Religion and Art

A Cognitive and Evolutionary Approach

Authors

  • Stewart Elliott Guthrie Fordham University

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v9i3.23971

Keywords:

Religion, Art, Cognition, Evolution, Anthropomorphism, Theory

Abstract

Religion and art both have resisted scientific analysis and even definition. Multi-disciplinary research on these two and on cognition, however, supports particular definitions and analyses of both terms by setting them in a context of evolved strategies for dealing with cognitive uncertainty. In my view, what religion and art most importantly share is their attempt (shared also by science) to make sense of the world, and their Pascal?s Wager-like strategy (nominally not shared by science) of doing so first by positing human characteristics in non-human phenomena. This necessary, better-safe-than-sorry strategy cross-culturally results in representing the world as humanlike.

Author Biography

Stewart Elliott Guthrie, Fordham University

Stewart Elliot Guthrie is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Fordham University, USA.

References

Allan, Sarah. 1991. The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art, and Cosmos in Early China (Albany: State University of New York Press).

Arnheim, Rudolf. 1969. Visual Thinking (Berkeley: University of California Press).

———. 1974. Art and Visual Perception: The New Version (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Bacon, Francis. 1960 [1620]. The New Organon and Related Writings (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall).

Barrett, Justin. 2000. ‘Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4: 29-34. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1364-6613(99)01419-9.

Barthelme, Donald. 1978. ‘The Leap’, The New Yorker, 31 July: 27-29.

Beck, Diane, Mark A. Pinsk, and Sabine Kastner. 2005. ‘Symmetry Perception in Humans and Macaques’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9.9: 405-406.

Bering, Jesse. 2006. ‘The Folk Psychology of Souls’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29: 453-98.

Bernstein, J.M. 2012. ‘Notes from the Field: Anthropomorphism’, Art Bulletin 94.1: 13-15.

Bloch, Maurice. 2008. ‘Why Religion Is Nothing Special but Is Central’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: 2055-62.

Bloom, Paul. 2004. Descartes’ Baby: How Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human (New York: Basic Books).

Bloomfield, Morton. 1963. ‘A Grammatical Approach to Personification Allegory’, Modern Philology 60.3: 161-71.

Boyer, Pascal. 1996. ‘What Makes Anthropomorphism Natural: Intuitive Ontology and Cultural Representation’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute NS 2: 83-97. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3034634.

Bradie, Michael, and William Harms. 2012. ‘Evolutionary Epistemology’, in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Online: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/epistemology-evolutionary/.

Carey, Susan. 1995. ‘On the Origin of Causal Understanding’, in David Premack, Ann Premack, and Dan Sperber (eds.), Causal Cognition: A Multidisciplinary Debate (Oxford: Oxford University Press): 268-302.

Carey, Susan, and Elizabeth Spelke. 1996. ‘Science and Core Knowledge’, Philosophy of Science 63.4: 515-53. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/289971.

Carsten, Janet, and Stephen Hugh-Jones. 1995. About the House: Lévi-Strauss and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511607653.

Cheney, Dorothy, and Robert Seyfarth. 1990. How Monkeys See the World (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).

Cherry, John. 1992. ‘Animism in Thought and Language’ (PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley).

Cohen, Emma, Emily Burdett, Nicola Knight, and Justin Barrett. 2011. ‘Cross-Cultural Similarities and Differences in Person-Body Reasoning: Experimental Evidence from the United Kingdom and Brazilian Amazon’, Cognitive Science 35.7: 1282-304. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01172.x.

Csibra, Gergeley, and György Gergeley. 2008. ‘Goal Attribution to Inanimate Agents by 6.5-month-old Infants’, Cognition 107.2: 705-17. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2007.08.001.

Cullen, Harriet, Ryota Kanai, Bahador Bahrami, and Geraint Rees. 2013. ‘Individual Differences in Anthropomorphic Attributions and Human Brain Structure’, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 9.9: 1276-80. Doi: 10.1093/scan/nst109. Epub 2013 Jul 24. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nst109.

