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Supernatural agents   why we believe in souls gods and buddhas (pyysiäinen 2009)

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    Supernatural agents   why we believe in souls gods and buddhas (pyysiäinen 2009) Supernatural agents why we believe in souls gods and buddhas (pyysiäinen 2009) Document Transcript

    • Supernatural Agents
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    • SupernaturalAgentsWhy We Believe in Souls, Gods,and Buddhasilkka P yysiäinen12009
    • 1Oxford University Press, Inc., publishes works that furtherOxford University’s objective of excellencein research, scholarship, and education.Oxford New YorkAuckland Cape Town Dar es Salaam Hong Kong KarachiKuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City NairobiNew Delhi Shanghai Taipei TorontoWith offices inArgentina Austria Brazil Chile Czech Republic France GreeceGuatemala Hungary Italy Japan Poland Portugal SingaporeSouth Korea Switzerland Thailand Turkey Ukraine VietnamCopyright © 2009 by Oxford University Press, Inc.Published by Oxford University Press, Inc.198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016www.oup.comOxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University PressAll rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,without the prior permission of Oxford University Press.Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataPyysiäinen, Ilkka.Supernatural agents: why we believe in souls, gods, and buddhas/ Ilkka Pyysiäinen. p. cm.Includes bibliographical references and index.ISBN 978-0-19-538002-61. Psychology, Religious. 2. Cognitive science. 3. Soul.4. Buddhas. 5. Gods. I. Title.BL53.P99 2009202.1—dc22 2008039709987654321Printed in the United States of Americaon acid-free paper
    • AcknowledgmentsI had been working with the idea of this book for a couple of yearswhen Harvey Whitehouse kindly invited me to work as a visitingresearcher at the newly founded Center for Anthropology and Mindat the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at OxfordUniversity. I am very grateful for this unique opportunity. It was atOxford, in the summer of 2007, that the ideas of this book finallybegan to take shape and different pieces of the puzzle started gradu-ally to find their place. I am also hugely indebted to Justin Barrett,Emma Cohen, Jon Lanman, and Harvey Whitehouse, as well asPascal Boyer, for help and advice during that summer. The seminars,lectures, and informal discussions we had have been an importantsource of inspiration. I also want to thank all others who have in many ways helpedand inspired this project. This book would never have been writtenhad I not met in March 1995 with Tom Lawson, whose support,advice, and friendship is much appreciated. Bob McCauley helpedme and my family move to Oxford. Thanks also to Barbara de Bruinefor kind help in many practical matters, as well as to the staff of theTylor Library. Over the years, I have had numerous enjoyable discussions withIstván Czachesz, Nicholas Gibson, Jeppe Jensen, Pierre Liénard,Luther Martin, Joel Mort, Tom Ryba, Benson Saler, Jesper Sørensen,and Don Wiebe; I am grateful to them for help, advice, and friend-ship. This work was begun during my term as an Academy ResearchFellow ( project 1111683) at the Helsinki Collegium for AdvancedStudies. I am grateful both to the Academy of Finland that has
    • vi acknowledgmentsfunded my work and to the Collegium that has provided me with a first-classacademic environment for many years. Its past and present directors, RaimoVäyrynen and Juha Sihvola, have supported my work with keen and much-appreciated interest. I also thank the fellows of the Collegium and my colleaguesat its administration: Minna Franck, Hanna Pellinen, Marjut Salokannel, TainaSeiro, Iiris Sinervuo, Maria Soukkio, Tuomas Tammilehto, and Aarno Villa. Thanks also to my first teacher of comparative religion, Juha Pentikäinen,who showed me the importance of not forgetting one’s own cultural heritage,in my case the long traditions of Finnish scholarship on folk beliefs. I beganthe study of religion together with Veikko Anttonen, now the godfather of mydaughter Milja. I would not be what I am without his help, support, and alwaysperceptive criticism of my most ambitious speculations. For many years I havealso had the pleasure of working closely with Kimmo Ketola and Tom Sjöblomin Helsinki. I could never have done it all alone. I have learned a lot from the members of the governing board of the MindForum, a two-year series of multidisciplinary workshops on the study of mindat Helsinki—Riitta Hari, Johannes Lehtonen, Kirsti Lonka, Anssi Peräkylä,Stephan Salenius, Mikko Sams, and Petri Ylikoski—as well as all the partici-pants in our seminars, too numerous to be listed here. Last but by no meansleast, I thank my students and Ph.D. students who have at times worked veryhard in advancing the cognitive science of religion in Finland: Elisa Järnefelt,Kaisa Maria Kouri, Jani Närhi, Outi Pohjanheimo, Mia Rikala, Aku Visala, espe-cially, and many others. Thanks also to such important fellow scholars as ScottAtran, Tamás Bíró, Joseph Bulbulia, Armin Geertz, Harry Halén, Sara Heinä-maa, Timo Honkela, Markus Jokela, Jutta Jokiranta, Kai Kaila, Klaus Karttunen,Simo Knuuttila, Hanna Kokko, Teija Kujala, Arto Laitinen, Jason Lavery, Mar-jaana Lindeman, Dan Lloyd, Petri Luomanen, Brian Malley, Juri Mykkänen,Matti Myllykoski, Markku Niemivirta, Asko Parpola, Anna Rotkirch, J. P. Roos,Heikki Räisänen, Pertti Saariluoma, Risto Saarinen, Mikko Salmela, StephenSanderson, Matti Sintonen, Jason Slone, Todd Tremlin, Reijo Työrinoja, RistoUro, and Ted Vial. The kind of interdisciplinary work that underlies this bookwould not have been possible without many good contacts across disciplinaryboundaries. Finally, I am grateful to Cynthia Read and Oxford University Pressfor accepting my book for publication. It has been a pleasure to work withMeechal Hoffman, Martha Ramsey, and Mariana Templin. The two anonymousreviewers made some good suggestions for improvements. I am also happy that my family had the wonderful opportunity to enjoy asummer at Oxford with me while I was finishing this book. Thanks for beingthere, Sari, Miihkali, and Milja!
    • PrefaceA book needs a good title. To the extent that Supernatural Agentsfulfills this purpose, it yet is nothing more than just a title. “Super-natural” is here not a technical, explanatory concept and does notnecessarily identify any clearly demarcated phenomenon. I only useit as catchy term to refer to the representations of nonhuman agentsdescribed and analyzed in this book. These include ghosts and spiritsin Finno-Ugric and western European traditions, God within theChristian traditions, and buddhas and bodhisattvas in the Buddhisttraditions. My aim is to show that the mental representation of Godand of buddhas are made possible by the same mental mechanismsthat are used in representing ourselves and our fellow human beingsas embodied agents (“souls”). God, buddhas, and human beings areagents in the sense of animated organisms that have a mentality ormind. Agency thus consists of the two properties of animacy ( liveli-ness, self-propelledness) and mentality (beliefs and desires). Mentalityis subjectively experienced as an “I” or a “self” that inhabits the body;usually we do not think of ourselves as simply identical with thematerial body. I draw from the cognitive science of religion, trying to show howhumans are able to represent agency in all its varieties and to drawagentive inferences that feel natural and compelling, irrespectiveof whether the agent in question can be directly perceived or not.The cognitive science of religion emerged in the 1980s and 1990s inreligious studies and in anthropology and psychology of religion. Ithas by and large focused on producing empirically testable hypoth-eses about religious phenomena (Lawson and McCauley 1990; Boyer
    • viii preface1994b, 2001, 2003a; Barrett 2000, 2004a; Pyysiäinen 2001b; Pyysiäinen andAnttonen 2002; Whitehouse 2004; Tremlin 2006; Paiva 2007; Barrett 2007).Not every scholar involved in this project is a natural scientist, and not every proj-ect directly aims at empirical testing of theories, however (e.g., Martin 2004a,2005; Pyysiäinen 2004d; Cohen 2007; Vial 2004; Sørensen 2007). It is equallyimportant to try to apply the findings of cognitive science in attempts at under-standing and explaining religion as it is found in archaeological and historicalrecords and documents, doctrinal treatises, archival sources, and ethnographicreports (e.g., Mithen 1998, 2004; Pearson 2002; Luomanen et al. 2007a). Thisbook is an example of this kind of approach to religious materials. The first part of the book consists of an outline of the cognitive structuresthat make it possible to mentally represent agents and agency; some method-ological remarks; and important conceptual clarifications. In the second part,I describe and analyze various kinds of conceptions of souls and spirits in folktraditions, representations of the Christian God in their varieties, and repre-sentations of supernatural agents in Buddhism. I try to show that conceptionsof souls and supernatural agents are cognitively natural and that even the mostabstract theological conceptualizations are elaborations of folk-psychologicalnotions. Analysis develops bottom-up, in the sense that I proceed from spiritbeliefs toward more abstract ideas about gods, buddhas, and bodhisattvas. I am well aware that I am comparing traditions many scholars regard asincommensurate: ancient Finno-Ugric conceptions of soul and Scholastic the-ology, everyday Christian beliefs about God and Buddhist doctrine, and so forth.The received view in anthropology has long been that beliefs and practicesreceive their meaning in a cultural context and that cultural systems cannot beunderstood from outside (e.g., Geertz 1973, 1993; cf. Boyer 1994b; D’Andrade2000). The task of the anthropologist is to “read” particular cultures like textsand to interpret them. My own, essentially comparative project is based on the realization thatthere are crossculturally recurrent patterns and that cultures do not have anyclear boundaries or an essence. As all comparison is always made from somepoint of view and all similarities and dissimilarities are relative to that point ofview, there are many ways of comparing religious beliefs and practices (Boyer1994b; Lawson 1996). As Tom Lawson (1996) points out, the problem of com-parative religion has been precisely the lack of an independent measuringstick that would make comparison possible; here I suggest that a comparativeexploration of religious traditions is possible by linking religious concepts andideas to the human cognitive architecture that channels the cultural spread ofideas and beliefs. This is not to deny cultural or any other differences. To quotethe Oxford anthropologist Robert Ranulph Marett, “the special function of thecomparative method is to testify to a unity in difference, as in this case consti-tuted by the human mind . . . amid an endless diversity of outer circumstance”(Marett 1920, 81). Analyzing crossculturally recurrent patterns is not to deny
    • preface ixdifferences in semantic contents but only to recognize important continuitiesand invariances. It is mostly these continuities that I explore in the pages tofollow. This book is intended for various kinds of audiences, and there are thusvarious ways of reading it. An easy way to grasp the basic ideas will be to readthe summaries at the end of each chapter, and then to read the general conclu-sion; the main text provides detailed justifications for the claims made, basedon extensive source materials.
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    • Note on TransliterationThe transliteration of Sanskrit and Pali words has been simplified sothat only long vowels (such as ā), palatal ñ, and palatal ś are indicatedusing diacritical marks, while cerebral (retroflex) consonants andsyllabic r, for example, are not indicated.
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    • ContentsNote on Transliteration, xiPART I Human Agency1. Religion: Her Ideas of His Ideas of Their Ideas . . . , 32. Mind Your Heads, 43PART II Supernatural Agency3. Souls, Ghosts, and Shamans, 574. God as Supernatural Agent, 955. Buddhist Supernatural Agents, 1376. Conclusion, 173Appendix: Cognitive Processes and Explaining Religion, 189Notes, 211Sources and Literature, 229Index, 281
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    • IHuman Agency
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    • 1ReligionHer Ideas of His Ideas of Their Ideas . . .1.1 Epidemiology of Intuitive and Reflective IdeasMy aim in this book is to show how knowledge about the cognitivearchitecture of the human mind can help us understand the natureand spread of beliefs about both human souls and spirits and super-natural agents such as gods. Dan Sperber and others, in developingwhat they call the epidemiology of representations, have focused onthe spread of concepts and beliefs (representations) (1985, 1996,2006; Claidière and Sperber 2007; Sperber and Hirschfeld 2004).1Epidemiology studies the ecological patterns of phenomena inpopulations—in medical epidemiology, pathological diseases; inpsychological epidemiology, people’s beliefs and desires. As cul-tures consist of a differential distribution of representations amongindividuals, the psychological and the cultural are not so muchtwo different “levels” as measures of the spread of representations(Sperber 2006; see also Pyysiäinen 2005c, in press). Culture thusserves as a kind of “precipitation of cognition and communicationin a human population” (Sperber 1996, 97). I will discuss the ontol-ogy of the mental and the cultural in section 1.2; here I only wish toemphasize that my analysis by and large focuses on the psychologicalmechanisms that constrain the spread of concepts of and beliefsabout supernatural agents (see Boyer 1994b). Such constraining means that beliefs about supernatural agentsare not arbitrarily created in minds. The architecture of mind (seeAnderson and Lebiere 2003) instead shapes beliefs, thus creatingcross-culturally recurrent patterns. This implies that not all concepts
    • 4 human agencyand beliefs have an equal potential for becoming widespread. The most suc-cessful representations in cultural selection are those that “match” people’smental architecture, in that an existing “slot ” corresponds to the form of therepresentation in question. This makes it possible to connect the representa-tion with information stored in one’s mind and to make inferences from it.Representations such as “God is angry” are cognitively cheap, in that it does nottake much effort to make inferences from them, because human minds haveevolved to make inferences about other agents’ beliefs and desires in particular(see Levinson and Jaisson 2006; Nichols and Stich 2003). “God is the groundof being ” is a cognitively costly representation because it does not immediatelytrigger any automatic inferential system in a person’s mind; it thus is moredifficult to spread. Sperber and Wilson’s (1988) relevance theory yields the fol-lowing prediction: (a) When the processing costs of two interpretations are equivalent, an inferentially richer interpretation is favored ( b) When the inferential potential is the same, the less costly interpre- tation is favored (Boyer 2003c, 352)This means that cognitively costly representations are at a disadvantage incultural selection: they are either ignored or transformed into simpler forms(Sperber 1996). To use Barrett ’s (1998, 611) example, “A cat that can never die,has wings, is made of steel, experiences time backwards, lives underwater, andspeaks Russian” is a representation that cannot survive in oral transmissionwithout being distorted (see also Ward 1994). After a few retellings, a storyabout this cat might be transformed into a story about an immortal cat, forexample. Memorizing the whole list of the cat ’s properties puts a heavy loadon working memory and thus leads to a simplification of the representation.It also is not possible to memorize the representation of the bizarre cat as anentity that belongs to some familiar category and then to deduce the variousproperties of the cat one by one on the basis of this category membership (seeBoyer 2001; Sperber 2000b). There simply is no natural cognitive categorycorresponding to this cat. This argument only holds for orally transmitted representations. For exam-ple, even though I had forgotten Barrett ’s exact characterization of the imag-inary cat, I was able to check the list of the attributes in the journal articlewhere this bizarre feline lives just as Barrett once imagined it. Or not quite so,because it is only the marks in ink that are preserved unchanged; the mentalrepresentations these marks trigger in readers’ minds vary. We all imagine thecat slightly differently. Verbal communication is not a process of copying ideasfrom one mind to another, as it were. Instead, it is based on an active construc-tion on the part of the reader or listener (Sperber 2000b; Sperber and Wilson1988). Extremely complicated ideas (or instead their material tokens) can bestored in books and on computers, but they are part of culture only insofar as
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 5they are part of cognitive causal chains connecting material causal processessuch as visual perception with semantic contents (Sperber 2006, 153 –61). Inother words, ideas in books are part of culture only on the condition that thereare persons who read the books and thus represent the ideas in their minds. This challenges the traditional view of “world religions” and “religions ofthe book ” as abstract entities that resemble Plato’s “ideas” (see chapter 2, sec-tion 3). “Hinduism,” “Buddhism,” “Christianity,” or “Islam” do not exist some-where outside of human minds which supposedly can only imperfectly reflectthe “true Hinduism,” “true Buddhism,” and so forth. Individuals can of coursehave ideas about “true Hinduism,” but they are ideas in minds, not abstractextramental entities. Several persons can also have “shared” ideas of a “truereligion,” in that their ideas more or less resemble each other, but not in thesense of many minds somehow partaking in one and the same extramentalidea (chapter 2, section 1). Naturally, persons can also have radically idiosyncratic (“heretic”) religiousideas. Psychologist Justin Barrett (1999) coined the expression “theological cor-rectness” ( TC) to refer to a continuum the endpoints of which consist of intui-tive ideas easy to process in fast “on-line” reasoning and highly reflective ideasthat are cognitively costly and need institutional support (Barrett 1998; Barrettand Keil 1996; Tremlin 2006, 75). While our everyday intuitions about reli-gious concepts occupy the first end, the other end is typified by theologicaland scientific ideas. As theology is normative, it is easy to understand TC asreferring to something that persons should believe although they do not (Slone2004). However, this may be misleading because “heresies” are not necessarilycognitively cheap and all officially accepted ideas are not necessarily cognitivelycostly. Instead, I conceptualize the TC continuum on the basis of the natureand amount of cognitive effort involved, without implying anything about thenormativeness of the ideas in question. It is here that the discussion gets complicated; I present the more techni-cal details in the appendix. I have used the so-called dual-process theories todevelop conceptual tools for describing the continuum of TC more broadly,on the basis of cognitive effort involved, not on the basis of correctness versusincorrectness. By so doing, I aim to accomplish two things: first, to provide aricher and more adequate description of the representation of supernaturalagency in the traditions analyzed, and second, to be able to explain why andhow everyday concepts of supernatural agents develop to more reflective ones.My analysis is cognitive, not historical. I try to show what kinds of cognitiveresources are needed for mentally representing supernatural agents and howhumans’ mental architecture channels the conceptual evolution of represen-tations of supernatural agency. I focus on certain conceptual problems thatemerge in religious thinking about supernatural agents and try to show howthe ways these problems have been treated can be explained with reference tohumans’ mental architecture.
