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Rethinking Religious Cognition and Myth: A New Perspective on how Religions Balance Intuitiveness and Interest-Provokingness/Memorability

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and Anthropology, Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies, Washington University in St. LouisSt. Louis, MOUSA
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Abstract

In his influential work on the cognitive science of religion (CSR), Pascal Boyer argues that the spread of religious ideas involves a tradeoff between their “intuitiveness” and their interest-provokingness/memorability (i.e.,their capacity to provoke interest and be remembered). For Boyer, religious ideas are “intuitive” insofar as they are easy to understand and learn. However, other CSR studies suggest that religious ideas are “intuitive” insofar as they are easy to believe. In analyzing the spread of religious ideas, no study has considered the tradeoff between interest-provokingness/memorability and intuitiveness in the sense of being easy to believe. The present article takes up this task by considering several religious concepts that are intuitively easy to believe (e.g., immortal souls, spirit beings, a Creator God, a just world). It is argued that, in typical religions, such concepts are incorporated into myths. Through incorporation, these concepts lose some of their intuitive believability but gain interest-provokingness/memorability.

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