cover image Why We Need Religion

Why We Need Religion

Stephen T. Asma. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-19-046967-2

Asma (The Evolution of Imagination), professor of philosophy and founding fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science, and Culture at Columbia College, Chicago, outlines an eloquent argument for the benefits of religion in this short, engrossing work. Asma sidesteps discussions of truth and rational justification, and instead focuses on the impact religion has on the emotional lives of believers. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the book integrates evidence from biology, anthropology, philosophy, and religious studies to show how religions provide frameworks to help believers navigate intense emotions such as fear, sorrow, resilience, and joy. Asma deals fluently in a wide range of cultural references, relating his own personal experiences living in Cambodia and his revealing tour of the Creation Museum, and unpacking diverse texts such as the Bible, the Koran, and even the music of Chance the Rapper. His fluid prose meets a high scholarly standard and holds the reader’s attention: “Religion’s primary function is not to provide a path to morality or to substitute for a scientific understanding of nature. Its chief virtues are as a ‘coping mechanism’ for our troubles, and as social glue for our community.” Balanced in its approach and careful in its research, Asma’s fine book will appeal equally to religious and non-religious readers, and provides a genuinely fresh perspective on tired old discussions. (June)