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2007 - 2010: Johns Hopkins University

Evolution, Cognition, and Culture


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Recent years have witnessed an explosion of interdisciplinary research in the cognitive science of religion. Our proposed focus is an exploration of this research and its implications—specifically, for religion, public policy, and our understanding more generally of evolution, cognition, and culture.

Cognitive science empirically investigates the nature of the mind broadly construed, drawing upon methodologies from a wide range of disciplines, including psychology, linguistics, brain sciences, biology, anthropology, etc. The cognitive science of religion is part of a very recent trend to apply this multidisciplinary approach to aspects of human culture. Several lines of research have developed so far. For example, cognitive anthropologists and psychologists have investigated how particularities of our cognitive economy constrain the kinds of religious belief that tend to arise and spread in human culture, and how aspects of religious ritual likewise are illuminated by an understanding of the cognitive roles of memory, attention, and emotion. Evolutionary biologists and cultural evolutionists have explored religion as a multi-level adaptive response to environmental conditions, studying, for example, the role of religious practice in signaling altruistic intention to fellow members of a group, and the way religious belief and practice might spread through inter-group competition. (Examples of research in the cognitive science of religion are discussed in the Narrative and in the candidate Fellows’ biographies.) We propose to gather a group of international scholars from Johns Hopkins and other institutions to study, synthesize, and contribute to this growing body of research.

We propose further to explore the implications of this research for religion, public policy and our understanding more generally of the interrelations among evolution, cognition, and culture. We provide here examples of questions falling under the first two headings. See the Narrative for further discussion of all three topics.

First, what is religion? How should one demarcate religious beliefs and rituals from other attitudes and practices? Any general discussion of religion must address these questions. We intend to investigate in particular the ways research in the cognitive science of religion sheds new light on them. One part of our discussion will ask how taking up this naturalistic perspective might affect, challenge, deepen, etc. the conceptions of religiosity found among the religious themselves, and conversely how an understanding of religious self-conceptions can enrich naturalistic reflection upon them.

The naturalistic study of religion is often assumed to be incompatible with, or undermining of, religious belief. But the existence of devout cognitive scientists (see the candidate Fellows’ biographies) challenges this assumption. Either those who make the assumption or the religious scientists who pursue the naturalistic study of religion are mistaken about the consequences of this research. Clarifying how to adjudicate this disagreement is itself a difficult philosophical question, a more specific version of the problem of understanding whether—and if so, how—science and faith can be coherently combined. This version of the question is particularly pointed, since, in this case, the science at issue is precisely the science of religion itself. Our focus on cognitive science also leads one to distinguish another intriguing question—this one psychological, rather than epistemological: why does the assumption (whether correct or incorrect) that a scientific explanation of religious belief and practice would undermine religious belief seem so natural, and why is it so resilient, among the religious and non-religious alike?

Second, it needs no emphasis that religion continues to play a major role in politics and policy, domestically and internationally. Religious ideas and institutions in many cases foster voices of conscience, but in others are sources of violence. How can the naturalistic study of religion contribute to public policy debates? Researchers in cultural evolution model how cultural forms are transmitted and spread in inter-group competition. Can such modeling illuminate the conditions under which different religions can peacefully co-exist and the conditions under which they cannot? Cognitive anthropologists, in studying the forms and functions of religious ritual, explore how particularities of human attention, memory, and emotion shape and constrain religious practices. Can such work shed light on how, in certain cases, grievances can be channeled into violent forms of religious extremism? What concrete policy suggestions, if any, emerge from such research? What are the dangers and limits of drawing policy implications from the naturalistic study of religion?

In sum, we propose, through the Fellows’ lectures and through a wide variety of other activities, to present, synthesize, and advance the state-of-the-art in the cognitive science of religion. Our aim is to render this research sufficiently visible and comprehensible so that a broad audience may fruitfully debate its implications and limitations from a variety of perspectives. It is our further intention that this dialogue become part of a broader discussion at Johns Hopkins and beyond of the relations among religion and science.



