The Evolution of Religiosity and Human Coalitional Psychology
Fall Semester 2009
Students may enroll under: Biology 419/519 or Religious Studies 347/547
3 Credit Hours
Mondays and Fridays 1:00-2:30 pm
Castetter Hall (Biology) 107
Dr. Paul J. Watson
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Biology, 110 Castetter Hall
An incisive materialist analysis of all aspects of religious behavior and experience from the point of view of modern Darwinian theory. NOT an Evangelical Atheist Rant! Background in key basic and mid-level theories of evolutionary psychology will be provided. Cognitive byproduct (epiphenomenalist) and functionalist (adaptationist) evolutionary hypotheses covering pancultural manifestations of religiosity will be discussed and integrated.
The role of human religious instincts in the dynamics of coalitions, the formation of social commitments, the nature of moral deliberations, and our reasoning about social exchange contracts will be emphasized. We will also examine religiosity's significance for the generation of willpower: the resolve to sacrifice small near term rewards to more successfully undertake individual and group projects with large long term payoffs.
The course is offered, in unprecedented fashion, for either Biology or Religious Studies credit (undergraduate or graduate) and will be taught in a hybrid lecture and discussion format. Lectures and readings will cover a sampling of key empirical literature in addition to giving needed theoretical background. The first half of each meeting will be predominantly lecture and the second half discussion.
I emphasize questioning. Both student-to-professor and student-to-student questioning and challenges will be encouraged throughout. Such interchanges will reflect the fact that this is a science course, which necessitates the respectful sharing of reasoned viewpoints, all offered in a comradely spirit of devising tests of opposing propositions about religion as a natural phenomenon. The content of our discussions will derive, in a disciplined yet nonrigid fashion, from “point lists” handed in by every student at the beginning of each class; these will be graded and cumulatively account for a sizeable portion (about 40%) of each student’s final grade. I will help choose the most stimulating and burning points to raise from these papers, asking their authors to verbally state and expand on them, and calling on the whole class to discuss them. See the syllabus for much more information on course format, requirements, and grading.
TEXTS Some of the non-textbook readings, including select chapters from "The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology" (2005), by David M. Buss, are available below
(distributed as PDF computer files; see below).
The main required text will be "In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion" (2002), by cognitive anthropologist, Scott Atran. This is part of the Evolution and Cognition Series, from Oxford University Press. For 2009 I am reducing the readings from Buss (see below) and adding a second text: "The Supernatural and Natural Selection: The Evolution of Religion." (2008) by evolutionary psychologists Lyle B. Steadman and Craig T. Palmer. This book is part of the Series "Studies in Comparative Social Sciences," published by Paradigm Press.
Some of the non-textbook readings, including select chapters from "The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology" (2005), by David M. Buss, are available below (distributed as PDF computer files; see below).