Commented Literature

In order to stimulate the discussion, all colleagues dealing with the research of religious evolution are invited to submit literature advices and comments. Both scientific monographies, anthologies, as well as articles from the whole range of academic disciplines are to be considered. Even comments on existing comments are welcome.

Please use the form (name, E-mail address, bibliographical note, comment). Comments are advised to be submitted in English. If you have any questions please contact directly

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List of Commented Literature


Sanderson, Stephen K. 2018. Religious Evolution and the Axial Age: From Shamans to Priests to Prophets. Scientific Studies of Religion: Inquiry and Explanation. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN: 9781350047426

Comment 1: The book describes an evolutionary sequence, running from the spirit and shaman dominated religions of small-scale societies, to the archaic religions of the ancient civilizations, and then to the salvation religions of the Axial Age. However, it does not explicitly apply evolutionary theory. It states that "is steaming at the leash" (p. 202) to apply the model of variation, selection, and stabilization to social evolution. (Volkhard Krech, 04 April 2018)



Torrey, E. Fuller. 2017. Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods: Early Humans and the Origins of Religion. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN: 978-0231183369

Comment 1: The book locates the origin of gods within the human brain, arguing that religious belief is a by-product of evolution. (Volkhard Krech, 04 April 2018)

Turner, Jonathan H., Alexandra Maryanski, Anders K. Petersen, and Armin W. Geertz. 2017. The Emergence and Evolution of Religion by Means of Natural Selection. Evolutionary Analysis in the Social Sciences 1. London, New York: Routledge. ISBN: 1138080926

Comment 1: The authors combine empirical findings from anthropology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary sociology, neurology, primate behavioral studies, explanations of human interaction and group dynamics as well as a wide range of religious scholarship and apply the evolutionary theory of natural selection to the history of religion. However, they do not reduce it to biological processes, but see religion within an interplay of biological and social processes. (Volkhard Krech, 04 April 2018)



Johnson, Dominic D. P. 2016. God is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0-19-989563-2

Comment 1: According to this book, humans are "hardwired" to look for a higher power and a divine system of reward and punishment in order to handle negative experiences such as catastrophies, illness, etc. and as an attempt to avoid them. Contingincy is certainly a good starting point for reconstructing the emergence of religion. However, the book does not explain why especially religion as a certain system of meaning should be the evolutionary answer to negative experience and not, say, technology, politics, law, and other social means to cope with contingency. Furthermore, religion is being conceptualized as an entitiy that is closely tied with morals. This holds only true only for some aspects of the history of religion. (Volkhard Krech, 04 April 2018)


Wunn, Ina, and Davina Grojnowski. 2016. Ancestors, Territoriality, and Gods: A Natural History of Religion. Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York: Springer. ISBN: 366252757X

Comment 1: Based strictly on behavioural biology, the authors argue that religion came into being through territorial behaviour and ranking, coping with existential fears, and conflict solution with the help of rituals. According to them, territorial claims, e.g., through burrial practices,  is one of the earliest functions of religion. (Volkhard Krech, 04 April 2018)



Kundt, Radek. 2015. Contemporary Evolutionary Theories of Culture and the Study of Religion. Scientific Studies of Religion. London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN: 9781474232272

Comment 1: The author argues that contemporary theories of cultural evolution do not repeat the same mistakes that 19th century evolutionism made. However, it introduces an alternative evolutionary approach to the study of culture and religion, which does not claim that the principles of neo-Darwinian evolution should be applicable outside the biological domain. Group selection is regarded no more than “poor metaphor and misleading analogy” (p. 92). (Volkhard Krech, 04 April 2018)


Wightman, Gregory J. 2015. The Origins of Religion in the Paleolithic. Lanham, Boulder, CO, New York, London: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN: 1442242892

Comment 1: The Book combines approaches of cognitive science with archeological data. Although religion is conceptualized as a "social institution", it is described as externalization of psychic experience, namely as "a body of shared beliefs, understandings, and experiences in respect of entities that possess and exercise power, and with which people therefore seek to have relations". Accordingly, religion requires "efficient systems of communication in order to be shared and transmitted" (p. 2). Thus, the approach is based on an old model of communication as transmission from sender to receiver. (Volkhard Krech, 04 April 2018)