Robert Ranulph Marett

Rector of Exeter College, Oxford

Faith, Hope, and Charity in Primitive Religion

In his series of lectures, Marett evaluates the religious experiences of ‘primitive’ peoples. His evaluation is biological in the sense that he aims to the test survival value of spiritual practices. Analysing traditions by their emotional content, Marett gleans the virtues he designates as ‘faith, hope, and charity’, which contributed to the religion and ‘advancement’ of man. His scholarship is, at times, controversial and reveals his bias.


Robert Ranulph Marett was born on 13 June 1866 in Beaumont, Jersey. A philosopher and anthropologist, his work on the origin of religion shaped nineteenth-century scholarship, though mainstream anthropology was already diverging from these conversations. Winner of a senior exhibition at Balliol College, Oxford, he obtained a first-class degree in 1888. Elected Fellow at Exeter College in 1891, Marett became Sub-Rector and won the Green Moral Philosophy prize in 1893. Reader in Anthropology at Oxford in 1910, he was appointed Rector six years later.

Made Fellow of the British Academy in 1931 and awarded honorary degrees from St Andrews and Oxford, Marett served as Secretary to the Committee for Anthropology and founded the Oxford University Anthropological Society. A member of the skeleton staff who ran the university during hostilities, he joined a battalion of veterans with regular military duties. Notable works include Anthropology (1912), Psychology and Folklore (1920), Raw Material of Religion (1929), Head, Heart & Hands in Human Evolution (1935), Spencer’s Scientific Correspondence with Sir J. G. Frazer and Others (1932), Tylor (1936), and Man in the Making (1937). 

Published/Archival Resources