Shared rituals and religious beliefs

Daniel De Luca-Noronha


Agents are generally committed to performing actions based on religious beliefs, even when these are not obviously adaptive. What could explain this fact? The cognitivist hypothesis explains this commitment on the basis of internal cognitive mechanisms. But some have noted the importance of taking into consideration the contexts in which religious beliefs are transmitted, such as rituals: the cultural learner commits herself to a given religious belief when she witnesses displays based on that belief in appropriate situations. In this paper, I argue that we can strengthen this insight by focusing on the shared character of the rituals that facilitate religious belief transmission. First, I present the traditional explanatory hypothesis regarding the origins of religious belief. Second, I sketch three objections that put limits to that model’s explanatory power. Third, I explore a hypothesis which accounts for the context of belief transmission and then argue for the necessity of refining it so as to accommodate pertinent explanatory demands. Finally, I present the interactionist model of social cognition as a way to account for the shared character of religious rituals.

Keywords: religious belief, religious commitment, social cognition, interactionism, rituals.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License [Updated on September 23, 2016].

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