The pensum of this course consists of 1214 pages of required texts. The remainder (about 300 pages) of the pensum will be chosen by the student in consultation with the instructor.

Required Texts:


-Faces in the Clouds, by Steward Guthrie. 1993. Oxford University Press. 204 pp. [Bookstore and NTNU Library ebook]

-Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer. 2001. Basic Books. 330 pp.  [Bookstore and Kindle edition available]

-Supernatural Agents: Why We Believe in Souls, Gods, and Buddhas, by Ilkka Pyysiäinen. 2009. Oxford University Press. 188 pp. [Kindle, NTNU library free access]

-Big Gods, by Ara Norenzayan. 2013. Princeton University Press. 192 pp. [Bookstore and NTNU Library ebook]

-The Cognitive Science of Religion: A Methodological Introduction to Key Empirical Studies, edited by Jason Slone and William W. McCorkle Jr. 2019 (January). Bloomsbury. 300 pp.

Required Pensum:  1214pp. plus scientific articles or chapters chosen by the student

General Course Description:

Why are people religious? Believe it or not, scholars have some pretty good answers to this question.

This course will give students tools to explain the origins and persistence of religion to the present day. The tools come from the fields of evolutionary and cognitive science of religion.

If religion is anything, it is both a cultural and a biological phenomenon. In this course we will read a few classic texts from this area of research, in addition to texts that exemplify the state of the art of research today. Students will have the option to follow either a theoretical or methodological trajectory in the course. All students will assess and critically evaluate theories that explain the origin and persistence of religion. Students that follow the theory trajectory will try to devise a theory of their own to explain religion. Students that follow the methods trajectory will develop an experiment that tests a theory or an element of a theory. Such knowledge can be extended beyond the field of religion to other phenomena.


According to the course curriculum, a candidate who passes this course is expected to have the following learning outcome (defined as knowledge and skills):


The candidate has attained

- a broad understanding of theories in the evolutionary and cognitive science of religion (CSR)

- a broad understanding of methods in the evolutionary and cognitive science of religion (CSR)

- knowledge of what constitutes scientific explanation

- insight into recent research pertaining to the questions above


The candidate has acquired skills to:

- analyze, compare and criticize theories from CSR

- analyze, compare and criticize methods from CSR

- analyze the construction of the following categories: religion, nature, technology and science

- operationalize state of the art theories from CSR into experimental settings

- apply tools from the mind sciences to cultural and religious studies

- ability to update his/her own knowledge of the disciplines research questions

- do interdisciplinary scientific research

Link to NTNU course page

(This course can be taken online, please contact me for more details)

Explaining Religion: CSR (Spring)