Abstract for ISORECEA

Posted on July 9, 2010


My Czech colleague,  Ales Chalupa, who organised the very valuable meeting on cognitive science of religion I attended last year is co-organising another, much bigger meeting this year. The International Study of Religion in Central and Eastern Europe Association conference will take place in December of this year and is to have a section devoted to cognitive approaches. I’ll be interested to see the kind of work that this group of people are doing as I am yet to have attended a sociology of religion conference. Given the implications of my own ideas I should like to be able to discuss the possibility of collaborating on empirical work with some of the attendees, also. Here’s my abstract for the cognitive session:

Secularisation and the Dual Inheritance Model of Religion

The dual inheritance account of religion, developed by J. Henrich and S. Atran among others, draws upon theories of genetic and cultural evolution and explains religious beliefs and practices as byproducts of cognitive mechanisms that had been co-opted for prosocial functions.

In this talk I will focus upon the significance of the dual inheritance model for understanding secularisation. On the cognitive level, the dual inheritance model entails that without change in human cognitive mechanisms humans will remain susceptible to supernatural beliefs. The picture becomes more complex once the cultural level is considered, however. Firstly, it is possible to distinguish religious beliefs from those supernatural beliefs that have not been co-opted for prosocial functions, i.e. magical beliefs. Secondly, it must be acknowledged that in so far as religious beliefs may have played a pro-social function in some societies, there are a number of societies which remain stable without significant influence of religion. As a result it becomes necessary to distinguish between the secularisation as the rejection of all supernatural beliefs, which seems unlikely, and secularisation as the appearance of societies that do not need to rely upon religious beliefs, which has been experienced.

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