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Science and Religion

Session Chair: Sebastian Schüler | Tuesday, August 25, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Shuhei Fujii

Potentialities and Problems of Religious Theories in Biology and Cognitive Science

This paper examines scientific theories for studying religion based on biology and cognitive science. In recently developed evolutionary psychology and cognitive science of religion, various research methods concerning religion have been elaborated. This paper first clarifies the historical background of these methods. It then focuses on a common feature shared by such scientific theories. These theories are undertaken to explain the nature of religion in general based on the idea that religion is produced by an universal mentality of humankind. This point of view is shared by theories proposed in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, rather than in recent postmodern-postcolonial discourses. This means that it would be necessary to reexamine classical religious theories including those of Tylor, Frazer, and Eliade. In conclusion, The author argues that although the scientific theories have some problems due to their premise, they would make valuable contribution to the study of religions.

Neil George

A Failure of Nerve in the Study of Science and Religion

The relationship between science and religion has been a hot topic since bursting onto the scene in the late nineteenth century. Although the early theories of inevitable conflict between science and religion have come into academic disrepute in recent decades, the scholarship has failed to live up to the implications of its own theoretical commitments. What little has been written on method and theory in the study of science and religion has largely embraced scholarship critical of the concepts of both “religion” and “science.” This veneer of sophistication, however, does not hold up in the face of the rampant essentialism employed and the repeated fallback to the convenient crutch of a classically formulated world religions paradigm. A study of science and religion possessing appropriate nerve, however, is one that can advance the field by not studying science and religion at all.

Dorin David

Religion as a Game of Mind: a View on Ioan P. Culianu’s Perspective

Ioan Petru Culianu (1950-1991) was a Romanian-born scholar. He graduated Letters in Romania (University of Bucharest), and Religious Studies in Italy (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan), finished his PhD in France (Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV), worked in the Netherlands (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) and finally in the United States of America (University of Chicago Divinity School). Starting as a historical-approach specialist in Gnosticism and Renaissance Magic, Culianu moved in his last years toward a cognitive approach of Religion, to conclude in his last book, The Tree of Gnosis (first published in 1992) that Religion can be described as a game of mind. This paper will delineate from many of Culianu’s finished articles and books, and from some projects he never had the chance to finish, what he understands by “religion as a game of mind”, and which are the possible outcomes of such a viewpoint.

Johannes Bronkhorst

What is missing in the cognitive science of religion?

The cognitive science of religion (CSL) is unanimous in its rejection of the idea that religion is something sui generis, dealing with the "wholly other" and homo religiosus. As a result CSL is disinclined to construe a general theory of religion: religion is rather to be explained in terms of ordinary human behavior; it is natural (see, e.g., McCauley 2011; Pyysiäinen 2013; Stausberg 2009). Religious experience, sometimes thought of as exclusive to religion, is regularly avoided as an object of study, or explained away (as in Taves 2009). Those few scholars who do take religious experience seriously, tend to admit that "none of the extant cognitive or neuroscience models of human nature or of the Mind/brain can adequately account for the range of behavioral and cognitive phenomena associated with religion" (McNamara 2009: x).

This paper sympathizes with CSL's general opposition to the reification of religion, but fears that it throws away the baby with the bathwater. Rather than reducing religion to ordinary behavior and thus banalizing it, religous behavior (especially in its more extreme forms) should be seen as a challenge that may throw new light on human behavior in all its forms, both religious and non- religious. The paper will make a suggestion as to how to proceed, starting from the central role that mental absorption plays in religious phenomena. Some few scholars realize its importance (e.g. Glicksohn & Barrett 2003; Luhrmann, Nussbaum & Thisted 2010; Luhrmann 2012; 2013), but no one appears to have attempted to develop a theoretical model into which it finds a place. McNamara's "decentering" points roughly in the right direction, but remains imprecise and does in the end not explain much (neurological parallels being of only limited help).


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