How did religion emerge-and why? What are the links between behavior, environment, and religiosity? Diving millions of years into the past, to a time when human ancestors began grappling with issues of safety, worth, identity, loss, power, and meaning in complex and difficult environments, Gregory J. Wightman explores the significance of goal-directed action and the rise of material culture for the advent of religiosity and ritual.
The book opens by tackling questions of cognitive evolution and group psychology, and how these ideas can integrate with archaeological evidence such as stone tools, shell beads, and graves. In turn, it focuses on how human ancestors engaged with their environments, how those engagements became routine, and how, eventually, certain routines took on a recognizably ritualistic flavor. Wightman also critically examines the very real constraints on drawing inferences about prehistoric belief systems solely from limited material residues. Nevertheless, Wightman argues that symbolic objects are not merely illustrative of religion, but also constitutive of it; in the continual dance between brain and behavior, between internal and external environments, lie the seeds of ritual and religion.
Weaving together insights from archaeology; anthropology; cognitive and cultural neuroscience; history and philosophy of religions; and evolutionary, social, and developmental psychology, Wightman provides an intricate, evidence-based understanding of religion's earliest origins.
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
Number of pages: 306
Weight: 540 g
Dimensions: 238 x 163 x 22 mm
When, why and how did this universal aspect of human social life appear? In a deeply researched and thoughtful study, Wightman attempts to answer these questions by interpreting the archaeological record from the perspective of the latest cognitive neurosciences and psychological research. His approach is unusual in that it almost exclusively concerns the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic.... The Origins of Religion is an extremely valuable work for anyone interested in the cognitive and psychological underpinnings of human behavioural evolution. Its detailed discussions cover research that most archaeologists would otherwise overlook. It should become a basic source for this reason alone. * Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture *
Wightman, drawing on advances in neuroscience, makes an important contribution to our understanding of the origins of human cognition during the Paleolithic period. Through the study of the early remains of human material engagement, he discerns the inception of ritual behaviors wherein lie the origins of religiosity. This book is a significant addition to the emerging field of cognitive archaeology. -- Colin Renfrew, University of Cambridge
This is a thought provoking book on many levels. Wightman looks at the earliest indicators for supernatural imagination, a behavior closely linked to religious notions. He suggests that material culture and in particular symbolic artifacts such as engravings and jewelry may have been a constituent part of early ritual and could also provide evidence of the likely complex interactions in early human brains that cross the divide of the real and the spiritual world. Whether religion was inevitable or not is debatable, but it seems certain that only when human cognition allowed for the interpretation of one's own mental state, could belief in supernatural agents became possible. -- Christopher Henshilwood, University of Bergen
A provocative analysis of a tricky but important topic, sure to stimulate both interesting conversation and further research. Reflecting current frameworks for interpreting religious belief and behavior, Wightman marshals an impressive amount of recent work from both archaeology and neuroscience and applies it to our ancestors to understand the origins of religious experience. Regardless of whether you agree with all his interpretations, there is much to think about here and Wightman provides a wealth of data with which to do it. -- Susan Johnston, George Washington University