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Guest Lecture: How the Sociology and History of Religion can meet the Cognitive and Psychological Sciences: What we need from them and they need from us


CERES Palais, room "Ruhrpott" (4.13)

Guest lecture presented by Prof Armin Geertz (Aarhus University)

This talk will address a wide variety of issues in introductory form and, hopefully, give at least an indication of the possible avenues of interaction and cooperation between the human, social, and natural sciences. There are at least three obvious meeting places or intersections:

  1. evolution, deep history, and social evolution (biological, neurological, and social theory),
  2. the minds in, behind, and beyond texts, monuments, material objects and images (history and archaeology), and
  3. the minds and bodies of living religious people (anthropology and sociology).

Of course, there are obvious problems in any multimodal, multidisciplinary attempt. Each science has its own concepts, theories, methods, narrative and procedural styles, all of which create mutually incomprehensible worlds of their own. Thus, there is a great need for translation between the sciences and disciplines.

Why should we, one might ask, use so much effort when there is so much else to do? Why should we brush up on our knowledge of chemistry, the brain, genetics, zoology, and evolutionary theory? We have challenges enough in learning languages, trying to decipher highly exotic texts, or keeping track of informants in the field. The answer to these questions is that there have been considerable breakthroughs in the sciences (and archaeology) concerning human evolution, physiology, neuropsychology, and social behavior. These breakthroughs demand explanation. On the one hand, no explanation will be adequate without the knowledge and competencies of the humanities and social sciences. On the other hand, explanations by scholars in the humanities and social sciences will not be adequate without the knowledge and competencies of the natural and psychological sciences. Human beings evolve, live, and die, leaving their mark in genes, culture, society, and the environment. All of the sciences and disciplines have important contributions to make in understanding and explaining who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. Surely, these are issues of central importance to the scientific study of religion!