The Biology of Religious Behavior
The Evolutionary Origins of Faith and Religion
Edited by Jay R. Feierman
June 2009, 301pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-36430-3
$65, £50, 57€, A90
eBook Available: 978-0-313-36431-0
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Religious conflict and divisiveness have been important themes in human history, and their effects are no less evident today. The scientific study of religion cannot by itself mend these divisions, but by enhancing our understanding of behavior, it can make an important contribution towards that end.

Offers a fresh and detailed take on the evolution of religious behavior from a biobehavioral perspective, promoting a new understanding that may help build bridges across the religious divide.

There has been much recent interest in the study of religion from the perspective of Darwinian evolution. The Biology of Religious Behavior: The Evolutionary Origins of Faith and Religion offers a broad overview of the topic, written by internationally recognized experts. In addition to its primary focus on religious behavior, the book addresses other important aspects of religion, such as values, beliefs, and emotions as they affect behavior.

The contributors approach the evolution of religion by examining the behavior of individuals in their everyday lives. After describing various religious behaviors, the contributors consider the behaviors with reference to their evolutionary history, development during the lifetime of the individual, proximate causes, and adaptive value. Happily, this foray into understanding religion from a biobehavioral perspective demonstrates that, at the biological and behavioral levels, what unites the different religions of the world is far greater than what divides them.

Jay R. Feierman is retired as Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at The University of New Mexico. For close to 20 years he was a medical consultant for psychosexual and behavioral health issues in Roman Catholic priests in numerous dioceses and religious orders throughout the United States and the English speaking world.

Name: Jay R. Feierman
Highest Degree: M.D., University of Pennsylvania; Board Certified in Psychiatry
Current Position: Retired Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of New Mexico; Retired Consultant to the National Nuclear Security Administration and Adjunct Instructor at the Non-Proliferation and National Security Institute
Institution(s): University of New Mexico (retired) and National Nuclear Security Administration
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Washington, D.C.
Previous published works: Edited The Ethology of Psychiatric Populations, Supplement 3, Ethology and Sociobiology, 1987; Edited Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, Springer, 1990. Contributor to the forthcoming The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior, E. Voland and W. Schiefenhovel, eds., Springer, in press. Wrote the Foreword to Gay Priests, James G. Wolf, ed. Harper & Row, 1989. Author of numerous scientific articles in the bio-behavioral sciences.
Awards won: Former Fellow, American Psychiatric Association; Former President, Psychiatric Medical Association of New Mexico; Recipient of Exemplary Psychiatrist Award, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).


"Religion and science are compatible, asserts psychiatrist Feierman (retired, U. of New Mexico; B.S., zoology) in introducing the new non-theological approach to the study of religion through neo- Darwinian disciplines including ethology (the biology of behavior), evolutionary psychology, and cognitive science. International scholars describe the parallel biosocial evolutionary history of religious behaviors, their basis in brain development, causes, and adaptive roles. For example, closing one’s eyes in prayer in monotheistic religions is viewed as akin to animal expression of submission to higher-ranked animals."—Reference & Research Book News, August 1, 2009

"Unlike other more opinionated works on the topic, The Biology of Religious Behavior invites readers to put aside their biases to consider how science and religion can assist one another in the search for truth."—Association of Religion Data Archives, September 30, 2009

". . . the book provides a good, enriching framework from which one can understand and appreciate religions as an outsider . . . Recommended. General and academic audiences, upper-division undergraduates and above."—Choice, January 1, 2010

"...a splendid effort to show how religion evolved and how it creates the identity of religious communities...outstanding edited volume."—Evolutionary Psychology, April 23, 2010

"...there is sufficient heft so that the non-expert will learn quite a bit, and the expert can find new ways of looking at old problems."—Biodemography and Social Biology, June 2, 2010

"In every way this is a very interesting book and it filled up some gaps in my knowledge."—ESSAT News, June 1, 2010

"The volume offers an exciting read, running the whole gamut from seriously empirical to wildly speculative. . . . it is an inspiring overview, combining valuable pearls of empirical and theoretical work with open-minded forays into possible paths of future inquiry. It is a strong testimonial to recent dynamics in the field of revolutionary religious studies. . . .Those interested in bringing the scientific study of religion beyond outdated, disciplinary stagnations are recommended to enter this fray!"—Marburg Journal of Religion, August 27, 2010

