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Robert Bellah. Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age

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... As a consequence a religious naturalism is likely to have arisen, again not as an abstraction, but as a commitment to the seemingly fundamental orders revealed through performance (Alberti & Marshall 2009). The metaphysics that such performances brought into view would have been that which went 'without saying' (Bloch 1992), and therefore without necessarily raising what was a practical understanding to the level of a discursive narrative of supernatural interventions (Bellah 2011, 97ff.). One way of assessing whether such an argument is tenable is by reference to the activities that took place around hominin mortality during the Palaeolithic, given all the implications this activity tends to evoke concerning the development of abstract thought. ...
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Narratives of human evolution place considerable emphasis upon human cognitive development resulting from the evolution of brain architecture and witnessed by the production of ‘symbolic’ material culture. Recent work has modified the narrative to the extent that cognitive development is treated as the product of humanity's ability to download certain aspects of brain functionality, such as the storage of information, into external media. This article questions the centrality given to the history of brain architecture as determinate of human cognition by rejecting the widespread assumption that cognition trades in representations, either stored internally in the brain or downloaded externally into cultural media. The alternative, offered here, is that human cognitive development was constructed through the development of joint attention made possible by the anatomical development of hominins and that this sustained a shared empathy between social agents in their practical understanding of the qualities of materiality.
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Applying evolutionary analogies to religious change has been central to the Sociology of Religion for some time. Under scrutiny, though, these models neither ask nor answer the central questions biologists ask, and thus beg the question as to whether they are actually evolutionary or simply use the concept. The paper below posits a theory of religious evolution that precisely delineates 1) the unit of evolution; 2) the unit of adaptation and selection; 3) the selection processes; 4) the sources of variation, and 5) the nonreligious factors facilitating/constraining religious evolution. Ultimately, Spencerian and/or Durkheimian selection processes work on the adaptive technological, organizational, and/or symbolic innovations of special religious groups, religious entrepreneurs; fitness is a measure of an entrepreneur's ability to sustain itself in its environment, while evolution is a result of its ability to qualitatively transform its environment such that its cultural traits are instituted into the religious domain's structure and culture and facilitate and constrain a significant proportion of the population.
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