The standard toolbox used by social, affective, and cognitive neuroscientists—electrophysiology, lesion-mapping, brain-stimulation, and functional neuroimaging—has been used to good effect to advance our understanding of cognition in many domains. Yet these tools have rarely been applied to the study of religious cognition. Consequently, we know relatively little about the neurofunctional contributions to and constraints on how people think about and relate to God and other supernatural agents. This planning project is intended to lay the groundwork for a potential future sub-granting program that would give opportunity for researchers with expertise in neuroscientific methods to turn their attention to the study of religious cognition. Targeted research areas would include the neural basis of and constraints on distinctions in cognitive forms of relational religious belief (e.g., attachment representations, doctrinal vs. experiential representations) versus other forms of belief; the neural implementation and modulation of cognitive representations of God; and the neural basis of loss, acquisition, and enhancement of access to relational representations of God. Planning project activities will include recruiting and convening a multidisciplinary expert advisory board; preparing a literature review paper to orient prospective applicants to current methods, controversies, best practices, and research opportunities in the neuroscience of religious cognition; preparing a full proposal and draft Request for Proposals (RFP); creating a plan to distribute the RFP; designing and building a project website; and planning a collaborative research project led by the core project team. Our ultimate goal is to catalyze progress in understanding the nature and functioning of religious cognition and to build capacity for the scientific study of religion among the neuroscientific community.
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