The rise of the socio-biological sciences since the last century is a long overdue acknowledgment of Darwin’s (1872) insight that not only our bodies, but also our minds are embedded in a world of organs, cells and genes. One of the consequences of this growing insight was that religion – long regarded as the exclusive domain of the human and social sciences – has increasingly become a subject of study for the biological sciences as well. The purpose of this article is not to critique this biological approach to religion, but to draw attention to the questionable origin and influence of a key assumption at the basis of it, namely that religion can be defined only with reference to the supernatural and/or the extraordinary. This assumption therefore forms the genealogical focal point for an exploratory investigation into the origin and development of scientific studies of religion as such.
Keywords: civilisation; eugenics; evolution; extraordinary; religion; social Darwinism; supernatural