    • 6 human agency All thinking naturally takes place in time and in social and cultural situa-tions. I have chosen to focus on the cognitive features of agent representationand have kept references to sociocultural environments to a minimum. I do sonot because cognition is somehow more important or essential but because asingle volume cannot address both. I focus my analysis on an interesting andimportant part of what is going on in social and cultural reality. Sociality refersto systems of more than one individual. Cognition is the link that connectsindividuals in a social system and makes culture possible by stabilizing infor-mation in interpersonal communication (see Jaisson 2006; Sperber 2006).The human ability to attribute beliefs and desires to others and to think whatothers might be thinking about is a cognitive capacity. Thus, although I focuson the cognitive aspects of religious traditions, I also suggest some ways foranalyzing the noncognitive components of cognitive causal chains could com-plete the analysis (see Sperber 2006, 161 –62). To briefly summarize the argument in the appendix: humans use two dif-ferent reasoning strategies that have been variously labeled intuitive and reflec-tive, spontaneous and rational, and so forth. If we want to avoid misleadingconnotations, we can just speak of the A- and B-systems (Pyysiäinen 2004c) orsystems 1 and 2 (Stanovich and West 2000). These systems can be differenti-ated on the basis of the neural processes involved, the cognitive mechanismsinvolved, and the kinds of contents processed. When cognitive scientists ofreligion speak of “intuitions,” they mean certain kinds of basic concepts andbeliefs, usually without specifying the mechanisms that support them and helpdifferentiate them from nonintuitive ones (Barrett 2000, 2004b; Boyer 1994b,2001, 2003b; Pyysiäinen 2001b; cf. Sperber 1997). One exception to this isTremlin, who discusses dual-process theories at some length (2006, 172–82). Social psychologists have long known that humans seem to have two dif-ferent reasoning strategies they apply in differing kinds of reasoning tasks, andneuroscientists and cognitive scientists have made progress in differentiatingbetween two types of neurocognitive mechanisms supporting these strategies.However, the kinds of phenomena that are typically studied within the socialsciences often involve both automatic and controlled processes (Bargh 1994, 3).Thus, real-life religious concepts (as distinct from imaginary examples) canhardly be completely intuitive or reflective. Instead, each type of process makesa differential contribution to the cognitive processing of particular religious con-cepts in particular contexts. The two strategies can be roughly distinguished by such criteria as speed,amount of emotion involved, type of motivation, type of information consulted,form of reasoning employed, and amount of “extracranial” scaffolding needed(see chapter 2, section 2.1). The intuitive A–system is responsible for fast, asso-ciative, and emotionally colored thinking with purely practical goals, usinginnate information and information derived from the environment throughanalogical reasoning. It operates reflexively, not reflectively, drawing inferences
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 7and making predictions on the basis of temporal relations and similarity. Itemploys knowledge derived from personal experience, concrete and genericconcepts, images, stereotypes, feature sets, and associative relations, relyingon similarity-based generalization and automatic processing. It serves suchcognitive functions as intuition, fantasy, creativity, imagination, visual recogni-tion, and associative memory. Some authors also argue that it is a subsymbolicpattern-recognition system that relies on connectionist, parallel distributedprocessing. The A-system thus supports what is often called “everyday thinking,” which,in contrast to reflective or scientific thinking, proceeds from the immediateexperience of individuals; aims at short-term, practical efficacy, not at creatinggeneral theories; seeks evidence and not counterevidence; makes use of indi-vidual cases as evidence; personalizes values and ideals; makes use of abductiveinference; and presents arguments in the form of narratives (Denes-Raj andEpstein 1994; Epstein 1990; Epstein and Pacini 1999; Epstein et al. 1992). The reflective B-system serves such cognitive functions as deliberation,explanation, formal analysis, and verification. It seeks logical, hierarchical, andcausal-mechanical structure in its environment, using information from lan-guage, culture, and formal systems. It is a rule-based system capable of encod-ing any information with a well-specified formal structure and relies heavilyon external memory stores such as books and pictorial representations. It thusseems to work by computing digital information syntactically in some kindof “language of thought ” (Fodor 1975; Paivio 1986; cf. Fodor 2000a). Highlyreflective B-system reasoning leans on rules, conventions, and databases thatoften take time to learn and master. As it is not possible to hold all relevantknowledge in mind and to consult it while performing mental operations,external memory stores and “scaffolding ” are needed (Clark 1997). Thus, thenature and amount of empirical information and institutional support avail-able to a person also has an effect on her or his reasoning strategy (see Giere2004; Giere and Moffatt 2003; see also chapter 2, section 2.1 here). Althoughindividuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideasand to engage in various forms of reasoning (Neisser et al. 1996; see also Millerand Penke 2007), the distinction between intuitive and reflective reasoningdoes not reduce to a difference in intelligence or between types of minds; it isinstead a difference in contexts and motivations (see Pyysiäinen 2004c). Reflec-tive reasoning is used in different kinds of context and for different purposesfrom intuitive reasoning. There thus seem to be two different cognitive strategies based on differentkinds of cognitive mechanisms with a more or less distinct neural realization.Reasoning about supernatural agents can be more or less intuitive or reflective,not simply intuitive or reflective. The two systems can contribute in differingdegrees to inferences made. The relative cheapness or costliness of mentalrepresentations thus is based on the relative amount of reflective (B-system)
    • 8 human agencyversus intuitive (A-system) processing. Consequently, representations are moreor less cheap or costly in terms of the cognitive resources needed, althoughno simple way of quantifying cognitive costliness seems to be available ( butsee Barrett 2008; Sperber 2005). I use the term “costliness” in opposition tothe term “relevant ” (Sperber and Wilson 1988): processing a costly concept orbelief spends so much of one’s cognitive resources that persons are more or lesslikely to interrupt the processing and try to find alternative means of achievingthe same benefits with a lower cost. As such, cognitive costliness is a relativeand not an absolute measure. I substitute the more widely studied distinction between intuitive andreflective thinking for the more narrow idea of TC. When I want to emphasizethat certain religious ideas are officially accepted doctrines, I speak of “pre-scribed” ideas, not of “theologically correct ” ideas, in order to avoid confusion.I do not mean that it is a defining characteristic of either prescribed or costlyideas that people do not really “believe” in them (cf. Slone 2004). I mean thatthe functions of costly ideas are different from those of more intuitive repre-sentations (see Pyysiäinen 2004c). When we study real-life religious traditions, we meet a whole spectrum ofrepresentations from intuitive and idiosyncratic to prescribed and costly. Weencounter the former ones especially in interview materials and experimen-tal data and the latter ones in theological treatises especially (see also Wiebe1991). The challenging task of a scholar of religion is to somehow relate thetwo to each other. Historically, the costly prescribed ideas seem to develop onthe basis of more intuitive ones (Pyysiäinen 1997, 2004d). When “theologians”(as they might be called—of whatever tradition) try to solve problems of coher-ence and consistency, they develop ever more abstract systems with no empiri-cal constraints. As the price of the apparently increasing rationality of beliefs,it becomes increasingly difficult to make folk-psychologically relevant infer-ences from theological concepts (Boyer 2001, 320 –22). In my effort to describethe human cognitive structure that affects some of the ways this developmentunfolds, I will focus on everyday conceptions of souls and spirits, “Christian”conceptions of God, and “Buddhist ” conceptions of supernatural agents. Myaim is to show that the concept of agency is the key to understanding the role ofrepresentations of supernatural beings in human social systems. This means,for one thing, a rethinking of the old dichotomy between “Tylorianism” and“Durkheimianism” in anthropology of religion.1.2 Strange Bedfellows: Tylor and DurkheimViewing religion as a system of beliefs and practices related to gods andother supernatural beings is currently not, perhaps, the most popular way ofunderstanding religion. It is often argued that such an approach to religion is
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 9mistaken, ethnocentric, and obsolete. After all the linguistic, rhetorical, andwhatever “turns” the social sciences have gone through, it may seem fool-hardy even to try to revive such an old-fashioned view of religion. The sup-posed antagonism between the (neo-)Tylorian emphasis on spirit beliefs andthe Durkheimian emphasis on social functions continues to be an importantdividing line in the study of religion (see Pyysiäinen 2001b, 25– 76; Stocking1995; Strathern and Stewart 2007). Philosopher Michael Levine (1998, 37)has said: “given the dominant view in religious studies which sees religion asa cultural system (Geertz 1973), it is a mistake to see gods as essential—evenwhen present in a system.” Nonetheless, beliefs about souls, spirits, ghosts,gods and demons are found everywhere and seem to form a recurrent pat-tern within and across cultures, quite irrespective of what philosophers andtheologians happen to consider important. Whether my colleagues regardbelief in supernatural agency as part of (true) “religion” or not, I argue thatbeliefs about supernatural agents form a widespread phenomenon that canand should be studied as an integral part of folk traditions (see Lawson andMcCauley 1990; McCauley and Lawson 2002, 13–16; see also Boyer 1994b,19–34; Pyysiäinen 2001b, 1–5; Spiro 1968). While Tylor emphasizes the content of religious beliefs ( belief in spirits),Durkheim argues that it is the functions of beliefs that should define religion.Underlying the Durkheimian view is the often implicit view that, although reli-gious beliefs may testify to the “rich tapestry of human folly” (Boyer 2001, 2),they are promulgated primarily to serve some important function in society.But even if that is granted, it hardly means there cannot be additional rea-sons for the persistence of religion (Hinde 1999). Even within the functionalistframe of reference, we can still ask why precisely certain kinds of belief servea given function. Content and function may not have an arbitrary relationship,and “Tylorianism” and “Durkheimianism” need not be regarded as mutuallyexclusive (see Whitehouse and Laidlaw 2007). I argue that religious beliefs canfunction in societies the way they do because “the social” is based on the notionof agency (section 1.5.1 here). Tylor (1903, 1:424–25), the first to lecture in anthropology at Oxford (begin-ning in 1893), found religion in adoration of idols, sacrifice, or belief in asupreme deity. For him, the minimum definition of religion was belief inspiritual beings. Such belief seemed to appear among all “low races” of whichthere was any evidence available. Although it was possible that humans hadlacked religion at some point in evolution, no evidence of this had survived.Thus, it was better to admit that there was no way of deciding either way. Tylor(1:425–27) called belief in spirits “animism”—a term he adopted from GeorgStahl (1659–1734), who regarded animism as a scientific version of the ideaof the soul as the vital principle.2 Animism included two ideas that togetherformed “one consistent doctrine”: first, individuals had souls capable of con-tinued existence after death, and second, spirits formed a hierarchy of spiritual
    • 10 human agencybeings that were in control of events in the material world and human life bothhere and hereafter. This doctrine led to the observed attitudes of reverence andpropitiation. Simple animism characterized tribes “very low in the scale ofhumanity” but ascended to and persisted in “the midst of high modern cul-ture,” in a deeply modified form but with unbroken continuity (see also Radin1957, 192–253). Spirit beliefs originated in the attempts of “primitive man” to explain twothings: what made the difference between a living and a dead body,3 and whatwere the “human shapes” that appeared in dreams and visions? The “ancientsavage philosophers” inferred that every man had a life and a phantom. Bothwere closely connected with the body: the life enabled the body to feel, think,and act; the phantom was a representation of the live body in the mind. Bothcould also be separated from the body. From this, the primitives concluded thatlife and body belonged to each other, being manifestations of a single soul. Asthey were thus united, the result was the idea of a ghost-soul that could animateany physical form ( Tylor 1903, 1:428–29). The conception of a human soulthus served as a model on which humans framed ideas of all kinds of spiritualbeings, “from tiniest elf that sports in the long grass up to the heavenly Creatorand Ruler of the world, the Great Spirit ” (2:110). Tylor emphasized that the natives of Australia, for example, were “a racewith minds saturated with the most vivid belief in souls, demons, and dei-ties.” The same held for African and American natives: despite the lack oforganized religion, these peoples had beliefs about supernatural beings. Tylor(1903, 1:423) therefore reproached Sir Samuel Baker for having ignored pub-lished evidence when he argued at the Ethnological Society of London in1866 that the most northern tribes of the White Nile were without a beliefin a Supreme Being, had no worship, and lacked “even a ray of supersti-tion.”4 Likewise, J. D. Lang had denied the existence of any religion amongthe aboriginals of Australia but reported them to have beliefs about evil spiritsas well as of divinities. In the same vein, W. Ridley had reported that theaboriginals of Australia had traditions about supernatural beings but deniedtrue religion to them ( Tylor 1903, 1:418–19). Tylor ’s basic idea was that allspirit beliefs and their related practices hid some real meaning, no matterhow “crude and childish”; the explanation was that a reasonable thought hadonce given life to practices that now looked like “superstitious folly.” EvenChristianity was somehow related to ideas that ran back to the very originsof human civilization (1:421). “Civilized men,” however, found it extremelydifficult to animate nature. Such beliefs were only “survivals” from the dawnof humanity. This idea of survivals was related to Tylor ’s erroneous concep-tion that some peoples had a longer evolutionary history than others and thuswere “more evolved” or more advanced. We realize today that it makes nosense in evolutionary terms to imply that some peoples have traveled fasterin evolution; evolution has no predetermined general goal, and many cultural
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 11developments are merely constrained by biology, not directly driven by it (seeKorthof 2004; Richerson and Boyd 2005). By survivals, Tylor meant old customs and beliefs that survived in laterstages of cultural development because of mere ancestral authority (1903,1:70 – 71). Superstitions, for example, were survivals, though not all survivalswere superstitions (children’s games, for example). This idea only makes senseagainst the backdrop of Tylor ’s and others’ ideas of the time about a hierarchi-cal scala naturae and a predetermined progress toward what was considered tobe higher forms of culture. To be a survival, it was not enough for an idea or apractice to be old; it had to be somehow misplaced in its current context. ForTylor, a sure sign of such misplacement was that the survival seemed somehowfoolish or erroneous by his lights; it had been rational in its original contextbut had become obsolete in the modern context because of cultural progress.Such an idea of a unilinear religious development has nothing to do with thebiological theory of evolution, however. When Tylor (1:vii) gave formal creditto Darwin and Spencer, granting that his own work was arranged on its ownlines and came scarcely into any detailed contact with the work of “these emi-nent philosophers,” he had in mind Spencer ’s social Darwinism more thanthe evolutionary theory of natural selection operating on random variation (seeSharpe 1975, 53–58). Durkheim’s view of religion has often been regarded as a welcome alter-native to Tylor ’s (see Anttonen 1992, 1996a,b; Douglas 1970, 1984; Stocking1995, 82–83, 97–98, 162 –63, 361). Although Durkheim also was interested inthe most primitive form of religion, he focused more on structure than ondevelopment. Notwithstanding some recent claims to the contrary, he was neg-ative about the evolutionary theory of his time because it seemed to threatenthe autonomy of his new discipline of sociology (see Gans 2000; Schmaus2003).5 Durkheim’s Les règles de la méthode sociologique was a polemical text;even he himself did not follow too strictly its principle of explaining “thesocial” only by the social (as opposed to the psychological). In Le suicide, forexample, the social consists of mental representations, and psychological argu-ments are even more prominent in Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse(Lukes 1977, 227–28; Pyysiäinen 2001b, 63– 70, 2005d).6 Durkheim’s basic idea was that religion should be defined only as a sym-bolic expression of the reverence persons had toward the group ( la société ).Although science could help reveal the psychological mechanisms behindapparently meaningless ritual acts, this was not an explanation of the ritual.Only the participants’ belief in the power of the ritual to raise spiritual forcescould be psychologically explained; the objective value of the ritual was basedon the fact that the group was regenerated by it. This fact called for a sociologi-cal explanation (1925, 496–97, 1965, 389–90). Whether supernatural agentswere involved or not was quite inconsequential; actually, the primitives did noteven have the idea of the supernatural—because they had no idea of the natural
    • 12 human agency(1925, 34, 118–22, 1965, 39–40; cf. Arbman 1939, 27). I have elsewhere triedto show in detail that here Durkheim errs: all people all over the world haveintuitive expectations about the ordinary course of events, together with ideasthat violate these intuitive expectations (Geary 2005; Pyysiäinen 2001b, 55– 74,2004d, 39–52, 81–89, 2005d). Moreover, the “regeneration” of the group isa cognitive act, consisting of persons’ mental representations of other per-sons’ mental representations; what he called “collective consciousness” thus isshared knowledge and can be studied from the cognitive psychological perspec-tive (see Pyysiäinen 2005f ). Belief in supernatural agents forms an obvious recurrent pattern in vari-ous cultural traditions. As some of these beliefs help people express, process,and justify their central values and norms, we can try to combine the Tylo-rian and Durkheimian legacies in explaining how beliefs about supernaturalagents are used in organizing a society (see Boyer 2000b, 2002; Pyysiäinen2005f ). Typical examples of supernatural agents are gods, spirits, ghosts, angels,demons, and so forth. The category of supernatural agents may seem so het-erogeneous that one may well ask whether it is a genuine category at all. Somemight want to claim that it is a pseudocategory just like “mysticism,” “ritual,”or even “religion” itself (see, e.g., Fitzgerald 1996, 1997; Penner 1983). I thinkthis view is overly pessimistic. If we can find some theoretical depth to the ideasof agency and counterintuitiveness, the idea of supernatural agents might beoperationalized for research. We need a theoretical frame of reference in whichthe various emic distinctions between different kinds of supernatural agents areseen as subdivisions within the general, etic category of supernatural agency.Using concepts at a mediating level between cultural particulars and the gen-eral category of supernatural agents, we may then conceptualize the variousrecurrent patterns within that category.1.3 There Must Be Somebody Out ThereI use quite consciously the expression “supernatural agents” instead of “super-natural beings.” By agents, psychologists and philosophers mean organismswhose behavior can be successfully predicted by postulating conscious beliefsand desires (Dennett 1993, 15–17) or entities whose behavior is caused by theirmental states (Bechtel 2008, xii). I use the concept in the sense of an organ-ism to which animacy (liveliness, self-propelledness) and mentality (beliefs anddesires) are (correctly or incorrectly) attributed. I follow Barrett (2008) in distinguishing between two components ofagency: animacy and mentality. The domain of animacy is characterizedby such things as self-propelledness and goal-orientation: organisms tacitlypostulate animacy for other organisms when they feel that those organismsmove by themselves and seem to be moving toward some goal (see Boyer and
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 13Barrett 2005). When one also attributes to the organism a conscious intentionand begins to simulate its mental states or to try to theorize about its beliefsand desires, one moves on to “mentalizing ” or “mind reading ” (Nichols andStich 2003). This ability is often called a “theory of mind” (ToM), in the sense offolk-psychological theories about other minds (Carruthers and Smith 1996).7 I distinguish three overlapping cognitive mechanisms that contributeto agentive reasoning. The first is hyperactive agent detection (HAD, Barrett2000): the tendency to postulate animacy—this mechanism is triggered bycues that are so minimal that it often produces false positives, for example, wesee faces in the clouds, mistake shadows for persons, and so forth. Second ishyperactive understanding of intentionality (HUI): the tendency to postulatementality and to see events as intentionally caused even in the absence of a visi-ble agent. Third is hyperactive teleofunctional reasoning (HTR): the tendencyto see objects as existing for a purpose.1.3.1 AgencyBarrett (2000) coined the acronym HADD ( hyperactive agent detection device)to refer to the cognitive processes that help us recognize agents (actually, ani-macy) and distinguish them from nonagents. This mental “device” is hyperactiveor hypersensitive, in that under certain conditions, it is triggered by very mini-mal cues.8 We see faces in the clouds and detect predators in rustling bushesbecause such ambiguous perceptions easily trigger the postulation of agency.According to Barrett, a normally functioning HADD is hyperactive by its verynature—hyperactivity is not something exceptional. From an evolutionary pointof view, this is plausible, insofar as the costs of false positives that an overreact-ing detector produces are lower than the benefits it brings (Atran 2006). The following most common direct cues for agency have been suggested(Blakemoore et al. 2003; Boyer and Barrett 2005; see Heider and Simmel 1944): 1. Animate motion that has as its input such things as nonlinear changes in direction, sudden acceleration without collision, and change of physical shape that accompanies motion (e.g., caterpillar-like crawling) 2. An object reacting at a distance 3. Trajectories that only make sense if the moving entity is trying to reach or avoid something, which leads to goal-ascription 4. An entity appearing to be moving by conscious intention to an apparent end result (intention-ascription) 5. The experience of joint attention (for which we develop a capacity between nine and twelve months of age)These cues trigger the feeling or intuition of agency spontaneously and auto-matically, in the sense that this intuition can neither be rationally controllednor initiated or terminated at will (see Bargh 1994; Pyysiäinen 2004c; see
    • 14 human agencythe appendix). However, I suggest that the first three cues only trigger ani-macy assumptions, while the latter two trigger HUI. It may also be misleadingto call HADD a (single) “device,” as several systems contribute to the percep-tion that one is facing an agent (see Boyer and Barrett 2005). Once peoplestart reasoning about the beliefs and desires of a postulated agent, they usemind reading: the capacity to make inferences about the beliefs and desires ofothers and to explain their behavior on that basis (see Carruthers and Smith1996; Frith and Frith 2005; Nichols and Stich 2003; Premack and Woodruff1978; Saxe and Baron-Cohen 2006; Tomasello et al. 2005; Tremlin 2006, 75).Mind reading is often understood to be innate—not a learned ability but rathersomething triggered in the course of normal development (Leslie 1996; Well-man and Miller 2006, 28). It has been seen as an innate modular algorithm,(e.g. Leslie), as an innate body of knowledge (e.g. Pinker and Sperber), and asmodular in all three senses of the concept of a “module” (Baron-Cohen) dis-cussed in the appendix (see Gerrans 2002, 308). It can also be understood tobe based on a nonmodular conceptual competence ( Wellman et al. 2001; seeYazdi et al. 2006). The standard psychological test for ToM is the so-called false belief task( Wimmer and Perner 1983). In this test, children are shown a sketch in whicha boy called Maxi first puts a chocolate bar in container A. Then, without Maxi’sknowing, his mother moves it to container B. The subjects are then askedwhere Maxi would look for the chocolate bar when he returns. Children aroundthree years of age tend to say (incorrectly) that Maxi would look in container B(where the bar was hidden). Only in the fourth year does the tendency appearto say that Maxi would look in container A. It thus seems that younger chil-dren cannot understand that Maxi remains ignorant of his mother hiding thebar in container B. These results have been obtained in many replications ofthe experiment and across many variations of the original design. Scholarlyopinions differ on what these results really tell about the ways children think(see Baron-Cohen 2000; Baron-Cohen et al. 1985; Fodor 1992; Perner 1995;Wimmer and Perner 1983).9 Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan Leslie, and Uta Frith (1985) used the same taskto test autistic children’ ability to impute mental states to others. They testedtwenty autistic children, fourteen children with Down syndrome, and twenty-seven clinically normal preschool children. Two dolls were used, Sally andAnne. First, Sally placed a marble in her basket, and then left the scene. Annethen transferred the marble into her own box. When Sally returned, the experi-menter asked: “Where will Sally look for her marble?” Children with Downsyndrome as well as normal preschool children answered correctly by point-ing to the basket where Sally had put the marble. The autistic group consis-tently answered by pointing to the box where the marble really was; the autisticchildren did not seem to get the difference between their own and the doll’sknowledge. In the authors’ words, they “failed to employ a ToM”—a failure
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 15consisting of an “inability to represent mental states” (Baron-Cohen et al. 1985,43). Autism thus might seem to involve a lack of a ToM. The inability to makeinferences about what other people believe to be the case in a given situationprevents one from predicting what they will do (Baron-Cohen 2000; Baron-Cohen et al. 1985, 39; see Carruthers and Smith 1996, 223– 73; Frith 2001). However, failure in the test does not necessarily indicate a lack of a ToM,because having a ToM does not necessarily require the ability to reason aboutfalse beliefs (Bloom and German 2000; see Wellman et al. 2001). Reasoningabout false beliefs is just one way of using ToM (see Stone 2005). Philip Ger-rans and Valerie Stone also argue that there is no hardwired ToM as a dedicatedmodule at all and that belief attribution is not supported by a domain-specific,modular mechanism (see appendix). Instead there is interaction between suchlow-level, domain-specific mechanisms as tracking gaze and bodily movement,joint attention, and so forth and higher-level domain-general mechanisms formetarepresentation, recursion, and executive function. The output of the low-level mechanisms serve as input for the higher-level, domain-general processes(Gerrans 2002, 306, 311; Stone and Gerrans 2006a,b). Perner et al. (2006), as well as Saxe et al. (2006) present neuroscientificevidence for the view that in the right and left temporo-parietal junction of thebrain there is a specialized, domain-specific neural mechanism for reasoningabout beliefs. Inhibitory control of mental contents, together with responseselection, is mediated by domain-general mechanisms, while the domain-specific mechanism of the temporo-parietal junction is only recruited forprocessing beliefs. And reasoning about beliefs is faster than following domain-general rules in reasoning about other things than beliefs (Saxe et al. 2006; seeSaxe and Baron-Cohen 2006). Leslie et al. (2004, 2005) argue that ToM is a partly modular learning“mechanism” that only “kick-starts” the attribution of beliefs and desires. Justas color vision provides us with color concepts, ToM introduces belief and desireconcepts. Reasoning about the contents of beliefs takes place through a selec-tion process (SP) with inhibition. Developing slowly from the preschool periodonward, SP acts by selecting a content for an agent ’s belief and an action for theagent ’s desire. In everyday thinking, taking a belief to be true is the default, sosuccess in the false belief task requires an ability to inhibit the default attribu-tion and to select the erroneous belief for the character looking for the hiddenobject. The mentality of organisms that ToM processes is very early on under-stood as separate from the physical body. Kuhlmeier et al. (2004), for example,show that five-month-old infants apply the constraint of continuous motion toinanimate blocks but not to persons. They thus do not seem to view humanagents as material objects. In the experiment, twenty infants watched a film inwhich a woman was standing on a stage that contained two large red screensseparated by 1.21 meters. The woman then went behind the first screen; her
    • 16 human agencyidentical twin sister in identical clothing had been hiding behind the secondscreen and now emerged from behind it. What the infants saw was a womanmoving behind a screen and then suddenly emerging from behind the otherscreen without being visible in the space between the two screens. The infantsrevealed that they were not surprised by this apparently miraculous event,although they were surprised when they watched mere physical objects (as dis-tinct from humans) behaving in the same way. ( They exhibited surprise bylooking longer at the action they were witnessing.) This suggests that they donot consider agency to be constrained by the physical body. Even as adults, people do not feel themselves to be bodies but instead feelthat they occupy bodies (Bloom 2005, 191, 2007; Merleau-Ponty 1992; seeBronkhorst 2001, 402). Routinely, people spontaneously attribute their ownagentive properties to the homunculus called the “self,” which is not merelythe sum of a set of lower-level, “dumb[er]” homunculi (Nichols and Stich 2006,9–10). To the extent that the agentive properties are detached from the physicalbody, it is perfectly natural for people to have intuitive beliefs about disembod-ied agents such as spirits. However, disembodiment does not mean a completelack of bodily form; mentality may instead be attributed to various forms of“subtle” or otherwise nonstandard bodily forms.1.3.2 IntentionalityThere are also indirect cues that lead people to interpret an event as inten-tionally caused even when they do not perceive an agent. Hyperactive under-standing of intentionality produces an automatic conclusion that an event orstructure must have been caused or designed by an intelligent agent, evenwhen no trace of an agent is evident (Barrett 2004b, 34). For example, nor-mally, when one sees an artifact, one knows that it must have been designedand made by an agent, even though this agent is not present and one does notknow her or his identity (see Czachesz 2007, 86). This kind of reasoning contributes to beliefs about supernatural agencywhen it is extended to such cases as, for instance, seeing the image of Jesusfalling off the wall right at the moment when someone says something blas-phemous. The coincidence of the words uttered and the picture falling createsthe feeling that the falling was intentionally caused, despite the fact that no oneis present and one has no idea of the mechanism by which an agent could havecaused the picture to fall (see Atran 2002a, 59 –63; Bering 2006; Bering andParker 2006). Bering (2003) suggests that there may even be a specific cogni-tive mechanism devoted to processing apparently intentional events (“existen-tial meaning”) in the absence of a physical agent. Such inferences are fast and automatic intuitions (see the appendix).The low-level intuitions about agency are dedicated to combining perceivedmovement with the perceiver ’s reflective ideas of agency and free will. When
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 17action consistently follows prior thought and when apparent causes of actionother than somebody’s thought are excluded, we have the experience of voli-tional action. Volition, in turn, presupposes an agent. Torsten Nielsen (1963)showed in the 1960s that when subjects were asked to put one hand in a boxand draw a straight line with it while looking into the box through a tube, theycould be fooled into believing that the experimenter ’s hand seen in the boxthrough a mirror was their own (which they did not see). When both hands drewa straight line, the subjects perceived the alien hand as their own. When theexperimenter ’s hand drew a curve to the right, the subjects still experienced thehand as their own, and now perceived it as making involuntary movements. Similarly, Ramachandran and colleagues arranged an experiment in whicha subject with an amputated arm was asked to put his real arm and what heexperienced as his phantom limb in a box with a vertical mirror in the middle;the reflection of the real arm then appeared in the mirror where the phantomwould have been if it were real. When the subject moved his real arm, he felthe was moving his phantom limb. Then the experimenter put his arm insidethe box so that it appeared in the place of the phantom. Observing his real armand the experimenter ’s arm in the box made the subject feel as though hisphantom arm was moving (Ramachandran and Blakeslee 1999, 46–48; seeWegner 2002, 40 –44). Wegner (2002, 44) thus argues that one can think movement is intentionalby watching any body move where one thinks one’s own body is. But there arealso cases in which one perceives a movement as guided by an intentional willnot one’s own. When the picture of Jesus Christ suddenly falls off the wall, thedefault explanation is not necessarily that one did it oneself (although this ispossible). One can come to think that the movement is intentional by combin-ing one’s perception of it with a representation of an invisible agent. Wegner (2002, 44) suggests in passing that the experience of another ’smovement as willful is mediated by the so-called mirror neuron system in thebrain. This system mediates such intuitive reasoning as, for example, feelingdisgust when witnessing someone drink a glass of milk with a face contractingin an expression of disgust. It cannot mediate such reflective ToM reasoning asin, for instance, trying to figure out what gift would please a foreign colleague(Bargh 1994, 3; Keysers and Gazzola 2007). Mirror neurons were first foundin monkey brains in premotor area F5 and parietal area 7b. They are calledmirror neurons because they are activated during both the execution of pur-poseful, goal-related hand actions (grasping etc.) and the observation of simi-lar actions performed by conspecifics (see Gallese et al. 1996; Rizzolatti et al.1988; Rizzolatti et al. 2000). A mirror neuron system has also been found inthe human brain (although no special type of neuron seems to be involved).Implicit, automatic, and unconscious simulation processes establish a linkbetween an observed agent and the observing agent, thus making imitationpossible (Bremmer et al. 2001; Gallese and Metzinger 2003; Hari et al. 1998).