Cziko, G. 2000. The Things We Do (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).

Darwin, Charles. 1871. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London: Murray).

Dissanayake, Ellen. 2013. ‘Art as a Human Universal: An Adaptationist View’, in Geertz 2013: 121-39.

Donald, Merlin. 2006. ‘Art and Cognitive Evolution’, in Mark Turner (ed.), The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity (New York: Oxford University Press): 3-20. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195306361.003.0001.

Drake, Scott. 2008. A Well-Composed Body: Anthropomorphism in Architecture (Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller).

Dunbar, Robin. 1998. ‘The Social Brain Hypothesis’, Evolutionary Anthropology 6: 178-90. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1520-6505(1998)6:5<178::AID-EVAN5>3.0.CO;2-8.

Farah, Martha J., and Andrea S. Heberlein. 2007. ‘Personhood and Neuroscience: Naturalizing or Nihilating?’, American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB-Neuroscience) 7.1: 37-48.

Farmer, Steve. 2009. ‘The Neurobiological Origins of Primitive Religion’. Online: http://farmer.2009.neural.origins.of.religion.pdf.

Feuerbach, Ludwig. 1957 [1854]. The Essence of Christianity (trans. George Eliot, introductory essay by Karl Barth; New York: Harper & Row).

Fingesten, Peter. 1961. ‘Topographical and Anatomical Aspects of the Gothic Cathedral’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 20.1: 3-23. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/427347.

Forshee, Jill. 2006. Customs and Culture of Indonesia (Westport, CT: Greenwood).

Foster, Kevin, and Hanna Kokko. 2008. ‘The Evolution of Superstitious and Superstition-like Behavior’, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: 1-10. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2008.0981.

Franek, Jurai. 2013. ‘Presocratic Philosophy and the Origins of Religion’, Graeco-Latina Brunensia 18.1: 57-74.

Frascari, Marco. 1991. Monsters of Architecture: Anthropomorphism in Architectural Theory (Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield).

Freedberg, David, and Vittorio Gallese. 2007. ‘Motion, Emotion and Empathy in Esthetic Experience’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11.5: 197-203. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2007.02.003.

Freud, Sigmund. 1964 [1927]. The Future of an Illusion (Garden City: NY: Anchor Books).

Frye, Northrop. 1957. Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).

Geertz, Armin (ed.). 2013. Origins of Religion, Cognition and Culture (Durham: Acumen).

Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Gibson, James. 1986. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates).

Gillespie, Susan D. 2002. ‘Body and Soul among the Maya: Keeping the Spirits in Place’, Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 11: 67-78. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/ap3a.2002.11.1.67.

———. 2007. ‘When Is a House?’, in R.A. Beck (ed.), Durable House: House Society Models in Archaeology (Center for Archaeological Investigations, Occasional Paper, 35; Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press): 25-52.

Goffman, Erving. 1979. Gender Advertisements (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Gombrich, Ernst. 1969. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2nd edn).

———. 1973. ‘Illusion and Art’, in Richard Gregory and Ernst Gombrich (eds.), Illusion in Nature and Art (London: Gerald Duckworth): 193-243.

Goodall, Jane. 1975. ‘The Chimpanzee’, in Vanne Goodall (ed.), The Quest for Man (New York: Praeger): 131-70.

———. 1992. In the Shadow of Man (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin).

———. 2001. Personal communication.

———. 2005. ‘Primate Spirituality’, in Bron Taylor (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (London: Continuum International): 1303-306.

Goren, C., M. Sarty, and P. Wu. 1975. ‘Visual Following and Pattern Discrimination of Face-like Stimuli by Newborn Infants’, Pediatrics 56: 544-49.

Gregory, Richard L. 1997. Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 5th edn).

Guthrie, Stewart E. 1980. ‘A Cognitive Theory of Religion’, Current Anthropology 21.2: 181-203. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/202429.

———. 1993. Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press).

