Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion, Expanded Edition

University of Chicago Press
2
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Religion has been a central part of human experience since at least the dawn of recorded history. The gods change, as do the rituals, but the underlying desire remains—a desire to belong to something larger, greater, most lasting than our mortal, finite selves.

But where did that desire come from? Can we explain its emergence through evolution? Yes, says biological anthropologist Barbara J. King—and doing so not only helps us to understand the religious imagination, but also reveals fascinating links to the lives and minds of our primate cousins. Evolving God draws on King’s own fieldwork among primates in Africa and paleoanthropology of our extinct ancestors to offer a new way of thinking about the origins of religion, one that situates it in a deep need for emotional connection with others, a need we share with apes and monkeys. Though her thesis is provocative, and she’s not above thoughtful speculation, King’s argument is strongly rooted in close observation and analysis. She traces an evolutionary path that connects us to other primates, who, like us, display empathy, make meanings through interaction, create social rules, and display imagination—the basic building blocks of the religious imagination. With fresh insights, she responds to recent suggestions that chimpanzees are spiritual—or even religious—beings, and that our ancient humanlike cousins carefully disposed of their dead well before the time of Neandertals.

King writes with a scientist’s appreciation for evidence and argument, leavened with a deep empathy and admiration for the powerful desire to belong, a desire that not only brings us together with other humans, but with our closest animal relations as well.
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About the author

Barbara J. King is professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, where she taught for twenty-eight years. She is the author of Personalities on the Plate and How Animals Grieve, and her work has been featured in The Best American Science and Nature Writing and on NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Apr 21, 2017
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780226360928
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / General
Religion / History
Religion / Philosophy
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In recent years, scientific advances in our understanding of animal minds have led to major changes in how we think about, and treat, animals in zoos and aquariums. The general public, it seems, is slowly coming to understand that animals like apes, elephants, and dolphins have not just brains, but complicated inner and social lives, and that we need to act accordingly.

Yet that realization hasn’t yet made its presence felt to any great degree in our most intimate relationship with animals: at the dinner table. Sure, there are vegetarians and vegans all over, but at the same time, meat consumption is up, and meat remains a central part of the culinary and dining experience for the majority of people in the developed world.

With Personalities on the Plate, Barbara King asks us to think hard about our meat eating--and how we might reduce it. But this isn’t a polemic intended to convert readers to veganism. What she is interested in is why we’ve not drawn food animals into our concern and just what we do know about the minds and lives of chickens, cows, octopuses, fish, and more. Rooted in the latest science, and built on a mix of firsthand experience (including entomophagy, which, yes, is what you think it is) and close engagement with the work of scientists, farmers, vets, and chefs, Personalities on the Plate is an unforgettable journey through the world of animals we eat. Knowing what we know--and what we may yet learn--what is the proper ethical stance toward eating meat? What are the consequences for the planet? How can we life an ethically and ecologically sound life through our food choices?

We could have no better guide to these fascinatingly thorny questions than King, whose deep empathy embraces human and animal alike. Readers will be moved, provoked, and changed by this powerful book.
In this fascinating and inventive work, A. David Napier argues that the central assumption of immunology—that we survive through the recognition and elimination of non-self—has become a defining concept of the modern age. Tracing this immunological understanding of self and other through an incredibly diverse array of venues, from medical research to legal and military strategies and the electronic revolution, Napier shows how this defensive way of looking at the world not only destroys diversity but also eliminates the possibility of truly engaging difference, thereby impoverishing our culture and foreclosing tremendous opportunities for personal growth.

To illustrate these destructive consequences, Napier likens the current craze for embracing diversity and the use of politically correct speech to a cultural potluck to which we each bring different dishes, but at which no one can eat unless they abide by the same rules. Similarly, loaning money to developing nations serves as a tool both to make the peoples in those nations more like us and to maintain them in the nonthreatening status of distant dependents. To break free of the resulting downward spiral of homogenization and self-focus, Napier suggests that we instead adopt a new defining concept based on embryology, in which development and self-growth take place through a process of incorporation and transformation. In this effort he suggests that we have much to learn from non-Western peoples, such as the Balinese, whose ritual practices require them to take on the considerable risk of injecting into their selves the potential dangers of otherness—and in so doing ultimately strengthen themselves as well as their society.

