The Cognitive Science of Religion: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Cognitive Science of Religion

1st Edition

By James A. Van Slyke


192 pages

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The cognitive science of religion is a relatively new academic field in the study of the origins and causes of religious belief and behaviour. The focal point of empirical research is the role of basic human cognitive functions in the formation and transmission of religious beliefs. However, many theologians and religious scholars are concerned that this perspective will reduce and replace explanations based in religious traditions, beliefs, and values. This book attempts to bridge the reductionist divide between science and religion through examination and critique of different aspects of the cognitive science of religion and offers a conciliatory approach that investigates the multiple causal factors involved in the emergence of religion.


‘In this important and timely book, James Van Slyke provides a sharp critique of much current work in the cognitive science of religion on the basis of its reductionist tendencies and its assumption that humans today still have minds shaped in the Stone Age. He then offers a more scientifically, philosophically, and theologically credible model of the formation of concepts of God, which, he argues, begins by transferring models of interpersonal relations formed by parent-child bonding.’ – Nancey Murphy, Fuller Theological Seminary, USA

‘The field of study called the Cognitive Science of Religion provides interesting and informative theories about the cognitive and evolutionary origins of human religion. However, most of these theories include the unnecessary assumption that religion is "nothing but" the chance outcome of a random evolutionary walk. In this very useful book, James Van Slyke provides a thoughtful review of this field, while also arguing for a more balanced view of the human aspects of religion that takes seriously the embodiment of human nature and cognition, modern philosophy of mind, and theology.’ – Warren S. Brown, Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, USA

‘Slyke has produced a well written essay, with a neat and clear exposition of the limits of the ’standard model’ and a constructive new model built on his perception of that model’s inadequacies. The resultant extension of the dominant paradigm constitutes a healthy exercise in theory-building, and seems much more plausible in its heuristic power than the simplistic theoretical framework previously available.’ – ESSSAT News & Reviews

‘… Van Slyke’s volume provides a handy guide to a variety of cognitive approaches and their limits.’ – Journal of Religion

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; The standard model and the problem of causal reductionism; Counterintuitive religious concepts and emergent cognition; Theological incorrectness and the causal relevance of religious beliefs and theological reasoning; Evolutionary psychology and the emergence of the symbolic mind; Evolution, cognition, and religion: toward a multi-level perspective on the emergence of religious beliefs; Postscript; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

James A. Van Slyke completed his Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Philosophy of Religion with a minor in Cognitive Science. He currently serves as Assistant Research Professor in the Travis Research Institute in the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the School of Theology at Fuller Theology Seminary and Adjunct Instructor at Azusa Pacific University where he teaches in the Department of Religion and Philosophy and the Department of Undergraduate Psychology.

About the Series

Routledge Science and Religion Series

Science and religion have often been thought to be at loggerheads but much contemporary work in this flourishing interdisciplinary field suggests this is far from the case. The Science and Religion Series presents exciting new work to advance interdisciplinary study, research and debate across key themes in science and religion. Contemporary issues in philosophy and theology are debated, as are prevailing cultural assumptions. The series enables leading international authors from a range of different disciplinary perspectives to apply the insights of the various sciences, theology, philosophy and history in order to look at the relations between the different disciplines and the connections that can be made between them. These accessible, stimulating new contributions to key topics across science and religion will appeal particularly to individual academics and researchers, graduates, postgraduates and upper-undergraduate students.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / Religion & Science