Customer Reviews


15 Reviews
5 star:
 (8)
4 star:
 (2)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:
 (3)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Religion is no more than a mental epidemic
Bringing together the words "religion" and "explained" is like dropping sodium into water for some timid souls. To those of us who'd like to see the supernatural disposed of and for whom reason rather than faith is a guiding principle, Pascal Boyer has written a powerful and exciting book. He barely disguises his distaste for the great "organized religions" and warns the...
Published on 30 Nov 2007 by Sphex

versus
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A one idea book
This book attempts to explain why humans believe in religion. This is here related to the tendency to over-detect agency in the natural world, such as thinking the sound of wind in vegetation could signify prey or predators. This leads on to the identification of supernatural agents that may explain what occurs to humans or the environment. Such agents are argued to have...
Published on 6 May 2012 by S. G. Raggett


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Religion is no more than a mental epidemic, 30 Nov 2007
By 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Bringing together the words "religion" and "explained" is like dropping sodium into water for some timid souls. To those of us who'd like to see the supernatural disposed of and for whom reason rather than faith is a guiding principle, Pascal Boyer has written a powerful and exciting book. He barely disguises his distaste for the great "organized religions" and warns the reader that "people who think that we have religion because religion is true... will find little here to support their views." Instead, "to explain religion is to explain a particular kind of mental epidemic" and to see that it has little to do with the "sacred" or "divinity" or "ultimate reality". Time for the safety goggles.

When it comes to religion it can often seem that anything goes: weeping statues of the Virgin Mary, shamans burning tobacco leaves to effect a healing, the doctrine of transubstantiation, etc., etc. What could possibly even connect let alone explain these behaviours? Boyer, thank goodness, is no Casaubon seeking the "key to all mythologies". He does not inflict the reader with endless anthropological facts, however fascinating they might be. His purpose is to establish why it is profoundly ordinary for organisms having the kind of cognitive structure we have to posit counterfactual or supernatural explanations for many of life's mysteries and miseries. The "explanation for religious beliefs and behaviours is to be found in the way all human minds work." The emphasis here is on all, which is remarkable given the diversity of religions on offer: the beliefs may vary and may even be mutually incompatible and self-contradictory, but the way they are formed and held is universal.

In order to begin to understand this structure, Boyer leads us through the mental landscape of concepts, templates, default inferences, expectations, ontological categories, and so on. What soon becomes clear is that "the mind is not a free-for-all of random associations" and is quite picky even when evaluating supernatural concepts. You might think that what links weeping statues and wafer-thin gods is their "strangeness", but this "is not really a good criterion for inclusion in a list of possible religious concepts." An example: "There is only one God! He is omnipotent. But He exists only on Wednesdays." This is certainly strange, but surely a god is more like a person than a farmers' market, and should exist every day of the week? Not any kind of weird belief will do. The trick for a successful religious belief is that it should straightforwardly occupy an ontological category and in addition possess a further counterintuitive property (e.g. an omniscient god is a "person" with special cognitive powers). "What makes ontological categories useful" in our interaction with the world "is that, once something looks or feels like an animal or a person or an artefact, you produce specific inferences about them": when you see a dog chasing a cat, you don't wonder what invisible forces are propelling one inanimate object toward another; you recognize the dog as belonging to the ontological category of "animal" and therefore capable of goal-directed, self-propelled motion.

Boyer concludes that "there is no religious instinct... no special religion centre in the brain" and that "religious people are not different from non-religious ones in essential cognitive functions." This will come as a disappointment for those atheists and believers who treasure the simple-minded notion that their adversaries are mental defectives, but it is surely welcome news for the rest of us who want to go beyond name-calling toward a better understanding of human nature.

