Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Comparative Religion

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas Lawson

Second Advisor

Dr. Brian C. Wilson

Third Advisor

Dr. Timothy Light

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Luther H. Martin


Understanding how human brains work bears directly on the study of religion. Introducing the new "cognitive science of religion," this dissertation explains how natural mental processes that shape everyday human thought are also responsible for the arising and persistence of religious ideas and for the content and development of religions. The central claim of this work is that understanding the origin and features of god concepts and the religious systems that form around them requires an understanding of the adapted mind. This argument unfolds in two parts. The first explores the cognitive foundations ofsupernatural beings. It discusses in both evolutionary and developmental terms the suite of mental structures and functions involved in the acquisition, representation, and use of god concepts. Due to mental adaptations designed for social interaction with intentional agents, humans today possess a powerful set of cognitive endowments that make their minds particularly good at producing and transmitting god concepts. The second part of the argument looks atthe cognitive foundations of religious systems, showing how cognition and culture relate and how the mental tools humans use to think about gods ultimately shape the religious systems that coalesce around them.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

Included in

Religion Commons