Project Themes

The Cognitive Science of Religion

Research in the cognitive science of religion draws on advances in a wide variety of disciplines, including cognitive anthropology; cognitive, developmental, and evolutionary psychology; the study of group selection in human evolution; the study of culture and cognition; and evolutionary game theory. Our intention is to bring together researchers from Johns Hopkins and other institutions to explore, synthesize, and contribute to all areas of this research.  A full survey of the field is beyond the scope of this Narrative, but we can provide a brief illustration of the kind of interdisciplinary work on which we will focus. (Further examples are found in the candidate Fellows’ biographies.)

Cognitive anthropologists have identified various recurrent features of world religions and asked whether aspects of our shared cognitive endowments might account for these similarities. Their approach is an extension of the successful strategy of linguists who explain various surprising linguistic universals lurking beneath the surface differences among the world’s languages by identifying shared cognitive faculties that are implicated in language use and constrain what form a human language can take. Whereas, however, many linguists hypothesize species-specific, genetically constrained cognitive structures adapted specifically for language use, a dominant hypothesis among cognitive anthropologists of religion (though by no means the only hypothesis) is that the recurrent features of religions arise as a by-product of shared cognitive structures that were evolutionarily selected for other reasons.

One such (near) universal of world religions is belief in the existence of agentive beings who lack bodies or, if they have them, violate typical constraints on what physical beings can do. Why is that so? Cognitive anthropologists have claimed that one part of the explanation is the independently well-established hypothesis of cognitive psychology that people possess cognitive mechanisms specialized to detect agency. Such mechanisms tend to be easily activated in many situations (as by a rustling sound behind one in the dark)—they are “hyperactive”. It is natural to then ask why we possess these mechanisms. A common bit of evolutionary speculation has it that those of our ancestors who were more prone to detect nearby agents (predators, for example), even at the cost of some false positives, had higher reproductive success. We are thus cognitively disposed to explain phenomena by adverting to the actions of agents.

Religions, however, do not simply tend to involve agentive beings: as mentioned, they involve agentive beings with special properties, such as the ability to be at multiple places at once or to travel great distances instantaneously or to be invisible, etc. Why is this? Some of these properties perhaps follow from the nature of the phenomena religious adherents invoke these agents to explain: not any old agent could be responsible for major climatic changes. But cognitive anthropologists have hypothesized in addition that belief in such agents is sustained and spread by the way mechanisms of attention and memory interact with the specialized cognitive structures implicated in agency detection. They draw upon evidence from developmental psychology that children find particularly memorable that which balances familiarity and strangeness. The completely familiar is readily categorized, but often not worth remembering: it’s just another example of that kind. The maximally counter-intuitive simply leaves us flummoxed: because there is a failure to activate any specialized cognitive structures involved in categorization, there is little organized information to remember. The agents found in the world’s religions, however, are “minimally counter-intuitive” and thus highly memorable: their supposed presence, or stories of them, activate cognitive structures specialized to detect agency while not exactly fitting our expectations concerning agents. Beliefs concerning such beings, precisely because they are so memorable, are more readily retained and more easily passed on than beliefs about other sorts of beings—and this at least in part explains their ubiquity, according to this hypothesis.

Of course, this account could at best constitute only one small piece of a complex explanation of the various—and often not universal—features of religion. It is clear that many memorable stories—for example, about talking animals—capture the imagination of children without leading them to believe that such animals exist and play a special role in their world. Religious belief and practice obviously rest on more than the psychological mechanisms at which we have here gestured merely for illustrative purposes. Suffice it to say that some cognitive scientists maintain that a sufficiently rich and varied set of results exists to suggest that our cognitive economy renders religiosity “natural” to us. From such a perspective, what cries out for explanation is not, as some hold, the persistence of religion, but rather why and how such abnormal cultural phenomena as atheism have arisen at all!

Potential Implications

Even such brief remarks suffice to raise a huge number of fascinating questions. We will mention a few corresponding to each of the three main areas in which we intend to explore the implications of research in the cognitive science of religion: implications for religion, for public policy, and for our understanding more generally of the interrelations among evolution, cognition, and culture.