E. O. Wilson praises the book for being in the spirit of the Enlightenment. This is not just dustjacket hyperbole. Every line is informed by reason and a respect for the evidence, a wariness of conventional wisdom and a recognition that dogmatic assertion should be resisted. The contrast with religious explanations, which often seem to produce "more complication instead of less", could not be more marked. The irony that it takes a scientific approach to explain religion will not be appreciated by those who take the line that science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria, and who have "a strong impulse to find at least one domain where it would be possible to trump the scientists". Now that life itself is understood in wholly physical terms, the last stand is, for some, consciousness, and, for others, god.

An Enlightenment litmus test might be: how quickly do you resort to the word "mystery" instead of "problem"? Questions of religious belief used to be regarded as mysteries ("we did not know how to proceed") but they are now becoming problems ("we have some idea of a possible solution") as a result of progress in fields such as cognitive psychology, anthropology and evolutionary biology, and thanks to the work of scientists like Pascal Boyer.

To anyone tempted to bleat on about the degrading effects of reductionism, about what a bleak world we will occupy once we've untied the rainbow and explained everything, stand in front of a Rembrandt self-portrait and think about what it is made of: does knowing this was done with pigments and oils and brushes and palette knives make it any less wonderful? Or does it not enhance our wonder that such a modest physical object can contain so much? "We are not gullible in just every possible way", says Boyer, but we can still imagine many more beliefs than can possibly be true. This is clearly a bad thing if it leads you to believe there are seventy-two virgins waiting for you on the other side and you're in a hurry to meet them. It is clearly a good thing if art and literature are where you go to explore this infinite domain, and where you are safe to meditate upon Hamlet's motives without being deluded into thinking he ever existed.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most enlightening book!, 12 Aug 2002
This is a revealing book. I am very interested in the origin of religious beliefs but find most explanations partial and unsatisfactory. Pascal Boyer first shows the complexity of the phenomenon and therefore the futility of looking for a single cause explanation, and secondly provides the picture that is emerging from the advances in cognitive psychology and neurosciences. After reading this book I have the feeling that the mystery of religious belief (and, for that matter, similar non-rational behaviors) is being finally revealed. It is a must!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penetrating and persuasive, 26 July 2004
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (Paperback)
Boyer's analysis of human spiritual beliefs is at once sweeping and precise. Using evolutionary concepts to demonstrate the foundation of "belief" is not new, but Boyer surpasses all previous efforts. He shows how all peoples have some reverence for spiritual entities, but these aren't necessarily "gods". In most instances the veneration is more likely to be for departed ancestors as it is for some vague "divine" object. Ancestor worship is widespread in today's societies as it was in Neolithic times. Boyer accepts this universality as well as the intensity of feeling associated with the homage, whether for a vague spirit or identifiable individual. Such universality, he proposes, must have evolutionary roots. In his view those roots lie in our cognitive processes.
"Religion" is defined at the outset chiefly by casting away commonly-held definitions. While some aspects of "religion" may deal with natural forces, mostly they are related to daily human activities. In Boyer's view, these forces are "projections of the human mind". In nearly every instance, the "spirit" whether ancestor, deity or even a forest tree, exhibits human characteristics. These are not always predictable. In fact their very presence is predicated on spurious and unforeseen events. The very unreality of their behaviour commands respect. Our perception of their existence result from "inferences" stored in the mind from other experiences. Although he views Western institutionalised religions as outside the norm of human society, the same basic pattern holds even there. "Consolation", usually a form of release from death, for example, is almost absent from most religions. Western monotheism is an exception from the human norm.
Boyer argues that the human mind has evolved in communities which have reinforced acceptance of supernatural entities. He incorporates Richard Dawkins' "meme" concept to demonstrate how this process works. Ideas about the supernatural are communicated to others as experiences, warnings or even behaviour norms. Since so many facets of this acceptance relate to behaviour of individuals within the community, the feedback loop reinforces his view of the evolutionary context. It isn't the community itself which fosters the evolutionary persistence of belief, but individuals whose genetic tendency for belief were those who mated and bred, passing and strengthening that tendency. The memes aren't absolutes, but like genes, may be modified over time and place. Again, like genes, accepted changes become adaptations, varying what the observer infers from the supernatural.
Boyer's analysis will remain a seminal work for some time. Provocative and challenging, it raises as many questions as it provides answers. His use of cognitive science as an analytical tool is novel and there are many areas requiring further research. Boyer concedes religion is a "complex" issue, but urges shedding preconceived ideas. More behavioural studies are needed, collecting and analysing evidence. This book introduces new concepts requiring further explaination. It is to be hoped that younger students will further the work outlined in this excellent book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Religion Doesn't Work, 10 Jun 2010
By 
Ronald Arthur Dewhirst (West Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (Paperback)
Some of the reviewers seem to take issue with the book and question its arguments. It seems as if they are criticising Boyer for not writing the book they would have written had they had the time and ability.

