Fantastic stuff here, (jump to Scott Atran) pointing towards a scientifically informed study of religion. To get there, of course, it is necessary first to remove the sillinesses of pharyngular atheism and dogmatic assertions about “religion” based on nothing but intuition. So, take it away, Dr. Atran:
Core religious ideas serve as conceptual signposts that help to socially coordinate other beliefs and behaviors in given contexts. Although they have no more fixed or stable propositional content than do poetic metaphors, they are not processed figuratively in the sense of an optional and endless search for meaning. Rather they are thought to be right, whatever they may mean, and to require those who share such beliefs to commune and converge on an appropriate interpretation for the context at hand. To claim that one knows what Judaism or Christianity is truly about because one has read the Bible, or that what Islam is about because one has read the Qur’an and Hadith, is to believe that there is an essence to religion and religious beliefs. But science (and the history of exegesis) demonstrates that this claim is false.