Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion

Barbara J. King, Author . Doubleday $24.95 (262p) ISBN 978-0-385-51104-9

In this sure-to-be-controversial treatment of the origins of religion, King, an anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary, posits that "an earthly need for belongingness led to the human religious imagination and thus to the other-worldly realm of relating with God, gods, and spirits." For evidence, King draws upon cutting-edge research in primatology to demonstrate that once animals are capable of emotional attachments and cognitive empathy, they are ready for—and even appear to require—certain intangibles like a belief in something greater than themselves. While many theologically minded readers are likely to caricature King's arguments as a cool scientific dismissal of religion, her interpretation is actually far more nuanced and subtle than that. It's true that the book requires some enormous argumentative leaps; it's a long stretch from demonstrating that contemporary primates have emotional attachments to claiming that they are then capable of creating religions, as King maintains human beings once did. But even readers who close the book unconvinced will be impressed by King's fresh insights and her lucid writing, which is a jargon-free, story-filled model for all academics who wish to write for a general audience. (Jan. 16)

Reviewed on: 11/20/2006
Release date: 01/01/2007
Genre: Religion
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