Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved

By Matt J. Rossano | Go to book overview

4
The African Interregnum, Part I
Good Rituals Make Good Friends

We now have the outlines of our story. Sometime after 100,000 ybp, anatomically modern humans (AMH) retreated from the Levant back to their African homeland. By 60,000 ybp they were back, expanding inexorably across Europe and Asia and leaving evidence of an unprecedented level of cognitive and social sophistication. Part of this unprecedented sophistication was religion, in the form of ancestor worship, shamanism, and animism. We will now take a closer look at that period from about 100,000 to 60,000 ybp—a time that I call “the African Interregnum.” It was during this time that our ancestors were transformed from just another hominin species, to the hominin species. A critical part of this transformation was religious. How did this happen?

The story begins with a colossal ecological disaster that nearly brought an end to the hominin enterprise. People often find religion after grave personal suffering or tragedy. It was no different with our ancestors. The few humans who managed to survive this disaster did so by finding unprecedented ways to expand social cooperation. Religious ritual was essential to establishing and maintaining never-before-seen levels of social complexity. Furthermore, ritual behavior was the very mechanism by which we acquired our uniquely human capacity for symbolic thought. Thus, religious ritual made us human.

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