The religious impulse: Evolution of morality, ritual, and myth; Liz Zelman, PhD

This talk will use past and recent findings from evolutionary anthropology and psychology to highlight some of the main features of our evolution as human beings with language, cultures, and what we Westerners label as “religion.” Why do all cultures (if not individuals) have behaviors and narratives that we can classify this way? How did these things evolve, and in what sense are they universal? We will deal specifically with three features of religion, morality/ethics, ritual, and myth, and the emphasis will be on small-scale societies.

Liz is a retired anthropologist and speech/language pathologist. In her retirement she has been an active participant in Washington University’s Life-long Learning Institute and recently taught a course titled “The Religious Animal.” Liz earned a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 1974. In her retirement, she has moved back into this field and is continuing to explore her lifelong interest in some of the “big questions” that have philosophical as well as scientific roots.