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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Is Religion the Product of Our Imagination?

Maurice Bloch, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, is challenging the popular belief that religion evolved because of its effects on social bonding. Instead, argues Bloch in his recent article "Why religion is nothing special but is central," published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, the emergence of religion was dependent on the evolution of the human capacity to imagine things that don't physically exist and an afterlife. "What the transcendental social requires," he says, "is the ability to live very largely in the imagination."
Our unique ability to imagine is the reason that other animals, no matter how closely related to us they are, don't have religious experiences, he says; while humans can imagine both forward and backward in time, other animals cannot think past their immediate social interactions and status. While religion remains critical to social development, Bloch says, once "we realize this omnipresence of the imaginary in the everyday, nothing special is left to explain concerning religion." —Evan Peck