I was impressed as this was my first encounter with reasoned arguments against religion. Boyer lays out the arguments in a pretty clear way and as someone who was brought up in a religious household where these things weren't allowed to be questioned I found it refreshing and liberating.

He may not express all the available arguments but for me he opened the door to a world of intellectual freedom.

My quote would be "People believe in religion because they have such short memories of its past" - it's never worked and never will.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Religion explained (?) by evolutionary psychology, 5 Dec 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (Paperback)
"Religion Explained" by Pascal Boyer is a hard read, and probably off limits for the general reader. The book often sounds like a rambling college lecture in which the author covers pretty much everything between Heaven and Earth, constantly jumping back and forth between the subjects. Still, the book is ultimately rewarding. At least if you're an advanced student of anthropology, comparative religion or psychology!

Many scholars of comparative religion have pretty much given up trying to explain religion. When I studied comparative religion I was told at the very first lecture that "methodological agnosticism" is the official line, and that religion ultimately cannot be explained, if only because archaeological artefacts or written sources are absent from most of human prehistory. I suspect this position is a counter-reaction to the self-assertive theories of the past, from Tylor and Spencer to Marx, Freud and Eliade. Ultimately, all these theories proved to be wanting, one way or another (I mean, Freud?!). Boyer, who is a French-American professor of anthropology with field experience from Cameroon is daring enough to propose another self-assertive theory!

Boyer rejects the standard sociological and psychological explanations of religion. He doesn't deny that religion have social or psychological aspects, indeed, one of the reasons why religion is so pervasive is precisely that it fits right into our social relations. However, Boyer believes that we must dig deeper. For instance, why aren't all our social relations completely secularized? After all, *some* of them are, showing that religion isn't absolutely necessary. So why is it so widespread? Boyer also wants to know why some supernatural concepts are more common than others. Why are religious beliefs about gods and spirits, rather than singing islands or talking cats? All these concepts are equally counter-intuitive.

Boyer's answer is a complex one, and only the barest out-line is possible here. In fact, he even makes a point out of its complexity: there isn't a simple solution to the problem "why religion". Boyer believes that religion is rooted in the way our brains work, in our cognitive processes. Many different cognitive processes are interacting to create religious concepts. Religion seems to be caused by the normal functioning of the human mind, with its decoupling, inference systems, and instincts. It may even be connected with obsessive-compulsive behaviour to relieve anxiety, not to mention the fact that counter-intuitive information is more attention-grabbing and easier to recall than normal information! Human fear of corpses is another important factor, and this fear in turn is created by the collision of several cognitive processes. If the religious concepts created by our minds are seen as socially relevant, they will tend to spread and become dominant, which explains why most religious beliefs are centred on gods and spirits, creatures that resemble humans in some ways, but seem to have access to a lot of socially relevant information. This presumably also explains why worship of ancestral spirits is one of the most common forms of religious behaviour.

