How Religion Evolved

How Religion Evolved

And Why It Endures


Brought to you by Penguin.

Religion is both unique - as far as we can judge - and universal to humans. Our species diverged from the great apes about six to eight million years ago and since then, along with language, our propensity towards spiritual thinking and ritual emerged. How, when and why did this occur, and how did the earliest, informal shamanic practices evolve into the world religions familiar to us today? What is the evolutionary purpose of religion, and are some individuals more inclined than others to be religious?

Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford, explores these and other key questions, mining the distinctions between religions of experience - as practised by hunter-gatherer societies since the earliest human history - and doctrinal religions, from Judaism, Christianity and Islam to Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and their many derivatives. Examining religion's origins, social function, the effects of religious practice or feeling on the brain and body, and its place in the modern era, How Religion Evolved offers a fascinating and far-reaching analysis of this quintessentially human impulse - to believe.

© Robin Dunbar 2022 (P) Penguin Audio 2022


  • Stimulating and hugely ambitious... A compelling intellectual workout. Dunbar offers a powerful central argument, an excellent survey of alternative theories and a wide range of vivid and illuminating examples... The story he tells is important to us all
    Matthew Reisz, Observer

About the author

Robin Dunbar

Robin Dunbar is Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and an elected Foreign Member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. He has been awarded the Osman Hill Medal and the Huxley Medal. His popular science books include The Human Story, How Many Friends Does One Person Need? and Human Evolution, and have been translated into a dozen languages.
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