1st Edition

Religion and its Evolution Signals, Norms and Secret Histories

Edited By Carl Brusse, Kim Sterelny Copyright 2024

    This book examines why individuals and communities invest heavily in their religious life through multi-disciplinary perspectives. It pursues philosophical, psychological, deep time historical and adaptive answers to this question.

    Religion is a profoundly puzzling phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective. Commitment to religions are typically expensive, and most of the beliefs that motivate them cannot be true (since religious belief systems are inconsistent with one another). Yet some form of religion seems to be universal and resilient in historically known cultures – though not, if archaeology is to be trusted, in human communities early in the evolution of our species. We have collectively invented religion over about the last 100,000 years. Stemming from an interdisciplinary workshop, this book grapples with these challenges and features diverse contributions: some offer evolutionary and historical analyses, identifying hidden adaptive benefits to religion independent of the veracity of religious belief. Others see connections between religious commitment and commitment to the social norms that make cooperative life possible and explore aspects of human psychology that make religious belief tempting.

    Broad in scope and theoretically ambitious, Religion and Its Evolution: Signals, Norms and Secret Histories will be a key resource for scholars and researchers of religious studies, sciences of religion, psychology, anthropology, the cultural evolution of religion and the sociology of religion. This book was originally published as a special issue of Religion, Brain & Behavior.

    Introduction to religion and its evolution: signals, norms, and secret histories

    Carl Brusse and Kim Sterelny


    1. Minds of gods and human cognitive constraints: socio-ecological context shapes belief

    Rita A. McNamara and Benjamin Grant Purzycki


    2. A national-scale typology of orientations to religion poses new challenges for the cultural evolutionary study of religious groups

    Joseph A. Bulbulia, Geoffrey Troughton, Benjamin R. Highland and Chris G. Sibley


    3. The coevolution of sacred value and religion

    Toby Handfield


    4. Signaling theories of religion: models and explanation

    Carl Brusse


    5. Did religion play a role in the evolution of morality?

    Stephen Stich


    6. Religion: costs, signals, and the Neolithic transition

    Kim Sterelny


    7. Mysticism and reality in Aboriginal myth: evolution and dynamism in Australian Aboriginal religion

    Peter Hiscock


    8. On the origins of enchantment: not such a puzzle

    Paul Seabright


    Carl Brusse holds postdoctoral appointments at The Australian National University (School of Philosophy) and The University of Sydney (Department of Philosophy and The Charles Perkins Centre), Australia. He works on game theoretic and evolutionary explanation in the human sciences.

    Kim Sterelny is Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University, Australia. He is the author of The Evolved Apprentice: How Evolution Made Humans Unique (2012) and The Pleistocene Social Contract: Culture and Cooperation in Human Evolution (2021) among other books.