The Sense of Supernatural Agency

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 Psychology Department, University of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
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The sense of supernatural agency constitutes a defining characteristic of the religious sphere of life. But what accounts for the continued cross-cultural recurrence of this psychological phenomenon over the course of human history? This paper reviews evidence indicating that the source of panhuman or universal cognitive patterns of thought and behaviour such as this lies in the common characteristics of the evolved human mind. Further, that the sense of the supernatural is constituted by a unique combination of commonly recurring cognitive processes that together give rise to a panhuman conviction in the reality of supernatural agencies able and (when minded) willing to assist each individual in situations deemed beyond the capacities of that individual. These cognitive processes are driven most acutely by existential anxiety in response to extrinsic physical, economic and social pressures indicating that religiosity is best understood as a social-psychological phenomenon.

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