Richard Sosis
University of Connecticut

Religion as a Complex Adaptive System: Why Sacred Beliefs Require More Than Natural Cognition   

Project Description:
Emerging research on the evolution of religion suggests that selective pressures have shaped religious expressions by uniting behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and developmental capacities in the human lineage. Consequently, evolutionary researchers are increasingly investigating religion as a complex adaptive system. This approach recognizes that religious beliefs typically emerge from and are sustained by interacting elements within the religious system. As a CTI Fellow I will further develop the study of religion as a complex adaptive system and explore the political, philosophical, and theological implications of this approach. Moreover, I will seek to reconcile it with current cognitive analyses that understand religious beliefs as emerging primarily from natural cognitive processes.   

Richard Sosis is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Evolution, Cognition, and Culture Program at the University of Connecticut. His work has focused on the evolution of cooperation and the adaptive significance of religious behavior, with particular interest in the relationship between ritual and intra-group cooperation. To explore these issues, he has conducted fieldwork with remote cooperative fishers in the Federated States of Micronesia and with various communities throughout Israel, including Ultra-Orthodox Jews and members of secular and religious kibbutzim. He is co-founder and co-editor of the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior, which publishes research on the biological study of religion.