Barbara King sent me the following email message in response to my posting on her talk at Chautauqua [Barbara King at Chautauqua]. When people take the time to send me an email message my policy is to post such rebuttals without comment.
Hi, Larry Moran.
I think it's not too helpful to your readers to take a definition out of context from my book, and link it to my Chautauqua talk. At Chautauqua, I did not cite or employ Geertz's definition of religion.
Rather, I mentioned that I would focus on two aspects of religion (necessary but not sufficient aspects, as I put it), 1) the expression of empathy and compassion (which exist in balance with violence and cruelty, of course) and 2) symbolic rituals that in some way seem to go beyond the here-and-now, for example, burial rituals that go beyond hygenic disposal of the dead to include grave good and ritual processes that may embrace the sacred. I think the Chautauqua audience was more than capable of following that sort of framework, laced with a lot of examples from primate studies and archaeology that speak to those two particular aspects (of course, explaining too the inevitable risks in using great apes of today to model early human evolution.... that's an enjoyable point to debate, and I do enjoy conversations where people disagree on such things).
I'm not too sure how you could know what "most" of the audience of hundreds thought of my talk, unless you polled them? Your characterization of confused people doesn't fit with my experience of interacting with people there, at all....
I spoke at AAAS in Boston last winter and made a stand: I won't answer questions about my personal beliefs. The reason is really simpler than any you indicated (I surely don't remember saying what you said I said!): I'm a scientist, and want to keep focus on the science. Seems like a reasonable enough point. I don't understand this peculiar drive to know what scientists' personal beliefs might be! I was pleased that the Chautauqua audience applauded (literally) my answer.
I often enjoy your blog (some days more than others, clearly). I'd appreciate your posting this, if you're open to doing so.