The Science of Religious Beliefs

Justin Barrett, Jonathan Lanman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    61 Citations (Scopus)


    Why have humans, throughout history and across cultures, shown a strong tendency to believe in the existence of superhuman intentional agents and attached this belief to notions of morality, misfortune, and the creation of the world? The answer emerging from the cognitive science of religion appears to be that explicit beliefs are informed and constrained by the natural and cross-culturally recurrent operation of implicit cognitive systems. Successful god concepts resonate with the expectations of these implicit systems but also have attention-demanding and inferentially-rich properties that allow their integration into various areas of human concern. Theological concepts may deviate from these natural cognitive moorings but require special cultural scaffolding, such as Whitehouse's two Modes of Religiosity, to do so and constitute additions to, rather than replacements of the religious beliefs supported by implicit cognitive systems.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)109-124
    Number of pages16
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Arts and Humanities(all)
    • History
    • Sociology and Political Science


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