Malevich Tat'iana

Evolutionary Role of Religion: Between Adoptation and By-Product

Malevich Tat'iana (2016) " Evolutionary Role of Religion: Between Adoptation and By-Product ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia I : Bogoslovie. Filosofiia. Religiovedenie, 2016, vol. 66, pp. 84-104 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturI201666.84-104


The given article is aimed to defi ne the heuristic value of the evolutionary models of religious representations and religious practices elaborated in the cognitive science of religion (CSR) and evolutionary psychology of religion. In the following analysis two such models are taken into consideration, which interpret religion in terms of adaptation and by-project, or spandrel, respectively. According to the first one typical of evolutionary psychology, religion has a useful adaptive function, including its major contribution to the formation of prosocial behavior. The second model, which is characteristic of CSR, treats religion as an incidental and biologically useless or even maladaptive product of a set of cognitive systems designed to perform other cognitive functions. It is shown that both models have theoretical and methodological flaws and might share some of these pitfalls. Adaptationist interpretations suffer from cultural universalism and tend to «biologize» religion and to reduce it to its behavioral side. The spandrelist approach is currently unable to show any ontogenetic relationship between diff erent cognitive modules and their presumable religious by-products and fails to explain historical and cross-cultural persistence of costly religious by-products in spite of their evolutionary uselessness or maladaptiveness. Finally, both models treat religion as a one-dimensional variable, are prone to unjustified generalizations, and don’t take into account absence of causal relationship between the contemporary functional repertoire of religious phenomena and their original evolutionary value.


religion, evolution, adaptation, by-product, cognitive science of religion, evolutionary psychology of religion, prosociality, costly signaling theory, epidemiology of representations, intuitive ontology.


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Information about the author

Malevich Tat'iana

Academic Degree: Candidate of Sciences* in Philosophy;
Place of work: Institute of Philosophy of Russian Academy of Sciences, St Tikhon Orthodox University;
Email: email: t.v.malevich@gmail.com.

*According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011, the degree of Candidate of Sciences (Cand.Sc.) belongs to ISCED level 8 — "doctoral or equivalent", together with PhD, DPhil, D.Lit, D.Sc, LL.D, Doctorate or similar.


Текст подготовлен в рамках проекта «Религия, наука, общество: серия лекций и семинаров», осуществляемого Общецерковной аспирантурой и докторантурой РПЦ при поддержке Фонда Джона Темплтон