    • 18 human agency It has been suggested that social cognition is based on the mirror neuronsystem, which mediates observations about other agents’ apparently intentionalbehavior (see Hurley 2008a). When two agents interact socially, the mirrorneuron system is activated and creates a shared neural representation (Becchioet al. 2006, 66 –67). It thus helps people understand the intentions of othersand to relate them to their own (see Gallese and Goldman 1998; Gallese andMetzinger 2003; Gallese et al. 2004). In being restricted to motor processesand intuitions, though, the mirror neuron theory alone may not be sufficientto account for social cognition (see Bargh 1994; Hurley 2008b; Keysers andGazzola 2007). Social cognition also involves complicated reflective processesrelated to understanding of intentionality. Recognizing consciously goal-directed action involves recognizing inten-tionality in three senses: intention recognition, attribution of intention to itsauthor (HUI), and understanding motivation behind the intention (HUI, HTR)(see Becchio et al. 2006). Intentionality as the mark of the mental is usuallyunderstood as “directedness” or “aboutness” (Brentano 1924; Dennett 1993, 67,1997, 66; Husserl 1950a,b). Mental states are beliefs about the world, desiresfor things, and so forth ( Wellman and Miller 2006, 34–35). Following JaakkoHintikka (1975), I argue that it might be better understood as intensionality,however (see the appendix, section 2.1). Intensionality relates to such things as meanings, properties, property-based relations, and propositions. When we describe a set intensionally, welist the properties the members of the set have. We may, for instance, try to listthe various gods of the religions of world using the following formula: {x:x isa god}. An extensional listing, in contrast, is made by just listing the members:{Allah, Quetzalcoatl . . . Zeus}. These two lists are extensionally equivalentbut intensionally distinct. This distinction is based on the fact that terms andexpressions have an intension or meaning (Sinn) and an extension or reference(Bedeutung ) (Frege 1966). For example, someone’s beliefs about the EveningStar are not necessarily beliefs about the Morning Star, because the person inquestion may not know that these two are the same planet.10 The terms havedifferent intentions but the same reference. Mere extensional concepts are notenough for conceptualizing agency because agency is defined by the mental actof directedness (instead of mere reactivity, Leslie 1994). The idea of intentionality as intensionality brings to the fore what seems tobe crucial in intentionality in a psychological sense. According to Hintikka, “aconcept is intentional if and only if it involves the [logically] simultaneous con-sideration of several possible states of affairs or courses of events.” Intentional-ity as intensionality thus means that for an act to be intentional, it must involvea conscious choice made between several alternatives (1975, 195; see also 212–13,1982). Intentionality as intensionality means that intentional systems involvethe consideration of possible worlds as logically alternative scenarios (2006a,21–24, 2006b, 557–58; see Dennett 1993, 122, 174– 75). Thus, ToM depends
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 19on the ability for counterfactual reasoning about contrastive states of affairsor courses of events (see also Buller 2005a, 194). Directedness is involved, butin an intensional sense: a mental state is directed toward something, but withthe awareness that it might just as well be directed toward something else. Inintentionality, as distinct from mere reactions, a course of action is selectedfrom among multiple mentally represented alternatives. If mind reading or ToM operates through a selection process with inhi-bition, understanding intentionality as intensionality fits it much better thanthe idea of intentionality as simply directedness. For example, understandinganother ’s beliefs and desires in the false belief task involves precisely consid-eration of possible worlds as logically alternative scenarios. This entails under-standing that the mind is a representational device and that there is no reasonthat all represented propositions should be true (Perner 1993). One has to beable to metarepresent another ’s beliefs, that is, to embed them in one’s ownbeliefs, as in “I believe that ‘she thinks that he is wrong.’ ” Valerie Stone (2005)argues that it is precisely the ability of metarepresentation that enables childrento succeed at explicit false belief tasks: the child must be able to understandthat various agents represent the location of the chocolate bar in various ways.According to Bering, it is around six or seven years of age that children becomecapable of understanding such third-order intentionality in which “he thinksthat she believes that he wants,” for example. At that point in their develop-ment, they are also able to regard random events as symbolic and declarative ofa supernatural agent ’s mental states (Bering and Johnson 2005, 134–36).11 Degrees or orders of intentionality is an idea of Dennett (1993, 243–46). Ithas been argued that normal adult humans are capable of fourth- or fifth-orderintentionality (when no external memory stores are used) (Dunbar 2003, 170,2006, 171– 72). “I know12 that John wants Mary to understand that Bill believes thatLinda loves him” is an example of fourth-order intentionality. Such metarepre-sentation of intentional attitudes requires a capacity to understand recursive13structures (Stone 2005; see Hintikka 1975). To the extent that we are interestedin how ToM works in social cognition, only embedded mental states count, notmere embedded observed facts. For example, the sentence “John says Mary toclaim that Bill wrote her that Linda sent him a love letter ” is not a case of degreesof intentionality. Even an autistic person incapable of mind reading might beable to understand this sentence as reporting four interrelated facts. The recursive embedding of metarepresentations seems to be an exclu-sively human capacity; apes, for example, do not understand recursive struc-tures, though the evidence here is somewhat ambiguous (Dennett 2006, 111;Dunbar 2003, 170). Premack and Premack (2003, 149–53), however, claimthat chimpanzees are only capable of first-order intention ascription and thateven this requires much conscious effort from the chimp, whereas a ten- totwelve-month-old human infant does this spontaneously. Human social cogni-tion starts where the chimpanzee’s cognitive ability ends. As Tomasello and
    • 20 human agencyCarpenter (2007, 122) observe, “from a very early age human infants are moti-vated to simply share interest and attention with others in a way that our nearestprimate relatives are not.” Joint attention, which is one of the low-level inputsof ToM, starts to develop in human infants as early as nine months, when thelearning child begins to look at an object and at the parent, trying to draw theadult ’s attention to a shared object (see Moore and D’Entremot 2001; Tomaselloand Carpenter 2007; Tomasello et al. 2005). Sperber (1997) argues that recursively metarepresenting a belief withinanother belief can provide a validating context for the embedded belief. It isthen accepted as true because of certain second-order beliefs about it (Boyer1994b, 120; Sperber 1996, 69– 70, 89–97). To the extent that these second-order beliefs seem compelling, the first-order belief embedded in them is alsoplausible.14 In, for example, “ ‘Jesus is our redeemer ’ is true because it says soin the Bible,” “Jesus is our redeemer ” derives its plausibility from the validatingembedding “It says so in the Bible” (see Pyysiäinen 2003c). Metarepresentation thus makes it possible to make inferences about prop-ositions with an undecided truth-value—as in, for instance, “ ‘If it was Johnwho stole my wallet,’ then he should be arrested.” Here the judgment of Johnbeing guilty must be temporally suspended in order to make a provisionalinference (see Cosmides and Tooby 2000, 59 –60; Pyysiäinen 2003c; Sperber1996, 71– 73). It is important to distinguish between what Sperber calls “half-understood” propositions and propositions with an undecided truth-value. It ispossible to generate conditional inferences from premises with an undecidedtruth-value, but it is not possible to do so from incomprehensible premises.These can only be used as quotations that receive a meaning from the validat-ing context in which they are metarepresented. Failure to understand the nature of metarepresentation leads to acceptingall beliefs as one’s own (see Sperber 1994, 2000a; Pyysiäinen 2003c). A psy-chiatrist may, for example, entertain the metarepresentation “Joe believes ‘I amJesus.’ ” If she is not able to use the metarepresentation “Joe believes,” then“I am Jesus” becomes her own belief (see Corcoran et al. 1995; Frith 1995). Meta-represented beliefs are decoupled from reality, and their semantic relations aresuspended, in the sense that one cannot directly reason from “Ann believes‘John is a spy’ ” that John really is a spy (Cosmides and Tooby 2000). This wouldonly follow in the case that the metarepresentational context is automaticallyvalidating. For a Christian believer, the metarepresentation “It says so in theBible” often is such a validating context, for example (Pyysiäinen 2003c). It isbeliefs about beliefs that validate beliefs.1.3.3 Teleofunctional ReasoningHumans are prone to see things as existing for a reason or purpose. This ten-dency to view entities as existing for a purpose may derive from children’s early
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 21emerging ability to think that there are hidden intentions behind everythingand to interpret agents’ behavior as goal-directed (Johnson 2000, 188, 208;Kelemen and DiYanni 2005, 6). Children’s understanding of how agents useobjects as means to achieve goals may provoke a rudimentary teleofunctionalview of entities: agents’ intentions are understood as being intrinsic propertiesof the objects themselves (Kelemen 1999a,b; Kelemen and DiYanni 2005, 6).There is experimental evidence for a “promiscuous teleology”: British andAmerican elementary schoolchildren are prone to generating teleofunctionalexplanations of the origins and nature of living and nonliving natural entitiesand endorsing intelligent design as the source of both animals and artifacts(Evans 2000, 2001; Kelemen 2004; Kelemen and DiYanni 2005). Kelemen and DiYanni (2005, 7) point out that this view about purpose doesnot necessarily derive from agentive intuitions. Teleo-functional reasoning mayalso be an independent characteristic of causal reasoning. However, Asher andKemler Nelson (2008) provide evidence for the interpretation that three– andfour–year-old children can adopt the intentional stance (Dennett 1993) and dounderstand the true functions of artifacts to be the designed functions. It thusis also possible that intuitions about purpose and design and intuitions aboutagency derive from a common source. Lewis Wolpert (2007, 27–33, 67–82) argues that all causal reasoning inhumans derives from the manufacturing and using of tools that typify the spe-cies, not from social interaction (cf. Dunbar 1993, 2002, 2003, 2006). Themaking of first tools created a new kind of selection pressure, to which causalthinking is an adaptation: the making of tools required an ability to understandthe ideas of means and ends and of causality and intentionality. Although non-human primates can distinguish the animate from the inanimate, they do notview the world in terms of intermediate and often hidden underlying causes,reasons, intentions, and explanations. ( They understand animacy but notmentality.) Wolpert neither develops this idea carefully nor contrasts it in detail withcompeting accounts. It does not have to be incompatible with, for example,Dunbar ’s view of human sociality as having provided the selection pressure forthe large neocortex of our species. Tool use and social interaction are not twomutually exclusive phenomena but seem to have developed together. Thus, wecan see Wolpert ’s idea as an important addition or qualification to other argu-ments that may be able to help explain beliefs about supernatural agents. The hyperactivity in HADD, HUI, and HTR means that they produce manyfalse positives: people perceive agents where there are none, ascribe intentional-ity to events and structures that are purely mechanical, and use teleofunctionalreasoning to explain the natural world. As natural-born tool users, humans seeintelligent agency and design everywhere. As humans are the prototype of anagent, humans attribute at least some humanlike features also to the agentsHADD postulates (Boyer 1996c; see Guthrie 1993; Richert and Barrett 2005).
    • 22 human agency However, supernatural agent concepts are not derived from these falsepositives. First, ambiguous perception and overextended attribution of inten-tionality and design in themselves do not contain enough information forforming a persisting agent concept. Second, the supernatural agent concepts ofreligious traditions are abstractions from a large number of individual mentalrepresentations that are communicated among persons. Therefore, we can-not explain these concepts only by referring to ambiguous individual percep-tion; we have to explain why they have become widespread in populations (seeBarrett 1998, 617, 2004b, 41, 43; Boyer 1994a,b). The notions of HADD, HUI, and HTR can help explain why certain kindsof supernatural agent concepts are easier to adopt than others; this ease thenexplains, partly at least, why these concepts are found all over the world bothin ancient and modern times. Because there is a natural place for these con-cepts in the human mind and in human practices, they are contagious andhave become widespread (Barrett 2004b, 33–39). Mind and culture thus arenot so much two different levels as the endpoints on a scale from individualto public and “shared” (see Sperber 2006). The folklore scholar Lauri Honko(1962, 93–99) tried to explain the actualization of traditional beliefs in casualencounters with the spirits by referring to the psychology of perception; we cannow try to do much the same with the help of cognitive and developmental psy-chology and evolutionary theory. That effort may turn out to have far-reachingconsequences for the study of religion and culture. The next thing for me to dowith this purpose in mind is to provide some criteria for calling some conceptscounterintuitive.1.4 Out of the Ordinary1.4.1 Intuitive Ontology and CounterintuitivenessAnimacy, mentality, and teleology are, of course, not all that the human mindprocesses intuitively. Some of the basic domains of intuition are enumeratedin the list that follows (see Barrett 2000, 2008; Boyer 1994b; Keil 1979, 1996;Sommers 1959). We intuitively understand that things exist in space and time;some things also have physicality and solidity, and some of them belong tothe folk-biological domain of living kinds (plants and animals). Animacy isa mediating category between folk biology and mentality, in the sense that it is asubcategory within folk biology and may be the basis on which mind readinghas developed: the idea of beliefs and desires in a way completes the understand-ing that something is goal-directed. Social position, for its part, is the domainof such social relationships as “being someone’s father ” or “being the king,”and so forth. Such phenomena as cooperation and reciprocal altruism requireone to have intuitions about the kind of social relationship they entail. Finally,we must add the category of time—though temporality is a neglected theme
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 23in cognitive neuroscience—because humans experience everything as existingin time and have intuitions about temporal relationships such as “before” and“after ” (Lloyd 2002, 2004, 260 – 73, 310 –25). basic domains of intuition Spatiality: Location in space Physicality: E.g., liquids Solidity: Natural objects, artifacts Living kinds: Plants and animals Animacy: Liveliness, goal-directedness Mentality: Beliefs and desires Social position: Social relationships Events: Events and acts Temporality: Everything exists in time The systems of HADD, HUI, and HTR, though triggered by domain-specific sensory or conceptual inputs, probably must also consult such othersystems as the physicality module, for example (Carruthers 2006, 6). The mindcan be viewed as a collection of modular reasoning systems, but the modulesare only functionally specified systems, not encapsulated entities; they can evenshare parts with each other (see Barrett and Kurzban 2006; Carruthers 2006;the appendix). Although the problem of modularity is far from being solved,I will use “methodological modularity” as a reasoning strategy ( leaving thequestion of evolution somewhat open; see the appendix and Panksepp 1998,2007). For example, it is obvious that a face-like arrangement of two dots anda straight line has the power to trigger the idea of a face; one simply fills in thegaps in perception, drawing from a tacit and domain-specific database. As face-like arrangements thus reliably trigger the idea of a face and not somethingelse, some kind of functional modularity is the most economical explanation.But as modules are not encapsulated, some face-like arrangements might failto trigger the idea of a face in some persons under some circumstances. Interestingly, we can also manipulate the concepts and images triggered inthe mind, creating new concepts that do not respect the boundaries of an “intu-itive ontology” (Boyer 1994a,b, 2007). In this way, we create what Boyer calls“counterintuitive” representations. In my previous writings, I have thus sug-gested that the notion of “supernatural agents” be replaced by the concept of“counterintuitive agents.”15 I am now forced partly to change my mind, becausespontaneous attribution of agency to physically unidentified sources does notseem to be counterintuitive (see Atran 2002a, 65; Barrett 2004b, 77–88; Bloom2005, 2007; Lindeman and Aarnio 2007). The HADD, HUI, and HTR modelactually imply that people perceive disembodied agency as a natural category(see Barrett 1998, 617). Yet it is also possible to form counterintuitive repre-sentations of agency by adding some extra features or by denying something
    • 24 human agencythat is natural (as shown by the plus and minus symbols in the following list).Moreover, it is not always clear in practice whether a representation is or is notcounterintuitive. The cross-domain formation of counterintuitive representa-tions is presented in “Counterintuitive Combinations” below. Counterintuitive representations are formed by tacitly assigning the repre-sented entity to an intuitive ontological category, while recognizing that it containselements that contradict intuitive expectations concerning that category. Typicalintuitive ontological categories are persons, animals, plants, artifacts, and naturalobjects (Boyer 1994b, 101, 1996c, 84, 1998, 878, 2000b, 198, 2000c, 280).Boyer claims that a catalogue that uses these basic intuitive ontological cat-egories and includes only breaches of physical and cognitive properties associ-ated with those categories virtually exhausts cultural variation in this domain(Boyer 2000a, 103; cf. Franks 2003). combinations of counterintuitive representations category possible violations (–, +) Spatiality – Location of a nonexisting thing + Spatiality and mentality Physicality – A liquid that is nowhere + A liquid that understands Solid objects – Solid object that is nowhere + Artifact with mentality Living kinds – Plant or animal without physicality + Plant or animal with high-level mentality Animacy –Animacy without spatiality + Animacy with mentality (without spatiality) Mentality – Mentality without spatiality or biology (+ Omniscience) Social position – Denial of intuitive relationships + Adding a relationship (“son of God”) Events – Intuitively expected event does not take place + Intuitively not to be expected happens Temporality – Immortality (no death) + Immortality ( boundless afterlife)This is not an exhaustive list of intuitive domains or of all the possible violationsof intuitive expectations; it is meant merely to convey the general idea. I willtry to provide some flesh for the bare bones here. For spatiality, it is difficult tofind an example of a representation of an existing thing that yet is nowhere;it is difficult or impossible to separate mere “existence” from “existing some-where.” A combination of spatiality and mere animacy might be representedby the idea of the will-o’-the-wisp, for example ( Thompson 1955–58, 3:131).
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 25When we combine spatiality, animacy, and mentality ( but without biology),we get the typical idea of a ghost as a mist-like, animated entity (see Simon-suuri 1999; 2:419–81; 3:289). The angel of the Lord who appears to Moses“in flames of fire from within a bush” (Exod. 3:2) also counts as an example(cf. Wyatt 2005, 13–17). A solid object that is nowhere comes close to being a contradiction in terms.Perhaps a layperson who asks where the space-time of scientific cosmologyexists is trying to represent something like a solid object that exists but isnowhere ( because there is nothing outside of the space-time). In folk tradi-tions, such an idea is unknown. On the other hand, natural objects and arti-facts that have mentality form a recurrent theme in folk traditions. Examplesrange from magic wands and amulets to things such as the image of the BlackMadonna of Czestochowa, Poland, which is believed to work miracles (Cruz1994). Some related examples might be cases of physicality and animacy(without biology). A case in point might be the Arthurian sword, embedded inan anvil that was in turn embedded in a great stone, with the words “Whosopulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of allEngland” (Malory 1998, 8). The idea here seems to be that the sword wassomehow alive yet only something physical, without biology. The category of living kinds includes, for example, invisible plants and ani-mals or animals capable of miraculous transformations (see Thompson 1955–58, vol. 3). Another kind of example is animals that talk or think like humans. Animacy without spatiality may be difficult to find, but nonspatial ani-macy combined with mentality might be represented in certain very abstractconceptions of God: God exists but is nowhere. Such representations also exemplify mentality without spatiality (but men-tality without animacy is difficult to conceive). Another example is “pureconsciousness” understood as a kind of “knowledge by identity,” or know-ing something by virtue of being that something (Forman 1990, 1993). InBuddhism, we find the idea that the supposed objective support of cognition(vijñānālambana, roughly: material things) is “nothing but idea” (vijñaptimātratā)or “mind only” (cittamātratam) (Samdhinirmocanasutra 8.7–9). The idea of theBuddha before he was born (see Pyysiäinen 1993, 143) exemplifies mentalitywithout biology, as does Paul’s idea of a resurrection body: “Flesh and bloodcannot inherit the kingdom of God . . . the dead will be raised imperishable,and we will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:50 –52). An interesting question is whetherit is possible to add something counterintuitively to mentality. Boundless men-tality, such as omniscience, may or may not count, depending on whether acategory violation really is or is not involved. Social positions can also be counterintuitively represented, as when peopleimagine someone to be the child of elves, of an evil spirit, or of God ( Thomp-son 1955–58, 5:140 –83). I remain undecided on whether this really is a case ofcounterintuitiveness.
