Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.
In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition) Paperback – November 12, 2002
2016 Book Awards
Browse award-winning titles. See all 2016 winners
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
"So how, [Atran] asks, is it that religious beliefs and practices are manifest, anywhere there are people, past or present? How could evolution have favoured wasteful investment in preposterous beliefs? ... Quite a project. He relies on a combination of the most recent human sciences. ... One of his exceptional talents is in weaving together a vast number of strands that most of us keep asunder."--Ian Hacking, London Review of Books
"Atran's work is a brilliant exposition of the evolutionary by-product interpretation [of religion] as well as a mine of references for empirical research into the psychology of religion."--Pascal Boyer, Current Anthropology
"Scott Atran fell in love with anthropology in 1970 when he went to work with Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and found himself surrounded by a collection of thousands of skulls. He has spent the intervening years studying human cultures all over the world, dwelling among the secretive Druze sect in Israel, documenting conservation customs among the Maya of Guatemala, and analyzing the evolution of religion everywhere, a topic he explores in his book In Gods We Trust."--Discover Magazine
"With almost 1000 references and discussions of most of human history and culture, from Neanderthal burials to suicide-bombers in the Palestinian anti-colonialist struggle, this book is consciously and truly encyclopedic in scope, and shows both breadth and depth of scholarship...the reader finds himself constantly challenged and provoked into an intellectual ping-pong game as he follows the arguments and the huge body of findings marshaled to buttress them...Atran managed to combine the old and the new by relating the automatic cognitive operations to existential anxieties. This combination will be a benchmark and a challenge to students of religion in all disciplines."--Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Human Nature Review
About the Author
If you buy a new print edition of this book (or purchased one in the past), you can buy the Kindle edition for only $2.99 (Save 77%). Print edition purchase must be sold by Amazon. Learn more.
For thousands of qualifying books, your past, present, and future print-edition purchases now lets you buy the Kindle edition for $2.99 or less. (Textbooks available for $9.99 or less.)
If you’re the author, publisher, or rights holder of this book, let ACX help you produce the audiobook.Learn more.
Top Customer Reviews
The "ten easy steps" are not. The astute reader may jump to the Conclusion for an outline of Atran's thesis. There he explains that religion is not an "entity", even though we publicly commit resources to it. Since it's not an entity, religion itself cannot be an evolutionary adaptation. However, it does fit into an "evolutionary landscape". That landscape he describes in a metaphor of hills and valleys, with certain behaviours following the path of least resistance. The supernatural, Atran contends, arises from a "cultural manipulation" of habits derived from the Pleistocene - fear of predators, death and the quest for nourishment. Since humans live in groups, the interactions of individuals within the group reinforces these habits. When natural phenomena are transformed into the supernatural conformity results.Read more ›
Atran describes religion as
(1) a community's costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents (3) who master people's existential anxieties, such as death and deception.
Later in the book he adds that 1, 2, & 3: (4) demand ritualistic & rhythmic co-ordination of 1, 2, & 3 such as "communion."
He later describes religion (paraphrased by me) as a thought process which involves exaggerated use of everyday cognitive processes to produce unreal worlds that easily attract attention, are readily memorable, and are subject to cultural transmission, selection and survival.
THEN, HE ASKS, "HOW IN PRINCIPLE, DOES THIS VIEW DISTINGUISH
MICKEY MOUSE OR FANTASY FROM BELIEFS ONE IS WILLING TO DIE FOR?"
While sprinkled with interesting and provocative comments, Atran tries to show that cognitive modules exist, thanks to natural selection. The tendency to invent supernatural agency is an evolutionary by-product, trip-wired by predator-detection schema...people interactively manipulate the universal cognitive susceptibility. Add a few hopeful solutions to the problems involving the tragedies of life and death, and you get religion.
Alternate theories of religion's ability to sprout and fluorish wherever humans have lived for any length of time are discussed and rejected. These include "memes" for religion, "group selection" for religion, cultural entrees, and others.
While myriad types of gods have been invented, Atran maintains they all end up as described in the 1st few lines of this review. He offers an analogy of mountain ridges and their many precipitation routes, ending in always the same few major waterways.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Perhaps one of the most fascinating studies I have read. The reference itself is a gold mine.Published 12 months ago by Kamran Razvan
If you aren't afraid to open your mind and learn about how human beings invented the idea of "God" and religion than this is the book for you.Published 20 months ago by Bryan Lysaght
Excellent information but presented in a very academic, circuitous manor. Not an easy read.Published 22 months ago by Amazon Customer
Very interesting topic. Only a mild interest here got me to try it but I was sucked into wanting to know so much more, I read this years ago and only now got around to reviewing it... Read morePublished on April 21, 2014 by rob0bOy
This was a very complicated study, but I found it very revealing. In my opinion his review of the history of religion and religious impulses are more objective than trying to... Read morePublished on October 2, 2013 by Charles W Sutherland
All societies at all times have exhibited religions but it is hard to really understand why. Scott Atran characterises a religion as `a community's costly and hard-to-fake... Read morePublished on May 20, 2013 by Nigel Seel
Why do people worship gods they can't see and believe the absurd (or counterintuitive as the author puts it)? Read morePublished on September 29, 2010 by J. Davis
I am a reasonably intelligent person who, for the first time in his life, has been reading about religion. I started with Karen Armstrong's In the Beginning. Read morePublished on March 19, 2010 by Alan Baily
This is a quite extraordinary book, full of rich insights, interesting theorizing, and the product of a life time of study of world religions. I learned a lot. Read morePublished on March 8, 2010 by Historied