Pro-Science Rhetoric or a Research Program? – Naturalism(s) in the Cognitive-Evolutionary Study of Religion

  • Aku VisalaEmail author
Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR, volume 4)


Aku Visala takes a closer look at the role of naturalism in CSR. The cognitive-evolutionary study of religion takes itself as “naturalizing” not only the study of religion, but the humanities as a whole. Apart from the obvious denial of non-supernatural causal factors, it is sometimes difficult to see whether this naturalization involves anything more than a general rhetorical strategy meant to play up the “science” part (and downplay other, “non-scientific” approaches). In his paper, Visala seeks to identify the basic philosophical assumptions of the naturalization project, present some critical points about them, and suggest what he considers to be more plausible assumptions instead. The basic assumptions of the naturalization project include a commitment to a specific kind of unity of science, a commitment to a certain kind of inter-level reduction and explanatory fundamentalism and a deep suspicion towards causal factors above the cognitive/psychological level. He suggests that these commitments suffer from a number of problems and the goals of the cognitive-evolutionary study can be achieved just as well, or even better, by adopting weaker and more plausible commitments. Here he briefly discusses some new accounts of mechanistic explanation, Robert McCauley’s model of inter- and intra-level relationships and the idea of explanatory pluralism. He conjectures that loosening the “naturalistic” constraints of the cognitive-evolutionary study of religion might result in a more pluralistic (but nevertheless strict) approach to religion.


Cognitive science of religion Naturalism Explanation Explanation of religion Explanatory pluralism 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Theology HelsinkiUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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