Original Research - Special Collection: Morality in history

Evolving belief and being human: The emergence of religion in science and theology

Bernice Serfontein
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 45, No 1 | a2931 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v45i1.2931 | © 2024 Bernice Serfontein | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 June 2023 | Published: 31 May 2024

About the author(s)

Bernice Serfontein, Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Every human society as well as almost all human life is infused with ethics. There is common acknowledgement that morality and ethics are indispensable in addressing the serious global challenges humanity is faced with today. However, we seemed to have lost our grip on what morality is. How do we best understand human morality and ethics? This research argues that responsible ethics rests on a credible understanding of what it means to be human. The following exploration of the emergence of religion within the science and religion discourse formed part of a series of three seminars that have as their main objective to address a giant void regarding ethical and moral reflection within our society. This research was part of the discourse of the first seminar with the following main research question: What do we learn from the empirical study of morality (in the evolutionary sciences, the neurosciences, cultural anthropology, sociology, and moral psychology) about the sources, functions and characteristics of morality, and its relation to religion? This study offers an exploration of our capacity for religious awareness and belief against the background of niche construction theory. The capacity for imagination seems to have contributed to human evolutionary success and consequently our religious disposition. This transdisciplinary study combines perspectives of some of the most prominent interlocutors in the contemporary discourse on the emergence of religious awareness. By integrating the numerous perspectives evident in this study, this research explores how evolutionary thought can be constructively appropriated to interdisciplinary theology and ethics.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This article explores the origin of religious awareness and belief as part of a larger discourse on morality in history. The interdisciplinary conversation covers the fields of evolutionary anthropology and theology within the contemporary science-theology discourses.


religion; belief; morality; evolutionary anthropology; niche construction theory; interdisciplinary theology

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