Group Selection and Religion: Some Theological Remarks

One of the key lectures today, on the Schillebeeckx Centenary Conference, was delivered by Siobhán Garrigan. Her hermeneutics of the notion ‘home’ struck me as relevant for a theological reflection on evolutionary studies of religion that assume group selection to be an important factor.
In short, group selection theories argue that religion supports social cohesion within a group, thus offers an advantage for groups as they compete with other groups for resources. So, while religions might bring about in-group peace, they might also cause between-group violence, such theories suggest.
Garrigan’s lecture offered no critique on group selection accounts of religion, but instead offered some clues for a theological answer to the potentiality for exclusion and violence. I summarise some of the points she made in this blogpost.

Garrigan reflected on the notion of ‘home’, referring to a sociological analysis (unfortunately I did not understand the name of the sociologist in question) of the rise of nationalism as a consequence of framing the notion ‘nation’ as’ home’. She wondered whether the use of ‘home’ in religion effects in thinking about the need for a ‘gatekeeper’, positioning religion in the tension between inclusion and exclusion. For Garrigan, the sacramental character of religion should reflect the sacramental character of creation, and should elude the exclusion/inclusion framework. For instance, she raises the question of whether liturgical studies focus too much on identity, on becoming member of a community.
Another remark she made is that God made his home on earth, but for the other, for the coming, which of course criticises any appropriation of ‘home’ as part of an exclusive/inclusive frame.
Most interesting, I thought, was Garrigan’s use of Heidegger’s analysis of building and dwelling. She suggested this to be a metaphor for culture. One of her quotes describes beautifully, in my view, what it means to be part of a cultural tradition:

You might be alone in a building, but the building has been dwelt in, has been built by many.

Garrigan concluded by saying that the challenge is to take the notion ‘home’ and interpret it intersubjectively, getting away from the notion ‘limited access’.
This (very) short summary does of course injustice to Garrigan’s vivid presentation of her nuanced argumentation. But it does suffice, I think, to show how theology is aware of religion’s potentiality for exclusion and violence and can ensure the development of what Sebastian Kim, in his lecture, called

a critical self consciousness of Christian praxis

2 thoughts on “Group Selection and Religion: Some Theological Remarks

    1. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it al lot that you take the time to offer feedback! You encourage me to work harder on my writing: if it seems complicated, it means I didn’t express myself clear enough.

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