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This essay argues that the "classical" or "standard" computation model of an enviroment of thought may hamstring the nascent cognitive science of religion by masking the ways in which the bare biological brain is prosthetically extended and embedded in the surrounding landscape. The motivation for distinsuishing between the problem-solving profiles of the basic brain and the brain-plus-scaffolding is that in many domains non-biological artifacts support and augment biological modes of computation - often allowing us to overcome some of the brain's native computation limitations. The recognition that in some contexts not all of the relevant computational machinery fits inside the head suggests that we should reconsider the possible role(s) and significance of material culture in religious cognition. More specifically, the broad spectrum of rituals, music, relics, scriptures, statues and buildings typically associated with religious traditions may be more than quaint ethnographic window dressing. Rather than thin cultural wrap arounds that decorate the real cognitive processes going on underneath, these elements could represent central components of the relevant machinery of religious thought. By introducing tangible features of the world that can be physically manipulated and tracked in real-time, for example, the cognitive scaffolding that religious material culture affords seems tailor-made for allowing people to exchange the intricate "off-line" problems that arise from dealing with invisible, counter-intuitive supernatural agents for the kinds of "on-line" cognitive tasks they are naturally good at doing (i.e., recognizing patterns, modeling simple worldly dynamics, and manipulating objects).

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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In this introduction to a special MTSR issue dedicated to Breaking the Spell, I outline the broad philosophical contours of Daniel Dennett's career and its relevance for scholars of religion. By focusing attention on how Dennett's understanding of cognition is informed by a Darwinian principle of naturally selected "design," my goal is to explain why many academics in the field had high hopes for his account of religious cognition's natural origins.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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Over the last decade or so, an enormous amount of energy has been spent arguing whether the religion category is a legitimate tool for academic inquiry. This essay begins with the assumption that there are other, more interesting projects to pursue than talking about “religion.” By taking Bruno Latour’s work in the field of science studies as a model of what interesting work in our field might look like, the article advocates an approach which abandons the search for what is really going on behind the exceptional beings, experiences and insights that the conventional study of “religion” emphasizes. Instead, it sketches a scholarly agenda whereby attention would be paid to the labor required to make the gods and spirits real actors in a collective.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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Gary Lease often deployed a Swiftian "excremental vision" to upend the liberal pretensions of "religion" and religious studies. However, this essay argues that there is far more to say about the relationship between religion and defecation. Indeed, the inescapable fact of human excrement should be viewed as an under-utilized site for academic theorizing about the power of "religion."

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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This editorial begins with the premise that the liberal arts are in serious trouble. More to the point, it argues that recent attempts assign responsibility for this state of affairs to “postmodernism” naively ignores long-term economic trends. The humanities cannot be saved by just turning over a new leaf and making them more “scientific.” In fact, when it comes to the academic study of religion, the dream of an evolutionary or cognitive “science” of religion may represent a step backwards by virtue of re-introducing sui generis religion.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion