The Concepts of Implicit and Non-Institutional Religion

Theoretical Implications


  • Malcolm B. Hamilton University of Reading



evolutionary psychology, psychology of religion, definition of religion, fundamental modes of religious thought


If man is an animal religiosum this suggests that religion is rooted in evolved cognitive and emotional structures of the human brain and mind. Although obviously a cultural system, which takes extraordinarily varied form across different cultures, the application of evolutionary theory and evolutionary psychology to the understanding and explanation of religion, which has become increasingly prevalent in the last decade or so, is potentially a fruitful line of investigation. Rather than religion involving the transcending of our biological nature, as Luckmann argued, this approach would see religion as rooted in that biological nature. There are two rather different stances within evolutionary psychology, namely that which sees religion as a by-product of otherwise adaptive traits, and that which sees religion as itself adaptive, either at the individual or at the social level. These may have rather different implications for the concepts of implicit and non-institutional religion. These concepts might seem to relate more closely to more fundamental cognitive proclivities, rather than to socially adaptive and, consequently, institutionalized forms. The study of implicit and non-institutional forms of religion might thus throw considerable light on such deeply rooted factors. Here a number of fundamental cognitive mechanisms that may be relevant for the concepts of implicit and non-institutionalized religion are briefly examined. From this it is concluded that it may be time to discard a unitary definition of religion as such and concentrate instead on those diverse aspects of what has for so long inevitably defied attempts at coherent definition.


Atran, S. 2002. In Gods we Trust. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bering, J. M. 2006. “The Cognitive Psychology of Belief in the Supernatural.” American Scientist 94: 142–149.

Bailey, E. 1997. Implicit Religion in Contemporary Society. Kampen, Kok Pharos.

Barrett, J. 2004. Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Bloom, P. 2007. “Religion is Natural.” Developmental Science 10(1): 147–151.

Boyer, P. 2001. Religion Explained. New York: Basic Books

Durkheim, E. 1915. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: Allen and Unwin.

Guthrie, S.E. 1993. Faces in the Clouds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hamilton, M. B. 2006. “Disgust Reactions to Meat among Ethically and Health Motivated Vegetarians.” Ecology of Food and Nutrition 45(2): 125–158.

Horton, R. 1960. “A Definition of Religion and its Uses.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 90: 201–226.

Keleman, D. 1999a. “The Scope of Teleological Thinking in Pre-school Children.” Cognition 70: 241–272.

———. 1999b. “Functions, Goals and Intentions: Children’s Teleological Reasoning about Objects.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 3(12): 461–468.

———. 2004. “Are Children ‘intuitive theists’?” Psychological Science 15(5): 295–301.

Kirkpatrick, L. A. 1999. “Towards an Evolutionary Psychology of Religion and Personality.” Journal of Personality 66(6): 921–952.

Luckmann, T. 1967. The Invisible Religion. New York: Macmillan.

Ter Borg, Meerten B. “Some Ideas on Wild Religion.” Implicit Religion 7: 108–119.

Tylor, E.B. 1903 [1871]. Primitive Culture. 4th edition. London: Murray.






How to Cite

Hamilton, M. B. (2013). The Concepts of Implicit and Non-Institutional Religion: Theoretical Implications. Implicit Religion, 15(4), 523–532.