Exploring the natural foundations of religion

Trends Cogn Sci. 2000 Jan;4(1):29-34. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(99)01419-9.


A new cognitive approach to religion is bringing fresh insights to our understanding of how religious concepts are maintained, acquired and used to motivate and direct actions. This approach suggests that seemingly extraordinary thoughts and behaviours can be supported by quite ordinary cognition and may thus be termed 'natural'. Simultaneously, this research is expanding the domain of concepts and causal reasoning in general. This review examines recent research into religious rituals, communication and transmission of religious knowledge, the development of god-concepts in children, and the origins and character of religious concepts in adults. Together, these studies consistently emphasize and support the notion that the cultural phenomena typically labeled as 'religion' may be understood as the product of aggregated ordinary cognition. The new cognitive science of religion should eventually provide a fuller account of the distinctive and apparently extraordinary properties of religion.