Implications for religion

One fundamental question that any naturalistic study of religion must face is: what is religion, or a religion? What makes a set of beliefs or practices religious as opposed to something else? It might seem that this question must be answered prior to any inquiry into religion. But in fact intellectual history shows that the clarification of fundamental concepts and the growth of knowledge deploying these concepts always proceed in tandem. It is thus natural to ask in what ways recent developments in the cognitive science of religion shed light on what religion is.

Another natural question that immediately imposes itself is whether this research is undermining of, or otherwise a threat to, religion. Naturalistic attempts to explain aspects of religious belief and practice inevitably strike some as attempts to explain these phenomena away. But it is a challenging philosophical question whether this is so. It is after all not thought that the scientific study of science—of its history, of the cognitive mechanisms that enable us to pursue science, etc.—somehow undermines scientific theorizing. Why should it be otherwise with religion? If it is not, then is the naturalistic study of religion itself strictly neutral with respect to the truth or warrant of religious belief? Might one in fact pursue the naturalistic study of religion in the furtherance of religious aims? Aquinas argued that our faculty of reason is a divine gift which it is sinful not to develop and use to the highest degree—including in application to matters of faith, since this is why the faculty was given to us. Malebranche argued that the laws of nature are expressions of divine intention and thus to study them is to study, and thus worship, the mind of God (again, using faculties given to us for this purpose). Since one might likewise hold that evolution was God’s way of creating beings capable of worshipping him (indeed, this is the official position of the Catholic church), it seems fairly straightforward to place the pursuit of a cognitive science of religion itself into a religious context. And it is notable that a wide variety of attitudes towards faith is found among prominent cognitive scientists of religion (see our candidate Fellows’ biographies). But then why does the naturalistic study of religion so often immediately and forcefully strike both the religious and the non-religious alike as a threat to religious belief? These matters clearly cry out for more systematic reflection.

Implications for public policy

Religiosity, of course, plays a major role in contemporary politics and policy, both domestically and internationally. Might advances in the naturalistic study of religion provide useful tools in analyzing issues and proposals of general public concern? We briefly mention two examples worth exploring.

Researchers on religion who come from a background in biological and cultural evolution emphasize the role of religion in promoting harmony within a group and otherwise adapting a group to its environment. (Note that these researchers often disagree with those mentioned above who deny that religiosity is itself an adaptation as opposed to a concomitant of adaptations.) But they recognize that the mechanisms by which religion achieves these ends sometimes promote conflict with other groups. An analysis of these phenomena from an evolutionary perspective, with attention to the psychological mechanisms that enable religions to play these roles, can illuminate the conditions that encourage and discourage such conflict and might suggest concrete steps for ameliorating the effects of these conditions.

The naturalistic study of normal forms of religious belief and practice also promises to illuminate its more extreme forms. Various researchers have attempted to draw lessons from the study of religion generally for understanding various kinds of religious extremism and violent militancy (see the candidate Fellows’ biographies). What new light do cognitive scientific approaches shine on these phenomena? What concrete policy suggestions do they suggest? What mistakes do they suggest we are currently making? What are the dangers and limits of drawing policy implications from the naturalistic study of religion?

Implications for understanding evolution, cognition, and culture

The interrelations among evolution, cognition, and culture are incredibly complex. Humans, including their cognitive capacities, are clearly as they are in part owing to selection pressures and other processes of biological evolution. But among their evolutionarily enabled and constrained endowments are cognitive capacities that make them capable of producing cultural forms and artifacts. These in turn greatly affect the material and social environments in which biological evolution occurs. Moreover, the cognitive capacities that play so central a role in these processes are themselves a complex product of both biological and cultural processes: they are both genetically constrained as a result of evolutionary pressures and subject to the influence of transmitted culture. Indeed, the capacity to learn and otherwise receive cultural transmissions is among the most important of our biologically enabled and constrained cognitive features. In sum, human evolution, cognition, and culture each affect one another and thus cannot be studied in isolation.

