Book Review: Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion

First off, Sci should warn you. If you send me books (and some of you do, and for those of you who do, SCI LOVES YOU A LOT), keep in mind they may take a while. Sci IS in grad school after all, and while I’m a happy little book worm when surrounded by books, a lot of times, more than 10 pages a night just isn’t going to happen. After all, I’ve got this whole “science blogging” thing to keep up with as well, and that’s a time sink, lemme tell ya. So this means that if you send me a book, it may be a long time before it gets read and a review goes up about it. Sci just finished three books, and there is still a pile of 12 on her little bedside table. So be patient. And send me books anyway.πŸ™‚
That said, the latest book sent to me that I managed to read was via friend of the blog JD, who sent me a book by his Psych prof: “Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion” by Lee Kirkpatrick, professor of Psychology at the College of William and Mary.
And when I got the book, Dr. Kirkpatrick had signed it!!! Signed books are even better than unsigned, because they make Sci feel so famous. And I quote:

This is the best book you will ever read, on any topic. No, really. Seriously, not kidding. Enjoy!
-Lee Kirkpatrick

And he promised me my money back if not fully satisfied.πŸ™‚
attachevopsychreligion.jpg


Sci has to say she found the title very promising. Sci has always liked psychology and found it interesting stuff to read, though sometimes not particularly connected with the real world of biology Sci knows and loves (here’s looking at you. Freud). Though Sci has no real training in Psychology (ok, there was that one Gen Ed requirement that I took senior year and will admit I basically drank my way through), she has always been fascinated by the psychology of religion in particular, especially the question of WHY humans are religious. I mean, considering how much grief religion has often caused the species, it doesn’t seem precisely adaptive (Christians getting thrown to the lions comes to mind, not the mention things like sacrificial virgins). But in its early phases (and perhaps still in the modern world) it might have been adaptive. The question in my mind is why.
And Prof Kirkpatrick does a good job explaining it from one of several possible theories. His pet theory is that of attachment, the psychological idea from John Bowlby. It states that children seek secure attachment figures which can provide a sense of comfort, care for their needs, and provide a secure base from which to explore. As adults, attachment theory also has an application, where we seek secure attachment figures that will protect us and help us with our needs (mates and friends). Kirkpatrick theorizes that attachment theory can be applied to religion, with the idea that humans will seek out deities as attachment figures, for a secure base and protection, when other attachment figures fail them.
Obviously, this is only one possible theory for the psychology of religion. Religions are often organized, and can provide fellowship and further attachment figures in the form of leaders and others in the in-group. Organized religion can provide protection in the form of kin, even kin which are not related by birth but which are chosen through the religion itself. And the list goes on. Kirkpatrick provides some explanation of these other theories, but tries to concentrate mostly on attachment theory (his specialty, hence the title), with some sidelines into evolutionary psychology.
Evolutionary psychology is a pretty new thing, explaining psychological traits in light of their adaptive potential. Being a biologist, Sci kind of figured it would have caught on right away, but apparently the field of psychology is still in a state of flux on the idea, and some of them never got over behaviorism (don’t worry, some of us never did, either, there’s one in every family).
I actually wish there had been more explanation of evolutionary psychology, maybe more examples of its successful application to psychological phenomena and religion in particular. There was a chapter dedicated to it in the book, but really you could write several books on this idea. I realize that the book was not meant to be a list of different religious phenomena (prayer, gods, feeling better about death, etc), but rather a description of the kind of psychological endeavor that would allow for such descriptors, and more importantly, break them down in a manner which might promote further theorizing. While I appreciate this approach, I think some descriptive examples would have been illustrative of the main points.
Kirkpatrick believes that evolutionary psychology is going to be the new way in which to deal with the psychology of religion. I think that he certainly right, as, from his description, it’s the way the trend is going, but I think this trend may be slightly more arbitrary than he supposes. While evolutionary psychology might work well in analysis and breakdown of aspects of the psychology of religion, and it will promote further theories, all of those will be based in evolutionary psychology. And this is a good thing. But I don’t know that it’s necessarily the BEST thing for the psychology of religion, and I don’t know that we’ll ever know what would be. Every theory for dividing up the psychology of religion would lead to different divisions and different hypotheses based on the theory and the divisions used. But how will we know which set of divisions and set of hypotheses is CORRECT? It seems rather arbitrary, but I think evolutionary psychology is as good a method as any.
So…yeah…a review. Sci liked it! I found it well-written and pretty understandable for someone who doesn’t read a lot of psych. I found some of the stuff on attachment theory quite fascinating. But I have to say: he wrote the book backward. And he knows it. In fact, Kirkpatrick mentions it in the beginning. Rather than give a summary introduction of the overarching theory and then delving into the parts, he delves into the parts and gives the overarching theory last. I understand that this is probably close to how he himself came through the thought process, but I personally got a little lost, until I got to the last chapter.
So here’s my suggestion: buy this book. Or borrow it. Or whatever. Flip to the last chapter. Read it. Then flip to the front and read it all the way through. MUCH better. Hey, in mysteries you always have to resist the urge to do that, so be happy that you do it with psych!.
End result: Very interesting. It made me think a LOT, and that’s always a good thing, though something of a dangerous pastime. I feel like I understand the applications of evolutionary psychology to the psychology of religion well, and particularly attachment theory. So, Prof. Kirkpatrick, I don’t want my money back. I am very satisfied.πŸ™‚
brain_icon.pngbrain_icon.pngbrain_icon.pngbrain_icon.png

