Universität Wien

010155 SE Cognitive Science of Religion (2009W)

5.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 1 - Katholische Theologie
Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 25 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Monday 16.11. 09:00 - 11:00 Seminarraum 2 (Kath) Schenkenstraße EG
Tuesday 17.11. 09:00 - 13:00 Seminarraum 2 (Kath) Schenkenstraße EG
Wednesday 18.11. 13:15 - 17:15 Seminarraum 2 (Kath) Schenkenstraße EG
Thursday 19.11. 09:00 - 13:00 Seminarraum 2 (Kath) Schenkenstraße EG
Friday 20.11. 09:00 - 13:00 Seminarraum 2 (Kath) Schenkenstraße EG


Aims, contents and method of the course

This course provides a concise introduction into aims, methods and perspectives of the newly established Cognitive Science of Religion. The lectures and seminars are structured into five thematically different parts. In the first part the history and fundamental premises of this approach will be shortly discussed (lessons 1 a 2). The second part will concentrate on the thorough examination of the ways in which our evolutionally evolved mind and its cognitive abilities contribute to the origin, retention and transmission of religious ideas (lessons 3-5). The third part will be devoted to the introduction of the two most widely acclaimed practical applications of cognitively based theories to the study of religious ritual or, more generally, to the prediction of the diachronical evolution of religious systems (lessons 6 and 7). The fourth part (lessons 8-9) tries to put human cognition into wider perspective more suitable for the study of human culture and emotions. The fifth part (lesson 10) is an evaluation of possible advantages, but also of shortcomings of the existing applications of cognitive approaches to the study of religions.
1.Cognitive Science of Religion: An Introduction
-Short history of the application of cognitive approaches to the study of human culture
-Aims, methods and perspectives
Obligatory Reading: -Pascal Boyer, "Out of Africa: Lessons from a By-product of Evolution", in: Timothy Light - Brian C. Wilson (eds.), Religion as a Human Capacity: A Festschrift in Honor of E. Thomas Lawson, Leiden: E. J. Brill 2005, 27-43.
2.Human Mind: Evolutionary Perspective
-The structure of the human brain: General Purpose Machine versus Massive Modularity (Jerry Fodor, John Tooby - Leda Cosmides, Annette Karmiloff-Smith).
-General Intelligence versus Specialized Intelligences.
-Cognitive Fluidity (Steven Mithen) versus Module of Metarepresentation (Dan Sperber).
3.Origin of Religious Representations
-Intuitive physic, biology and psychology (Pascal Boyer, Scott Atran)
-ToM (Theory of Mind)
-Anthropomorphization of natural phenomena (Stewart Guthrie)
-HADD (hyperactive Agency Detection Device) (Justin L. Barrett)
Obligatory Reading: -Stewart E. Guthrie, "Religion: What Is It?", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 35, 1996, 412-419.
4.Religion from the Perspective of Cognitive Sciences
-Epidemiology of representation (Dan Sperber)
-Religion as evolutionary adaptation, by-product and "noise"
5.Religious Beliefs from the Perspective of Cognitive Sciences
-"Micky mouse question" (Scott Atran)
-Social importance of religious ideas (Pascal Boyer, Ted Tremlin).
-Metarepresentional context
-"Theological (in)correctness" - How people believe (Justin Barrett, David J. Sloane)
Obligatory Reading: -Justin L. Barrett, "Cognitive Constraints on Hindu Concepts of Divine", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37, 1998, 608-619.
6.Cognitive Theories of Religious Ritual
-The theory of ritual frequency (Harvey Whitehouse).
-The ritual form hypothesis (Robert McCauley, Thomas E. Lawson)
Obligatory Reading: -Robert N. McCauley - Thomas E. Lawson, Bringing Ritual to Mind: Psychological Foundations of Cultural Forms, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002, 8-37.
7.Two Divergent Modes of Religiosity (Harvey Whitehouse)
-Doctrinal and imagistic mode of religiosity
-Semantic + episodic memory
Obligatory Reading: -Harvey Whitehouse, "Modes of Religiosity: Towards a Cognitive Explanation of the Sociopolitical Dynamics of Religion", Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 14, 2002, 293-315.
8.Cognition and Culture
-Ratchet effect + cultural dimension of human cognition (Michael Tomasello)
-Distributed Cognition (Edwin Hutchins)
-Extended Mind (Andy Clark a David Chalmers)
9. Cognition and Emotions
-Emotional Brain (Joseph Ledoux, Antonio Damasio)
-Psychotrophy and Human History (Daniel L. Smail)
10. Cognitive Science of Religions: Promises + Shortcomings
-Final Discussion

Assessment and permitted materials

20 % attendance, 20 % discussion at the seminars based on the knowledge of obligatory reading, 60 % final essay on a chosen topic concerning Cognitive Science of Religion.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

Examination topics

Reading list

Scott Atran, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, Oxford - New York: Oxford University Press 2002.
Justin L. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God?, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press 2004.
Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Human Instincts that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors. London: William Heinnemann 2001.
Harvey Whitehouse, Modes of Religiosity: A Cognitive Theory of Religious Transmission, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press 2004.
Illka Pyysiäinen, Magic, Miracles, and Religion, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press 2004.
Dan Sperber, Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach, Oxford - Cambridge. MA: Blackwell Publishers 1996.
Todd Tremlin, Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion, Oxford - New York: Oxford University Press 2006.

Association in the course directory

IDRW 1.6. (Methodik 2. Abschnitt), Master Religionswissenschaft M9, (freies) Wahlfach für 011 (02W), 012 (02W) und 020

Last modified: Mo 07.09.2020 15:27