At present, however, our understanding of these matters is very limited. The naturalistic study of religion provides a concentrated case study that promises to illuminate these complex interactions more generally. For example, the hypothesis of “minimal counter-intuitiveness” sketched above has focused attention on how successful cultural transmission depends on our cognitive abilities—e.g., insofar as they affect what we are able to render vividly, what draws and holds our attention, and what we are able to remember. In considering directions for future research, one wants to ask as well: What methodological challenges have researchers in this area faced, and how have they overcome them—for example, has the study of religion uncovered new ways to meet the well-known “dearth of evidence” challenge that faces evolutionary psychology, given that the mind-brain does not fossilize and analogues of some of our cognitive capacities are not found in other species? And what limitations might religion have as a case study (i.e., what is particular to religion that cannot be expected to generalize to other aspects of culture)?

The naturalistic study of religion from a cognitivist, evolutionary perspective, though still in its infancy, has reached a sufficient level of maturity that it also makes sense to explore in what ways these approaches challenge existing research paradigms. For example, does this work up-end assumptions commonly made by social and cultural anthropologists of religion? Or does a comparison with their work in fact reveal limitations of a cognitivist approach? Is a fruitful synthesis possible among these varying approaches to the anthropology of religion? Does research in the cognitive anthropology of religion throw new light on what is arguably the most important foundational question in the human sciences—namely, to what extent is a “participant perspective” (as opposed to the perspective of an outside observer) required in order to understand fully a cultural practice? Similar questions arise in relation to other disciplines that study aspects of religion.



Project Leaders

Project Leader

Steven Gross is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the Johns Hopkins University. He received his A.B. and Ph.D. from Harvard University and was previously on the faculties of University College London, University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown University. Gross specializes in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. He has published articles on these topics in leading philosophy, cognitive science, and linguistics journals and is also the author of Essays on Linguistic Context-Sensitivity and its Philosophical Significance (Routledge). Gross regularly teaches courses in the philosophy of religion and, prior to departing for Johns Hopkins, was a member of the Interdisciplinary Committee for the University of Pennsylvania’s Templeton Research Lectures grant.



Organizing Committee/Working Group

William Badecker is Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at the Johns Hopkins University. He received his Ph.D. in linguistics from Indiana University in 1983 and did post-doctoral research in language deficits that arise following brain injury at the Johns Hopkins University from 1984-1986 with funding from an NSF National Research Service Award. Badecker specializes in experimental and formal approaches to the human language faculty, and has published articles on these topics in leading cognitive science, psychology, and linguistics journals. His work addresses issues concerning the knowledge of language and the abstract grammar that emerges from the balanced effects of innate learning biases and linguistic experience. In particular, his work focuses on the formal and functional properties of the mental grammar and what role that grammar plays in language comprehension and spontaneous language production. He regularly teaches courses on language and mind, and has taught undergraduate seminars on evolutionary psychology and the forces that can be argued to have shaped human cognition both in the domain of language and in other cognitive domains as well (including aggression, reciprocity and the perception of fairness, religious belief, and social identity).

Fenella Cannell is a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins. She is a specialist in Southeast Asian anthropology, and has also conducted research on kinship and religion in the United States. She worked in the Philippines in 1988-89, 1992, and 1997. Her fieldwork was with Catholic rice-farming people in a rural area, but on the outskirts of a small town, where people were also exposed to complex, urbanizing influences and images from Manila and from the West, especially America. Her research explored the ways in which people come to think about “culture” in a post-colonial society, and focused on women’s lives and arranged marriage, spirit-mediumship, saint’s cults and religion, and popular performances. She has since carried out historically-based work on the Philippines, especially on education, kinship, and gender in the American colonial period. She also works with a number of postgraduate students whose research is based in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, and intends to do more work in the region in the future. Most recently, however, she has conducted a two-year research project on American kinship and religion, with a particular focus on Mormonism. Much of this research took place in upstate New York and in Utah. In addition to these field-based projects, Cannell has written more broadly on the relationship between Christianity and social theory. Her publications include The Anthropology of Christianity, editor (Duke), and “The Christianity of Anthropology,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11(2), 2005: 335-356.

Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology and Department Chair of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. The abiding concern of her research has been to understand the working of long time cultural logics in contemporary events as well as moments of rupture and recovery. In recent years, she has worked intensively on questions of violence, social suffering, and subjectivity. Currently she is working on a project on the burden of disease and health seeking behavior among the urban poor in Delhi. This work is being done in collaboration with colleagues from the disciplines of Economics and the Health Sciences in addition to anthropologists and sociologists. The collaborating institution in Delhi is the Institute of Socio-Economic Research in Development and Democracy. Her publications include Structure and Cognition: Aspects of Hindu Caste and Ritual (Oxford) and Social Suffering, Special Issue of Daedalus (edited in collaboration with Arthur Kleinman and Margaret Lock, also published in book form by the University of California Press).

