November 23, 2020

Back in October, I was privileged to give the keynote talk at a Toronto School of Theology conference on how ritual and play structure “Value and Valuing.” My argument? Animal ritualization and human ritual, which both share some crucial features with play, are indispensable tools for sending clear messages about complex or ambiguous social facts. Read more

November 9, 2020

It took four days after the 2020 U.S. presidential election for the country to identify a clear winner. The delay shouldn’t be terribly surprising, given the complications of a coronavirus pandemic, mail-in voting, the closeness of many of the key races, and the generally bizarro nature of the year 2020. (Remember the enormous Australian mega-wildfires back in January? Yeah, me neither.) But the most prestigious scientific publication in the world, Nature, seems completely shocked that Democrat Joe Biden didn’t crush… Read more

October 29, 2020

Back in September, I described a computer model my collaborator Rich Sosis and I built that simulates religious communities as complex adaptive systems. The model married complex-systems theory to human behavioral ecology, or the study of how human beings change their behavior according to different contexts and incentives — specifically, the evolutionary incentives of survival and reproduction. Applying this framework to human life leads to a striking conclusion: how loyal we are to our societies may hinge on whether those… Read more

September 29, 2020

A shouting match is often perversely compelling in the same way that a road accident is: it’s ugly, but it commands your attention. Very occasionally, however, a viciously heated conversation manages to achieve aching tedium at the same time. For an example of this paradox, ask some religious studies scholars what religion is. The ensuing debate will be a painstaking, often bitter exchange of views that ultimately boils down to the deflationary proposition that there is, in fact, no such… Read more

August 27, 2020

Some interesting battle lines have formed in the past few months.* We Americans had gotten used to thinking of ourselves as polarized between the Blue Tribe and the Red Tribe. But in recent years, decidedly illiberal factions have calved off from both these tribes, giving rise respectively to the identity-politics left and the populist right. In response, a growing chorus of old-school liberals have begun urgently defending the values and commitments of liberalism: free speech and debate, individual rights, procedural… Read more

July 31, 2020

Where does religious experience come from? In a new article, I combine Durkheim’s concept of Homo Duplex, Victor Turner’s concept of antistructure, and a healthy dose of contemporary social cognitive science to offer a new approach to this question. Read more

June 20, 2020

I’ve been hesitant to say anything about the recent protests and nationwide conversation about American racism and policing that erupted from the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This is partly because my expertise, to the extent that I have any, is in religion and science. I don’t see how it helps the cause of racial justice for a religion-and-science “expert” to rush to express an opinion about such a massively complicated, painfully raw topic. At the same time,… Read more

May 30, 2020

It might not seem like it at this exact moment, but despite the coronavirus lockdowns and, well, riots, the United States and other Western countries are pretty decent places to live, as far as world standards go. Incomes are high, the air and water are generally clean, and governments have historically been comparatively effective and transparent. That’s not to say that these countries don’t suffer from gnarly problems – the U.S.’s painful ongoing struggles with racism are Exhibit A. It’s… Read more

May 18, 2020

The evolutionary developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello argues that, while other animals experience sympathy, the specific moral feeling of obligation emerged only in humans, and is based on “partner control” – or the internalized negotiations between members of a collective. Read more

April 27, 2020

Are we living through the end of the end of history – that is, the end of the era of liberal democracy as an inevitable endpoint for human development? If so, what will that mean for the future of science and religion? Read more




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