An Evolutionary Explanation for Change in Religious Institutions




Cultural Evolution, Evolution and Religion, Cavalli Sforza, Catholic Beliefs, Pope Francis


Many attempts have been made to explain the rise of religious phenomena based on evolutionary models, which attempt to account for the way in which religion can constitute a useful system to increase the fitness of both the individual and the group. These models implicitly mean that beliefs are simply effective adaptations to the environment and in this sense they cannot be truly accepted by those who adhere to the religions in question. In this paper, I use the evolution of culture model elaborated by Cavalli Sforza to propose an approach that can explain the change of institutionalized religions over a more limited time frame than the long times of biological evolution. This model could be heuristically effective in the study of religious phenomena and could also be applicable in terms of theology and philosophy of religion. Given the limits of space, I will only try to take a few steps in this direction, trying to answer some of the major questions that arise about such an approach. In particular, one may ask whether, unlike others, the evolution of culture model applied to religions can make it possible to put into brackets - or to remain agnostic about - the value and the truth of the beliefs and precepts of the religion which is studied.


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How to Cite

Lavazza, Andrea. 2020. “An Evolutionary Explanation for Change in Religious Institutions”. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 12 (3):75-100.



Special Issue - Evolutionary Research on Morality and Theological Ethics