Howard Egeth is Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, with joint appointments as Professor of Cognitive Science and of Neuroscience. He received his A.B. degree from Rutgers University and his Ph. D. from the University of Michigan. Egeth specializes in the study of human attention and perception, and has contributed many articles on these topics to the major journals in the field. He is also the co-author of The Psychology of Learning (McGraw-Hill). He has served as President of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences and as Chair of the Governing Board of the Psychonomic Society, and is currently President of the Division of Experimental Psychology of the American Psychological Association. He teaches a course in evolutionary psychology that focuses on the underpinnings of moral behavior.

Lisa Feigenson is Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Science and Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins University.  She received her B.A. from Cornell University and her Ph.D. from New York University, following which she was a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University and a post-doctoral student at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.  Feigenson is currently co-director of the Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Child Development, where she studies memory development, object representation, and numerical cognition in infants, children, and adults.  She has published papers in interdisciplinary cognitive science journals such as Cognition and Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Eckart Förster is Professor of Philosophy, with joint appointments in German and the Humanities Center, at the Johns Hopkins University. He is also Honorary Professor of Philosophy at the Humboldt University in Berlin (Germany). Förster received his B.Phil. and D.Phil. from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He previously taught at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Munich, and held visiting appointments at Princeton, Porto Alegre (Brazil), and at Ohio State. He has held Guggenheim and ACLS fellowships and spent 1987-88 as a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. He is a member of the Kant Kommission of the Berlin-Brandenburgian Academy of Science, and of the Schelling Kommission of the Bavarian Academy of Science. His publications include: “Die Wandlungen in Kants Gotteslehre” (The Transformations in Kant’s Theory of God), Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 52.3 (1998): 341-362; “Fichte und der Atheismusstreit von 1799” (Fichte and the Atheism Controversy of 1799), in Welt ohne Gott?  Theoretischer und praktischer Atheismus (World without God? Theoretical and Practical Atheism), ed. Venanz Schubert,  St. Ottilien: Eos Verlag, 1999, 65 – 84; “The Subject as Person and the Idea of God”, in Förster’s Kant’s Final Synthesis, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Robert Frank is Professor of Cognitive Science at the Johns Hopkins University. He received his S.B. from MIT and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. His research aims to apply insights from mathematical formalization and computational modeling to issues in theoretical linguistics, language processing and acquisition. In theoretical linguistics, he focuses primarily on the relationship between constraints on natural language grammar and notions of mathematical and computational restrictiveness. This work has allowed him to characterize aspects of the time-course of grammatical acquisition, establishing intriguing links between acquisition difficulty and formal complexity. In addition to many papers, he is the author of Phrase Structure Composition and Syntactic Dependencies (MIT).

Steven Gross is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the Johns Hopkins University. He received his A.B. and Ph.D. from Harvard University and was previously on the faculties of University College London, University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown University. Gross specializes in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. He has published articles on these topics in leading philosophy, cognitive science, and linguistics journals and is also the author of Essays on Linguistic Context-Sensitivity and its Philosophical Significance (Routledge). Gross regularly teaches courses in the philosophy of religion and, prior to departing for Johns Hopkins, was a member of the Interdisciplinary Committee for the University of Pennsylvania’s Templeton Research Lectures grant.

Justin Halberda is an Assistant Professor in the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the department of Cognitive Science. He received his Ph.D. from New York University and was a visiting fellow at Harvard University and at the Ecole Normale Superieure (Paris) before joining the faculty of Johns Hopkins. Halberda’s work focuses on the origins of logical reasoning in children and on the connection between mind and world required by visual attention and memory. He has a rich interdisciplinary background including undergraduate degrees in Philosophy, Psychology, Biochemistry, and Physical Chemistry and has continuing collaborations with both philosophers and linguists.

