At a fundamental level, evolutionary religious studies depend on geology. While this sounds a bit strange – What do rocks have to do with religion? — Darwin relied heavily on the work of pioneering geologists James Hutton (1726-1797) and Charles Lyell (1797-1875). Indeed it is safe to say that without Hutton and Lyell, Darwin might never have arrived at his theory of natural selection. They provided Darwin not only with deep time, but also with causal mechanisms.
While evolutionary studies rest on the solid foundation of geology, few of us ever get around to reading Hutton (whose atrocious prose would make Teutonic philosophers proud) or Lyell. And for those who have never taken a geology course in college, what is to be done? Aside from picking up a good introductory textbook on the subject, one could do worse than reading John McPhee’s magisterial Annals of the Former World.
Who knew that geology writing could simultaneously be art, biography, and poetry all framed as narrative? If you are interested in McPhee, his work, and non-fiction writing, be sure to read this interview of McPhee over at the Paris Review.