This book provides a fresh synopsis and significant expansion of theogonic reproduction theory, which hypothesizes that gods (supernatural agent conceptions) are born in human minds and borne in human cultures as a result of a complex set of reciprocally reinforcing, phylogenetically inherited, and socially sustained cognitive and coalitional biases. The latter were naturally selected for their survival advantage in early ancestral environments, but today the superstitious beliefs and segregative behaviors they engender are maladaptive in a growing number of contexts. As naturalist explanations of the world and secularist inscriptions of society take root within a population, people start to lose interest in engaging in religious sects.
The theoretical framework outlined below is supported by empirical findings and theoretical developments in a wide variety of disciplines, all of which have converged within what I refer to here as the bio-cultural study of religion. I cite hundreds of recent studies that contribute to our understanding of the god-bearing and god-dissolving mechanisms at work in human life. It is difficult to keep up with the literature in this highly generative, globally networked, multi-disciplinary discussion. Dozens of relevant studies were published during the few months between my sending in the manuscript and receiving the first proofs. Rather than incorporating these into the text, I have set up a web page where I list (and sometimes comment on) recent publications whose findings are particularly salient for the basic hypotheses of theogonic reproduction theory: www.leronshults.com/my_weblog/safe-sects.html.
A brief preview of the book appears at the end of Chapter 1 which, along with Chapter 12, provides the most comprehensive synthesis of the literature and detailed defense of the theory. Most of the work on this book occurred during the early phases of the “Modeling Religion in Norway” (modrn) project, which was supported by a grant from the Research Council of Norway (#250499). The central chapters are adaptations of earlier publications, significantly revised and updated to complement the larger, completely new bookend chapters. I am grateful to the publishers of these earlier essays for permission to incorporate material from them into the current book (details are provided in the footnotes of the relevant chapters below). I am also thankful to the two anonymous reviewers, who provided the most careful reading and constructive critique I have ever received as part of a review process. Thanks also to the many colleagues and friends who have discussed these issues with me over the years. Special thanks goes to Michael J. Prince, to whom this volume is dedicated, for his patient listening and insightful questioning during countless coffee breaks and sushi dinners.