1st Edition

The Emergence and Evolution of Religion By Means of Natural Selection

    304 Pages 30 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    304 Pages 30 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Written by leading theorists and empirical researchers, this book presents new ways of addressing the old question: Why did religion first emerge and then continue to evolve in all human societies? The authors of the book—each with a different background across the social sciences and humanities—assimilate conceptual leads and empirical findings from anthropology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary sociology, neurology, primate behavioral studies, explanations of human interaction and group dynamics, and a wide range of religious scholarship to construct a deeper and more powerful explanation of the origins and subsequent evolutionary development of religions than can currently be found in what is now vast literature. While explaining religion has been a central question in many disciplines for a long time, this book draws upon a much wider array of literature to develop a robust and cross-disciplinary analysis of religion. The book remains true to its subtitle by emphasizing an array of both biological and sociocultural forms of selection dynamics that are fundamental to explaining religion as a universal institution in human societies. In addition to Darwinian selection, which can explain the biology and neurology of religion, the book outlines a set of four additional types of sociocultural natural selection that can fill out the explanation of why religion first emerged as an institutional system in human societies, and why it has continued to evolve over the last 300,000 years of societal evolution. These sociocultural forms of natural selection are labeled by the names of the early sociologists who first emphasized them, and they can be seen as a necessary supplement to the type of natural selection theorized by Charles Darwin. Explanations of religion that remain in the shadow cast by Darwin’s great insights will, it is argued, remain narrow and incomplete when explaining a robust sociocultural phenomenon like religion. 

    List of Figures

    List of Tables

    About the Authors


    Chapter 1: Explaining the Origins and Evolution of Religions

    Chapter 2: Types of Natural Selection Driving Religious Evolution: A Preliminary Review

    Chapter 3: In The Beginning: The Evolution of the Primates

    Chapter 4: Darwinian Selection on the Hominin Brain I: Directional Selection on Pre-adaptations

    Chapter 5: Darwinian Selection on The Hominin Brain II: Selection on Behavioral Propensities and Capacities

    Chapter 6: The Profane Origins of the Sacred and Supernatural: Darwinian and Type-1 Spencerian Natural Selection

    Chapter 7: Type-1 Spencerian Selection: The Early Institutionalization of Religion

    Chapter 8: Durkheimian Selection: The Social Ecology of Religious Evolution

    Chapter 9: Type-2 Spencerian Selection: The Geopolitics of Religious Evolution

    Chapter 10: Marxian Selection: The Dynamics of Religious Conflict





    Jonathan H. Turner is 38th University Professor, University of California System, Research Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Distinguished Professor of the Graduate Division, University of California, Riverside. He is also Director of the Institute for Theoretical Social Science, Santa Barbara, CA, USA.

    Alexandra Maryanski is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Riverside, USA.

    Anders Klostergaard Petersen is Professor at the Department for the Study of Religion, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, Denmark.

    Armin W. Geertz is Professor in the History of Religions at the Department for the Study of Religion, School of Culture and Society, and Jens Christian Skou Fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark.

    "Turner et al.'s account is easily the best of those that attempt to place religion in the context of biological evolution. The book's grounding in the physiological literature, especially on the brain organs and connections involved in emotion, memory, gesture, and language, combined with a mastery of the details of hominid evolution, makes for an impressive statement. Further combined with Turner's comprehensive theory of the elements of human social interaction and institutions, this is a strong statement not just of how human evolution happened, but also the problems that had to be surmounted."
    Randall Collins, University of Pennsylvania, USA

    "This book is bold in attributing to religion a central role in human biological and social evolution. By considering the details of violent processes of selection and the agency of political and religious elites, religion is shown to be both a cause and a tool of social evolution."
    Jörg Rüpke, Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, University of Erfurt, Germany

    "At a time when social scientific interest in social evolution and religion has been renewed, this book stands out in its careful, adept, and insightful ability to eschew overly simple biological or psychological explanations for religiosity or the growth of complex religious institutions. Ultimately, its strength rests on two key contributions. First, the exhaustive and provocative examination of primate and human evolution, the biological roots of religiosity, and, importantly, the consequences religiosity had on our evolution. Second, the delineation of three types of sociocultural selection – Spencerian, Durkheim, and Marxian – that offer compelling evidence for evolution beyond our genes and provide powerful theoretical explanations for a wider range of historical developments including politics, economics, and law."
    Seth Abrutyn, University of British Columbia, Canada

    "The authors present a novel synthesis of evolutionary and sociological theory, backed by authoritative historical evidence from a variety of fields. This is an important book for scholars interested in the evolution and institutionalization of religion. It takes a very different approach from the more cognitive approach of Robert Bellah, and, as such, creates a useful tension between two fruitful schools of theory and research in this area."
    Merlin Donald, Professor Emeritus, Queen's University, Canada, and author of Origins of the Modern Mind

    The Emergence and Evolution of Religion by Turner, Maryanski, Petersen, and Geertz promises a lot at the outset of the book, and, quite remarkably, by its end, it delivers everything it promised.  I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in the evolutionary origins of all three aspects of religion, and believe that it will provide the sources and foundations of countless Ph.D. dissertations in the near future.
    Satoshi Kanazawa, London School of Economics and Political Science, Contemporary Sociology