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COMPARATIVISM AND SOCIOBIOLOGICAL THEORY

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While the "academic study of religion" is often considered to be synonymous with "comparative religion," little attention has been given by scholars of religion to theories of comparison. When scholars of religion turn to the social sciences, as they often do in matters of theory, they find the situation with respect to comparison is little better. Recent attention to such theoretical reflections on comparative methods among some social scientists have, however, reopened the question of "human universals," themes familiar to scholars of religion from the phenomenology of religions but increasingly eschewed by them as ahistorical, at best, and theologically shaped, at worst. If, however, comparative studies are to avoid metaphysical musings and ethnocentric excesses, they might best proceed on the theoretical basis of natural, species-specific characteristics of human beings and demonstrate the relationships among the biological and cognitive constraints on human beings, on the one hand, and their social and historical constructions, on the other.

Whatever else "religion" may be, it is a social fact and human sociality seems to be one "universal" characteristic of human beings about which there seems to be some consensus among representatives of the various sciences. This paper looks at some of the biological and cognitive explanations proposed for human sociality, outlines a social - and parallel religious - typology based on such explanations, and suggests in a preliminary way a "test" for this typological hypothesis against ethnographic/historical data from two ancient but disparate cultures, China and Greece.

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