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The Evolution of Culture as a New Pattern for Comparative Religion

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

In his new book, Paden argues that evolutionary theory creates new and fertile ground for the comparative study of religion. I suggest that extending Paden’s argument to embrace new theories of cultural evolution will continue to broaden our ability understand the origins of both the similarities and differences in religions across societies. Religions are cultural systems and as such an understanding of our shared biology can only explain a limited amount of what religion is and does. I discuss how new cultural evolutionary theories that examine cultural variation and cultural change based on how humans learn and transmit cultural content and can improve the theoretical foundations of comparative studies of religion. Exploring different mechanisms of cultural learning can help explain why certain features of religion are found across a wide variety of religions while others are only found in specific groups.

Affiliations: 1: University of Oxford, Institute of Cultural & Evolutionary Anthropology 51/53 Banbury Road Oxford, uk, OX2 6PE aiyana.willard@anthro.ox.ac.uk

10.1163/15700682-12341421
/content/journals/10.1163/15700682-12341421
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/content/journals/10.1163/15700682-12341421
2018-03-19
2018-09-19

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