"Feierman has put together this very readable and useful study of religion as religion has ‘evolved’ from primitive times until today. . . . All in all, this is a tightly argued book, with a thesis that fills a void; it should be lauded due it taking up the idea of religion from a broad perspective, and not simply from a singularist perspective instead, which is often the omission of former attempted analyses. . . . Philosophy of religion courses would well benefit from this title, as it make valuable connections among various religions, opening up the possibility for further ecumenical dialogue. For this, it should be suited well for upper-division college courses as a supplementary text."—Reviews in Religion & Theology, August 1, 2010

"The essays are of such a high caliber and so free of wooden materialism that they are well positioned to invoke or provoke ongoing query . . . This is a textbook that I shall assign to my students because it gets so much right so many times . . . the focus on biology puts the theological questions on the side lines, as it must. For the philosophical theologian the focus is also on the ontological nature of the referent and on the complexities of the self - world correlation where genuine sacred folds perennially punctuate our encounters with the heart of nature." —The American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, August 27, 2010

"...this is a strong book; it should be lauded, due to it taking up the idea of religion from a broad perspective...Philosophy of religion courses would well benefit from this title, as it makes valuable connections amongst various religionsm opening up the possibility for further ecumenical dialogue. For this, it should be used well in upper-division college courses as a supplementary text."—Theological Book Review, September 1, 2010

"The range is impressive, with many useful and insightful points being well-argued, and Feireman has structured the book well, both in the order of the contents, and in his topping and tailing the collection. ... These contributions to the understanding of religion and its evolutionary roots are very welcome."—Reviews in Science and Religion, November 1, 2010

"... the chapters...admirably demonstrate how the ethological paradigm—investigating naturally occurring behavior in its typical environment—can shed new light on religion’s evolutionary origins."—The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, November 1, 2010

"... it does demonstrate by utilising a strongly empirical and widely comparative methodology that human religious behaviours have deep roots in general species behaviours and most definitely ‘make sense’ within the context of our mammalian heritage. That already, it seems to me, makes this a book well worth the focused attention of the reader's eye." —Religion, March 1, 2011

"The Biology of Religious Behavior contains insightful theoretical and methodological work that anyone interested in the evolutionary foundations of religion will want to browse. Complete with reviews of existing literature and original research not previously published, it certainly should not be ignored by researchers, scholars, and students pursuing current efforts to recast the supernatural as natural."—Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, July 1, 2012

". . . a fabulous and important contribution to an evolutionary understanding of religious thinking and behavior. In a world torn by interreligious strife and the conflict between faith and reason, few things are more important than helping religious people across the theological spectrum take to heart that our deepest religious impulses and actions are rooted in our biological nature. Every thinking religious person should read this book."—Michael Dowd
Author of Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World

". . . this well organized book provides some fascinating material for sociologists and others who wish to broaden their understanding of religion from an evolutionary bio-behavioral perspective. . . . This volume clearly demonstrates the importance of the biobehavioral perspective in advancing our understanding of religion."—Doyle Paul Johnson, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Texas Tech University

". . . essential reading for anyone interested in the biological foundation of religion. . . filled with novel insights, theoretical and methodological advances, as well as new empirical studies that further our understanding of religious behavior. This volume fills a significant gap in religious scholarship and is a most welcome contribution to the field."—Richard Sosis
Department of Anthropology
University of Connecticut

"Many books on evolution and religion are for religion or against religion. This one is about religion. . . . Full of new ideas and details from across millennia and diverse cultures, it is, as the editor and authors emphasize, just a beginning. However, it is a valuable beginning to an important and heretofore neglected project."—Randolph M. Nesse
Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology
The University of Michigan

"Dr. Jay Feierman, with a group of internationally known and respected experts, has put together this very readable and useful study of religion as it has evolved from primitive times until today. At the biological and behavioral levels, 'what unites the world's religions is far greater than what divides them,' is the theme of the book! Teachers, devout clergy, everyone interested in knowing why religion and "evolution" are not contradictory, must read this well written work." —Michael R. Saso, PhD, Professor, Comparative Religion/Social Anthropology
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