Philosophical Foundations of the Cognitive Science of Religion


Coming Soon

Table of Contents


  • List of Figures
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One: Explanatory Pluralism and the Cognitive Science of Religion: Or Why Scholars in Religious Studies Should Stop Worrying about Reductionism
  • Chapter Two: Interpretation and Explanation: Problems and Promise in the Study of Religion (with E. Thomas Lawson)
  • Chapter Three: Crisis of Conscience, Riddle of Identity: Making Space for a Cognitive Approach to Religious Phenomena (with E. Thomas Lawson)
  • Chapter Four: Who Owns ‘Culture’? (with E. Thomas Lawson)
  • Chapter Five:Overcoming Barriers to a Cognitive Psychology of Religion
  • Chapter Six: Twenty-Five Years In:  Landmark Empirical Findings in the Cognitive Science of Religion
  • References
  • Index

Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not


The battle between religion and science, competing methods of knowing ourselves and our world, has been raging for many centuries. Now scientists themselves are looking at cognitive foundations of religion—and arriving at some surprising conclusions.

Over the course of the past two decades, scholars have employed insights gleaned from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and related disciplines to illuminate the study of religion. In Why Religion is Natural and Science Is Not, Robert N. McCauley, one of the founding fathers of the cognitive science of religion, argues that our minds are better suited to religious belief than to scientific inquiry. Drawing on the latest research and illustrating his argument with commonsense examples, Robert argues that religion has existed for many thousands of years in every society because the kinds of explanations it provides are precisely the kinds that come naturally to human minds. Science, on the other hand, is a much more recent and rare development because it reaches radical conclusions and requires a kind of abstract thinking that only arises consistently under very specific social conditions. Religion makes intuitive sense to us, while science requires a lot of work. Robert then draws out the larger implications of these findings. The naturalness of religion, he suggests, means that science poses no real threat to it, while the unnaturalness of science puts it in a surprisingly precarious position.

Rigorously argued and elegantly written, this provocative book will appeal to anyone interested in the ongoing debate between religion and science, and in the nature and workings of the human mind.

Table of Contents:

Chapter One: Natural Cognition
Chapter Two: Maturational Naturalness
Chapter Three: Unnatural Science
Chapter Four: Natural Religion
Chapter Five: Surprising Consequences


Mind and Religion: Psychological and Cognitive Foundations of Religiosity


Recent cognitive approaches to the study of religion have yielded much understanding by focusing on common psychological processes that all humans share. One leading theory, Harvey Whitehouse’s modes of religiosity theory, demonstrates how two distinct modes of organizing and transmitting religious traditions emerge from different ways of activating universal memory systems. In Mind and Religion, top scholars from biology to religious studies question, test, evaluate, and challenge Whitehouse’s sweeping thesis. The result is an up-to-date snapshot of the cognitive science of religion field for classes in psychology, anthropology, or history of religion.


Table of Contents


Part One: The Theoretical Context
1. A Reductionistic Model of Distinct Modes of Religious Transmission
2. Modes Theory: Some Theoretical Considerations
3. Ritual Form and Ritual Frequency
4. Divergent Religion: A Dual-Process Model of Religious Thought, Behavior, and Structure
5. Rethinking Naturalness: Modes of Religiosity and Religion in the Round

Part Two: Testing the Modes Theory
6. In the Empirical Mode: Evidence Needed for the Modes of Religiosity
7. Memory and Analogical Thinking in High-Arousal Rituals

Part Three: Wider Applications
8. The Modes Theory Helps Explain Conversion Phenomena
9. Charisma, Tradition and Ritual: A Cognitive Approach to Magical Agency
10. Why Religions Develop Free Will Problems
11. The Cognitive Foundations of Religiosity

Bringing Ritual to Mind: Psychological Foundations of Cultural Forms


Bringing Ritual to Mind explores the cognitive and psychological foundations of religious ritual systems. Participants must recall their rituals well enough to ensure a sense of continuity across performances, and those rituals must motivate them to transmit and re-perform them. Most religious rituals the world over exploit either high performance frequency or extraordinary emotional stimulation (but not both) to enhance their recollection (the availability of literacy has little impact on this). But why do some rituals exploit the first of these variables while others exploit the second? Robert N. McCauley and E. Thomas Lawson advance the ritual form hypothesis, arguing that participants' cognitive representations of ritual form explain why. Reviewing evidence from cognitive, developmental, and social psychology and from cultural anthropology and the history of religions, they utilize dynamical systems tools to explain the recurrent evolutionary trajectories religions exhibit.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Cognitive Constraints on Religious Ritual Form: A Theory of Participants’ Competence with Religious Ritual Systems

Chapter Two: Ritual and Memory: Frequency and Flashbulbs

Chapter Three: Two Hypotheses Concerning Religious Ritual and Emotional Stimulation

Chapter Four: Assessing the Two Hypotheses

Chapter Five: General Profiles of Religious Ritual Systems: The Emerging Cognitive Science of Religion

The Churchlands and Their Critics


The influence of Patricia and Paul Churchland's work on contemporary philosophy and cognitive science has been profound. The Churchlands have challenged nearly all prevailing doctrines concerning knowledge, mind, science, and language.

Table of Contents


Part One: Essays Addressed to the Churchlands.

Part Two: Replies From the Churchlands
A: The Future of Psychology, Folk and Scientific
B: The Impact of Neural Network Models on the Philosophy of Science
C: Semantics in a New Vein    
D: Consciousness and Methodology    
E: Moral Psychology and the Rebirth of Moral Theory


Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture


This book is an ambitious attempt to develop a cognitive approach to religion. Focusing particularly on ritual action, it borrows analytical methods from linguistics and other cognitive sciences. The authors, a philosopher of science and a scholar of comparative religion, provide a lucid critical review of established approaches to religion, and make a strong plea for the combination of interpretation and explanation. Often represented as competitive approaches, they are rather, complementary, equally vital to the study of symbolic systems.

Table of Contents

Part One: Interpretation and Explanation: Problems and Promise
Part Two: Three Theories of Religion    
Part Three: Ritual as Language    
Part Four: A Cognitive Approach to Symbolic-Cultural Systems
Part Five: Outline of a Theory of Religious Ritual Systems    
Part Six: Semantics and ritual systems    
Part Seven: Connecting the Cognitive and the Cultural