giovedì 10 gennaio 2019

An Unnatural History of Religions: Academia, Post-Truth, and the Quest for Scientific Knowledge (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2018)

Source and (c): Bloomsbury

General Info


Published: 27-12-2018
ISBN: 9781350062382 (hbk), 280 pp.
Illustrations: 15 bw illus., 3 tables
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm


The book at a glance


  • the first book ever to outline the development and the study of the history of religions in a scientifically updated framework, from Darwin to neuroscience;
  • the first book ever to offer a neurobiological and psychological perspective on the cumulative process that led from the deep history of intellectual elaborations on religion to the modern science of religion, from Antiquity to Hume;
  • the first book ever to advance an integrated framework in which the deeper evolutionary history of Homo sapiens and its cognitive biases supply the scaffolding to understand the persistence of anti-scientific and post-truth stances in the historical study of religion;
  • the first book ever to engage the concept of post-truth in the historical study of religion and in cultural history.

What An Unnatural History of Religions can offer its readers:
  • a new scientific perspective from which to evaluate the history of the various approaches dedicated to the academic study of religion(s), from the Victorian science of religion to current evolutionary and cognitive approaches;
  • a chronological and comprehensive account dedicated to the most important international schools of the history of religions of the past;
  • a new and no-nonsense understanding of the development of the discipline, at once continuing the tradition of looking back at the paradigms advanced by the founding scholars of the field and subverting the expectations related to the autonomy and distinctiveness of their research programmes [for previous historiographical analyses see: Sharpe, E. J. (1986[1975]). Comparative Religion: A History. Second Edition. London: Duckworth & Co.; Kippenberg, H. G. (2002). Discovering Religious History in the Modern Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press; Stroumsa, G.G. (2010). A New Science: The Discovery of Religion in the Age of Reason. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; Pals, D. L. (2014[1996]). Nine Theories of Religion. Third Edition. New York Oxford: Oxford University Press; Strenski, I. (2015). Understanding Theories of Religion. An Introduction. 2nd Edition. Malden and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell];
  • a wealth of diagrams and illustrations to clarify the most important theories and concepts and accompany the reader through all the chapters;
  • a primer in cutting-edge and interdisciplinary research, involving both the Humanities and Social Sciences, and specifically focused on cognition, history and philosophy of science, and evolution;
  • a cognitive and historical explanation of post-truth and pseudoscience;
  • a clear understanding of the major issues posed, and innovations advanced, by the historical study of religions;
  • a straightforward evaluation of the scientific value of the most important paradigms and research programmes in the field (e.g., postmodernism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, etc.);
  • a cautionary – and timely – tale on the negative impact of post-truth ideologies, religious beliefs, biases, and fallacies on academia, on the study of religion, and on society as a whole.

 Back cover endorsements

“In his deeply informed book, Leonardo Ambasciano challenges us to rethink long held assumptions on the history of religions – especially those too congenial to our personal values! We should all read this book.”
Michael Ruse, Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University, USA

“It is undeniable that this splendid contribution will require hard work to be challenged. A unique book.”
Nickolas P. Roubekas, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of Vienna, Austria

“A must-read for anyone seriously interested in the cultural phenomenon of religion.”
Massimo Pigliucci, K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York, USA

“This book is richly informed, beautifully clear, and lucidly argued, advocating the need to awaken from the sleep of reason.’
Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Professor in the Study of Religion, Department for the Study
of Religion, Aarhus University, Denmark




An Unnatural History of Religions examines the origins, development, and critical issues concerning the history of religion and its relationship with science. The book explores the ideological biases, logical fallacies, and unwarranted beliefs that surround the scientific foundations (or lack thereof) of the academic discipline of the history of religions, positioning them in today’s ‘post-truth’

Ambasciano provides the necessary critical background to evaluate the most important theories and working concepts dedicated to the explanation of the historical developments of religion. He covers the most important topics and paradigm shifts in the field, such as phenomenology, postmodernism, and cognitive science. These are taken into consideration chronologically, each time with case studies on topics such as shamanism, gender biases, ethnocentrism, and biological evolution.

