In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion

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Oxford University Press, Dec 9, 2004 - Religion - 400 pages
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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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This book isn't about the institution of religion, or any particular religions, but what is common to all religions, past, present, and future. Reading this book, one understands why religion is not likely to go away, why progress in science is largely irrelevant to the persistence of religion. Because religion, argues the author, is not so much about belief, whether preposterous or not, but about building "counterintuitive worlds" that are miraculously, but minimally, different from the everyday real world so as to render the "tragedy of cognition" (inescapable knowledge of death), deception (which language makes easy), and other "existential anxieties" less psychologically paralyzing, and also to facilitate unconditional interpersonal commitment (through mutual adherence to logically and empirically absurd beliefs) that makes enduring social life possible. Magnificent.  

Contents

An Evolutionary Riddle
3
EVOLUTIONARY SOURCES
19
ABSURD COMMITMENTS
81
A photogallery
147
RITUAL PASSIONS
149
MINDBLIND THEORIES
197
Notes
281
References
301
Index
337
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About the author (2004)

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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