PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Denver, CO
November 17-20, 2018

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Cognitive Science of Religion Unit

Statement of Purpose: 

This Unit is dedicated to advancing cognitive scientific approaches to the study of religion in a critically informed, historically responsible manner. “Cognitive science” designates a broadly interdisciplinary approach to the study of the mind that integrates research from the neurosciences, psychology (including developmental, cognitive, evolutionary, and social psychology), anthropology, and philosophy. The main goal of this Unit is to bring together cognitive scientists, historians of religion, ethnographers, empirically-oriented theologians, and philosophers of religion to explore applications of cognitive science to religious phenomena, as well as religious insights into the study of the human mind. We wish to consider ways in which historical and ethnographic data can be used to test theories and discuss theoretical and methodological concerns that are directly relevant to study design and data interpretation.

Call for Papers: 

This Unit is dedicated to advancing cognitive scientific approaches to the study of religion in a critically informed, historically responsible manner. “Cognitive science” designates a broadly interdisciplinary approach to the study of the mind that integrates research from the neurosciences, psychology (including developmental, cognitive, evolutionary, and social psychology), anthropology, and philosophy. The main goal of this Unit is to bring together cognitive scientists, historians of religion, ethnographers, empirically-oriented theologians, and philosophers of religion to explore applications of cognitive science to religious phenomena, as well as religious insights into the study of the human mind. We wish to consider ways in which historical and ethnographic data can be used to test theories and discuss theoretical and methodological concerns that are directly relevant to study design and data interpretation. We are interdisciplinary, and welcome both theoretical and data-driven proposals from scholars.

Included with our unit’s general call for papers, we have also included several specific calls that some of our members have suggested. Those who are considering submitting a panel or paper proposal related to a call that is accompanied by specific contact information are invited (but not required) to contact that person to discuss the scope of the call’s inquiry and/or possible collaboration on a panel proposal or coordination of individual submissions.

• Current Theories and Applications of the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)
This call is broad in scope. Scholars using current theories in CSR (or theories that ought to be applied in CSR) and those who apply theories in CSR to derive qualitative or quantitate data are welcome to submit a paper.

• Overviews on the State of the Field in the Cognitive Science of Religion
The cognitive science of religion is heavily interdisciplinary and encompasses numerous research programs, from cognitive biases to costly signaling. For the 2018 AAR meeting, we solicit paper proposals that "zoom out" on the field of CSR and look for coherence or conflict between these different programs, or that simply assess where the field has come from and where it's going. Which theoretical claims enjoy general consensus, and where do debates still rage? What frameworks could CSR benefit from incorporating that it currently overlooks? Are there recent advancements the fields that feed into CSR – such as cognitive psychology, cross-cultural anthropology, ritual theory, or human ethology – that could augment our toolkits? Where are the overlaps and where are the disagreements between the cultural evolutionary approaches and the cognitive approaches to a general science of religion? Papers from both empirical practitioners and theorists, and from humanists and area specialists are welcomed. Contact: Connor Wood, Boston University, connorpw@bu.edu

• What is Innateness? Evolution and Development in the Cognitive Science and Psychology of Religion
What does it mean for a cognitive process or capability to be innate? Does this category only refer to fully realized functions at birth? in the first week? in the first month? How should theories about innateness address connections between innate and acquired capacities, and what are the implications for our understanding of the psychology and cognitive science of religion? Recent evidence from developmental cognitive psychology has upended our thinking about innateness. For example, the first longitudinal study of neonatal imitation, published in 2016, showed no evidence to support previous claims by Meltzoff and others. Yet human infants learn to imitate and both nonhuman primates and humans learn to acquire certain, socially relevant capabilities early in life. Are there ways to conceptualize innateness that help us make sense of what may be an innate readiness to acquire such capabilities? For example, does the innateness theory of Gary Marcus sufficiently address both the evolutionary and developmental aspects of acquiring language, morality, religious behaviors and affiliations, etc.? We are especially interested in integrative theoretical or empirical papers that address Marcus' theory and/or new approaches that draw on the evolutionary and developmental interaction literature in psychology and cognitive science (i.e., EvoDevo theories), with a clear connection to how these approaches help or hinder understanding of the origin, transmission, and practice of religion. This is a co-sponsored session with the Cognitive Science of Religion Unit and the Psychology, Culture, and Religion Unit. Contact: Michael Spezio, Scripps College, mspezio@scrippscollege.edu.

• Integrating the Humanities and Sciences in the Study of Religion
Contact: John Shaver, University of Otago, john.shaver@otago.ac.nz

• Cognitive Studies of Ritual and the Senses
In continuity with last year’s focus on the aesthetics of ritual, we invite paper proposals from the full array of the cognitive science of ritual, from sound recognition and sensual perception to the study of ritual simulation, representation, and misrecognition. Co-sponsored with the Cognitive Science of Religion Unit and the Ritual Studies Unit.

Method: 
PAPERS
Process: 
Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members
Leadership: 
ChairSteering Committee