In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition)

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition)

Scott Atran

Language: English

Pages: 388

ISBN: 0195178033

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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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fearful). Students with negative self-models showed greater positive religious change than those with positive self-models. Students with positive models of others showed greater positive religious change than did those with negative self-models. The Loving God scale correlated strongly with mental models of the self: students with positive self-models tended to view God as loving and caring; students with positive models of others were more likely to believe in close personal relations with God

institutional structures that reinforce or suppress an idea. Others are psychological, including the ease with which an idea can be represented and remembered, the intrinsic interest that it evokes in people so that it is processed and rehearsed, and motivation and facility to communicate the idea to others. Of all the psychological factors, the mnemonic power of an idea is one of the most important. In fact, Sperber (1996) puts forth memorability as a "law" of the epidemiology of

factual intuitions about how the world is, the religious counterintuitions that depict supernatural agents draw attention to those aspects of the world that people wish were otherwise. Such counterintuitions evoke other, logically and factually impossible worlds that are nonetheless readily conceivable because they leave intact most of the everyday world—minus a few worrisome facts and inferences. In this way, most of what religion conveys need never be made explicit or even transmitted. Human

ram-eater," "the bull-eater," and even "the cannibal," with the allusion to persistent human sacrifices (Robertson Smith 1972[1891]:224). Often the animal is consumed by the congregation, at least in part. This serves to redistribute meat and affection among members of the community. For example, among Moslems in the vicinity of Mecca in 1890: a sheep or goat, is thrown down upon its left side, and its throat is cut, as has been customary, doubtless from time immemorial. . . . [T]he one killing

attributes of some of the greater [Hindu] gods, like Vishnu and Siva. . . . But worship here is 126 ABSURD COMMITMENTS confined to the higher classes, and the cultivator and labourer are content to propitiate the village deities" (Crooke 1907:235). Like many south Indian villages, the poorer north Indian villages also venerate Kali as a principal village deity, or grama-devata. Here, too, she demands blood and animal sacrifice to ward off epidemics and enemies; she also brings such

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