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In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition) Paperback – November 12, 2002
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"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
Scott Atran is a Director of Research at the Institut Jean Nicod at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris. He is also Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Psychology, and Natural Resources and the Environment at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. A respected cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, his publications include Fondement de l'histoire naturelle, Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science, and Folk Biology. He has done long-term fieldwork in the Middle East and has also written and experimented extensively on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorize and reason about nature. He currently directs an international, multidisciplinary project on the natural history of the Lowland Maya.
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This is the second book that I have read on this topic (the other being Pascal Boyer's "Religion Explained") and I am surprised that while notable intellectuals such as Steven Pinker and E. O. Wilson blurbed that book, such plugging is absent from Atran's work. Atran's is clearly the superior of the two. While Boyer's book is definitely worth reading, "In Gods We Trust" surpasses it by orders of magnitude in explanatory power and depth.
Consistently while reading this book, I felt like Atran was lifting up religion's skirt to show us its naked psychological underpinnings.
These things being said, I have one medium and one small complaint about this book. First, the style is extremely formal. It is not like reading something from Dawkins or Sagan. Secondly, (and this is really very minor) the charts and graphs in the book look they were drawn using MS-Dos running early 90's computer. It doesn't however, hurt their information conveyance. I hope the publisher corrects this in later editions.