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The Ecology of Threat Detection and Precautionary Response from the Perspectives of Evolutionary Psychology, Cognitive Science and Historiography: The Case of the Roman Cults of Mithras*

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Abstract“Cognitive historiography” employs the cognitive sciences, and their frame of evolutionary theory, to help explicate the complexities of historical data. Employing evidence for an evolved “hazard protection system” among Homo sapiens, Martin argues that religion is a “natural security system” for detecting signs of potential danger in the environment and for developing precautionary responses to them, especially through ritual. He supports this argument with the historical example of Roman Mithraism. In face of a generalized anxiety, specifically evoked by a Hellenistic horror in face of socio-political and cosmic vastness, he shows that the Mithraic ritual system offered initiates both a predictably structured communal context, which provided an alternative to the socio-political perplexities of empire, as well as a comprehensible, cognitively mapped world, which afforded an alternative to the incomprehensible expanse of the cosmos consequent upon the Ptolematic revolution.

Affiliations: 1: University of VermontBurlington, VT 05401USADepartment of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, University of South


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