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Dr Yuval Noah Harari author of Sapiens visited Oxford on September 10, 2014 where he spoke at the Natural History Museum.
This bestselling book takes us on a roller coaster ride through history looking at things we take for granted such as money, science and religion. “We rule the world because we are the only animal that can believe in things that exist purelyin our own imagination,” he explains, “such as gods, states, money and human rights.”
Harari takes these concepts and dissects them never content with accepting given explanations for events and outcomes. The book opens our minds to alternatives, prodding and poking us to make us rethink our interpretations of history.
Taking another look at the Agricultural Revolution Harari’s conclusion is it “was history’s biggest fraud. Wheat domesticated Sapiens rather than the other way around. “Also the treatment of animals in modern agriculture may turn out to be the worst crime in history.”
When thinking about religion he says that “Capitalism is the most successful religion to date.” Most people would think that Capitalism was an economic theory, but Harari’s definition of religion is more inclusive.
“Religion is not belief in gods.” he said. “Rather, religion is any system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in superhuman laws. Religion tells us that we must obey certain laws that were not invented by humans, and that humans cannot change at will. Some religions, such as Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, believe that these super-human laws were created by the gods. “Other religions, such as Buddhism, Communism and Nazism, believe that these super-human laws are natural laws. Thus Buddhists believe in the natural laws of karma, Nazis argued that their ideology reflected the laws of natural selection, and Communists believe that they follow the natural laws of economics.
“No matter whether they believe in divine laws or in natural laws, all religions have exactly the same function: to give legitimacy to human norms and values and to give stability to human institutions such as states and corporations. Without some kind of religion, it is simply impossible to maintain social order.
“During the modern era religions that believe in divine laws went into eclipse. But religions that believe in natural laws became ever more powerful. In the future, they are likely to become more powerful yet. Silicon Valley, for example, is today a hot-house of new techno-religions that promise humankind paradise here on earth with the help of new technology.
“Spirituality, however, is a totally different thing. Whereas religion is about maintaining order, spirituality is about breaking down order. It is about asking open-ended big questions and going in search of answers, no matter what the answers might be.
“Such a quest often demands that we go beyond or even against the dictates of society. This is why throughout history, spirituality was often the worst threat to religion.”
Follow this link for a short video that gives a flavour of what the book is about. http://www.waterstones.com/blog/2014/07/read-sapiens/
Yuval Harari, 38, was born in Haifa, Israel, he now lectures at the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he specialises in World, medieval and military history.
He will be visiting Oxford on September 10 where he will be speaking at the Natural History Museum.
His talk begins at 7pm and tickets cost £5. You can contact Waterstones, Oxford on 01865 790212 for more information.