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In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion
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In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  195 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
This ambitious, interdisciplinary book seeks to explain the origins of religion using our knowledge of the evolution of cognition. A cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, Scott Atran argues that religion is a by-product of human evolution just as the cognitive intervention, cultural selection, and historical survival of religion is an accommodation of certain existent ...more
Paperback, 348 pages
Published December 1st 2004 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2002)
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I'll start with a warning: If you aren't prepared for some dry, academic writing, avoid this book and pick up Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained instead, which covers much of the same ground but in a more accessible style. Some of the material here also appears in Atran's more recent (and lay-oriented) Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists.

That said, Atran has produced what is likely the most comprehensive and convincing account of the cognitive science of rel
Jan 27, 2012 Xing rated it liked it
On the whole, an extensively-researched and even-tempered book, with nuanced, conscientiously-defined, mostly-acceptable and reasonable claims.

In terms of particulars, however, be warned:

1. The concepts presented are neither ground-breaking nor mind-blowing- it reads much like a carefully-annotated and referenced articulation of my own pre-established thoughts.

The writing style/ editing could definitely be improved:

2. The book is sprinkled with lists, chosen as examples in support of a point.
The Illusion of Intention

“Attempts to replace intentional worlds governed by supernatural agents with secular ideologies are at serious disadvantage in the moral struggle for cultural selection and survival.”

Maybe these supernatural agents are worth a look. Scott Atran uses his experience an anthropologist specializing in the religious beliefs of various native peoples to understand the cognitive basis and evolutionary origin of religion.

Here is a quick summary: We evolved a visual system to rap
Mar 07, 2016 Louis rated it liked it
Did I liked the book enough to justify the 3 star rating? Not really, but there was enough interesting information to not feel guilty about the time I spent reading it.

If you don't like the message don't shoot the messenger. But what if you like the message but would not mind shooting the messenger because of the way he delivered it?
Oct 01, 2008 Adam rated it liked it
Atran attempts an extremely in-depth anaylsis of current research on the cognitive bases of religion. In Gods We Trust was published a year after Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, which covers the same basic ground (Atran admits as much in the first endnote to this book) in a less intimidating fashion. For the academic reader, Atran's book is probably very valuable. For the casual reader (i.e. me), Boyer's is a much lighter read, although Atran use ...more
Published in 2002, In Gods We Trust seems to have become something of a standard in books on the development of religion in evolutionary theory. Generally, it is clear and concise and quite readable. It does occasionally become a bit bogged down when Atran is explaining and the debunking the theoris of others. His own basic concepts are clear, with summations at the end of each bchapter which tends to raise the readers head back out of the detail to see where the book is headed. Likewise, the bo ...more
Dec 27, 2012 Socraticgadfly rated it really liked it
A fair amount of what I'm noting here relates to PTSD studies and how its effects on the brain have either a direct or inverse relationship to spiritual experience or religious belief levels. So, this is a very specific review.

162-177. Atran draws a number of parallels between brain changes in PTSD sufferers and changes in brain function in religious and spiritual experiences. None of this is to imply that religion is a form of PTSD, any more than people like Dostoyevsky having spiritual experie
Adam Lewis
Aug 10, 2011 Adam Lewis rated it it was amazing
Thick, academic writing style but probably the best book on the psychological foundations of religion out there.
Oct 26, 2014 Suhrob rated it really liked it
Very good and comprehensive treatise of religion in human societies. Atran reviews all standard approaches to religion (psychological, sociological, evolutionary,memetical) and showcases the critical neglect of the role of the brain's cognitive apparatus in these explanations ('mindblindness'). I found his accounts quite well balanced and in fact his summaries of both the evolutionary and memetical theories seem very instructive.

My main worry is also the main lesson I drew from here: on several
David Withun
Mar 28, 2013 David Withun rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Atran offers an innovative and interesting look at religious thought. Rather than adopting an extreme stance on the existence of God or other similar metaphysical persons and concepts or the usefulness of religion for human life and attempting to defend this position through haphazard scholarship and polemic as have perhaps most thinkers who have addressed these issues, Atran adopts an explicitly agnostic stance and instead attempts to explore the relation between human evolution and religion, c ...more
Mar 12, 2010 Ed rated it really liked it
Content wise a fascinating exposition of the evolutionary value of religion. The author has a fantastic knowledge of world religions as an anthropologist specializing in that field. And he links his knowledge to modern evolutionary and cognitive theory in interesting ways. But on the downside, this is one tough read and he has not been well served by his editors. He rambles off on to all sorts of interesting by ways and loses track. His chapters are loose clusters of related material lacking org ...more
Jason Yang
Jul 29, 2011 Jason Yang rated it liked it
Atran poses some interesting perspectives on possible selection motifs in religious practice. He chooses not to make claims on the validity of any theologies, but he is clearly agnostic/atheistic.

While his content is interesting, it is written horribly - very dry and difficult to read. He often cites his own research, which is less than compelling.

Interesting read, but certainly not an insightful or strongly written work.
Mar 26, 2011 Mark rated it liked it
Great ideas, just a tough one to wade through (disclosure - I didn't make it to the end). I like Atran's approach better than many "new atheist" thinkers who take impassioned and sometimes self righteous stands against religion as they try to explain how it fits into an evolutionary framework. However this book is not particularly focused and (as another reviewer noted) could use considerable editing.
Jed Ringel
Jan 05, 2015 Jed Ringel rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
After reading much about god theory (Hitchens, Dawkins, etc.), this book filled in the gaps where I wondered why we as a species so easily fall into the trap of believing in the out and out supernatural, believing (to the point of becoming murderous) our particular supernatural theory is better than others'), wish so dearly for spurious and misleading props, like having "faith."
Apr 16, 2009 Klenk rated it really liked it
This is a very technical read. I think I can best sum up my experience reading with the following:

I am not one for Evolutionary Psychology, but if you choose to use it as a tool. This is a great example of how.
Feb 20, 2010 Maya rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Evolutionary psychology and religion
Shelves: religion
Mar 05, 2016 Sandra rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: not the faint of heart
The most difficult to read book ever, and mostly unnecessarily so. Still worth it, and still liking what it says.
Ryan Houlette
Feb 05, 2015 Ryan Houlette rated it did not like it
Shelves: won-t-read
I found the writing murky and obtuse, and ultimately it just wasn't interesting enough for me to keep plowing through it.
Got halfway through this way, painfully. Too much jargon and unreadable styleless writing. I'm still interested in the ideas, so I'd love a Cliffnotes version or something.
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Aug 19, 2013
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Arti Narang rated it it was amazing
Sep 06, 2012
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Aug 31, 2007
Aryssa Hutchins
Apr 13, 2016 Aryssa Hutchins rated it really liked it
Difficult to read at first but fascinating
Jaakko J.
Jaakko J. rated it it was amazing
Feb 15, 2012
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Scott Atran (born 1952) is an American and French anthropologist who is a Director of Research in Anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University in England, Presidential Scholar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and also holds offices at the University of Michigan. He has studied and written about terrorism, ...more
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