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CfP: Special Issue on Cognitive Science of Religion

Topical Issue on Cognitive Science of Religion
Assistant Professor
St. Olaf College, USA

In the last couple of decades, the cognitive science of religion (CSR) has established itself as a major area within the scientific study of religion. According to this general approach, if we want to understand religion – and specifically why human beings tend to be religious – then in addition to doing what traditional scholars of religion do, we also need to think about the nature of human cognition. For, goes the claim, various cognitive structures and habits naturally give rise to a belief in supernatural agents in diverse environments. This approach to the study of religion, though it does not pretend to answer every question about religion, nonetheless raises a number of important questions for science, philosophy, theology and their various relationships. We invite submissions that address one or more of these relationships. Some possible questions are as follows, though we welcome papers that address other topics related to CSR:
Philosophical and Theological Questions
  • Much recent work in CSR suggests that people distrust atheists. What are the moral or political implications of such claims, if they are true? Can anything be done to change this pattern?
  • Does CSR threaten to undermine or explain away religious belief or the reliability of religious testimony? Might it be supportive of religious claims?
  • Can one think that CSR debunks religious beliefs without also thinking that CSM (cognitive science of morality) debunks moral beliefs?
  • How might CSR shape the challenge of religious diversity? Does CSR support the idea that the divine, if such there be, isn’t too concerned about the specifics of people’s religious outlooks?
  • What is the relationship between CSR and the problem of divine hiddenness? Is the so-called ‘problem of natural nonbelief’, according to which some nonbelief in God naturally occurs, answerable?
  • Many theologians want to resist the idea that the divine is literally a person. Does CSR pose a cultural challenge to their claims? Does it show that abstract conceptions of the divine (i.e. that God is the ground of being or the Ultimate nonpersonal reality) will not likely enjoy cultural success? If so, does this matter?
Scientific Questions
  • How far has CSR gone in explaining religion? And how far might it reasonably be expected to go?
  • What is the cognitive and/or evolutionary relationship between religion and morality? Did one evolve first?
  • Is the common selection versus by-product dichotomy in the scientific study of religion a false one?
  • CSR has had a lot to say about religious belief, ritual, and morality. But has it paid insufficient attention to religious experience? If so, how might CSR fruitfully incorporate investigation into religious experience?
  • Are we really natural born dualists, as Paul Bloom has claimed?
  • What is the relationship between religious belief and autism?
Questions for Religious Studies
  • Can CSR help to illuminate the vexing question of what religion is, or is the latter question entirely immune to scientific investigation?
  • Some within CSR (e.g. Cohen, Lanman, and Whitehouse 2008) have suggested that standard criticisms of CSR (e.g. it is irrelevant, reductionist, ethnocentric, narrow-minded etc.,) voiced within religious studies are unjustified and unfair. Are they right?
  • Does CSR have any interesting implications for recent discussions about religious pluralism or religious dialogue?
Submissions are due by August 30, 2015. To submit an article for the special issue of Open Theology, please use the on-line submission system  choosing as article type:  ‘Special Issue Article: Cognitive Science of Religion’.
All contributions will undergo a critical review before being accepted for publication.
Further questions about the thematic issue can be sent to Dr. Jason Marsh at In the case of technical questions or problems please contact Managing Editor of the journal Dr. Katarzyna Tempczyk at
Authors publishing in the special issue will benefit from:

  • transparent, comprehensive and fast peer review
  • efficient route to fast-track publication and full advantage of De Gruyter Open’s e-technology,
  • no publication fees,
  • free language assistance for authors from non-English speaking regions.
(Thanks to Jason Marsh for the pointer)


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