Recent cognitive and evolutionary approaches to the study of religion have been seen by many as a naturalistic alternative to conventional anthropological interpretations. Whereas anthropologists have traditionally accounted for the existence of religion in terms of social and cultural determinants, cognitive scientists have emphasized the innate—that is pre-cultural—constraints placed by natural selection on the formation and acquisition of religious ideas. This article provides a critical assessment of the main theoretical proposals put forward by cognitive scientists and suggests possible interactions, perhaps interdependencies, with more standard anthropological sensibilities, especially between cognitive and evolutionary perspectives that see religion as a by-product of innate psychological dispositions and anthropological approaches that take the 'meaningful' nature of religious symbols as their point of departure.
A Critical Assessment
Based on film examples and evolutionary psychology, this article discusses why viewers are fascinated not only with funny and pleasure-evoking films, but also with sad and disgust-evoking ones. This article argues that although the basic emotional mechanisms are made to avoid negative experiences and approach pleasant ones, a series of adaptations modify such mechanisms. Goal-setting in narratives implies that a certain amount of negative experiences are gratifying challenges, and comic mechanisms make it possible to deal with negative social emotions such as shame. Innate adaptations make negative events fascinating because of the clear survival value, as when children are fascinated by stories about loss of parental attachment. Furthermore, it seems that the interest in tragic stories ending in death is an innate adaptation to reaffirm social attachment by the shared ritual of sadness, often linked to acceptance of group living and a tribal identity.
The Revelation of Ontogeny
To analyse the ontogeny of sociality in any given case is to throw into question various current ideas of sociality as instinct, or as based in an innate theory of mind, or as the artefact of actor-networks, or as necessitating certain ideas of agency. This article argues that an understanding of human autopoiesis as an historical process provides for a unified model of human being in which all the many and manifold forms of sociality can be seen to be the emergent artefact of human ontogeny.
Orientations and Reorientations
Norman A. Stillman
Until the mid twentieth century, Moroccan Jewry constituted the largest non-Ashkenazi Jewish community and had more than double the population of any other Jewish community in the Islamic world. Under the influence of the Alliance Israélite Universelle school network, French colonialism, the experience of World War II and the innate tensions between Zionism and Arab nationalism, the Jews of Morocco underwent a variety of transformations and ultimately the dissolution of the community as a result of the mass exodus to Israel, France and North America.
Natural Philosophies of Fortune—Luck, Vitality, and Uncontrolled Relatedness
Giovanni da Col
Despite the resurgence of interdisciplinary interest in concepts of fortune, luck, and chance, anthropology has failed to engage with the social imagination of these concepts and their incorporation into quotidian moralities and decisions. This essay, which introduces the first of two special issues on this topic, will first present different conceptions and uses of notions of luck and chance and their relation with moral ontologies and notions of skeptical efficacy. By focusing on the interface between cosmology, economics, and human relatedness—that is, cosmoeconomics—this introduction shall then highlight how idioms of luck and fortune foreground a social topology that explicates how innate conceptions of vitality and 'mystical' influence, deemed to be of uncertain and uncontrolled nature, are nonetheless able to connect humans and non-humans, organisms and material entities.
John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University speaks to the concerns of African educationalists, not despite, but because of the circumstance that his fidelity to the ideal of a university as a seat of universal knowledge is tied to his argument for the inclusion of theology as an indispensable part of any university syllabus. It is not the case, moreover, that his idealism resonates with us purely because it is carried by a magnificent prose style. Rather, Newman’s thoughts about the universality of higher learning touch us across a considerable culturo-temporal divide, because Africans in their quest for a form of university education which will harmonize with their Africanness are driven by an innate conviction, too seldom made explicit, that such education would have to be inseparable from their own spirituality and religious commitments. If the conviction remains largely unspoken, this has much to do with the global climate of scientism and secularism in which humanity’s aspirations – religious and educational – must seek expression. It is, perhaps, because we are denizens of this climate that we can scarcely suppress a smile at Newman’s claim that theology is a factual science much as, say, physics is a factual science and why his assertion in the Fourth Discourse that “the preservation of our race in Noah’s Ark is an historical fact which history never would arrive at without revelation”1 strikes us (quite rightly) as being something of a howler.