But why do our minds work in this manner? The social interaction among chimpanzees is highly complex, yet they aren't religious. Why did natural selection favour the evolution of a religious-prone mind? Boyer's response is that it actually didn't. Rather, religious ideas are parasitical upon our cognitive processes. Natural selection favoured, say, our ability to decouple or our moral instincts, and religion emerged as an inevitable but unintended by-product. (If you pardon my teleological language!) Thus, religious ideas aren't really necessary for survival. However, they are more or less impossible to get rid of, being rooted in our very brains. In a sense, the atheist Boyer thus draws a pessimistic conclusion concerning the future of religion. It will always be around! He also admits that there is no good explanation for why some people, like himself, become atheists. It's some kind of natural variation, and that's all we can say.

I'm sure the conclusions of Boyer's book can be debated and problematized in various ways, but it's still a cogent case for an explanation of religion based on evolutionary psychology.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The psychological origins of religion explored, 15 Oct 2009
By 
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (Paperback)
Religion Explained: The human instincts that fashion gods, spirits and ancestors by Pascal Boyer, Heinemann, 2001; Vintage (Random House) 2002, 448 ff.

The psychological origins of religion explored
By Howard A. Jones

This is a book for the serious student of the psychology of religion that could be read as a companion to, say, William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience - though Boyer's book is not as readable for the layman. The author is an anthropologist, Professor of Individual and Collective Memory at the Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

I think the author hits the nail on the head in Chapter 1 when he describes religions as memes, using the description coined by Richard Dawkins to explain precisely this phenomenon: `natural selection gave us a very special kind of mind, with particular predispositions', and one of these predispositions is the instinctive need to create gods. Religion therefore is a man-made social construct that we have created to fulfil certain psychological needs: to provide explanations, for comfort, to support morality as a basis for social order, and so on. However, as Boyer says, anthropologists have shown that various societies have created very different ideas of supernatural agents with different qualities and powers, and for different purposes, and the desire to satisfy these human needs does not explain this fact. There is an excellent discussion of these psychological factors in the first chapter.

Chapter 2 is more philosophical discussing the nature of our supernatural concepts with some interesting anthropological information on various tribal beliefs while Chapter 3 discusses the psychological factors. In Chapter 4 we return to religion specifically with a discussion of the practical qualities of a religion, the anthropomorphic nature of the Gods we create and their role as `imaginary companions and invisible friends'. The one consistent human characteristic of the gods is their possession of minds capable of communication with the human world: `all gods and ancestors and spirits are construed as beings with which we can interact by using our social inference systems.' They are omniscient: `Nothing that happens can be hidden from them. This is . . . the way people represent ancestors and gods the world over.' However, Boyer makes the important point that `People do not invent gods and spirits; they receive information that leads them to build such concepts.'

Chapters 5 and 6 deal with why gods and spirits matter and, in particular, why the religions based on them always have something to say about death and the afterlife; and in the next chapters how we come to create rituals and dogma within religions.

In the final chapter on belief, Boyer discounts Robert Nozick's widely held explanation of religion as `a particular feature of the human mind that creates the whole of religion, a central metaphysical urge that is the origin of all religion, an irredeemable human propensity to superstition, myth and faith'. Yet, rather frustratingly, Boyer admits that the `central question: Why do some people believe and not others? . . . is very likely to remain unsolved'. Overall it seems that the varieties of religious experience rest on the varieties of mental experience and the social utility of following such beliefs within a religion.

There is much interesting introspective debate here with the pros and cons of various explanations considered, but this philosophical approach makes the book interesting for academic study but less accessible for the general reader.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

The Varieties of Religious Experience (Penguin Classics)
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tough read, but rewarding in the end., 18 Feb 2011
This review is from: Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (Paperback)
The basic idea of 'Religion Explained' is that there are mental systems inherent within us that lead us to assign emotions and motivations to inanimate objects - a bit like seeing faces in the clouds. Yes, the book is quite a tough read, especially in the first few chapters, but it does get better once you understand what he is trying to do.

