Workshop 2014 (3 of 11) | Robert N. McCauley | The Cognitive Science of Religion: Seminal Findings and New Trends
Theorists in the cognitive science of religion have proposed that many religious proclivities are by-products of garden-variety cognitive systems that humans share. This general theoretical proposal has generated a variety of notable experimental findings pertaining to such matters as the character and memorability of religious representations, the failure of religious participants to deploy orthodox beliefs in on-line cognitive processing, and the human penchant for “promiscuous teleology.” Subsequent influences on the cognitive science of religion over the past fifteen years do not differ from those affecting cognitive science more broadly. Perhaps the three most prominent of those influences concern evolutionary considerations, the growing availability of brain imaging tools, and an interest in religious experience and embodiment. Each has inspired experimental studies that have produced comparably significant findings concerning such topics as developmental regularities in reasoning about the afterlife, the impact of public ritual participation and other forms of costly signaling on commitment to religious groups (in particular), neural evidence implicating theory of mind in prayer, the impact of synchronous bodily movements on pain thresholds, and more.