31 Responses

  1. Just out of interest, does he cover the possibility of religion as a side effect of attachment rather than adaptive in it’s own right. As in, as children, attachment to an authority figure is very important for our survival but as an adult it is less necessary. However, those areas of our brain still exist and so we latch onto the idea of a deity to fill up the gap?

  2. Oh yes, Ellie. I feel dumb for not mentioning that. His idea (and others) is that religion is a “spandrel”, an unintentional side effect of a whole bunch of psychological factors which are all adaptive individually. The side of effects of many of these result in religion, which may or may not also be adaptive, depending on the situation.

  3. The basic problmem with evolutionary psychology is that it seems to explain a lot. And it does. Though not necessarily anything useful: http://www.badscience.net/2007/08/pink-pink-pink-pink-pink-moan/
    Bowlby and the attachment theorists can make you feel like someone found the light stwitch: but there’s a lot like them around, each with fascinating stories to suppor their theories in case science does not.
    BTW, behaviorism is an evolutionary psychology that predates the current brand.

  4. Hi Sci,
    Not to be overly critical, but I find the third-person references to yourself really take away from your review! If at all possible, can you drop them?
    Thanks,
    Jonny

  5. jonny, Sci fails to see how third person references in any way detract from the substance of the review. Sci is very sorry you were forced at gunpoint to read her third person review, and then write a sweet little comment about how much you hate the third person. It must have been very difficult. Next time, I recommend revolution. There’s a little “x” at the top of your screen that will close the browser window/tab. Fight the man, jonny!
    Also, Sci finds people who spell “Johnny” without an “h” to really detract from the essence of the name. If at all possible, can you add it in?
    Thanks,
    Sci

  6. Hi Sci – doesn’t particularly matter to me personally whether you choose to write in the third person or the first person… just pick one and stick to it.πŸ™‚
    Great review. You’ve made me curious to read the book. Thanks.

  7. Does the area of the brain that lights up for relgious experiences (during mri brain scans) also light up for attachment experiences,or are there 2 separate areas of the brain that respond to each experience separately and how would this support or undermine this theory of religion and attachment?

  8. Interesting sounding book, I might grab it. I’m wondering how his theories might apply to people who (through abuse, neglect, or just inadequate parenting) have been unable to form a secure attachment as a child. Or how he explains people with secure attachments and strong religious beliefs? Or does this turn into one of those evolutionary psychology ‘just-so’ stories, which is what makes it so problematic?
    Also, Sci, as a psychologist I really have to pick you up on the Freud reference; yeah, he’s big and famous, but there aren’t a lot of psychologists who take his work seriously anymore. Maybe more in the US where I understand analysis is still quite popular, (I’m in the UK), but even so, not something we’re all still hanging on to.

