The past fifteen years or so have been a period of extraordinary activity in pursuit of what are called “cognitive” and/or “evolutionary” explanations of religion. These include, in addition to Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (the focus of my previous post), a number of other self-consciously innovative books with titles like How Religion Works: Towards a New Cognitive Science of Religion, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. What unites these works and distinguishes them from the broader naturalistic tradition in religious studies is, first, the centrality for their approach of methods and theories drawn from evolutionary psychology and the rather sprawling field of “cognitive science” and, second, the more or less strenuous identification of their efforts with “science,” itself rather monolithically and sometimes triumphalistically conceived. In these two respects, these and related works constitute what could be called the New Naturalism in religious studies. […]Read the rest of Naturalism, otherwise.
Barbara Herrnstein Smith
Barbara Herrnstein Smith is Braxton Craven Professor of Comparative Literature and English at Duke University, where she directs the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory. She also holds the position of Distinguished Professor of English at Brown University. She is the author of, among other works, Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory (Harvard University Press, 1988), Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy (Harvard University Press, 1997), and Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth and the Human (Edinburgh University Press, 2005/Duke University press, 2006). A forthcoming book, Natural Reflections: At the Nexus of Science and Religion, is based on her Dwight M. Terry Lectures, delivered at Yale University in 2006. Read Nathan Schneider's interview with Barbara Herrnstein Smith here.
Posts by Barbara Herrnstein Smith:
One of the most influential works among recent “cognitive” and/or “evolutionary” studies of religion is a book by French anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Pascal Boyer. It is titled, with imposing finality, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. […]Read the rest of Cognitive machinery and explanatory ambitions.