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Straight out of Durkheim? Haidt’s Neo-Durkheimian Account of Religion and the Cognitive Science of Religion

  • Steve ClarkeEmail author


Jon Haidt, a leading figure in contemporary moral psychology, advocates a participation-centric view of religion, according to which participation in religious communal activity is significantly more important than belief in explaining religious behaviour and commitment. He describes the participation-centric view as ‘Straight out of Durkheim’. I argue that this is a misreading of Durkheim, who held that religious behaviour and commitment are the joint products of belief and participation, with neither belief nor participation being considered more important than the other. I further argue that recent evidence from the cognitive science of religion provides support for Durkheim’s balanced account of religion and counts strongly against Haidt’s participation-centric view of religion. I suggest that Haidt’s adherence to the participation-centric view of religion is better explained by his desire to accept an account of religion that is consistent with his social intuitionist moral psychology than by his desire to accept an account of religion that accords with available scientific evidence about religion.


Cognitive science of religion Durkheim Haidt Religious belief Religious participation 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Humanities and Social SciencesCharles Sturt UniversityWagga WaggaAustralia

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