RELIGION EXPLAINED

Pascal Boyer, Author
Pascal Boyer, Author . Basic Books $27.50 (384p) ISBN 978-0-465-00695-3
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-465-00696-0
Paperback - 430 pages - 978-0-09-928276-1
Open Ebook - 385 pages - 978-0-465-00461-4
Open Ebook - 448 pages - 978-1-4070-2087-7
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Cognitive anthropologist Boyer does not shrink from the task of explaining "the full history of all religion (ever)" in this engaging but somewhat oversold synopsis of anthropological findings, purporting to show how "the intractable mystery that was religion is now just another set of difficult but manageable problems." Boyer eloquently critiques mainstream academic treatments of religion that, in his view, distort the facts by imposing a single explanatory theory on a complex assortment of religious phenomena. At the same time, he argues that the variety of human religious concepts is not infinite, suggesting an underlying pattern in the way certain kinds of religious concepts engage the mind by "successful activation of a whole variety of mental systems." These patterns increase the probability that such concepts will be remembered and transmitted. Besides the religious concepts' appeal in stimulating individual minds, Boyer's account sees no deeper function or significance in them, a stance he realizes will leave most religious believers nonplussed. "People who think that we have religion because religion is true... will find little here to support their views and in fact no discussion of these views," he cautions. Boyer's strategy of explaining religion in terms of mundane, everyday thought processes puts him at odds with recent neuropsychological studies that identify "special" cognitive structures or events associated with religious experience. Ultimately, it may be Boyer's criticism of the mere concept of "religious experience" that makes this book such a fascinating exercise in devil's advocacy. (June)

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