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Classical Evolutionary School - Basic Postulates of Classical Evolutionism (Anthropology)


  • Sir Hebert Spencer was the first one to define ‘evolution’ as a term.
  • Major break to the theory of evolution was given by Charles Darwin. He was able to prove the process of evolution on the basis of paleontological evidence. Darwin՚s idea of natural selection, struggle for existence and survival of the fittest served as cornerstone for the development of evolutionary theory.

Basic Postulates of Classical Evolutionism

  • Classical Evolutionism aimed at indicating mankind as unity and not diversity.
  • Human culture evolves in unilinear sequence through different stages. Primitive Societies were ancestors of more modern and civilized societies.
  • Classical Evolutionism is progressive and proceed from simple to complex societies.
  • Similar, cultural traits of mankind is because of ‘Psychic Unity of Mankind’ . It refers to commonality of human mind that allows similar or common reactions, like to environmental situations.
  • Methodologies adopted for the study of classical evolutionism: Comparative and historical methods. Historical explanations help analyzing cultural varieties and is adapted to study and justify the fact that human cultures had under gone progressive change.
Basic Postulates of Classical Evolutionism
Basic Postulates of Classical Evolutionism

British Evolutionary School

  • Edward Butler Tylor (1832 - 1917) :
    • In his work, ‘Primitive Culture’ , he gave the first classical definition of Culture. He was of the view that culture plays an important role for product of social learning rather than biological product. Study of the culture for mankind is the development for the society which passes through the stages from ‘savagery’ to ‘barbarism’ and finally rises to the ‘civilization’ .
    • Two major contribution from this book was: The ‘doctrine of survivals’ and
    • ‘theory of animism’
  • He also gave the idea of ‘Psychic Unity of Mankind’ . According to him, all human beings having similar thinking patterns have same responses therefore there are similarities between societies.
  • In his book ‘Primitive Religion’ , he defined that religion was in simple form it՚s called “Spiritual Beings” . His great contribution lies in analysis of ‘anima’ means soul. He said that every society in this world believes in spiritual.
  • He believed in totemism (belief that soul resides in a totem- plant or animal) and fetishism (human beings control their deity through material objects)
  • R. R. Marett (1866 - 1943) : Marett was student of E. B. Tylor. He was interested in study of ‘Primitive Religion’ , he wrote a book ‘The Threshold of Religion’ in 1909. According to him, primitive religion could be understood in terms of animatism, i.e.. , belief in some impersonal power behind every material object besides living being. He also wrote the biography on Tylor in which he described systematically about the concept of animism.
  • James Frazer (1854 - 1941) : He wrote a book entitled ′ Golden Bough ′ in 1890. In this book, he explained that early men did not know anything about science, they pose the wrong idea of natural causes. He said all societies development pass through three stages i.e.. Magic, Religion and Science.
  • Henry James Summer Maine (1822 - 1888) : He wrote three books entitled ‘Ancient Law’ in 1861, ‘Early History of institution’ and ‘Village community in East & West’ in 1871. He also wrote ‘Early Law and Customs’ in 1875 in which he stated that Patriarchal family is universal and original form of social life i.e.. , ‘patria potestas’
  • John Ferguson McLennan (1827 - 1881) : He worked in the field of ‘Primitive Marriage’ . He debated that early societies were patrilineal instead of being matrilineal. They practiced polyandry. The early societies were structured in a similar manner as today՚s society wherein the first form was the ‘Tribe’ , the second form was the ‘house’ and the third was ‘family’ .
  • In his famous book named “Primitive Marriage” published in 1865, he coined the famous terms: “endogamy” & “exogamy” used in social institutions. He also explains the concept of Bride Capture from the tribal societies.


Q1. Who was the first one to define the term ‘Evolution’ ?

  1. Charles Darwin
  2. Jean Lamarck
  3. Hebert Spencer
  4. E. B. Tylor

Answer: (c) Hebert Spencer

Q2. Which of the following are not the concepts given by E. B. Tylor?

  1. Doctrine of Survivals.
  2. Theory of Animism.
  3. Psychic Unity of Mankind
  4. Primitive Culture

Answer: (d) Primitive Culture

Q3. Who gave the idea of ‘patria potestas’ i.e.. , Patriarchy is the original form of social life?

  1. H. J. S. Maine
  2. James Frazer
  3. R. R. Marett
  4. E. B. Tylor

Answer: (a) H. J. S. Maine

Q4. Which of the following is not a British Evolutionary?

  1. R. R. Marett
  2. J. F. Mclennan
  3. Sir. J. G. Frazer
  4. Lewis Henry Morgan

Answer: (d) Lewis Henry Morgan

Q5. Which of the following is not an evolutionist?

  1. R. R. Marett
  2. Lewis Henry Morgan
  3. J. J. Bachofen
  4. W. H. R. Rivers

Answer: (d) W. H. R. Rivers


#Basic Postulates of classical evolutionism

#British Evolutionary School

#E. B. Tylor.

#R. R. Marett

# H. J. S. Maine

#J. F. Mclennan

#Sir J. G. Frazer

#Anthropological theories

#Socio-Cultural Anthropology


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