    • 26 human agency Counterintuitive events are typified by miracles such as a man walkingon the water, a dead person rising physically from the dead, and so forth (seePyysiäinen 2002a, 2008b). Finally, there are violations of temporality such as immortality. This canbe conceived of as either a denial of biological death or as adding life to thecondition after death. This is usually regarded as a violation of intuitive biology,but in addition, the temporal dimension is here represented counterintuitively.Exceptional longevity and a very fast growing up also belong to this category.The buddhas, for example, supposedly take on the semblance of being old,even though in reality they have overcome old age (Mahāvastu 1.133). Everything that contradicts category-specific, intuitive expectations is coun-terintuitive, but counterintuitive is not the same as false, funny, or deluded.Just as people’s everyday intuitions do not necessarily describe reality correctly,counterintuitive concepts need not necessarily be erroneous. They merely vio-late one’s intuitive expectations. In modestly counterintuitive representations,one minor “tweak ” has either added a counterintuitive feature or deleted anintuitive one.16 The idea of a cat that talks, for example, is counterintuitive inthe sense that we do not normally expect animals (and not just cats) to talk.Representations are “cognitively optimal” when one counterintuitive featuremakes them attention-grabbing while the retained intuitive features makethem easy to process in mind (Atran 2002a; Atran and Norenzayan 2004; Bar-rett 2004b; Boyer 2001; Norenzayan and Atran 2004). A familiar example of a cognitively optimal representation is the idea of anotherwise ordinary statue that yet hears prayers. Having the agentive capacityto hear is a violation of expectations in the artifact category. The idea of a statuethat hears prayers from afar would involve two violations (an artifact hears andhearing from afar) and thus be massively counterintuitive (Boyer 2001, 86; seeAtran 2002a, 95–107; Atran and Norenzayan 2004, 722). Boyer and Ramble (2001) as well as Barrett and Nyhof (2001) found inthat when subjects had to recall lists of items and events they had read about inthe context of a short story, their recall was better for modestly counterintuitiverepresentations than for intuitive ones. Modestly counterintuitive representa-tions also survived best in artificial transmission to others over three “genera-tions.” Boyer and Ramble’s experiments carried out in France were replicatedin Nepal with Buddhist monks and in Gabon with laypersons with very muchthe same results. In addition, Anders Lisdorf (2001) shows that in Romanprodigy lists from the first three centuries BC, 99 percent of counterintuitiverepresentations were cognitively optimal. Scott Atran and Ara Norenzayan’s (2004, 721–23) experiments seem tosuggest that modestly counterintuitive representations are initially not recalledany better than intuitive ones but in the long run degrade at a lower rate(162; Norenzayan et al. 2006). Atran and Norenzayan also argue that when
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 27counterintuitive representations complement bodies of intuitive information,they help people recall chunks of intuitive information better (2004, 157–59;Norenzayan et al. 2006). Atran (2002a, 105) observes that in laboratory exper-iments, the nature of the task may make subjects pay special attention to non-natural representations and intuitive representations thus lose their privilegedstatus. When counterintuitive representations are not presented in the con-text of an exciting, science-fiction-like narrative, intuitive representations arerecalled the best (Norenzayan and Atran 2004, 159). Studies conducted by Lauren Gonce, Afzal Upal, and colleagues seem toconfirm that when subjects are presented mere lists of concepts, without anarrative context, they indeed recall intuitive representations better than mod-estly counterintuitive ones. Modestly counterintuitive representations are betterrecalled when the narrative context creates an expectation for counterintuitiveconcepts that persons thus may experience as intuitive. As different types ofdiscourse activate different kinds of background knowledge, persons can, forexample, expect the attack of aliens in a science fiction movie but not in suchreal life situations as, for example, listening to the radio news (Gonce et al.2006; Tweney et al. 2006; Upal 2005; Upal et al. 2007). Gonce et al. (2006) showed that massively counterintuitive concepts havethe poorest recall in both immediate and delayed recall conditions, regardless ofthe presence or absence of context. There were no significant differences in therecall rates of intuitive and modestly counterintuitive concepts except that after aone-week delay, subjects recalled modestly counterintuitive concepts presentedin a narrative context significantly better than the intuitive ones (also Barrettand Nyhof 2001). Context also seems to play a crucial role in item recall. In reallife, concepts are usually embedded in a context, and it is in this context thattheir counterintuitiveness is evaluated (Gonce et al. 2006; Tweney et al. 2006).Think of the following embedding of the counterintuitive concept of a “flyingcow ”: “Looking through the kitchen window, I saw the flying cow. The twisterhad lifted the animal 50 feet above the ground” ( Tweney et al. 2006, 486). One who reads only the first sentence is led to interpret the flying cowas a modestly counterintuitive concept, whereas the second sentence providesa context in which the flying cow becomes an intuitive concept. Thus, contextcan make an apparently counterintuitive concept intuitive. But even whencounterintuitiveness is retained, a relevant context can make it something to beexpected. Actually, Boyer recognized this all along. Persons can simply becomeso routinized in using some counterintuitive concepts that their counterintu-itiveness is no longer consciously recognized (Boyer 1994a, 394, 1994b, 120;Sperber 1994, 62). This fact also helps explain why people often regard their own religiousbeliefs as perfectly natural while regarding those of other faiths as “supersti-tious” (see D. Martin 2004; Pyysiäinen 2004d, 90–112). Violations of intuitions
    • 28 human agencyimmediately strike one as odd, when one has not had the chance to get routin-ized in processing them. On the other hand, getting routinized in one type ofcounterintuitiveness might also make it easier to accept other counterintuitiveclaims as well; there is experimental evidence that persons who score high ontests of paranormal beliefs are prone to accept confusions of core ontologicalassumptions (that is, counterintuitiveness) as quite natural. Confusion betweenbasic ontological category boundaries distinguishes between superstition andskepticism better than, for instance, intuitive (versus reflective) thinking oremotional instability (Lindeman and Aarnio 2007).1.4.2 Counterfactuals and CounterintuitivenessCounterintuitive representations presuppose the ability to form counterfactu-als, in the sense of contrastive representations of states of affairs: “ What if finstead of c?” or “Maybe f instead of c” (see Garfinkel 1981; Ylikoski 2001). Boyerhas recently suggested that each cognitive module, especially the mind-readingone, has an inbuilt capacity to produce counterfactuals within its domain.17Modules would thus not work in a reflex-like manner but instead allow forreflective reasoning and alternative scenarios.18 Either this capacity is inherentin the modules, or counterfactual thinking is a domain-general mechanismthat has access to any type of mental contents (see McNamara et al. 2003; Rev-lin et al. 2003). The fact that we use counterfactuals more readily in mind read-ing, as compared to intuitive physics and folk biology, could then be explainedby either the nature of the modular computational processes of mind readingor the fact that domain-general counterfactual reasoning is easier to apply todata about beliefs and desires than to physical or biological data. (McNamaraet al. 2003 used solely counterfactuals from the domain of folk psychology.) It seems that imagination and counterfactual thinking cannot be accountedfor by such processes as off-line simulation of experience, or the embodimentof knowledge gained through practice (see Barsalou et al. 2005, 20 –22; Grush2002). A better candidate is the received view in cognitive science that con-ceptual knowledge is somehow transduced from sensory representations ofexperience in the brain. In contrast to the various sensory modalities (vision,audition, etc.), conceptual knowledge is amodal and represented in the formof abstract symbols that can be manipulated. The problem here is that so farno account of the possible mechanism of this transduction has been specified.Yet the capacity to recombine concepts arising from components of experienceand to imagine counterfactual scenarios seems to require some such transduc-tion (cf. Barsalou et al. 2005, 17). Counterfactual reasoning is also partly responsible for the production ofcounterintuitive ideas, although counterfactuality is by no means the same ascounterintuitiveness—contrary to what the vocabulary of Atran and Norenzayan(2004) seems to suggest (cf. Barrett 2004a). Counterintuitive representations
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 29require counterfactuals because such representations involve a what-if con-trast. Counterintuitiveness violates intuitive expectations and thus creates rep-resentations of the type “It should be A, but it seems to be B” or “It could be Binstead of being A.” As the examples quoted show, it is not always easy to categorize counter-intuitive representations because all necessary information is not always avail-able. The angel in the burning bush, for example, seems to have animacy andspatiality, but we do not know for sure whether he also has mentality becausethis is not said. Maybe he had physicality, too? And many cases do not quitefit the Boyerian scheme (see Thompson 1955–58). What about cases such as adog vomiting gold, oil bursting from the ground when a saint is made bishop,and flowers bursting from a saint ’s mouth when he speaks, for example (1:391,5:456)? It thus is neither possible nor meaningful to try to catalogue all dif-ferent supernatural agent representations in the world’s religious traditions.Instead, I try to describe in the following chapters in more detail the caseexamples of Finnic and related soul conceptions, the Jewish-Christian God,and buddhas and bodhisattvas, attempting to show how cognitive structuresshape thinking about supernatural agents. Apparently, some odd combinations are easier to process in mind thanothers and thus are more contagious and easy to spread. Some are modestlyand some massively counterintuitive, but some may be quite intuitive. A com-bination of spatiality and animacy, as in a cloud that chases you, naturally trig-gers HADD; yet apparently nothing much follows unless HUI is triggered, too.When that happens, mentality is attributed to the spatial entity, which results ina concept of a ghost (Barrett 2008). But some ghosts may also have physicalityin the sense of solid boundaries. Persons may attribute animacy to physical objects, as in the case of a solidobject that hovers unsupported in midair; but in this case things get far moreinteresting when animacy is accompanied by mentality as well (e.g. Strong2004, 141). This seems to be the case with all kinds of amulets, magic wands,and so forth. Weeping statues and bleeding icons also belong to this category.A more intriguing example comes from the narrative motive of a dead evil-doer’s coffin being so heavy that no one is able to lift it (see Simonsuuri 1999;Thompson 1955–58, 2:440). The idea here seems to be that it is the sins thedead person committed that make either the corpse or the coffin heavy. To theextent that sins are past actions that are heavy, this is a case of transferringphysicality to an abstraction. On the other hand, this is also a case of abstrac-tions making a physical object heavy. Mentality without spatiality is the most intriguing category. It seems thatdisembodied agency is not counterintuitive; on the other hand, it does notindicate pure mentality but refers to beliefs about souls leaving and reenter-ing bodies at will (see Cohen 2008). Agency is independent from the body, inthe sense that mentality directs the body and can be separated from a specific
    • 30 human agencybiological body; this in no way entails the idea of mentality as not being locatedanywhere or in any shape. For example, the soul is impenetrable to other souls,and possession can only be imagined as a replacement of one agent by another(Cohen 2008). For example, in a study by Kuhlmeier et al. (2004), small children seemedto regard it as intuitive that an agent can move from one place to another with-out the body being visible to them. This does not in any way show that adulthumans have intuitive representations of mentality without spatiality. Suchrepresentations are completely lacking in folk traditions. The idea instead isthat individual mentality can assume different guises. Thus, mentality withoutspatiality is counterintuitive, whereas mental causation in the physical world isnot. Stripping mentality of physicality ( but not of spatiality) produces the ideaof disembodied agency, which is not counterintuitive (contrary to, e.g., Boyer2003b). It is possible to see event structures as manifesting agency and inten-tionality even when nothing like an agent is perceived (Atran 2002a, 64 –65;Csibra 2003; Csibra et al. 1999; Gergely and Csibra 2003). Barrett (1998) actually argued many years ago that not all supernaturalagent representations are counterintuitive. God, for example, is not necessarilya human with some counterintuitive property or properties; he may instead fallinto a category of his own (see 617; Barrett 2004b; Barrett et al. 2001). Counter-intuitive representations need not necessarily be understood as within-categoryanomalies; they may also be understood as combinations of features from dif-ferent categories and thus to form a new category (see Franks 2003). When HADD, HUI, and/or HTR are triggered, giving a false positive,three alternative supernatural explanations are available: the triggering eventwas caused by (1) a natural agent acting from afar, (2) a present but invisibleand intangible agent; or (3) some impersonal force or very abstract kind ofagency. The first alternative is represented by beliefs in telepathy, psychoki-nesis, clairvoyance, and the like; as well as the example of a picture miracu-lously falling off from the wall. Examples of the second are beliefs about gods,spirits, and other supernatural agents. Third would be a “numinous” forceor a very abstract agent such as “the ground of being ” (see Otto 1958; Tillich1955, 25).1.5 Agency and Cooperation1.5.1 Religion and CooperationThe social realm emerges from individuals reasoning about the reasoningof others; this is often called “social cognition” or “social intelligence” (seeBaron-Cohen et al. 1985; Bless et al. 2004; Kunda 2002). Social neurosciencestudies the neural correlates of social cognition (Baron-Cohen 2005; Cacioppo
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 31and Berntson 2005; Cacioppo et al. 2002; Saxe and Baron-Cohen 2006). Socialcognition thus is something HADD, HUI, and HTR make possible throughrecursion and degrees of intentionality. Supernatural agents are a natural partof social systems thus conceived. When one thinks of the many pages that have been written about reli-gion uniting people into a moral community (especially Durkheim 1925), it isnot particularly surprising to learn that some anthropologists, biologists, andphilosophers now claim that it is precisely religion that has helped recipro-cal altruism to evolve (e.g. Bering 2006, 456; Bulbulia 2007; Johnson 2005;Johnson and Bering 2006; Johnson and Krüger 2004; Sosis 2003; Sosis andAlcorta 2003, 2005; Wilson 2002; see Bulbulia 2004; Irons 2004; Shariff andNorenzayan 2007).19 Ferren MacIntyre (2004), for example, argues that reli-gious affiliations have acted as a kind of “kinship surrogate” that helped ourancestors to develop cooperation among large groups of nonkin. In the “stan-dard model” of the cognitive science of religion (Boyer 2005a, 4– 7), however,religion is instead a by-product based on “runaway” evolutionary processesextended beyond their initial domain (1994b, 294). Evolution has built certainstructures and mechanisms of mind that are adaptations to certain Pleistoceneconditions; religion is made possible by these structures and mechanisms,although they did not originally develop for this purpose (Atran 2002a; Boyer2001; see Pyysiäinen 2006a). Underlying this discussion is the debate on adaptationism in evolution-ary biology and sociobiology. Gould and Lewontin (1984) once argued thatone must not mistake the fact that some structure is used in some particularway for the evolutionary cause of its existence. They use the term “spandrels”for a structure that merely follows from the existence of some other (evolved)structures, without itself being an adaptation. “Exaptation” refers to new rolesplayed by evolutionarily old features that are adaptations in the strict sense ofthe term. Adaptations in this sense are features that are selected to perform theircurrent function (Gould 1997; Gould and Vrba 1982). In the standard model, religion is either a spandrel or an exaptation (seeSaler 1999). “Religion” is a vague term and refers to such a wide variety of phe-nomena that it cannot possibly be a biological adaptation (Kirkpatrick 2006).What is known as religion instead is based on evolved adaptations that havebeen adopted for new tasks (Sperber ’s proper and actual domains [1994]). Twofeatures of religion are especially important here: beliefs about “full-accessagents” (Boyer 2001, 150 –60) as helpers in decision making, and rituals as ameans of creating frequent encounters between individuals. By full-accessagents I mean agents that have an unlimited access to other persons’ minds:they are omniscient in the sense that they know all mental contents there areto be known (150 –60; Bronkhorst 2001, 408; see Barrett et al. 2001; Knightet al. 2004).
    • 32 human agency In the adaptationist view, representations of full-access agents have directlyhelped reciprocal altruism to evolve because they can help one view thingsfrom others’ point of view (cf. Boyer 2002) and can make systems of moralisticpunishment possible (see Richerson and Boyd 2005, 204–5, 231). Representa-tions of full-access agents help in strategic decisions: as these are often difficultto make because people do not believe their strategic information is perfector automatic (Boyer 2001, 155), they consult full-access agents for advice. Inaddition, a decision is sometimes difficult to make because the issue at hand isrelatively trivial or no alternative stands as out as superior. Should I buy this orthat gift for my wife? Your place or mine? Finally, some decisions are difficultto make because too much is at stake. Should I go for the operation when therisk of paralysis is 50 percent? Should we try to bust the terrorists at the risk oflosing the hostages’ lives? It has been shown that in making risky decisions, people take three thingsinto account: their own need to arrive at the most satisfying decision, theexpected outcome of a decision, and variability in the expected outcome. Peopletend to avoid options with high outcome variability, irrespective of whetherinformation about probabilities is available or not. When their own need isgreater than the expected mean outcome of the options, people tend to preferambiguous options with a high variance (Rode et al. 1999). Often people voluntarily give up the privilege of using free will to decide,letting someone or something else decide on their behalf. For example, whenpeople want to avoid taking a stand and giving reasons for their decision, theymay flip a coin. A decision may seem so important that no one wants to takeresponsibility for making it, so a soothsayer or an astrologist might be con-sulted, or God might be requested to give a sign (see Dennett 2006, 132–33).A plethora of divination methods and related systems exists. Dennett (133,398) refers to Wikipedia’s list of eighty different methods from astrology andharuspicy to nephomancy (divination by clouds) and numerology. The prin-ciple here is that if you pass the buck, pass it to something that cannot duckthe responsibility in turn (133). Because divination only explicates a predeter-mined course of events, it is impossible to put the blame on anybody when theend result is an unwanted one. It all happened because it was determined tohappen. As humans are a social species, their decisions are also affected by whatthey think others will decide. The prisoner ’s dilemma thought experimentexemplifies the relative difficulty of reasoning about how another ’s choiceshould affect one’s own decision making. The prisoner ’s dilemma illus-trates the kind of mathematical game theory that came to be used in analy-ses of human judgment and decision making in the 1940s and 1950s (seeSimon 1959). Imagine two players in a game, Kate and Allie; all they have to do is to saywhether they prefer to cooperate or defect (i.e. not cooperate). The reward each
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 33one then gets depends on the other ’s choice (see Axelrod 1990, 7–11; Hamilton1964, 15; Trivers 2002, 23–24). If Kate decides to cooperate and also Allie decides to cooperate, both get 3; If Kate decides to cooperate and Allie decides to defect, Kate gets 0 while Allie gets 5; If Kate decides to defect and Allie decides to cooperate, Kate gets 5 and Allie gets 0; If Kate decides to defect and also Allie decides to defect, both get 1.Thus, defection pays either 5 or 1, while cooperation pays either 3 or 0. It alwayspays to defect if one thinks that the other will cooperate; it also pays to defectif one thinks the other will defect (Axelrod 1990, 9). Although mutual coop-eration yields 3 for both, an individual player always does better by defectingwhether the other one defects or cooperates. Cooperation thus is costly andan act of altruism in the biological sense of the term (Jansen and van Baalen2006; Shanahan 2004, 64– 72). If we view Kate and Allie as a group, the bestnet result comes when both cooperate, while both defecting yields the lowestpayoff. The other options give almost as good a net result as mutual coop-eration (i.e. 5). This is called a dilemma because, from an individual player ’spoint of view, it is always better to defect, although mutual cooperation yieldsa higher mutual reward (see also Nowak and Sigmund 1994). Cooperation canemerge when persons interact an indefinite number of times; once cooperationemerges, it also persists effectively (Axelrod 1990, 10, 21). The emergence of cooperation necessitates that individuals gain a reputa-tion based on how they interact with others and that cooperators can be rec-ognized by some tag (Jansen and van Baalen 2006). Semmann et al. (2005)show experimentally that building a good reputation with cooperative behavioris rewarded in future social interactions both within one’s own social groupand in other groups. Cooperative behavior is regarded as an honest signal,irrespective of direct personal benefits gained in the past ( but cf. Klein et al.2002). Reputation gained can then be a driving force for selfish individualsto cooperate in public goods situations. Cooperation, however, requires thatinteraction between partners is frequent. In larger groups, this necessitateshierarchical organization that helps concentrate interactions so that everyoneneed not meet everyone else, because important decisions on cooperation aremade by groups’ representatives (Axelrod 1990, 130 –31). Others then obey andimitate (see Richerson and Boyd 2005, 114–26). There is a vast literature on the prisoner ’s dilemma and the possibilityof finding an “evolutionarily stable strategy” for cooperation (Maynard-Smith1982); a good candidate for such a strategy is the so-called tit-for-tat, a strategyof first cooperating and then copying what the other one does (Axelrod 1990,27–54; Nowak and Sigmund 1994; Nowak et al. 2004). Things get more com-plicated when the players do not act simultaneously but alternate roles over
    • 34 human agencytime (Nowak and Sigmund 1994) and when reciprocity is indirect, in the sensethat one helps others in the hope that someone else might then help oneselfin the future (Alexander 1979, 49–51; Nowak and Sigmund 2005). The prisoner’s dilemma thus exemplifies how the understanding of inten-tionality functions in making strategic decisions. By strategic decisions I meandecisions whose subject matter triggers social cognition (see Boyer 2001, 152).Searching for your lost keys, for example, does not necessarily trigger theunderstanding of intentionality; but if you suspect that someone may have sto-len them, you are immediately led to think that someone may be trying to takeadvantage of you. Reflecting on this then presupposes the application of theunderstanding of intentionality. Evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides (1989) has put forward theargument that what has come to be known as “cheater detection” is a modularcognitive capacity. She suggests that humans have a special cognitive modulethat performs the calculation required to ascertain whether someone is tryingto cheat. Cheating here means violating a deontic conditional (if–then rule)related to social exchange. Deontics here refer to peoples’ intuitions of what ispermissible (Bucciarelli and Johnson-Laird 2005). For example: “If you accept agift, then you must give something back.” Such mutual provisioning of bene-fits can be modeled as a repeated Prisoner ’s Dilemma (see Cosmides andTooby 2005, 591). Cosmides and Tooby think that the mere understanding of intentionality,or a general reasoning mechanism, is not enough for cheater detection: theremust be a special-purpose mechanism, a cheater detection module, that is anevolved biological adaptation (Cosmides 1989; Cosmides and Tooby 2005).“The human mind must include inferential procedures that make one verygood at detecting cheating on social contracts,” as she puts it (Cosmides 1989,196). This is because, from an evolutionary point of view, cheaters could eas-ily invade any group of altruists if they could go unrecognized (see Axelrod1990; Maynard-Smith 1982, 10 –27). Cheating and detecting cheaters wouldthus have evolved in a mutual arms race of sorts. Because of the computationallimits of the human mind, the problem cannot be solved by a domain-generalmechanism but instead presupposes a special-purpose mechanism that is trig-gered automatically (Cosmides 1989; Simon 1955, 101). Cosmides used the Wason selection task, in which the subjects are shownfour cards, each of which has either the letter E or K or the number 4 or 7printed on it. The rule “If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an evennumber on the other ” is given; the subjects have to decide which cards theymust turn over to find out whether the rule is true. The correct answer is thecards E and 7. Yet most subjects also turn over the card with the number 4,which cannot reveal anything about the rule. But when the letters and numbersare replaced by something concrete, the subjects perform much better. If therule is “Whenever I go to London, I take the train” and the cards display the
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 35words “Train,” “London,” “Car,” and “Oxford,” the subjects perform very well.Phil Johnson-Laird (1983) argues that this is because persons reason usingmental models, and meaningful words make it possible to rely on models,unlike mere letters and numbers. Cosmides (1989) used such conditionals as “If a person is drinking beer,then he must be over 20 years old.” Evaluating this rule involves checkingwhether a person who accepts a benefit has satisfied a precondition the socialgroup has imposed for receiving the benefit. Cosmides also used similar exam-ples from culturally alien contexts to rule out the effect of background knowl-edge. And she used a type of switched conditional to show that the subjectsdid not react merely to the logical features of the task. The subjects seemed tofocus merely on whether someone was taking a benefit without paying a cost(“content effect ”). Many scholars have pointed out that the extant experiments do not estab-lish the content effect or the supposed modularity of cheater detection.20 Thedebate is partly muddled by the different senses in which researchers use theconcept of a module (see Barrett and Kurzban 2006; the appendix). Philip Ger-rans (2002, 311), for example, invites us to imagine a man who has come homelate explaining to his wife that he has been working late. Then his wife discov-ers lipstick on his collar. Now, “could there be a module which represents alland only the information required to realise that someone does not normallyget lipstick on the collar while working late?” However, this seems more likea case of lying than of cheating in the sense of violating a deontic conditional(if–then rule) related to social exchange. “If you work late, you will not get lip-stick on your collar ” is not a deontic rule. If there is a rule that says “If you kissa woman, then you must not be married to someone else,” then the examplemight be a case of cheater detection. But how realistic is it to think that thewife’s suspicion would really follow from abstract reasoning based on sucha general rule? The process actually looks more like an emotional intuition(see Panksepp 2007). I leave open the question about the existence of a cheater detection mod-ule, although I do share Robin Dunbar ’s (2006, 177) skepticism toward thespecifics of this idea. (And Gerrans’s counterargument fails because no oneever claimed that signs or indices of cheating in themselves form a modulardatabase.) Yet cheater detection as such is crucial in human societies becausethe most important element in the environment for humans is other humanagents. A great portion of the capacity of our big brains is dedicated to process-ing social information. ( Whether this is the explanation of the original growthof the cortex or not, see Dunbar [1993, 2002, 2003]; cf. Sterelny and Griffiths[1999, 247–50].) In large groups, cooperation and coordination of action arevery important and require many kinds of cognitive operations, such as numer-ical quantification, time estimation, delayed gratification, analysis and recall ofreputation, inhibitory control, and so on (Stevens and Hauser 2004, 60), not
    • 36 human agencyjust cheater detection (see Tomasello et al. 2005). Cooperation, however, intro-duces the free-rider problem: cheaters try to get benefits from cooperators with-out paying the cost, which leads to the development of various precautionarysystems for ruling out the possibility of cheating. There is an arms race between cooperators and free riders in developinghard-to-fake, costly signals of commitment by which to recognize coopera-tors and also ways of faking such signals (Atran 2002a, 114 –40; Irons 2004,779–81; Richerson and Boyd 2005, 193–95, 211–13; Sosis 2003; Sosis andAlcorta 2003; Sterelny and Griffiths 1999, 328–32). As an example of costlysignals of commitment, imagine that you want to become a member in themafia and therefore will have to kill somebody to prove that you are seriousabout becoming a member. By this act, you will become a “made man” whohas sold his heart and soul to the mob (see Dickie 2004; Teresa and Renner1973). Killing here is a costly signal of commitment in the sense that anyonewho commits a murder must be serious in his wish to become a member.By the same token, killing makes one committed to the group, in the sensethat there is no going back once you are as guilty as all others. Yet betrayaland ratting have always taken place in organized crime, along with the much-valued “respect ” ( Teresa 1975). A similar dynamic works in religion, in thesense that failing to signal commitment can often be fatal (as in witch hunts,excommunication, etc.). According to Richerson and Boyd, reciprocal altruism can develop in smallgroups of a few hundred members where either benefits accrue to kin or itis possible to learn to recognize cooperators and cheaters; in larger groups, asystem of moral punishment can emerge when persons engage in one-time,anonymous interactions. Punishing those who refuse to cooperate always hassome cost and rarely benefits the punisher; yet this tendency apparently canspread through group selection: groups with moralistic punishment can out-perform other groups (Boyd et al. 2003; Richerson and Boyd 2005, 198–99). Moralistic punishment occurs when mechanisms of weak21 reciprocal altru-ism are overextended to moral punishing of anonymous strangers because ofsome proximate causes.22 Human sociality and cooperation thus is based onthe understanding of intentionality: it is this capacity that enables us to think ofwhat others think of what we think. Large groups of people can “share” beliefsand desires and also attribute them to agents that are not immediately presentor even are not known to exist. Thus, human sociality cannot be separatedfrom the understanding of agency; therefore, the Tylorian and Durkheimianperspectives on religion must be complementary rather than contradictory. Beliefs and desires can be attributed to supernatural agents individually, asin John thinking that God wants him to marry Lisa, or in Asanga believing thatthe Buddha wanted to teach the way to the ending of suffering. However, oftensuch attributions are also shared, in the sense of being collectively attributedto supernatural agents: I believe that you believe that we believe that the Devil
