, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 233-243

Is There a Cognitive Basis for Religious Belief?

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Abstract

This paper explores whether the psychological study of cognition can provide insight into how religious beliefs are formed and maintained. A review of illustrative findings from the research literature suggests three themes: First, regularities in our everyday experience are primarily identified through assessment of individual situations rather than through use of all relevant data. Second, preconceptions are highly important in shaping perceptions and interpretations of new experience. Finally, intense emotions often generate an inaccurate sense of certainty regarding beliefs congruent with these emotions. The applicability of these themes to the relationship between religious experience and religious belief is examined. The paper concludes by briefly discussing whether the increasing proportion of the population receiving statistical and scientific training will influence the level of religious belief in Western culture.