Monday, July 6, 2015

Rivers of Life, instead of trees

In an earlier blog post, I discussed some of the evocative Metaphors for evolutionary relationships, particularly reticulating ones.

In that post I listed the concept of a "braided river", and mentioned a 1994 paper by John Moore as my earliest source for the image. However, the metaphor actually goes back more than 100 years earlier. It occurs as the central metaphor in this quite remarkable book on comparative religion:
Forlong, J.G.R. (1883) Rivers of Life: or Sources and Streams of the Faiths of Man in All Lands, Showing the Evolution of Faiths from the Rudest Symbolisms to the Latest Spiritual Developments. 2 vols. Bernard Quaritch: London.
James George Roche Forlong was a Scottish engineer serving in the British army that occupied India during the 19th century. He apparently had a life-long interest in comparative religion, and his book arose from his personal experience of non-Christian religions (facilitated by his knowledge of several languages). The book involves a serious re-interpretation of the evolutionary history of world religions, as a series of six inter-connecting rivers running from ancient times into the modern world, each river representing a different type of worship.

The illustrative chart that accompanies the book can be viewed here. A low-resolution copy is shown below.

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