Workshop ‘Explaining Religion. Cognitive Science of Religion and Naturalism’

12/04/2015 | 12/05/2015

VU Amsterdam

Workshop ‘Explaining Religion. Cognitive Science of Religion and Naturalism’

Dr. Helen de Cruz (VU University), Prof. Dr. Robert McCauley (Emory University), Prof. Dr. Aku Visala (University of Helsinki)

Irma Verlaan,

Faculty of Humanities

Theology and Philosophy


Although Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) is still a rather young discipline, its main theories have been the subject of considerable debate. One main point of discussion is whether cognitive theories explain religion. The title of Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained (2002) signals that at least one goal of CSR is to explain religion. Many authors have interpreted ‘explaining’ as explaining away and have argued that CSR-theories have not explained religion away because the truth of religion is compatible with the main theories in CSR.

This workshop will focus on a different question, viz. whether CSR-theories allow for a natural explanation of religion, where a natural explanation is a scientific one that does not involve anything supernatural or spooky. When it relies on the principle of parsimony (Occam’s Razor), a natural explanation of religion makes the existence of anything supernatural superfluous. Daniel Dennett already suggested something along these lines in his 2006 book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Since then, few scholars have discussed this particular issue in CSR. The topic raises questions about explanation, naturalism and the evidential weight of religious cognition.

More information and registration via Abraham Kuyper Center.