Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.

An emerging movement within biblical scholarship is underway where researchers are embracing the discoveries in cognitive science as a way to provide new theories surrounding religious phenomena.

This year saw the first issue of the Journal for Cognitive Science of Religion, and a number of new research projects are set to highlight how the human mind and religious ritual go hand in hand. A session, “Cognitive Science of Religion: A New Tool for Biblical Scholars,” held at the recent annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion in Chicago featured six professors from Sweden, Canada and Germany who have been incorporating cognitive science into their daily work.

Cognitive science, defined as the interdisciplinary scientific study of the mind and its processes, opens up a host of new research possibilities, according to Ristro Uro of the University of Helsinki. An example of how this research is being done in biblical studies includes research by Uro into how cognitive theories of ritual provide a (partial) explanation of the Jesus Movement. Other research is being done on how biological and evolutionary studies on emotions can be brought to bear on the interpretation of biblical laws and moral codes of ancient Israel. In studying New Testament, other biblical scholars are looking at how neuroscience explains Paul’s and his congregants’ ecstatic experiences.

Specialists in cognitive science of religion are now gaining funding for long standing projects as well. Edward Slingerland at the University of British Columbia was the recipient of a $6 million, six year grant that has established the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC). The hypothesis, Slingerland said, is that religions arose as a byproduct of evolution followed by gene culture. Interdisciplinary teams are formulating hypotheses that can be tested via data sets, including neuro imaging.

A full report on the CERC’s findings will be available in 2018, when the University of British Columbia will also host a large public workshop and museum exhibition to illustrate its central findings. Ongoing reports and list of publications and public policy reports from the six-year project will be posted on Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture (HECC) website at

Cognitive science of religion is not a reductionist enterprise by this group of researchers. Slingerland said that humanities scholars and scientists are being brought together, and all are “hopeful to be helpful integration, not reductive integration.”

Thomas Kazen of the Stockholm School of Theology is also looking to evolutionary biology, neuroscience, cognitive linguistics and artificial intelligence as complementary tools to analyze biblical texts. He is currently working on a project on Apocalypticism as a world view and linguistic metaphor. In studying emotions in biblical law, he has taken a cognitive science approach to disgust, empathy, fear of demonic forces and justice illustrated in the Bible.

The work is in its early stages, but biblical scholars are finding more ideas behind religious texts. The new section within the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting, “Mind, Society and Religion in the Biblical World,” shows promising interest for future meetings among these scholars.

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