Item Details

Normative Cognition in Culture and Religion

Issue: Vol 1 No. 1 (2013)

Journal: Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Cognitive Studies Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/jcsr.v1i1.47


‘Normative Cognition’ is a theoretical model of human cognition as driven, modulated and governed by symbolically mediated inter-subjective social norms and conventions. The conditions for normative cognition are biological and cultural because norms and values are transmitted in thought, behavior, and institutions via symbolic, i.e., cultural media. Normative cognition and culture are thus considered mutually constitutive. As a domain of culture, religion has had enduring functions in both individual and collective human cognition. This programmatic article outlines first the nature of and the methodological framework for normative cognition and then the necessary evolved foundations in dual processing and cultural coding. Recent moral psychology then provides an explanatory link between innate dispostions and enculturation that enable the developing of moral agents. Religious rituals provide influential examples of the formation of normative cognition. Finally, the normative cognition model is applied and debated in samples of cognitive and semantic governance in culture and religion.

Author: Jeppe Sinding Jensen

View Original Web Page

References :

Alcorta, Candace S. and Richard Sosis. 2005. “Ritual, Emotion, and Sacred Symbols. The Evolution of Religion as an Adaptive Complex.” Human Nature 16(4): 323–359.
Atran, Scott. 2002. In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bargh, John A. and Ezquiel Morsella. 2008. “The Unconscious Mind.” Perspectives on Social Science 3(1): 73–79.
Bargh, John A. and Ezquiel Morsella. 2010. “Unconscious behavioral Guidance Systems.” In Then a miracle occurs: Focusing on behavior in social psychology theory and research, edited by C. Agnew, D. Carlston, W. Graziano and J. Kelly, 88–118. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Baumeister, Roy F. 2005. The Cultural Animal: Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Beck, Aaron T. 1989. Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. London: Penguin.
Berntsen, Dorthe and David C. Rubin. 2004. “Cultural life scripts structure recall from autobiographical memory.” Memory and Cognition 32(3): 427–442.
Bicchieri, Cristina. 2006. The Grammar of Society. The Nature and Dynamics of Social Norms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bohn, Annette and Dorthe Berntsen. 2008. “Life Story Development in Childhood: The Development of Life Story Abilities and the Acquisition of Cultural Life Scripts From Late Middle Childhood to Adolescence.” Developmental Psychology 44(4): 1135–1147.
Boyd, Robert and Peter J. Richerson. 2005. The Origin and Evolution of Cultures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Boyer, Pascal. 2000. “Functional Origins of Religious Concepts: Conceptual and Strategic Selection in Evolved Minds.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 6: 195–214.
Boyer, Pascal. 2001. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books.
Boyer, Pascal. 2003. “Religious Thought and Behaviour as By-products of Brain Function.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7(3): 119–124.
Boyer, Pascal and Pierre Liénard. 2006. “Why ritualized behavior? Precaution Systems and action parsing in developmental, pathological and cultural rituals.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29: 1–59.
Boyer, Pascal. 2010. “Why Evolved Cognition Matters to Understanding Cultural Cognitive Variations.” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 35(3–4): 377–387.
Bruner, Jerome. 1986. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bulbulia, Joseph. 2005. “Are there any religions? An evolutionary exploration.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 17: 71–100.
Bulbulia, Jospeh. 2012. “Spreading order: religion, cooperative niche construction, and risky coordination problems.” Biology and Philosophy 27(1): 1–27. [on-line pub. 25 October, 2011].
Bulbulia, Joseph, R. Sosis, E. Harris, E.Genet, C. Genet and K. Wyman. 2008. The Evolution of Religion: Studies, Theories, and Critiques. Santa Margarita, CA: Collins Foundation Press.
Choudhury, Suparna. 2010. “Culturing the adolescent brain: what can neuroscience learn from anthropology?” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 5: 159–167.
Chiao, Joan Y. 2010. “At the frontier of cultural neuroscience: Introduction to the special issue.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 5: 109–110.
Churchland, Patricia. 2011. Braintrust. What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Clark, Andy. 1997. Being There. Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Clark, Andy. 2006. “Material Symbols.” Philosophical Psychology 19(3): 291–307.
Clark, Andy and David Chalmers. 1998. “The Extended Mind.” Analysis 58(1): 7–19.
Cole, Michael. 1975. Cultural Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Damasio, Antonio. 2000. The Feeling of What Happens. Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness. London: Vintage.
