Evolutionary Perspectives on Religion: An Overview and Synthesis
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Religion is a cultural universal that has puzzled evolutionists since Darwin. The moral, social, emotional, and explanatory components that make up complex religious systems offer both evolutionary benefits and costs. Evolutionists who propose functional accounts of religion argue that it offers adaptive benefits that outweigh the costs. Theorists who propose nonfunctional accounts view religion as a byproduct of interactions among nonreligious cognitive adaptations and environments. Others argue that religion evolved via memetic transmission, which allows maladaptive features to persist. These maladaptive features may be anachronisms that were functional in the past but are detrimental to fitness in modern contexts. A thorough review reveals that work guided by these different perspectives is driven by divergent research questions that ultimately complement one another to offer a more comprehensive evolutionary account of the complexity, variety, and durability of religious belief and behavior.
- Groups and War Lab