New Publication: Bridging Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches to Religion

Post-Doctoral Fellow Justin Lane
Religion, Brain and Behavior
March 21, 2018

Lane writes a commentary for a symposium on Taves’ Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies of the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths.

Introduction: “Revelatory Events” (2016) is definitive of the current state of high-quality research in religious studies and the cognitive science of religion (CSR). She blends cognitive science (CS) with a deep understanding of the history of Mormonism, Alcoholics Anonymous, and A Course on Miracles to constrain interpretation of the available materials and frame the histories of these groups. Her work presents a great opportunity for reflecting on the current trajectory of the field. However, as a historian interpreting her data within a cognitive framework, she also produces new testable hypotheses that can be taken into the lab. I argue that this represents a new form of religious studies, and defend the point in the conclusion. Primarily, I use this opportunity to further “organize” Taves’ theory by (1) outlining testable hypotheses that can be investigated via lab studies and (2) outlining testable hypotheses that can utilize databases to store data about religious groups. Besides standing on their own as interesting and useful studies, the empirical testing of the psychological mechanisms can inform (and validate) the mechanisms of agent-based computational architectures. Testing historical claims using contemporary databases can validate the overall output of a computational model of her theory. Such a model could serve as a codified “re-translation” of Taves’ computational theory into a programming language (e.g. java), benefiting from the specificities and logical requirements that come along with the use of such a language. I end with a reflection on the disciplinary and theoretical boundaries between religious studies and the scientists who engage with it.  

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