The subject of theology and its many interpretations is both interesting, complexing and controversial. The amount of time and effort spent throughout recorded history in pursuit of theological truth must be one that probably, has few equals. The very term itself is subject to differing interpretations, usually through hidden (or not) agendas. Therefore, it would be useful to define what this particular term is representative of. Using one of the better online dictionaries, this definition is both concise and accurate enough for us to be dealing with…
Theology – 1. The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions. Source
I find this definition to be specifically accurate enough with which to base further disclosure / conjecture upon.
There is no doubt that this area has been important to humanity throughout the time that we, as a species, developed enough mental capacity and self-awareness to understand our place in the natural world. Our perceived individual isolation, built upon the experiences of living and the consequences of those very same living processes, result in a mental process that has the capability to consider beyond the “now” and to consider both past and future events and actions. Because of this ability, the area for consideration expands through the recognition that we can plan for many eventualities, thus increasing our chance for success.
This process has its “drawbacks” though in that these predetermined actions, if the situation is either a) desperate enough or b) motivating enough that the individual may consider actions that may not be in keeping with either cultural, moral or social guidelines. This could be viewed as in some way representative of The Selfish Gene hypothesis, with the actions being representative of the base instinct of increasing the survival odds of the individual or, in some cases, group of individuals.
However, evolution has provided a counter-mechanism, to a greater or lesser degree, to provide the individual with the ability to consider the ramifications of those very same courses of actions. This is commonly known as the human conscience. Note that I have defined conscience specifically with humans, there is evidence in some other primates to suggest a limited amount of self-awareness but I would contend not enough for them to be cognitive enough to be able to fully understand any and all consequences of their actions. Therefore, this ability, in its fullest sense at this minute in time, would appear to be confined to humanity.
How does this recognition of the consequences of any and all actions humans make, manifest itself in terms of mental processes? Well, one of the earliest examples is the differal to other world presences. Actions unforseen or out of the blue, using the limited frames of references available in earlier times, ended in said actions being placed in the realm of the other world and their comprehension of the other world, mainly took the shape of the Gods. This in itself presented these interactions into a context, at least partially understandable to the individuals at those times, with the possibility of creating a means by which to intercede with these other influences. To further make these actions at least partially understandable and accessible, these other world entities were endowed with human characteristics with a view to present a common ground for interactions to take place.
Different Gods were presented with different personalities representative of some viewed aspect of nature. Because of this, they were consequently linked to that particular aspect of nature. Interestingly though, this idea also gave rise to the belief in a static spirit of place, a spirit somehow tied to a particular location. Gods were allowed free passage amongst lands and peoples but it was believed that some other world entities did not possess this ability. These Genius Loci as they became known as using later Roman terms of reference, may have emerged as the human populations adopted agricultural lifestyles which dictated the establishment of static, location specific communities, engaged in food production at local locations.
So through a combination of many things including genetic predispositions, lifestyle changes and perceived interactions with other world entities, the need to form a framework with which to engage all these aspects was placed into the realm of theology.
The earliest recorded individuals for whom we may speculatively refer to as demonstrating some form of theology were the Shamans. Unlike later modern definitions of theology using a single source of information, these were subject to different methods of interactions with these interactions being defined by the individual concerned. Methods ranged from naturally self induced trances to drug induced trance (in the form of plant ingestion). Because of the nature of these interactions, their interpretations were left with the individual experiencing these interactions. This, one may reasonably assume, would have left the life of that same individual subject to successful interactions with the other world. It would be also reasonable to assume that for longevity of life for that individual, fear of that same individual and their perceived power must have been a prerequisite to survival.
This method of theology, based in the perceived power of the affected individual, may have taken precedence until the widespread adoption of the written word. It may be also reasonable to assume that this type of theology concerned itself with the immediate outcomes of everyday living for the communities engaging in this type of interaction. The power base for this theology, however, was to be displaced with the adoption of the written word.