Gods and Religious Systems
This chapter describes how mental representations of gods are transmitted through a population as public representations, and ultimately serve as the basis of the cultural systems called “religion.” Drawing on an “epidemiological” model of culture, the chapter shows how religious ideas, like other kinds of ideas, depend on shared mental mechanisms in the process of acquisition, storage, and transmission. These shared mechanisms in turn explain the underlying similarity of god concepts in diverse cultures. The chapter also defines and defends religion as belief in supernatural beings and the public ideas (doctrines), behaviors (rituals), and social structure (community) that coalesce around them, arguing that contrary to past perspectives on what constitutes religion, the presence of god concepts are necessary for fostering the commitment, motivation, and transmission potential that such systems require.
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