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Melvin Konner on Religious Belief

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
This episode originally was published on November 14, 2019, and reposted here on May 7, 2024.

Self in Society Podcast #10
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Anthropologist Melvin Konner—author of Believers: Faith in Human Nature—explains the persistence of religious belief in the face of atheistic criticisms. Konner discusses his religious background and his path to a study of biological anthropology, including his work with the !Kung people in Botswana. Konner also challenges the New Atheists' insistence that humanity can and should do away with religion.

Time Markers
00 Intro
1:50 A religious upbringing
4:33 Religion in the context of broader life
9:28 A growing scientific outlook
11:30 The path to anthropology
12:52 The cultural trauma of WWII
15:11 The road to graduate school; political activism
18:58 Time in Botswana
19:58 The trance dances
27:38 Wrestling with gods
28:28 Thousands of religions
30:34 Looking for common elements of religion
32:22 More on trance dances; the dark side of spirits
34:07 The road to Emory and the MD
44:05 A multidisciplinary approach
45:43 Summarizing Believers
46:25 Variations in religious susceptibility
49:20 Look at the good as well as the bad side of religion
55:36 Could a bushman go Western?
1:02:19 Atheist concern for truth and for healthy substitutes for religion
1:07:09 Reasons to think religion will persist
1:12:08 Religious people tend to have more children
1:15:00 The tension between invoking human nature and "bending the moral arc"
1:20:22 The partial decoupling of morality from religion
1:21:34 The immunity of religion to factual analysis
1:27:12 Cristine Legare's conception of "coexistence reasoning"
1:30:21 How to follow Konner’s work; The Tangled Wing
1:34:40 Wrap-up

See Melvin Konner's web page, his page at Emory, his page Jews and Others, and his Twitter feed.

Konner also has participated in podcast episodes with Science Salon (Michael Shermer), College Commons, and Krista Tippett.

Recently Elaine Pagels reviewed Konner's book for the New York Times.

Music of the Kalahari San (which includes the !Kung) is available. YouTube offers video of trance dances from Botswana.

As I indicated during the episode, there are many issues (and disagreements) that Konner and I didn't have time to cover, but I hope I succeeded in helping listeners gain a deep sense of Konner's views.

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