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Evolving God

A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion, Expanded Edition


With a New Afterword by the Author

Evolving God

A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion, Expanded Edition


With a New Afterword by the Author
Religion has been a central part of human experience since at least the dawn of recorded history. The gods change, as do the rituals, but the underlying desire remains—a desire to belong to something larger, greater, most lasting than our mortal, finite selves.
But where did that desire come from? Can we explain its emergence through evolution? Yes, says biological anthropologist Barbara J. King—and doing so not only helps us to understand the religious imagination, but also reveals fascinating links to the lives and minds of our primate cousins. Evolving God draws on King’s own fieldwork among primates in Africa and paleoanthropology of our extinct ancestors to offer a new way of thinking about the origins of religion, one that situates it in a deep need for emotional connection with others, a need we share with apes and monkeys. Though her thesis is provocative, and she’s not above thoughtful speculation, King’s argument is strongly rooted in close observation and analysis. She traces an evolutionary path that connects us to other primates, who, like us, display empathy, make meanings through interaction, create social rules, and display imagination—the basic building blocks of the religious imagination. With fresh insights, she responds to recent suggestions that chimpanzees are spiritual—or  even religious—beings, and that our ancient humanlike cousins carefully disposed of their dead well before the time of Neandertals.
King writes with a scientist’s appreciation for evidence and argument, leavened with a deep empathy and admiration for the powerful desire to belong, a desire that not only brings us together with other humans, but with our closest animal relations as well.

304 pages | 8 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Anthropology: Physical Anthropology

Biological Sciences: Evolutionary Biology

Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion


"With [her] opening paragraph, Barbara K. King hooks readers. . . . Once engaged, few will set the book aside."

Dallas Morning News

"King . . . questions the compulsion to choose either evolution or belief. Anyone who recognizes that compulsion, internal or external, may profit from reading this brilliant book."


"King draws on cutting-edge research in primatology to demonstrate that once animals are capable of emotional attachments and cognitive empathy, they are ready for—and even appear to require—certain intangibles like a belief in something greater than themselves. . . . Fresh insights . . . lucid writing."

Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents

One. Apes to Angels
Two. Imagining Apes
Three. African Origins
Four. Cave Stories: Neandertals
Five. More Cave Stories: Homo Sapiens
Six. Transformations in Time
Seven. Is God in the Genes?
Eight. God and Science in Twenty-first-Century America



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