Want to understand religion? You’ve gotta have a body.

Connor Wood


A few times a year, a group of scholars, scientists, and industry people gather in Manhattan as part of a Sinai and Synapses working group, and I’m privileged to be one of those folks. Last week, as part of a working group meeting, I and the other members of Sinai and Synapses were treated to a fascinating talk by an expert in religion and technology, Noreen Herzfeld. Herzfeld’s talk focused on bodies – on the difference between simulating cognition using abstract 0s or 1s and actually having fleshy, full-body experience of the world. I can’t think of a better angle from which to tackle questions of religion and science. [Read more…]

The Wave of the Future: Experimental Religious Studies

Connor Wood

If you don’t know about Edge.org, you should. Especially if you are a nerd. Edge is an online salon in which experts from all sorts of different fields get together (virtually, of course) and discuss important issues, from human evolution to the future of agriculture to bioethics. In a recent Edge column, influential religious studies scholar and cognitive scientist Edward Slingerland offered a fascinating look at how the academic study of religion can use experimental methods to sort out the good theories from the bad ones. If he’s right – and I’m betting my career that he is – we won’t have to rely anymore on “Just-So” stories and strongly held personal hunches when talking about religion. We can test whether our fondest ideas hold up against the harsh light of reality. [Read more…]

Why do we think the soul persists after death?

Connor Wood


Quick: imagine what happens after you die. Will you still be able to think and feel? Will you experience pain, pleasure, or sensations, and will you still develop, change, and grow? Around the world, people seem to be hardwired to think about humans dualistically, or as composed of physical bodies and nonphysical minds or spirits. This means that ideas about the afterlife and the soul may come as naturally to us as breathing. But a pair of psychologists from California think that the situation is more complicated – we may be innately predisposed to differentiate not just between body and mind, but between mortal mind and immortal spirit.

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