Cognition and Religious Systems

Todd Tremlin

in Minds and Gods

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195305340
Published online February 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199784721 | DOI:
 Cognition and Religious Systems

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Religious people and their religions are not always harmonized. Scholars have long noted two faces of religious practice, one corresponding to an “official” set of beliefs and actions taught in texts, maintained by institutions, and communicated by specialists; the other is a “folk” form of religion pursued by ordinary people in everyday life. This chapter applies a dual-process model of cognition to the problem of “divergent religion,” arguing that how religious people think and act is directly linked to the way the brain processes religious concepts. Evidence drawn from social psychology and comparative religion suggests that religious concepts can proceed along two contrasting mental pathways to differing affect. This account of cognitive processing provides a new way of understanding duplicitous forms of religious thought, explaining common episodes of religious change (e.g., doctrinal and ritual innovation, syncretism, conversion, and the formation of new religions), and mapping an important set of selective forces at work on the content and stability of religious systems. Pentecostal Christianity and Theravada Buddhism provide case studies.

Keywords: folk religion; dual-process model of cognition; divergent religion; social psychology; syncretism; Pentecostal Christianity; Theravada Buddhism

Chapter.  12231 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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