M. Ali Khan joined the Johns Hopkins University in 1973 after completing his Ph.D. in economics from Yale University.  He received his B.Sc. (Econ.) from the LSE, M. Phil. from Yale and has been the Abram Hutzler Professor of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins since 1989. He has taught at the University of Illinois (1984-1988) and has held visiting appointments at the LSE, University of Melbourne, PIDE (Islamabad), AERC (Karachi), Fundaçao Getilio Vargas (Brazil), CORE (Belgium), Maison de Economique (Paris), IMS (Singapore), ISI (Delhi), CMM (Santiago) and at Northwestern, Cornell, Bilkent (Ankara) and Australian National Universities. His primary research interests are in the history of ideas, and he sees issues in development economics alongside those in ethics and epistemology, with particular interest in how economic development and cultural change calls the robustness of disciplinary boundaries into question. This has led him to the “economics of the eighteenth century”, and through the Scottish Enlightenment, to the language of commerce in religious texts. His interests in theory and epistemology are complemented by those in mathematics and mathematical economics: chaotic dynamics, nonstandard analysis (Loeb spaces), nonsmooth optimization, game theory, and probability theory (laws of large numbers with a continuum of random variables).

Naveeda Khan received her masters in anthropology from the New School for Social Research in 1995 and her PhD in anthropology from Columbia University in 2003. She is the recipient of numerous research grants from foundations such as SSRC, Fulbright, NSF, and Wenner-Gren. Khan has also worked at BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, Bangladesh), UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Bangladesh), and the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago). At present she is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University.  She has published in Cultural Anthropology and Social Text. She is currently engaged in turning her doctoral dissertation into a book manuscript titled: The Passage of a Promise: Islamic Modernity and Embodied Skepticism in Pakistan and is editing a book of essays titled Crisis and Beyond: Pakistan in the 20th Century to be published by Routledge India.

Sharon Kugler has been the University Chaplain at Johns Hopkins since September of 1993. She came to the university with over a decade of experience in ministry in higher education, interfaith collaboration, pastoral and social ministry. Her main focus at Hopkins has been the development of a chaplaincy for students, faculty and staff which defines itself by serving the needs of the diverse cultural and religious traditions on campus allowing for dialogue, accessibility, religious and spiritual growth, education and leadership. In the 1998-1999 academic year, she oversaw the renovations and subsequent opening of the Bunting-Meyerhoff Interfaith and Community Service Center. The center currently serves over 26 religious groups representing 9 distinct traditions and its vision focuses on deepening awareness and understanding between traditions. In February of 2001, Kugler completed her second term as the president of the National Association of College and University Chaplains. In this capacity, she traveled to Rome to be part of a special consultation with the European Chaplains’ Conference to discuss religious diversity issues at the Vatican with the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. Kugler also served as the president of the Association of College and University Religious Affairs from 2000-2002. Since arriving at Hopkins in 1993, she has received two awards from graduating seniors, the Homewood Cup in 1995 and the Gilman Cup in May 2000. In May of 2005, she received the Johns Hopkins University Diversity Leadership Council Recognition Award from the president of the university. Kugler received her Masters degree from Georgetown University and is a member of the Theta Alpha Kappa National Honor Society for Religious Studies and Theology. Her Masters thesis, “The Limits and Possibilities of Building a Religiously Plural Community” was used by the United States Department of Defense Office of the Chief of Chaplains as a training tool for new chaplains in the military. Kugler is Roman Catholic and originates from northern California.

Barbara Landau is Dick and Lydia Todd Professor of Cognitive Science and Department Chair at the Johns Hopkins University. She received her B.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and has been on the faculties of Columbia University, University of California-Irvine, and the University of Delaware. She is a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society, the American Psychological Society, and the American Psychological Association. She specializes in spatial representation and spatial language, its development in normal and brain-damaged children, and its use in normal adults.  She has published close to 100 articles and has written or edited three books. Landau regularly teaches courses on developmental cognitive neuroscience, cognitive development, and language learning.

