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Evolutionary Psychology and Religion

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Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR,volume 10)

Abstract

The Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) applies evolutionary psychology (EP) to the study of religious beliefs. "Narrow" EP proposes massive modularity of brain functions, and that cognitive modules evolved as adaptations to past selective pressures. Consequently, religion is regarded as a by-product of specific modules, e.g., hyper-agency detection (HAD) and detection of minimally counterintuitive concepts (MCI). "Broad" EP, however, takes into account that modular cognitive functions are sequestered units on a basic level of the cognitive space. On meta-levels which produce conscious thoughts and actions modular functions are present with their bottom-up effects, but not as distinct modules. Religion evolved as an integral feature of behavioral modernization and promoted its profound impact upon the ecological success of Homo sapiens. Therefore, "narrow" CSR explanations of religious evolution sometimes conflict with descriptive knowledge about historic religions. As an example, a central role of HAD is inconsistent with the primal position of animism in prehistoric religion. In a number of historic religions, otherworldly agents are not pivotal elements. The concept of a cosmic order or the idea of an inescapable fate, are as prevalent in religious systems as the idea of supernatural agents.

Keywords

  • CSR
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Modularity
  • Massive modularity
  • Hyper-agency detection
  • Counterintuitive concepts
  • Behavioral modernization
  • Animism
  • Cosmic order
  • Fate

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Environment of evolutionary adaptedness.

  2. 2.

    “Quod est inferius, est sicut (id) quod est superius, et quod est superius, est sicut (id) quod est inferius, ad perpetranda miracula rei unius” from the emerald table.

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Hemminger, H. (2021). Evolutionary Psychology and Religion. In: Evolutionary Processes in the Natural History of Religion. New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion , vol 10. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-70408-7_11

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