Cognitive neuroscientist Merlin Donald discusses the role of ritual in human evolution, and its continued importance in all forms of society and culture. In this interview, Professor Donald outlines his perspective on the evolution of human cognition, and the importance of both embodied communication and mind-sharing networks.
Although it is more than 150 years since Darwin first published On the Origin of Species (1859), it is only in recent decades that the evolutionary paradigm has become properly elaborated. But despite the wide range of developments across archaeology and the physical sciences, evolutionary treatments of religion have remained few and far between, with most prominent ones coming from the hyper-partisan scholars of the New Atheist movement. But that situation has begun to change. Although works such as Roy Rappaport’s Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (1999) began to lay the ground for a more nuanced treatment, the publication of Robert Bellah’s groundbreaking new work, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (2011), signals a new era in the study of long-term religious and cultural history in which scientific, social-scientific and historical approaches can be properly brought into conversation.
One of the key figures behind Bellah’s work is evolutionary psychologist Merlin Donald, who spoke with Jack Tsonis at the 2013 AAR meeting in Baltimore about his paper “Ritual, Religion, and the Drama of Daily Life: The continued dominance of mimetic representation”. In addition to an overview of Donald’s work and a discussion about ritual in the basic sense of “culturally patterned sequences of expression”, Jack also asks Professor Donald about the way that Bellah has used his ideas, which reveals a subtle but important difference in emphasis. This interview will fascinate anybody interested in the evolution of human culture, and helps to scramble the common notion that there is a clear distinction between “religious” and “non-religious” behaviour.
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Within modern American society the meme of a separation of Church and State exists without a doubt; however, there is very little evidence to actually prove that this separation exists, functions as such, or indeed that it ever existed. In the textbooks, popular news outlets and in the political arena religion is supposed to be wholly withheld-expelled in favor of majority rule.
Essentially, Kripal calls out the religious studies world for not having a sufficient appreciation of the power of imagination and invites scholars and the interested public into a new comparativism that moves away from strict materialism.
It was real to me. There I was, curled into a corner, comforter wrapped around my shaking limbs and sweating torso, twisted in terror in the sinister hours of the morning.
Are we to believe those mountains weren’t here before humans came to name them?! Mountains, dammit! They’re real and they’re mind-independent! (It’s at this point that the radical constructionists ask, “can you say that without discourse?” and then the realists really go apoplectic.)
Titus Hjelm’s book Social Constructionisms: Approaches to the Study of the Human World is a fantastic introduction to the topic of “social constructionism.”
What happens to religion if the future belongs to the cyborgs?
Merlin Donald’s Big Thoughts on the evolution of culture offer opportunities to speculate about the place of religion in the natural history of our species – an opportunity most recently taken by Robert Bellah in his much discussed last book, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (2011).
In this wide-ranging interview, Chris and Professor Fuentes discuss the themes of the lecture series, the intersections of research on human evolution, ethnoprimatology, and human nature, with the study of religion more generally, the Planet of the Apes films, and more. Along the way,...
What is the sociology of religion? What are its particular concerns, dominant themes and defining methodologies? Where did it begin, and how has it evolved? This interview with Grace Davie, the first in our BSA SOCREL series, introduces this important and historically influential approach to the study of religion.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist. Initially a collaborator with Sigmund Freud, the two later split and Jung went on to found the Analytical Psychology school of psychotherapy. His approach focussed on what he called the process of individuation, ...
Luhrmann details the rise of evangelicals in the 60’s and 70’s, and how anthropological work can be informed by evolutionary psychology. This serves as a framework to understand the unique training processes that teach an individual that their mind is not only open to their own thoughts, but God’s as well.
What is angel spirituality, and who does it appeal to (hint: women)? How do they challenge preconceptions about the relationship between new spiritualities and Christianity, and raise interesting questions about gender, and vernacular religion in supposedly post-Christian Europe?
Why attend conferences? What is the point? What else could we do instead that might be a better use of our time? And how did we find having a fully-functional podcast studio set up at this conference? These are just a few of the issues that crop up in this lively roundtable discussion, facilitated by the inestimable Moritz Klenk.
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