Ara Norenzayan, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, has arguably done more than any other scholar to advance the evolutionary study of religion. He was trained as a cultural psychologist at the University of Michigan, and his deep appreciation for both psychological and anthropological perspectives has yielded a powerful approach to understanding religion. His experimental studies have examined counterintuitive cognition, morality, supernatural agent beliefs, atheism, secularization, religious violence, and religious prosociality, among other topics. His work has been published in leading journals including Science, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Psychological Science. At the University of British Columbia, Ara is the co-director of the Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture (HECC) and co-investigator in the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC).
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Ara about his recent book: Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict. Ara’s work has been a genuine inspiration in my own career, and I know this is a common sentiment in our field, so it was a tremendous honor to be able to discuss his book with him. Big Gods is widely recognized as the most significant contribution to the evolutionary study of religion in recent years. Several months ago TVOL published a favorable review of Big Gods and two journals, Religion, Brain & Behavior and Religion, have recently published symposia on this important book with commentaries from leading scholars in the scientific study of religion. In the interview, Ara clarifies many aspects of the argument developed in Big Gods and he discusses future directions that the evolutionary study of religion should explore. A recording of our conversation is below.
For more exciting developments from the field of evolutionary religious studies, including the book symposium on Big Gods discussed in the interview below, you can access free publications from Religion, Brain & Behavior.