has a hierarchical or patriarchal organization where rank is recognized. Ranking is a human activity and proves nothing about a supernatural origin.
In addition, Stephen T. Asma argues that polytheism and animism have the longest and most widespread presence in human cultures. So, perhaps Marshall may need to admit that polytheists and animists are perceiving some transcendental reality the best.
Hermannsburg today
We must also not forget that there is a real cultural tragedy behind this entire debate about aboriginal religion.  For it was Christian missionaries who not only tried to impose their religious concepts upon these native peoples, but it was also they who helped to destroy their culture.
Indeed, the general history of Christianity is one of destruction of native peoples and their religion. Wherever Christianity spread, indigenous cultural destruction followed, whether it be in the Americas, in Africa, or in Australia.
Of course, these missionaries thought they were substituting something “better” and more precious, which simply reflects the racism and ethnocentricity associated with these missionaries.
Strehlow, for one, had a racist disdain for native religions, and he used coercive measure to ensure the destruction of native culture with the excuse that he was “civilizing” them.
It is no wonder that the Hermannsburg mission, to which Strehlow belonged, later had a very ambivalent relationship to the Nazi regime, as has been discussed in Georg Gremels, ed., Die Hermanssburg Mission und das “Dritte Reich”: Zwischen faschistischer Verführung und lutherische Beharrlichkeit (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2005) = The Hermannsburg Mission and the Third Reich: Between Fascist Seduction and Lutheran Perseverance.
For years now, I have been saying that Marshall lacks the necessary languages, reading, and scholarly equipment to comment on issues outside of his field.
I don’t make this charge lightly. I make it on the basis of having examined his work quite thoroughly.
In the end, of course, such lack of diligence will only hurt Marshall’s cause, especially if there are enough scholars willing to unravel the superficial nonsense that passes for serious scholarship.
1. Why did you not tell  your readers that Durkheim did not believe that all religions have a notion of God?
2. Why did you not tell your readers that Durkheim was speaking of only some aboriginal tribes, and did not generalize about some “Australian God”?
3. Did you read the works quoted by Durkheim, including those by Spencer and Gillen, Strehlow, and Howitt?
4. Did you read the works of Schulze and Kempe?
5. What specific evidence can you provide about the meaning of the word altjira from aboriginal sources that have had no contact with Christian missionaries?
6. If altjira means “Supreme Being,” how would you translate yinga Alchera Nukula found as sentence #15 in Spencer, The Arunta, p. 306? Alchera is a variant of altjira for Spencer and other linguists.
Stephen T. Asma, “Animism: The World that Atheists Forgot,” The Chronicle Review (January 28, 2011):B7-B10.
Lisa Curtis-Wendlandt, “Missionary Wives and the Sexual Narratives of German Lutheran Missions among Australian Aborigines,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, 20, no. 3 (2011):498-519.
Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, translated by Karen Fields (New York: The Free Press, 1995).
Derek Freeman, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983).
Georg Gremels, ed., Die Hermanssburg Mission und das “Dritte Reich”: Zwischen faschistischer Verführung und lutherische Beharrlichkeit (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2005).
H. Kempe, “A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language Spoken by the Aborigines of the MacDonnell Ranges, South Australia,” Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia” 14 (1891):1-54.
Alfred W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (London: Macmillan, 1904).
A. M. Hocart, “Arunta Language: Strehlow v. Spencer and Gillen,” Man 33 (1933):92.
Erich Kolig, “Religious Power and the All-Father in the Sky. Monotheism in Australian Aboriginal Culture Reconsidered,”Anthropos 87 (1992):9-32.
R. R. Marett and T. K. Penniman, eds., Spencer’s Scientific Correspondence with Sir J . G. Frazer and Others (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932).
David Marshall, Jesus and the Religions of Man (Seattle: Kuai Mui Press, 2000).
Hans Mol, “The Origin and Function of Religion: A Critique of, and Alternative to, Durkheim's Interpretation of the Religion of Australian Aborigines,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 18, no. 4 (1979):379-389.
D. J. Mulvaney and J. H. Calaby, So Much that is New: Baldwin Spencer, 1860-1929: A Biography (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1985).
Angus Nicholls, “Anglo-German Mythologics: the Australian Aborigines and Modern Theories of Myth in the Work of Baldwin Spencer and Carl Strehlow,” History of the Human Sciences 20, no. 1 (2007): 83-114
W. S. F. Pickering, ed., Durkheim on Religion (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994).
Louis Schulze, “The Aborigines of the Upper and Middle Finke River: Their Habits and Customs, with Introductory Notes on the Physical and Natural-History Features of the Country,” Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 14 (1891):210-246.
Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Native Tribes of Central Australia (London: Macmillan, 1899).
Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Arunta: A Study of Stone Age People (London: Macmillan, 1927).
Carl Strehlow Die Aranda und Loritja Stämme in Zentral-Australien, vol. 1, Mythen, Sagen und Märchen des Aranda-Stammes in Zentral-Australien, edited by Moritz Freiherrn von Leonhardi (Frankfurt am Main: Joseph Baer, 1907).
J. Strehlow, “Reappraising Carl Strehlow through the Spencer–Strehlow Debate,” in The Struggle for Souls and Science, Constructing the Fifth Continent: German Missionaries and Scientists in Australia, Strehlow Research Centre Occasional Paper Number 3 (Alice Springs: Northern Territory Government (2004): 59–91.
T. G. H. Strehlow, Aranda Traditions (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1947).
Tony Swain, A Place for Strangers: Toward a History of Australian Aboriginal Being (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).