Religious Experiences Are Interpreted through Priors from Cultural Frameworks Supported by Imaginative Capacity Rather Than Special Cognition


  • Valerie van Mulukom Coventry University
  • Martin Lang Masaryk University, Brno



Cognitive Science, Religion, Mental disorders, Predictive processing, Imagination, cultural frameworks


In this commentary of McCauley and Graham’s book on mental abnormalities and religions, we identify a number of challenges, and present possible extensions of their proposed research. Specifically, we argue that no specialized religious cognition should be assumed, and instead suggest that the cases of mental abnormalities discussed in the book specify particular instances of religious content, and that other disorders may show a more causal relationship to religiosity. We argue that the discussed religious content may be best explained in the context of cultural frameworks and their contribution to experiencing the world through priors and predictive processing. Moreover, cognition required to understand and engage with religion, but not special to it, might crucially involve our capacity for imagination, supported by memory. Disorders in imagination are therefore expected to show likewise dysfunctions in religious phenomena.

Author Biography

Valerie van Mulukom, Coventry University

Valerie completed her doctoral studies at the School of Psychology, the University of Auckland, New Zealand in 2014. There, she did work on the cognitive neuroscience of episodic memory and future event imagination. After her PhD, she completed a postdoctoral project at Aarhus University, Denmark, where she investigated the intersection between religious ritual and episodic memory. She then joined the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, where she worked on religion, memory, and group processes as part of the Ritual, Community, and Conflict project. Valerie joined the Brain, Belief, and Behaviour group at CABS, Coventry University, as Research Associate at the beginning of 2016.


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How to Cite

van Mulukom, V. ., & Lang, M. . (2021). Religious Experiences Are Interpreted through Priors from Cultural Frameworks Supported by Imaginative Capacity Rather Than Special Cognition. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 7(1), 39–53.



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