Cause and meaning in the anthropology of religion
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This paper provides a critical assessment of two major theoretical approaches to the anthropology of religion, the cognitive and the hermeneutical or symbolic approaches, with the aim of reaching some kind of accommodation or compatibility between the two. The paper starts by tracing the theoretical origins of the cognitive perspective to the so-called ‘cognitive revolution’ initiated by Chomskean linguistics and prominent developments of evolutionary biology and psychology that gathered momentum in the decades to follow. The main contributions of cognitive scholars to the anthropological analysis of religion are highlighted alongside their limitations, which in essence have to do with the failure to grasp the symbolic nature of religious representations. In the end the paper suggests a possible way to overcome those limitations and make cognition compatible with hermeneutical analysis by drawing insights from Weber’s observations on the nature of religious thought.