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‘A theory of play and fantasy’

Pascal Boyer offers some of the most concrete insights into how religious concepts arise and ‘become easily acquired and transmitted’: 1. They include minimal violations of domain-level conceptual expectations. 2. They activate intuitions about agency developed in the context of predation. 3. They activate social interaction systems (our ‘social mind’ system) in a particular way. 4. They are parasitic upon moral intuitions that would be there, religion or not. 5. They are associated with a specific way of constructing misfortune [10]. In his theory religion becomes the way to deal with a set of events, for which we can find no other explanations. Its degree of survival and diffusion is due to its capacity to appeal to some cognitive templates and to solve various needs of social interaction. There is, however, always some logic in the process, which generates and expands religious ideas. These have to do with the need to attribute agency in the cases where no other natural agency is available. Doing so, religious ideas violate some expectations, but are not excessive in these tendencies. The peculiar structure of the human mind and the needs of social communication contribute to the success of such ideas. For example, the way memory works, retaining in a simple fashion extraordinary events, or how in some socially conflictive contexts we need to identify agents, contribute decisively to a religious understanding of things. Furthermore, the dynamics presiding over social interaction are essential to their success as well: the need to gather ‘strategic information’ about others, the need to establish moral rules, and the necessity to explain unfortunate events.