Evolution, Religion, and Cognitive Science: Critical and Constructive Essays

ISBN : 9780199688081

Revd. Fraser Watts; Leon P. Turner
272 Pages
162 x 241 mm
Pub date
Mar 2014
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The cognitive science of religion is an inherently heterogeneous subject, incorporating theory and data from anthropology, psychology, sociology, evolutionary biology, and philosophy of mind amongst other subjects. One increasingly influential area of research in this field is concerned specifically with exploring the relationship between the evolution of the human mind, the evolution of culture in general, and the origins and subsequent development of religion. This research has exerted a strong influence on many areas of religious studies over the last twenty years, but, for some, the so-called 'evolutionary cognitive science of religion' remains a deeply problematic enterprise. This book's primary aim is to engage critically and constructively with this complex and diverse body of research from a wide range of perspectives. To these ends, the book brings together authors from a variety of relevant disciplines, in the thorough exploration of many of the key debates in the field. These include, for example: can certain aspects of religion be considered adaptive, or are they evolutionary by-products? Is the evolutionary cognitive science of religion compatible with theism? Is the evolutionary cognitive approach compatible with other, more traditional approaches to the study of religion? To what extent is religion shaped by cultural evolutionary processes? Is the evolutionary account of the mind that underpins the evolutionary cognitive approach the best or only available account? Written in accessible language, with an introductory chapter by Ilkka Pyssiainen, a leading scholar in the field, this book is a valuable resource for specialists, undergraduate and graduate students, and newcomers to the evolutionary cognitive science of religion.


1. Introduction: Pluralism and Complexity in the Evolutionary Cognitive Science of Religion
2. The Cognitive Science of Religion
3. Biologically Evolutionary Explanations of Religious Belief
4. The Evolution of Divine and Human Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, the Cognitive Study of Religion and Theism.
5. Extending Evolutionary Accounts of Religion beyond the Mind: Religions as Adaptive Systems
6. Skilful Engagement and the "Effort after Value": An Axiological Theory of the Origins of Religion
7. Religion and the Emergence of Differentiated Cognition
8. From Empathy to Embodied Faith? Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Evolution of Religion
9. Neither Friends nor Enemies: The Complex Relationship Between Cognitive and Humanistic Accounts of Religious Belief
10. The Cognitive Science of Religion from an Anthropological Perspective: Nature and History Reconciled?
11. Religion: the Dynamics of Cultural Adaptations
12. Artificial Intelligence Models of Religious Evolution
13. Concluding Reflections

About the author: 

Fraser Watts, University of Cambridge; Leon P. Turner, University of Cambridge

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