Check out this thoughtful and learned review by (sometime CLR Forum commenter and — we hope! — regular reader!) Prof. Charles Mathewes (UVA) of two books on the ‘evolutionary’ study of religion — Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures and Robert Bellah’s Religion and Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age. It’s fair to say that Prof. Mathewes is more a fan of Bellah’s book than Wade’s; take a look at the review for why. Here’s a very interesting (and, for me, even somewhat heart-warming) bit from the description of Bellah’s book:
The basic point of the book is not so much Durkheimian or Weberian—the two great tribes of sociology, especially sociology of religion—but Faulknerian; he echoes Faulkner’s famous line, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” “Nothing is ever lost” is Bellah’s near-constant mantra; the habits, patterns, reflexes and modes of behavior we acquired in our primate prehistory continue to shape our individual behavior and social order. While these realities remain powerful forces, we have achieved some relative autonomy from them and thus some power to shape how they affect us. We can cultivate some parts of our inheritance and create protective strategies against other aspects, as we judge best. We have, that is, the ability to be partially self-transcendent. And this capacity is part of the story of evolution, as Bellah tells it, which is not the necessary unfolding of a foreordained script, or the development of snug little functional niches for the way the world works today, but rather a chaotic, highly contingent and ironic tale of agents interacting, reacting and responding to the situations, contexts and environments in which they have found themselves.