Webcast sponsored by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and hosted by Green College. Most people believe in deities, immaterial souls, life after death, and the divine creation of humans and other animals. Research from developmental psychology (including the study of babies) and social psychology supports a minimalist theory of why we have such beliefs, which is that they emerge from the very same processes that give rise to beliefs in other domains, such as science and politics. Finally, although it is often argued that religious beliefs have great moral significance, there is little evidence in support of this view. Overall, religious beliefs just aren’t that special.


Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology at Yale University. He was born in Montreal, Canada, was an undergraduate at McGill University, and did his doctoral work at MIT. He has published in scientific journals such as Nature and Science, and in popular outlets such as The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly. He is the co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and the author of two books: How Children Learn the Meanings of Words and Descartes’ Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human. His research explores children’s understanding of art, religion, and morality.  This lecture is part of the ongoing Green College lecture series, “Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture: The Evolution of Religion, Morality and Cooperation”

Select Articles Available at UBC Library

Starmans, C., & Bloom, P. (2012). Windows to the soul: Children and adults see the eyes as the location of the self. Cognition, 123, 313-318. Link: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027712000285

Bloom, P. (2012). Religion, morality, evolution. Annual Review of Psychology, 63, 179-199. Link: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100334

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Hosted by Green College’s Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture: The Evolution of Religion, Morality and Cooperation lecture series. Religion and spirituality are often discussed as “big” philosophical and scientific questions, but they also need to be understood in the context of everyday life. The small city of Binghamton, New York, includes almost 100 religious congregations, along with many non-churchgoers with their own religious/spiritual/secular beliefs. The city can be studied as a “cultural ecosystem” using the same theories and methods that are used to study biological ecosystems. This approach to religion and spirituality can be employed at other geographical locations and provides a new perspective on the “big” philosophical and scientific questions. David Sloan Wilson is Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University.

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