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 37tries to corrupt our morals. Often such collective attributions take place in aritual context and are accompanied by an understanding of the group as anordered whole that seemingly has a mentality of its own; shared knowledgemakes it seem as if the group has a mind of its own (cf. Durkheim’s “collec-tive consciousness”). “The greatest of artificial persons, politically speaking, isthe State,” as F. W. Maitland (1901, 131) once put it. Groups, of course, vary greatly in the extent to which they are regardedas coherent, entity-like units. An arbitrary group of people walking near eachother on a sidewalk is normally not perceived as a single meaningful unit. Butgroups such as a military platoons or religious sects are likely to be regardedas coherent units rather than as mere aggregates of individuals. The degreeto which a collection of persons are perceived as being bonded together in acoherent unit is referred to as “group entitativity” by Lickel et al. (2000, 224).Entitativity here refers exclusively to the perceptions of people rather than toany objective assessment of groups. Entitativity affects persons’ mental repre-sentation of the group. When groups are perceived to be high in entitativity,people process information about them in much the same way as informationabout individuals. In addition, entitativity influences the degree to which per-sons perceive the group as having potency as a causal agent (224). The studiesLickel et al. report provide consistent evidence that perception of interaction,common goals, common outcomes, group-member similarity, and importanceof the group were strongly intercorrelated and also highly correlated with per-ceptions of group entitativity (241).1.5.2 RitualsRitual is a category of very heterogeneous activities that have only one thingin common: a specific, ritual mode of behavior (Boyer 1994b, 188–91). Rituals,as typically studied within anthropology and comparative religion, are socialevents in which socially important information is published: a new memberis born to the community, a man and a wife are joined together in marriage,someone dies, and so on (Pyysiäinen 2004d, 136–37). In preliterate cultureswithout mass media, rituals have been the only or at least a very efficientmethod for such publication. Moreover, because humans’ cognitive mecha-nisms for handling information about social relationships are tacit and intui-tive, the ways changes in social position are brought about have an aura ofmagic around them (see Boyer 2001, 229 –63). How and when exactly doesone become an adult? When does a marriage really begin? With adulthood andmarriage not being biological categories, there is no natural answer to thesequestions. People are dealing with social conventions and have to decide whatthe correct answer is in each case. Rituals help mark the point in time whena social change occurs. But when people repeatedly see their cultural eldersassociate a given ritual with a given social effect, they are conditioned to think
    • 38 human agencythat rituals are actually essential for certain social effects, causally producingthe desired result (254). Changes in social status are often ritualized (Honko 1979; van Gennep1977). Such rites of passage involve representations of supernatural agentsbecause rituals deal with changes in how persons understand and define cer-tain social relationships and because such understandings are precisely thekind of thing that triggers representations of full-access agents (Boyer 2001,155 –60, 2002). This is because persons must represent ideas of the ideas ofseveral other persons and because fifth-order intentionality is about as high ashumans can get without some external memory stores. However, it is not nec-essary for social cognition to operate stepwise, representing every intermediatelink separately; the limits of working memory can be overcome by some sort ofchunking. Even long lists of meaningless symbols can be memorized if theyare packed into a meaningful whole. When this whole is easy to remember, it isthen possible to derive the symbols from it through inference.23 In the domainof social cognition, in most cases it is enough to be able to represent fourorders of intentionality; the rest comes for free, as it were (Cargile 1970). Think of John emailing Linda and Bob: “Shall we meet for lunch at Brownsat 1 p.m.?” Linda then emails back: “Suits me.” Now John knows that it suitsLinda, but Linda does not know that John knows. Thus, John decides to emailLinda: “Okay, at Browns at 1 p.m.” Now John thinks that Linda knows that heknows that the lunch suits Linda. But Linda may be uncertain of whether Johnnow is assured that she has received the confirmation. So she emails John:“Okay with me.” Now Linda thinks that John knows that she knows that Johnknows that the lunch suits her. Theoretically, this chain could be continuedforever because it is always possible to ask “But does the person know thatI know that . . . ?” And once Bob joins the exchange, things get still more compli-cated. Yet sane persons usually stop at the stage where John emails an “Okay”as a reply to Linda’s message saying that the lunch suits her (see Perner 1993,252–53). The further orders of intentionality are presupposed to be containedwithin the initial ones. The same holds for relationships involving several persons. We use suchshortcuts as “Everybody wants,” “Most people know,” “It is rumored that,” andso forth. It is neither necessary nor possible to go through all iterated embed-dings. I suggest that concepts of supernatural agents are used as a handy wayof representing collective knowledge (see Boyer 2002). Instead of represent-ing endless chains of orders of intentionality, people in a way combine thevarious links into a single supermind that knows everything there is to beknown about mental contents. Therefore, knowing what a full-access agentsuch as God knows is equivalent to having all necessary strategic knowledge. Rituals, for their part, provide opportunities for individuals to come intofrequent contact and thus may facilitate the evolution of cooperation. Thesituation is somewhat different in small-scale communities as compared to
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 39large-scale societies (see Whitehouse 1995, 1996a,b, 2000, 2002, 2004). Insmall communities, people usually know each other personally and have ampleopportunities to meet. Rituals may only help strengthen persons’ commitmentto the group emotionally. When men engage in such dangerous activities ashunting and especially warfare where the coordinated action of the group isessential, it is necessary to prepare boys for lucid cooperation through painfuland scary initiation rituals in which a solidary group is formed (Boyer 2005a,15–16). From an evolutionary point of view, the function of the large, solidarygroups in which humans typically live most probably is protection from otherhuman groups (Alexander 1979, 222–24). The initiation rituals that create the required solidarity tend to be emo-tionally arousing, while their frequency is low (see Whitehouse 2004, 105–119). In modern societies, something similar is observed in the training ofvarious kinds of special units within armed forces, such as the British SASand the American Delta forces, for example (see Darman 1994; Horsfall 2003;Qirko 2004b). The creation of solidarity through emotional arousal was alsothe question on which much of Durkheim’s (1925) theorizing about religionfocused (see Pyysiäinen 2005f ). However, in larger societies we meet the prob-lem of creating opportunities for frequent encounters between individuals,rather than tying persons emotionally together. There is neither the necessity,nor the possibility for everyone to identify with everyone else emotionally. Yetit is necessary to create a more abstract sort of feeling of solidarity and com-mitment to common goals among individuals who can never even meet witheach other. What is important is not emotionally intense personal relation-ships but the sheer frequency of ritual displays of commitment to a “shared”doctrine (see Pyysiäinen 2001a; Whitehouse 2004, 87–104). Dennett ’s metaphor of passing the buck also applies to religious rituals(Lawson and McCauley 1990). In a typical rite of passage, for example, thepriest can pronounce a couple man and wife because he has been ordainedby the bishop. The bishop is authorized to do this because another bishophas ordained him; the other bishop had the authority because a third bishophad ordained him, and so on. The chain of ordinations is not endless, however;it ends in Jesus Christ ordaining Peter as the first bishop. With Christ beingone with God, the chain of rituals ends in a counterintuitive agent as the ulti-mate foundation. A counterintuitive agent does not need authorization fromanyone. An otherwise endless chain of reasons thus is broken by introducingsomething beyond which it is impossible to go. McCauley and Lawson (2002) also argue that in religious rituals the super-natural agent is either the actor or patient of action (special agent v. specialpatient rituals). In special agent rituals, human agents mediate superhumanaction. The fewer the mediating ritual links between the human mediator and thesuperhuman agent, the more important the place of the ritual in its particularreligious tradition. Special agent rituals are performed only once for anybody,
    • 40 human agencybecause what the gods do is done once and for all. The effect is “superpermanent”(McCauley 2001, 130 –33; McCauley and Lawson 2002, 120 –22).24 Special agentrituals involve relatively high “sensory pageantry” and thus also high emotionalarousal (as compared to the special patient rituals of the same tradition). Ritualsystems are balanced when there are both special patient and agent rituals.25 Whitehouse (2004, 38) criticizes Lawson and McCauley’s (1990) theoryof religious rituals, claiming that there are many rituals in which supernaturalagents play no role at all. He presents as an example the rainmaking ritualof the Orokaiva. This ritual is a technical procedure and does not involve anyrepresentations of supernatural agents. But this is simply because the ritualdoes not deal with any changes in the social positions of persons. It is not areligious but a magical ritual, in the sense that it is meant to bring about achange in the natural world by some counterintuitive means, not a change inthe social position of persons and/or their status in a counterintuitive reality byusing some natural means (see Pyysiäinen 2004d, 90 –112). From Lawson andMcCauley’s point of view, it does not bring about a change in a religious world(also McCauley and Lawson 2002). It is only a technique of manipulating thenatural world. I thus hypothesize that representations of supernatural agentsare a necessary element only in rituals that are meant to induce a change in the“shared” knowledge of the group and when the change takes place by a trans-ferring of an individual from one social position to another. Furthermore, not only rituals but also the basic concepts and beliefs ofa religious tradition form chains that are ultimately grounded in the beliefsand desires of supernatural agents (Pyysiäinen 2001b, 90 –91). For example,in the proofs for the existence of God, God is the ultimate grounding. Thus,William Ockham argued in the fourteenth century that “there would be aninfinite regress if among the things that exist there were not something suchthat nothing else is prior to it or more perfect than it ” (Quodlibet 1, q. 1, a. 2, 3;see chapter 4, section 4.1.5 here). Like ritual acts, the beliefs and desires ofsupernatural agents must also be made known to humans by other humanagents. Doctrines form the same kinds of chains as rituals, in the sense that,for example, Frank says that Daddy says that the priest says that the Bible saysthat God made us in his image. The Bible is the word of God and thus stops thechain (Pyysiäinen 2001b, 230 –31). Regarding the various kinds of human mediators—prophets, mediums,priests, gurus, and so on—cognitive anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse (1996a)argues that we cannot properly conceptualize such religious leadership with-out taking the temporal dimension into account. Leadership tends to developover time into differing forms, perhaps even following a fixed pattern. In White-house’s example from Papua New Guinea, an involuntarily possessed manfirst became a medium, then a prophet, and then a divine, regal figurehead. Atfirst, his brother interpreted the revelations of the possessed man, but later thebrother himself became “a holder of the key” to the transcendental realm and
    • religion: her ideas of his ideas of their ideas . . . 41the related “cargo.”26 Still later, the possessed man underwent a gradual apo-theosis into a kind of deus otiosus who was withdrawn from the public life. Thus, the types of mediation of supernatural agency vary, and types ofsocial situations can make one type of mediation more relevant than another.Slavery, for example, may make beliefs about zombies especially salient; proph-ets typify societies undergoing change and renewal; and priests represent amonotheistic God in a rigidly hierarchical society. If we conceptualize this devel-opmental trajectory in terms of degrees of agency, then at the one end of thecontinuum there is the zombie, an animated organism that yet lacks mental-ity and intentional agency of its own ( being “remote-controlled” by its master,Davis 1986); at the other end are the most direct human(-like) manifestations ofsupernatural will, such as God incarnated in a human being.Summary 1. Agency consists of animacy (liveliness, self-propelledness) and mental- ity ( beliefs and desires). 2. Humans have immediate experience of their own agency and also attribute agency to others whose behavior shows regular patterns. figure 1.1
    • 42 human agency Regular patterns in natural events easily trigger intentional inter- pretations, and humans postulate that they exist and happen for a purpose (“promiscuous teleology”). 3. Abstracting agency from observed behavior entails that agency is immaterial and controls the body. It also extends beyond the body and outlives it. 4. Immaterial agency also opens up a truly interpersonal perspective: I can think of what others think of me thinking of them (etc.). Shared knowledge thus consist of persons’ ideas of others’ ideas (etc.). 5. Agency can also be (counterintuitively) transferred to natural objects and artifacts. 6. E. B. Tylor ’s idea of religion as belief in spirits can be combined with Durkheim’s idea of religion as the social glue that ties a group of people together into a moral community; there can be no “collective consciousness” without individuals who represent each other ’s mental states. 7. In rituals, shared knowledge is “published” and an imaginary commu- nity created (“doctrinal” religions), or the emotional commitment to a smaller group is strengthened (“imagistic” religions).
    • 2Mind Your Heads2.1 Mental, Public, and Cultural RepresentationsAs I emphasized in the preface, my aim is not to write yet another“ history of God” (see Lovejoy 1960, 4–5). I focus on the agentiveproperties of supernatural agents and on their relationship with thedomains of intuitive physics and folk biology. By supernatural agentrepresentations I mean the concepts, ideas, images, and beliefspersons have about supernatural agents. These are mental represen-tations. Texts, paintings, works of art, uttered words, and so forth areextramental, “public” representations (Sperber 1996, 32). In studying representations of supernatural agents, we have totake into account that public representations both express and triggermental representations (see Sperber and Wilson 1988). Texts oruttered words as such do not mean anything; they are mere configu-rations of ink on paper or patterns of sound waves (Bechtel 1996,128; Ruhlen 1994, 40; Sperber 1996, 43, 75, 83). Philosopher JohnSearle (1995, 78–82, 156) goes so far as to argue that only biologicalbrains are capable of intentional states, that is, states that are“intrinsically ” and naturally about something. My thoughts aboutMarilyn Monroe have intrinsic intentionality, whereas the writtensentence “I love Marilyn Monroe” has only “derived” intentionality:its intentionality derives from my intrinsically intentional states. Yetit remains somewhat mysterious what exactly in the brain makesthe brain naturally inclined to intentional states or consciousness(see Churchland 1995, 187–226; Clark 2005, in press; Thompson2007; Thompson and Varela 2001).
    • 44 human agency Scholars such as Andy Clark and David Chalmers take the opposite posi-tion and argue that the mind actually extends beyond the brain and the boundsof an individual (Clark 1997, 2005, in press; Clark and Chalmers 1998). Clark(2005, in press) observes that, for example, a notebook serves exactly the samefunction as a neuron or neural population in making possible such tasks asremembering the location of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In replyto Adams and Aizawa’s earlier criticism (2001) that neither the notebook northe neurons alone can do the remembering, Clark emphasizes that lettersin a notebook can trigger mental representations the same way neurons do.But, interestingly, he says that whether these letters as such, intrinsically andwithout a reader, have intentional content is “a harder question.” Clark thensidesteps this question with a thought experiment concerning Martians whosebiological routines store bitmap images of printed words that they can lateraccess via bitmap signals sent to their visual cortices. This, however, is wide ofthe mark, because Adams and Aizawa never claimed the brain to be the onlylocus of intrinsic content in principle. Their claim is that for the time being, it isa contingent fact that only the human brain has intrinsic content. It thus is nota counterargument to say that we can imagine cases of derived content beingfound in the mind (see Aizawa and Adams 2005). Most important, even if all intentionality is derived from derived inten-tionality, it still matters in which way the derivation is made (see also Sterelny2004). Although the intentional contents of mental representations are derived,mental representation differs from extramental, in that mental derivation ofcontent is dynamic and (partly) in the conscious control of the organismic sys-tem (agent) in question. Such control is made possible by mechanisms suchas working memory, attention, conscious awareness, and emotions. These, inturn, relate to the fact that as biological organisms, human agents are entitiesthat move around, need to find food, need to avoid predators, and need to repro-duce. Whereas public representations are mere passive memory stores, mentalrepresentation is a dynamic process. Neurons are not passive like configura-tions of ink on paper are. Dynamic online motor control enables an organism toadjust in its environment through sensorimotor feedback, which then formsthe basis for imitation and simulation of both real and imagined movementsand cognitions of others (Gallese and Metzinger 2003; see Pyysiäinen 2008). It thus is easy to agree with Dan Dennett (1997, 66– 73), who points out thatwritten sentences do not have intrinsic intentionality. One cannot know whatthe sentence “Our mothers bore us” means and what it is about without ask-ing the person who wrote it. However, Dennett goes on to argue, the author ’sintentionality is every bit as derived as that of the written sentence. The brainderives whatever intentionality its parts have from the role these parts playin the larger system (see Lewis 1972). Adams and Aizawa (2001, 48), however,argue that cognitive states must involve intrinsic, nonderived content (see Clark2005, 4). It is not merely a cultural convention that a state in a human brain is
    • mind your heads 45part of a person’s thought, whereas letters, numbers, and so on mean what theymean only by virtue of social conventions. Adams and Aizawa (53) thus arguethat it is a matter of contingent fact that the processes that mediate nonderivedrepresentations “occur almost exclusively within the brain.” In my view, mental contents are “derived,” but the important thing hereis that such derivation is a dynamic process that can only take place in cer-tain biological organisms,1 most notably humans.2 Humans’ embodied centralnervous system has the capacity to use the external environment to produceconscious mental contents. This capacity does not belong to individual neu-rons or even the brain as such; it belongs to organisms with a particular typeof central nervous system. The ( human) brain is an important and unique linkin cognitive causal chains (Sperber 2006), although the brain alone cannot doanything. Mental representations arise in the interaction of embodied brainswith the environment ( which also includes other brains), but this in no waymakes the distinction between mental and public representations irrelevant.When people study religious texts, they reason from public representations tomental ones. They are able to do so with some degree of reliability because thepublic representations are expressions of mental representations and becausehumans have independent, psychological evidence about mental structures. Cultures as “precipitations of cognition and communication” (Sperber1996, 97) can, in principle, be approached from two different points of view thatI will call Platonic and Aristotelian. The former view of culture is analogous toPlato’s view of “ideas,” in that culture is understood to exist as a transcendental-like, independent realm. Culture is a “uniquely human phenomenon inde-pendent of the laws of biology and psychology ”; although the social scientistholding this view neither denies nor asserts that the laws of heredity also applyto mental phenomena, he “does deny that the laws of heredity can contribute tohis understanding of cultural phenomena—phenomena that are in no respecthereditary but are characteristically and without exception acquired” (Murdock1932, 200–202). Culture is something more than the sum of psychosomaticqualities and actions, and it cannot be “wholly understood in terms of biologyand psychology ” (Kroeber 1948, 8–9). Much of human nature “is merely culturethrown against a screen of nerves, glands, sense organs, muscles, etc.” (LeslieWhite, quoted in Degler 1991, 209). Even the human nervous system has beencalled a “cultural product ” (Geertz 1973, 50), and the anthropological conceptof culture has been called equivalent to the concept of gravity in physics in itsexplanatory power (Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1963, 3). In this view, since culturalphenomena are not reducible to multiple individual representations, individualvariation is not important. Members of a culture “share” its cultural ideas, inthat they somehow have access to cultural ideas that exist independently fromindividual minds (cf. Boyer 2001, 35–36). In what I call the Aristotelian view, cultural ideas have only an immanentexistence. Much as Aristotle’s categorial “essences” only existed in individual
    • 46 human agencymembers of the category, culture only exists insofar as there are individualswho realize it (Boyer 1994b; Sperber 1985, 1996, 2006). Cultural ideas are“shared” in that there is such overlap in individual minds that we may regarddifferent ideas as versions of each other. It is not necessary to presuppose anyoriginal “master ideas” behind this variation (see Honko 1996, 4). This modelthus is based on what Mayr (1976) called “population” thinking in biology, incontrast to the pre-Darwinian “typological” thinking: culture is an abstractionbased on a certain overlap in cognition and communication; as such, no culturehas a clear boundary or essence (see Day 2005; Pyysiäinen 2005c). Cultural ideas are versions, not copies, of each other. One makes infer-ences from what others do and say, often also trying to approximate in one’sown behavior what one perceives (Richerson and Boyd 2005; Sperber 2000b).In communication, people do not simply transfer representations from mindto mind; communication instead involves active inference and reconstructionby the receiver (Sperber and Wilson 1988). “Sharing ” thus is similarity betweenmental representations. Cultural objects can trigger similar representationsin various persons’ minds only on the condition that these persons alreadyshare some common knowledge. A picture of Jesus, for example, triggers verydifferent representations in Finnish Lutherans, Japanese Buddhists, and Indo-nesian Moslems. Typically, in what I call Platonic explanations, one first observes that groupA and group B differ from each other in some respect; then one postulatessome x in A and some y in B to account for the difference. The x and y can becultures, worldviews, belief systems, or some other form of entity-like abstrac-tions. Moreover, x also explains why there is similarity among the membersof group A; y explains why there is similarity among the members of group B.What is suspicious about this is that one first infers x and y from observed dif-ferences between A and B and then uses x and y to explain these differences.The explanandum thus is manipulated always to fit the explanans (Boyer 1990,1994b; Turner 2003; Ylikoski 2003, 322–23). This leads to problems because x and y can explain differences betweengroups only insofar as they can also explain similarities within the group (seePyysiäinen 2004d, 220–21). Yet the similarities depend on a contrast ( Ylikoski2003, 324). Finnish culture, for example, is defined in contrast to Swedish,Russian, and other cultures. What separates Finns from Swedes is also whatunifies Finns as Finns. Let us call it x. But what separates Finns from Russiansis something different from x. Let us call it y. Both x and y must at once unifyFinns as Finns (i.e. constitute Finnish culture). As they, are different things,however, Finnish culture receives two different identities. Since such contrast-ing can be continued ad nauseam, Finnish culture is continuously redefined,so it does not have any such unity as was presupposed. For Finnish cultureto be homogeneous, the within-group similarities should be identifiable andexplainable without any comparison to other cultures. But this is not the case,
    • mind your heads 47and the idea of unifying entities such as cultures, worldviews, and so forthbecomes suspect ( Ylikoski 2001, 324). This problem need not lead us to dispose of the concept of culture; it isonly the explanatory use of such concepts that is problematic. Explaining stabil-ity and change with reference to culture is especially difficult. The heart of theproblem is in that the explanandum and explanans are too close to each other,as it were—are not independent from each other. Culture concepts may havesome other uses, however ( Ylikoski 2003). For example, if Finnish culture iswhatever Finns do, then some behavior x that is characteristic of Finns cannotbe explained as being caused by Finnish culture (“Finns do x because it is partof Finnish culture”).3 Such concepts as “culture,” “tradition,” and so forth arecausally impotent, in that they include nothing over and above the various factsthat are grouped under them. Concepts such as “culture” may have a use if theyare properly detached from the explanandum: being part of Finnish culture isa meaningful property if not everything Finns do is defined as part of Finnishculture. We need this detachment. “Culture” can be thought of as a placeholderfor the effects of the cultural selection of concepts, beliefs and customs. Theclaim “The Finnish culture underwent a change in 1960’s” is a generalizationover many lower-level changes that can be identified separately. It is, however,often useful to have also the higher-level explanation (see Ylikoski 2001, 87). A focus on the cultural selection of representations thus means studyingpatterns of derivation of intentional content. In other words, we study how andwhy, given certain initial conditions, persons tend to end up with the samekinds of mental representations over and over. Some of these representationsmay be innate intuitions, in that they emerge very early in the developing child,irrespective of the specific culture in which she is born, and are often belowconscious awareness (see Elman et al. 1998, 22–35, 360–61). We do not have tothink that they emerge irrespective of culture, just that they emerge irrespec-tive of the variation that exists among the world’s cultures (see Pyysiäinen inpress). The point is only that it does not matter in which particular culture oneis born. Barrett (2003) makes a distinction between nativists (such as Bering), whofocus on how individuals’ cognitive machinery of “produces” intuitive ideasand behaviors that may then receive augmentation from explicit ideas learnedfrom culture, and epidemiologists, who are not necessarily interested in theorigins of concepts and beliefs. Epidemiologists try to explain the distributionof representations in populations. Widespread ideas are typically such that peo-ple can easily adopt them because people can enrich them with their intuitions.When many persons acquire, store, and process an idea several times withoutmuch distortion or change, we have culture (Boyer 1998; Sperber 1996). Wedo not need to agree on any specific number of persons or the minimum timerequired for this to happen (Pyysiäinen 2005c, 291–92). We can say that a cul-tural trait must last approximately two years or longer (time ≥ Δ 2) and that it
    • 48 human agencymust be shared by several persons (persons ≥ Δ 2).4 Let us now mark “for howlong,” p, and “how many,” x. A set of representations and practices forms acultural pattern when { p ≥ Δ 2 & x ≥ Δ 2}. It thus is not possible to say exactlywhat counts or does not count as a cultural pattern.2.2 From Unit-ideas to Recurrent PatternsIt is not always easy to decide whether a representation belongs to innate intu-itions or is cultural in the sense of being acquired in communication (see Sper-ber 1997); the boundary between innate concepts and cultural informationthat evokes and enriches them is by no means clear (see Barrett 2003; Boyer2003a). We cannot explore the innate and the cultural independently fromeach other (see, e.g., Fodor 2000a; Griffiths 2002; cf. Laurence and Margolis2002). It is more a question of which end we choose to approach representa-tions from, as Barrett (2003) argues. Some representations and cognitive operations are so far removed frominnate intuitions that they call for a different type of analysis. Whitehouse (2004),for example, argues that religious ideas are cognitively costly, not optimal, andthat their persistence thus requires strong external, cultural support. An evenbetter example is science. Scientific concepts and beliefs can only spread withstrong support from public representations in external memory stores. To anextent, some theological concepts and beliefs are similar to scientific ones inthe sense of being second-order theory of religion and thus cognitively costly( Wiebe 1991). The epidemiological models have so far had little to say about this kindof representation (see Pyysiäinen 2004c). Liénard and Boyer (2006, 823), forexample, argue that collective rituals are “generally not ‘engineered’ in the senseof a deliberate process.” Instead, variants of collective rituals that include cuesactivating the hazard precaution system (see Boyer and Liénard 2006) survivebetter in cultural selection. This is probably true of spontaneous transmission;in literate cultures, however, written, codified instructions also guide the per-formance of rituals. It remains to be explored whether this actually changes thenature of rituals or textual traditions merely reflect facts of spontaneous trans-mission. In this study, I will try to explore both codified theological conceptionsof supernatural agents and the more spontaneous, actual conceptions, whichwe can find described in surveys and ethnographic reports (see Pyysiäinen2004b). I can then analyze how these two relate to each other. Methodologically this means approaching representations of supernaturalagents both on the basis of theological representations as found in texts, onthe one hand, and data and reports more directly reflecting persons’ actual rep-resentations, on the other hand. Much as scholars in the Annales school ofhistorical writing and in the research tradition of history of mentalities tried to
