Original Research

Locating nature and culture: Pan-Homo culture and theological primatology

Nancy R. Howell
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 36, No 3 | a1440 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v36i3.1440 | © 2015 Nancy R. Howell | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 February 2015 | Published: 19 August 2015

About the author(s)

Nancy R. Howell, Saint Paul School of Theology, Overland Park, Kansas, United States; Department of Dogmatics and Christian Ethics, University of Pretoria, South Africa


Studies of chimpanzee and bonobo social and learning behaviours, as well as diverse explorations of language abilities in primates, suggest that the attribution of ‘culture’ to primates other than humans is appropriate. The underestimation of primate cultural and cognitive characteristics leads to minimising the evolutionary relationship of humans and other primates. Consequently my claim in this reflection is about the importance of primate studies for the enhancement of Christian thought, with the specific observation that the bifurcation of nature and culture may be an unsustainable feature of any world view, which includes extraordinary status for humans (at least, some humans) as a key presupposition.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The scientific literature concerning primate studies is typically ignored by Christian theology. Reaping the benefits of dialogue between science and religion, Christian thought must engage and respond to the depth of primate language, social, and cultural skills in order to better interpret the relationship of nature and culture.


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