One of the most impressive and I think groundbreaking books in the cognitive science of religion that I read recently, is Robert McCauley’s latest book Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not published by Oxford University Press. If you were allowed to read only one book on the cognitive science of religion, read this one.
(If by chance you are allowed to read more books, I can advise you to read some books written by another mastodont in the field, Justin Barrett.)
Unfortunately I don’t have the time to go into details about the book here (I hope to do that in due time). However, I just found a video in which McCauley himself explains the main ideas of his book brilliantly in less than two-and-a-half minutes. You’ll learn a lot in little time…
Robert McCauley on his latest book “Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not”
Later today I will post the second part of my evaluation of Jesse Bering’s The God / Belief Instinct. However, I recently found an interesting interview with Bering that also can function as an interesting summary of the book, here:
When we understand how the mind works in relation to supernatural beliefs, we can stop ourselves from becoming suckers at the hands of illusion. “Once we’re aware of how the illusion operates, and how mechanistic it is and how predictable it is, we can catch ourselves as falling prey to it really easily,” says Bering.
A while ago, I read Jesse Bering’s The God Instinct (which is the British title, in the US the book was published as The Belief Instinct). It’s a highly stimulating book and one of the more interesting contributions to both the science and religion debate as well as the debate concerning atheism. I published my elaborate review on my weblog in Dutch, but since it attracted quite a few non-Dutch visitors who used online translation tools to make some sense out of my Dutch text, I decided to publish my final evaluation of Bering’s book in English. I now publish a revised version of that evaluation here on my website, again in two parts. This is part one. Please note that this is not the review or summary of the book, but only my evaluation of the book as a whole (in other words: it assumes some knowledge of the book already).
Earlier I posted about a recent article by Justin Barrett. During the Calvin College seminar last year, Barrett also told the participants about a book that he was in the process of writing. It wasn’t his Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds (Templeton Press 2011; also available in a very affordable kindle-edition) which appeared a couple of months ago – a book which, by the way, is a brilliant introduction to the cognitive science of religion, as is his earlier Why Would Anyone Believe in God?(AltaMira Press 2004) – but a book which had something with “children” in the title. Today I found out which book he was referring to.
It turns out the book is titled Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief (Free Press 2012; also available in kindle-edition), and it will come out coming March. During the seminar we read several drafts of early chapters of this book, and for those interested in the CSR I can highly recommend it. As with his other books, Barrett has an engaging and very non-academic style, mingling his own experiences with top-notch cognitive science. While reading about very cleverly constructed experiments that try to take a peak into even the youngest children’s minds, you also learn a lot about the workings of your own mind. And you’ll see that religious belief isn’t something merely cultural, but locks into the very basic workings of the human mind.
I’m really looking forward to reading the book and discussing it with Barrett during the second seminar at Calvin College, which will take place in the summer of 2012…
UPDATE, March 19, 2012: As of today the book ships from Amazon.com/de/etc. Amazon.de (the German site) also has the book in store and available for shipping on the release date (March 20). You can order the book HERE.
Last year (2011) I participated in a two-weeks seminar at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, on the Cognitive Science of Religion. The seminar was run by Dr. Justin Barrett, a cognitive psychologist and one of the “big shots” in the field of CSR. It was a very interesting experience, and it made me realize that the CSR will be one of the major areas for discussion concerning science and religion in the coming years, since the bulk of research produced by scholars engaged in this area is growing quite rapidly.
Barrett has just published an essay titled ‘Cognitive Science of Religion: Looking Back, Looking Forward’ in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, in which he gives an overview of the field, explaining what the results of CSR research have been so far, and assesssing what the future challenges opportunities for the field are. The article is available free of charge, so anyone interested in line of research can download it as a free PDF from here: