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Social cognition in cognitive science of religion

 Social cognition in cognitive science of religionMany, if not most, cognitive theories of religion propose a link between religious cog-nition and social cognition. By social cognition, I mean the mental abilities and pro-cesses involved in gaining knowledge about other people’s mental states. Accordingto many cognitive scientists, religious cognition is somehow similar to, or a subpartof, social cognition. Stewart Guthrie claims that religious beliefs arise when methodsof inferring people’s mental states are applied to inanimate natural phenomena. Forexample, when people see clouds that resemble smiling faces, they will conclude tosupernatural agency, just like they conclude to human agency when they see a smil-ing human face.1 Justin Barrett argues for something similar when he claims thatreligious beliefs result from a hyperactive agency detection device. Because it was beneficial from an evolutionary perspective, the cognitive mechanism people use fordetecting agents is prone to conclude to agency upon very limited evidence. As a re-sult, natural phenomena like rustling of leaves or a stick that looks like a snake sufficeto conclude to agency.2 Jesse Bering claims that religious beliefs result from attribut-ing meaning to meaningless events whereby meaning is associated with intentionalacts by a god.3 Pascal Boyer claims that the religious concepts people believe in are1 S. Guthrie, Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion, New York–Oxford 1993.2 J.L. Barrett,Why Would Anyone Believe in God?, Oxford 2004.3 J. Bering, “The Existential Theory of Mind”, Review of General Psychology, 2002, no. 6, pp. 3–24.

 303always agents with a firm interest in moral behaviour. These agents are different fromnormal human agents because they have full access to people’s thoughts and desires.4 Ara Norenzayan makes similar arguments.5 Tanya Luhrmann suggests that formingreligious beliefs depends on a porous theory of mind by means of which religious people believe that God interacts with them by implanting thoughts.