Skeptics on the Fringe:Thom Scott Phlips-Do Cults Evolve?


Dr Thom Scott-Phillips is a Research Fellow in Evolutionary Anthropology at Durham University, researching the origins and evolution of human communication, language and culture. He did his MSc, PhD, and post-doctoral research at the University of Edinburgh. He was the winner of the 2010 British Psychological Society’s Outstanding Doctoral Research Award and the 2011 European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association’s New Investigator Award.


The idea of cultural ‘evolution’ has been around for as long as we have been studying the similarities and differences between cultures. For much of the 20th-century the idea was taboo, since it has historically been used to justify various forms of discrimination. In recent decades there has been a revival of interest in the topic. The most well known idea is that of a ‘meme’ – a term coined by Richard Dawkins to describe the cultural analogue of the gene – but there are several alternative approaches.

Is it useful to describe cultural change in evolutionary terms?

Is cultural evolution analogous to biological evolution?

In this talk, Thom  will survey these recent developments and explain what an evolutionary perspective can and cannot tell us about culture and cultural change.


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