1st Edition

An Introduction to the Cognitive Science of Religion Connecting Evolution, Brain, Cognition and Culture

By Claire White Copyright 2021
    368 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    368 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In recent decades, a new scientific approach to understand, explain, and predict many features of religion has emerged. The cognitive science of religion (CSR) has amassed research on the forces that shape the tendency for humans to be religious and on what forms belief takes. It suggests that religion, like language or music, naturally emerges in humans with tractable similarities. This new approach has profound implications for how we understand religion, including why it appears so easily, and why people are willing to fight—and die—for it. Yet it is not without its critics, and some fear that scholars are explaining the ineffable mystery of religion away, or showing that religion is natural proves or disproves the existence of God.

    An Introduction to the Cognitive Science of Religion offers students and general readers an accessible introduction to the approach, providing an overview of key findings and the debates that shape it. The volume includes a glossary of key terms, and each chapter includes suggestions for further thought and further reading as well as chapter summaries highlighting key points.

    This book is an indispensable resource for introductory courses on religion and a much-needed option for advanced courses.

    1. Introduction to the Cognitive Science of Religion

    2. Core Assumptions about Religion and Belief

    3. Research Questions

    4. Methods

    5. The Nature of the World

    6. The Afterlife

    7. Supernatural Agents


    9. Rituals Part 1: How are Rituals Learned, Represented and Transmitted?

    10. Rituals Part 2: What are the Functions of Rituals?

    11. Conclusion



    Claire White is Associate Professor in Religious Studies at California State University, Northridge. She was appointed as the first tenure-track position in the cognitive science of religion at a religious studies department in the United States.

    "The Cognitive Science of Religion (‘CSR’ for short) is often described as a ‘new field’ but it is rapidly maturing and that is why this introduction is urgently needed. Claire White is exceptionally well placed to provide it, having been among the first cohort of researchers to be trained in the field and now America’s first tenure track professor in CSR. This book is essential reading for any student interested in the scientific study of religion."

    Harvey Whitehouse, Oxford University, UK.

    "This outstanding first-of-its kind introductory text on the cognitive science of religion represents a major step forward for this rapidly growing and high impact discipline. This groundbreaking book, written by one of the field’s foremost experts, is authoritative, accessible, and inclusive. I have no doubt that it will become part of the canon of core literature in the cognitive science of religion and will be instrumental in building this fascinating field of study."

    Cristine H. Legare, University of Texas at Austin, USA.