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Religion Explained [Paperback]

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Item Number 157129  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   384
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8" Width: 5.3" Height: 1"
Weight:   0.8 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 2, 2002
Publisher   Basic Books
ISBN  0465006965  
EAN  9780465006960  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Draws on research from anthropology, cognitive science, linguistics, and evolutionary biology to explain the origins of religion and human religious thought, offering a scientific explanation who what religious feeling is really about and where it comes from. Reprint. 15,000 first printing.

Publishers Description
Many of our questions about religion, says renowned anthropologist Pascal Boyer, are no longer mysteries. We are beginning to know how to answer questions such as "Why do people have religion?" Using findings from anthropology, cognitive science, linguistics, and evolutionary biology, Religion Explained shows how this aspect of human consciousness is increasingly admissible to coherent, naturalistic explanation. This brilliant and controversial book gives readers the first scientific explanation for what religious feeling is really about, what it consists of, and where it comes from.

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More About Pascal Boyer

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Pascal Boyer is Luce Professor of Collective and Individual Memory at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

Pascal Boyer has an academic affiliation as follows - Washington University, St. Louis.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Religion inadequately Explained  Jun 14, 2008
This book is nicely presented but poorly written (or edited).

Boyer's persistent ability to come to the wrong conclusion made me put down this book before the second chapter. For example, on pages 20-21, he brushes off religion's capacity to provide comfort ("So much for religion as comfort") by citing American New Age mysticism, whose adherents "are not faced with war, famine mortality, incurable endemic diseases and arbitrary oppression to the same extent as Middle Age Europeans or present-day Third World peasants." The fact that Americans are better off than other people does not prevent them from seeking solace; just take a look at the proliferation of self-help books and gurus on TV.

Another argument I did not find at all convincing is on "the urge to explain the universe..." He relates how the Zande people explain certain accidents by witchcraft, and goes on to say that people are more interested in explaining particular events rather than "the origin of things in general". He then questions the religion account for these particular occurrences, finding them "more puzzling than illuminating. Consider the explanation of thunderstorms as the booming voice of ancestors venting their anger at some human misdemeanor." He asks where the superhuman agents come from, why they cannot be seen, by what mechanism do their voices produce thunder, etc. But what makes him think that the faithful are interested in these questions? What matters is that they ascribe agency; something or somebody did it. Phenomenon satisfactorily explained; no need to poke further. ("Turtles all the way down".)

Notably absent in explaining the value/persistence of religion is a discussion of game theory (mentioned only once in the index).

I preferred Scott Atran's "In God's We Trust" but it's even more turgid than this tome.
Close... but Computational  Jun 9, 2008
Book thesis: Religious concepts, notions, beliefs are the byproducts of useful evolutionary, cognitive systems.

I missed a graduate class on "God" that featured this book, and after hearing all the buzz about how cool the seminar was I decided to buy it on my own. I have to say I was disappointed. Firstly, the book is printed missing pages. Pages 24-57 are missing from my copy, though a better printing probably exists. Secondly, Boyer (though I don't know he would say this) comes across as a computationalist, believing all human action can be explained as the decision reached by cognitive processes running like programs or computations. Never giving legitimacy to affect, Boyer makes even fear nothing more than the result of innate intuitions built into a predation inference system. Now, he does put these systems deep in the unconscious mind (close to the body overall?), but he carefully couches all phenomena as cognitive "systems" running in the computer-like mind. I don't dig that, but I could use it. Thirdly, Boyer builds his argument for explaining religious phenomena on our innate intuition of ontological essences. We are innately aware that all tigers are tigers and behave the same way. I have problems with this. Boyer references Chomsky on page 2 so I had a heads up, but I was still disappointed an educated man would teach our taxonomic system as ontologically real. Finally, on page 113, after building his argument, he admits that differentiating species is a "skill" we are always learning, rearranging our conceptions based on lived experience. For me, this is the exact opposite of the argument that got him that far. His entire book to this point is now suspect. If we don't have "innate intuitions" about all these predatory species, all his explanations thus far are dubious at best. The rest of the book is a fun read, but it remains completely unfalsifiable and borders on anecdotal.

Oh, another thing: Boyer treats all religion as animism. He explicitly throws out Western religions, Hinduism and Buddhism as too refined or institutional to be considered. He makes his argument that these forms of religion, although popular with Western audiences, make up the vast minority of religious experience. I'm sorry, but Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism account for 2 billion people AT LEAST. It is ridiculous to throw them out because they are not primitive [sic] enough. His only recourse is animism, which does seem to fit his theories closely. How fortunate for him. What this amounts to is Boyer's case that early religious notions or concepts can be described as byproducts of our evolutionary systems make sense, but then all the actually interesting questions about religion are put aside.

What the book did teach me: Boyer does a great job showing human evolution as the evolution of communicating animals. We communicate with each other better than ants do. He talks about inferring the reliability of others based on gossip, which is awesome: an anthropology of gossip. All of his arguments for building up humans as communicating agents were great and interesting. Secondly, I found his book influencing my own latent belief in religion as an ontological reality. Hearing him discuss animism over and over at the expense of all other "religions" made me realize that "religion" is a useless category. Christianity functions in America in a very different way than Buddhism functions in, say, India. How would an anthropologist not see this? They are both called "religions," but they are entirely different social structures. Studying them in tandem seems pointless. They are institutions, maybe founded on animist religious notions, but institutions that trigger a wide range of religious, political, personal, and visceral reactions. Talking about "religion" in general seems the largest flaw of the book and many a career, yet it took this book to convince me of that.
Interesting ideas but Kindle edition has poor print quality.  Apr 29, 2008
The Kindle edition has fuzzy print with parts of letters missing. The pages seem to take longer to turn than other Kindle books, and the footnotes don't work as links, so they're not very useable on Kindle. The ideas seem interesting; I wish the execution had been better. Check the sample to see if you can live with it before buying.
Overuse of the word intuition  Feb 26, 2007
I was disappointed in the author's overuse of the word intuition. Especially since he did not define it in the book, and then he attached it to many other words and really overused it, ending up in the last chapter with 66 uses. I enjoyed the substantive content, but feel he deconstructed too much. His use of counterintuitive was also bothersome. I could not get beyond my own conception that intuition is something that feels an inspiratation from outside oneself, and therefore his use grated on me from the get go. Many folks today are using the term intuition in a contemporary sexy way, colloquially, and what they really mean to say deals more with guessing and rational thought processed, than the frequently surprising and unexpected aspects of true, often irrational, intuition.
A serious effort to get to the real roots of religious thinking  Jan 19, 2007
Pascal Boyer goes deep in his effort to explain belief in the supernatural. As a result, some of the reading is a bit dull, but it is ultimately rewarding. He goes well beyond the "people are a afraid of death" and "social approval" sorts of explanations in his wide-ranging survey of current and historical supernatural beliefs. Most people today take monotheism as the norm, and Boyer shows how and why we got to this point, as religion came to mesh with an increasingly complex web of human intuitions and emotional needs, showing the edifice of religion to be nothing but a cultural artifact.

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