A critical analysis of the naturalist approach in the Cognitive Science of Religion: A re-reading of the Phenomenology of Religion.
AbstractThe dissertation will analyse the claims of the naturalist position which has been employed in the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR, hereafter). This reductionist approach has implications for the methodologies religious anthropologists and ethnographers use when collecting observational data. Furthermore, the CSR is not a part of a research experiment where scholars from a range of academic disciplines provide independent and often conflicting theses regarding the origin and persistence of religious belief. This viewpoint contends that the persistence of religion is due to evolutionary psychological factors. As a consequence there are recurring patterns within cultures where the notions of deities are constructed. The anthropologist Pascal Boyer argues that religious adherents are cognitively predisposed to assign human attributes to superhuman entities. This enables individuals to easily remember philosophical concepts regarding how the divine is understood in religious systems. Notwithstanding, there have been critics from the Religious Studies discipline who pose important questions concerning the CSR’s radical reductionist approach. For example, Hojbjerg (2008, 105) asks: “it is justified to ask what is left for students of culture, including religion and ritual, to focus on, if not the baseline to which all conscious beliefs are reducible”. This dilemma has generated important questions whether there are epistemological and ontological components in religious practice which challenges the CSR’s approach. A scholar who constructed a phenomenological approach in understanding ontological experiences was Martin Heidegger. He understood that the focus of existentialism was the question of being. He argues that this led individuals to construct a question of the being wherein a philosophical conception of reality is developed. Heidegger’s existential phenomenology can be seen in the existential encounter when considering death. When an individual considers their own mortality a set of epistemological properties are generated that challenges the normative function of being. Through this encounter, oblivion is encountered by individuals who exist outside of culture. Subsequently, onto – theology is destroyed when a person encounters death. Ernesto de Martino developed an ethnographical account of individuals who through the act of mourning encounter oblivion of their world. Therefore, notions of the divine are devices which are designed to bring individuals back into the world. This humanist viewpoint rightly points out that existential phenomena such as, death are significant in how individuals exist within social structures. The radical reductionist approach of the CSR camp raises fundamental questions regarding the elimination of cultural anomalies. Indeed, there is substantial evidence that the brain reacts to the notion that death is imminent. Near death experience challenges the CSR approach because this phenomena clearly represents that death is an important subjective experience. Medical practitioners have observed that NDEs activates parts of the brain during moments of fear and stress. This view is supported by neuro – theologians who have conducted neuroscientific experiments which reveals that cognitive pathways increase. Indeed, Frontal Lobe and Parietal Lobe generate vivid hallucinations. In my opinion, there is an activation of a pan – psychological structure during NDEs. NDE represents the destruction of their world. Therefore, while the CSR's materialist approach provides an important perspective regarding the origin of religious rituals, there are phenomenological limitations to such an eliminative reductionist approach. The landmark works of de Martino and Heidegger demonstrate that existentialism is a significant aspect to the cognitive construct of the world.
CitationGough, M. (2016). A critical analysis of the naturalist approach in the cognitive science of religion: A re-reading of the phenomenology of religion. (Master's thesis). University of Chester, United Kingdom.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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