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Bringing Ritual to Mind

Bringing Ritual to Mind
Psychological Foundations of Cultural Forms


  • Date Published: August 2002
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521016292

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About the Authors
  • Bringing Ritual to Mind explores the cognitive and psychological foundations of religious ritual systems. Participants must recall their rituals well enough to ensure a sense of continuity across performances, and those rituals must motivate them to transmit and re-perform them. Most religious rituals the world over exploit either high performance frequency or extraordinary emotional stimulation (but not both) to enhance their recollection (the availability of literacy has little impact on this). But why do some rituals exploit the first of these variables while others exploit the second? McCauley and Lawson advance the ritual form hypothesis, arguing that participants' cognitive representations of ritual form explain why. Reviewing evidence from cognitive, developmental and social psychology and from cultural anthropology and the history of religions, they utilize dynamical systems tools to explain the recurrent evolutionary trajectories religions exhibit.

    • Employs cognitive science to explain patterns among religious ritual systems
    • Stands out from other books in the field in its use of tools from dynamical systems theory to represent the variables shaping the patterns in religious ritual systems
    • Explores and combines evidence from Melanesian materials from cultural anthropology, and Christian materials from the history of religions
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Bringing Ritual to Mind makes a substantial contribution to one corner of the cognitive field, the cognitive basis of ritual forms. The book extends and clarifies aspects of the theory of ritual competence presented in the authors' Rethinking Religion (1990).' Numen

    '… a provocative and very stimulating set of ideas …'. Anthropos

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2002
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521016292
    • length: 252 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.405kg
    • contains: 3 b/w illus. 5 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Cognitive constraints on religious ritual form: a theory of participants' competence with religious ritual systems
    2. Ritual and memory: frequency and flashbulbs
    3. Two hypotheses concerning religious ritual and emotional stimulation
    4. Assessing the two hypotheses
    5. General profiles of religious ritual systems: the emerging cognitive science of religion.

  • Authors

    Robert N. McCauley, Emory University, Atlanta
    ROBERT N. MCCAULEY is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Emory College Center for Teaching and Curriculum, Emory University.

    E. Thomas Lawson, Western Michigan University
    E. THOMAS LAWSON is Professor of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University and executive editor of the Journal of Cognition and Culture.

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