Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

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Breaking the Spell
Breaking The Spell.jpg
Author Daniel C. Dennett
Subject Religion
Publisher Viking (Penguin)
Publication date
ISBN 978-0-14-303833-7
OCLC 61240665
200 22
LC Class BL2775.3 .D46 2006
Preceded by Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon is a 2006 book by the American philosopher and cognitive scientist, Daniel Dennett, which argues for a scientific analysis of religion in order to predict the future of this phenomenon. Dennett implies that the spell he hopes to break is not religious belief itself, but the conviction that religion is off-limits to scientific inquiry.[citation needed]


The book is divided into three parts. Part I discusses the motivation and justification for the entire project: Can science study religion? Should science study religion? After answering in the affirmative, Part II proceeds to use the tools of evolutionary biology and memetics to suggest possible theories regarding the origin of religion and subsequent evolution of modern religions from ancient folk beliefs. Part III analyzes religion and its effects in today's world: Does religion make us moral? Is religion what gives meaning to life? What should we teach the children? Dennett bases much of his analysis on empirical evidence, though he often points out that much more research in this field is needed.

Dennett's working definition of religions is: "social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought." He notes that this definition is "a place to start, not something carved in stone."

Critical Reception[edit]

In The New York Times, Leon Wieseltier called the book "a sorry instance of present-day scientism" and "a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions."[1]

Charles T. Rubin, in the The New Atlantis, likened Dennett to "a tone-deaf music scholar" and criticized his "unwillingness to admit the limits of scientific rationality," accusing him of "deploying the same old Enlightenment tropes that didn’t work all that well the first time around."[2]

In The New Yorker, H. Allen Orr described the book as "an accessible account of what might be called the natural history of religion." [3]

In Scientific American, George Johnson describes the book's main draw as being a "a sharp synthesis of a library of evolutionary, anthropological and psychological research on the origin and spread of religion." [4]


Breaking the Spell has been translated into several other languages, including

  • Dutch - translation by Hans Bosman as De betovering van het geloof: religie als een natuurlijk fenomeen, Amsterdam: Contact 2006. ISBN 9025426875
  • Finnish - translation by Kimmo Pietiläinen as Lumous murtuu: uskonto luonnonilmiönä, Helsinki: Terra Cognita 2007. ISBN 978-952-5202-96-0
  • German - translation by Frank Born as Den Bann brechen. Religion als natürliches Phänomen, Frankfurt a. M.: Verlag der Weltreligionen im Insel Verlag 2008. ISBN 978-3-458-71011-0
  • Greek - translation by Dimitris Xygalatas and Nikolas Roubekas as Απομυθοποίηση, Thessaloniki: Vanias 2007. ISBN 978-960-288-198-9
  • Italian - translation by S. Levi as Rompere l'incantesimo. La religione come fenomeno naturale, Milano: Cortina Raffaello 2007. ISBN 978-88-6030-097-3
  • Polish - translation by Barbara Stanosz as Odczarowanie. Religia jako zjawisko naturalne, Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy 2008. ISBN 978-83-06-03138-6
  • Portuguese - translation by Helena Londres as Quebrando O Encanto. A Religião Como Fenômeno Natural, Rio de Janeiro: Globo 2006. ISBN 978-85-250-4288-0
  • Spanish - translation by Felipe de Brigard as Romper el hechizo: la religión como un fenómeno natural, Madrid: Katz 2007. ISBN 978-84-96859-00-5

See also[edit]

External links[edit]



  1. ^ "The God Genome", The New York Times, Feb. 19, 2006
  2. ^ "The God Meme", The New Atlantis number 12, Spring 2006
  3. ^ "The God Project", The New Yorker, Apr. 03, 2006
  4. ^ "Getting a Rational Grip on Religion", Scientific American, Dec. 25, 2005