Why We Need Religion: A Selected Bibliography

May 30th, 2018

How we feel is as vital to our survival as how we think. This claim, based on the premise that emotions are largely adaptive, serves as the organizing theme of Why We Need Religion. This book is a novel pathway in a well-trodden field of religious studies and philosophy of religion. Stephen Asma argues that, like art, religion has direct access to our emotional lives in ways that science does not. Yes, science can give us emotional feelings of wonder and the sublime--we can feel the sacred depths of nature--but there are many forms of human suffering and vulnerability that are beyond the reach of help from science. Different emotional stresses require different kinds of rescue. Unlike secular authors who praise religion's ethical and civilizing function, Asma argues that its core value lies in its emotionally therapeutic power.
No theorist of religion has failed to notice the importance of emotions in spiritual and ritual life, but truly systematic research has only recently delivered concrete data on the neurology, psychology, and anthropology of the emotional systems. This very recent "affective turn" has begun to map out a powerful territory of embodied cognition. Why We Need Religion incorporates new data from these affective sciences into the philosophy of religion. It goes on to describe the way in which religion manages those systems--rage, play, lust, care, grief, and so on. Finally, it argues that religion is still the best cultural apparatus for doing this adaptive work. In short, the book is a Darwinian defense of religious emotions and the cultural systems that manage them. Stephen Asma will discuss Why We Need Religion on June 6 at 6pm at the Co-op.

Affective Neuroscience, by Jaak Panksepp - a groundbreaking work on the neuroscience of emotions, by the father of the field
Religion in Human Evolution, by Robert Bellah - a powerful interdisciplinary analysis of religion from the paleolithic to the Axial Age
Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer - an important work that defined cognitive and evolutionary psych approaches to religion
The Gods Drink Whiskey, by Stephen Asma - a detailed look at the daily Theravada Buddhism as lived by Cambodians

About Steven Asma: Stephen T. Asma is Professor of Philosophy and Founding Fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture at Columbia College Chicago. Asma is the author of ten books, including The Evolution of Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2017), On Monsters: an Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears (Oxford University Press), and The Gods Drink Whiskey (HarperOne). He writes regularly for the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Skeptic magazine, and Aeon. He has also written for the Sunday Times, the Chicago Tribune, Big Think, Nautilus, and many others. His work has been translated into German, Spanish, Hebrew, Czech, Romanian, Hindi, Portuguese, Korean, and Chinese. In 2014, he was a Fulbright Scholar, teaching philosophy in Beijing, China. In 2003, he was Visiting Professor at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, and in 2007 he lived and studied in Shanghai China. Asma also researched Asian philosophies in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Laos. Asma has been an invited lecturer at Harvard University, Brown University, the Field Museum, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Fudan University (Shanghai), Aarhus University Denmark, University of Macau, and many others. Stephen Asma is also a blues/jazz musician who has played onstage with many musical artists, including Bo Diddley and Buddy Guy.
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