  9. teenage dreams: Oh I know people don’t take Freud seriously anymore. I just thought he was HILARIOUS. His theory states that those with anxious attachments are going to be more likely to become religious, as they desire a great deal from their attachments, and that avoidant may be less likely. Less said about secure attachments, though he talked about the strong family values transmitted promote a very trusting view of a loving god.
    mantell: I know that there is an area of the brain which “lights up” in response to “awe-inducing” stimuli, including strong religious experiences and certain types of music (think the keys of D and G are particularly good for this). As far as “attachment”, I don’t know what areas of the brain that involves. It probably involves a large number of them. Remember, however, that religion is not JUST attachment. It’s attachment, awe, kinship, power structure, and a whole host of other things. So overlapping brain areas certainly wouldn’t be the be-all end-all, here.

  10. Has Sci ever considered not talking about himself in third person?
    Griff finds this pretentious and very irritating to read.

  11. Griff is very welcome to read other science blogs which are less “pretentious”, if Griff is that terribly bothered by it.

  12. Pal feels that readers are free agents and as such can choose to read or ignore whatever they wish. If they wish to criticize someone’s style, Pal thinks they should get their own blog and write a “blog review” (in the first person of course).

  13. Dr. Isis is finding her ability to enjoy Sci’s brilliant prose hindered by commenters Strunk and White, who have apparently made Sci’s blog their mission.
    Dr. Isis’s thinks said persons can go fuck themselves. In the first person, of course.

  14. Captain Skellett loves Sci’s style of writing in the third person so much that she must frequently stop herself from doing the same in her own posts. Must. Not. Talk in third person and copy Sci… Must. Talk. Like. Pirate. YARR!

  15. >> jonny, Sci fails to see how third person references in any way detract from the substance of the review.
    Sci is not thinking hard enough. It’s difficult to parse and annoying… But don’t worry… TheBlindWatcher didn’t finish the review and TheBlindWatcher is preparing to press the little ‘x’ right now.

  16. Difficult to parse? Possibly if you are a rhesus macaque with a frontal lobotomy. I think you wandered onto the wrong website punchy. Have you tried http://www.foxnews.com/ ?

  17. Wait, what’s that TheBlindWatcher? Is that the sound of a sea of bloggers not giving a fuck? Dr. Isis thinks so…

  18. I respect Sci’s decision to write however she likes. However, I thought a stern “sorry jonny, I like writing like that”, would have been fine. He was obviously trying to be respectful in his request.
    I think that Sci should go on writing exactly how she wants, and she won’t need me to say that.
    On the subject of ‘parsing’ I wasn’t just talking of my own brain. So, leaving the personal insults aside, I’ve provided an example of parsing difficulty.
    If you like to translate Science Blogs to send to others who don’t speak English, then writing in 3rd person is a very good way to stop them from understanding anything.
    Sci has always liked psychology and found it interesting.
    I always liked psychology and found it interesting.
    η§‘ε­¦γ―γ€εΈΈγ«εΏƒη†ε­¦γŒε₯½γγ γ£γŸγ—γ€γγ‚ŒγŒι’η™½γ„γ¨ζ€γ£γŸγ€‚
    η§γ―εΏƒη†ε­¦γŒε₯½γγ§γ€γγ‚ŒγŒι’η™½γ„γ¨ζ€γ£γŸγ€‚
    1) The 1st translation, says that science likes psychology. Not a bad attempt, actually. But, in the context of already slightly ‘awkward’ translation, becomes impossible to translate.
    2) The 2nd clearly states that the author of the blog likes psychology.
    I’m not imploring Sci to change her ways because of this. This is just for those who fail to see how writing in the 3rd person can detract in any way… and why it can be difficult to parse.

