Evolutionary, Cognitive, and Contextual Approaches to the Study of Religious Systems: A Proposition of Synthesis


LANG Martin KUNDT Radek

Year of publication 2020
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Method and Theory in the Study of Religion. Journal of the North American Association for the Study of Religion
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Web https://brill.com/view/journals/mtsr/aop/article-10.1163-15700682-12341466.xml?language=en
Doi http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15700682-12341466
Keywords cognition; complex adaptive systems; evolution; mechanism; the humanities and the sciences; religion; ritual
Description The explanatory gap between the life sciences and the humanities that is present in the study of human phenomena impedes productive interdisciplinary examination that such a complex subject requires. Manifested as epistemological tensions over reductionism vs. holism, nature vs. nurture, and the study of micro vs. macro context, the divergent research approaches in the humanities and the sciences produce separate bodies of knowledge that are difficult to reconcile. To remedy this incommensurability, the article proposes to employ the complex adaptive systems approach, which allows to study specific cultural systems in their ecologies and to account for the myriads of factors that constitute such systems, including nonlinear interactions between these factors and their evolution. On a specific example of religious systems, we show that by studying cultural systems in their contextual variability, mechanistic composition, and evolutionary history, the humanities and the sciences should be able to fruitfully collaborate while avoiding previous pitfalls of excessive reductionism, genetic determinism, and sweeping overgeneralizations, on the one hand, and pitfalls of excessive holism, cultural determinism, and aversion to any generalizations, on the other hand.
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