In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion by Scott Atran


Scott Atran is a respected cognitive anthropologist and a psychologist, so I new the book was going to look at religion from that point of view. The author deals with religion from the perspective that it comes from the ordinary workings of the human mind as it deals with emotionally compelling problems of human existence. The aim of the book is to look at religion from the stand point of evolutionary psychology and in that respect the author is very successful.

Now nothing in this book was new to me, I had already read much of it in Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer, however, this book is geared towards the academic community. It is a very technical read and if you are looking for a book that deals with religion from a psychological point of view but you are not familiar with the jargon then Pascal Boyer’s book is more your cup of tea than this one. I did find the book hard to read for that specific reason and kept a dictionary close at all times while reading it. I feel that the author sees religion devoid of the passion and feelings that usually go with it as well as taking it out of the context of culture which I feel makes a big difference in how people look at religion.

One statement that he made at the very beginning of the book was as follows: Human cognition (re)creates the gods who sustain hope beyond sufficient reason and commitment beyond self interest. Humans ideally represent themselves to one another in gods they trust. Through their gods, people see what is good in others and what is evil. For some reason I kept coming back to it in my mind over and over. Sometimes telling myself it was very true and at others that not everyone is like that, or are they?

The book certainly makes you think, and be prepared to think a lot. You might not agree with everything in it, but it sure does gives one food for thought. I would recommend it only for the people who are ready to invest a lot of time understanding the terms he uses, and to digest everything he says that might go against your way of thinking.

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