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Doing it the Other Way Round: Religion as a Basic Case of ‘Normative Cognition’

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Religious traditions abundantly demonstrate how norms, rules, constraints and models are installed and transmitted in multiple media: myth, dogma, ritual, institutions, etc. These abound in cosmologies, classification systems, morality, and purity and they influence individual and collective human practice. The term ‘normative cognition’ is introduced here as a covering term for such enculturated and socio-culturally governed cognition. The ‘normative cognition’ approach deals with ‘cognitive governance’ effects of higher-order cognitive products on those of lower levels. Higher-order cognitive products range from religious purity rules, over highway codes to normative scripts, schemata and frames for all kinds of behavior. In short: socio-cultural products allow individual biological brains to interact and act on the world and thereby facilitate the existence of human society. I suggest that research on normative cognition not only casts new light on religion but that it contributes to a general understanding of the complex relations between cognition and culture.

Affiliations: 1: Department of the Study of Religion, Aarhus University Denmark, Email:


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