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Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religionby Barbara J King
Synopses & Reviews
This cutting-edge book — with echoes of both Jane Goodall and Joseph Campbell — adds a fascinating new dimension to the debate about the origins of religion.
The study of evolution has uncovered invaluable information about many aspects of human behavior and culture, from the physiology of our bodies and brains to the development of hunting, technology, and social groups. But an understanding of the intangibles of human experience, especially religion, lags far behind. Attempts to discover the source of religiosity through genetic analysis and neuroscience have so far yielded intriguing but incomplete insights. Evolving God represents an exciting breakthrough. Drawing on her own extensive investigations into the behavior of our closest primate relatives and the most up-to-date research in archaeology, anthropology, and biology, Barbara King offers a comprehensive, holistic view of how and why religion came to be.
King focuses on how the Great Apes, our human ancestors, and modern humans relate to one another socially and emotionally, and she traces the growing complexities of communication throughout the course of evolution. She shows that, with increased brain capacity, the scope and nature of socio-emotional ties began with one-to-one relationships and expanded to group relationships (families and communities) and then to connections with long-dead ancestors, animal spirits, and "higher beings." Her incisive, highly readable narrative takes readers from the earliest common relative of humans and apes (more than 6 million years ago), through the Neandertal period and the Stone Age, to the dawn of religion in early human societies.
Evolving God explores one of the greatest mysteries in human history — the question of whether humankind is innately religious — and provides evidence that will have a tremendous impact on current debates about evolution, creationism, and intelligent design.
"In this sure-to-be-controversial treatment of the origins of religion, King, an anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary, posits that 'an earthly need for belongingness led to the human religious imagination and thus to the other-worldly realm of relating with God, gods, and spirits.' For evidence, King draws upon cutting-edge research in primatology to demonstrate that once animals are capable of emotional attachments and cognitive empathy, they are ready for — and even appear to require — certain intangibles like a belief in something greater than themselves. While many theologically minded readers are likely to caricature King's arguments as a cool scientific dismissal of religion, her interpretation is actually far more nuanced and subtle than that. It's true that the book requires some enormous argumentative leaps; it's a long stretch from demonstrating that contemporary primates have emotional attachments to claiming that they are then capable of creating religions, as King maintains human beings once did. But even readers who close the book unconvinced will be impressed by King's fresh insights and her lucid writing, which is a jargon-free, story-filled model for all academics who wish to write for a general audience." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Barbara Kingis Professor of Anthropology at The College of William and Mary. A biological anthropologist, she has studied ape and monkey behavior in Gabon, Kenya, and at the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoological Park. She lives in Gloucester County, Virginia.
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