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Niche Construction and Religious Evolution  

Agustín Fuentes

In an evolutionary context neither religion nor religiosity can appear full-blown, and thus it is valuable to search for the kinds of structures, behaviors, and cognitive processes that might facilitate the appearance of such patterns in human beings. The quest for understanding the human propensity for religious behavior is aided by investigating the core role of the evolutionary processes related to the emergence of humanity. However, the majority of approaches in the field of the evolution of religious behavior, and religions themselves, rely heavily on overly reductionistic neo-Darwinian models. They seek to explain faith, religious institutions, and ritual practice primarily in terms of their relation to natural selection and their potential roles as adaptations. The niche construction approach to religious evolution provides an alternative to the primarily functionalist and reductive approach. This way of approaching the human niche, and human evolution, lays a groundwork for modeling the development of the structures (cognitive and behavioral) that can facilitate a more comprehensive, and less reductive, understanding of the human propensity for imagination, faith, and ritual. This approach suggests that a distinctively human imagination, and a uniquely human metaphysics, is a core part of being human and thus part of the explanation for human evolutionary success.


The Anabaptist Tradition: Mennonites  

John D. Rempel

Anabaptism and its descendant movement, Mennonitism, came into being through the illegal baptism of believers upon confession of faith. Anabaptist worship was characterized by form and freedom. It included reading and interpreting the Bible by preachers and other worshipers, practicing baptism, the Lord’s Supper, anointing, and other acts while allowing for immediate promptings by the Holy Spirit, as in 1 Corinthians 14. Routinized worship developed gradually by means of leaders internalizing important turns of phrase as well as writing prayers and publishing prayer books. Some streams of Mennonitism, like the Amish, have laid great stress on following the tradition that emerged. At the same time there arose renewal and missionary movements for whom Spirit-led improvisation was essential for true worship that was accessible to seekers. Beginning in the late 19th century, Mennonite churches arose in the Global South. For them the movement between form and freedom was essential to authentic worship. Singing is the central act of the congregation in all types of Mennonite worship. There is a lean sacramentalism in which the visible church is the body of Christ in history. In the practice of ordinances or sacraments, there has been great concern from the beginning that God’s acts of grace be received by the faith of the believer in order for such acts to be true to their intention. The Lord’s Supper emphasizes encountering both Christ and one’s sisters and brothers in a transformative way. Baptism is entering a covenant with Christ and the church. In addition, anointing, discipline, funerals, marriage and celibacy, parent and child dedication, and ordination are practiced.