Cognitive neuroscience and religious language: A working hypothesis

Patrick McNamara, Magda Giordano

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Communication between deities and human beings rests on the use of language. Religious language has peculiarities such as the use of a formal voice, reductions in first-person and elevation of third-person pronoun use, archaistic elements, and an abundance of speech acts-features that reflect and facilitate the binding of the individual to conceived ultimate reality and value, decentering the Self while focusing on the deity. Explorations of the neurologic correlates of these cognitive and linguistic processes may be useful to identify constraints on neurocognitive models of religious language, and metaphor. The key brain regions that may mediate religious language include neural networks known to be involved in computational assessments of value, future-oriented simulations, Self-agency, Self-reflection, and attributing intentionality of goals to others. Studies indicate that some of the areas involved in those processes are active during personal prayer, whereas brain regions related to habit formation appear active during formal prayer. By examining religious language, and the brain areas engaged by it, we aim to develop more comprehensive neurocognitive models of religious cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationReligion, Language, and the Human Mind
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780190636647
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved.


  • Decentering
  • Pragmatics
  • Religious experience
  • Religious language
  • Ritual
  • Speech acts
  • Supernatural agents


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