Human Distinctiveness

Dates: Mar 01, 2015 – Feb 28, 2018
Prinicipal Investigators: Celia Deane-Drummond and Agustín Fuentes
Support: John Templeton Foundation; University of Notre Dame

Human Distinctiveness

Project Aim

  • To provide training in evolutionary anthropology for theologians 
  • To research at the interface of anthropology and theology on the topic of the evolution of wisdom

Project Activities

  • 3-week summer seminar on evolutionary anthropology for theologians
  • 2-day follow-up summer seminar
  • Sabbatical-leave funding for 5 theologians
  • Postdoctoral research fellowships
  • Graduate student fellowships

Project Summary

This project provides training for a select group of theologians to explore advances in anthropological research on what it means to be human. Asking such big questions about becoming and being human necessitates a complex and dynamic theoretical and methodological toolkit. Although theology has a tradition of engaging and integrating knowledge gained from the sciences with scriptural and philosophical resources, this has become more difficult due to the dramatically increasing volume of material being discovered by, among others, the anthropological sciences, which has long been a nexus for social, biological, and philosophical research on humans – past and present. This program seeks to overcome these problems and build new capacity in the cross-disciplinary research field of theology and anthropology. It enables theologians to interface with anthropological toolkits, methods, and data from the main branches of anthropology, cultural anthropology and ethnography, biological anthropology and human evolution, archeology and cultural evolution, and linguistic anthropology.

The research component of this project, with its focus on an articulation of the evolution of wisdom – a category emerging from theology and philosophy – integrates detailed analyses of the evolutionarily recent human past (the last 2-300,000 years) with a focus on the materials and landscapes that can reflect the emergence of increased social complexity, the use of symbols, and a distinctly human semiosis. We undertake this in the context of theoretical and methodological approaches in contemporary evolutionary and ethnographic theory. In particular, we employ niche construction theory, multiple modes of inheritance theory, and integrated ethnographic approaches. We also engage insights from philosophical and theological traditions in order to enhance the capacity of our analyses.

Seminar Participants

  • Rhodora Beaton, Associate Professor of Liturgical and Sacramental Theology, Aquinas Institute of Theology
  • John Berkman, Professor of Moral Theology, Regis College, University of Toronto
  • Oliver Davies, Emeritus Professor of Christian Doctrine, Kings College London
  • Simon Gaine OP, Regent of Studies, Blackfriars Oxford
  • Todd Hanneken, Associate Professor of Theology, St. Mary's University 
  • James Helmer, Assistant Professor of Theology, Xavier University
  • Joel Hodge, Senior Lecturer, Theology, Australian Catholic University
  • Nicola Hoggard Creegan, Theologian, New Zealand
  • Philip Rolnick, Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas
  • Eugene Rogers, Professor of Religious Studies, UNC-Greensboro
  • Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
  • Arthur Walker-Jones, The United Church of Canada Research Chair in Contemporary Theology, University of Winnipeg

Project News & Media

Project Events


Research Publications

  • Baynes-Rock, Marcus. Among the Bone Eaters: Encounters with Hyenas in Harar. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.

  • Baynes-Rock, Marcus. "Converging on Ancient Bones: A Review of the Evidence for the Close Relatedness of Humans (Homo sapiens) and Spotted Hyenas (Crocuta crocuta)." Humanimalia 7.1 (2015): 1–22.

  • Baynes-Rock, Marcus. "De-Centering Humans Within Cognitive Systems." Evolution of Wisdom: Major and Minor Keys, edited by Agustín Fuentes and Celia Deane-Drummond. Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing, 2019.

  • Baynes-Rock, Marcus. "Ethiopian Buda as Hyenas: Where the Social is More than Human." Folklore 126.3 (2015): 266–82.

  • Baynes-Rock, Marcus. "Human Perceptual and Phobic Biases for Snakes: A Review of the Experimental Evidence." Anthrozoös 30.1 (2017): 5–18.

  • Baynes-Rock, Marcus. "In the Minds of Others." In The Evolution of Human Wisdom, edited by Celia Deane-Drummond and Agustín Fuentes, 47–67. Lanham, MD: Lexington Press, 2017.

  • Baynes-Rock, Marcus. "The Ontogeny of Hyena Representations among the Harari People of Ethiopia." Africa 86.2 (2016): 288–304.

  • Baynes-Rock, Marcus. "Precious Reptiles: Social Engagement and Placemaking with Saltwater Crocodiles." Area (2018):1–8.

  • Baynes-Rock, Marcus, and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. "We Are Not Equals: Socio-Cognitive Dimensions of Lion/Human Relationships." Animal Studies Journal 6.1 (2017): 104–28.

  • Beaton, Rhodora. "'Let Us Sing As We Go’: Language Origins and the Sung Response of Faith." Horizons 44 (2017): 56–79.