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Ian Hacking: Religion’s evolutionary origins, 21 October 2004

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion 
by Scott Atran.
Oxford, 348 pp., £20.99, November 2002, 0 19 514930 0
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... Scott Atran packs a lot into his subtitles. ‘Evolutionary Landscape’: that’s the new idea in this book about gods. The human mind has evolved with numerous capacities. Each distinct capacity is well adapted to performing a group of tasks in its domain. Individuals possess these capacities in varying degrees, but they are part of the universal genetic inheritance of the human race ...

Into the Mental Basement

Thomas Nagel: Science and Religion, 19 August 2010

Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion 
by Barbara Herrnstein Smith.
Yale, 201 pp., £25, March 2010, 978 0 300 14034 7
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... Smith’s resistance is directed in detail against two anthropologists, Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran, whose analyses of religion are based on evolutionary psychology. Their approach, which she calls the ‘new naturalism’, holds that the operation of human minds can be understood largely through the identification of various subsystems or ...

Where the Jihadis Are

Jeremy Harding: How to Spot a Jihadi, 17 February 2011

Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values and What It Means to Be Human 
by Scott Atran.
Allen Lane, 558 pp., £25, November 2010, 978 1 84614 412 7
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... Scott Atran’s book about jihad and the wilder fringes of Islam is ambitious, noisy, scuffed at the edges. The Maghreb, Palestine, Syria, Kashmir, Indonesia: Atran has been there, brought home the findings and done his best to explain what turns people into suicide bombers and jihadis in Muslim countries, where mostly they are tiny slivers of the population, and non-Muslim countries, where they are rarer still ...

Living Things

Ian Hacking, 21 February 1991

Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science 
by Scott Atran.
Cambridge, 360 pp., £35, August 1990, 0 521 37293 3
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... than of what human nature teaches about nature. That is a pleasing picture but not a popular one. Atran is not in search of opponents, but here are a few of the things he is up against ... Every people classifies in its own ways: it is cultural imperialism to expect our sortings of life to be duplicated by others (standard all-purpose cultural ...

The Atheists’ Picnic

Julian Bell: Art and Its Origins, 10 June 2010

Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion 
by David Lewis-Williams.
Thames and Hudson, 320 pp., £18.95, March 2010, 978 0 500 05164 1
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... evolved among palaeolithic humans, drawing on the work of anthropologists such as Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran, hardly come together in a reliable ‘cabling’: rather, his narrative is a flimsy clutch of ‘what ifs’, patched up with this or that ‘plausible candidate for filling in the blank’, as he himself puts it. Religion must certainly have ...

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