Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology

From Human Minds to Divine Minds

Justin L. Barrett

Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology is the eighth title published in the Templeton Science and Religion Series, in which scientists from a wide range of fields distill their experience and knowledge into brief tours of their respective specialties. In this volume, well-known cognitive scientist Justin L. Barrett offers an accessible overview of this interdisciplinary field, reviews key findings in this area, and discusses the implications of these findings for religious thought and practice.

Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of minds and mental activity. As such, it addresses a fundamental feature of what it is to be human. Because religious traditions also address ideas about human nature, along with the nature of the world and the divine, cognitive science can contribute greatly to an understanding of these theological concerns. Barrett shows how direct contributions come from the growing area called cognitive science of religion (CSR), which investigates how human cognitive systems inform and constrain religious thought, experience, and expression. CSR attempts to provide answers to questions such as: Why it is that humans tend to be religious? And why are certain ideas (e.g. the possibility of an afterlife) so cross-culturally recurrent? Barrett also covers the indirect implications that cognitive science has for theology, such as human similarities and differences with the animal world, freedom and determinism, and the relationship between minds and bodies.

Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology critically reviews the research on these fascinating questions and discusses the many implications that arise from them. In addition, this short volume also offers suggestions for future research, making it ideal not only for those looking for an overview of the field thus far, but also for those seeking a glimpse of where the field might be going in the future.

Preface / vii
Chapter 1: What Is Cognitive Science? / 3
Chapter 2: Features of Human Thought / 21
Chapter 3: The Cognitive Origins of Beliefs / 40
Chapter 4: How We Conceive of the World / 58
Chapter 5: How We Conceive of Humans / 73
Chapter 6: How We Conceive of the Divine / 96
Chapter 7: Cognition and Experiencing Religion / 113
Chapter 8: From Natural Religion to Theology / 130
Chapter 9: Cognitive Science and Natural Theology / 146
Author’s Note / 171
Notes / 173
Glossary / 199
Bibliography / 209
Index / 223

Kudos to Justin Barrett for this informative tour of cutting-edge cognitive science, for shining its light on religious thinking, and for explaining why a natural cognitive basis for a belief need not discount it. For anyone who wonders why, and how, people believe, Barrett has cogent answers.

David G. Myers, Hope College and author, A Friendly Letter to Skeptics: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith isn’t Evil

Progress is rapidly accelerating in the cognitive science of religion thanks to the pioneering work of Justin Barrett. In this book he presents an intellectually interesting and empirically edifying exploration into how the human mind is well-tuned to think divine thoughts.  Required reading for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of religion as a human phenomenon.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology, University of California, Davis, and past president of the American Psychological Association’s Division of the Psychology of Religion

Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith—Vol. 64, No. 3

Anyone unfamiliar with how cognitive science can elucidate contemporary topics within religion and theology should read this book. The book originates from the Science and Religion series supported by the Templeton Foundation. The foundation commissioned a stellar, seasoned cognitive scientist to write a brief book that would identify areas of potentially fruitful dialogue between cognitive science and religion. Justin Barrett has written a solid book exploring questions concerning the role that the mind plays in human behavior and experience, with a significant emphasis on religious experiences.

ESSAT News—Vol. 22, No. 2

Barrett adopts an easygoing and discursive style as he guides his readers through the questions raised by cognitive science, and particularly by the cognitive science of religion… Barrett explores various features of human thought, noting its limitations, and observing that some processes appear to be more ‘natural’ than others.