Anthropomorphism or Preparedness? Exploring Children's God Concepts

Article (PDF Available)inReview of Religious Research 44(3):300 · March 2003with 767 Reads 
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DOI: 10.2307/3512389
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Abstract
Historically, the development of God concepts in human cognition has been explained anthropomorpliically. In other words, for children especially, God is a big, super-human who lives in the sky. Recent empirical research on the development of these concepts may suggest an alternative hypothesis. In this paper, we review this research and outline the "preparedness hypothesis," which suggests that children may be cognitively equipped to understand some properties of God in a non-anthropomorphic way.
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  • ... Thus, Bar ett and co lea ues claimed, when the fo k likewise attribute these human-like limitations to these supernatural agents, they are providing an anthropomorphized, theologica ly incor ect representation. This view of anthropomorphism toward supernatural agent concepts has been widely influential in CSR as it has sur eptitiously ap eared and been adopted in much subsequent research (Bar ett, 2012; Bar ett and Richert, 2003;Bar ett et al., 2001;Heiphetz et al., 2016;Heiphetz et al., 2018;Knight et al., 2004;Lane et al., 2010;Shtulman, 2008;Shtulman and Lindeman, 2016;Slone, 2007). This is largely because CSR researchers have retained a near laser focus on the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God to the neglect of a l others. ...
    ... Another group of CSR scholars ar ues that God concepts themselves are not, contrary to received wisdom (Piaget, 1929), based on anthropomorphism but rather on a general intentional agent conceptual template which does not assume any human-like limitations on the agent given that, in our evolutionary environment, agents come with a variety of nonhuman-like abilities (Bar ett and Richert, 2003;Bar ett et al., 2001;Knight et al., 2004;Richert et al., 2016a;Richert et al., 2016b;Richert and Smith, 2010;Shtulman and Lindeman, 2016). God is nonhuman-like inasmuch as it is not restricted by a body, time, or space. ...
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    This article reviews and discusses the various ways by which researchers in the cognitive science of religion have empirically demonstrated that neurotypical humans (a.k.a., the folk) represent supernatural agents through the cognitive analogical processes of anthropomorphism. These include attributing a human-like mind, human-like physical and mental limitations , and human-like sociability. Additionally, the article points to several problematic issues that CSR must needs address, such as how to better demarcate when the folk are anthropomorphizing versus simply attributing agency, and how CSR's insistence that the folk represents supernatural agents as disembodied minds places it at odds with the overwhelming and devastating evidence to the contrary. Keywords: anthropomorphism, supernatural agent representations, theory of mind, embodiment.
  • ... CSR-scholars provide many accounts of cognitive processes, mechanisms, and faculties they allege to be involved in religious belief-formation and behavior, some of which we dealt with at length in the previous chapter. Scholars for example study agency-detection (Maij, Van Schie, andVan Elk, 2019, Van Leuwen andVan Elk, 2018), the memorability of MCI concepts (for example, Barrett and Nyhof, 2001, see also the review in Ch. 2, section 5), how religious activities affect brain-activity (Schjoedt, 2009 provides a review), and conceptual development in children (Kelemen, 2004, Barrett andRichert, 2003). The focus in CSR on proximate issues is also evident from the entries in the introduction to this field Slone and McCorcle (2019) provide, which presents empirical studies that have been influential. ...
    Thesis
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    All over the world people form beliefs about superhuman agents such as gods, ancestor-spirits, ghosts, angels, and demons. A culturally successful god-concept is found in the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This concept involves the notion of a powerful, moralizing deity. A field known as the “Cognitive Science of Religion” (CSR) purports to explain these phenomena by combining evolutionary theory, cognitive science, and anthropology. Scholars in this field focus on the origin of god-concepts in human natural history and on the nuts and bolts of religion today, such as processes by which the mind constructs god-concepts and forms religious beliefs. Let us suppose that this enterprise is successful and that central contributions are true or at least approximately true. What normative implications does that have for theism, theistic arguments, and theistic beliefs? The thesis is a detailed investigation of this question.
  • ... La idea es posteriormente elaborada por Barrett & Richert (2003), quienes a partir del estudio del desarrollo del conceptode Dios en niños y niñas proponen lo que denominan la "hipótesis de la preparación". Para los autores, las representaciones tempranas de agentes sobrenaturales en niños y niñas se basan en estructuras conceptuales más generales que las antropomórficas, con dos características centrales: i. el reconocimiento general de agentes intencionales, incluyendo animales no humanos, lo cual implica una flexibilidad mayor a la hora de incluir propiedades "sobrehumanas"; ii. ...
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    The Cognitive Science of Religion is an interdisciplinary research field born in the 1990s. It combines different disciplines and methods, united by the common interest of explaining the cognitive processes underlying religious beliefs and practices, and situating them in the natural evolutionary history of the human species. In the current article, the essential features of this interdisciplinary field will be described, including a presentation of two of its most important research foci: the epidemiology of religious beliefs, and the cognitive study of religious rituals. Both lines of research are concerned with how religious ideas and practices interact with memory and other cognitive processes, trying to explain the widespread occurrence of religious phenomena around the world.
  • ... La idea es posteriormente elaborada por Barrett & Richert (2003), quienes a partir del estudio del desarrollo del concepto de Dios en niños y niñas proponen lo que denominan la "hipótesis de la preparación". Para los autores, las representaciones tempranas de agentes sobrenaturales en niños y niñas se basan en estructuras conceptuales más generales que las antropomórficas, con dos características centrales: i. el reconocimiento general de agentes intencionales, incluyendo animales no humanos, lo cual implica una flexibilidad mayor a la hora de incluir propiedades "sobrehumanas"; ii. ...
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