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Your Questions About Animism

Ken asks…

Is someone working out the details of the evolution of animism?

I’ve read a few descriptions in books of how animism could be adaptive or an unfortunate consequence of an overactive adaptive trait. For example in terms of avoiding predators or perceiving other threats, false positives are less costly than missing something real. Are there any books or papers that you know of about this?

(This name is inappropriate, but it’s sometimes called “the god gene”).

I’m asking here instead of in biology because I think many of you in R&S are interested in this and well-read on this subject.
Sweet, crickets and tumbleweeds again…

Oh, wait, hi Josh!
It is perceiving a living entity where there is none, but can also be taken to be believing in spirits, souls, gods, etc…. It’s the source of religious behaviors.
Nic4, thanks for the answer. I guess my cynicism was a little too obvious (but I can’t help it). I’d say that the form religion takes is shaped and defined through culture, but the source is the universal tendency for humans to try and attribute feelings and events to the supernatural.
Also, I don’t see how biologists looking to relate (any) human behavior to it’s genetic or evolutionary origin is unprofessional. To me, any phenomenon with a biological mechanism is at least in part under genetic control, and thus a product of evolution.

Animal Deities answers:

Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking The Spell has an excellent summary of the range of theories on the development of primitive religion, including the idea you mention (although I’m not sure animism is the right term here). Highly recommended.

Mandy asks…

what are some facts about animism?

Animal Deities answers:

Animism is the idea that the world is full of people, of whom some are human. There are cat people and wind people and tree people and rock people and light bulb people and…

Religious specialists within animism are experts in negotiating with these other People. Rites are performed to celebrate, create, or repair relationships with various People. Death is never the end of a relationship in animism.

Different Animist traditions around the world mainly differ in which People are important and in how relationships are maintained or repaired. The Japanese won’t offer blood, and white food is the best, but Ancient Rome (their People were called Numina) often gave/burned meat. Animals are very important and significant in many Native American traditions, but less so in some Folk Buddhist or Taoist traditions that are Animist as well.

As an Animist, I take issue with it being called primitive (according to whom, and by what criteria?), or that it is “unsophisticated” (unless it’s Shinto, apparently).

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