Cultural Evolution of Religion
After finishing this lecture course, students will understand how evolutionary science and cognitive science influence the disciplines of Religious Studies and Biblical Studies. Students will understand how empirical and scientific methods are complementing more traditional humanities approaches and how methodological pluralism sheds light on religion in contemporary society. Students will be able to use the methods discussed in the course to analyze historical, ethnographic, and other empirical materials, depending on their respective study interests.
This lecture course introduces students to the evolutionary and psychological foundations of religion. Despite obvious cultural variation, many traits of religious thought and behavior are remarkably consistent across time and space. In this course, we will draw on evolutionary theory and mind/brain studies to examine why religion is widespread in human societies and why it assumes consistent forms. Special attention will be paid to the roots of religious thought and behavior in the evolutionary past of humankind, and the question whether evolutionary theory can be extended to the study of the cultural history of religion. The first part of the course will include a full-day intensive seminar, followed by participation in a two-day workshop on cultural evolution and religion.
In preparation for the full-day seminar, students will read a selection of assigned articles and book chapters (about 50 pages in total). A short Reading Diary entry has to be submitted on each assignment before the meeting. (Detailed instructions on writing a Reading Diary will be provided. One page on each assignment is sufficient.) Familiarity with the assignments and their main points will be expected in the lectures and discussions. The first day of the course will provide background knowledge that is necessary for following the two-day workshop. A short Lecture Diary has to be submitted on five selected lectures of the workshop by 15 June 2017.
The reading materials of the course as well as the Instructions for writing Reading Diaries and Lecture Diaries will be made available in advance through the Moodle website of the university.
Recommended text for a quick overview:
Barrett, J. L. (2011). “Cognitive Science of Religion: Looking Back, Looking Forward.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 50(2): 229–39.
The grade for the course will be based on reading diaries for the full-day seminar and lecture diaries from the two-day workshop. Grading scale: 0–5. The evaluation criteria are based based on the learning goals of the course.
Instructor: István Czachesz