His account is peppered with some great anacdotes of various tribes and their way of percieving the world which certainly adds colour to the book, while also reminding us that the Western world view is far from universal. There are some useful rebuttals of why religion is needed - for example, no, religion is not a source of comfort, if anything religions paint a terrifying picture of the world.

If you have an interest in athropology, psychology or the evolution of religion, this is a great book to have.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A one idea book, 6 May 2012
By 
S. G. Raggett (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (Paperback)
This book attempts to explain why humans believe in religion. This is here related to the tendency to over-detect agency in the natural world, such as thinking the sound of wind in vegetation could signify prey or predators. This leads on to the identification of supernatural agents that may explain what occurs to humans or the environment. Such agents are argued to have minds similar to humans but with additional powers.

The author rejects other explanation that see religion explaining the origin and nature of the world, or dealing with the question of mortality. This is on the grounds that interest in the origin and nature of the world does not manifest across all cultures. Concern about mortality is unconvincingly shuffled in with other fear-based emotional programmes.

The discussion is heavily skewed towards the beliefs of a few subsistance agricultural populations, dominated by witchcraft, malicious ghosts and ancestors, at the expense of both the hunter gatherers and the modern Abrahamic and Asian religions. In respect of the latter, there is little attention to the shift of emphasis that came with the emergence of cultures in which elites had the time for speculative thinking. Their religions were much concern with explaining the origin and natural occurences and with mortality. It is not clear that these belief systems can be understood wholly in terms of the earlier beliefs.

An additional weakness is the scant attention given to altered states of consciousness or religious experience apparent in a range of areas from shamanism, through Graeco-Roman mystery religions, to modern Asian meditation traditions. This is, without evidence, dismissed as being only related to a few exceptional individuals.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penetrating and persuasive, 26 Oct 2003
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Boyer's analysis of human spiritual beliefs is at once sweeping and precise. Using evolutionary concepts to demonstrate the foundation of "belief" is not new, but Boyer surpasses all previous efforts. He shows how all peoples have some reverence for spiritual entities, but these aren't necessarily "gods". In most instances the veneration is more likely to be for departed ancestors as it is for some vague "divine" object. Ancestor worship is widespread in today's societies as it was in Neolithic times. Boyer accepts this universality as well as the intensity of feeling associated with the homage, whether for a vague spirit or identifiable individual. Such universality, he proposes, must have evolutionary roots. In his view those roots lie in our cognitive processes.
"Religion" is defined at the outset chiefly by casting away commonly-held definitions. While some aspects of "religion" may deal with natural forces, mostly they are related to daily human activities. In Boyer's view, these forces are "projections of the human mind". In nearly every instance, the "spirit" whether ancestor, deity or even a forest tree, exhibits human characteristics. These are not always predictable. In fact their very presence is predicated on spurious and unforeseen events. The very unreality of their behaviour commands respect. Our perception of their existence result from "inferences" stored in the mind from other experiences. Although he views Western institutionalised religions as outside the norm of human society, the same basic pattern holds even there. "Consolation", usually a form of release from death, for example, is almost absent from most religions. Western monotheism is an exception from the human norm.
Boyer argues that the human mind has evolved in communities which have reinforced acceptance of supernatural entities. He incorporates Richard Dawkins' "meme" concept to demonstrate how this process works. Ideas about the supernatural are communicated to others as experiences, warnings or even behaviour norms. Since so many facets of this acceptance relate to behaviour of individuals within the community, the feedback loop reinforces his view of the evolutionary context. It isn't the community itself which fosters the evolutionary persistence of belief, but individuals whose genetic tendency for belief were those who mated and bred, passing and strengthening that tendency. The memes aren't absolutes, but like genes, may be modified over time and place. Again, like genes, accepted changes become adaptations, varying what the observer infers from the supernatural.
Boyer's analysis will remain a seminal work for some time. Provocative and challenging, it raises as many questions as it provides answers. His use of cognitive science as an analytical tool is novel and there are many areas requiring further research. Boyer concedes religion is a "complex" issue, but urges shedding preconceived ideas. More behavioural studies are needed, collecting and analysing evidence. This book introduces new concepts requiring further explaination. It is to be hoped that younger students will further the work outlined in this excellent book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


