There are two main theories of religion deriving from modern, computerised science — ie the sort that can only be done with computers in the background, either to model, or to run the equipment. [the influence of programming as an activity on the way we think about complex systems is a different, rather wider way of thinking about “computerised science”]
The “Boyer(A9 search. Looks very cool)”:http://a9.com/pascal%20boyer?a=ob sort looks at the cognitive mechanisms which promote supernatural belief. The “D.S. Wilson”:http://a9.com/David%20sloan%20Wilson / “Herbert Gintis(The most interesting sociobiologist)”:http://a9.com/herbert%20gintis “functionalist” expressions look at the effects of religious practice and argue that these must be beneficial.
There is one important point on which they both agree. Morality does not proceed from religion. Our moral intuitions and imperatives, or something like them, predate language and provide the script for our supernatural beongs to act within. Ths is an argument against individualism, in a way. I think that instead of Gods appearing in individual minds, and shaping our social experience; for most people social experience is primary, and shapes what we think God says. The exception would be the so-called “religious virtuosos”, who talk directly to God, but even the, perhaps especially they, depend for their status on social experience. Without it, they are not “religious virtuosos,(I couldn’t resist this)”:http://www.flickr.com/photo.gne?id=28176 but lunatics, at best possessed by evil spirits.
One more random thought: the connection of deserts and other lifeless places with the appearance of the divine makes a lot of sense if Boyer is right, and the root of our sense of the supernatural is the overdetection of agency. A place without life bigger than lizards, where even they are furtive, is going provide more opportunities for overdetection, to the extent that it does not provide opportunities for real detection. It is a very specialised form of sensory deprivation. One knows about St Anthony being tempted with luscious women, in visions which appeared precisely because there were no women for fifty miles. Might he not also have been tempted with visions of agency in the world?
“Who is that third who walks always beside you?”:http://eliotswasteland.tripod.com/twl.html#360