How emotion shapes religious cultures: A synthesis of cognitive theories of religion and emotion theory

. CULTURE & PSYCHOLOGY 12 (2): 223-240 (June 2011)


This paper proposes that the transmission of common religious concepts-such as witches, hostile spirits, benevolent gods, and ancestors-is facilitated by the trajectory of the human emotional response. Because these religious concepts become associated with existentially relevant components of emotional themes they are likely to be internalized, recalled, transmitted, and institutionalized. Emotion is here treated as an evolved, and universally inherited, social heuristic that modulates interpersonal perception and action. Benevolent and malevolent religious entities and associated practices are posited as supernatural extensions of an imagined social world that is partially predicated on, and made meaningful by, the interpretive and motivational functions of emotion. While cultural psychology tends to focus on how culture shapes psychology, this paper begins to construct a theoretical framework that views culture and psychology as mutually constitutive.

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