The Biology of Religious Behavior: The Evolutionary Origins of Faith and Religion

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THE BIOLOGY OF RELIGIOUS BEHAVIOR: THE EVOLUTIONARY ORIGINS OF FAITH AND RELIGION. Jay R. Feierman, ed. (2009)· Westport, CT: Praeger. Pp. 301 + xx. Cloth, $49-95. Reviewed by J. Harold Ellens.

Professor Feierman is a retired clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico, and past fellow of the APA. He served as president of the Psychiatric Medical Association of New Mexico and for many years as medical consultant for behavioral health to Roman Catholic priests. His previous two edited volumes relate to the subject of this present work and were entitled, The Ethnology of Psychiatric Populations and Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions. The volume here under review approaches the evolution of religion by examining individual everyday life and behavior, its proximate causes and adaptive functions. The dominant question throughout the volume is what kind of adaptive value(s) religion affords persons and communities. This leads to inquiry into how religion arose, developed, spread, and became for humans what it is today.

Feierman assembled an international team of noted experts to provide a broad overview of the topic. Twenty colleagues join him to produce 15 chapters, organized into six parts. They assess the role and significance of religious values, beliefs, and emotions which deeply affect the inner lives of believers and shape external behavior. By implication, the study suggests what develops in persons who are not shaped by these religious factors.

This kind of scientific study of religion reveals the dynamics of both the harmony and divisiveness that religion has prompted throughout history, and that we witness so obviously today. While such academic work cannot repair or heal the destructive role of religion in society, at least careful analysis and assessment of it can offer a better understanding of what it is with which we are dealing. This foray into understanding religion from a bio-behavioral perspective broadens that understanding and demonstrates what biological and behavioral dynamics are at stake in discerning what unites us in our differences around the religious world, and what divides us. This may aid in building the required bridges across the religious and spiritual chasms that rend our world.

The twenty-one authors of this work include, besides Feierman, such known scholars as Stephen K. Sanderson on the sociology of religious behavior evolution; LyIe B. Steadman, Craig T. Palmer, and Ryan M. Ellsworth on a testable definition of religious behavior; Thomas B. Ellis on the biology of ocular religious behaviors; and Magnus S. Magnusson on the biology behind hidden patterns in religious behavior. These chapters constitute part one: Description of Religious Behaviors. Part two is on the Evolutionary History of Religious Behavior and includes only Feierman's chapter on that theme. …