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The Romantic Novel and the British Empire

In a post on Asperger’s syndrome, my fellow blogger Karen Schrock manages to knock both religious believers and nonreligious rationalists in just a few paragraphs. Kudos, Karen! People with Asperger’s, a mild form of autism, tend not to attribute events in their lives to a “higher power or supernatural force,” Karen reports. Conversely, the tendency of supposedly healthy people to see “intention or purpose” behind random events may stem from an overactive “theory of mind,” the innate ability to sense perceptions, emotions and intentions in others. Faith is a pathology, and so is the lack thereof. Basically, we’re all nuts. Who could disagree?

The linkage of religion to theory of mind strikes me as particularly plausible. The anthropologist Stewart Guthrie floats a similar hypothesis in his book Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (Oxford University Press, 1995), which attributes religion to anthropomorphism, “the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman things or events.” Our anthropomorphism is an inborn, adaptive trait, Guthrie contends, which enhanced our ancestors’ chances of survival. “[I]n the face of chronic uncertainty about the nature of the world, guessing that some thing or event is humanlike or has a human cause constitutes a good bet,” Guthrie explains.