The Age of Immunology, with its combination of philosophy, history, and cultural inquiry, will be seen as a manifesto for a new age and a new way of thinking about the world and our place in it.
From the time of our earliest childhood encounters with animals, we casually ascribe familiar emotions to them. But scientists have long cautioned against such anthropomorphizing, arguing that it limits our ability to truly comprehend the lives of other creatures. Recently, however, things have begun to shift in the other direction, and anthropologist Barbara J. King is at the forefront of that movement, arguing strenuously that we can—and should—attend to animal emotions. With How Animals Grieve, she draws our attention to the specific case of grief, and relates story after story—from fieldsites, farms, homes, and more—of animals mourning lost companions, mates, or friends. King tells of elephants surrounding their matriarch as she weakens and dies, and, in the following days, attending to her corpse as if holding a vigil. A housecat loses her sister, from whom she's never before been parted, and spends weeks pacing the apartment, wailing plaintively. A baboon loses her daughter to a predator and sinks into grief. In each case, King uses her anthropological training to interpret and try to explain what we see—to help us understand this animal grief properly, as something neither the same as nor wholly different from the human experience of loss. The resulting book is both daring and down-to-earth, strikingly ambitious even as it’s careful to acknowledge the limits of our understanding. Through the moving stories she chronicles and analyzes so beautifully, King brings us closer to the animals with whom we share a planet, and helps us see our own experiences, attachments, and emotions as part of a larger web of life, death, love, and loss.
From the time of our earliest childhood encounters with animals, we casually ascribe familiar emotions to them. But scientists have long cautioned against such anthropomorphizing, arguing that it limits our ability to truly comprehend the lives of other creatures. Recently, however, things have begun to shift in the other direction, and anthropologist Barbara J. King is at the forefront of that movement, arguing strenuously that we can—and should—attend to animal emotions. With How Animals Grieve, she draws our attention to the specific case of grief, and relates story after story—from fieldsites, farms, homes, and more—of animals mourning lost companions, mates, or friends. King tells of elephants surrounding their matriarch as she weakens and dies, and, in the following days, attending to her corpse as if holding a vigil. A housecat loses her sister, from whom she's never before been parted, and spends weeks pacing the apartment, wailing plaintively. A baboon loses her daughter to a predator and sinks into grief. In each case, King uses her anthropological training to interpret and try to explain what we see—to help us understand this animal grief properly, as something neither the same as nor wholly different from the human experience of loss. The resulting book is both daring and down-to-earth, strikingly ambitious even as it’s careful to acknowledge the limits of our understanding. Through the moving stories she chronicles and analyzes so beautifully, King brings us closer to the animals with whom we share a planet, and helps us see our own experiences, attachments, and emotions as part of a larger web of life, death, love, and loss.
In recent years, scientific advances in our understanding of animal minds have led to major changes in how we think about, and treat, animals in zoos and aquariums. The general public, it seems, is slowly coming to understand that animals like apes, elephants, and dolphins have not just brains, but complicated inner and social lives, and that we need to act accordingly.

Yet that realization hasn’t yet made its presence felt to any great degree in our most intimate relationship with animals: at the dinner table. Sure, there are vegetarians and vegans all over, but at the same time, meat consumption is up, and meat remains a central part of the culinary and dining experience for the majority of people in the developed world.

With Personalities on the Plate, Barbara King asks us to think hard about our meat eating--and how we might reduce it. But this isn’t a polemic intended to convert readers to veganism. What she is interested in is why we’ve not drawn food animals into our concern and just what we do know about the minds and lives of chickens, cows, octopuses, fish, and more. Rooted in the latest science, and built on a mix of firsthand experience (including entomophagy, which, yes, is what you think it is) and close engagement with the work of scientists, farmers, vets, and chefs, Personalities on the Plate is an unforgettable journey through the world of animals we eat. Knowing what we know--and what we may yet learn--what is the proper ethical stance toward eating meat? What are the consequences for the planet? How can we life an ethically and ecologically sound life through our food choices?

We could have no better guide to these fascinatingly thorny questions than King, whose deep empathy embraces human and animal alike. Readers will be moved, provoked, and changed by this powerful book.
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