Around the world and throughout history, in cultures as diverse as ancient Mesopotamia and modern America, human beings have been compelled by belief in gods and developed complex religions around them. But why? What makes belief in supernatural beings so widespread? And why are the gods of so many different people so similar in nature? This provocative book explains the origins and persistence of religious ideas by looking through the lens of science at the common structures and functions of human thought.
The first general introduction to the "cognitive science of religion," Minds and Gods presents the major themes, theories, and thinkers involved in this revolutionary new approach to human religiosity. Arguing that we cannot understand what we think until we first understand how we think, the book sets out to study the evolutionary forces that modeled the modern human mind and continue to shape our ideas and actions today. Todd Tremlin details many of the adapted features of the brain -- illustrating their operation with examples of everyday human behavior -- and shows how mental endowments inherited from our ancestral past lead many people to naturally entertain religious ideas. In short, belief in gods and the social formation of religion have their genesis in biology, in powerful cognitive processes that all humans share.
In the course of illuminating the nature of religion, this book also sheds light on human nature: why we think we do the things we do and how the reasons for these things are so often hidden from view. This discussion ranges broadly across recent scientific findings in areas such as paleoanthropology, primate studies, evolutionary psychology, early brain development, and cultural transmission. While these subjects are complex, the story is told here in a conversational style that is engaging, jargon free, and accessible to all readers. With Minds and Gods, Tremlin offers a roadmap to a fascinating and growing field of study, one that is sure to generate interest and debate and provide readers with a better understanding of themselves and their beliefs.
"With economical breadth and depth, Todd Tremlin has accomplished what no author has done previously. He has penned an introduction to the cognitive science of religion that coherently displays the major achievements of the field while providing enough material from cognate disciplines to render the themes and insights accessible to students from the natural sciences, social sciences, or humanities. Minds and Gods will likely become a touchstone text
for the cognitive science of religion."--Justin L. Barrett, author of Why Would Anyone Believe in God?
"Minds and Gods is the best introduction to the cognitive science of religion available, but it is so much more. Tremlin offers new insights and advances novel arguments and positions of his own. He constructively and profitably addresses long-standing issues not just in religious studies but also in cognitive science and in philosophy. Minds and Gods nicely illustrates the point that the wide array of projects currently underway in the
cognitive science of religion have not only improved our understanding of religion, but also our understanding of cognition. Finally, Tremlin's prose is eminently readable and consistently engaging. He is a master of the
telling example and the illuminating analogy."--Robert N. McCauley, coauthor of Rethinking Religion and of Bringing Ritual to Mind
"Minds and Gods is an erudite and yet highly accessible introduction to the cognitive science of religion. Tremlin takes the reader to a fascinating tour through human evolution and the development of the complex cognitive architecture that has made possible the diverse ideas about gods and other supernatural agents. Tremlin's penetrating analysis turns age-old mysteries into well defined research questions with amazing ease. The reader is convinced
that a new era is turning for the scientific study of religion. Mind and Gods is highly rewarding reading for anyone interested in the religious dimension of human existence."--Ilkka Pyysi¨ainen, author of Magic,
Miracles, and Religion: A Scientist's Perspective
"While many scholars have begun to explore the relationship between the evolution of human cognition and the development of religious ideas, there has been no single text that attempts to consolidate all the evidence into a single unified presentation. In Gods and Minds: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion, Todd Tremlin begins to fill this critical lacuna."--John Sarnecki, Philosophical Psychology