Religion Made Flesh: Modernity, Ideology, and the New Sciences of the Brain Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Aghapour, Andrew
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the human brain has become a unique and popular explanatory object. Drawing on concepts from the recent boom of the neurosciences, scholars and popular writers have sought to explain various cultural phenomena—including gender, politics, and religion—as the products of underlying cognitive processes. The human brain represents a unique rhetorical device because it serves as a bridge, in such explanations, between human culture and the seemingly objective laws of nature. This dissertation analyzes brain-based explanations of religion, with a focus on the recent research program known as the cognitive science of religion. It frames the cognitive science of religion as the most recent in a series of historical attempts to essentialize religion, or explain the fundamental truth of religion by identifying a single element that transcends the local specificities of language, culture, and history. Through a series of close readings, this dissertation demonstrates how cognitive theories of religion posit a cognitive fundament where the absolute truth of religion might reside. The central argument of the dissertation is that it is categorically impossible to essentialize religion as an inherently cognitive phenomenon. This dissertation responds to contemporary reformers of religious studies including Ann Taves, Edward Slingerland, and Robert McCauley. Drawing on concepts including neuroplasticity, morphospace, and dynamic systems theory, it argues for a pluralistic epistemological approach to the study of religion.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Rubenstein, Mary-Jane
  • Ochoa, Todd
  • Saunders, Barry
  • Leve, Lauren
  • Styers, Randall
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2017

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