Origin of Religion in Human History

Tao Jiang (Religion)

What is religion? Why do human societies have religion? What is it about human beings that makes religion possible as a uniquely human phenomenon? These are some of the questions that motivate this seminar. We will use Robert Bellah highly acclaimed book, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, as a guide to explore these questions. The book offers a nuanced, but at times controversial, theory about the origin of religion that probes deeply into evolution, especially cultural evolution. Bellah’s study of the origin of religion is interdisciplinary, delving into biology, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology. His treatment of the four great civilizations of the Axial Age (1st millennium BCE)—in ancient Israel, Greece, China, and India—provides an invaluable cross-cultural study of the evolutionary roots of major religions in the world.