D’Andrade, Roy and Claudia Strauss. 1992. Human motives and cultural models. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Deacon, Terrence. 1997. The Symbolic Species. The co-evolution of language and the human brain. London: Penguin.
Deacon, Terrence and Tyrone Cashman. 2009. “The Role of Symbolic Capacity in the Origins of Religion.” Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture 3 (4): 490–517.
Dean, L.G., R.L. Kendal, S.J. Schapiro, B. Thierry and K.N.Laland. 2012. “Identification of the Social and Cognitive Processes Underlying Human Cumulative Culture.” Science 335(2): 1114–1118.
Decety, Jean and Yoshiya Moriguchi 2007. “The empathic brain and its dysfunction in psychiatric populations: implications for intervention across clinical conditions”. BioPsychoSocial Medicine 1: 22–56.
DeLoache, Judy. 2004. “Becoming Symbol-minded.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8(2): 66–70.
Donald, Merlin. 1991. Origins of the Modern Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Donald, Merlin. 2001. A Mind So Rare. The Evolution of Human Consciousness. New York: W.W.Norton.
Donald, Merlin. 2007. “The slow process: A hypothetical cognitive adaptation for distributed cognitive networks.” Journal of Physiology – Paris 101: 214–222.
Dubreuil, Benoît. 2008. “The Cognitive Foundations of Institutions.” In Beyond the Brain: Embodied, Situated and Distributed Cognition, edited by. B. Hardy-Vallée and N. Payette, 125–140. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing.
Dunbar, Robin, Louise Barrett and John Lycett. 2005. Evolutionary psychology: A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld.
Duque, Juan F. Dominguez, Robert Turner, E. Douglas Lewis and Gary Egan. 2010. “Neuroanthropology: a humanistic science for the study of the culture-brain nexus.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 5 (2–3): 138–147.
Edwards, Derek. 1997. Discourse and Cognition. London: Sage.
Evans, Jonathan St. B.T. 2008. “Dual Processing Accounts of Reasoning, Judgment and Social Cognition.” Annual Review of Psychology 59: 255–278.
Evans, Jonathan and Keith Frankish. 2009. In Two Minds. Dual Processes and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fehr, Ernst and E. Gächter. 2002. “Altruistic punishment in humans.” Nature 415 (6868): 137–140.
Feldman, Carol F. 1987. “Thought from language: the linguistic constructions of cognitive representations.” In Making Sense: The Child’s Construction of the World, edited by Jerome Bruner and Helen Haste, 131–146. London: Methuen.
Feuerbach, Ludwig. 2004 [1846]. The Essence of Religion. Amherst, NY: Prometheus. [German original: ‘Das Wesen der Religion’1846]
Frith, Chris. 2007. Making up the Mind. How the Brain Creates our Mental World. Oxford: Blackwell.
Frith, Chris. 2008. “Social Cognition (Review).” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 363: 2033–2039.
Gallagher, Shaun. n.d. (in press) “The Overextended Mind.”
Geertz, Clifford. 1966. “Religion as a Cultural System.” In Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, edited by Michael Banton, 1–46. London: Tavistock.
Geertz, Clifford. 1973 [1962]. “The Growth of Culture and the Evolution of Mind”. In idem The Interpretation of Cultures, 55–85. New York: Basic Books.
Geertz, Armin W.. 2010. “Brain, Body, and Culture: A Biocultural Theory of Religion.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 22(4): 304–321.
Geertz, Armin W. and Jeppe Sinding Jensen. 2011. Religious Narrative, Cognition and Culture. Image and Word in the Mind of Narrative. Sheffield, UK and Oakville, CT: Equinox.
Gentner, Dedre. 2010. “Bootstrapping the Mind: Analogical Processes and Symbol Systems.” Cognitive Science 34: 752–775.
Haidt, Jonathan. 2007. “Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion.” Edge. The Third Culture. (online edition:
Haidt, Jonathan and Craig Joseph. 2007. “The moral mind: How Five Sets of Innately Prepared Intuitions Guide the Development of Many Culture-Specific Virtues and Perhaps Even Modules.” In The Innate Mind, (Vol.3) edited by P. Carruthers, S. Lawrence and S. Stich, 367–391. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Haidt. Jonathan and S. Kesebir. 2010. “Morality.” In Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th ed., edited by S. Fiske, D. Gilbert and G. Lindzey, 797–832. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Han, Shihui and Georg Northoff. 2008. “Culture-sensitive neural substrates of human cognition: a transcultural neuroimaging approach.” Nature Reviews 9: 646–654.
Harré, Rom and Grant Gillett. 1994. The Discursive Mind. London: Sage Publications.
Harris, Paul. 2000. The Work of the Imagination. Oxford: Blackwell.
Henrich, Joseph and Richard McElreath. 2003. “The Evolution of Cultural Evolution.” Evolutionary Anthropology 12: 123–135.
Holland, Dorothy and Naomi Quinn, eds. 1987. Cultural Models in Language and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Houseman, Michael. 2008. “Menstrual Slaps and First Blood Celebrations. Inference, Simulation and the Learning of Ritual.” In Learning Religion: Anthropological Approaches, edited by D. Berliner and R. Sarró, 31–48. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Humphrey, Caroline and James Laidlaw. 1994. The Archetypal Actions of Ritual: A Theory of Ritual Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hutchins, Edwin. 1995. Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Jensen, Jeppe Sinding. 2002. “The Complex Worlds of Religion: Connecting Cultural and Cognitive Analysis.” In Current Approaches in the Cognitive Science of Religion, edited by Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Veikko Anttonen, 203–228. London: Continuum.
Jensen, Jeppe Sinding. 2009. “Religion as the unintended product of brain functions in the ‘standard cognitive science of religion model’: on Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained (2001) and Ilkka Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works (2003).” In Contemporary Theories of Religion, edited by Michael Stausberg, 129–155. London: Routledge.
Jensen, Jeppe Sinding. 2009b. Myths and Mythologies. A Reader. London: Equinox.
Jensen, Jeppe Sinding. 2010. “Doing it the Other Way Round: Religion as a Basic Case of ‘Normative Cognition’.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 22(4): 314–321.
Kitcher, Philip. 2012. The Ethical Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lawson, E. Thomas and Robert N. McCauley. 1990. Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Marcus, Gary. 2009. “How Does the Mind Work? Insights from Biology.” Topics in Cognitive Science 1(1): 145–172.
Mauss, Marcel. 1979 [1904 ]. Seasonal Variations of the Eskimo. A Study in Social Morphology (transl. James J. Fox). London: Routledge.
McDowell, John. 1996. Mind and World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Menary, Richard, ed. 2010. The Extended Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Morton, J. Bruce, F. Ezekiel, H.A. Wilk. 2011. “Cognitive Control: Easy to Identify But Hard to Define.” TOPICS. Topics in Cognitive Science 3(2): 212–216.
Nielbo, Kristoffer L. and Jesper Sørensen. “Prediction error during functional and non-functional action sequences: A computational exploration of ritual and ritualized event processing”. Journal of Cognition and Culture (in press 2012)
Nielbo, K.L. and J. Sørensen. 2011. “Spontaneous Processing of Functional and Non-functional Action Sequences”. Religion, Brain and Behavior 1(1): 18–30.
Pagel, Mark. 2012. Wired for Culture. Origins of the Human Social Mind. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Plotkin, Henry. 2002. The Imagined World Made Real: Towards a Natural Science of Culture. London: Penguin Press.
Portner, Paul. 2009. Modality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Prinz, Jesse. 2012. Beyond Human Nature. How Culture and Experience Shape Our Lives. London: Penguin.
Pyysiäinen, Ilkka. 2003. How Religion Works. Towards a New Cognitive Science of Religion. Leiden: Brill.
Ramachandran, V.S. 2004. A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness. From Impostor Poodles To Purple Numbers. New York: PI Press.
Rappaport, Roy. 1999. Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humankind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Richerson, Peter J. and Robert Boyd. 2006. Not by Genes Alone. How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Richert, Rebekah A. 2006. “The Ability to Distinguish Ritual Actions in Children.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 18(2):144–165.
Richert, Rebekah A., and Erin I. Smith. 2010. “The role of religious concepts in the evolution of human cognition.” In The Nature of God: Evolution and Religion, edited by U. Frey, 93–110. Antwerp: Tectum.
Richert, Rebekah A., and Erin I. Smith. 2009. “Cognitive foundations in the development of a religious mind.” In Biological evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior, edited by E. Voland and W. Schievenhövel, 181–193. New York: Springer.
Ricoeur, Paul. 1991. “The function of fiction in shaping reality.” In A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection and Imagination, edited by Mario. J. Valdés, 117–136. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. [Orig, in Man and His World 12(2): 1979, 123–141.]
Schjoedt, U., J. Sørensen, K. L. Nielbo, D. Xygalatas, P. Mitkidis, J.Bulbulia. 2012. “Cognitive Resource Depletion in Religious Interactions.” Article submitted (personal communication).
Searle, John R. 2000. Mind, Language and Society. Philosophy in the Real World. London: Phoenix.
Searle, John R. 2010. Making the Social World. The Structure of Human Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Seligman, Rebecca and Ryan A. Brown. 2010. “Theory and method at the intersection of anthropology and cultural neuroscience.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 5: 130–137.
Shinkareva, Svetlana V. et al. 2008. “Using fMRI Brain Activation to Identify Cognitive States Associated with Perception of Tools and Dwellings.” Plosone Issue 1, 2008, e1394, 1–9.
Shore, Bradd. 1996. Culture in Mind. Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shweder, Richard and Robert A. LeVine, eds. 1984. Culture Theory, Essays on Mind, Self, and Emotion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sinha, Chris and Cintia Rodríguez. 2008. “Language and the Signifying Object: From Convention to Imagination.” In The Shared Mind. Perspectives on intersubjectivity, edited by Jordan Zlatev, Timothy P. Racine, Chris Sinha and Esa Itkonen, 357–378. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter, ed. 2008. Moral Psychology 1–3. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Skolnick, Deena and Paul Bloom. 2006. “The Intuitive Ontology of Fictional Worlds.” In The Architecture of the Imagination, edited by Shaun Nichols, 73–86. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Smith, Eliot R. and Frederica R. Conrey. 2009. “The Social Context of Cognition.” In The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition, edited by Philip Robbins and Murat Aydede, 454–466. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sosis, Richard. 2009. “The Adaptationist-Byproduct Debate on the Evolution of Religion: Five Misunderstandings of the Adaptationist Program.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 9: 315–332.
Sperber, Dan. 1996. Explaining culture: a naturalistic approach. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Sripada, Chandra Sekhar. 2007. “Adaptationism, Culture, and the Malleability of Human Nature.” In The Innate Mind 3: Foundations and the Future, edited by Peter Carruthers, Stephen Laurence, Stephen Stich, 311–329. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stich, Stephen. 2006. “Is Morality an Elegant Machine or a Kludge?” Journal of Cognition and Culture 6(1–2): 181–189.
Sørensen, Jesper. 2004. “Religion, Evolution and an Immunology of Cultural Systems.” Evolution and Cognition, 10: 61–73
Sørensen, Jesper. 2007. “Acts That Work: A Cognitive Approach to Ritual Agency.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 19: 281–300.
Tomasello, Michael. 1999. The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tomasello, Michael. 2009. Why We Cooperate (with Carol Dweck, Jan Silk, Brian Skyrms, and Elisabeth Spelke). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Tomasello, Michael, M. Carpenter, J. Call, T. Behne and H. Moll. 2005. “Understanding and Sharing Intentions: The Origins of Cultural Cognition.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28: 675–735.
Tomasello, Michael and Malinda Carpenter. 2007. “Shared intentionality.” Developmental Science 10:1: 121–125.
Tuomela, Raimo. 2007. The Philosophy of Sociality: The Shared Point of View. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Vogeley, Kay and Andreas Roepstorff. 2009. “Contextualizing Culture and Social Cognition.” Trends in Cognitive Science 13(12): 511–516.
Vygotsky, Lev S. 1978. Mind in Society. The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Waal, F.B.M. de. 1996. Good Natured – the Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Warneken, Felix and Michael Tomasello. 2009. “Cognition for Culture”. In The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition, edited by Philip Robbins and Murat Aydede, 467–479. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Wellman, Henry M. and Joan G. Miller. 2006. “Developing Conceptions of Responsive Intentional Agents.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 6(1–2): 27–55.
Wexler, Bruce E.. 2006. Brain and Culture. Neurobiology, ideology, and social change. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Whitehead, Charles. 2010. “The Culture Ready Brain.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 5: 168–179.
Williams, Lawrence E., Julie Y. Huang and John A. Bargh. 2009. “The scaffolded mind: Higher mental processes are grounded in early experience of the physical world.” European Journal of Social Psychology 39: 1257–1267.
Wilson, David S. 2002. Darwin’s Cathedral. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Wilson, Margaret. 2010. “The Re-Tooled Mind: How Culture Re-Engineers Cognition.” Social Gognitive and Affective Neuroscience 5: 180–187.
Wilson, Robert A. 2004. Boundaries of the Mind: The Individual in the Fragile Sciences – Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1973. Philosophical Investigations. (3rd ed.) New York: Prentice-Hall.
Wood, D., Bruner, J. and Ross, G. 1976. “The Role of Tutoring in Problem-Solving.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 17/2: 89–100.
Wynn, Karen. 2007. “Some Innate Foundations of Social and Moral Cognition.” In The Innate Mind,vol. 3: Foundations and the Future, edited by Peter Carruthers, Stephen Laurence, Stephen Stich, 330–347. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Xygalatas, Dimitris, Uffe Schjødt, Joseph Bulbulia, Ivana Konvalinka, Else-Marie Jegindø, Paul Reddish, Armin W. Geertz, Andreas Roepstorff. (in prep). “Repression and Subsequent Elaboration of Episodic Memories in a Fire-Walking Ritual.”
Zahn, Roland et al. 2009. “The Neural Basis of Human Social Values: Evidence from Functional MRI.” Cerebral Cortex 19: 276–283.