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Author: Joseph Bulbulia

Abstract

Common sense holds there are distinctive religions, an intuition that informs most scholarship and teaching in religious studies and the social sciences, but the intuition is somewhat misleading. In spite of apparent religious difference, recent psychological inquiry suggests that religion emerges from a single panhuman psychological design that strongly constrains variation. There is some variation in the religiosity of individuals and groups, but not the variation of "traditions". This paper uses recent research in the cognitive and evolutionary study of religion to explore some basic properties of the mental architecture that generates human religiosity, including features that enhance the illusion of religious difference.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
Author: Joseph Bulbulia

Abstract

Evolutionary researchers argue that religion evolves to support cooperation, where it is assumed that cooperation is threatened by freeriding. I identify a distinct threat to cooperation from uncertainty. I briefly explain how the distinction between freeriding and uncertainty is relevant to both ultimate and proximate explanations of the biocultural mechanisms that express religious traits.

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
In: Numen
Author: Joseph Bulbulia

Abstract

This paper develops an alternative to Dennett's meme-theoretic explanation for religious commitment. First I build an argument in defense of Dennett's position, drawing on a cultural evolution literature that he mentions but does not develop (Dennett 2006). Then I describe data that even this enhanced account leaves poorly explained. Next I draw on commitment signaling theory to produce an account that explains these puzzling data. I show how religious culture provides a pervasive example of human epistemic niche construction. An adaptationist analysis of religious culture exposes how the propagation of costly misunderstandings massively reduce the cognitive burdens of Machiavellian social complexity.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract

Religious studies assumes that religions are naturally occurring phenomena, yet what has scholarship uncovered about this fascinating dimension of the human condition? The manifold reports that classical scholars of religion have gathered extend knowledge, but such knowledge differs from that of scientific scholarship. Classical religious studies scholarship is expansive, but it is not cumulative and progressive. Bucking the expansionist trend, however, there are a small but growing number of researchers who approach religion using the methods and models of the life sciences. We use the biologist’s distinction between “proximate” and “ultimate” explanations to review a sample of such research. While initial results in the biology of religion are promising, current limitations suggest the need for greater collaboration with classically trained scholars of religion. It might appear that scientists of religion and scholars of religion are strange bedfellows; however, progress in the scholarly study of religions rests on the extent to which members of each camp find a common intellectual fate.

In: Numen
In: Evolution, Cognition, and the History of Religion: A New Synthesis

Abstract

We describe the results of an experiment testing for the presence of strong altruism among Christians in New Zealand. The study examined anonymous participant generosity to cohort. We found that in modified dictator games, anonymous Christians in New Zealand gave significantly more to Canadian Christians than anonymous New Zealand citizens gave to their fellow citizens. The gifting opportunities occurred after anonymous benefactors observed recipients willingly undertake costly acts of group commitment. We found that mean gifting after witnessing a fellow group member metaphorically "fall on a hand grenade" to punish a member of an out-group was almost four times greater in the Christian group than it was in the New Zealand control. Our data support the hypothesis that religious altruism (here, anonymously rewarding the costly punishment of a religious out-grouper) exists and is especially strong among Christians in New Zealand. The data also weakly support a multi-level selection hypothesis for the evolution of religious altruism.

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture

Abstract

The following essay explains how religion may evolve to support cooperation among anonymous partners. It first reviews honest signalling theory, and reveals a limitation in the model’s capacity to explain large-scale cooperation. It then suggests that much cooperation is threatened by uncertainty, rather than by cheating. Finally, it explains how signalling theory can be extended to address the problem of cooperation threatened by uncertainty, ‘fragile cooperation’. The resulting extension of signalling theory—called ‘charismatic signalling’—directs attention to potential cooperative benefits from religion’s fascinating and diverse effects on the body. The charismatic signalling model is presented as a ‘how-possibly model’, not as a ‘just-so story’. The model’s interest comes from its ability to organise seemingly unrelated puzzles under a common solution, and to motivate the study of cooperative strategies harboured in shared ecologies.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract

Some say that researchers who study humans are locked in to frameworks of epistemic assumptions from which there can be no escape. We explain, on the contrary, how researchers who disagree may nevertheless reconcile their differences. Freedom from the epistemic dungeon is made possible by practices that convert beliefs into testable hypotheses, which are then tested. Such practices are the engines of scientific progress. To clarify misunderstandings about practices of hypothesis testing, we discuss Bayes’ rule, a mathematically perfect algebra for belief revision. To illustrate both the benefits and inevitable limitations of scientific research on religion, we work through the details of a recent national questionnaire study that revealed five different types of supernatural believers.

In: Numen

Abstract

Anthropological theories have discussed the effects of participation in high-arousal rituals in the formation of autobiographical memory; however, precise measurements for such effects are lacking. In this study, we examined episodic recall among participants in a highly arousing fire-walking ritual. To assess arousal, we used heart rate measurements. To assess the dynamics of episodic memories, we obtained reports immediately after the event and two months later. We evaluated memory accuracy from video footage. Immediately after the event, participants’ reports revealed limited recall, low confidence and high accuracy. Two months later we found more inaccurate memories and higher confidence. Whereas cognitive theories of ritual have predicted flashbulb memories for highly arousing rituals, we found that memories were strongly suppressed immediately after the event and only later evolved confidence and detail. Physiological measurements revealed a spectacular discrepancy between actual heart rates and self-reported arousal. This dissociation between subjective reports and objective measurements of arousal is consistent with a cognitive resource depletion model. We argue that expressive suppression may provide a link between individual memories and cultural understandings of high-arousal rituals.

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture