How Religion Evolved

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What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

Religion is both unique – as far as we can judge – and universal to humans. Our species diverged from the great apes about six to eight million years ago and since then, along with language, our propensity towards spiritual thinking and ritual emerged. How, when and why did this occur, and how did the earliest, informal shamanic practices evolve into the world religions familiar to us today? What is the evolutionary purpose of religion, and are some individuals more inclined than others to be religious?

Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford, explores these and other key questions, mining the distinctions between religions of experience – as practised by hunter-gatherer societies since the earliest human history – and doctrinal religions, from Judaism, Christianity and Islam to Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and their many derivatives. Examining religion’s origins, social function, the effects of religious practice or feeling on the brain and body, and its place in the modern era, How Religion Evolved offers a fascinating and far-reaching analysis of this quintessentially human impulse – to believe.

© Robin Dunbar 2022 (P) Penguin Audio 2022

Critics Review

  • When one of the most creative, insightful, and versatile evolutionary thinkers of our time turns his scientific gaze toward religion, it is no surprise that he delivers a landmark book that completely reshapes our understanding of religious belief, experience, and practice. In How Religion Evolved, Dunbar not only raises fundamental questions that previous scholars of religion have ignored, he offers novel solutions in a comprehensive narrative that is as engaging as it is informative. A gifted scientist and writer has given anyone interested in religion a genuine gift

    Richard Sosis, James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology, University of Connecticut

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