Reading Faces in Samuel Beckett's "That Time"
In his study of psychology in the 1930s, Samuel Beckett registered a number of ideas regarding the face. He took note of the Gestalt idea that the baby is born with the innate ability to distinguish the figure of a face from a blurry buzzing background. His interest was also piqued by the finding that one's perception of a facial expression might change depending on how much of the face is made visible. These ideas would influence his later work. Focusing on the short play That Time, this article looks at Beckett's dramatic presentation of a face alone in the dark. It compares Beckett's approach to face-reading with the study of the face that developed in twentieth-century experimental psychology. Beckett, I suggest, is working with the idea, common in experimental psychology, that facial expressions can be produced involuntarily and perceived effortlessly. However, he also draws attention to a more effortful mode of producing and perceiving faces. Finally, the article situates Beckett's portrayal of the face in relation to a modern culture that increasingly recognises – and celebrates – the face's unmanageability, but has not stopped attempting to manage the face.
Racial nationalism and anthropological science
This article deals with the theory of the "strong nucleus of the Greek race" elaborated by the Greek physical anthropologist Ioannis Koumaris (1879-1970), who headed all academic anthropological institutions in Greece between 1915 and 1970. According to this theory human groups were in a state of "fluid constancy," meaning that the "proper" nucleus of the predominant race always persisted in a stable form despite miscegenation, and was hence capable of resurfacing. This theory footed, first, on racial theories challenging the existence of "pure races" in favor of evidencing "racial varieties" and "racial types" and, second, an early Greek national idea according to which Hellenism possessed the ability to acculturate and absorb foreign peoples or nations without losing its innate qualities. The Greek notion fili (meaning both nation and race), and its shifting semantics from religious to national and racial, is similarly instrumental to this analysis. By means of this theory racial purity was not so much rejected as it was relativized, essentially being replaced by the constancy of a race over time. With the shift from purity to constancy, the imperative of the homogeneity of an entity is not violated but, in contrast, supported by race anthropological arguments. Race hygienic theories, in turn, advanced the shift from racial consistency to purification.
Travellers to Ottoman Palestine and Accounts of Diversity
The divides between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, are well known. Scholarly and journalistic accounts of the differences in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean fill shelves and are too numerous to list. Most implicitly assume an essential divide between the two peoples, exploring the diversity within the groups but not the categories themselves. That primordial position, one that envisions identities as innate and fixed through time, negates the history of personal and group dynamics. This article provides a line of argument against the primordial approach to ethnic identity in the Middle East. Similar to the anthropological quest to demonstrate the historical contingencies of skin colour for hierarchical groupings of peoples (Smedley 1999), the categories for the peoples of the Middle East can be grounded in historical processes to produce a critique of primordialism. Eric Wolf (1982) exposed identities, behaviours and peoplehood as existing in a matrix of global interactions and histories that developed over the last 500 years. Anthropologists have followed that pathway to investigate the history of groups in the Americas, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia and the Pacific region. Yet in a place with an abundance of history – some would say an overabundance of history – the groupings of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, are taken as givens. This article seeks to expose the volatile issues of groupings by employing a resource that contributed to the process of racialising differences.
Demonic belief in Scotland has primarily been addressed in the context of the witch-trials, in which the devil appeared as an external figure that convinced morally weak people (mostly women) to renounce their baptisms, enter into a demonic pact, and commit atrocious crimes. Encountering the devil, however, could also be a very personal, internal experience that arose from the questions of sin and salvation that formed an intrinsic part of reformed Protestant piety. I propose that in order to understand the importance of the devil to early modern Scotland, and Europe more generally, we must look beyond the witch trials and the dichotomy of good versus evil and ask how early modern men and women actually experienced the devil in their daily lives. By exploring the diaries and letters of both ministers and laymen in seventeenth-century Scotland, I demonstrate that the devil was not simply an evil, non-human "Other"; for early modern Scots, the demonic represented something innate and intimate about humanity itself, serving as a constant reminder of the moral depravity man, the potential for God's wrath, and the insecurity of salvation.