Homo anxius, or How Fear and Anxiety Conquered the Social World





Cognitive Historiography, History of Religions, Neurosociology, Religious Evolution and the Axial Age, The Emergence and Evolution of Religion


The article offers an extended review, counterpointed by a critical commentary, of two recent and outstanding volumes, Turner et al.’s The Emergence and Evolution of Religion (2018) and Sanderson’s Religious Evolution and the Axial Age (2018). Both books are eminently interdisciplinary in their scope: the first displays a distinctive deep-historical and neurosociological attention to the evolution of negative emotions and inter-group competition, while the latter focuses on the contribution of world transcendent religions to help human beings cope with new and challenging biosocial conditions derived from ultrasociality. While the two volumes gain unprecedented multidisciplinary width, they also tend to lose intra-disciplinary depth. However, and for all their differences, they both represent the vanguard of a renewed qualitative, scientific, and interdisciplinary study of the history of religion(s) through cognitive historiography. This contribution presents the main theses of both books, highlights their strengths, and provides a comprehensive discussion of their epistemological and methodological shortcomings.

Author Biography

Leonardo Ambasciano, Managing Editor, Journal of Cognitive Historiography

Leonardo Ambasciano earned his PhD in Historical Studies at the University of Turin, Italy, in 2014 with a cognitive and evolutionary analysis of the ancient Roman female cult of Bona Dea. In 2016, he was Visiting Lecturer in Religious Studies at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic. He is the author of An Unnatural History of Religion: Academia, Post-Truth, and the Quest for Scientific Knowledge (Bloomsbury, 2019), and of various book reviews, chapters, and articles, the most recent of which is “History as a Canceled Problem? Hilbert’s List, du Bois-Reymond’s Enigmas, and the Scientific Study of Religion” (co-authored with T. J. Coleman, III and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion 87[2]: 366-400). The author would like to thank, in no particular order, Andrea Cau, Andrea Nicolotti, Greg Alles, Laura Feldt, an anonymous reviewer, and Elisabeta Pop for their helpful suggestions.


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How to Cite

Ambasciano, L. . (2022). Homo anxius, or How Fear and Anxiety Conquered the Social World. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 6(1-2), 130–156. https://doi.org/10.1558/jch.19349



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