Religion's evolutionary landscape: Counterintuition, commitment, compassion, communion

  title={Religion's evolutionary landscape: Counterintuition, commitment, compassion, communion},
  author={Scott Atran and Ara Norenzayan},
  journal={Behavioral and Brain Sciences},
  pages={713 - 730}
Religion is not an evolutionary adaptation per se, but a recurring cultural by-product of the complex evolutionary landscape that sets cognitive, emotional, and material conditions for ordinary human interactions. Religion exploits only ordinary cognitive processes to passionately display costly devotion to counterintuitive worlds governed by supernatural agents. The conceptual foundations of religion are intuitively given by task-specific panhuman cognitive domains, including folkmechanics… 

The Evolution of Religion: How Cognitive By-Products, Adaptive Learning Heuristics, Ritual Displays, and Group Competition Generate Deep Commitments to Prosocial Religions

Competition among societies and organizations with different faith-based beliefs and practices has increasingly connected religion with both within-group prosociality and between-group enmity, and this connection has strengthened dramatically in recent millennia.

Belief in a just God (and a just society): A system justification perspective on religious ideology.

Theoretical approaches that treat religiosity as an evolutionary byproduct of cognitive mechanisms to detect agency may help to explain the prevalence of superstitious thinking, but they say little

Adaptive Militants and Martyrs ? What Evolutionary Theories of Religion Tell us about Terrorism

Evolutionary theories of religion are essential for understanding current trends in terrorist activity. We outline recent theoretical developments that focus on four cross-culturally recurrent

Neo-Darwinian Theories of Religion and the Social Ecology of Religious Evolution

Some neo-Darwinian theories of religion contend that the brain generates religious concepts as counterintuitive beliefs in supernatural entities, which often function as substitute attachment

Religion and Morality

It is argued that to make progress, the categories “religion” and “morality” must be fractionated into a set of biologically and psychologically cogent traits, revealing the cognitive foundations that shape and constrain relevant cultural variants.

Scaring the bejesus into people: The effects of mortality salience on explicit and implicit religious belief

The belief in supernatural agents is a universal feature of human social cognition. Recent cognitive theories of religion might explain the origins of supernatural concepts, but they do not

The cultural evolution of prosocial religions

It is explained how a package of culturally evolved religious beliefs and practices characterized by increasingly potent, moralizing, supernatural agents, credible displays of faith, and other psychologically active elements conducive to social solidarity promoted high fertility rates and large-scale cooperation with co-religionists, often contributing to success in intergroup competition and conflict.

Sacrifice and Sacred Values: Evolutionary Perspectives on Religious Terrorism

Evolutionary theories of religion and sacred values are essential for understanding current trends in terrorist activity. We clarify religion’s role in facilitating terror and outline recent

God’s plan? The role of emotional repression in forming and sustaining religious beliefs

The motivational account of religion—that belief fulfills a psychological need—has been both historically popular and empirically supported. It is also potentially informative about religious




A variant of Burhoe's rationalized naturalistic view of religion is suggested, suggesting that Judeo-Christian monotheism can have a valuable advisory unifying function in the context of diversity and incessant change.

The Neuropsychology of Religion

Consider religion to be a community's (1) costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual world of supernatural agents (3) who master people's existential anxieties, such as death and

5 Ritual/speech coevolution: a solution to the problem of deception

Darwinism is setting a new research agenda across the related fields of palaeoanthropology, evolutionary psychology and theoretical linguistics (Dunbar 1993; Hurford 1989, 1992; Pinker & Bloom 1990;

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion

This book discusses the evolution of religion, the nature of belief, and the role of religion in the development of modern society.

Why Gods Persist: A Scientific Approach to Religion

This work takes a serious look at social scientific explanations for the persistence of religion. Psychologist, Robert Hinde, offers a major study from the perspective of both the social and the

Exploring the natural foundations of religion

  • J. Barrett
  • Philosophy
    Trends in Cognitive Sciences
  • 2000

Signaling, solidarity, and the sacred: The evolution of religious behavior

These literatures are reviewed and both the proximate mechanisms and ultimate evolutionary processes essential for developing a comprehensive evolutionary explanation of religion are examined.

Cognitive and Contextual Factors in the Emergence of Diverse Belief Systems: Creation versus Evolution

Children's natural-history knowledge and religious interest predicted their evolutionist and creationist beliefs, respectively, independently of parent beliefs, and it is argued that this divergent developmental pattern is optimally explained with a model of constructive interactionism.

Supernatural beliefs, natural kinds, and conceptual structure

Cross-cultural evidence is presented in support of the notion that adults' natural kind concepts are theory based but may be informed by knowledge/belief systems other than the biological.

Embodiment in Religious Knowledge

Increasing evidence suggests that mundane knowledge about objects, people, and events is grounded in the brain's modality-specific systems. The modality-specific representations that become active to