Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Explaining Religion: Naturalism With and Without Scientism

Barbara Herrnstein-Smith

Braxton Craven Professor of Comparative Literature and English, and Director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory, Duke University; Distinguished Professor of English, Brown University

April 14, 2008, 4:00pm-6:00pm
Fong Auditorium, Boylston Hall


Smith's talk is concerned with a series of recent studies that offer to explain various features of religion on the basis of current research and theory in evolutionary biology and cognitive science, a project that she calls the New Naturalism. In discussing the project and some of the conceptual, methodological, and ideological issues it raises, she focuses on Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (2001). She also discusses Walter Burkert, Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions (1995), which she takes as representing a significantly broader intellectual tradition in the naturalistic study of religion.