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. Le rire: essai sur la signification du comique; Paris

Explaining Religious Experience The second way to tackle the cognitive challenge has to do with recent research trying to explain the cognitive mechanisms of religious experience. Much work has been done and other work is still in progress, but from the provisional results it is possible to ascertain some of the dynamics presiding over the ‘religious mind’, able to process information in transcendent terms, attributing to supernatural forces or beings a mechanism of agency. Actually, theories of ‘attribution’ and ‘agency’ are attempts to explain ‘how religion works’ and why it subsists despite the present secularisation crisis and many pronouncements of its inevitable decay. Such theories are combined with classical functional views of religion – about the role it still plays in human and social life – and more recent theories on the expansion (or contamination) of ideas and the cognitive constitution of cultural or broadly shared items of knowledge. At the moment, a set of ‘cognitive studies on religion’ is available for theologians and religious scholars. Their outcome should be taken into account in the theology and science dialogue. The work in progress can be divided between neurophysiological studies on the mental mechanisms, which reflect intense religious experiences, and psycho-cognitive approaches to religious experiences. The first type of study is associated with names like M.A. Persinger [1], V.S. Ramachandran [2], and the team of A. Newberg, E. D’Aquili, and V. Rause [3]. For several years these authors have been pursuing the neural links of religious experiences. To this end, they have explored – with the help of sophisticated methods of ‘brain imaging’ – the brain areas, which are involved in the most intense religious experiences, such as mystical ecstasy, or states of deep prayer. Another method of searching for those links has been to verify the degree of connection between episodes of brain damage and the loss of ‘religious faculties’.