Virtual Symposia

Imitation, Memory and Cultural Changes: Probing the Meme Hypothesis

Some Thoughts on the Prospect of "Meme" in Religious Studies

Peter Jackson


Among most contemporary theorists of religion pleading for a renewed scientific study of religion, the treatment of memes has either been ignored or received with skepticism about the utility of the "meme's eye perspective" (D. Sperber, S. Atran, P. Boyer). In order to assess the application of memetics in religious studies it is important to distinguish the skepticism among students of religion towards scientific approaches in general from the skepticism towards memetics in particular. What kinds of questions are students of religion trying to answer and in what way do they hope to provide an answer? In what ways could theories about the biological and cognitive foundations of religious behavior inform theories about historical and cultural particularities (and not just the other way around)? Are the humanistic and scientific approaches to religion incompatible or is it all a matter of scale? These are questions that I wish to address in the light of recent memetic theorizing.

Peter Jackson teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Tromso/ University (Norway). He specializes in Indo-European myth and poetics, (Vedic India, Ancient Iran, Ancient Greece and pre-Christian Scandinavia). His numerous publications also address a broader theoretical scope, such as the construction and interpretation of prehistoric ideational culture, the theory of myth, and the mechanisms of cultural transmission.