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'.

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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.

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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.

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