Of Killer Apes and Tender Carnivores: A Shepardian Critique of Burkert and Girard on Hunting and the Evolution of Religion

The evolutionary emergence of the human species in a predatory niche has often been seen as the root cause of all the bloodshed and aggression that besets the human condition, particularly religious violence. This is certainly the case with the thought of Walter Burkert and René Girard, both of whom...

Full description

Saved in:
Bibliographic Details
Published in:Studies in religion
Main Author: Kover, T.R. (Author)
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
Check availability: HBZ Gateway
Journals Online & Print:
Drawer...
Published: [2017]
In:Studies in religion
Year: 2017, Volume: 46, Issue: 4, Pages: 536-567
Further subjects:B human and animal predation
B Walter Burkert
B empathy
B René Girard
B human evolution
B Violence
B sacrifice
B Paul Shepard
B hunting
B animism
B Sacrament
Online Access: Volltext (Verlag)
Description
Summary:The evolutionary emergence of the human species in a predatory niche has often been seen as the root cause of all the bloodshed and aggression that besets the human condition, particularly religious violence. This is certainly the case with the thought of Walter Burkert and René Girard, both of whom argue that, because the earliest humans were hunters, collective murder or “sacrifice” is the founding practice of all religions. Consequently, for them, the dark specter of bloodshed and violence lies at the heart of all religious thought. However, Burkert's and Girard's accounts rest on unexamined and problematic assumptions concerning predation, hunting and violence. Specifically, their characterization of predation and prehistoric hunting peoples as intrinsically aggressive is both ecologically and anthropologically naïve and ill-informed. By contrast, the ecologist Paul Shepard's empirically informed account challenges not only the link between aggression and predation but also that between hunting and sacrifice. He argues that, far from producing a “killer ape,” the evolutionary transition of early hominids into a predatory niche resulted in a “tender carnivore” with an increased capacity for empathy with other humans and animals. Furthermore, he argues that blood sacrifice, far from lying with hunting at the dawn of human history, in fact emerged with the advent of agriculture and domestication. Thus, in challenging the commonly held association between hunting, violence and sacrifice, Shepard is asking us to rethink our understanding of the sacramentality of hunting, nature and life itself.
ISSN:2042-0587
Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.1177/0008429817735302