Barbara J. King

Professor of Anthropology
B.A. Douglass College, M.A. and Ph.D University of Oklahoma
Research Area: : Primate behavior, especially communication and cognition of the African great apes; evolution of language, culture, and religion; religion and science; dynamic systems theory and its application to nonhuman and human developmental issues.

Research Interests: There is a common thread to my interest in primate behavior, human evolution, religion and science, and developmental processes. It involves my wish to understand relationship processes of primates as centered in meaning-making as created by dyads, small groups, and communities. Monkeys, apes, and humans all have different ways of meaning-making, but in few cases are these grasped by a focus only on gene-based models or the simpler kinds of theories in evolutionary psychology.

My newest work involves the prehistory of human religion. My book Evolving God (Doubleday, 2007) explores the deepest roots of the human religious imagination, using the behaviors of African apes (including empathy and compassion) as clues to the behaviors of early human ancestors, then tracing the development of religious ritual through the Neandertals through the cave artists of our own species. The Amazon page for Evolving God includes reviews of the book:

For a print interview about the central ideas in Evolving God, followed by an audio link at the end to an NPR interview , please see

In recent years, I've become more and more interested in writing for, and speaking to, general audiences in addition to academic ones. I write a monthly book column that very often includes topics in biological anthropology:

Two other main projects deserve mention here. Working with undergraduate students on research projects-both inside and outside of the classroom-is a strong interest of mine. My students in Primate Behavior and senior seminar often choose to study monkey or ape behavior at the National Zoo in Washington, the Metro Richmond Zoo, the Norfolk Zoo, or another scientific institution. In class we discuss in some depth the ethics of zoos. Without the dedication and skill of my students over the years, my work on gestural communication among the National Zoological Park gorillas would not have succeeded. Please see my book The Dynamic Dance for details:

Last but far from least, as part of my work with The Council of Human Development I am editing an exciting new journal, The Journal of Developmental Processes. Please have a look at our first issue, including my inaugural editorial, here:

Contact Info:
Washington Hall 102

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