Original Research

The cognitive science of religion: A critical evaluation for theology

Sungho Lee
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 4 | a6675 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i4.6675 | © 2021 Sungho Lee | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 March 2021 | Published: 07 September 2021

About the author(s)

Sungho Lee, Department of Theology, Institute of Christianity and Korean Culture, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, Republic of


This article explores the cognitive science of religion to discover the challenges and implications for theology by providing a critical evaluation through the lenses of philosophy, evolutionary biology and neuroscience. Four positive implications of the cognitive science of religion are identified. Firstly, the cognitive science of religion can function as a strong hermeneutics of suspicion through which theologians can criticise dogmatic and authoritative religions and theologies. Secondly, the cognitive science of religion invites scholars of religion and theology to consider the evolutionary view of survival. Thirdly, the discipline’s counter-intuitive concept of God could provide the basic material for theology. Finally, the folk psychology this field depends on can be harmonised with theological emphasis on the weak. Despite these positive comments, it is nevertheless clear that a constructive encounter between the cognitive science of religion and theology should follow a careful critique of the former. Thus, I criticise that the cognitive science of religion is excessively dependent on evolutionary psychology and overemphasises a reductionist explanation of religion as merely a by-product of evolutionary adaptation whilst this study almost precludes any non-reductionistic model of mind such as ‘connectionism’ and ‘enactionism’ as well as any holistic interpretation of religion and theology. Finally, I conclude that theology of nature is a proper method for establishing a relationship between the cognitive science of religion and theology.

Contribution: The article explores a critical accommodation of and response to the cognitive science of religion which has challenged religion and theology. It can not only expand transdisciplinarity of theological discourse, but also enrich the discourse of science and religion.


the cognitive science of religion; evolutionary psychology; counter-intuitive concept of God; hermeneutics of suspicion; enactionism


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