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Trends Cogn Sci. 2003 Mar;7(3):119-124.

Religious thought and behaviour as by-products of brain function.

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Departments of Anthropology and Psychology, Washington University in St Louis, MO 63130, St Louis, USA


Religious concepts activate various functionally distinct mental systems, present also in non-religious contexts, and 'tweak' the usual inferences of these systems. They deal with detection and representation of animacy and agency, social exchange, moral intuitions, precaution against natural hazards and understanding of misfortune. Each of these activates distinct neural resources or families of networks. What makes notions of supernatural agency intuitively plausible? This article reviews evidence suggesting that it is the joint, coordinated activation of these diverse systems, a supposition that opens up the prospect of a cognitive neuroscience of religious beliefs.


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