Imitation, Mimetic Theory, and Religious & Cultural Evolution

Welcome to the TARP Grant Project Homepage

Sponsored by the Metanexus Institute, Imitatio, and the Travis Research Institute of Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, this three year project brings together some of the world’s most prominent scientists, philosophers, and religious scholars in an attempt to explore current theories of human imitation and their converging implications for contemporary psychosocial, religious, and scientific thought.

In the science of [humanity] and culture today there is a unilateral swerve away from anything that could be called mimicry, imitation, or mimesis. And yet there is nothing, or next to nothing, in human behavior that is not learned, and all learning is based on imitation. If human beings suddenly ceased imitating, all forms of culture would vanish. Neurologists remind us frequently that the human brain is an enormous imitating machine. To develop a science of [humanity] it is necessary to compare human imitation with animal mimicry, and to specify the properly human modalities of mimetic behavior, if they indeed exist. –René Girard, 1978

Imitation is often thought of as a low-level, cognitively undemanding, even childish form of behavior, but recent work across a variety of sciences argues that imitation is a rare ability that is fundamentally linked to characteristically human forms of intelligence, in particular to language, culture, and the ability to understand other minds. This burgeoning body of work has important implications for our understanding of ourselves, both individually and socially. Imitation is not just an important factor in human development, it also has a pervasive influence throughout adulthood in ways we are just beginning to understand... –Susan Hurley & Nick Chater, 2005

Mimesis and Science: Empirical Research on Imitation and the Mimetic Theory of Culture and Religion  

The project book, Mimesis and Science: Empirical
Research on Imitation and the Mimetic Theory of Culture
and Religion,
is now complete and will be available
October 2011.

Click here for more information.