The author argues that the roots of post-truth may be deep in human biases, but that historical justifications change each time, resulting in different combinations. The surprising rise of once fringe beliefs, such as conspiracy theories, pseudoscientific claims, and so-called scientific creationism, demonstrates the alarming influence that post-truth ideas may exert on both politics and society. Recognising them before they spread anew may be the first step towards a scientifically renewed study of religion.

Leonardo Ambasciano is Managing Editor of the Journal of Cognitive Historiography and was Visiting Lecturer in Religious Studies at Masaryk University, Brno (Czech Republic)


Table of Contents


List of Figures and Tables
Preface: Ghosts, Post-truth Despair, and Brandolini’s Law
Note on Text

1. An Incoherent Contradiction
A geological divide
Mapping the problematique
Maps, compasses and bricks
Sui generis crisis
The arms race of natural theology

2. The Deep History of Comparison
A rusty toolbox
Birth certificate(s): Ultimate origins
A preliminary note on imperialism, postmodernism and science
Rationality as cumulative by-product of comparison: From Jean Bodin to Edward Burnett Tylor
Enter comparative mythology: Friedrich Max Müller
Triumph and dissolution of comparison: James George Frazer
Shape of things to come

3. The Darwinian Road Not Taken
‘The greatest historian of all time’
The threat of a scientific and comparative study of religion
What makes us human
The Origin of Species, 1859: Breaking the chain of being
The Descent of Man, 1871: Degrees, not kinds
The Rubicon: Max Müller versus Darwin
Ladders, progress and pithecophobia
Original sin

4. Goodbye Science
The theory of everything
A scientific theology? William Robertson Smith’s ‘dual life’
Smith’s heretical accommodationism
The end of the Victorian science of religion
Birth certificate(s): HoR’s proximate origins
Netherlands, 1860s: Tiele’s (tentative) science of religion
Netherlands, 1870s: Chantepie’s theological reaction
Netherlands, 1930s: van der Leeuw’s re-confessionalization
Germany, 1890s: ‘Cultural circles’, geography and reactionary politics
Austria and Switzerland, 1900s–1950s: Schmidt’s apologetic history of religion
Schmidt’s legacy: The strategic rescue of Andrew Lang’s High Gods as an early home run for post-truth
Italy, 1910s–1950s: Pettazzoni’s revolutionary rebuttal
Italy, 1920s–1930s: Pettazzoni’s two-fold gamble
1950: The foundation of the IAHR and the defeat of science

5. Eliadology
Neither with you nor without you: Mircea Eliade
Eliade, 1920s–1980s: From Romanian post-truth to American New Age
The sacred from the Stone Age to the present and back again
Schmidt’s ‘stupendous learning and industry’
An epistemic twilight: Pseudoscience and esotericism
Shamanism, 1200s–1800s: Heretics, noble savages, (super)heroes
Shamanism, 1937–1946: Eliadean superpowers
Shamanism, 1951–1970s: The Eliadean synthesis
Resolving ‘The problem of shamanism’: An unwarranted answer to a non-existent question

6. The Demolition of the Status Quo
Point of (k)no(w) return: The politics of the Eliadean HoR
Sexist biases and gender issues: Eliade’s tunnel vision
Dismantling homo religiosus: Rita M. Gross
Dismantling the Eliadean research programme: Henry Pernet
Dismantling the primacy of shamanism: Mac Linscott Ricketts
Dismantling phenomenological morphology: Ioan P. Culianu
Dismantling classification: Jonathan Z. Smith
Dismantling right-wing ideology: Bruce Lincoln
New generations, poststructuralism and Religious Studies
Be careful what you wish for: Postmodernism
From Deconstruction to New Realism

7. The Cognitive (R)evolution: The End?
Post-truth rules
What is science, anyway? 
Forgotten forerunners: Baldwin’s evolutionary epistemology
Forgotten forerunners: Harrison’s evolutionary psychology
Forgotten forerunners: Macalister’s invention of tradition
Disappearing without a trace
The Dark Ages: Psychoanalysis, behaviourism and cultural anthropology
Modern trail-blazers, 1950s–1990s: The slow Renaissance of science
Cognition, 2000s: Back to a natural history of religion
Cognition, 2010s: More than meets the eye
Learning from your mistakes: The usefulness of scientific ‘false views’
A short-lived success? The inevitable rise of ‘false facts’

Epilogue: The Night of Pseudoscience

Nessun commento:

Posta un commento