In This Article Cognitive Science Approaches in Biblical Studies

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Essay Collections
  • Jewish and Early Christian History
  • Religious Experience
  • Conceptual Metaphor Theory in Biblical Studies
  • Computational Modeling
  • Other Exegetical Topics

Biblical Studies Cognitive Science Approaches in Biblical Studies
by
István Czachesz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0238

Introduction

Since the mid-2000s, cognitive science approaches have been used in biblical studies. Cognitive science came into existence in the 1950s as a reaction to the psychological behaviorism of the time, and it studies human thought processes, such as memory, learning, decision making, and social cognition, including the role of emotions. Cognitive science is multidisciplinary in nature, with contributions from linguistics, philosophy, neuroscience, experimental psychology, ethology, computer modeling, and other disciplines. It has influenced a variety of academic fields, ranging from anthropology and education to musicology and medicine. Its appearance and impact is often referred to as the “cognitive turn.” Cognitive approaches to religion examine cross-culturally recurrent religious thought and behavior from the perspective of cognitive science. Cognitive approaches to religion, in turn, offer important insights and theories for the cognitive scientific study of biblical texts and traditions. Three research areas can be identified that especially influenced the emergence of cognitive science approaches to biblical studies: (1) A considerable part of cognitive research on religion can be linked to the program called cognitive science of religion (CSR), which started in the 1990s. In the beginning, CSR focused mainly on god concepts and rituals, with a strong emphasis on the evolved cognitive structure of the human mind. New research areas of CSR include the role of religion in social cooperation, experimental studies in ethnography, discussions and applications of the theory of cultural evolution, quantitative studies of large-scale historical processes, and computational models of religious thought and behavior. While some scholars have argued that religion is a by-product of cognitive mechanisms (such as traits underlying social cooperation) that evolved previously for other purposes (the so-called by-product hypothesis), others see religion as an evolutionary adaptation. (2) The neuroscientific study of religious experience started in the 1980s and gained momentum with the rapid development of new neuroimaging technologies in the 1990s. Work on religious experience in biblical studies draws on insights from this area. (3) Finally, the field of cognitive linguistics also started in the 1980s and examines the role of the human body in shaping human thought and language. Biblical scholars have drawn especially on cognitive poetics and conceptual metaphor theory. In this article we will first discuss overviews of cognitive science approaches in biblical studies. Second, major contributions to the cognitive science of religion and conceptual metaphor theory will be presented, with an emphasis on publications that have exerted an influence on biblical scholars. This part will also include cognitive studies of ancient religions outside biblical studies. Third, cognitive science approaches to various research questions and topics in biblical studies will be discussed, including Jewish and early Christian history, memory and transmission, ritual, miracle and magic, ethics and morality, religious experience, theological and Christological concepts, applications of conceptual metaphor theory, the use of computational modeling, and other exegetical topics.

General Overviews

Overviews of the emerging field of cognitive science approaches in biblical studies include both summaries of the theoretical background and surveys of applications to biblical materials. Luomanen, et al. 2007 is an introduction to a collection of papers (Luomanen, et al. 2007, cited under Essay Collections). It reviews the beginnings and main research topics of the cognitive science of religion (with an emphasis on counterintuitiveness and rituals) and introduces conceptual metaphor theory. Czachesz 2008 is a basic introduction to cognitive approaches in biblical studies, discussing especially the transmission of ideas, Jewish and early Christian rituals, magic and miracles, as well as altruism and morality. Luomanen 2011 offers a brief introduction to cognitive science, blending theory, and the cognitive science of religion, providing a broad picture of areas where cognitive approaches can contribute to biblical studies. Czachesz and Uro 2013, once again, is an introduction to a collection of papers (Czachesz and Uro 2013, cited under Essay Collections). It discusses the emergence of cognitive approaches in biblical studies, gives a brief introduction to the Cognitive Science of Religion, and describes cognitive research on ritual, memory, magic, altruism, morality, and cooperation. Czachesz 2017 is the first monograph-length introduction to the topic, discussing the theoretical foundations of cognitive science approaches, offering introductions to essential topics, and presenting applications to memory and transmission, rituals, magic, religious experience, and morality, as well as the use of computer models.

  • Czachesz, István. “The Promise of the Cognitive Science of Religion for Biblical Studies.” CSSR Bulletin 37.4 (2008): 102–105.

    E-mail Citation »

    A basic introduction to the use of cognitive approaches in biblical studies. Discusses a number of examples, especially in the domains of the transmission of ideas, Jewish and early Christian rituals, magic and miracles, and altruism and morality.

  • Czachesz, István. Cognitive Science and the New Testament: A New Approach to Early Christian Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779865.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Argues for a cognitive turn in biblical studies. Provides concise introductions to cognitive science, evolutionary theory, and neuroanatomy. Discusses memory and transmission, rituals, magic, religious experience, morality, and the use of computer models, focusing especially on applications to the New Testament and early Christianity.

  • Czachesz, István, and Risto Uro. “The Cognitive Science of Religion: A New Alternative in Biblical Studies.” In Mind, Morality and Magic: Cognitive Science Approaches in Biblical Studies. Edited by István Czachesz and Risto Uro, 1–14. Bible World. Durham, UK: Acumen, 2013.

    E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the emergence of cognitive approaches in biblical studies, including a number of research projects and key publications. Following a brief presentation of the cognitive science of religion, it describes cognitive research on biblical materials related to ritual, memory, magic, altruism, morality, and cooperation.

  • Luomanen, Petri. “Cognitive Science in Biblical Studies: An Overview.” Collegium Biblicum Årsskrift 15 (2011): 15–32.

    E-mail Citation »

    Following a brief introduction of cognitive science, blending theory, and the cognitive science of religion, this article provides a broad picture of the areas where cognitive approaches can contribute to biblical studies. It also presents the Nordic network “Socio-Cognitive Perspectives on Early Judaism and Early Christianity” (2010–2013).

  • Luomanen, Petri, Ilkka Pyysiäinen, and Risto Uro. “Introduction: Social and Cognitive Perspectives in the Study of Christian Origins and Early Judaism.” In Explaining Christian Origins and Early Judaism: Contributions from Cognitive and Social Science. Edited by Petri Luomanen, Ilkka Pyysiäinen, and Risto Uro, 27–33. Biblical Interpretation Series. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    Offers a concise introduction to the beginnings and main research topics of the cognitive science of religion, with special attention to counterintuitiveness, theological concepts, and rituals. Discusses the role of conceptual blending theory and the connection of cognitive and social scientific models. Mentions applications to biblical studies in each area.

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