    • mind your heads 49delineate long-term historical structures by paying attention to material cultureand mentalities (see Dosse 1994; Revel and Hunt 1995), I will try to explicatethe long-term cognitive structures that help explain certain recurrent patternsin supernatural agent representation. We should not merely infer these struc-tures from texts and then use these structures to explain the texts, in a circularfashion. Instead, we need to independently establish the existence of the cogni-tive structures in the light of experimental psychology and cognitive science.We can then use this knowledge to explain what sorts of mental representa-tions and cognitive mechanism might underlie the various textual traditions. The cognitive effects of literacy and the use of texts as external memorystores has been much discussed (Donald 1991; Goody 1986, 1987, 2000;Pyysiäinen 1999). Writing has been assumed to be an important aid of mem-ory that greatly contributes to the emergence of systematic bodies of knowl-edge, such as theologies (Goody 2000; Pyysiäinen 2004d, 160– 71; Sperber1996, 56– 76). Writing enables guilds of religious specialists to develop generaltruths that are meant for all (Boyer 2001, 278). It helps decouple words andideas from particular contexts and create the idea of fixed dictionary meanings;people thus become able to generalize beyond specific contexts and concerns.Literacy may not change the human mind radically, but it certainly provides anew and powerful tool for storing information; by the same token, it also gen-erates the ideal of an immutable, coherent, and complete system of thoughts(Pyysiäinen 2004d, 147– 71; Sanderson 2008). It is actually an old idea that research should try to capture the obviousoverlap in the world’s cultures and to explain recurrent themes. The well-knownbut little studied ethnologist Adolf Bastian (1826–1905), for example, arguedin the 1870s that ethnology should try to reconstruct the elementary ideas (Ele-mentargedanken) common to all humans; this was to be done on the basis of thecollective representations (Gesellschaftsgedanken) as they appeared in the ideasof various ethnic groups (Völkergedanken). The psychic unity of humankindwas expressed in slightly differing forms in the varying cultures of the world.Ethnology was to study the social realm, which was “a mental realm createdthrough interaction and linguistic intercourse,” providing a kind of “statisticsof thought ” (Gedankenstatistik ) for a scientific psychology that was supposed tostudy collective consciousness (Koepping 1983, 29–36). Yet Bastian hardly everoutlined any of the supposed elementary ideas (Koepping 1983, 37). Bastian’sviews were criticized by the geographer Friedrich Ratzel (1844–1904) and hisfollowers, who emphasized the diffusion of cultural innovations through cul-tural contacts (see Koepping 1983, 60–68). Yet Bastian seems not to have beena simpleminded nativist of his day; he accepted the stimulating ( but not cre-ative) role of the environment. Thus, he anticipated in a way the later view ofcognitive structures as channeling the spread of culture (see Atran 2002a). The historian of ideas Arthur Lovejoy (1960, 3–4) argued that the historyof ideas differed from the history of philosophy in that it was concerned with
    • 50 human agency“unit-ideas.” Breaking individual systems into their unit-ideas, the history ofideas reveals that most philosophic systems are “original or distinctive rather intheir patterns than in their components.” The number of distinct philosophicalideas is limited, and the apparent novelty of many systems is due to the arrange-ment of the constitutive elements, not to the elements themselves. The unit-ideas—for example, the three ideas related to the “principle of plenitude” thatLovejoy studied in his book—extend their influence over long periods of time.However, Hintikka (1981b) argued that the principle of plenitude is not one ideabut a conglomeration of ideas, whose implications are not independent of itsconceptual and theoretical environments. Therefore, Lovejoy’s whole method-ology is questionable. As practitioners of the discipline called “memetics” have recently presentedarguments very similar to Ratzel’s and Lovejoy’s, one might be tempted to saythat the idea of some kind of unit-ideas is itself a unit-idea (see Atran 2002a,236–62; Laland and Brown 2003, 197–239; Sperber 2000b). At any rate, theproblems with memetics show that it is important to specify on what groundsa partition of ideas into basic elements is made, as well as what purpose it issupposed to serve. Whether we are concerned with a “statistics of ideas” or theoperation of long-term mental structures, the crucial thing is the differentialdistribution of ideas: why some (types of) ideas are recurring and influential. A simple-minded memeticist would explain this with reference to thestructure of ideas themselves, whereas a more realistic approach is to seekthe explanation in the natural inclinations of the human mind (Atran 2002a,241–43; Sperber 1985; cf. Laland and Brown 2003, 228–32). Why some ideasbecome widespread is explained to some extent by the ways the human mindworks. Thus, instead of referring to some kind of unit-ideas, I will try to captureimportant overlap in the ways supernatural agents are represented (see Love-joy 1960, 4–5). Thus, we do not need to postulate fixed units with an essence;population thinking makes it possible to focus on overlap in sets of representa-tions instead of fixed categories. We explain this overlap with reference to basiccognitive processes and the similarity of environments.2.3 The Illusion of “World Religions”Scholars of comparative religion have been in the habit of classifying andtypologizing “religions.” One major category is the so-called world religions,although scholars have not been able to decide which religions precisely shouldbe included in it and by what criteria. The paradigmatic representatives areChristianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism; often also Confucian-ism, Taoism, and Shinto are included (unless they are simply grouped togetheras “Chinese,” “Japanese,” or “East Asian religions”). Sometimes even Zoro-astrianism, Jainism, and Sikhism are mentioned in this context. The “world
    • mind your heads 51religions” are also called the “great ” religions of the world, although no oneseems to know why and in what sense they are supposed to be greater thanothers (Masuzawa 2005, 2). I find such classification as problematic as TomokoMasuzawa does, but for different reasons. Masuzawa (2005, 108–20) argues that the concept of a “world religion”derives from nineteenth-century Dutch attempts to distinguish between ethni-cally or nationally specific religions (Dutch Volksgodsdiensten) and world religions(Wereldgodsdiensten). The Catholic theologian Johann Sebastian von Drey firstmade this distinction in 1827; he distinguished between Christianity, whichsupposedly was free from all national boundaries and open to all humanity, andvarious national religions. In 1876, C. P. Tiele adopted the term Wereldgods-diensten as the basis of his classification of religions, translated into Englishas “universalistic religious communities.”5 Tiele is said to have soon discardedthis notion, though it was more a matter of simple relabeling. Pierre Chantepiede la Saussaye then reaffirmed the distinction between universal and nationalreligions in 1891, albeit wishing to give Drey’s original theological idea a morescientific application (see Wiebe 1999). Masuzawa asks “what right ” we have to divide religions in this way and totry to distinguish “the West from the rest,” basing her argument on a criticismof “Orientalism” (2005, 2, 20, 110; cf. Schmidt 2006). For me, this is not a ques-tion of rights but of reasons and arguments. Underlying the phenomenologicalattempts at distinguishing between types of religion is the highly questionableimplicit view that categories are defined by an inner essence and that the vari-ous features the members of the category share are caused by this essence (seeDay 2005). The essence is something postulated on the basis of observed cues;the essence itself is not observable. Yet it is referred to as an explanation for thetraits observed in members of the category. The essence is also understood topermeate an individual organism entirely, being equally present in all its parts(see Ahn et al. 2001; Boyer 1993; Gelman and Hirschfeld 1999). In many cases of insufficient information, such essentialism can help pre-dict the behavior of organisms in a cognitively cheap way, even though theassumption itself is literally false. But things can go wrong. “Religions” are notnatural kinds and have no clear boundaries (see Boyer 1993). As generaliza-tions about “Hinduism,” “Christianity,” and so forth are only based on a certainoverlap in individuals’ behavior, not on individuals sharing the same essence,these generalizations do not hold true for every individual member of thecategory of “Hinduism.” Although scholars of religion have at times warnedagainst generalizing statements such as “the Hindus believe” and “Moslemsthink,” it has been difficult to avoid such language because we often need someconceptual means of describing things at the populational level. Thus, we canstill hear statements about what Buddhists believe, Hindus do, and so forth,as if Buddhism and Hinduism were monolithic. Official teachings and doc-trines are (pre)supposed to reflect the essence of the religion in question, while
    • 52 human agencyindividual believers are thought to have various kinds of more or less inaccu-rate views about true religion. For a social and behavioral scientist, this is a completely arbitrary choice,however. Instead of defining the True religion, we want to study everythingthat actually goes on in a given tradition. Written theologies are not exhaustivecatalogs of the beliefs of the members of a group and thus cannot be used asindicators of what those subscribing to the religion in question actually believe(Barrett 1999; Boyer 1994b). Theological doctrines are instead artifacts thatserve as cues directing people’s inferences; being exposed to some official theo-logical formulations triggers mental representations that are more salient thanothers to start with. Although we can often predict more or less accurately whatkinds of ideas people will end up entertaining after being exposed to certainteachings, there are no necessary links between these ideas and the theologicalstimuli (Boyer 1994b, 260–61). The actually represented ideas do not mechani-cally follow from the perceived stimuli; they are brought about by an activeinferential process in the mind (see Sperber and Wilson 1988). Individuals’actual religious thought and behavior thus is not based on making applieddeductions from theological systems. Categories such as “founded religions” (vs. “ethnic” religions) and “reli-gions of the book ” are equally problematic. Only rarely is a religion simplyfounded by one person. Some religions can also be classified as either foundedor ethnic, depending on one’s interpretation of the facts. Some think Judaismwas founded by Moses, while a historically more accurate view is that it is anethnic religion. “Religions of the book ” have canonized scriptures, but such holybooks never provide an exhaustive description of the believers’ beliefs formula-tions of which often are for the most part orally transmitted (see Graham 1987).Monotheism is often distinguished from polytheism, although it is not alwaysclear what counts as monotheism and whether certain subservient supernatu-ral figures, such as Jesus or the Virgin Mary, count as additional gods. Finally, the category of “religion” itself is a vague one, and all attempts at“defining” it are actually quite beside the point (see Boyer 1994b, 29–34; Martin2008; Pyysiäinen 2001b, 1–5; Wiebe 2008). Why should we try to define reli-gion? Whether we think we cannot study it before we have a definition of it or wethink the ultimate goal of studying it is to arrive at a definition of it, no seriouswork can be done along these lines. Religion can and has been studied withouta definition of it; conversely, arriving at a satisfactory definition would not stopfurther research because a mere definition really tells us nothing of great inter-est. We do not study “religion” as a defined concept but rather as what individu-als actually do and say. Thus, when I, for example, refer to Christianity or Buddhism, I do notmean to imply that they form coherent wholes. These are just words we use toidentify certain “precipitations of cognition and communication” that do nothave any fixed boundaries or strict internal homogeneity (an essence). I will
    • mind your heads 53explore them by analyzing both folk conceptions and prescribed ideas aboutsupernatural agency, trying to describe the cognitive trajectories from sponta-neous folk beliefs to reflective theology.Summary 1. Supernatural agent representations are mental concepts, ideas, images, and beliefs; texts, paintings, works of art, uttered words, and so on are extramental, public representations expressing mental repre- sentations. Public representations also trigger mental representations. 2. In studying religious texts, we reason from public representations to mental representations, using experimental data about human cognition as a guide; we then use mental representations to explain the public representations in the texts. 3. Shared knowledge means that different ideas in individual minds are regarded as versions (not copies) of each other. 4. This study focuses on recurrent patterns in the ways supernatural agents are represented in differing traditions. 5. Traditions, cultures, and religions are abstractions based on the observed overlap of mental and public representations; they are not classes with an essence and clear boundaries. Thus, being a “Buddhist,” for example, does not mean that one merely repeats the “Buddhist doctrine” like an automaton. On the contrary, “Buddhism” is an abstraction based on observed overlap of individuals’ behavior with their beliefs.
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    • IISupernatural Agency
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    • 3Souls, Ghosts, andShamans3.1 Soul BeliefsIn this section, I begin with the views of Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920)on folk beliefs about “souls.” I try to show that the kinds of beliefs hetalked about were not mere narrative fantasies but an expression ofa “folk psychology of souls” (cf. Bering 2006): a common, everydayway of conceptualizing agency. One could illustrate these types ofbelief with almost any folk tradition of the world; I use examples herefrom ethnographies of Finno-Ugric peoples because Wundt ’s ideashave been important in this area of research.1 Wundt tried to systematize beliefs about souls using existingethnographic materials and Tylor ’s and Bastian’s theorizing; manylater scholars occasionally refer to Wundt ’s work, but he often goesunrecognized. This is understandable: he had no robust theory butonly made general observations about soul beliefs, some of whichcan ultimately be traced back to Plato’s and Aristotle’s conceptual-izations and elaborations of folk intuitions. Currently, cognitivescientists and cognitive developmentalists in psychology are mappingthe same territory, albeit looking at things from a different angle.A whole family of concepts such as soul, spirit, person, I, me, and selfall represent attempts at conceptualizing different aspects of humanagency. Focusing on representations of types of soul, of dead agents,and of spirits that can enter and leave bodies, I will explore tradi-tional forms of these conceptualizations.
    • 58 supernatural agency3.1.1 Phenomenology of Souls“Soul” is the generally used English translation of the Greek psuchē and the Latinanima. In the Western philosophical tradition, conceptions of soul are closelyrelated to the philosophical analysis of emotion that Plato first introduced andAristotle elaborated. In the Republic, emotions and desires are “movements ofthe soul”; the soul is divided into three parts: the reasoning ( logistikon), the spir-ited (thumoeides), and the appetitive (epithumētikon). Reasoning is a specificallyhuman ability, and ideally it should govern the entire soul; the spirited part isthe seat of emotions; the appetitive part pursues immediate sensual pleasures(Knuuttila 2006, 2– 7). Aristotle argued that the soul was not a separate substance but the “form”of the body; there were no disembodied mental phenomena, even though cog-nitive acts did not reduce to bodily changes (Knuuttila 2006, 44). Souls distin-guished a living body from an inanimate body, every soul being realized in aphysical body, not in mere dead matter. Plants had “nutritive” souls ( liveliness),animals had “sensitive” souls (goal-directed movement), and only humans hadthe intellect that allowed them to think (Aristotle, De an. 429b–430b, 434a–435a; Frede 1995, 96; Nussbaum 1995, 9). Aristotle appears to be a functional“modularist,” preferring to regard souls as capacities rather than parts or lev-els (Knuuttila 2006, 44). As similar, albeit vaguer distinctions between typesof soul occur in folk conceptions all over the world, Aristotle may be said tohave systematized and elaborated crossculturally recurrent intuitive ontologi-cal assumptions (see Thompson 1955–58, 2:492–517). Wundt was one of the forerunners of modern social psychology; he estab-lished the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, in 1879. Heemphasized that soul concepts should only be studied on the basis of collectiverepresentations as found in language, myths, and customs (“folk psychology ”or Völkerpsychologie).2 Introspective experimentation could yield informationonly about perception and simple emotions, not about “higher ” cognitive pro-cesses (see Kusch 1999, 10 –254; Taves 1999, 259– 62, 307). According toWundt (1906, 1–94), the concept of soul appeared in two very different forms:the body-soul (Körperseele) was a characteristic of the body, while the free-soulor psyche was identified with breathing (Hauchseele) and one’s shadow (Schat-tenseele). Wundt then asks the reader to compare his presentation to that ofTylor (1903, 423ff ). For Wundt, beliefs about the body-soul were the older ones.The body-soul was responsible for such properties of a living body as feeling,mental representations, and thinking and was divided into several different“soul organs” (Organseele) (2–40). The psyche, manifested as the breath-soul orspirit and as shadow, was not constrained by the bounds of the physical body,which it could temporarily leave. In death, when the body stopped breathing,the soul left the body for good and flew away—through an open window, forexample (40 –94). Wundt is not very explicit about his sources, but occasionally
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 59he provides references to the works of Bastian, William Robertson-Smith, Tylor,and others. The material gathered and classified by Tylor (e.g. 1903, 1:434– 67)is especially apparent in the background. The basic division Tylor and Wundt made between the body-soul and thepsyche is known in comparative religion in various versions; it has been espe-cially important in the ethnography of Finno-Ugric peoples and Siberian sha-manism. According to the Finnish linguist Heikki Paasonen (1909), in theFinno-Ugric Urzeit ( before the split of Finnic languages and Ugrian languagessuch as Hungarian), the living person was believed to have both a spirit or“ breath” (Ger. Atem) that made the body alive and a soul.3 The most commonname for “breath” was the Ostyak (Hanti) word lil, deriving from a Proto-Finno-Ugric root (> Hungarian lélek, Lappish lievl, Estonian leil, and Finnish löyly,which currently refers to the steam that comes from the hot stones in thebathhouse stove when water is thrown on them [Karjalainen 1918, 23]).4 Thesoul was a ghost (Gespenst) or a shadow that could temporarily leave the body(Paasonen 1909). K. F. Karjalainen (1918) took up this theme in his book on the religion ofthe Ostyaks and Voguls (the Khanty and Mansi), whom he referred to as “theYugraic peoples” ( Jugralaiset). The book was published a year before Karjalain-en’s death. In the beginning of the book, he pointed out that as a living personwas observed to breathe, the breath as a kind of a vital force (Finn. elämänvoima) was supposed to leave the body on the moment of death. The vital force,when conceived of as a separate being, could be called a “ breath-soul” ( hen-kisielu). In addition to the breath-soul, there was the ghost- or shadow-soul( haamu- eli varjosielu). Thus, the fact of death was the cornerstone of all soulconcepts (20). Karjalainen said it was common understanding that in the beliefs of primi-tive peoples the soul was threefold: there was a body-soul, a breath-soul, and aghost-soul. This trinity was not found among the Ostyaks and Voguls, however.The body-soul was not divided into separate soul organs, and the breath-souland ghost-soul were not originally identical. For these peoples, the soul wastwofold: breath separated a living person from a dead body; this breath-soulcovered both the body-soul and the breath-soul that Wundt observed. It wasaccompanied by the ghost-soul ( henkisielu or hahmosielu).5 Karjalainen thoughtwe should regard these views not as “doctrines” but as vague and even mutu-ally contradictory ideas that developed over time (1918, 23; see also Severi 1993;Thompson 1955–58, 2:492–517). According to Karjalainen, the breath-soul ( lil, śān, šōn) was understood asa force that appeared as visible or invisible steam that emanated from the bodyand could even move to another body. In certain contexts, this belief had devel-oped into a belief about a separate entity that had an individual essence. It wasaccompanied by beliefs about the hahmosielu as a kind of a homunculus and anecessary part of a living person. Yet it had its own identity and could also live
    • 60 supernatural agencyoutside the body. Karjalainen said that Paasonen showed that this conceptionwas common to all Finno-Ugric peoples. In the Western areas, it was called is,from which the Finnish word itse (“self ”) derived. Eastern Ostyaks called it ilt(“shadow, mirror image”). Normally, losing one’s ilt could cause illness, but asorcerer ’s (noita) ilt could travel in the upper and nether worlds without thesorcerer falling ill (1918, 24–30; Pentikäinen 1985, 133−35). Both Paasonen and Karjalainen were linguists: they studied religiousand traditional beliefs as part of the study of language. Paasonen studied theMordva, Khanty, and Mari languages and published four volumes of Mordvannarratives. His dictionary of Mordvan dialects was published posthumously, aslate as 1990 –99. Karjalainen spent four years (1898–1902) among the Hanti(Ostyaks) and published two collections of their texts, as well as a dictionary ofthe Ostyak language. Uno Harva (until 1927 Holmberg), whom Mircea Eliade,for example, often cites, also used linguistic arguments and studied the samematerials; he, however, was primarily a scholar of folklore and religion and issaid to have turned Finnish folklore scholarship into comparative religion (Ant-tonen 1987, 11, 50, 2007; see Znamenski 2007, 32–33). Harva dealt with ideas of soul in his published doctoral thesis, presentinghis materials in an order he believed reflected the various stages of develop-ment and the geographical-historical spread of ideas (Harva 1913, 15). He (1)questioned the applicability of Tylor ’s animistic theory to the oldest religiousrepresentations of the most primitive peoples (Naturvölker ). He referred toStadling ’s (1912, 8) claim that researchers had established the fact that theconception of soul as an independent being only belonged to later phasesof development (see also Durkheim 1925, 34, 1965, 39–40). Harva arguedthat according to the most primitive conception, the soul was a property ofthe physical body, which it could not leave. Harva then provides a footnote,asking the reader to see Wundt (1906, 1–46) on primitive conceptions of thesoul; he does not, however, refer to Wundt in his later works (Harva 1913,1–2, 8–9). Harva (1913, 1–9, 1993, 250–52) made the familiar distinction between twodifferent soul concepts: the spirit or breath (Ger. Atem) was the vital force thatmade an organism alive, while the soul (Seele) was the object of “actual soulbelief.” The Turkic peoples (the “Altaic family,” Harva 1933, 171) believed thateverything that breathed had a spirit and that in death the spirit departed thebody, evaporating like steam.6 As a vital force, the spirit could also be attributedto everything that grew or was powerful, including even such things as sharpknives.7 Harva claimed that the spirit was not regarded as an independentbeing and that cases in which the spirit was clearly considered to be separatefrom the body had to be explained by cultural contacts with other peoples. Thesoul, as distinct from the spirit, usually left the body before the spirit departedin death. It was also called “form” or “figure” (Aussehen, Form; Finn. hahmo),“mirror image” (Spiegelbild ), and “shadow ” (Schatten). The soul could travel
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 61apart from the body when the person was asleep or ill. In such cases, the soulrepresented the conscious self and was an independent, knowing, willing, andfeeling being ( Wesen). In cases of serious illness, the soul seemed to be splitinto two, because the sick person might be conscious while her or his soul yetwas outside the body. For Harva, belief in personal souls thus was a later development that fol-lowed the belief in impersonal forces that people could control in a mechani-cal manner (Harva 1916). Beliefs about the deceased (Finn. vainajat) and godsalso belonged to this later developmental stage.8 As the shaman, for example,was dealing with personal souls, he was not a magician, and shamanism thusbelonged to the later, animistic stage of religious development (see Anttonen1987, 114–16). Thus, Harva departed from his teacher Kaarle Krohn’s (1915)idea that only beliefs about the deceased (vainajat) reflected the original Finno-Ugric religious tradition, while all other elements of folklore testified to syncre-tism due to Christianization. Harva’s teacher, the folklore scholar Kaarle Krohn complained in his reporton Harva’s doctoral thesis that Harva had not been able to free himself from“theorizing ” and that the theories of the historians of religion had flawed hiswork. Harva generalized from observations on one Finnic people to another,completing the argument by his personal opinions based on unsound linguisticspeculation and presupposing that the borrowing of a word from another tradi-tion also testified to the borrowing of a concept. Older strata in belief systemsthus were reconstructed on the basis of mere linguistic similarities á la Fried-rich Max Müller (see Anttonen 1987, 112–14; Masuzawa 2005, 207–44). Krohn was a folklorist who had continued his father ’s, Julius Krohn’s, workin developing the so-called “geographical-historical” or “Finnish” method forthe study of folklore. Its basic idea was that cross-culturally recurrent types andmotives of narratives were to be explained by cultural contacts and borrowing,not by the psychic unity of humankind (see Krohn 1894; Krohn 1971). Krohnargued that oral traditions as documented in the field were the only propersources for the study of folkbeliefs; linguistic speculations in the abstractshould not be accepted (Anttonen 1987, 44). The disagreement between Harvaand Krohn thus reflects the more international debate between Bastian andhis psychic unity thesis in contrast to Ratzel’s anthropogeography. The Finn-ish debate may also have been one between linguists such as Karjalainen andE. N. Setälä, on the one hand, and folklorists such as Kaarle Krohn and AnttiAarne, on the other hand (see Martti Haavio’s remarks quoted in Anttonen1987, 85; Setälä 1915). Anttonen (1987, 131), following Albert Hämäläinen, points out that in hismain work, Altain suvun uskonto9 (Religion of the Altaic Family, 1933), Harvawas influenced by international discussions within the history of religions andof Ratzelianism in particular. This may be so, although Harva does not refer toRatzel or even explicitly discuss his methodology. Similar ideas had previously
    • 62 supernatural agencybeen presented by Julius and Kaarle Krohn, however. Anttonen (1987, 132–33)also argues that Harva’s criticism against Tylorian-Wundtian ideas may havebeen inspired by the papers read at the 5th Congress of the History of Religionsin Lund, Sweden, in August 1929. Some of the short contributions, publishedin 1930, discussed soul beliefs and took a critical stance on Tylorianism. Secre-tary of the Congress and Professor of the History of Religions at Lund, MartinNilsson (1930, 97), for example, wrote: “A true concept of the soul does notexist among the primitives, or even at higher levels of culture. What exists isa bunch of associations that emerge at some point and then assume a definiteform, although they are loose and dubious.”10 Anttonen (1987, 132–33) suggests that when Harva wrote that neither theTurkic-Mongolian nor any other “primitive” peoples (Naturvölker) had anyexplicit doctrine of the soul, only ideas with an associative connection, he wasleaning on Nilsson’s view. Harva argued that as primitive thought (ursprüng-liche Denken) does not represent educated thinking, we would go wrong if wefollowed Tylor and projected our own learned concepts of soul onto primitivepeoples (1993, 252–53). Anttonen also shows that Nilsson had urged Harva toparticipate in the conference but for some reason Harva did not accept the invi-tation. He, however, had a copy of the proceedings in his library. Yet Harva doesnot mention the conference or Nilsson’s paper in his book at all. The idea that folk conceptions do not form a theology, doctrine, or philoso-phy, is actually a very general one and was already entertained by Karjalainen(1918, 23), for example. Harva lists Karjalainen’s book in his bibliography butdoes not refer to it in the section on conceptions of the soul. Neither does hemention Paasonen or Wundt. Most of the references are to Russian travelogues,books and articles (Harva 1993, 250 – 79). In his earlier book on Finno-Ugrianand Siberian mythology, Harva does mention Paasonen and Karjalainen, butnot in connection with the dualism of the soul (Harva 1927). Wundt is not men-tioned at all. One thus gets the impression that Harva presents the classificationof souls as his own finding, partly based on his own ethnographic fieldwork.The influence of Nilsson and the conference must therefore remain specula-tive. It is true, though, that ciriticism against Tylorianism was in the air, soto speak. Although Harva maintains that folk conceptions do not form a theology,his methodology did not allow for a genuinely individual and situationist analy-sis of folk beliefs. Instead, he uses heterogeneous sources and makes harmo-nizing inductive generalizations about what “Lapps,” “Buryats,” and so forthbelieve as a folk, as though various peoples had unitary “worldviews” or “ beliefsystems” (to use more modern labels, see Pyysiäinen 2001b, 143–58; Ch. 2.3.).Such categorization is problematic because it basically operates on the emiclevel, occasionally translating terms into more etic language (see appendix). Butas the underlying assumptions on which the classification rests are not prop-erly spelled out, no agreement about the nature of the soul conceptions has
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 63been achieved among scholars. It is difficult to bring order to the great varietyof beliefs and concepts by a mere inductive approach. Yet phenomenologists of religion have tried to elaborate the classificationof souls presented by Tylor and Wundt into a realistic system (see “Types ofSoul” below). Ernst Arbman (1926, 1939), for example, argued against Wundtthat the division between the body soul and psyche belongs to the earliest phaseand that the idea of psyche is not derived from the idea of a body soul. Historianof Native American religions, Åke Hultkrantz (1953, 18–36), then, bases hisown classification of souls on Tylor ’s and Arbman’s work. He argues that we are not here dealing with two functions of a single entitybut rather with two different souls the ideas of which are equally old. The ideaof the free-soul is based on the fact that we have memories and dreams aboutother persons. The idea of the life-giving body-soul, for its part, is based onthe observation of persons being alive, both bodily and mentally (Hultkrantz1953, 23–25; cf. Severi 1993). Hultkrantz (1953, 26) thinks that the idea of anevanescent free-soul has been used to explain the liveliness of the body by asso-ciating it with breathing. The idea of the breath-soul has thus become a meet-ing place between the two earlier soul concepts and has made possible the laterdevelopment of a homogeneous concept of the soul. Ivar Paulson (1958, 18–19,206–19, 223–354), extending Hultkrantz’s typology, divides the body-soul intoa “life-soul” ( lebensseele) and a “self-soul” (Ichseele) and divides the free-soul fur-ther into a “double” (Doppelgängerseele) and a “fate-soul” (Schicksalsseele). Thevarious types of soul are shown in the list. Types of Soul Wundt Body-soul Free-soul/psyche Arbman & Hultkrantz Life-giving-soul Free-soul Paulson Body: life-soul, self-soul Free-soul: double, fate-soul Although these classifications are problematic (as I discuss later), theyhave one advantage over Harva’s position: beliefs about souls are not deniedto the so-called primitives. Inspired by Marett ’s preanimism (see the followingsection), Harva thought that in the most primitive forms of religion, naturalobjects were seen to have power (animacy in my terminology) but not a soulthat would have been separate from the body (mentality, in my terminology).(I will question this view in section 3.1.3.) We can see that Harva’s claim aboutTylorians, that they were trying to force “our learned concepts” on the primi-tives, is mistaken once we recognize that Tylor ’s soul concepts actually reflectfolk psychology quite closely (cf. Strathern and Stewart 2007, x). The Westernconcepts of soul were not invented by Aristotle de novo or only introduced bymedieval Scholastics. They are deeply rooted in human intuitions.
