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Scott Atran
Born 1952
New York City, United States
Residence France, United States
Nationality United States, France
Fields Anthropology, Psychology, Cognitive Sciences
Institutions Cambridge University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, École pratique des hautes études, University of Michigan, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Doctoral advisor Margaret Mead

Scott Atran (born 1952) is an American anthropologist.


Education and early career

Atran was born in New York City in 1952 and he received his PhD in anthropology from Columbia University. While a student he became assistant to anthropologist Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History. In 1974 he organized a debate at the Abbaye de Royaumont in France on the nature of universals in human thought and society, with the participation of linguist Noam Chomsky, psychologist Jean Piaget, anthropologists Claude Lévi-Strauss and Gregory Bateson, and biologists François Jacob and Jacques Monod, which many consider a milestone in the development of cognitive science.

Later research and career

Atran has taught at Cambridge University, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris. He is currently a research director in anthropology at the of the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique and member of the Jean Nicod Institute at the École Normale Supérieure. He is also visiting professor of psychology and public policy at the University of Michigan, and presidential scholar in sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

He has experimented extensively on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorize and reason about nature, on the cognitive and evolutionary psychology of religion, and on the limits of rational choice in political and cultural conflict. His work has been widely published internationally in the popular press, and in scientific journals in a variety of disciplines. He has briefed members of the U.S. Congress and the National Security Council staff at the White House on the Comparative Anatomy and Evolution of Global Network Terrorism and on the The Devoted Actor versus the Rational Actor in Managing World Conflict, and he has been involved in conflict negotiations in the Middle East.

In addition to his recent work on the ideology and social evolution of transnational terrorism, which has included fieldwork with mujahedin and supporters in Europe, The Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, and North Africa, Atran conducts on-going research in Guatemala, Mexico, and the U.S. on universal and culture-specific aspects of biological categorization and environmental reasoning and decision making among Maya and other Native Americans.

His recent debates with Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and others during the Beyond Belief symposium on the limits of reason and the role of religion in modern society have sparked considerable controversy.[1][2][3]

His publications include Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science, Cambridge University Press, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, Oxford University Press, Plants of the Peten Itza' Maya (co-Authored with Ximena Lois and Edilberto Ucan Ek'), University of Michigan Museums, The Native Mind and the Cultural Construction of Nature (co-authored with Douglas Medin), MIT Press, Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists, Ecco Press / HarperCollins.

See also



As sole author

  • Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science (1990)
  • In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (2002)
  • Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists (2010)

As editor or co-author

  • Folkbiology, ed. with Douglas Medin (1999)
  • Plants of the Peten Itza' Maya, with Ximena Lois and Edilberto Ucan Ek (2004)
  • The Native Mind and the Cultural Construction of Nature, with Douglas Medin (2008)



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