———. 2000. ‘Projection’, in Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon (eds.), Guide to the Study of Religion (London: Cassell): 225-37.

———. 2002. ‘Animal Animism’, in Ilkka Pyysiänen and Veikko Anttonen (eds.), Current Approaches in the Cognitive Science of Religion (London: Continuum): 38-67.

———. 2007a. ‘Anthropology and Anthropomorphism in Religion’, in Harvey Whitehouse and J. Laidlaw (eds.), The Salvaged Mind: Social Anthropology, Religion, and the Cognitive Sciences (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press): 37-62.

———. 2007b. ‘Bottles Are Men, Glasses Are Women: Religion, Gender, and Secular Objects’, Material Religion 3.1: 14-33. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/174322007780095799.

———. 2013. ‘Spiritual Beings: A Darwinian, Cognitive Account’, in Graham Harvey (ed.), The Handbook of Contemporary Animism (Durham: Acumen): 353-57.

Hallowell, Irving. 1960. ‘Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View’, in Stanley Diamond (ed.), Culture in History: Essays in Honor of Paul Radin (New York: Columbia University Press): 19-52.

Harrod, James B. 2011. ‘A Trans-Species Definition of Religion’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 5.3: 327-53. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v5i3.327.

———. 2014. ‘The Case for Chimpanzee Religion’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 8.1: 8-45. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v8i1.8.

Harvey, Van. 1995. Feuerbach and the Interpretation of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Hayes, Elizabeth T. 2004. ‘The Named and the Nameless: Morrison’s 124 and Naylor’s “The Other Place” as Semiotic Chorae’, African American Review 38.4: 669-81. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/4134424.

Heberlein, Andrea. 2008. ‘Animacy and Intention in the Brain: Neuroscience of Social Event Perception’, in Thomas F. Shipley and Jeffrey M. Zacks (eds.), Understanding Events: From Perception to Action (Oxford: Oxford University Press): 363-88. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195188370.003.0016.

Heberlein, Andrea S., and Ralph Adolphs. 2004. ‘Perception in the Absence of Social Attribution: Selective Impairment in Anthropomorphizing Following Bilateral Amygdala Damage’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101.19: 7487-91. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0308220101.

Hodder, Ian. 2006. The Leopard’s Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Çatalhöyük (London: Thames & Hudson).

Horton, Robin. 1967. ‘African Traditional Thought and Western Science: Part 1’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 37.1: 50-71. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1157195.

———. 1993. Patterns of Thought in Africa and the West: Essays on Magic, Religion and Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139166232.

Hume, David. 1932. The Letters of David Hume (ed. J.Y.T. Greig; 2 vols.; Oxford: Clarendon Press).

———. 1957 [1757]. The Natural History of Religion (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

Jolly, Alison. 1996. ‘Primate Communication, Lies, and Ideas’, in A. Lock and C.R. Peters (eds.), Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press): 167-77.

Kahneman, Daniel. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

Kelemen, Deborah. 1999. ‘The Scope of Teleological Thinking in Preschool Children’, Cognition 70: 241-72. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0010-0277(99)00010-4.

———. 2004. ‘Are Children “Intuitive Theists”?’, Psychological Science 15.5: 295-301. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00672.x.

Kelemen, Deborah, Joshua Rottman, and Rebecca Seston. 2013. ‘Professional Physical Scientists Display Tenacious Teleological Tendencies: Purpose-based Reasoning as a Cognitive Default’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 142.4: 1074-83. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0030399.

Klass, Morton. 1995. Ordered Universes: Approaches to the Anthropology of Religion (Boulder, CO: Westview Press).

Koch, Gretchen. 2008. ‘The Cognitive Origins of Soul Belief: Empathy, Responsibility and Purity’ (PhD dissertation, Aarhus University).

Lakoff, Georg, and Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh (New York: Basic Books).

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1966. The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

———. 1979. ‘Nobles sauvages’, in Culture, science et développement: Contribution à une histoire de l’homme. Mélanges en l’honneur de Charles Morazé (Toulouse: Privat): 41-55.

