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In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion / Edition 1

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"How do we explain the cultural hold of religion throughout history? Why are supernatural concepts culturally universal? What do biology, psychology, anthropology, and cognitive neuroscience have to tell us about the religious differences and similarities among different cultural groups? How is it that religious explanations of natural phenomena have had a greater hold on our collective imagination that most political, economic, and scientific accounts?" In this interdisciplinary book, Scott Atran addresses these questions and more as he attempts to map the evolutionary landscape of religion. He argues that current explanations for religion do not sufficiently explain society's committments to a logically absurd world of supernatural causes and beings, questioning why evolution did not select against such curiously costly beliefs and behaviors as making gigantic pyramids to house the dead, blowing oneself up for the pleasures of paradise, sacrificing one's children as a measure of religious sincerity, or setting aside large chunks of time to mumble incoherent words repititiously. Observing the limitations of most functional explanations for the cultural power of religion, he proposes that religion is less an adaptation to a specific function (or collective need) than a natural basin of possibilities to which human lives spontaneously converge. If naturally selected structures of cognition, emotion, and organization channel our thoughts and behaviors into cultural paths that include some kind of religious belief or committment, he argues that secular ideologies attempting to replace religion will always be at a disadvantage in terms of cultural survival.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"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

"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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195178036
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/26/2004
  • Series: Evolution and Cognition Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 388
  • Sales rank: 596,983
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott Atran is a senior research scientist at the Institut Jean Nicod at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris. He is also Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Psychology, and Natural Resources and the Environment at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. A respected cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, his publications include Fondement de l'histoire naturelle, Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science, and Folk Biology. He has done long-term fieldwork in the Middle East and has also written and experimented extensively on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorize and reason about nature. He currently directs an international, multidisciplinary project on the natural history of the Lowland Maya.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: An Evolutionary Riddle
Part I: Evolutionary Sources
2. The Mindless Agent: Evolutionary Adaptations and By-products
3. God's Creation: Evolutionary Origins of the Supernatural
Part II: Absurd Commitments
4. Counterintuitive Worlds: The Mostly Mundane Nature of Religious Belief
5. The Sense of Sacrifice: Culture, Communication, and Commitment
Part III: Ritual Passions
6. Ritual and Revelation: The Emotional Mind
7. Waves of Passion: The Neuropsychology of Religion
Part IV: Mindblind Theories
8. Culture without Mind: Sociobiology and Group Selection
9. The Trouble with Memes: Inference versus Imitation in Cultural Creation
10. Conclusion: Why Religion Seems Here to Stay

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2007

    A reviewer

    Long the struggle and hard the fight. This book is a slow boat to somewhere important. After a bright clear begining, it becomes a ponderous and plodding explication of the topic. Atran allows the book to become bogged down refuting all of the alternative theories that try to explain religion. In the end, his attempt to refute meme theory is worth the read, even if it overstates the case. This work is a worthy contribution to our efforts to understand and explain religion. If you have read any of the recommended titles below, this book is a must read.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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