  19. Ok, before I get to the review…
    He was obviously trying to be respectful in his request.
    No he wasn’t. Coming to someone’s blog and telling them you don’t like how they blog, could they do it differently, is not respectful at all. It is arrogant, presumptuous and fucking rude as hell. Sci refers to herself in the 3rd person – it is how she writes – consistently. Coming along and asking her to stop, is asking her to change the voice and style of her writing – a voice and style that have contributed to the popularity of her blog, I might add. But that last point aside, who the fuck are any of these fuckers, to come along and tell her that her blogging isn’t to their liking. It is one thing to criticize something she said or argue with her substantively – it is quite another to express one’s distaste for the way she does so.
    It is a lot like people who complain to me about my rather frequent use of the word “fuck.” You know, I do make reasonable and well reasoned points that would probably garner me more of an audience if I wasn’t such a potty mouth. But I don’t blog to garner an audience – I blog to write things that my friends read and could give a fuck about the rest. I’m an asshole – some people like that and some people don’t – I write for the folks who do…
    Evolutionary psychology is a pretty new thing, explaining psychological traits in light of their adaptive potential. Being a biologist, Sci kind of figured it would have caught on right away, but apparently the field of psychology is still in a state of flux on the idea, and some of them never got over behaviorism (don’t worry, some of us never did, either, there’s one in every family).
    It hasn’t caught on so well, because the concept has mostly been coopted by the same sorts of jackasses who consider The Bell Curve the best thing since sliced bread. People who make assertions about why women and men developed archetypal gender constructs, based on the assumption that these are somehow hardwired into the human brain. People who claim that men and women respectively, make the generalized choices they do, because that is what evolution and biology dictate. And they make these assertions as though they were solid scientific theories, with massive bodies of evidence to back them – rather than admitting they are mostly wild ass guesses made in a field that isn’t even in it’s infancy yet.
    It kind of pisses me off, because there are a whole hell of a lot of people who cringe when I use that phrase to describe a significant side interest of mine – exactly the subject of this post actually. And it pisses me off, because most of the people who don’t cringe are misogynist asshats, who are often times as keen on eugenics projects, as they are on convincing people that women are generally inclined to go after men with lots of money, because evolution made them weaker and in need of someone to protect them.
    As an aside – sort of, while I am very interested in the development of religion in relation to our protohuman ancestor’s development of higher cognitive function, I am even more interested in the evolution of addiction…I am also interested in the possible interplay between religion and the development of addiction…

  20. I definitely have my concerns about a blighted evo-psych. It might not be as much of a bother, but the way these folks present this garbage, is with the arrogant self assurance of an entomologist presenting a paper on, say, the life cycle of the common North American fire ant. Ultimately, it is not a whole lot different than the personality driven/discipleship mentality that was so pervasive in psychology well into the 20th century. It is assuredly not the way that science is done and I think reflects poorly on the entire field of psychology – something that psychology absolutely doesn’t need, given it’s history and public perception even today.
    Especially as regards the social acceptability of some types of drug taking over others. That might just be psychological rather than evolutionary, though.
    I think there might be something to that. Not the specific drugs, of course – but that there are some that are. It is a lot like the rise of religion – for that matter, there was a great deal of interplay between certain types of drug taking and religious practices. It was not (and though less frequent, even happens today) uncommon for people to get intoxicated so they could talk to gods or spirits. And talking to gods aside, intoxicants were often a strong aspect of many religious rituals – including Christian ones.
    I don’t know that this can be considered “evolutionary,” but I definitely think it is reasonable to consider what forces might have driven it and what fostered those forces. I don’t know if religion is the right direction to go seeking a culprit, but if not religion, then the same forces that drove religion to it’s remarkable prominence with the whole of the human race.

  21. >>who the fuck are any of these fuckers, to come along and tell her that her blogging isn’t to their liking
    I don’t quite understand how you’ve arrived at the point in which criticism must stop? What am I missing? If someone reviews a book of, say Richard Dawkins, the style will be a major part of it. It might even be lambasted for it. Why should that be so obviously “out of bounds” here?
    If I understand this situation, we need a warning “Please don’t criticize writing style in our blogs, it’s rude and unacceptable and we’ll reply with nasty, condescending comments specifically tailored not just insult you but to express at length your lack of intelligence and insignificance in the world”
    This blog is part of ScienceBlogs, I expect a thick skin and a basic level of professionalism from all blog authors. If you can’t hack it, then get the fuck off this Blog roll – I can’t be bothered filtering you out.

