There are still many people around who claim an inevitable enmity between science and religions. But in the last years, scientists from different fields and backgrounds started to explore religiosity (here defined as behavior toward supernatural agents) from the perspective of evolutionary theory. We agree that questions of existence or nonexistence of supernatural agents as ancestors, spirits, bodhisattvas or God may be beyond the scope of empirical sciences, but that we may explore religious behavior, its workings and functions with the same scientific respect and curiosity as any other natural, biocultural trait (i.e. musicality or speaking).
The question from the perspective of evolutionary biology is: Why do people among all human populations invest so much time and energy in religious activities? Why did Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalensis start to bury their dead as early the middle paleolithic, increasingly accompanied by rituals and gifts to the dead?
If this behavior would have only served supernatural or psychological means, why did it evolve so fast into more scope and complexity, with today even explicit non-religious people performing complex rituals regarding the deceased, even erecting huge monuments of ritual veneration to secular leaders (as Lenin, Mao, Atatürk etc.)? Why are most religious skeptics male and why do females report on the average more religious convictions and experiences than their male contemporaries? And why do women so often remain faithful to or even join obliging religious communities whose gender roles are rather binding and whose religious hierarchies are reserved to men?
If all these traits were just inducing biological costs without benefits, they should have been wiped out by evolution - but the opposite is true. Today, more and more scientists agree that religious behavior can be adapative and that is has become part of human nature through a natural history of success. Evolution shaped us - into a species able to believe. Unraveling ever-increasing parts of this scientific riddle is bringing together different scientists from very different disciplines, worldviews and backgrounds into international and interdisciplinary networks as the Evolutionary Religious Studies.
As in my German Scilog "Natur des Glaubens" (as well as in German books and scientific articles), I'd like to present and discuss the new field bridging natural sciences and religious studies here in "Biology of Religion". You'll read about biologists (i.e. David Sloan Wilson, Eckart Voland, Rüdiger Vaas) approaching religious life not with contempt, but with scientific curiosity. We'll delve into the works of neurologists (i.e. Andrew Newberg, Nina Azari, Detlef Linke) who started to pinpoint regions of the brain involved into different types of religious behavior. You'll hear about the findings of genetics and Twin Studies (i.e. by Thomas Bouchard Jr.) showing that religiosity is part of our biocultural heritage as are music and language - genetically transferred abilities who have to be be developped from childhood in a sociocultural environment. You'll meet psychologists (i.e. Jesse Bering, Ara Norenzayan, Harald Euler) and sociologists (i.e. Richard Sosis) studying the cooperative values of religious convictions while others analyzing history (i.e. Rodney Stark, Ina Wunn), deciphering the factors which led some religious movements to their world-shaping successes, as most of their competitors succumbed.
The Reproductive Potentials of Religiosity
And I'd like to introduce interested people into my personal focus of research, the reproductive advantage of religiosity - as rightly assumed and coined by economic nobel prize winner Friedrich August von Hayek (1899-1992). After a doctoral thesis on religion and brain sciences (the so-called "neurotheologies"), I have worked on the complex relations of religions and demography, observing and exploring higher birth rates (that is: evolutionary success!) among religious people worldwide, even if compared to their secular neighbours of the same income and educational levels.
We'll discuss empirical studies from different times and countries around the world and we'll visit interesting case studies of reproductive success as the Amish, orthodox Jews or the Mormons - noting that yet not a single secular community managed to pass on its genes and traditions with the same, intergenerational success as these and other religious ones.
Dynamically furthered by the possibilities of the Web 2.0 (as blogs, networks and Twitter (BlumeEvolution)), there's emerging a new, fascinating picture of the nature of faith, opening new perspectives and transcending old prejudices on the basis of natural sciences, sound reason and curious respect toward life itself. I'd be glad if you'd join the adventure of evolutionary religious studies!