Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict

Princeton University Press
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How did human societies scale up from tight-knit groups of hunter-gatherers to the large, anonymous, cooperative societies of today—even though anonymity is the enemy of cooperation? How did organized religions with "Big Gods"—the great monotheistic and polytheistic faiths—spread to colonize most minds in the world? In Big Gods, Ara Norenzayan makes the surprising argument that these fundamental puzzles about the origins of civilization answer each other.

Sincere faith in watchful Big Gods unleashed unprecedented cooperation within ever-expanding groups, yet at the same time it introduced a new source of potential conflict between competing groups. And in some parts of the world, societies with atheist majorities—some of the most cooperative and prosperous in the world—have climbed religion's ladder, and then kicked it away.

Big Gods answers fundamental questions about the origins and spread of world religions and helps us understand the rise of cooperative societies without belief in gods.

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About the author

Ara Norenzayan is professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. His work has been featured on the BBC and CNN, and in the New York Times Magazine.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 25, 2013
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Pages
264
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ISBN
9781400848324
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Language
English
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Genres
Psychology / Social Psychology
Religion / Comparative Religion
Religion / History
Self-Help / Personal Growth / General
Social Science / Sociology of Religion
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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A nuanced exploration of the part that religion plays in human life, drawing on the insights of the past in order to build a faith that speaks to the needs of our dangerously polarized age.
 
Moving from the Paleolithic age to the present, Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names, such as God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao. Focusing especially on Christianity but including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese spiritualities, Armstrong examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time, when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith. Why has God become unbelievable? Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?

Answering these questions with the same depth of knowledge and profound insight that have marked all her acclaimed books, Armstrong makes clear how the changing face of the world has necessarily changed the importance of religion at both the societal and the individual level.  Yet she cautions us that religion was never supposed to provide answers that lie within the competence of human reason; that, she says, is the role of logos. The task of religion is “to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there are no easy explanations.” She emphasizes, too, that religion will not work automatically. It is, she says, a practical discipline: its insights are derived not from abstract speculation but from “dedicated intellectual endeavor” and a “compassionate lifestyle that enables us to break out of the prism of selfhood.”


From the Trade Paperback edition.
A deeply original exploration of the power of spontaneity—an ancient Chinese ideal that cognitive scientists are only now beginning to understand—and why it is so essential to our well-being
 
Why is it always hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a politician who seems wooden or a comedian whose jokes fall flat or an athlete who chokes? In all of these cases, striving seems to backfire.
 
In Trying Not To Try, Edward Slingerland explains why we find spontaneity so elusive, and shows how early Chinese thought points the way to happier, more authentic lives. We’ve long been told that the way to achieve our goals is through careful reasoning and conscious effort. But recent research suggests that many aspects of a satisfying life, like happiness and spontaneity, are best pursued indirectly. The early Chinese philosophers knew this, and they wrote extensively about an effortless way of being in the world, which they called wu-wei (ooo-way). They believed it was the source of all success in life, and they developed various strategies for getting it and hanging on to it.
 
With clarity and wit, Slingerland introduces us to these thinkers and the marvelous characters in their texts, from the butcher whose blade glides effortlessly through an ox to the wood carver who sees his sculpture simply emerge from a solid block. Slingerland uncovers a direct line from wu-wei to the Force in Star Wars, explains why wu-wei is more powerful than flow, and tells us what it all means for getting a date. He also shows how new research reveals what’s happening in the brain when we’re in a state of wu-wei—why it makes us happy and effective and trustworthy, and how it might have even made civilization possible.
 
Through stories of mythical creatures and drunken cart riders, jazz musicians and Japanese motorcycle gangs, Slingerland effortlessly blends Eastern thought and cutting-edge science to show us how we can live more fulfilling lives. Trying Not To Try is mind-expanding and deeply pleasurable, the perfect antidote to our striving modern culture.


From the Hardcover edition.
“A humane and sensible guide to and for the many kinds of Americans leading secular lives in what remains one of the most religious nations in the developed world.” —The New York Times Book Review
 
Over the last twenty-five years, “no religion” has become the fastest-growing religious preference in the United States. Around the world, hundreds of millions of people have turned away from the traditional faiths of the past and embraced a moral yet nonreligious—or secular—life, generating societies vastly less religious than at any other time in human history. Revealing the inspiring beliefs that empower secular culture—alongside real stories of nonreligious men and women based on extensive in-depth interviews from across the country—Living the Secular Life will be indispensable for millions of secular Americans.

Drawing on innovative sociological research, Living the Secular Life illuminates this demographic shift with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals, offering crucial information for the religious and nonreligious alike. Living the Secular Life reveals that, despite opinions to the contrary, nonreligious Americans possess a unique moral code that allows them to effectively navigate the complexities of modern life. Spiritual self-reliance, clear-eyed pragmatism, and an abiding faith in the Golden Rule to adjudicate moral decisions: these common principles are shared across secular society. Living the Secular Life demonstrates these principles in action and points to their usage throughout daily life.

Phil Zuckerman is a sociology professor at Pitzer College, where he studied the lives of the nonreligious for years before founding a Department of Secular Studies, the first academic program in the nation dedicated to exclusively studying secular culture and the sociological consequences of America’s fastest-growing “faith.” Zuckerman discovered that despite the entrenched negative beliefs about nonreligious people, American secular culture is grounded in deep morality and proactive citizenship—indeed, some of the very best that the country has to offer.

Living the Secular Life journeys through some of the most essential components of human existence—child rearing and morality, death and ritual, community and beauty—and offers secular readers inspiration for leading their own lives. Zuckerman shares eye-opening research that reveals the enduring moral strength of children raised without religion, as well as the hardships experienced by secular mothers in the rural South, where church attendance defines the public space. Despite the real sorrows of mortality, Zuckerman conveys the deep psychological health of secular individuals in their attitudes toward illness, death, and dying. Tracking the efforts of nonreligious groups to construct their own communities, Zuckerman shows how Americans are building institutions and cultivating relationships without religious influence. Most of all, Living the Secular Life infuses the sociological data and groundbreaking research with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals and demonstrates how readers can integrate these beliefs into their own lives.

A manifesto for a booming social movement—and a revelatory survey of this overlooked community—Living the Secular Life offers essential and long-awaited information for anyone building a life based on his or her own principles.
“Surprising and remarkable…Toggling between big ideas, technical details, and his personal intellectual journey, Greene writes a thesis suitable to both airplane reading and PhD seminars.”—The Boston Globe

Our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us) and for fighting off everyone else (Them). But modern times have forced the world’s tribes into a shared space, resulting in epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities. As the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling. We fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming, and we wonder where, if at all, we can find our common ground.

A grand synthesis of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, Moral Tribes reveals the underlying causes of modern conflict and lights the way forward. Greene compares the human brain to a dual-mode camera, with point-and-shoot automatic settings (“portrait,” “landscape”) as well as a manual mode. Our point-and-shoot settings are our emotions—efficient, automated programs honed by evolution, culture, and personal experience. The brain’s manual mode is its capacity for deliberate reasoning, which makes our thinking flexible. Point-and-shoot emotions make us social animals, turning Me into Us. But they also make us tribal animals, turning Us against Them. Our tribal emotions make us fight—sometimes with bombs, sometimes with words—often with life-and-death stakes. 

A major achievement from a rising star in a new scientific field, Moral Tribes will refashion your deepest beliefs about how moral thinking works and how it can work better.
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