How Religion Works: Towards a New Cognitive Science of Religion

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Recent findings in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology provide important insights to the processes which make religious beliefs and behaviors such efficient attractors in and across various cultural settings. The specific salience of religious ideas is based on the fact that they are 'counter-intuitive': they contradict our intuitive expectations of how entities normally behave.
Counter-intuitive ideas are only produced by a mind capable of crossing the boundaries that separate such ontological domains as persons, living things, and solid objects. The evolution of such a mind has only taken place in the human species.
How certain kinds of counter-intuitive ideas are selected for a religious use is discussed from varying angles. Cognitive considerations are thus related to the traditions of comparative religion.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'How Religion Works offers one of the best introductions currently available on the growing the nature and function of religion'
Kelly Bulkeley, Religious Studies Review
Arguing, perhaps controversially, that mechanisms underlying religious thought and behavior are something that can be naturally explained in the same manner as any other cultural and cognitive phenomena, Pyysi<:a>inen (research fellow, Academy of Finland) examines how cognitive science can shed light on religious phenomena. After defining the ideas and behaviors to be studied, he argues that cognitive theories of the representation of agency and counter- intuitiveness can make sense of the widespread belief in supernatural beings. The theories of religion of Clifford Geertz and <'E>mile Durkheim are examined and criticized as arbitrary abstractions. In the end, argues Pyysi<:a>inen, religion should be understood both as a distinct cognitive phenomena and as being related to other phenomena of counter-intuitiveness revealed in empirical studies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9789004132733
  • Publisher: Brill Academic Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Ilkka Pyysiäinen, Ph.D. (1993), University of Helsinki, is Academy Research Fellow at the Academy of Finland. He has published numerous articles and edited the volume Current Approaches in the Cognitive Study of Religion (Continuum, 2002).
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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Introduction: Cognitive Approach to Religion 1
The Category of 'Religion' 1
The Cognitive Approach 5
Ch. 2 God and Transcendence 9
'God' as an Emic Concept 9
Superhuman Beings, Religion and Science 12
Intentional Agents 14
Counter-Intuitiveness of Gods 18
Ch. 3 Religion and Culture 25
Geertz and the Concept of 'Culture' 25
Geertz and Symbolism 33
Geertz on Religion as a Symbolic Cultural System 44
Ch. 4 Religion and the Social 55
On the Sociological Background of Durkheim's Theory of Religion 55
Religion and Society 59
Religion as Symbolic of the Society - A Critique 63
Religion and Society Reconsidered 70
Ch. 5 Religious Belief, Experience, and Ritual 77
Ritual and Emotion 78
What is Emotion? 97
On the Neurophysiology of Emotion 102
Religious Experience, "Mysticism" and Emotions 109
Ch. 6 Religion, "Worldview," and Ethics 143
Religion as "Worldview" 143
An Outline of Ethics as a Field of Study 158
Religious Ethics 173
Ch. 7 Religion and Cognition: Towards a New Science of Religion 197
Domain Specificity 197
Cognitive Modules 199
Intuitive Theories and Cognitive Domains 208
Is Religion a Cognitive Domain? 215
References 237
Index of Names 267
Index of Subjects 270
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