The Fracture of An Illusion: Science And The Dissolution Of Religion. Frankfurt Templeton Lectures 2008

Overview

Pascal Boyer argues that religion is largely an illusion. The anthropologist traces religion's cognitive and evolutionary aspects. By religion he means a kind of existential and cognitive package that includes views about supernatural agency (gods), notions of morality, particular rituals and sometimes particular experiences, as well as membership in a particular community of believers. The package, however, does not really exist as such. Notions of supernatural agents, of morality, of ethnic identity, or ritual ...

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Overview

Pascal Boyer argues that religion is largely an illusion. The anthropologist traces religion's cognitive and evolutionary aspects. By religion he means a kind of existential and cognitive package that includes views about supernatural agency (gods), notions of morality, particular rituals and sometimes particular experiences, as well as membership in a particular community of believers. The package, however, does not really exist as such. Notions of supernatural agents, of morality, of ethnic identity, or ritual requirements and other experience, all appear in human minds independently. This implies that there is no such thing as a conflict between science and religion. Boyer takes the reader onto a journey through science and the dissolution of religion.

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Table of Contents

1 Is there such a thing as religion? 9

The Kant-Darwin Axis 11

Religions without doctrines 13

No "religion" in most cultures 14

Who invented religion? 16

Religions as brands 20

Does the study of religion need "religion"? 22

An uncertain and unnecessary concept 23

2 What is natural in religions? 25

Natural religion as a theory 25

What is the phenomenon? 26

The cognitive picture - supernatural concepts 27

Why are supernatural concepts culturally stable? 30

The cognitive picture - non-physical agency 32

Natural religion is not (just) for the primitive Other 35

Probabilistic, experience-distant model 36

What makes religious notions culturally viable 37

3 Do religions make people better? 41

Humans are "prosocial" 43

Apparently, morality could not possibly evolve 44

Models of commitment 47

Could "religion" be a form of prosocial signaling? 50

So why are superhuman agents also moral enforcers? 54

Epilogue 55

4 Is there a religious experience? 57

Why bother with experience? 57

Who invented "religious experience"? 60

Monks and magnets 61

Rituals: a real (and most common) form of religious experience 63

Ritualized behavior and precaution systems 66

What about collective "rituals"? 67

Religion and experience redux 69

5 Are religions against reasons and freedom? 73

A recapitualation of natural religious elements 73

Understanding religious cognition without "belief" 76

Religion is not the sleep of reason 77

The troubled consciousness of modern religions 78

Two escape routes - fundamentalism and "spirituality" 80

No need for "science and religion" or different "magisteria" 85

Two varieties of Enlightenment 89

Misleading policies: the specificity of "religion" 91

Political psychology and secularization 93

Epilogue - fracture of an illusion 95

Afterword 99

Bibliography 105

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