Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion

Lee A. Kirkpatrick

October 18, 2004
ISBN 9781593850883
Price: $59.00 $50.15
400 Pages
Size: 6" x 9"

In this provocative and engaging book, Lee Kirkpatrick establishes a broad, comprehensive framework for approaching the psychology of religion from an evolutionary perspective. Within this framework, attachment theory provides a powerful lens through which to reconceptualize diverse aspects of religious belief and behavior. Rejecting the notion that humans possess religion-specific instincts or adaptations, Kirkpatrick argues that religion instead emerges from numerous psychological mechanisms and systems that evolved for other functions. This integrative work will spark discussion, debate, and future research among anyone interested in the psychology of religion, attachment theory, and evolutionary psychology, as well as religious studies. It will also serve as a text in advanced undergraduate and graduate-level courses.

From Lee Kirkpatrick, winner of the APA Division 36 William James Award for outstanding and sustained contributions to the psychology of religion

“In this highly engaging, wide-ranging, and gracefully written book, Kirkpatrick moves from his own innovative work on attachment processes and religious phenomena to a much broader, multidimensional analysis of religion as an outcome of evolution. The book stands out from other writings on evolution and religion, which tend to have a narrow focus (on cognition or ritual or mystical experience, for example) and to see religion as a unitary adaptation. In contrast, Kirkpatrick argues persuasively that religion is best explained by a confluence of several different evolved mechanisms, each with its own primary, nonreligious function.”

—Phillip R. Shaver, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis

“Kirkpatrick has provided a dazzling and insightful analysis of the psychology of religion. Groundbreaking and gripping from start to finish, the book takes readers on a tour of religious phenomena, from the origins of belief to the nature of religious leaders and their followers. The result is the most incisive and scientifically sound analysis of religion I have seen, using principles drawn from modern evolutionary psychology. It’s a landmark publication, and sure to form the center of lively debate for years to come.”

—David M. Buss, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

“In this brilliant work, Lee Kirkpatrick embeds the study of religion within an integrative evolutionary framework that draws extensively on attachment theory. In elaborating his comprehensive explanatory theory, Kirkpatrick boldly proposes a route for advancing the science of the psychology of religion. This book is essential reading for students and scholars of the psychology of religion and evolutionary psychology, particularly those interested in the psychological origins of religion.”

—Crystal L. Park, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut

“This is a masterful example of scholarship aimed at integrating an attachment and evolutionary theoretical approach to the wide and far-reaching domain of the psychology of religion. Kirkpatrick is the world’s leading expert on attachment theory and religion, and in this book he has expanded the argument to encompass a broader perspective, one that places the psychology of religion squarely in the emerging field of evolutionary psychology and thus links it with the larger orbit of sciences. The writing is rich with research whose data argue in a compelling way that religious phenomena match the predictions of an attachment-evolutionary framework. Other approaches are acknowledged but are challenged with the question of why they work, if they do. Written with a high level of sophistication, the book is nonetheless extremely accessible. Kirkpatrick clearly loves his material. His logic is keen, his writing beautiful, his topic and message timeless.”

—Raymond F. Paloutzian, PhD, Department of Psychology, Westmont College

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

An Ambitious Agenda




Psychology of ...


A New Direction

Attachment Theory

Evolutionary Psychology

The Plan of This Book

2. Introduction to Attachment Theory


The Attachment System

Other Related Systems

The Phenomenology of Attachment

Individual Differences in Attachment in Childhood

Multiple Attachment Figures

Internal Working Models and the Stability of Attachment Patterns

Attachment in Adulthood

Attachment and Adult Romantic Relationships

Individual Differences in Adult Romantic Attachment

Factorial and Dimensional Models

The Formation and Development of Adult Love Bonds

An Alternative Approach to Adult Attachment

Attachment and Evolutionary Psychology

Summary and Conclusions

3. God as an Attachment Figure

Religion as Relationship

But Is It Really an Attachment Relationship?

Seeking and Maintaining Proximity to God

Proximity in Belief and Myth

Facilitating Psychological Proximity


Other Religious Behaviors

God as a Haven of Safety

Crisis and Distress

Illness and Injury

Death and Grieving

God as a Secure Base


Psychological Outcomes

Responses to Separation and Loss

Summary and Conclusions

4. More on Religion as an Attachment Process: Some Extensions and Limitations

Religion and Love

What Kind of Love?: Romantic Attachment versus

Attachment to God

God as a Parental Figure

Individual Differences in Images of God

God as a Benevolent Caregiver

God as Controlling and Demanding

Children's Beliefs about God

Beyond God: Extensions and Limitations

To Generalize, or Not to Generalize?

