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Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon is a 2006 book by the philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, in which the author argues that religion is in need of scientific analysis so that its nature and future may be better understood. The "spell" that requires "breaking" is not religious belief itself but the belief that it is off-limits to or beyond scientific inquiry.[1]

Breaking the Spell
Breaking The Spell.jpg
AuthorDaniel C. Dennett
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SubjectPsychology of religion
PublisherViking (Penguin)
Publication date
2006
Media typePrint
ISBN978-0-14-303833-7
OCLC61240665
200 22
LC ClassBL2775.3 .D46 2006
Preceded by 

Contents

SynopsisEdit

The book is divided into three parts. Dennett's working definition of religions is: "social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought". He notes that this definition is "a place to start, not something carved in stone".

Part IEdit

Part I discusses the motivation and justification for the entire project: Can science study religion? Should science study religion?

Part IIEdit

After answering in the affirmative, Part II proceeds to use the tools of evolutionary biology and memetics to suggest possible theories regarding the origin of religion and subsequent evolution of modern religions from ancient folk beliefs.

Part IIIEdit

Part III analyzes religion and its effects in today's world: Does religion make us moral? Is religion what gives meaning to life? What should we teach the children? Dennett bases much of his analysis on empirical evidence, though he often points out that much more research in this field is needed.

Critical receptionEdit

The book has received differing reviews from various consumer, mass media outlets.

The GuardianEdit

The Guardian's Andrew Brown describes it as giving "a very forceful and lucid account of the reasons why we need to study religious behaviour as a human phenomenon".[2]

Scientific AmericanEdit

In Scientific American, George Johnson describes the book's main draw as being "a sharp synthesis of a library of evolutionary, anthropological and psychological research on the origin and spread of religion".[3]

New YorkerEdit

In The New Yorker, evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr described the book as "an accessible account of what might be called the natural history of religion".[4]

From the religious communityEdit

The New York TimesEdit

Leon Wieseltier, former member of the editorial board of the Jewish Review of Books, called the book, in The New York Times, "a sorry instance of present-day scientism" and alleged it to be "a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions".[5]

The New AtlantisEdit

A professor of a private, Catholic university and outspoken critic of the environmentalist movement, Charles T. Rubin, likened Dennett in The New Atlantis to "a tone-deaf music scholar", criticized his "unwillingness to admit the limits of scientific rationality" and accused him of "deploying the same old Enlightenment tropes that didn't work all that well the first time around".[6]

Philosophical receptionEdit

Thomas Nagel said that Dennett's book was 'beneath him' and Edward Feser has extensively critiqued his book, criticising his interpretation of theistic arguments, whilst maintaining praise for his passages on cognitive neuroscience.[7] Roger Scruton both praised and criticised Dennett's book in his book On Human Nature, endorsing his intellectual bravery and imaginative writing, yet criticising his reliance on the meme theory, and remaining sceptical of his view that all areas of human consciousness can be accessible through the neo-Darwinian human model alone.

TranslationsEdit

Breaking the Spell has been translated into several other languages, including:

Dutch De betovering van het geloof: religie als een natuurlijk fenomeen Hans Bosman Amsterdam: Contact 2006 ISBN 9025426875
Finnish Lumous murtuu: uskonto luonnonilmiönä Kimmo Pietiläinen Helsinki: Terra Cognita 2007 ISBN 978-952-5202-96-0
German Den Bann brechen. Religion als natürliches Phänomen Frank Born Frankfurt a. M.: Verlag der
Weltreligionen im Insel Verlag 2008
ISBN 978-3-458-71011-0
Greek Απομυθοποίηση Dimitris Xygalatas
Nikolas Roubekas
Thessaloniki: Vanias 2007 ISBN 978-960-288-198-9
Italian Rompere l'incantesimo. La religione come fenomeno naturale S. Levi Milano: Cortina Raffaello 2007 ISBN 978-88-6030-097-3
Polish Odczarowanie. Religia jako zjawisko naturalne Barbara Stanosz Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut
Wydawniczy 2008
ISBN 978-83-06-03138-6
Portuguese Quebrando O Encanto. A Religião Como Fenômeno Natural Helena Londres Rio de Janeiro: Globo 2006 ISBN 978-85-250-4288-0
Serbian Razbijanje čarolije: religija kao prirodna pojava Milan Perić Belgrade: McMillan 2015 ISBN 978-86-80328-01-0
Spanish Romper el hechizo: la religión como un fenómeno natural Felipe de Brigard Madrid: Katz 2007 ISBN 978-84-96859-00-5
Persianشکستن طلسم: دین به عنوان پدیده ای طبیعیAmir ManieePublished online, 2019

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ The University of Edinburgh (2009-02-10), Daniel Dennett: Breaking the Spell - Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, retrieved 2018-04-24
  2. ^ Brown, A. (2006). "Beyond Belief". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2016-05-18. Retrieved 2016-12-18.
  3. ^ "Getting a Rational Grip on Religion" Archived June 8, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Scientific American, December 25, 2005.
  4. ^ "The God Project" Archived December 25, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, The New Yorker, April 3, 2006.
  5. ^ "The God Genome" Archived August 12, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, February 19, 2006.
  6. ^ "The God Meme" Archived March 13, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, The New Atlantis 12 (Spring 2006).
  7. ^ http://www.american.com/archive/2010/march/the-new-philistinism

External linksEdit