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The Prospects and Pitfalls of “Just-So” Storytelling in Evolutionary Accounts of Religion

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

AbstractI discuss problems importing evolutionary language into the study of religion. It is not impossible to do, but it is difficult to carry out properly in practice. I suggest five criteria for scholarship in the study of religion to amount to good science when incorporating such language. They are 1) avoiding just-so storytelling as much as possible 2) the requirement to add a compelling level of explanation beyond the historical narrative 3) clearly distinguishing between proximate and ultimate forms of causation and explanation, and favoring proximate causes where possible 4) addressing the specific content of religion directly as part of the narrative 5) being explicit about the genre of scholarship undertaken, whether science-writing, humanistic exploration, or some mix of the two. Wiebe and Martin’s arguments do not end up rising to the challenge that they themselves have instigated to have a truly scientific study of religion.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology7491


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