Vygotsky: Passing Down Religious Belief Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3055 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Evolution  ·  Written: August 11, 2020

Understanding how people believe and how faith can influence actions may explain how spirituality is imbued in human activity. Perhaps from this standpoint Theory of Mind is merely humankind getting to a place of understanding with respect to its relation to a divinity. If so, it raises the question of evolution and how the cosmology of evolution plays into the matter. If a Creator exists, the theory of evolution has less explanatory power than the cosmological narrative of religion.

Third Prerequisite for Religion

The way in which humans learn is important to the discussion of whether man is hardwired to believe in God. It reveals much about how information is passed down, and how vital culture is to society, to understanding, and to belief systems. Human beings learn skills and behaviors from parents and other people, rather than from trial and error. The success of the human species relies on the passing down of information, since every generation cannot figure out everything needed to further evolve. Cultural knowledge, accumulated over generations can assist in the accomplishment of social and cultural goals; the collective becomes more important than the individual. One’s personal beliefs and views are often overlooked for the good of the whole.

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The ability of people to learn from the older generations is important in traditional societies and explains how religious belief is passed down. In the modern society of today older generations and traditional knowledge or wisdom are not deemed as vital. Society is more liberal and this may be one reason belief in God does not seem quite as important in social terms as it did in the Old World. This does not mean, however, that belief in God has necessarily waned. As Hamer (2004) shows, belief in God is still quite popular in the US. God is thus not something that has disappeared from the modern consciousness in spite of progress in technology, cultural changes, and family depictions. God is still relevant.

Research Paper on Vygotsky: Passing Down Religious Belief Assignment

One of the reasons God is still relevant is that humankind has seemingly passed on a notion from one generation to the next the value of belief, even if that belief is ill-defined and subconsciously received. People learn from seeing and they absorb the cultural lessons that others suggest are important for them to consider. They may not understand the lessons or accept them word for word; but because of the ways in which people learn, there is a passing along of belief just like important nutrients are passed to the baby through the mother’s milk.

It is in this passing along of belief from one generation to the next that the development of the theory of mind can also be understood. The sociocultural theory of mind is critical to understanding an important researcher and philosopher of sociology—the seminal developer of the theory of learning known as the zone of proximal development (ZPD), Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s theory is important because it gets to the heart of one of his most important theories about social learning and cognitive development. ZPD is an example of how knowledge and learning is acquired through immersion: the individual immerses himself in the reality, observing, listening, and not necessarily consciously taking notes but rather memorizing and reflecting on what those around him did to achieve a certain outcome. So whether it is swinging a bat to hit a ball or solving a mathematics problem, it is the immersion—the ZPD—that facilitates the development of the individual. This immersion is a cultural phenomenon: it is not just a formal style of learning. That is why even though religion is not taught in schools, it is still learned from one generation to the next: people learn from others in informal ways. They learn by seeing and by being around others who are religious. If they begin to sense that they are missing something meaningful in their lives, they may seek out religious answers because they are aware that these answers have appealed to others. It is the fact that others are doing it, are believing in God, that acts as a signal for those who may not believe to ask questions, to probe the matter, and to possibly become believers themselves.

For Vygotsky, this immersion was essentially sociocultural because it did not stem from a theory of universals—i.e., doctrines of belief—but rather from a blend of culture, history, and institutions. Vygotsky focused on the social aspect of learning and developed the theory of social constructivism. In this theory, Vygotsky posited that children learn by watching others act. They learn from watching adults go to church, for instance. They learn to believe in God because they see their elders believing in God. However, for the belief to become an important part of the person’s life it has to take root in a deep way. Vygotsky identified a ZPD in which learners enter and observe others who have certain skills the child wants to acquire. This can translate importantly to the notion of religion. People who do not have faith may be attracted to others who have faith because they see the latter as possessing skills or rather virtues that are admirable. Of course, not all believers are exemplars of virtue. Some who believe also have some of the biggest vices. But in general, people tend to associate religious conviction with at least a sense of right and wrong and a desire to do what is right on a daily basis. The person who is new to faith will want to know what the religion offers that can help the person develop the virtues and good habits he seeks to possess. This is a type of personal evolution—evolution on a micro scale that reflects the larger macro evolution of societies and groups. The larger macro evolution of religious groups is more sociological in terms of how the structure of the group and the religious organization intersect to support the engagement of people in that group and without that group. The important concept here is that personal growth is pursued deliberately and in connection with a feeling or reason arrived at in the individual that this religious pursuit is vital to the person’s life. The learner will observe by way of ZPD how to be religious, how to properly pray in an acceptable way, how to become holy in the eyes of God, and so on. This development is seen and then imitated. In this manner, the human species learns the language of religion and how to communicate religious ideals, imitating what others are doing and patterning behavior and what is observed.

Information is passed along in this social blend to the point that religion becomes a most important part of the equation of what it means to have a happy life. Not all people are religious of course, and some think for themselves and go their own way in terms of how they approach the question of the divine. This suggests that religion is not merely a matter of evolution, for if it were, would not all people have evolved to believe? Yet some do not. If people are hardwired to believe in God, should not everyone believe in God the same way that everyone must eat and drink to live because bodies are hardwired to depend upon sustenance? The answer here is that though people are hardwired to believe in God, they are not programmed like robots. They have a will of their own, and if they choose not to believe their hardwiring does not short-circuit. An atheist may be just as psychologically content throughout his life without ever believing in God as one who does believe. This suggests that the hardwiring is there but that people do not use it in the same ways at all times. The house may be wired to support an Internet connection, for example, but if the individual never hooks up the router, he is not going to be able to connect. He may not even want the Internet. This does not mean the hardwiring goes away. However, in later houses it might, especially if the community deems it unimportant. And yet religion continues to be something people believe in even in this modern age. The hardwiring has not gone away, suggesting that it is natural in people to believe. This was even the argument of Socrates thousands of years ago.


Throughout human civilization, the majority of human beings have seemed to believe that an omnipresent being or spirit oversees our daily lives. This is because human beings have evolved to believe in God, or a supernatural power, through natural selection. Survival and reproduction predisposed Homo sapiens to religious beliefs because without these beliefs, mankind would have lacked important motives for functioning in a productive and meaningful manner.

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