chapter  2
33 Pages

Cultural Inheritance Tracks and Cognitive Predispositions: The Example of Religious Concepts

WithPascal Boyer

Cognitive dispositions that result from the evolutionary history of the species account for certain general or recurrent properties of cultural representations. This claim should not be too contentious. It all hinges, after all, on what one means by 'certain general or recurrent properties'. I n m y view, one can make a good case for the notion that these properties extend to domains that may seem 'culturally constructed' and therefore highly variable. This could be argued in purely theoretical terms. However, theoretical debates about the value or even possibility of a naturalistic approach to culture are often too abstract to appear of much relevance to anthropologists engaged in empirical work. They may see the point of the debate and even feel that one side has a simpler or more coherent view of culture, but find it quite difficult to see how this would change anything in what they study or how they study it. This is why I consider here a limited domain, that of recurrent features of religious concepts, and focus on empirical evidence, both anthropological and psychological.