Religion, Cognition and Culture - MINDLab


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Religion, Cognition and Culture

Coordinator: Jesper Sørensen

The Religion, Cognition and Culture project investigates links between neurological and cognitive structures, and religious behavior and ideas (Geertz 2004c) in two interrelated themes. Headed by Ph.D. Jesper Sørensen, who has been recruited in a five-year research position by MINDLab, the first theme addresses ritual and ritualized behavior (Sørensen 2007a).

The central claim is that ritualized actions have peculiar cognitive and neurological effects on observer and agent alike (Sørensen 2006). It is hypothesized that two neurocognitive systems are involved in ordinary action representations: on one hand, action gestalts based on perceptual and mirror systems, on the other hand action gestalts represented as intentional ascription based on cultural knowledge. These systems, it is claimed, become disconnected when behavior is ritualized, and ritual actions thus produce a ‘cognitive riddle’. This has implications for particular religious and cultural dynamics, such as group formation, representations of probability and ideas about superhuman agents (Sørensen 2007b). Headed by Armin W. Geertz and Jeppe Sinding Jensen, the second theme focuses on normative cognition. It is hypothesized that religious ideas and practices are crucially involved in establishing normative cognition. On a pragmatic social level, they assist in instilling and maintaining collective values and norms in a group. On the individual level, they are key to attachment to and functioning in a social group and for maintaining a social self by drawing on the cultural repertoire of the group (Jensen 2002). A secondary hypothesis is that normative cognition is objectified and publicly formulated in language and that language ties individual psychology, distributed cognition and social norms together.

The project will involve a number of models and methods including fieldwork, textual studies, functional neuroimaging and experimental psychology, and it expands on ongoing collaborations on brain imaging studies of religious practices, e.g. of praying and meditation. The project has st rong connections with Interacting Minds (effect of groups on perception/cognition), Agency (ascription and detection of agency), Organizations (group emotions) and Evidence (role in philosophy of science) as well as synergies with projects in other streams such as Affective Disorders, Addiction and Psychosis (dopamine release in social interaction), Pain (subjective aspects of suffering), Neural Synch ronicity (mapping joint experiences), Autobiographical Memory (role of significant life events) and Music in the Brain (rhythm and joint performance).


Name   E-mail   Phone
Geertz, Armin W.   8716 2473
Else-Marie Jegindø


7846 9935

Jensen, Jeppe Sinding   8716 2475
Uffe Schjødt


8716 2476

Sørensen, Jesper   8716 2441
Dimitris Xygalatas

  8716 2142
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Revideret 5-7-2012