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Religious activities of the Pomio Kivung people of Melanesia challenges a specific claim of Lawson & McCauley's (1990) theory of religious ritual, but does it challenge the general claim that religious rituals are underpinned by ordinary cognitive capacities? To further test the hypothesis that ordinary social cognition informs judgments of religious ritual efficacy, 64 American Protestant college students rated the likelihood of success of a number of fictitious rituals. The within-subjects manipulation was the manner in which a successful ritual was modified, either by negating the intentions of the ritual actor or by altering the ritual action. The between-subjects manipulation was the sort of religious system in which the rituals were to be performed: one with an all-knowing god ("Smart god") versus one with a fallible god ("Dumb god"). Participants judged performing the correct action as significantly more important for the success of rituals in the Dumb god condition than in the Smart god condition. In the Smart god condition, performing the correct action was rated significantly less important for the success of the rituals than having appropriate intentions while performing the ritual.

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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Four studies (two experiments, a journaling study, and a questionnaire) conducted with American Protestant college students explored intuitions concerning petitionary prayer. Since Protestant theology offers little teaching on through which modes of causation God is most likely to act, it was hypothesized that intuitive causal cognition would be used to generate inferences regarding this aspect of petitionary prayer. Participants in these studies favored asking God to act via psychological causation over the biological and mechanistic domains. Further, in fictitious scenarios participants reported being more likely to ask a supercomputer or Superman to solve a problem through mechanistic intervention than God. These results are consistent with two previous findings: that God is often intuitively represented as having a single physical location (and it is not nearby); and psychosocial agents (such as God) are expected to require physical contact to act on non-agents.

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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Abstract

Through the lenses of cognitive science of religion, successful god concepts must possess a number of features. God concepts must be (1) counterintuitive, (2) an intentional agent, (3) possessing strategic information, (4) able to act in the human world in detectable ways and (5) capable of motivating behaviors that reinforce belief. That Santa Claus appears to be only inconsistently represented as having all five requisite features Santa has failed to develop a community of true believers and cult. Nevertheless, Santa concepts approximate a successful god concept more closely than other widespread cultural characters such as Mickey Mouse and the Tooth Fairy, in part explaining Santa's relative cultural prominence.

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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Abstract

Boyer's theory of counterintuitive cultural concept transmission claims that concepts that ideas that violate naturally occurring intuitive knowledge structures enough to be attention-demanding but not so much to undermine conceptual coherence have a transmission advantage over other concepts (Boyer et al. 2001: 535-64). Because of the prominence of these counterintuitive concepts in religious belief systems, Boyer's theory features prominently in many cognitive treatments of religion. Difficulties in identifying what are and are not counterintuitive concepts in this technical sense, however, has made empirical treatment of Boyer's theory irregular and difficult to evaluate. Further, inability to quantify just how counterintuitive a given concept is has made ambiguous specifying where the alleged cognitive optimum lies. The present project attempts to clarify Boyer's theory and presents a formal system for coding and quantifying the "counterintuitiveness" of a concept, and hence, facilitates empirical scrutiny of the theory.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract

In both natural and religious thinking, people have ntultiple versions of the same concepts that may be contradictory. In the domain of religious concepts, these ntultiple levels of representation in single individuals may be termed "Theological Correctness." Versions of religioiis concepts range front fairly simple or concrete to very complex and abstract. Selection of the, concept to be used in any given context is largely dependent on the cognitive processing demands of the task. In tasks in which there is great derrtand to draw quick and rich inferences, a basic concept comprised largely of intuitive knowledge, is used. In tasks in which there is less demand, as when one is slowly and carefully riflecting on one's knowledge, more complicated, intuition violating theoretical concepts may be drawn upon. In the domain of religious concepts these concepts closely match traditional theology and so may be termed theological concepts. Implications for data gathering and theorizing in the study of religion are discussed. Finally, these observations suggest the. importance of insights from cognitive sciertce, for the study of religion.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
In: Religion as a Human Capacity

Abstract

Forty-nine members of the Oxford public took part in a controlled free-recall experiment, the first 'minimal counterintuitiveness theory' study to control concept inferential potential and participant selective-attention timing. Recall of counterintuitive ideas (MCI) was compared with recall of ideas expressing necessary epistemic incongruence (i.e., analytically false), analytically true ideas, and ordinary control ideas. The items expressing necessary epistemic incongruence had better recall than other items. MCI items had a mnemonic advantage over intuitive templates for participants twenty-five years and younger after a one-week delay, but MCI items did not have an advantage for older participants. There was no mnemonic advantage for immediate recall of MCI items in any age group. Analyses suggest this general failure to replicate previously found mnemonic advantages may have been due to restricting the items' inferential potential.

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture