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Unformatted text preview: Embodiment in Religious Knowledge L AWRENCE W. B ARSALOU ∗ , A RON K. B ARBEY ∗ , W. K YLE S IMMONS ∗ and A VA S ANTOS ∗ ABSTRACT Increasing evidence suggests that mundane knowledge about objects, people, and events is grounded in the brain’s modality-specific systems. The modality-specific representations that become active to represent these entities in actual experience are later used to simulate them in their absence. In particular, simulations of perception, action, and mental states often appear to underlie the representation of knowledge, making it embodied and situated. Findings that support this conclusion are briefly reviewed from cognitive psychology, social psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. A similar representational process may underlie religious knowledge. In support of this conjecture, embodied knowledge appears central to three aspects of religious experience: religious visions, religious beliefs, and religious rituals. In religious visions, the process of simulation offers a natural account of how these experiences are produced. In religious beliefs, knowledge about the body and the environment are typically central in religious frameworks, and are likely to affect the perception of daily experience. In religious rituals, embodiments appear central to conveying religious ideas metaphorically and to establishing them in memory. To the extent that religious knowledge is like non-religious knowledge, embodiment is likely to play central roles. When most lay people hear the term, “knowledge,” they think of material acquired explicitly in formal education, such as knowledge of history or algebra. They also think of products that result from academic inquiry, * Emory University. ** Correspondence to: Lawrence W. Barsalou, Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322. E-mail: [email protected], http://userwww.service. emory.edu/~barsalou/. *** We are grateful to Bob McCauley and Harvey Whitehouse for the opportunity to write this article, and for helpful comments on an earlier draft. Preparation of this article was supported by Grant BCS-0212134 from the National Science Foundation to Lawrence W. Barsalou. c ° Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2005 Journal of Cognition and Culture 5.1-2 RELIGIOUS EMBODIMENT 15 such as scientific theories and findings. What people often fail to realize is that their cognitive systems contain tremendous amounts of mundane knowledge that enter into every facet of cognitive activity, from relatively simple perceptual processing to complex socio-cultural reasoning. Mun- dane knowledge remains hidden from view given that, to a large extent, it is acquired and used unconsciously. Because mundane knowledge is essen- tial for effective cognition, the mechanisms that underlie it have important biological origins and operate relatively automatically. Clearly experience is also central. Nevertheless, the mechanisms that encode, store, and re- trieve knowledge are present at birth, and operate automatically and un-...
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- Spring '11
- Psychology, Lawrence W. Barsalou