Explaining Religion. Cognitive Science of Religion and Naturalism

December 4, 2015 - December 5, 2015
Department of Philosophy, Free University Amsterdam

De Boelelaan
Amsterdam 1081HV

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Helen De Cruz
Oxford University
Robert McCauley
Emory University
Aku Visala
University of Helsinki

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Although Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) is still a rather young discipline, its main theories have beenthe 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.

Confirmed speakers:
- Dr. Helen de Cruz (Oxford University), author of the upcoming book A Natural History of Natural Theology (2014)
- Prof. Dr. Robert McCauley (Emory University), co?author of Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture (1993), Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not (2011)
- Prof. Dr. Aku Visala (University of Helsinki), author of Naturalism, Theism and the Cognitive Study of Religion (2011)

We invite contributions from philosophers, theologians and scientists. Please send a 1,000 word abstract to [email protected] by June 15th 2015. The abstract should be suitable for blind review. Questions can be sent to the same email address. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • What do the main theories of CSR explain?
  • Do the main theories in CSR amount to a naturalistic explanation of religion?
  • Does a natural model of religious belief explain away religion?
  • Does CSR speak in favor of naturalism?
  • Is there a standard CSR explanation of religion?
  • Is a naturalistic interpretation of CSR preferable to a theistic interpretation?
  • Does a natural explanation of religious cognition make a difference to the epistemic status of
  • religious belief?

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