In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion Hardcover – Oct 15 2002
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"With almost 1000 references and discussions of most of human history and culture, from Neanderthal burials to suicide-bombers in the Palestinian anti-colonialist struggle, this book is consciously and truly encyclopedic in scope, and shows both breadth and depth of scholarship...the reader finds himself constantly challenged and provoked into an intellectual ping-pong game as he follows the arguments and the huge body of findings marshalled to buttress them...Atran managed to combine the old and the new by relating the automatic cognitive operations to existential anxieties. This combination will be a benchmark and a challenge to students od religion in all disciplines."--Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Human Nature Review
"In Gods We Trust is by far the best exploration so far of the evolutionary basis of religious behavior."--James Fox, Prof of Anthropology, Stanford University
"Scott Atran, a cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, presents in this volume a rich, nuanced cognitive-evolutionary account of religion...From this vantage, religion is not doctrine, or institutions, or even faith. Religion ensues from the ordinary workings of the human mind as it deals with emotionally compelling problems of human existence, such as birth, aging, death, unforeseen calamities, and love...I have little but praise for this marvelous book...It does not take long to realize that one is dealing with a formidable mind; Atran is not only a fine writer, his breadth of knowledge and intellectual depth are nothing short of inspiring. This book is one to read slowly and savor. Keep a post-it pad handy, to mark the pages: the scope of this book is so wide-ranging that whatever your research interest in evolutionary psychology, it is bound to be touched upon at some point in these 400 pages of informative analysis."--Human Nature Review
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Atran describes religion as (1) a community's costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents (3) who master people's existential anxieties, such as death and deception. Later in the book, he adds that 1, 2, & 3 lead to (4) they demand ritualistic & rhythmic co-ordination of 1, 2, & 3, such as "communion".
He later describes religion (paraphrased) as a thought process which involves the exaggerated use of everyday cognitive processes to produce unreal worlds that easily attract attention, are readily memorable, and are subject to cultural transmission, selection, and survival.
Then he asks, "How, in principal, does this view distinguish Mickey Mouse from God, or fantasy from beliefs one is willing to die for?"
While sprinkled with interesting and provocative comments, Atran tries to show that cognitive modules exist, thanks to natural selection. The tendency to invent supernatural agency is an evolutionary by-product, trip-wired by predator detection schema...people interactively manipulate the universal cognitive susceptibility. Add a few hopeful solutions to the problems involving the tragedies of life & death, and you get religion.
Alternate theories of religion's ability to sprout and fluorish wherever humans have lived for any length of time are discussed, and rejected. These include "memes for religion", "group selection" for religion, cultural entrees, and others.
While myriad types of gods have been invented, Atran maintains they all end up with the structure as outlined in the 1st paragraph of this review.Read more ›
Scott Atran, a cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, presents in this volume a rich, nuanced cognitive-evolutionary account of religion. Eschewing attempts to translate genes directly into behavioral propensities, group selectionism and memetics, Atran situates his project firmly in the emerging synthesis of cognitive science and evolutionary biology.
From this vantage, religion is not doctrine, or institutions, or even faith. Religion ensues from the ordinary workings of the human mind as it deals with emotionally compelling problems of human existence, such as birth, aging, death, unforeseen calamities, and love.
Religion is costly and its doctrines typically starkly counterintuitive. If one assumes that religion is an item that has been directly selected for, this entails a Quixotic quest to identify specific fitness enhancing features of religion offsetting its considerable costs, but if religiosity is an essentially non-adaptive consequence of adaptive features of human cognition, then we are free to look for the payoffs elsewhere: 'Religions are not adaptations and they have no evolutionary functions as such.' Atran regards religiosity as a phenomenon fed by several evolutionary sources. Religion, like other cultural phenomena, 'results from a confluence of cognitive, behavioral, bodily and ecological constraints that neither reside wholly within minds nor are recognizable in a world without minds' - the evolutionary landscape of the book's title - each defining ridge of which is constituted by a set of psychological faculties. One such influence consists of primary and secondary affective programs.Read more ›
their origins until today. As religions become more and more a threat to societies all over the world this book would be a good stepping stone to move on to a more compassionate and human environement.
The "ten easy steps" are not. The astute reader may jump to the Conclusion for an outline of Atran's thesis. There he explains that religion is not an "entity", even though we publicly commit resources to it. Since it's not an entity, religion itself cannot be an evolutionary adaptation. However, it does fit into an "evolutionary landscape". That landscape he describes in a metaphor of hills and valleys, with certain behaviours following the path of least resistance. The supernatural, Atran contends, arises from a "cultural manipulation" of habits derived from the Pleistocene - fear of predators, death and the quest for nourishment. Since humans live in groups, the interactions of individuals within the group reinforces these habits. When natural phenomena are transformed into the supernatural conformity results.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Interesting subject matter, extremely academic writing style yet disjointed. did not enjoy this book.Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
I really enjoyed this one by Scott Atran. Beware that it is an academic read, lots of citations to consider.Published 13 months ago by dghawk
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