UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The evolution of religion and the evolution of culture Davis, Taylor Thiel


The emerging science of religious evolution (the evolution of traits that distinguish religious individuals from non-religious ones) and the emerging science of cultural evolution have recently entered into a reciprocal relationship, each having something to offer the other. The theory of cultural evolution offers the field of religious evolution a powerful set of models and concepts for explaining important traits and facts that are not explained by genetic evolution. But theories of cultural evolution face their own important challenges, and theorists within the field do not agree about how cultural evolution itself should be explained, and focusing on religion makes some abstract and difficult questions in this domain more concrete and tractable. Thus, the field of religious evolution also offers the theory of cultural evolution a way of clarifying its commitments, and of demonstrating its ability to respond to important challenges. This dissertation addresses both sides of this reciprocal relationship, taking advantage of the opportunity to develop at the same time both a better understanding of the nature of religion and a better understanding of the nature of cultural phenomena in general. One goal, then, is to address philosophical, foundational questions about what religion is from within the scientific worldview. I address this general goal in two independent articles, which comprise Chapters 2 and 3. In the fourth chapter, however, I pursue a different goal, extracting from the study of religion a methodological lesson that applies for the study of cultural phenomena in general. Twenty years ago adaptationist theories in psychology appealed almost exclusively to genetic selection at the individual level, but developments since then have caused a growing number of scientists to suspect that this is too narrow a view of human evolution. I argue that the study of religion confirms these suspicions. Thus, by examining religion from the evolutionary perspective, we learn not just about the nature of religion, but also about the nature of the evolutionary perspective itself.

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Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada