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

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This ambitious, interdisciplinary book seeks to explain the origins of religion using our knowledge of the evolution of cognition. A cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, Scott Atran argues that religion is a by-product of human evolution just as the cognitive intervention, cultural selection, and historical survival of religion is an accommodation of certain existential and moral elements that have evolved in the human condition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"So how, [Atran] asks, is it that religious beliefs and practices are manifest, anywhere there are people, past or present? How could evolution have favoured wasteful investment in preposterous beliefs? ... Quite a project. He relies on a combination of the most recent human sciences. ... One of his exceptional talents is in weaving together a vast number of strands that most of us keep asunder."—Ian Hacking, London Review of Books

"Atran's work is a brilliant exposition of the evolutionary by-product interpretation [of religion] as well as a mine of references for empirical research into the psychology of religion."—Pascal Boyer, Current Anthropology

"Scott Atran fell in love with anthropology in 1970 when he went to work with Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and found himself surrounded by a collection of thousands of skulls. He has spent the intervening years studying human cultures all over the world, dwelling among the secretive Druze sect in Israel, documenting conservation customs among the Maya of Guatemala, and analyzing the evolution of religion everywhere, a topic he explores in his book In Gods We Trust."—Discover Magazine

"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 marshaled 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 of 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: 694,707
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott Atran is a Director of Research 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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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • 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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