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Overcoming Barriers To a Cognitive Psychology of Religion

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

The aims of this paper are to identify three barriers to the development of cognitive approaches to the study of religion and to suggest how each might be circumvented. The first of these barriers is methodological and lurks amid two issues that, historically, have dominated anthropologists' reflections on the relationship of their discipline to psychology. The older of the two can be characterized as the "psychic unity" controversy (see Shore 1995). The second issue is the controversy over the "autonomy of culture". Advocates of the latter thesis are usually unsympathetic to psychological explanations of religious phenomena. In the first section, I shall begin by briefly examining each of those issues and then exploring the connections between the two as well as interesting logical tensions that arise in the face of popular responses to each. In section two, I shall consider a pair of barriers to a cognitive psychology of religion rooted in two strategies that have dominated many psychologists' approaches to the study of religion. I will argue that for some purposes, at least, both strategies should be relaxed. Finally, in section three, I shall briefly sketch one sort of cognitive approach to religious phenomena, suggesting how it handles the two strategic barriers in particular.

Affiliations: 1: Emory University


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