Problems and prospects for a cognitive science of religion: minimal counterintuitiveness, epistemic congruency, sex, and context in the epidemiology of cultural representations in South India

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University of Alabama Libraries

The Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR), which emerged twenty years ago and explores how naturally occurring features of human mind/brains interact with features of human environments to encourage beliefs and behaviors associated with supernatural agents, has recently begun to mature and benefit from its strong interdisciplinary foundations because of critical questions offered from philosophers of science, anthropologists, and scholars in the study of religion. This thesis provides a brief introduction to the naturalness-of-religion thesis on which the CSR is built; surveys several of the recent criticisms and divisions of the CSR; explores several adaptive cognitive mechanisms purportedly involved in the transmission and retention of supernatural agential concepts; and attempts to resolve some of the problems of definition, scope, sex, context, and history that have marked CSR scholarship by submitting results from comparative cross-cultural data collected concerning the recall and retention of minimal counterintuitive (MCI) concepts among 74 university students in south India in 2009. These results are compared with the existing empirical literature concerning MCI theory, which is comprised of nine, largely Western-based studies. No empirical evidence is found in support of MCI theory, but females are shown to have a mnemonic advantage over males. Several theoretical refinements are offered for prospective MCI theory studies and an interactional model is proposed which would combine MCI theory with analyses of cognitive mechanisms related to agency to in order to thoroughly evaluate the differential mnemonic and, ultimately, cultural success of certain types of concepts.

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Cultural anthropology, Cognitive psychology, Religion, Philosophy of