The Neurosciences of Religion

William Grassie, in William Grassie, The New Sciences of Religion: Exploring Spirituality from the Outside In and Bottom Up, 2010, 93-110.

Abstract: In the last chapter, we learned how humans evolved as hunter-gatherers and how our genetic, mental, and behavioral nature was conditioned by and for this kind of life, even as we now live in a very different artificial environment created by agriculture, economic markets, and technology. We considered how evolution had shaped our predispositions for religion and what functions and dysfunctions religion might have played in our species’s history. We were introduced to the idea that the human mind was modular, that there were instinctive dispositions that then developed in conjunction with social and environmental factors into various inference systems in our brains. Religion, we were told, could be understood as a potent combination of these different inference systems in our evolved brains-agency detection, ontological categories, intuitive physics, intuitive psychology, pollution-contagion templates, memory-recall patterns, and so forth, all assembled and accessed as independent mental modules. This was one of several evolutionary approaches to understanding religion.