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Long-lost Brothers: On the Co-histories and Interactions Between the Comparative Science of Religion and the Anthropology of Religion1

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AbstractThis article briefly surveys and compares the histories of research in the comparative science of religion (beginning with Friedrich Max Müller) and the anthropology of religion. The article notes the close interactions between these two fields and argues that the comparative science of religion drew significant inspiration from anthropology and sociology during the twentieth century until about the 1970s when anthropology came under heavy fire from critics. The postcolonial, feminist, and postmodern wave did not have a significant impact on the comparative science of religion until the 1990s. But already during the 1980s a new approach to religion, championed by Jonathan Z. Smith, contributed to a theoretical and critical analysis of religion that neither bought into postmodernism nor into the sui generis approach to religion. During the 1990s, another new approach began making an impact, namely, the cognitive science of religion, championed by E. Thomas Lawson, Robert N. McCauley (both scholars of religion), and Pascal Boyer (anthropologist). The article suggests in conclusion that the two disciplines can once again meet in the growing fields of experimental anthropology and experimental science of religion and in the need to explore and address how culture affects and rewires the brain. Furthermore, evolutionary theory is also beginning to serve as a common framework for thinking about religion.

Affiliations: 1: Aarhus University, Department of Culture and Society, Section for the Study of Religion, Religion, Cognition and Culture Research Unit (RCC)Jens Chr. Skous Vej 3, 8000 Aarhus


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