Breaking the Spell

Breaking the Spell : Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

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In "Breaking the Spell" Daniel C. Dennett explores how the great ideas of religion have enthralled us for thousands of years - and whether we could (or should) break free. What is religion and how did it evolve? Is it the product of blind evolutionary instinct or of rational choice? Is the only way to live a good life through religion? Few forces in the world are as potent as religion: it comforts people in their suffering and inspires them to both magnificent and terrible deeds. In this provocative and timely book, Daniel C. Dennett seeks to uncover the origins of religion and discusses how and why different faiths have shaped so many lives, whether religion is an addiction or a genuine human need, and even whether it is good for our health. Arguing passionately for the need to understand this multifaceted phenomenon, "Breaking the Spell" offers a truly original - and comprehensive - explanation for faith. "Packed with a mass of intriguing detail and anecdote ...witty and clear prose". ("Observer"). "He's the "good cop" among religion's critics (Richard Dawkins is the "bad cop"), but he still makes people angry". ("New Statesman"). "Dennett writes with brio and humour". ("Telegraph"). "Elegant, sharp-minded ...clear-eyed but courteous". ("Economist"). Daniel Dennett is one of the most original and provocative thinkers in the world. A brilliant polemicist and philosopher, he is famous for challenging unexamined orthodoxies, and an outspoken supporter of the Brights movement. His books include "Brainstorms", "Brainchildren", "Elbow Room", "Consciousness Explained", "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and "Freedom Evolves".show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 464 pages
  • 128 x 196 x 22mm | 222.26g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0141017775
  • 9780141017778
  • 20,731

About Daniel C. Dennett

Daniel Dennett is one of the most original and provocative thinkers in the world. A brilliant polemicist and philosopher, he is famous for challenging unexamined orthodoxies. His books include Brainstorms, Brainchildren, Elbow Room, Consciousness Explained, Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Freedom Evolves. He lives in North Andover, more

Review Text

An exploration of modern scientific theories of religion, framed by an argument that society must overcome its "spell" against studying religion as a natural, evolutionary occurrence. Dennett (Center for Cognitive Studies/Tufts), a National Book Award finalist for Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), seeks to expose religion to the systematic tools of modern science. It is too important in our global culture to leave unstudied, he arguespointing to instances in which religion has proven dangerous to society (e.g., radical Islam, the Heaven's Gate cult, etc.). Dennett then presents material from various researchers regarding how religion has evolved in human cultures. By drawing attention to theories that shaman "healing" practices, group cohesion and loyalty to ideas beyond the self have been a part of human evolution related to proto-religions, the author demonstrates why the existence of religious practice may have developed so uniformly in all human cultures. When broaching more developed and institutionalized forms of religion, however, he steps onto thinner ice. In concluding that many people believe more in their traditions than in the dogma and doctrine of their faith, and in pointing out inconsistencies between scriptural authorities and modern theologies, Dennett observes religion from an outsider's vantage point. This is, of course, his goal as a researcher, but it leads to a tendency to dismiss the role of faith, often by setting up straw men to knock down for the sake of his thesis. For instance, he states that, to many, faith is much like being in love, then concludes that love can delude individuals and even be bad for them. This analogy may not prove very convincing to the faithful. Dennett seems certain that many will indeed vigorously refute his work, but sees this as a worthwhile risk for starting the conversation. An intriguing argument, but one not likely to persuade any but the most heterodox of religious adherents. (Kirkus Reviews)show more