What Does the Cognitive Science of Religion Explain?

  • Claire WhiteEmail author
Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR, volume 4)


Over the past 15 years or so, the number of empirical projects in the cognitive science of religion (CSR) has grown exponentially and so too has the amount of attention paid to the field, including questions about what the cognitive science of religion is, how it conceptualizes religion and what it explains. The aim of this chapter is to contribute to these discussions by outlining the main objectives of CSR and the assumptions underlying the field. In particular, CSR has often been criticized for not engaging in extensive debates about what religion is. In this chapter I focus extensively on how CSR scholars construe religion and why they have eschewed these definitional debates in favor of engaging in empirical research. In what follows, I discuss how CSR conceptualizes religion, and how this differs from other approaches. Next, I consider how this conceptualization of religion shapes how scholars study it. Finally, I consider the question of how CSR actually explains religion.


Cognitive science of religion Explanation of religion Fractionation of religion Traditional study of religion 



Release time to write this chapter was provided by the College of Humanities at California State University, Northridge. Thanks to Joseph Langston, Justin Barrett , Justin McBrayer, Mitch Hodge and Robert McCauley for reading and providing feedback on an earlier version of this chapter. Thanks also to Paul Parrett for proof reading and editing the first draft.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Religious StudiesCalifornia State UniversityNorthridgeUSA

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