Original Research

Imagination, religion and morality: An interdisciplinary approach

Bernice Serfontein
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 1 | a5350 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i1.5350 | © 2019 Bernice Serfontein | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 December 2018 | Published: 19 June 2019

About the author(s)

Bernice Serfontein, Department of Dogmatics and Christian Ethics, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Every human society and almost all of human life are infused with ethics. How do we best understand human morality and ethics? I want to argue that responsible ethics rests on a credible understanding of what it means to be human. This article proposes that a more comprehensive understanding of the distinctive human imagination, religious awareness and morality – all of which are significant aspects of being human – will facilitate a more responsible understanding and practice of ethics. Such an understanding entails a bottom-up view, which takes seriously the exploration of the fundamental evolutionary realities of human nature, that is, a natural history of morality. The quest for understanding the propensity for imagination, religious awareness and morality can be aided by exploring the core role of the evolutionary transition between becoming and being human. Accordingly, this research combines a niche construction perspective with fossil and archaeological evidence, highlighting the role of complexity in human evolution, which adds to our understanding of a completely human way of being in the world. A distinctively human imagination is part of the explanation for human evolutionary success and accordingly our sense of morality and religious disposition. The methodology this article applies is that of an interdisciplinary approach combining perspectives of some of the most prominent voices in the modern discourses on imagination, religious awareness and morality. What results from this approach is, first, a more comprehensive understanding of the human imagination, the capacity for religious awareness and morality. Ultimately, by creatively integrating the various perspectives evident in this research – by way of a philosophical bridge theory between evolutionary anthropology and theology – this article attempts to determine whether evolutionary thought can be constructively appropriated to interdisciplinary Christian theology and ethics.


Imagination; Religion; Religious awareness; Morality; Ethics; Evolution; Evolutionary biology; Niche construction; Philosophy


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