Lohmann, Roger (ed.). 2003. ‘Special Issue: Perspectives on the Category “Supernatural”’, Anthropological Forum 13.2.

Mar, Raymond A., and C. Neil MacRae. 2006. ‘Triggering the Intentional Stance’, in J. Goode (ed.), Empathy and Fairness (Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons): 110-19. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9780470030585.ch9.

Mars, Rogier B., Franz-Xaver Neubert, MaryAnn P. Noonan, Jerome Sallet, Iva Toni, and Matthew F. S. Rushworth. 2012. ‘On the Relationship between the “Default Mode Network” and the “Social Brain”’, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 6: 189. Online: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00189.

Meier, Stephanie. 1982. Animation and Mechanization in the Novels of Charles Dickens (Bern: Francke Verlag).

Methys, Christoph D., Ekaterina I. Lomakina, Jean Daunizeau, Sandra Iglesias, Kay H. Brodersen, Karl J. Friston, and Klaas E. Stephen. 2014. ‘Uncertainty and the Hierarchical Gaussian Filter’, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8.825: 1-24.

Mitchell, W.J.T. 2005. What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Mithen, Steven. 1998. ‘Comment: The Origins of Anthropomorphic Thinking’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4.8: 129-32.

Morris, William E. 2013. ‘David Hume’, in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Online: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/hume/.

Nakayama, Ken. 2001. ‘Modularity in Perception, Its Relation to Cognition and Knowledge’, in E. Bruce Goldstein, Glyn Humphreys, Margaret Shiffrar, and William Yost (eds.), Blackwell Handbook of Perception (Madden, MA: Blackwell): 737-59.

Näreaho, Leo. 2008. ‘The Cognitive Science of Religion: Philosophical Observations’, Religious Studies 44.1: 83-98. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0034412507009328.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1966. Werke in Drei Bänden, vol. 3 (Munich: Carl Hanser).

Osborne, Robin, and Jeremy Tanner. 2007. ‘Introduction: Art and Agency and Art History’, in R. Osborne and J. Tanner (eds.), Agency and Art History (Malden, MA: Blackwell): 1-27. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9780470776629.

Phelps, Elizabeth. 2007. ‘The Neuroscience of a Person Network’, American Journal of Bioethics 7.1: 49-76. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15265160601064223.

Pruetz, Jill D., and Thomas C. LaDuke. 2010. ‘Brief Communication: Reaction to Fire by Savanna Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) at Fongoi, Senegal’, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 141.4: 646-50.

Purzycki, Benjamin G., and Aiyana K. Willard. 2015. ‘MCI Theory: A Critical Discussion’, Religion, Brain & Behavior: 1-42. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2153599x.2015.1024915.

Pyysiäinen, Ilkka. 2013. ‘Cognitive Science of Religion: State-of-the-Art’, Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion 1.1: 5-28.

Rennie, Bryan. 2012. ‘The Ethology of Art and Religion’. Paper presented to the 4th ‘Bridges’ International Workshop, Akko, Israel, 5 June.

Russell, Yvan I., and Fernand Gobet. 2013. ‘What Is Counterintuitive? Religious Cognition and Natural Expectation’, Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4: 715-49. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13164-013-0160-5.

Saler, Benson. 1977. ‘Supernatural as a Western Category’, Ethos 5.1: 31-52. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/eth.1977.5.1.02a00040.

———. 2000 [1993]. Conceptualizing Religion: Immanent Anthropologists, Transcendent Natives, and Unbounded Categories (Leiden: E.J. Brill).

———. n.d. Observations on the Construction of the Supernatural in Euro-American Culture. Unpublished manuscript.

Schilbach, Leo, Simon B. Eickhoff, Anna Rotarska-Jagiela, Gereon R. Fink, and Kai Vogeley. 2008. ‘Minds at Rest? Social Cognition as the Default Mode of Cognizing and its Putative Relation to the “Default System” of the Brain’, Consciousness and Cognition 17: 457-67. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2008.03.013.

