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Author Topic: RELIGION IN HUMAN EVOLUTION - Robert Bellahs New Book
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Post RELIGION IN HUMAN EVOLUTION - Robert Bellahs New Book
on: October 3, 2011, 12:47

Robert Bellah is one of the most famous of aociologists of religion and the author of many books on the topic. His latest - Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age - is by all accounts "magisterial". It also deeply indebted to the almost entirely speculative evolutionary origins theories (which might well be called "scientific creationism" if intelligent design hadn't gotten there first).

Alan Wolfe,a prolific political scientist and academic, reviews his book in today's New York Times (see Here are some excerpts:

Bellah begins at the beginning, not with Adam and Eve, but with the Big Bang, which by his account took place 13.5 billion years ago. Moving closer to the present, he remarks on our resemblance to chimpanzees; speculates on whether our predecessor, Homo erectus, had a religious sensibility; and examines how theories of child development shed light on language and music. There is even talk about the role that bacteria played in the emergence of life. I never thought I would read a work in the sociology of religion that contained a discussion of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. I now have.

Unlike so many popularizers of sociobiology, Bellah consistently avoids scientistic reductionism. He speaks extensively of empathy, play, caregiving and other qualities we may share with nonhumans but that enable us to shape our own development. He emphatically rejects the hostility toward religion expressed by Richard Dawkins. As evolutionary theorists go, he belongs with the softies. (I mean that as a compliment.)

But in the end, all this nuance gets lost because Bellah tries to do so much. I come away from his tome persuaded that despite the astonishing imagination human beings have shown in realms of faith, we are, when all is said and done, not very interesting organisms inhabiting a not especially noteworthy universe. If that is indeed what Bellah believes, or even half believes, I am left uncertain how the axial age, or any period of theological and religious creativity, ever came about.

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