  22. I don’t quite understand how you’ve arrived at the point in which criticism must stop? What am I missing? If someone reviews a book of, say Richard Dawkins, the style will be a major part of it. It might even be lambasted for it. Why should that be so obviously “out of bounds” here?
    It isn’t out of bounds, it’s just rude. This isn’t a book and the comments aren’t a review – it’s a blog and the comments are for discussing the topic of the post. No one is asking anyone to read any particular blog or forcing them to put up with any bloggers voice. Don’t like it, don’t read – it really is that easy.
    Many bloggers have very distinctive voices – there are a lot of people who can, for example, figure out that a comment is mine before they see my name. Sci has her distinctive voice and there are a lot of readers who happen to enjoy it.
    Let me put it to you this way; you are in someone else’s home, listening to them explain something to a bunch of guests. You don’t particularly care for the way they talk – their mannerisms as they communicate. Would you honestly not think it a bit rude to interject on your host, in front of all his or her guests, and tell them you really don’t like the way they express themselves? If someone did that to me, in my home – damned straight they are going to get lamblasted for treating me rudely in my fucking house.
    This blog is part of ScienceBlogs, I expect a thick skin and a basic level of professionalism from all blog authors. If you can’t hack it, then get the fuck off this Blog roll – I can’t be bothered filtering you out.
    Excuse me? You can’t be bothered not to look at a particular blog, so that blogger should find somewhere else to blog?
    Wow, you really have some serious fucking balls.
    You should keep in mind that the bloggers who blog under the Seed science blogs, were invited to do so for a reason. Not because you approve or disapprove, but because the folks at Seed who make those decisions like their blogs – including their individual voices. If you find particular bloggers distasteful, I suggest you take it up with the editors of Seed and see how far you get.
    The funny thing is, there are a lot of bloggers in the Seed collective who fit your comfort zone just fine. Why exactly do you find it so difficult to frequent their blogs and avoid those you find so distasteful? What’s complicated about not wandering over to Seed blogs you don’t like?

  23. TheBlindWatcher: If you want to show us how it’s done, why don’t you start your own blog. We can then stare in awe at the lovely way in which you blog, the perfect modulations of your blog voice, and your stunningly correct use of the semicolon. Truly, then we freewheeling bad bloggers will change our ways!
    Sci likes to think it’s the equivalent of walking into someone’s house and saying “My goodness it’s dirty in here!” Sure it’s MORE polite than “Da** this place is a motherf**king s**thole!”. But that doesn’t make it polite.

  24. >> It isn’t out of bounds, it’s just rude. This isn’t a book and the comments aren’t a review – it’s a blog and the comments are for discussing the topic of the post
    >>Sci likes to think it’s the equivalent of walking into someone’s house and saying “My goodness it’s dirty in here!”
    I accept these points and I apologize.
    I also thought of my own point against criticizing blog style: if someone doesn’t like your blog style, then they can just appear and plant critical comments for every single blog entry. Clearly a waste of time.

  25. This blog is part of ScienceBlogs, I expect a thick skin and a basic level of professionalism from all blog authors. If you can’t hack it, then get the fuck off this Blog roll – I can’t be bothered filtering you out.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!! You “expect”!?!?!?!? AHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!! I expect you to suck my fucking nutsack!!

  26. Eh, no worries, Comrade. He apologized. Apology accepted, Watcher.πŸ™‚

  27. Apologies from wackaloon assholes are fucking boring. I expect wackaloon assholes to maintain their wackaloon assholitude at an acceptable level.

  28. AA particularly *hearts* the fact that Sci refers to HERself (did you guys miss that?) in the third person. AA thinks that the third person reference to Sci’s good self contributes greatly to her air of mystery and to AA’s ability to imagine Sci as a cartoonish over-caffeinated hyperactive science-obsessed squirrel…which AA understands to be a totes accurate rendition of the Sci in real life. So there.

  29. This reader thinks that writing in the third-person is just a teenage phase. This reader can understand the difference between an awkward affected writing style and the content of that writing, after-all Sci often criticises a paper’s method while praising it’s intent.

    Silly writing style good choice of papers to discuss != crap blog

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  30. How ironic – misanthropy drives me here and whaddya know? This is a microcosm of the world. All groups are. I guess there’s no escaping humanity.
    Great blog. I’ll just have to remember not to read comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: