Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Comparative Religion


The traditional social scientific method undervalues the role that cognitive processes play in human behavior and instead focuses on posited external causal forces, the most common of which is 'culture.' Normative models of rationality, on the other hand, often do suggest and emphasize cognitive reasoning strategies. What is lacking is a familiarity and understanding of what human beings actually do which is, ironically, something social scientists do know something about. Both assume a sort of rational normative baseline cognitive structure and then try to discover those circumstances in which this structure is compromised by the culture, the environment, learning, and emotion. This does not fit with a view of evolutionary processes that suggests that the mind is a conglomeration of adaptations rather than a refined computer. A messy Rube Goldberg device rather than a simpler update of a previous version. Understanding human behavior requires a sophisticated understanding of the way minds and the environment are intertwined, not how the environment directs human behavior, thought, and reasoning. Our minds might seem to work on the perceptual level of atmospheric clouds and interstellar nebulae, but what allows us to make the connection between supernova remnants and masses of condensed water droplets is really a complex aggregate of domain-specific mechanisms. The rationality of African ritual behavior is a test case that allows us to see this clearly.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access