Jonathan Haidt on Religion, Evolution, & the Ecstasy of Self-Transcendence [18:16]


Haidt starts by pointing out the very real psychological phenomena of self or ego transcendence.  Haidt, an atheist himself, aims to provide a naturalistic explanation, grounded in evolution.  But for Haidt, this explanation does not take away from the value of the experience.  Haidt uses the metaphor of climbing a stair case to a second level, the mundane to the transcendent, and therefore refers to humans as homo duplex.  The reason why we have these kinds of experiences is for the sake of bonding, overcoming our narrow self-interest, and working together.

Discussion Questions

  • What does Haidt mean when he says that transcendence is a “basic fact about being human”?  What’s the difference between an experience and how we explain that experience?
  • What is Haidt’s metaphor about the house and hidden staircase?
  • What did Durkheim mean by ‘the sacred’?  What was the purpose of religion?
  • What is ‘group’ or ‘multi-level selection’?  What is the example of the crew team?
  • What is the ‘free rider’ problem?  How might evolution have overcome this problem?
  • Why might morality, religion, and transcendence have evolved?

Keywords: evolution, psychology, society, religion, transcendence, ego, spiritual, morality, war, cooperation,


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