    • 64 supernatural agency3.1.2 Language and CognitionAs scholars of folklore have often emphasized, folk traditions are not a homo-geneous mass; we should analyze the form and function of different folkloregenres to determine what aspects of culture and cognition they testify to. Folk-tale (Märchen), legend (Sage), and myth (Mythe) were first differentiated byJakob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie, but this distinction was not reallyused, let alone elaborated, until in the latter part of the twentieth century.Bronislaw Malinowski (1984, 96–148), for example, distinguishing in 1948between three types of narratives on the Trobriand Islands—kukwanebu, liliu,and libwogwo—argues that these are emic terms whose meaning exists only inthe Melanesian language. Yet he also explains that liliu corresponds to “myth”or “sacred tales,” kukwanebu to “fairy- or folktales,” and libwogwo to “legends.”Such classification has since been analyzed and developed by William Bascom(1965), C. Scott Littleton (1965), and Lauri Honko (1968), for example (seeBriggs 2002, 1–14). One solution to the problem of comparativism is the Krohnian attempt toexplain everything in terms of cultural contacts and borrowing; but this approachfails to explain why some concepts and beliefs are more contagious than oth-ers. Harva, for his part, seems to have thought that similarities might beexplained by the linguistic-cultural unity of the Altaic family. As Krohn pointedout, Harva was not really an ethnographer but rather based his arguments ontextual sources and linguistic data (Anttonen 1987, 77). The leading idea ofDie religiösen Vorstellungen der altaischen Völker was that there existed an Altaic“family ” (suku) of languages, and that the Finno-Ugric languages belonged tothe Altaic languages (the “Uralic-Altaic ” language group; Harva 1993, 5–11).This linguistic connection implied that these peoples’ ways of thinking weresimilar, too.11 Harva thus reasoned from words to concepts, presupposing thatlanguage directly revealed something about thinking, which is problematic. There is no isomorphism between verbal language and cognitive processes(see Pyysiäinen 2004d, 9–11, 20 –23). The cognitive science of religion restsessentially on the realization that thinking is neither carried out in nor deter-mined by verbal language alone, although language is important in thinking.Cognitive science thus can help us disentangle linguistic and cognitive pro-cesses and build a more solid frame of reference for a comparative analysisof conceptions of the soul. When we shift attention from the mere reconstruc-tion of emic categories on the basis of linguistic expressions, we may be ableto better understand the nature of the conceptions of the soul. Then we nolonger explore these conceptions as something “ancient,” “heathenish,” andalien to us.12 Harva’s basic idea of an “Altaic religion” shared by the Uralic and Altaicpeoples is also suspect on linguistic grounds. In the nineteenth century, mostlinguists came to reject the idea of a Uralic-Altaic language group; the idea of
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 65the Altaic family of languages survived much longer and only recently has beenrejected by some linguists (see Ruhlen 1994, 12). Linguists have found it hardto reconstruct relationships above the level of language families ( phyla); thereis no commonly accepted single tree linking all known (five to seven thou-sand) languages; see Oppenheimer 2003, 2006; cf. Ruhlen 1994). Languageschange rapidly, and often it is not possible to draw a sharp line separating alanguage and a dialect, for example. Swedish and Norwegian are considered tobe two distinct languages, but they could just as well be regarded as dialects ofa single language, for instance. Some linguists think that it is not possible tomeasure the rate of relatedness between any two or more languages; othersthink that it is possible to develop a chronology based on such assumptions, asthe probability of a word losing its original meaning stays constant over time(Cavalli-Sforza 2001, 133–38). Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and colleagues, who have used the principal com-ponent analysis (PCA) to study the prehistory of human populations statis-tically, have produced a genetic tree of the human species that is strikinglysimilar to the corresponding linguistic trees (Cavalli-Sforza 2001; Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1988; Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1993; see Ruhlen 1994, 31–35). However,these researchers’ method suffers from insufficient and problematic samples,leading to a circularity of their argument: when the populations studied areidentified based on geographical and ethnic (and thus also linguistic) criteria,it is no big surprise that there is overlap in the two trees. While PCA is a goodmethod of displaying genetic distance and different genetic gradients and vec-tors graphically, it does not allow for the dating of these components as geneticevents or inferring the direction of gene flow in migrations. A more reliablemethod is phylogeography—based on the prehistory of individual mitochon-drial DNA molecules and their mutations (instead of whole populations). Thismethod has recently allowed scholars to show that there was only a singledispersal of modern humans from Africa via the coastal route through Indiaand Southeast Asia and Australasia. Modern humans lived in East Africa over160,000 years ago, and about 85,000 years ago, a group crossed the mouth ofthe Red Sea and proceeded toward the Indian peninsula; approximately 50,000years ago, a population coming from the Levant reached Europe (Macaulayet al. 2005; Oppenheimer 2003, 2006, xix, 289–93, 490–96). There are impor-tant differences in the linguistic and genetic classifications of human popula-tions; Finns, for example, are genetically European, although their language isUralic (Cavalli-Sforza 2001, 116). This casts serious doubt on Harva’s way ofequating between language and ethnicity.3.1.3 Animatism and AnimismHarva seems to have accepted R. R. Marett ’s (1914) preanimistic view in argu-ing that religion probably emerged from the worship, without belief in souls,
    • 66 supernatural agencyof natural phenomena, departing from the “manistic ” view of the venerationof the dead as the ultimate source of religion (from Lat. manes, “spirits of thedead”). Herbert Spencer expressed this view (1891), and Kaarle Krohn repre-sented it in Finland (1915). Anttonen (1987, 85) thinks that Harva simply real-ized that the manistic theory could not explain all empirical evidence, but thereseems to be more to it (cf. Anttonen 1987, 114). It is hardly the case that Harvasimply studied the evidence; it is more likely that his own theoretical orienta-tion directed him to read the evidence in a particular way. For Marett, animism was “the spirit-doctrine . . . at a stage of its develop-ment when it is as yet very largely, if not wholly, untrue” (1936, 101). The earliestphase was preanimism (or animatism), in which natural objects were seen asanimate; without that, the idea of a personal soul could not have arisen. Super-naturalism was an “attitude of mind dictated by awe of the mysterious, whichprovides religion with its raw material,” apart from animism, souls, and spirits.Startling manifestations of nature were treated as powers without assumingthe agency of spirits (1914, 1–2), which in my terminology amounts to postulat-ing animacy without mentality. Later, Marett (1920, 82) argued that, despite theenormous change science had brought Western civilization, underlying prim-itive magic was a natural tendency that was very difficult to overcome. Whenthe conditions were unfavorable to the predominance of the scientific temper,the lurking tendency to superstition would reveal itself. Here Marett was morecorrect than he may have realized (see Atran 1990; Bloom 2007; Keil 2003;Kitchener 2002). Marett also saw, very perceptively, that the special function of Tylor ’scomparative method was to testify to a unity in difference “amid an endlessdiversity of outer circumstance” (Marett 1920, 81). It is the unity, the recur-rent patterns, that the cognitive perspective is also meant to explain. The folkconceptions of soul are not mere exotic beliefs but an integral part of humaneveryday life and of folk psychology, that is, the type of reasoning everybodyuses when not engaged in scientific or philosophical reflection (see Nicholsand Stich 2003; Pyysiäinen 2004b; see Mithen 1998). The very term “soul,” among other factors, seems to have misled scholarsto think that we are necessarily dealing with something religious or theologi-cal. However, we should distinguish between soul terms as mere conceptu-alizations of agency and their religious and counterintuitive elaborations. AsI have shown, agency is normally understood as something separate from thephysical body, and as being responsible for the body’s rational action. Infantsalso seem to view agency as separable from the physical body, a tendencythat continues in adulthood in the spontaneous feeling that I am not a body;I instead occupy a body. As natural-born dualists, we humans separate agencyfrom the body, think that “we” direct the movements of “our ” bodies, andfeel that “we” are going to outlive the body (Bloom 2005, 2007; see Bronk-horst 2001). We should thus regard the various conceptions of the “soul” as
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 67perfectly natural, culture-specific ways of conceptualizing these panhumanintuitions. When these intuitions are expressed in an alien language and terminology,we can easily be misled into thinking that people believe there are separateimaginary entities corresponding to each and every soul term—leading usto speculate about the proper classification of souls. Although scholars have attimes warned against presupposing that the conceptions of souls form a coher-ent doctrine, most scholars have not been able to completely free themselvesfrom thinking that the various soul terms are names of separate imagined enti-ties. Cognitive science now provides an etic vocabulary in which it is easier todistinguish between the explanans and the explanandum. The soul terms can be thought of as placeholders for that something towhich people attribute agentive properties. It is not the nature and qualities ofthis something that are important but its functional role: even though no spe-cific entity corresponds to the word “I,” for example, this word serves a neces-sary function in human understanding of personal agency. In using words suchas “I” and “she,” people refer not merely to material bodies but also to agentsthat have beliefs and desires. The varying soul terms represent attempts at con-necting beliefs, desires, and other seemingly immaterial mental states withthe body. The self-propelledness of the body, intentionality, and cognitive statesthat define agency (Leslie 1994) seem to be basically the things that the varioussoul conceptions also cover: the body-soul, as the vital force, accounts for theself-propelledness of the body; the self-soul-aspect of the body-soul accounts forintentional action (persons act, not merely react); the free-soul explains cogni-tion and one’s feeling that one is not one’s body. The souls then are—by way of association—connected with the more ethe-real aspects of the body, such as breathing and the shadow. Such “subtle bod-ies” (or “spiritual matter,” see Kenny 2007, 63) in a way mediate between thebodily and the mental as separate categories. The intuitive, dualistic conceptof soul consists of a combination of mentality and/or animacy together withspatiality (and possibly physicality). What is counterintuitive is animacy andmentality without spatiality. Attributing a human soul to an animal is probablyalso counterintuitive (see, e.g., Briggs 2002, 316; Harva 1993, 258– 64). Thatis, although the separation of mentality from a particular body is not as suchcounterintuitive, the subsequent transference of the soul to an animal bodymay be. Marett and Harva thought that there was a stage in the development of thehuman species on which humans could only represent the idea of animatedbodies but not of disembodied souls. Some primates are capable of under-standing and postulating animacy (and have HAD), without an understandingof mentality and intentionality (HUI/ ToM), and even chimpanzees understandintentionality but not shared intentionality, but this is not what Marett or Harvahad in mind. They were clearly speaking of homo sapiens ( whereas Guthrie
    • 68 supernatural agency[2002] seems to suggest the existence of an understanding of animacy butnot of mentality in some members of the genus homo). Knowing how impor-tant and all-pervasive hyperactive mentality attribution is in modern humans,it seems doubtful that early humans would have consistently attributed onlyanimacy, say, to natural objects such as stars and planets, and never mentalityto natural objects. Although humans may have lacked doctrines and narrativesabout souls, they must have had intuitive ideas about minds and most probablyalso projected them on solid objects, much as they do today. Otherwise, even arudimentary form of religion would not have been possible. When I say that conceptions of the soul have made possible conceptions ofsupernatural agents, I am not presenting a historical argument. I am especiallynot speculating when and in what form religion once emerged. What could bereasonably discussed is when the kind of mind that makes religion possibleemerged (Boyer 1994b; see Donald 1991; Mithen 1998). Here I only want toargue that there can be no representations of supernatural agents unless thereare intuitive representations of animacy and mentality (“soul” concepts). (Inthe next chapter, I explore beliefs about souls of dead agents in more depth.)3.2 Dead AgentsSkeptics have sometimes challenged religious belief by asking what if there isan afterlife but no god, or a god but no afterlife (Hitchens 2007, 156). This isa bit misleading, however. In fact, in some cultures, people have beliefs aboutsouls or spirits in the “hereafter ” without beliefs about gods other than theancestral spirits themselves (“manism,” shamanism); likewise, people canhave beliefs about gods without much interest in the afterlife of individuals, asin older Judaism or in the ancient Vedic religion. Nonetheless, the ideas of anindividual afterlife and of gods still tend to develop together in religious history(Pyysiäinen 1997).3.2.1 Souls of the DeadPaasonen (1909, 4) argued that “when a man dies, no essential change in thesoul’s relationship with the body takes place.” As the soul was independentfrom the body, the death of the body did not affect the soul. Spencer ’s “manis-tic ” view of religion was based on the same belief in the independence of thesoul from the body. The soul beliefs led to ancestor worship and to totemismand thus were also the basis of beliefs about gods. Spencer wrote in 1870: The rudimentary form of all religion is the propitiation of dead ancestors, who are supposed to be still existing, and to be capable of working good or evil to their descendants. . . . The savage, conceiving
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 69 a corpse to be deserted by the active personality who dwelt in it, conceives this active personality to be still existing, and . . . his feelings and ideas concerning it form the basis of his superstitions. Everywhere we find expressed or implied the belief that each person is double; and that when he dies, his other self, whether remaining near at hand or gone far away, may return, and continues capable of injuring his enemies and aiding his friends. (1891, 106– 7) This view seems to reflect more general human intuitions; Krohn (1915,40 –47, 58, 248), without mentioning Spencer, also argued that the venerationor worship of the dead was common and influential around the world andhelped explain shamanistic practices better than mere beliefs in nature spir-its. In Finland, manism was the earliest form of religion, later replaced by theworship of the great God Ukko and then by Christianity. Krohn explained thatin old Finnish folk beliefs, the dead functioned as guardians and helpers fortheir relatives who in a way owned them. The dead helped create a feeling ofrelatedness among relatives and thus could hold together a clan or a folk. Allthis necessitated the belief in life after death, as well as in the ongoing inter-action between the living and the dead (see Jauhiainen 1999, 73–124). The factthat various tools and items were placed in the coffin with the corpse testified tothe belief that life went on in the hereafter much as in this world and that thedead if unsatisfied with their fates might come to haunt the living. People havefed the dead and tried to please them in order to prevent possible harm causedby restless souls (see Harva 1993, 364–86; Pentikäinen 1969; 1990, 27–31;Thompson 1955–58, 2:440 –44). Finnish folk tradition, as documented in the folklore archives of the Finn-ish Literature Society, includes many narratives about the dead haunting theliving.13 One typical type is that of the “walker at home”: a dead person keepsappearing at his or her home in the form of a ghost until getting what he or sheis looking for (also Briggs 2002, 197–229; Thompson 1955–58, 2:419–81). Asone informant put it: “It is like this with the dead: when they walk, one has toask for their cause. Once you know what their concern is, they will no longerwalk ” (quoted in Simonsuuri 1999, 73). The dead who come haunting typicallyhave themselves done something wrong or have been victims of the evil deedsof others. Once the wrongs have been somehow compensated, the hauntingstops (see 73–144). In this way, dead agents serve as a means of expressing thebasic values of the society. Values and norms are also reflected in beliefs about“placeless souls” (Finn. sijattomat sielut, Ger. Arme Seele), dead who are haunt-ing because of not having been properly buried or having been the victims ofsome misdeed. These include abandoned, unbaptized children; murder vic-tims; and suicides (Pentikäinen 1968, 1969). Krohn thought that the ancestors of Finns had believed that the deadlived in their graves as though in small houses and that the graveyards were
    • 70 supernatural agencyregarded as communities of people living underground. The first person to beburied in a graveyard became its guardian spirit (Finn. haltia). In the earliestphase, the dead were fed and cared for until the corpse was totally decom-posed.14 When the body had completely moldered, also the soul was believed tohave ceased to exist. In addition to this view of the dead as living in their gravesthere is also the alternative conception, according to which the dead existed ina specific place called Tuonela (“The place of the dead”) or Manala (“The placeunderground”) (Krohn 1915, 52– 66).15 This was originally a vague idea of ashadowlike afterlife without any distinction between good and bad destinies;only under Christian influences were the postmortem destinies of good andbad individuals separated. Tuonela had previously also been understood as thenether world into which the shaman journeyed during his or her trance (Pen-tikäinen 1990, 32; Siikala 1994, 124). Harva (1993, 353) pointed out that the Altaic peoples had no ideas of sinand its punishment in the hereafter before contacts with Christians and Mos-lems. Yet he opined that the belief that some of the dead go to heaven andsome to the nether world may be relatively old. One’s destiny after death wasdetermined, however, not by the character of one’s own conduct but by theway one died. If one was struck by lightning for example, one went to heaven.A violent death was natural; a death that followed a disease was unnatural.Among the Altaic peoples (and in any preliterate societies), death from an ill-ness was usually understood as due to dead relatives coming to take one withthem to the Totenreich. It was usually through violent death that one could goto heaven (361– 64). The idea of family graveyards as “villages of the dead” typifies the earlierresearch in Finnish folk belief. Scholars have emphasized that the ideas aboutTuonela that are expressed in epic poetry and laments reflect Christian influ-ences and that graves and graveyards (kalmisto) were originally in the vicinityof a house or the village. The dead were a natural part of the life of the commu-nity, and their bonds with the old family were only gradually weakened. As thedead were given offerings—their rightful share of everything consumed by theliving—graveyards developed into cultic places ( hiisi ). These were transformedinto unholy places at cultural peripheries only after the advent of Christianity( Talve 1979, 205– 6; cf. Anttonen 1996a, 116–23; Siikala 1994, 119). Folklore scholar Anna-Leena Siikala (1994, 118–31) argues that the vil-lages of the dead were never a part of the old Nordic hunting cultures andthat grave burial replaced cremation only during the period of the Crusades.She points out that in shamanistic cultures, the dead are never believed todwell in their graves near the houses; they are instead understood as free-souls existing in the nether or upper worlds where the shaman travels in atrance state. The idea of a specific realm of the dead as a place apart fromgraveyards (etävainajala) was preserved in the Balto-Finnic culture area in theIron Age (500 BCE to c. 1000 CE). Grave burials with various kinds of items
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 71placed in the grave with the corpse then became common in Eastern Finlandin the eleventh century. In northern Finland, especially among the Sami, people’s corpses haveoften been left where they died in the wilderness, or taken to an uninhabitedisland. This was partly because of the permafrost, which made it difficult todig a grave.16 By the eighteenth century, Christianization had turned this habitinto the institution of temporary burial: the corpses were left in the wilder-ness as before but in the summer were taken to a Christian graveyard (Pen-tikäinen 1990, 35–43, 1995, 208–13). The many narratives about the dead thatkeep on haunting until their bodies are properly buried in the graveyard thusare products of the Christianization of the folk tradition (see Jauhiainen 1999;Simonsuuri 1999). Although it is often difficult to distinguish the pre-Christian and Chris-tian elements in folk beliefs, we can be certain that the pre-Christian beliefswere based more on spontaneous intuitions, while the Christianized view ofthe hereafter was more coherent and systematic. In it, death has become some-thing abstract as the emphasis has shifted from dying to what follows after it.It seems to be a common development in many traditions—as in ancient Juda-ism and the Vedic religion of India, for example—that in the earliest phase,beliefs about death and afterlife are not important and speculations on them arekept to a minimum. Only when religious specialists start to systematize beliefsinto a doctrine does one’s fate in the hereafter become a target of speculations.Even such nouns as the Finnish Tuonela and kalma (death) or the Swedish död(“death”) originally referred to a dead body; the meaning then shifted from thedead to death in the abstract (Krohn 1915, 59– 60). This fact gives some support to Boyer ’s (2001, 228) remark that religionmay be more about dead bodies than about death. It is necessary to do some-thing with the corpse, which is made difficult by the fact that one can treat thebody neither as a mere natural object nor as a feeling and thinking person. Insome sense, it is both; in another sense, it is neither. This tension leads to ritu-alized behavior in the funeral (see the appendix). Thus, an immediate feeling,more than rational reasoning, dictates the ways corpses are treated. There isno “reason” for the practice of putting tools and other small items in the coffinwith the corpse; it is rather done because of a vague feeling that something likethat must be done. This feeling derives from the fact that social interaction among personsis largely governed by emotions; when a person dies, relatives and friendsstill have the same emotions toward her or him; the emotions cannot just beswitched off by the power of reason (see LeDoux 1998; Panksepp 1998). Theemotions continue to govern people’s behavior toward the dead person. Theytreat the dead very carefully and remind themselves of what he or she mighthave wanted, needed, or wished to happen after dying. Humans just cannothelp doing this.