The Problem with Parsimony

Other Forms of Attachment (or Not) in Religion

Relationships with Other Supernatural Beings

Relationships with Religious Leaders

Relationships with Fellow Worshipers and Other Peers

Relationships with Groups

Nontheistic Religions

Summary and Conclusions

5. Individual Differences in Attachment and Religion: The Correspondence Hypothesis

Mental Models and the Correspondence Hypothesis

Correspondence in Childhood and Adolescence

Correspondence in Adulthood

Correspondence Across Cultures

Internal Working Models of Self and Others

Continuity from Childhood to Adulthood

The Socialized-Correspondence Hypothesis

The Two-Level Correspondence Hypothesis

"Socialization" as an Alternative Explanation

The Inadequacy of "Socialization" as Explanation

The Epidemiology of Beliefs

Individual Differences Revisited

Summary and Conclusions

6. God as a Substitute Attachment Figure: The Compensation Hypothesis

Individual Differences and Religious Conversion

Individual Differences in Childhood Attachment and Conversion

Sudden Religious Conversion

Other Evidence for a Compensation Model

A Two-Process Model

Individual Differences in Adult Attachment

Contextual Factors in Religious Change

Separation and Loss


Relationship Dissolution

Unavailability of Attachment Figures

Perceived Inadequacy of Human Attachment Figures

Cultural Factors

Summary and Conclusions

7. Attachment in Context: Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary Psychology as a Paradigm or Metatheory

Adaptation and Natural Selection


"Selfish Genes" and Inclusive Fitness

Domain-Specificity and the Mental-Organs Model

Nature "versus" Nurture

Stone Age Minds in Modern Environments

Individual Differences in Evolutionary Context

Stable Environmental Differences

Direct Genetic Effects

Frequency-Dependent Adaptive Strategies

Early Environmental Calibration

An Example of Facultative Strategies: Human Mating

Are Evolutionary Explanations Unfalsifiable?

Some Illustrative Examples: Politics, Music, and Sports

Summary and Conclusions

8. Attachment Theory in Modern Evolutionary Perspective

Childhood Attachment in Modern Evolutionary Perspective

Parental Caregiving and Parent-Offspring Conflict

Individual Differences in Childhood Attachment

Attachment and Reproductive Strategies

The Belsky, Steinberg, and Draper Model

Individual Differences in Adult Attachment

Love Revisited

Love or Attachment?

Love as a Commitment Device

Implications for the Theory of Attachment and Religion

Correspondence and the RS Hypothesis

Compensation, Sudden Conversion, and the LM


Summary and Conclusions

9. Religion: Adaptation or Evolutionary By-product?

Is There a Unique Religious Instinct?





Problems with the Religion-as-Instinct View

The Problem of Identifying the Adaptive Function

Psychological vs. Reproductive Benefits

Group Selection vs. Selfish Genes

Costs vs. Benefits

Begging Questions

The Problem of Identifying the Design

The Problem of Establishing Special Design

Theoretical Conservatism and the Onus of Proof

Religion as an Evolutionary By-product, Not an Adaptation

Adaptations vs. Evolutionary By-products

Religion as an Evolutionary By-product

An Analogy: Games and Sports

Summary and Conclusions

10. Beyond Attachment: Religion and Other Evolved Psychological Mechanisms

Power, Status, and Intrasexual Competition

Supernatural Beings as Power Figures

Human Religious Leaders as Power Figures


Supernatural Beings and Religious Leaders as Kin

Ingroup Members as Kin

Reciprocal Altruism and Social Exchange

Supernatural Beings as Social-Exchange Partners

Mutual Helping and Social Support

Morality and Ethics

Coalitional Psychology

In-Group Cooperation and Morality

Out-Group Discrimination and Conflict

Supernatural Beings as Coalitional Partners

Summary and Conclusions

11. The Cognitive Origins of Religious Belief

Evolved Mechanisms for Thinking about the Natural World

Naive Physics and Psychological Animism

Naive Biology and Natural Kinds

Naive Psychology and Theory of Mind

The Psychology of Complex Thinking: How the Mind Works

The Cognitive Building Blocks of Religious Belief


Psychological Essentialism


Why Religious Beliefs Succeed

Evolved Psychological Mechanisms: Calibration and Bias

Religious Beliefs: Combining the Intuitive and the Counterintuitive

Beyond Religion: Other Forms of Thought and Belief

Parapsychology and Other Supernatural Beliefs

Commonsense Knowledge and Reasoning in Everyday Life


Summary and Conclusions

12. Beyond Genes: Learning, Rationality, and Culture

Natural Selection, Genes, and Inclusive Fitness

From Genes to Memes

Individual Learning, Reinforcement, and the Pleasure Principle

Complex Reasoning and Higher-Order Cognitive Processes

Social Learning, Socialization, and Cultural Transmission

Cooperation, Competition, and Manipulation

Memes and Viruses of the Mind

Science Revisited

Summary and Conclusions

13. Toward an Evolutionary Psychology of Religion

A Précis in (More or Less) Reverse

Evolutionary Psychology and Adaptation

From Genes to Behavior

Religion as an Evolutionary Byproduct

The Psychological Origins of Religious Belief

The Social Psychology of the Supernatural


An Evolutionary Psychology of Religion for the Future

A Theoretically Rich "Psychology" of ...

A Paradigmatic, Interdisciplinary Science

A Coherent Model of Universality vs. Individual Differences

Beyond Description to Function

Religious Nature Carved at its Joints

Avoiding Major Pitfalls in the Psychology of Religion

Summary and Conclusions

About the Author

Lee A. Kirkpatrick, PhD, is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Psychology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. He has published numerous research articles and book chapters on topics related to adult attachment, the psychology of religion, and evolutionary psychology.


Researchers, students, and instructors in social and personality psychology and the psychology of religion. Also of interest to readers in clinical psychology and religious studies.

Course Use

Serves as a text in advanced undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in the psychology of religion, evolutionary psychology, attachment theory, and personality.