Anthropological theories of religion are diverse. They are based variously on ideas human social structures, emotions, or cognition. Most concentrate on one of these, but some combine them. A few look beyond human nature to that of other animals, for analogues or precursors to religion. A few theories are indigenous to anthropology, but many have been borrowed. Thus any review must be similarly wideranging and include material that is not solely anthropological. I offer a brief historical overview and a look at a promising contemporary approach.
No sharp break or any single feature separates anthropological explanations of religion from their forebears or from those of other disciplines. However, a few common features do tend to set them apart. Of these, humanism, evolutionism, and cross-cultural comparison are primary. Humanism in anthropology means simply that explanations of religion (as of other human thought and action) are secular and naturalistic. They account for religions as products of human culture and human nature, not as manifestations of anything transcendental, supernatural, or otherwise sui generis.