What Cognitive Science of Religion Can Learn from John Dewey

Contemporary Pragmatism 15 (3):387-406 (2018)


Cognitive science of religion is a fairly young discipline with the aim of studying the cognitive basis of religious belief. Despite the great variation in theories a number of common features can be distilled and most theories can be situated in the cognitivist and modular paradigm. In this paper, I investigate how cognitive science of religion (CSR) can be made better by insights from John Dewey. I chose Dewey because he offered important insights in cognition long before there was cognitive science and because his ideas are influential in the recent enactivist movement. The relevance of Dewey’s thought for CSR will be discussed under three headers: embodiedness, embeddedness and anti-modularity. I focus on these points because embodiedness and embeddedness are important features of Dewey’s view on cognition and because his ideas are useful for criticizing modularity. I will first give a brief overview of the most influential theories in CSR. Then I will discuss how existing theories in CSR can be improved on the first two points and criticized on the third.

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