Scott Atran

Scott Atran French version Publication date : February 5, 2009

From an evolutionary viewpoint, the reasons why religion should not exist are obvious: religion is materially costly and intellectually counterintuitive. Religious practice is wasteful in material sacrifices (regarding the time spent praying), in emotional expenditure (provoking fears and hopes) and in cognitive efforts (the maintenance of belief networks that are both factual and counterintuitive). Yet all known societies, past and present, have supported the high cost of the material, emotional and cognitive commitment to religion, i.e. to a mental universe that defies simple commonsense.

Scott Atran reviews the many explanations — sociological, psychological, neurological, metaphysical — for religion and argues that they are insufficient. He then explains how emotionally motivated self-sacrifice stabilises the moral order of the group, inciting competition with other groups. And he explains why religion is a source of war.

Why do religions lead to war? This book answers one of the central issues of our time, when terrorism is no longer political but religious.

This is groundbreaking book on the origins of religion, by a highly original thinker at the crossroads of American and French culture.

Scott Atran, a cognitive anthropologist, is an adjunct professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and a director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).