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Asceticism, Religion, and Biological Evolution'

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

This article initially argues that asceticism and related phenomena in classical India and in Christian antiquity suggest the existence of a universal, shared, innate human predisposition. After providing descriptive data on the widespread belief in a soul distinct from the body, along with cross-cultural accounts of ascetic practices, the article turns to a general reflection concerning the characteristics of an innate disposition termed the 'ascetic instinct' in light of other such dispositions, notably the 'language instinct' hypothesized to exist by some linguists. Further evidence in support of the proposed ascetic instinct, this time drawn mainly from tribal societies, is also presented. The article concludes by drawing on recent research on language and symbolic thinking to propose how this counter-reproductive universal arose and how it has survived in human beings.

Affiliations: 1: Section de langues, et civilisations orientales Universite de Lausanne Lausanne, Switzerland


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