In this interview, David Sloan Wilson gives an overview of his research studying religious groups as adaptive units, specifically discussing his work directing the Binghamton Religion and Spirituality Project. He introduces the field of evolutionary religious studies, explaining that 'all aspects of humanity can be understood, in some sense, as a product of evolution'.

Listen Now

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?

About this episode

Norenzayan, Shariff, Willard, Slingerland, Gervais, McNamara & Henrich, Thomas Coleman asks evolutionary biologist Dr. David Sloan Wilson (DSW): ‘Can religion be known as an evolutionary organism?’

sui generis category, in which the blind forces of natural selection carefully pick out ‘religions’ and only ‘religions’, DSW notes: ‘what’s more general than religions, are meaning systems… every human is not religious, religion is one kind of meaning system’.  Wilson goes on to support the idea that functional groups are necessary for a science of religion. He puts forth some examples of evolutionary hypotheses on religions that have been tested, yielding both confirmations and rejections of these hypotheses. In closing, DSW emphasizes that the theory of evolution should not be held in conflict with the religious understandings it seeks to explain.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, natural history documentaries, baking utensils and more.

References

For example, see the article published in Nature by Nowak, Tarnita and Wilson (2010) and the five published responses from 117 scholars and scientists combined.

  • Boyer, P., & Bergstrom, B. (2008). Evolutionary Perspectives on Religion. Annu. Rev. Anthropol.,    37(1), 111-130. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.37.081407.085201
  • Fedyk, M. (2015). How (not) to bring psychology and biology together. Philos Stud, 172(4), 949-967. doi:10.1007/s11098-014-0297-9
  • Norenzayan, A., Shariff, A., Willard, A., Slingerland, E., Gervais, W., McNamara, R., Henrich, J. (in press). The Cultural Evolution of Prosocial Religions. Behavioral And Brain Sciences.
  • Pinker, S. (2012). THE FALSE ALLURE OF GROUP SELECTION | Edge.org. Edge.org. Retrieved 14 March 2015, from http://edge.org/conversation/the-false-allure-of-group-selection
  • Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L. (1992). The psychological foundations of culture. In J. Barkow, L.  Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Wilson, D. (2002). Darwin’s cathedral. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 Fund the RSP while you shop! Use an Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.com affiliate link whenever you make a purchase. There’s no additional cost to you, but every bit helps us stay on the air! 

We need your support!

Want to support us directly? Become a monthly Patron or consider giving us a one-time donation through PayPal

Related Resources

Method and Theory in the Cognitive Sciences of Religion

Podcast

Recorded at the 2015 North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) conference, Robert McCauley discusses methodological and theoretical issues within the cognitive sciences of religion. "Science surprises us!" - McCauley podcast with the Religious Studies Project in 2014, Dr. Robert McCauley gave an overview of some of these ...
God and Mathematics

Podcast

What does math have to do with religion? In his interview with Hans van Eyghen, author Chris Ransford discusses his latest book 'God and the Mathematics of Infinity'. He discusses why mathematics is useful for thinking about religion, covering some of the conclusions he draws in the book.You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast,If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember,...

Responses to this episode

Keeping the Bar Steady: The Complexities of Interdisciplinary Approaches to Religion

While evolution does provide a biologically rooted framework that affords cognitive psychologists the theoretical rationale for extrapolating that all cultures utilize the same mental facilities (albeit quite differently depending on their environment), in order to explain religion in all its variants both past and present, cognitive psychology is both necessary and sufficient.

Other EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY

Geographies of Religion and the Secular in Ireland

Podcast

In this broad-ranging interview, O’Mahony eruditely demonstrates what geography can bring to the academic study of ‘religion’ and presents Ireland as a fascinating context within which to examine processes of boundary-making between the contested constructs of ‘religion’ and the ‘secular’.
What is the Future of Religious Studies?

Podcast

This week we decided to do something a bit different. Every time David and Chris have conducted an interview, they have been asking the interviewees an additional question: “What is the Future of Religious Studies?” The result is this highly stimulating compilation of differing perspectives and levels of optimism The result is this highly stimulating compilation of differing perspectives and levels of optimism on what has become one of the most hotly debated topics in the academic study of religion at the start of the second decade of the twenty-first century.
Religious Demography in the US

Podcast

In this week's podcast we focus on religious demography and identification, survey tools used for religious demography in America, differences between religious identities and identifications, Americans’ shifting religious identifications, correlations between religion and social positions such as ethnicity or generational cohort, and correlations with various social and political issues.
History Repeated: Religious Conspiracy Theories Then and Now

Podcast

In this episode, Maxinne Connolly-Panagopoulus explores a range of Dr. Carmen Celestini's work on conspiracy theories, Christian apocalyptic thought and its impacts on political systems in America. They discuss early antimasonic movements, white supremacists from Christian Identity Organisation and discuss the parallels between old and new conspiracy thought and try to understand what is driving people to these movements.
Religion and Memory

Podcast

In the year 2000, English-speaking scholars interested in ‘religion’ were introduced (in translation) to one of the most important texts in the sociology of religion in recent years, Danièle Hervieu-Léger’s “Religion as a Chain of Memory”. This book placed the study of ‘religion and memory’ firmly on the academic agenda,
Mormonism, Growth and Decline

Podcast

Can Mormonism be described as a New Religious Movement? Is there a unified phenomenon which can be classified as Mormonism? Is Mormonism to be considered as a form of Christianity? This week, Chris is joined by Ryan Cragun – Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampa, Florida – to discuss not only these conceptual issues,...

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).