Religion re-explained

Kim Sterelny*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    28 Citations (Scopus)


    This article has three aims. First, it attempts to identify the exact problem religion poses to those developing an account of the evolution of human social life, and of the cognitive capacities that sustain that life. Having done that, the article aims to specify the criteria that an explanation of the evolution of religion should meet. Second, it presents a critique of one popular account: the idea that religion emerges as a result of cognitive biases that favor agentive thinking, that favor minimally counter-intuitive narratives, amplified and entrenched by some form of cultural evolution. Third, it sketches a positive account in which various forms of communal practice and quasi-religious activity precede the emergence of religious belief. The machinery of the cultural transmission of religion is built before religion transitions into (in part) an ideological system. I call this an ethnographic model of the evolution of religion, because the core ideas are implicit (and sometimes partly explicit) in ethnographically oriented anthropology of religion.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)406-425
    Number of pages20
    JournalReligion, Brain and Behavior
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2018


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