Abstract for the Brno workshop

Posted on February 28, 2012


The lovely people at Levyna in Brno have been very busy. The research centre has its own website and they’re about to host a research workshop to which I’m about to head off. To fit in with the general theme, I have decided to present a paper which takes a step back from the approach I have been pursuing and explains its justification as well as the broader implications of this kind of research. Here is the abstract:

The Epistemology of Religious Cognition

Cognitive science of religion represents a significant break from previous ways of studying religion. One of the reasons for this is that CSR is premised upon a very different view of human reason than either the early intellectualist approaches or the twentieth century ‘anti-intellectualist’ attempts to understand religion. While one thought of religion in terms of a failure to attain perfect rationality, the other abjured any consideration of rationality whatsoever. In effect, both tended to ignore the empirical question of what human reasoning is really like, including the complex and idiosyncratic interaction between epistemic considerations and human beliefs and practices.

Since CSR is a cognitive approach, questions regarding the nature and function of mental mechanisms are central to it. To realise its full potential, however, CSR needs to go further – it must engage with two kinds of epistemological issues that were either ignored or treated naively by earlier work on religion.

Firstly, of significant interest should be the explicit or implicit normative epistemic attitudes that people hold or institutionalise. While far from any ideal, these influence the way human beliefs and practices interact with empirical information, sometimes in surprising ways.

Secondly, investigation of cognitive mechanisms should go hand in hand with consideration of the epistemic conditions cognitive mechanisms function within, such as the kinds of information that is readily available.

A re-engagement with these issues makes possible, for example, examining the connection between the fact that the function of religious beliefs is largely independent of their truth and that they are typically well-protected against potential counterevidence.