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Breaking the Spell
Cover of Breaking the Spell
Breaking the Spell
Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
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The New York Times bestseller – a "crystal-clear, constantly engaging" (Jared Diamond) exploration of the role that religious belief plays in our lives and our interactions
For all the thousands of books that have been written about religion, few until this one have attempted to examine it scientifically: to ask why—and how—it has shaped so many lives so strongly. Is religion a product of blind evolutionary instinct or rational choice? Is it truly the best way to live a moral life? Ranging through biology, history, and psychology, Daniel C. Dennett charts religion's evolution from "wild" folk belief to "domesticated" dogma. Not an antireligious screed but an unblinking look beneath the veil of orthodoxy, Breaking the Spell will be read and debated by believers and skeptics alike.
The New York Times bestseller – a "crystal-clear, constantly engaging" (Jared Diamond) exploration of the role that religious belief plays in our lives and our interactions
For all the thousands of books that have been written about religion, few until this one have attempted to examine it scientifically: to ask why—and how—it has shaped so many lives so strongly. Is religion a product of blind evolutionary instinct or rational choice? Is it truly the best way to live a moral life? Ranging through biology, history, and psychology, Daniel C. Dennett charts religion's evolution from "wild" folk belief to "domesticated" dogma. Not an antireligious screed but an unblinking look beneath the veil of orthodoxy, Breaking the Spell will be read and debated by believers and skeptics alike.
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Table of Contents-
  • Breaking The SpellPreface

    PART I: OPENING PANDORA'S BOX

    1. Breaking Which Spell?
    1. What's going on?
    2. A working definition of religion
    3. To break or not to break
    4. Peering into the abyss
    5. Religion as a natural phenomenon

    2. Some Quesions About Science
    1. Can science study religion?
    2. Should science study religion?
    3. Might music be bad for you?
    4. Would neglect be more benign?

    3. Why Good Things Happen
    1. Bringing out the best
    2. Cui bono?
    3. Asking what pays for religion
    4. A Martian's list of theories

    PART II: THE EVOLUTION OF RELIGION

    4. The Roots of Religion
    1. The births of religions
    2. The raw materials of religion
    3. How Nature deals with the problem of other minds

    5. Religion, the Early Days
    1. Too many agents: competition for rehearsal space
    2. Gods as intersted parties
    3. Getting the gods to speak to us
    4. Shamans as hypnotists
    5. Memory-engineering devices in oral cultures

    6. The Evolution of Stewardship
    1. The music of religion
    2. Folk religion as practical know-how
    3. Creeping reflection and the birth of secrecy in religion
    4. The domestication of religions

    7. The Invention of Team Spirit
    1. A path paved with good intentions
    2. The ant colony and the corporation
    3. The growth market in religion
    4. A God you can talk to

    8. Belief in Belief
    1. You better believe it
    2. God as intentional object
    3. The division of doxastic labor
    4. The lowest common denominator?
    5. Beliefs designed to be professed
    6. Lessons from Lebanon: the strange cases of the Druze and Kim Philby
    7. Does God exist?

    PART III: RELIGION TODAY

    9. Toward a Buyer's Guide to Religions
    1. For the love of God
    2. The academic smoke screen
    3. Why does it matter what you believe?
    4. What can your religion do for you?

    10. Morality and Religion
    1. Does religion make us moral?
    2. Is religion what gives meaning to your life?
    3. What can we say about sacred values?
    4. Bless my soul: spirituality and selfishness

    11. Now What Do We Do?
    1. Just a theory
    2. Some avenues to explore: how can we home in on religious conviction?
    3. What shall we tell the children?
    4. Toxic memes
    5. Patience and politics

    Appendixes
    A. The New Replicators?
    B. Some More Questions About Science
    C. The Bellboy and the Lady Named Tuck
    D. Kim Philby as a Real Case of Indeterminacy of Radical Interpretation

    Notes
    Bibliography
    Index

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 28, 2005
    In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea
    and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature
    ), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal
    ), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene
    ), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more ("Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future"). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion.

  • Library Journal

    January 15, 2006
    On a crusade against crusades, Dennett (philosophy, Tufts Univ.; codirector, Ctr. for Cognitive Studies; Consciousness Explained) wants to save the world from religious fanaticism and figures that the best way to do so is to -break the spell - of its supernatural pretensions by giving a purely naturalistic, evolutionary account of the development of religion. Although Dennett specializes in philosophy, not biology, he is no newcomer to evolutionary theory; in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), he took on the role of a modern T.H. Huxley and popularized sociobiological accounts of distinctly human phenomena such as language and morality. Here he reports in clear and vigorous prose on cutting-edge evolutionary explanations for various religious beliefs and rituals and in the concluding chapters makes some provocatively illiberal political suggestions. But Dennett can also take on the strident, self-righteous tone of the zealot, and the hypotheses he presents, though ingenious, are too conjectural to dispel the charm of the sacred. Still, his reputation and the timeliness of his topic would seem to make this book a necessary purchase for most public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/05.]" -Charles Seymour, Wayland Baptist Univ. Lib., Plainview, TX"

    Copyright 2006 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    January 1, 2006
    A century and a half after Darwin rattled religionists with his revolutionary theory of human origins, one of his disciples has intensified the challenge to faith by advancing an evolutionary account of religion itself. Weaving together research in anthropology, genetics, and psychology, Dennett argues that religion first emerged not as a divine gift but rather as a thoroughly natural adaptation for enhancing the reproductive success of the species. Even more provocatively, Dennett further argues that religion--like language--has subsequently evolved so as to ensure its own survival in the ceaseless winnowing of cultural mutations. The pious in most faiths will likely protest that this approach gives only the husk, not the spirit, of religion, but Dennett insists that his study will ultimately benefit society by exposing the myths that empower fanatical terrorists. Remarkably bold, Dennett's agenda includes plans for preventing overzealous parents from instilling their faith in their children and for deploying the technology of mass advertising to foster religious doubt. A book certain to spark heated controversy.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2006, American Library Association.)

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