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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Robin Dunbar: What can Evolution tell us about the Origins of Religion?

31st May 2007, 17:15 to 18:45, The Birley Room, Hatfield College

Professor Robin Dunbar, University of Liverpool

This is part of 'The Darwinian Legacy: Earth, Life and Mind' Seminar Series.

Religion and literature are two things that set humans apart from all other species of animals. Their evolutionary origins and function remain so much a puzzle that they are often written off as trivial (or even maladaptive) evolutionary by-products of adaptively more important facets of human biology. I will argue that this view is mistaken and it has come about because of a tendency to focus on individual-level selection and a failure to appreciate that sociality imposes novel costs and benefits on the individual. Taking this broader perspective, I will suggest that religiosity, in particular, has played a central and highly adaptive role in recent human evolution. I will draw together evidence from neurobiology, primate behaviour and human psychology to offer an explanation for the function and evolution of religiosity.

Robin Dunbar is Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Liverpool and co-Director of the British Academy Centenary Research Project 'Lucy to Language'. His research interests include cognitive mechanisms and brain evolution, and the behavioural ecology of humans as well as non-human primates and ungulates. His books include Human Evolutionary Psychology (2001) (with Louise Barrett and John Lycett) and The Human Story (2005). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1998.

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