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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, RELIGION (religion.oxfordre.com). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 23 October 2017

Summary and Keywords

In an evolutionary context neither religion nor religiosity can appear full-blown, and thus it is valuable to search for the kinds of structures, behaviors, and cognitive processes that might facilitate the appearance of such patterns in human beings. The quest for understanding the human propensity for religious behavior is aided by investigating the core role of the evolutionary processes related to the emergence of humanity. However, the majority of approaches in the field of the evolution of religious behavior, and religions themselves, rely heavily on overly reductionistic neo-Darwinian models. They seek to explain faith, religious institutions, and ritual practice primarily in terms of their relation to natural selection and their potential roles as adaptations. The niche construction approach to religious evolution provides an alternative to the primarily functionalist and reductive approach. This way of approaching the human niche, and human evolution, lays a groundwork for modeling the development of the structures (cognitive and behavioral) that can facilitate a more comprehensive, and less reductive, understanding of the human propensity for imagination, faith, and ritual. This approach suggests that a distinctively human imagination, and a uniquely human metaphysics, is a core part of being human and thus part of the explanation for human evolutionary success.

Keywords: niche construction, evolution, religion, imagination, symbol, semiosis

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