On July 5th to 6th, the dedicated anthropologists of the Universities of Barcelona and Lleida brought together scientists from various scientific faculties and nations to discuss the changing roles of Religion(s) & Science(s) in contemporary culture(s). After the "Explaining Religion"-conference in Bristol (UK), it proved to be another hotspot concerning cognitive and evolutionary studies of religion in Europe within a year. Although it is, of course, impossible to condense content-rich lectures into a few sentences, I will try my best to give a brief overview of some main arguments. The event took place at the Faculty of Geography and History at Barcelona University.
After the welcoming presentation by Carles Salazar (Lleida). Robert McCauley from the Center for Mind, Brain and Culture at Emory University (USA) did a brillant opening lecture on "Maturationally Natural Cognition Hinders Science and Facilitates Religion". I can't wait for his upcoming book "Why Religion is Natural and Science is not"!
I spoke next, and his presentation of cognitive findings proved to be a wonderful
chance to introduce evolutionary studies on the subject. If you would like to,
you may download my paper "Two realms, one winner? Scientific vs. Religious
'Knowledge' in Evolutionary Perspective" here.
In concordance, Jasper Sorensen (Aarhus University) pointed out the survival of "Ritualized practice in an Age of Science", as magical and religious performances were aimed at different functions than "pure" science could fullfill.
Jaoa de Pina-Cabral (University of Lisbon) pointed out that it was high time to recover the term "Superstition or the margins of belief" as its primitivistic notions were no longer supported by anthropology. In fact, "modern" socities were relying on superstitions and beliefs as any other. What struck me with his formidable talks and the ensuing discussions were the surprising convergence of João's well-tested anthropological findings to those of the late F.A. von Hayek in the last chapters of his "Fatal Conceit"!
Tim Jenkins (Jesus College, Cambridge) explored the "Moral employment of scientific thought", bringing about "moral communities" relying on scientific language and themes - ranging from New Age to Science Fiction and Richard Dawkins. According to Tim, they were forming and representing hybrid forms of urban folklore, creatively combining scientific and moral issues and 'knowledge'.
Simon Coleman reflected on "The Social Life of Concepts: Public and Private 'Knowledge' of Scientistic Creationism" especially in the UK. Based on a range of interviews, he convincingly showed that many Creationists did perceive their stand as a personal and moral one and where not paticularly interested in empirical data on evolutionary theory. Ironically, though, the same applied to popular opponents of Creationism such as Richard Dawkins who did not show particular interest in empirical testing of their religion-related hypotheses! (Think of D.S. Wlison's critique of Dawkins about him not bringing on the evolutionary legwork.) According to Simon, many of these debates about Creationism and Scientism were framed as 'scientific', although they were based less on empirical research but largely on popular constructions of each other.
Marit Melhuus (University of Oslo) reflected on "The human embryo" in the perspective of sciences, religions and politics. She showed that the embryo is focussing ethical and political debates from a range of religious and secular worldviews as an almost iconic symbol. At the same time, these 'intercultural' debates were framed in various national and deniminational settings, leading to diverse results even within Europe. Her nuanced lecture supported observations about the central role of reproduction-related topics in contemporary debates between religious and secular camps.
Tom Inglis (University College, Dublin) presented results from 100 in-depth-interviews conducted in Ireland exploring "Religion, Magic and Practical Reason: Meaning and everyday life". Instead of finding some people doing and others avoiding these domains, He found a complex mixture in every case. Magical thinking manifested itself in1. devotional Catholicism, 2. non-institutional forms of faith-healing beliefs and 3. in superstitions (such as charms). Tom urged us fellow scientists to be more sincere about respective phenomena in our lives instead of pretending their nonexistence in order to secure our reputations.
Heonik Kwon (London School of Economics) presented the radically divergent ways of US-Americans and Vietnamese publics to conceptualize "Vietnam War's Wounds to the Soul". While the United States adopted the clinical paradigm known today as the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), postwar Vietnam society concentrated on the sufferings of tragic war dead in the afterlife. Many of the fallen evolved into superempirical agents to be venerated religiously as well as into socialist heroines and heroes. I was struck by remarkable similarities to German socialisms, although the religious-cultural background differed greatly and plan to review Heonik's "Ghost's of War in Vietnam" in the next weeks in this blog.
Finally, Roger Sansi-Roca (Goldsmith College, London) applied cognitive theories of religion to spirit possession in Afro-Brazilian Candomble. He urged for a stronger reflection of the limitations brought about by using vocabulars of western psychology to life processes within various cultures.
As you can imagine, the debates went on throughout the breaks and dinner times deep into the night. Frankly speaking, I learned a lot and was caught again by the sheer potentials of interdisciplinary dialogue in the scientific exploration of science(s) and religion(s).
Thus, I want to thank Carles Salazar, Maria Coma, Gerard Horta and Joan Bestard for the chance to participate in such a well-designed, well-organized and scientifically fruitful conference!