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Cultural EvolutionSociety, Technology, Language, and Religion$
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Peter J. Richerson and Morton H. Christiansen

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780262019750

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262019750.001.0001

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Rethinking Proximate Causation and Development in Religious Evolution

Rethinking Proximate Causation and Development in Religious Evolution

18 Rethinking Proximate Causation and Development in Religious Evolution
Cultural Evolution

Harvey Whitehouse

The MIT Press

Efforts to understand cultural evolution, and its articulation with biological evolution, have tended to focus on problems of ultimate rather than proximate causation; that is on issues of function and selection rather than issues of mechanism and development. Although we now have sophisticated models of multilevel selection (Wilson 2002) and gene–culture coevolution (Boyd and Richerson 1985), we lack a similarly sophisticated account of the various levels at which proximate explanation needs to be understood. This chapter attempts to sketch out a more sophisticated framework for proximate explanation in religious evolution, inspired by C. H. Waddington’s notion of the “epigenetic landscape.” Building on this idea, three kinds of landscapes are disambiguated: epigenetic, cognitive-developmental, and social-historical. The discussion here focuses on religious phenotypes, but the general approach would be applicable to cultural practices more generally. The aim is to bring greater conceptual clarity and integration to a somewhat complex and messy cluster of research areas and, at the same time, open up new hypotheses ripe for investigation. Published in the Strungmann Forum Reports Series.

Keywords:   proximate causation, mechanism, development, multilevel selection, gene-culture coevolution, epigenetic landscapes, cognitive-developmental landscapes, social-historical landscapes

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