Evolutionary Approaches to Understanding Religion



The ubiquity of religion, cross-culturally and historically, suggests that it is likely to have an evolutionary basis. In this chapter we critically review evolutionary approaches to understanding religion by looking, in turn, at three main perspectives: religion as a by-product, religion as an adaptation, and religion as the product of cultural evolutionary processes. It is argued that each of these approaches can potentially account for important aspects of religion and that frameworks which integrate by-product and adaptationist accounts and draw on the idea of cultural evolution are particularly promising.


By-product hypothesis Supernatural punishment Costly signally Big Gods Cultural evolution Religion 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of CriminologyVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Social and Cultural StudiesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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