Schjoedt, Uffe, Hans Stodkkilde-Jorgensen, Armin Geertz, and Andreas Roepstorff. 2009. ‘Highly Religious Participants Recruit Areas of Social Cognition in Personal Prayer’, Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience 4.2: 199-207. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsn050.

Scholl, Brian, and Patrice Tremoulet. 2000. ‘Perceptual Causality and Animacy’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4.8: 299-309. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01506-0.

Spinoza, Benedict de. 1951 [1670]. A Theologico-Political Treatise (ed. R.H.M. Elwes; New York: Dover).

Stack, George J. 1980. ‘Nietzsche and Anthropomorphism’, Critica: Revista Hispanoamericana De Filosofia 12.34: 41-71.

Treder, Matthias S. 2010. ‘Behind the Looking-Glass: A Review on Human Symmetry Perception’, Symmetry 2010.2: 1510-43. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/sym2031510.

Turchin, V. 1998. ‘Agent’, in F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn, and V. Turchin (eds.), Principia Cybernetica Web (Principia Cybernetica, Brussels). Online: http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/agent.html.

Tylor, Edward B. 1873. Primitive Culture, vols. 1 & 2 (London: John Murray, 2nd edn).

Uexküll, Jacob von. 1992 [1934]. ‘A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds’, Semiotica 89: 319-91. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/semi.1992.89.4.319.

Van Eck, Caroline. 2010. ‘Living Statues: Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency, Living Presence Response and the Sublime’, Art History 33.4: 642-59. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8365.2010.00756.x.

———. 2012. ‘Notes from the Field: Anthropomorphism’, Art Bulletin 94.1: 16-18.

Van Eyghen, Hans, Leon De Bruin, and Gijsbert van den Brink. 2014. ‘God and Other Minds’. Paper presented at the Conference on Cognitive Science of Religion, Philosophy and Theology, University of Oxford, 9-11 May.

Waterson, Roxana. 2010. The Living House: An Anthropology of Architecture in South-East Asia (Rutland, VT: Tuttle).

Watson, Ben. 2011. ‘The Eyes Have It: Human Perception and Anthropomorphic Faces in World Rock Art’, Antiquity 85: 87-98.

Wegner, Daniel. 2005. ‘Who is the Controller of Controlled Processes?’, in R.R. Hassin, J.S. Uleman, and J.A. Bargh (eds.), The New Unconscious (New York: Oxford University Press): 19-36.

Whitehouse, Harvey, and Ian Hodder. 2010. ‘Modes of Religiosity at Çatalhöyük’, in I. Hodder (ed.), Religion in the Emergence of Civilization: Çatalhöyük as a Case Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): 122-45. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511761416.005.

Whiten, Andrew, Jane Goodall, W.C. McGrew, T. Nishida, V. Reynolds, Y. Sugiyama, C.E.G. Tutin, Richard W. Wrangham, and Christophe Boesch. 1999. ‘Cultures in Chimpanzees’, Nature 399: 682-85. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/21415.

Wilson, Burgess. 2011. ‘Mirroring Processes, Religious Perception, and Ecological Adaptation’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 5.3: 307-26. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v5i3.307.

Wilson, Marc, Joseph Bulbulia, and Chris G. Sibley. 2014. ‘Differences and Similarities in Religious and Paranormal Beliefs: A Typology of Distinct Faith Signatures’, Religion, Brain and Behavior 4.2: 104-26. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2153599X.2013.779934.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 2001 [1953]. Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell).

Yang, Feitong, Qiong Wu, and Sheng Li. 2014. ‘Learning-induced Uncertainty Reduction in Perceptual Decisions Is Task-dependent’, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8.282: 1-10. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00282.

Published

2015-10-12

How to Cite

Guthrie, S. E. (2015). Religion and Art: A Cognitive and Evolutionary Approach. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 9(3), 283–311. https://doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v9i3.23971