Pascal Boyer

B O O K S  and edited collections


Minds Make Societies
How Cognition Explains the Worlds Humans Create

Forthcoming: New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2018.

[from the blurb:] A watershed book that masterfully integrates insights from evolutionary biology, genetics, psychology, economics, and more to explore the development and workings of human societies. 

“There is no good reason why human societies should not be described and explained with the same precision and success as the rest of nature.” Thus argues evolutionary psychologist Pascal Boyer in this uniquely innovative book. Integrating recent insights from evolutionary biology, genetics, psychology, economics, and other fields, he offers precise models of why humans engage in social behaviors such as forming families, tribes, and nations, or creating gender roles.

“The best book yet on one of the deepest issues in our understanding of ourselves—how the intellectual contributions of individual people shape the cultures of societies. Pascal Boyer is a pioneer in this landscape and explores it with insight and precision.” — Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and Enlightenment Now.

Minds Make Societies is the most important work on a science of human culture in years. If the best ideas win, this scholarly tour-de-force will become must-reading for everyone interested in how society works.” — Leda Cosmides, Co‑Director, Center for Evolutionary Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara.


Memory In Mind and Culture

Edited by Pascal Boyer and James V Wertsch
New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2009.


What Are Memories For? Functions Of Recall in Cognition & Culture, P Boyer
The Role of Repeated Retrieval in Shaping Collective Memory,
H Roediger, III, F. M. Zaromb, & A. C. Butler
Specificity in Memory, Dan Schacter, A. Gutchess & E. Kensinger
Networks of Autobiographical Memories, H. L. Williams & M. A. Conway
Making History: Social and Psychological Processes Underlying Collective Memory,
J. W. Pennebaker and A. Gonzalez
Cultural Life Scripts and Individual Life Stories,
D. Berntsen & A. Bohn
Historical Memories,
C. W. Blatz and Michael Ross
How Does Collective Memory Create A Sense of the Collective?,
A. Lambert, L. Nesse, C. Rogers & Larry Jacoby
Collective Memory, J. V. Wertsch
The Memory Boom: Why and Why Now?, David W. Blight
Historians and sites of memory, Jay Winter
Oral traditions as collective memories: Implications for a general theory of memory, David C. Rubin
Cognitive Predispositions and Cultural Transmission, Pascal Boyer.


Religion Explained

The Evolutionary Foundations of Religious Belief
Random House (UK) and Basic Books (USA), 2001

The main theme of this book is that we now have a better understanding of religious representations, their causes and their role in human cognition, simply because we have a better and more precise understanding of the mind-brain, its evolution, its structure and its specific dispositions.

[From Chapter 1] The explanation for religious beliefs and behaviours is to be found in the way all human minds work. I really mean all human minds, not just the minds of religious people or of some of them. I am talking about humanminds because what matters here are properties of minds that are found in all members of our species with normal brains. The discoveries I will mention here are about the ways minds in general (men's or women's, British or Brazilian, young or old) function. [...] This may seem a rather strange point of departure if we want to explain something as diverse as religion. Beliefs are different in different people; some are religious and some are not. Also, obviously, beliefs are different in different places. Japanese Buddhists do not seem to share much, in terms of religious notions, with Amazonian shamans or American Southern Baptists. How could we explain a phenomenon (religion) that is so variable in terms of something (the brain) that is the same everywhere? This is what I describe in this book.


Naturalness Of Religious Ideas

Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Publisher's blurb:
"Why do people have religious ideas? And why thosereligious ideas? The main theme of Pascal Boyer's work is that important aspects of religious representations are constrained by universal properties of the human mind-brain. Experimental results from developmental psychology, he says, can explain why certain religious representations are more likely to be acquired, stored, and transmitted by human minds. Considering these universal constraints, Boyer proposes an exciting new answer to the question of why similar religious representations are found in so many different cultures."


Cognitive Aspects of Religious Symbolism

Edited by Pascal Boyer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Cognitive Aspects of Religious Symbolism, Pascal Boyer
Whither Ethnoscience?, Scott Atran
Computational Complexity in te Modelling of Cosmological Ideas, Janet Keller & FK Lehman
"Earth" and "Path" as Complex Categories: Semantics and Symbolism in Kwaio culture, Roger Keesing
Domain-specificity, Living Kinds and Symbolism, Maurice Bloch
Pseudo-Natural Kinds, Pascal Boyer
Sign into Symbol, Symbol as Sign: Cognitive Aspects of a Social Process, Christina Toren
Talking about Souls. The Pragmatic Construction of Meaning in Cuna Ritual Language, Carlo Severi
Cognitive Categories, Cultural Forms and Ritual Structures, E Thomas Lawson
The Interactive Basis of Ritual Effectiveness in a Male Initiation Rite, Michael Houseman.


Tradition As Truth And Communication

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Publisher's blurb:
"Tradition is a central concept in the social sciences, but it is commonly treated as unproblematic. Dr. Boyer insists that social anthropology requires a theory of tradition, its constitution and transmission. He treats tradition as a type of interaction which results in the repetition of certain communicative events, and therefore as a form of social action. Tradition as Truth and Communication deals particularly with oral communication and focuses on the privileged role of licensed speakers and the ritual contexts in which certain aspects of tradition are characteristically transmitted. Drawing on cognitive psychology, Dr. Boyer proposes a set of general hypotheses tested by ethnographic field research."