What evolution, the human niche, and imagination can tell us about the emergence of religion

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It is highly likely that there is a naturalness to a human imagination that facilitates engagement with, and being in, the world in ways that are distinct from those in other animals, even closely related hominins. A distinctively human imagination is part of the explanation for human evolutionary success. The combination of a niche-construction perspective with fossil and archeological evidence, highlighting the role of complexity in human evolution, adds to our understanding of a wholly human way of being. For humans, experiences in and perceptions of the world exist in a particular context wherein social relationships, landscapes, and biotic and abiotic elements are embedded in an experiential reality that is infused with a potential for symbolic meaning. Taking this approach provides a small, and hopefully fruitful, addition to the toolkit of inquiry for anthropologists, theologians, and others interested in reconstructing the path to humanity and the possible roles that imagination, belief, and religion have played and continue to play.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-181
Number of pages12
JournalTheology Today
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 22 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


  • evolution
  • human nature
  • imagination
  • niche
  • religion


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