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An Unnatural History of Religions : Academia, Post-truth and the Quest for Scientific Knowledge
Bloomsbury Academic

An Unnatural History of Religions : Academia, Post-truth and the Quest for Scientific Knowledge

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An Unnatural History of Religions
Author(s): Leonardo Ambasciano

An Unnatural History of Religions examines the origins, development, and critical issues concerning the history of religion and its relationship with science. The book explores the ideological biases, logical fallacies, and unwarranted beliefs that surround the scientific foundations (or lack thereof) in the academic discipline of the history of religions, positioning them in today's 'post-truth' culture.

Leonardo Ambasciano provides the necessary critical background to evaluate the most important theories and working concepts dedicated to the explanation of the historical developments of religion. He covers the most important topics and paradigm shifts in the field, such as phenomenology, postmodernism, and cognitive science. These are taken into consideration chronologically, each time with case studies on topics such as shamanism, gender biases, ethnocentrism, and biological evolution.

Ambasciano argues that the roots of post-truth may be deep in human biases, but that historical justifications change each time, resulting in different combinations. The surprising rise of once-fringe beliefs, such as conspiracy theories, pseudoscientific claims, and so-called scientific creationism, demonstrates the alarming influence that post-truth ideas may exert on both politics and society. Recognising them before they spread anew may be the first step towards a scientifically renewed study of religion.


“The unnatural history of religions is, for good or ill, quite natural for the type of animal we are, a fact accounting for the tenacity of the supernatural in human life and society. Rightly or wrongly, Ambasciano believes this tenacity stands in the way of a truly scientific study of religion. Accordingly, he hopes his book will encourage more to adopt both methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. Whether or not he is successful in this endeavor, An Unnatural History of Religions will surely challenge many in the academic study of religion, and that would be a good thing.” —Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“In his deeply informed book, Leonardo Ambasciano takes to task conventional history of religions, arguing that it is driven by too many value-laden assumptions. We need to revamp our thinking drastically in the light of our post-Darwinian understanding of ourselves and the world. Even for those of us not completely convinced, again and again the author challenges us to rethink long-held assumptions – especially those too congenial to our personal values! We should all read this book.” —Michael Ruse, Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University, USA

“Should we keep nomenclatures such as 'history of religion(s)'? Why (or why we should not) employ a postmodernist outlook in the study of religion? What does science have to offer to the study of 'religion'? Whether one agrees with Ambasciano's approach and replies to such complex questions or not, it is undeniable that his splendid work will require hard work to be challenged. A unique book.” —Nickolas P. Roubekas, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of Vienna, Austria

“The History of Religion as an academic field is full of bullshit, according to Ambasciano. And we know that the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it. The author generously lends us a lot of that energy, and the result is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in the cultural phenomenon of religion.” —Massimo Pigliucci, K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York, USA

An Unnatural History of Religions demonstrates the ambivalent character of the study of religion. Despite the field's attempt to detach itself from an apologetic tenor, theological, religious, and pseudo-scientific biases continue to loom large. Ambasciano explains the resilience, while not giving in to “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” The book is richly informed, beautifully clear, and lucidly argued advocating the need to awaken from the sleep of reason.” —Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Professor, Department for the Study of Religion, Aarhus University, Denmark

ISBN:  9781350062382