21 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Misses the point, 26 April 2006
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (Paperback)
Boyer sees religion as a by-product of the way our minds have evolved. His "explanation"--laboriously presented in a most excruciatingly detailed manner--left this reader exhausted and a little annoyed. Much would have been gained had the text been reduced by perhaps two thirds. Although Boyer writes in a clear manner, the tedious qualifications and the needless repetitions make the book exasperating to read.

But that's just the minor problem. The major problem is that after all these words, Boyer does not really explain much at all. Clearly religion of one form or another is found in virtually all human societies. Consequently it doesn't take a very sophisticated deduction to conclude that we believe the things we believe because our minds work that way. Religion is part of human nature, hard-wired to some very real extent in our brains similar to the way grammar is. What needs explaining is how religion is adaptive. If it didn't somehow increase our ability to survive and reproduce--that is, make us more fit--it would not be universal.

This is the key that Boyer marches around, hovers over, and, alas, misses. As famed biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote, "When the gods are served, the Darwinian fitness of the members of the tribe is the ultimate if unrecognized beneficiary." (On Human Nature (1978) p. 184)

But just how does religion increase the fitness of the members of the tribe? By making them accept their lot on earth because they will get their reward in the hereafter? As Boyer points out, this can't be the answer--at least not the entire answer--since some religions don't have a hereafter. How about increasing the coalition among members of the tribe thereby increasing cooperation and mutual trust? I think this is on the right track. If the tribe works together toward a common goal, the tribe will be more effective in dealing with the environment, and the tribe will increase. But what is the most important and demanding aspect of the human tribal environment? Other tribes!

This brings us to what I think Boyer missed entirely: the war system. Religion, because it persuades people to believe in things greater than themselves, facilitates the kind of fearlessness that is most effective in killing members of the other tribe. A tribe that has a ferocious leader who is followed as one might follow a god, or one of god's representatives, is a more effective fighting unit than a tribe that doesn't have that kind of cohesiveness. If a belief system can get the young males of the tribe to lay down their lives for the good of the tribe, that tribe will take over the rich valley, the land of milk and honey, and the less fit tribe will go into the mountains or perish.

If the leader of the tribe can get the tribe to see that a victory over the enemy is God's will or that God or the spirits or the angels are on the side of the chosen tribe, so much the better. To make this work people have to be able to believe in things not seen or understood, things that go bump in the night, things mysterious, frightening, things brought forth by the shaman amid smoke and ritual.

But as Boyer points out, no single explanation for religion is adequate. In religion we also find the beginnings--paradoxically--of science. When the rains didn't come and the grain grasses didn't grow and the animals became few, the people asked why and wanted to know what they could do. Religion supplied the answer. Throw the sheep bones and know which way to go. By happenstance the tribe wandered in the right direction and this was remembered. Sacrifice an animal to the gods and the gods will cause the rains to return. (And if the rains don't return, you did it wrong.)

This is sympathetic magic, surprisingly not mentioned specifically by Boyer, although he treats superstition at some great length. Sympathetic magic is part of almost all religions in the form of ritual and prayer. It was but a step or two (giants steps of course) from throwing salt over one's left shoulder to broadcasting plant seeds over the ground. Sympathetic magic which is at the heart of religion became, after many a moon, science.

Although Professor Boyer admirably attempts to account for religion from an evolutionary point of view using an anthropologist's eye, I am afraid that he got lost in the thickets and missed the pure essence of his subject matter. I suggest he read some Edward O. Wilson and Marvin Harris (both absent from his bibliography). Harris shows how religious beliefs work to support adaptive behaviors (e.g., not eating cows in India) while Wilson will give the reader a good understanding of human psychology from an evolutionary point of view.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors
9.59
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews