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Autism and the Supernatural

ID: 3191 - View Book Page - Edit In OJS

This book explores the relation between autistic cognition and the formation of supernatural beliefs in 17 autistic, young adults who all define themselves as religious and/or spiritual. Why would autistic individuals engage in gods, spirits and ghosts when so many of them find human minds to be perplexing? The autistic participants in this study report that such beliefs are central to their worldviews. How do autistic individuals then interpret the superhuman minds that they understand to be present? What are their motives for embracing supernatural ideas, especially when growing up in a secularized country like Sweden? Focus is directed towards the role of mentalizing and embodied experiences, and how these are related to cultural factors.

The findings challenge the previous view of autistic sociality, as well as hypotheses in the cognitive science of religion (CSR). While most scholars in cognitive science were trained in ‘hard science’, the author approaches these questions from a humanities point of view. This lens provides new perspectives on the complexity of autism and religion.

Autism has often been represented in stereotypical terms that do not do justice to the experience of autistic individuals. While the critical, postmodern turn changed the approach to other minorities, this movement has just begun to touch research on neuropsychiatric populations. The research presented has been developed in close collaboration with autistic individuals to understand their subjective experience of being religious and/or spiritual, and this book aims to inspire other researchers to engage in such collaborative endeavours. Misrepresentations also pose a scientific problem, and close attention is paid to methodological questions as information processing differs between neurodiverse and neurotypical minds.

Another important topic at the core of this book concerns the role of culture and embodiment. While cultural dimensions tend to fall between the cracks in the cognitive science of religion, scholars in the humanities (e.g., study of religions) tend to neglect the role of socio-perceptual embodiment. The findings presented here illustrate how embodied, religious experiences are interpreted through cultural narratives. Put differently, the book illustrates how the experience and outcome of being autistic and religious is moulded from both internal and contextual factors. The book aims to contribute with empirical, theoretical and methodological insights to the CSR and to autism studies.

Published: May 1, 2026