Theodore Lewis is Blum-Iwry Professor and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He is an historian of the religions of the ancient Near East. He was trained in Semitic philology, biblical studies, and epigraphy at Harvard University (Ph.D. 1986), the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (M.A., B.A.). Prior to coming to Hopkins, he was Professor of Hebrew Bible in the Department of Religion at the University of Georgia. Lewis’ research focuses on the religions of ancient Israel and Syria. In addition to the texts of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), he works with cuneiform texts from the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit. These texts are our most important archival material for understanding Late Bronze Age religion in Syria and the backdrop of the Iron Age religion of Israel found in the Bible. Lewis is the author of Cults of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Ugarit (Harvard Semitic Monographs) and co-author of Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. He has recently co-edited Text, Artifact, and Image: Revealing Ancient Israelite Religion (Brown Judaic Studies).  He is currently writing The Religion of Ancient Israel for the Anchor Bible Reference Library series. He is general editor of the book series Writings from the Ancient World (co-published by the Society of Biblical Literature and E. J. Brill) and past editor of the journals Near Eastern Archaeology (for the American School of Oriental Research) and Hebrew Annual Review. Lewis is an academic trustee of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.

Kenneth Moss is the Felix Posen Assistant Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Johns Hopkins University. He is currently completing a book on the East European Jewish cultural sphere during the Russian Revolution which explores the interplay of nationalist, revolutionary, secular humanist, and aestheticist ideals in Jewish cultural nationalism. His research interests include the study of secularization and secularist ideologies in modern Jewish history, hence by extension the forms of religion and religiosity which these processes confronted. His work has appeared in Jewish Social Studies and the Journal of Social History.

Lawrence Principe is Professor of Chemistry and of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at the Johns Hopkins University. He received a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies from the University of Delaware. He also holds two doctorates: a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Indiana University, Bloomington, and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Johns Hopkins University. In 1999, the Carnegie Foundation chose Professor Principe as the Maryland Professor of the Year, and in 1998 he received the Templeton Foundation’s award for courses dealing with science and religion. At Johns Hopkins, he has won the Distinguished Faculty Award, the Excellence in Teaching Award, and the George Owen Teaching Award. In 2004, Professor Principe was awarded the first Francis Bacon Prize by the California Institute of Technology, awarded to an outstanding scholar whose work has had substantial impact on the history of science, the history of technology, or historically-engaged philosophy of science. He has published numerous papers and is the author or co-author of three books, including The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest.

Hent de Vries is Professor in the Humanities Center and the Department of Philosophy at the Johns Hopkins University. He is also Professor Ordinarius of Systematic Philosophy and the Philosophy of Religion at the University of Amsterdam. He was a co-founder of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis and has served as the Director of its governing board and as its Scientific Director. At Johns Hopkins, he is a member of the steering committee of The Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Jewish Studies Program in the School of Arts and Sciences, and also a member of the board of directors of the Zanvyl Krieger School’s Program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality. He is Chair of The Future of the Religious Past, an interdisciplinary program sponsored by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. In this capacity, he is also serves as General Editor of six volumes of proceedings resulting from the program. Since January 2006, he has served as an advisor to the Netherlands Scientific Council of Government Policy in The Hague, and as a member of its project group on Religion and the Public Domain, whose report is expected to be the basis for the Council’s policy recommendations to the Dutch government in 2007. His principal publications include: Philosophy and the Turn to Religion (Johns Hopkins), Religion and Violence: Philosophical Perspectives from Kant to Derrida (Johns Hopkins), and Minimal Theologies: Critiques of Secular Reason in Theodor W. Adorno and Emmanuel Levinas (Johns Hopkins).

Michael Williams holds the Krieger-Eisenhower Professorship and is Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the Johns Hopkins University. He received his B.A. from Oxford and his Ph.D. from Princeton. Before coming to Johns Hopkins, he taught at Yale, the University of Maryland and Northwestern. He has been the recipient of an NEH fellowship and has held visiting positions at several universities including Chicago, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and MIT. His main areas of interest are epistemology (with special reference to skepticism), philosophy of language and the history of modern philosophy. In addition to numerous articles, he is the author of Groundless Belief (Princeton), Unnatural Doubts (Princeton) and Problems of Knowledge (Oxford). He is currently working on Curious Researches: Reflections on Skepticism Ancient and Modern.



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Evolution, Cognition, and  Culture Project
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