Long ago I read this big (384 pages) serious book: Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer, on the subject. Some of it was very interesting, see review below.
I wanted to get The Illusion of God's Presence: The Biological Origins of Spiritual Longing by John C. Wathey; but its expensive, so I settled for his very interesting talk on youtube.
It’s the first talk here. (I think it’s a wonderful treat to be able to see and hear authors, from the comfort of one’s home, especially as there are so many interesting books, these days. Pascal Robert Boyer may also be found lecturing on youtube, on this topic, which may save one reading 384 pages )
https://www.youtube....=John C. Wathey
“About the Author
John C. Wathey is a computational biologist whose research interests include evolutionary algorithms, protein folding, and the biology of nervous systems. From 1991 to 1995, he was a senior applications scientist at Biosym Technologies (now named Biovia), a company that develops molecular modeling software for the pharmaceutical industry. … “
from a review:
“…This is the most engaging and thought-provoking book on religious belief I’ve read in a long time – maybe ever. The author eschews the usual New Atheist rants, and instead cuts to the heart of religion’s appeal: the strong emotional pull of belief and its promise to fill what has been called “the God-shaped vacuum in our hearts and minds.” As the author notes in his preface, the New Atheists have “largely ignored the real reason that most believers believe: their personal experience of the presence of God.” This book examines that subjective religious experience, offering a cogent description of its likely biological and psychological underpinnings. …”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“Pascal Robert Boyer is a French-American cognitive anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, mostly known for his work in the cognitive science of religion. He taught at the University of Cambridge for eight years, … ”
Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought
by Pascal Boyer-Reviewed in the United States on April 23, 2015
“ Verified Purchase - review
Fascinating …, about modularity of mind and how the nature of the brain/mind and evolutionary necessity has left us vulnerable to superstition. It is a long somewhat dense book. As an anthropologist he studied many cultures and found the main western view we have of religion isn't really typical. Much religion has more to do with ancestor worship, witches, and sacrifice to nature spirits, than what we typically think of as religion. Also referenced are many studies by cognitive psychologists about the human perception of agency. It is interesting enough to encourage one to learn more, about modularity and the brain. His claim is that some brain modules are in conflict, and in general not aware of each other. In particular the sight of a dead person, whom one has known, is claimed to produce a state of disassociation. This is an interesting theory and many account for some irrationality humans exhibit in regards to death.
What it does not cover, or account for, are those native peoples, who have an ethnobotanical and shamanistic tradition, such as the huichol, the Bwiti spiritual practice in West-Central Africa, the Native American Church, etc.
The most peculiar case are the ancient Maya who both used ethnobotanicals and had a very sadistic culture (with constant warfare, torture & human sacrifice), language, art, and a very elaborate religion and mythology.
So even Boyer's model of religion, (which he wisely defers from defining) which emphasizes superstition, does not account for some of the more interesting aspects of the subject.
As others have said the writing is very dense. Marvin Harris on the other hand is an anthropologist who is a delight to read. “