RGST 330

THE SCIENCE OF RELIGION

2021–2022 Winter, Term 1 | MWF 2:00 – 3:00 PM

Section 1: MWF 1-2 Hennings 302
Section 2: MWF 2-3 Orchard Commons 4052

Instructor: Edward Slingerland
Contact: edward.slingerland@gmail.com
Office hours: W or F (depending on day of in-person seminar), 9-11

Prerequisites
RGST 200 or permission of instructor.

Course Description

What is religion? Why do human beings have it? Why does religion take the forms that it does, and how does it relate to spirituality? Can science explain the dynamics of the history of human religiosity? This course introduces students to many of the foundational questions concerning the nature of religious belief and practice, drawing on new scientific advances from various fields. Topics to be covered will include traditional and contemporary theories of religion, with a special emphasis on cultural evolutionary models.

Students will hear video lectures from top, cutting-edge researchers in the field, as well as get exciting glimpses into new research projects focused on cross-cultural fieldwork (in sites as diverse as Mauritius, Vanuatu, East Africa, Brazil and Fiji), large-scale textual mining, laboratory experiments, and the construction of a large-scale database of religious cultural history.

The main premise of this course is that religion is a naturalistic phenomenon—that is, it can be studied and better understood using the tools of science. Religious belief and practice emerge naturally from the structure of human psychology, and have an important impact on the structure of societies, the clash of civilizations and the ability of human beings to cooperation effectively. We welcome anyone interested in the question of where religion comes from, why it continues to play such a large role in human lives and current affairs, and what its future might be.

Taught in an innovative “flipped-classroom” style, lectures will be replaced by on-line videos that students can watch at their convenience; weekly quizzes will ensure that students remain up-to-date on both video lectures and readings. In-class time will be focused on small-group projects and discussion with the instructor.

Course Instructor

Edward Slingerland