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3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but dull, Sept. 10 2001
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This review is from: Religion Explained (Hardcover)
It's one of the big ones, no doubt about that. Why is religion such a human universal? Boyer has decided to play it cool - no discussion of the, mostly Germanic, heavyweights of the past with their late-at-night furrowed-brow philosophical musings. He wants to look at how religion manifests itself throughout the world, not just in the great monotheistic religions. And he wants to bring in findings from evolutionary psychology. Fair enough....I'm sure this is the way to go. But does it have to be so dull?
Partly this is necessary, as Boyer argues, because one of his aims is to make us appreciate how extraordinary some of the things we take for granted really are. For instance - and he goes on at great length about this - children pick up straightaway on a concept like "animal", and once told the name of an animal automatically infer all sorts of things about it without having them spelled out. Well, fair enough, though it doesn't make compelling reading. But some of it is simply down to the author. For instance he starts a chapter with a discussion of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice which goes on for two or three pages. The point? Just as great houses require servants and staff hidden away below stairs, so with the human mind there are all sorts of things going on which we aren't aware of but which are necessary. I mean, this is just dull, plodding writing.
There are some interesting things in here, but it was one of those books where I'd often find I'd read a paragraph without paying any attention, and by the end it was touch and go whether I'd bother to finish it. Plus, frankly, I'm not sure that either anthropology or evolutionary psychology are in a position yet to come up with the goods on this subject. No doubt in a few years someone will write a stunning book with this approach, but they'll need to be better writers than Mr Boyer.
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