    • 72 supernatural agency In this perspective, it seems that the view of the dead as free spirits whoseexistence is not constrained by the bounds of the grave is more natural thanthe idea of the dead living in their graves. This view also receives support fromexperimental psychology. Psychologist Jesse Bering (2002) tested eighty-fourstudents with different kinds of beliefs about an afterlife, including nonbelief.The subjects were read two stories about a person who dies. Then their beliefsabout the possible afterlife condition of the dead person were probed. Thosewho regarded death as the final end should have thought that no mental orbodily states continue after death; those who believed in reincarnation shouldhave thought that all states continued. But this did not happen. Subjects whohad religious beliefs of some kind thought that such psychological states asdesires and thoughts continued after death and such psychobiological statesas thirst, illness, and auditory perceptions were much more unlikely to con-tinue. Even the subjects who saw death as the final end thought that desires,emotions, and thoughts were significantly more likely to continue after deaththan the more bodily states. The subjects thus clearly had some backgroundintuitions about an afterlife that were not reducible to their explicit beliefsadopted from culture. Bering and Bjorklund (2004) conducted further experiments on both chil-dren’s and adults’ views of death and dying. Even small children understand thatbiological processes cease at death; this is realized as early as four to six yearsof age, although the understanding of it is more solid at six to eight years. Inanother experiment with subjects two to twelve years old, the youngest wereequally likely to think that both cognitive and psychobiological ( being hungry,sick, etc.) states continued after death; the oldest were more likely to believethat cognitive states such as knowing and wanting continued. In a third experi-ment, older children and adults were more likely to state that both biologicalimperatives and particular psychological states ceased at death while epistemic,emotional, and desire states continued. In the first experiment, the kids watched a puppet show in which a grumpyalligator ate up a baby mouse, and then were asked whether they thought themouse was still alive. Those who agreed that it was dead were then asked aseries of ten questions on such issues as whether the mouse still needed todrink water, whether it would grow, whether it would get sick, and whether itseyes and ears still worked. In the second experiment, the questions were dif-ferent: four were about being hungry, thirsty, sleepy, and sick; five were aboutthinking, seeing, wanting, and knowing. In the third experiment, the subjectswere asked several questions about psychobiological, perceptual, emotional,desire, and epistemic states (Bering and Bjorklund 2004). Bering (2002) argues that people represent the minds of dead agents onthe basis of a simulation (cf. Gray et al. 2007). They attribute to dead agentssuch mental states as feel are necessary for personhood—states they cannoteven imagine being without; one cannot imagine what being without thoughts
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 73or emotions is like. I do not find the simulation argument convincing. A moreeconomical explanation is that people attribute to the dead agentive propertiesthat are felt to be independent from the body. It is especially beliefs and desiresthat make an agent; these are something people postulate to agents withoutbeing able to directly perceive the mental contents of other minds. Just as peo-ple do not see how beliefs and desires pop up from the brain, they also haveno natural-born intuitions about the death of the brain meaning the death ofagentive properties. Moreover, as one retains one’s own emotions toward thedeceased, one cannot feel that he or she is completely dead. One cannot simplydelete the file for one’s loved one in one’s mind after his or her funeral. Deadagents thus are represented as existing but absent agents (see Boyer 2001, 203–28; Czachesz 2007, 86). This is why people experience the idea of a personbefore birth very differently from the idea of a person after death. We do nothave memories of a person before birth.3.2.2 The Embodiment of SpiritsEven when people have understood the dead as free, disembodied agents, peo-ple’s representation of their behavior has been strongly constrained by spatial-ity. For example, the dead haunt their former homes or the place where theydied. A ghost typically is a ghost of a specific house, building, or natural place.Ghosts do not travel (see Simonsuuri 1999; Tikkala 1993). It is also difficultto draw a line of demarcation between ghosts and elves or spirits (Finn. hal-tia17 or tonttu,18 German Kobold, Swedish rå, vård and tomte; see Briggs 1976,122, 2002, 175–95; Haavio 1942, 10 –13; Hall 2007; Honko 1962, 65– 66). TheFinnish folk tradition knows household elves, drying-house elves and brown-ies, millhouse elves, cow-shed elves, and elves of various natural places such aslakes. Any given place always has only one elf that is the elf of that particularplace (Haavio 1942; Honko 1962, 66– 68; see Jauhiainen 1999, 215–56; Siikala1994, 213–23; Thompson 1955–58, 3:37–81). Also every individual person has her or his own haltia or ghost ( haamu), akind of a double that can also be lost; in such case one falls ill or even dies. Ashaman or seer has a very strong haltia. Haltia thus seems to be the same asthe free-soul or Doppelgängerseele. In Haavio’s (1942, 50) opinion, it is the soulor the shadow of a person. Later, Haavio argues, contra Harva (1948, 252), thatthe shaman’s haltia is not his or her self but a separate being, his or her guard-ian in the realm of the dead (Haavio 1967, 287–90; see Siikala 1994, 215).Hultkrantz (1973, 33), however, argues that free-soul may take on the samefunctions as a guardian spirit, thus suggesting a link that might connect sha-manistic beliefs and soul beliefs. Knowing that everyday folk-psychological beliefs do not necessarily formcoherent systems, it is doubtful that one could make any generalized state-ments about haltias being or not being the same as one’s soul (or some variant
    • 74 supernatural agencyof souls). We cannot say what haltias really are or are not, only what personsbelieve them to be, and there is no reason to suppose that such beliefs aresystematic, because they are only minimally constrained by external reality.Although there are recurrent patterns in such beliefs, there is plenty of roomfor individual variation and conflicting views. There are conflicting views on when and how an elf is born, for example.A common belief not only in Finland but also in many other cultures is thatthe household elf appears as soon as a campfire is made in the woods. Some,however, say that the elf comes only when fire has been made thrice. The elf issaid to be in all respects similar to the one who made the first fire. On the otherhand, it is also said that only when the person who made the fire dies, he or sheis turned into an elf of that place. Often it is also believed that the elf is the onewho first made fire in the stove of a house. Even when that person moves away,the elf remains in the house. Some, however, believe that the elf is not the sameas the first person to make fire but is only similar to this person. Sometimes itis said that when the fire is made by a man, the elf will be good and powerful;sometimes the fire must be made by a woman. All these examples are basedon testimonies recorded in the folklore archives of the Finnish Literature Society(Haavio 1942, 39–47). The elf can also emerge when people have begun to construct a house;when three logs are in place, the elf appears. It can also be the first inhabitant,but the first inhabitant is, of course, also likely to be the first to make the firstfire. Finally, the elf can also be considered to be the first one to have died ina house (Haavio 1942, 52– 64). Haavio emphasizes that these beliefs are cen-tered on the idea of ownership and private property. Especially the fire motiveis closely related to claims for land. In Iceland, for example, land was capturedby walking a certain distance and marking the beginning and end of the routeby bonfires. Fire is a sign of someone having settled in that place. The elvesthen maintain the defining boundaries of space that is occupied by someone;through the elf this person is present in his or her own territory even when notphysically present (48–51). Haavio (1942, 72–80) claims that beliefs about elves live in a folklore genreknown as “memorates,” short personal recollections of what had happened tothe narrator (see Honko 1964, 1968). Memorates about elves are based on hal-lucinatory experiences to which some persons were more prone than others.In folk beliefs, the elf often appears when people quarrel in the house or aparty goes too wild. Then the elf becomes restless. Haavio says this to testifyto the fact that people experience hallucinations when they are excited anddisturbed, either temporarily or more permanently. One obvious cause is, ofcourse, drunkenness. Among other causes are fever and fear. Also suggestioncan cause hallucinations of elves. In addition to hallucinations, also illusions can explain the fact that per-sons have seen elves. An illusion has an objective basis in perception but the
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 75perception is somehow biased. Still another explanation is in dreams (Haavio1942, 80 –84). Honko (1962) has developed this model further, using psychol-ogy of perception, Sundén’s (1959) role theory, and the idea of an “interestdominance” (Interessedominanz, Nilsson [1936]). People saw elves when a dom-inant interest (or frame of reference) directed them to complete ambiguousperceptions in unfavorable conditions. As the elves were also regarded as hav-ing specific roles, these roles became actual in certain kinds of situations, andthe experiencer then adopted the appropriate counter-role. It was through theseroles that elves helped confirm the norms and values of the society. In this book, I substitute the ideas of HADD, HUI, and HTR for the psy-chology of perception as well as theories of the evolution of cooperation forthe role theory. An important difference is in that I do not view tradition as ahomogeneous pool of roles or use psychological arguments to explain percep-tual processes only. It then also follows that the focus of explanation is not inthe origins of the ideas about elves and other supernatural agents but in theircultural spreading. In other words, I use psychological arguments to accountfor the fact that some and only some concepts and beliefs are contagious andwidespread; I do not use psychological arguments primarily to explain anoma-lous experiences and I do not try to show that beliefs about elves are based onhallucinatory experiences. Whatever their origins are, they spread because ofthe specific ways humans spontaneously understand the world. Most of thememorates and beliefs can be explained without presupposing any anomalousexperiences; it is rather the beliefs about imagined experiences that need to beexplained. In this chapter, I have offered only a few examples from a narrowcultural area of a theme that recurs all around the world (see also Hall 2007;Hopkins 1983; Lewis 1975, 127–48). I now move on to analyze soul and spiritconcepts in the context of shamanism and spirit possession.3.3 Spirits, Possession, and Shamanism3.3.1 Shamanism and SoulsShamanism is a specific context in which soul concepts and beliefs are used toconstruct a social system centered on the activities of a religious specialist, theshaman.19 Some scholars maintain that there is a crucial difference betweenshamanism and spirit possession (Eliade 1974, 5; Winkelman 2000, 61; seeHarva 1993; Pentikäinen 1998a,b). In possession, an alien spirit comes into anindividual, sometimes against her or his will; the shaman’s soul is believed towillfully wander in the upper and nether worlds and to control the spirits—itis the shaman who in a way possesses the spirits, although in some cases theshaman may also become possessed (Czaplicka 1914, 169– 78, 193, 320; Eliade1974, 5, 236; cf. Siikala 1978, 13). Anthropologist Ioan Lewis (1975, 29) pointsout that it is not always possible to make a distinction between a supposed
    • 76 supernatural agencytemporary absence of soul and possession by a supernatural power. In somecultures, both ideas are entertained simultaneously. Margaret Stutley (2003,37–38), for example, speaks of the spirits as “possessing ” the shaman. It is neither easy, nor even necessary, to try to define shamanism, however(see Hultkrantz 1973; Pentikäinen 1998a,b; Ripinsky-Naxon 1993; Siikala 1978,303).20 The term “shamanism” was first used to denote the beliefs and practicesof such Siberian peoples as the Evenki ( Tungus) and Khanty (Ostyaks), amongwhom the shaman enters a trance to establish a contact with the spirit worldin an attempt to secure help and solve some problem. Often the problem is ill-ness, but it can also be a social, psychological, or other problem. Not only Ger-man Romantic authors but also Finnish linguists, ethnographers, and folklorescholars then generalized this concept to refer to a specific form of religion (seeZnamenski 2007). Unlike the German Romantics, the Finnish scholars knew the relevantlanguages and did participant observation in the field, long before Malinowskiintroduced the idea of fieldwork in anthropology. They were, however, inspiredby the mistaken idea that linguistically related peoples were also geneticallyrelated (see section 3.1.2) and regarded shamanism as the religion of suchpeoples as Turks, Mongols, Sami, and the ancestors of modern Finns. MarttiHaavio (1991), for example, argued that the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala,included strong shamanistic elements (see Pentikäinen 1998a; Siikala 1994).Psychologically interpreted Siberian shamanism was made known in the West-ern academic world especially through the books of Marie Antoinette Czaplicka(1914), of Polish descent, who was R. R. Marett ’s doctoral student (and whodid not visit Siberia when writing her book), and the Russian linguist and eth-nographer Sergei Shirokogoroff (1999). Later, Eliade (1974) used Harva’s workextensively in his much–quoted Shamanism. Elaborating the psychological inter-pretation of shamanism, Eliade and Joseph Campbell helped create what hasbecome known as neoshamanism in the Anglo-American world (see Anttonen2007; Znamenski 2007, 1–33). The first American anthropologists typically tried to distinguish betweenthe Siberian hereditary shamanism and the shamanism of Native Americans,in which the shamanic vocation was open to all (Znamenski 2007, 69). PaulRadin (1957, 161– 62), for example, makes a distinction between (Northern)“shamanism proper,” which is based only on the shaman’s personal tendencyto “neurotic ecstasy and trance,” and societies that tolerate “individual expres-sion” and emphasize the shaman’s personal ethical qualifications. The latter areexemplified by such democratic societies as are found in many parts of NorthAmerica, as well as the highly stratified societies found in various parts of Africaand Polynesia that allow a special status for some exceptional individuals. Depending on what one considers is important in shamanism, one canfind shamanism almost all over the world. To provide just one example, theCambridge-trained anthropologists C. G. and Brenda Seligman (1911) analyzed
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 77shamanism among the aboriginal Vedda population of Sri Lanka. They used theword “shaman” to refer to the kapurale or dugganawa, the specialist who had therequired power and knowledge to call on the spirits of the dead (yaka) and to pre-sent the Nae Yaku offering to them.21 Each shaman trained his successor, whousually was his own son or his sister ’s son. The shaman became possessedby the yaka of the dead man, who spoke through the mouth of the shaman,declaring that he approved the offering and promised to assist his kinsfolk inhunting. Possession thus was a positive thing, and the Veddas desired it forcommunion with the spirits. Shamans and those frequently possessed couldexpect to have especially good luck. Among “the less sophisticated Veddas thesinging and movements of the dance soon produce a more or less automaticcondition, in which the mind of the shaman, being dominated by his belief inthe reality of the yaku [ plural of yaka] and of his coming possession, really actswithout being in a condition of complete volitional consciousness” (Seligmanand Seligman 1911, 134). The practitioners the Seligmans interrogated agreedthat although they never entirely lost consciousness, they nearly did so at times.Yet they experienced no visions or hallucinations, nor did anyone claim to haveseen a ghost (30, 128–35; see Lewis 1975, 133–44). It is, of course, possible to deny that the kapurale really is a shaman, butit is not entirely clear on what grounds such a distinction could be made (seeHultkrantz 1985; see Noll 1985, 445, 458). Hultkrantz (1973, 25–26) argues thatamong scholars, “everybody agrees that [“shamanism”] refers to religio-magictechniques and the operator of these techniques.” Otherwise, opinions differ(see Znamenski 2007). While American ethnographers tend to see the shamanas a medicine man or woman (e.g. Tedlock 2005), others stress the importanceof techniques of ecstasy (e.g. Eliade 1974; see Noll 1985, 445; see Winkelman2000, 66– 69). Anthropologist of religion Juha Pentikäinen (1998b, 61; seeStutley 2003) tries to define shamanism by the following list of features: Ecstasy techniques The hypothesis of many souls Belief in a three-level universe (see Pentikäinen 1998a, 45–50) Animals as the shaman’s spirit helpers Paraphernalia such as drums, dress, bag, mask, and so on (see Czaplicka 1914, 203–5) Much has been written about the shaman’s ecstasy and the various sub-stances that seem to have been used to provoke “altered states of conscious-ness.” It is indeed possible that some kinds of ecstatic experiences haveintroduced novel ways of perceiving and interpreting reality, which then havespread at least in some circles because of their special nature (Sperber ’s [1985,85] “relevant mysteries”; cf. Cardeña et al. 2000). It is, however, very difficult,if not outright impossible, to determine how exactly these experiences havecontributed to the formation and spread of shamanism. Although it may be
    • 78 supernatural agencyconsidered beyond reasonable doubt that some persons have had extraordinaryexperiences caused by drugs or ritual techniques, this does not in itself explainwhy and how shamanistic beliefs have become widespread and have served asorganizing principles in human groups at large (see Atran 2002b). It is claimed that the basic elements of the altered states of consciousnessof shamans are remarkably consistent over time and space (Pearson 2002,93–112; Ripinsky-Naxon 1993, 82; see Cardeña et al. 2000; Noll 1985; Siikala1978). Lewis-Williams and Dawson (1988) provide one explanation for the sha-manic visions using Tyler ’s (1978) observations about entoptic phenomena(“ within vision phenomena”). These are visual sensations whose characteristicsderive from the structure of the visual system alone, without any light beingdetected from an external source. Such percepts are not mere visual noise buthave a structure that is imprinted on them by the structure of the visual system(see Marr 1982). These percepts are experienced as incandescent, shimmering,moving, rotating, and sometimes enlarging patterns that can grade one intoanother and combine in a bewildering way. They can be induced by a variety ofmeans, such as electrical stimulation in laboratory conditions, flickering light,psychoactive drugs, fatigue, sensory deprivation, intense concentration, audi-tory driving, migraine, schizophrenia, hyperventilation, and rhythmic move-ment ( lewis-Williams and Dawson 1988, 202).22 Entoptic phenomena and iconic hallucinations are processed in sevendifferent ways: replicating, fragmentating, integrating, superpositioning, jux-tapositioning, reduplicating, and rotating. In a three-stage progression, sub-jects first experience entoptic phenomena with eyes open or closed, withoutconscious control. In the second phase, subjects try to make sense of thepercepts by elaborating them into iconic forms. In the third stage, labora-tory subjects report experiencing a vortex or rotating tunnel that seems tosurround them. The sides of the vortex are marked by a lattice of squareslike television screens. The images seen on them are spontaneously producediconic hallucinations derived from memory. They are often very vivid and areassociated with strong emotional experiences. Subjects stop differentiatingbetween the literal and the analogous and assert that the images are preciselywhat they appear to be ( Lewis-Williams and Dawson 1988, 203–04). The sha-man’s visions consist of such entoptic phenomena that are also reflected inrock art, for example. Apart from altered states of consciousness, people can also consciously useimagination to create unrealistic pictorial images. Although it might be claimedthat there are no limits to human imagination, it does seem to be constrainedby previous experience and the related cognitive architecture ( Lawson 2007).When psychologist Tom Ward (1994) asked his subjects to draw imaginary ani-mals living on a planet very different from Earth, somewhere in the galaxy, thisdid not result in completely arbitrary drawings. The imagined creatures wererather structured by properties that typify animals on Earth. The properties
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 79varied across imaginary species but rarely within species (the subjects wereasked to draw another animal of the same species they had first visioned andthen an animal from a different species). In addition, features such as bilateralsymmetry of appendages and sense organs were retained, and sense organswere placed facing the direction of the animal’s movement. To address the possibility that the subjects merely tried to draw animalsthat were believable and understandable to others, another set of subjects wasdivided into four groups: twenty-two subjects were asked to draw realistic ani-mals on another planet (Believable); twenty-two others were instructed to usetheir wildest imaginations in the same task ( Wild Imagination); twenty-two oth-ers were given no special instructions (Control); and twenty-eight others had todraw a newly found and previously unknown animal on Earth. Subjects giventhe Control, Wild Imagination, and Believable conditions were equally likely tocreate animals that showed symmetry and had sense organs and appendages.However, subjects in the Wild Imagination condition were significantly morelikely than those in the Believable condition to produce animals that had some-thing unusual in their sensory systems, although also they tended to retainsymmetry, at least one sense organ, and appendages ( Ward 1994). The same cognitive mechanisms also constrain the kind of imaginedtransformations we typically find in shamanism and other kinds of myths andfolktales: princes are turned into toads, mermaids into humans, rocks intodiamonds, and so forth. Kelly and Keil (1985) have shown that in Ovid’s Meta-morphoses and in folktales as recounted by the brothers Grimm, most trans-formations take place within categories that are close to each other in Keil’s(1979) ontological tree, and the transformations are not total (some propertiesof the original category are retained). In other words, the metamorphoses aremodestly counterintuitive. Thus, the number of transformations of conscious beings ( humans andgods) into members of other ontological categories decreases as the distancebetween the ontological categories increases. The predicted order from mostto least common things that conscious beings metamorphosed into was as fol-lows: (1) other conscious beings, (2) animals, (3) plants, (4) nonliving inani-mate objects, (5) liquids or other aggregates, (6) events, (7) abstract objects.23The relatively small number of metamorphoses into entities other than con-scious beings made it difficult to determine similar patterns for other catego-ries in Ovid. In Grimm’s tales, entities in categories other than conscious beings, non-living inanimates, and liquids were changed most often into members of theirown categories, while among animals, within-category changes were the sec-ond most common transformation. Among plants, such changes were the thirdmost common. The overall pattern was similar to but stronger than that inMetamorphoses. In all four of the relevant categories, objects tended to be trans-formed into members of their own or neighboring categories rather than more
    • 80 supernatural agencydistant categories. These results were highly significant (p < .001). Boyer (2001,67– 68) points out that the important thing here is the amount and nature ofinferences one can draw: a prince turned into a toad makes a good story whenthe prince retains a human mind in a frog ’s body, thus giving to the reader orlistener ample opportunities to sympathize with the character and make infer-ences and predictions about the plot.24 A prince turned into a rock is uninterest-ing as such, because it is not possible to infer much about an entity that does notmove around. Shamanism typically involves the shaman’s transformation into an animalform, a transformation I earlier labeled counterintuitive. This transformation isnot merely a narrative motive but also seems to involve subjective experiencesof transformation, related to alterations in conscious awareness produced bypsychoactive drugs and ritual techniques. Pearson (2002, 98–107) has gath-ered evidence about the various kinds of hallucinogens that early humans mayhave used (and even mammals in general) to produce various kinds of distortedperceptions and extraordinary experiences. Drugs such as datura, ayahuasca,and ephedra have the capacity to change the biochemistry of the brain and trig-ger feelings and experiences that have been interpreted as contact with anotherreality. Species of the family Solanaceae have the very specific effect that theintoxicated person imagines himself or herself to have been changed into someanimal, even with the sensation of growing feathers and hair. Sensations ofthe body melting into the background or of flying are also among the typicalsymptoms. In Pearson’s view, this might help explain beliefs about differentkinds of animals as the shaman’s spirit helpers, although it is “cultural factors”that provide content and structure for supernatural ideology. Pearson’s argument suggests that cognitive structures channel culturaltransmission and that the natural constraints of persons’ mental architecturemight be changed by psychoactive drugs or techniques of mind control. If thisis the case, then the cultural spread of the concepts and beliefs that spring fromsubjective experiences of transformation may be explained by their salience inordinary, mundane communication: they are attention-grabbing. Extraordinaryexperiences do not explain the spread of beliefs; it is instead the widespreadbeliefs that make the shaman’s experiences comprehensible for the majorityof people (see also Pyysiäinen 2007). If these experiences involve massivelycounterintuitive representations, they can be expected to be simplified in cul-tural transmission, thus being reduced to modestly counterintuitive ones. Itis, indeed, difficult to find evidence of persons representing spirits as purementality, for example, without any spatiality, even if those who have under-gone more extraordinary sorts of experiences might have perceived somethinglike that. It thus might be argued that shamanism is an elaborated and systematizedversion of beliefs about spirits and possession.25 In shamanism, contact withthe spirits does not take place spontaneously; it is actively sought and serves the
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 81psychosocial purpose of healing and maintaining balanced social relationships.By the same token, the shaman as a specialist has become the master of spiritswho now serve him or her, even though the shaman’s journey is admittedlya dangerous one (Honko 1969; Siikala 1978).26 The central task of the sha-man is the handling of crises threatening the normal life of the group (Siikala1978, 15). In his Psychomental Complex of the Tungus, Shirokogoroff (1999, 250 – 65),partly following Czaplicka (1914, 320 –25), argued that when the spirits of a clanlost their master, the shaman, they started to harm people.27 In the absence ofthe shaman, the spirits began to invade persons and provoke harmful acts.Hunters could no longer shoot the gun, young men could not get sleep, andso on because the spirits had taken control. The Tungus called such disequilib-rium produced by a sudden change of situation olon. The loss of the shamanbecause of death or for some other reason could trigger “olonism” as a sort ofmass psychosis. Shirokogoroff called olonism a “habit ”; it was often ( but notalways) characterized by an obsessive urge to imitate other persons’ speechand gestures. When people were frightened or confused, they started to imi-tate what they observed others doing and saying. Olonism could be stopped atany moment, if somebody was found who could take control over the spirits.However, it could also continue for long periods of time and even bring thewhole clan into peril, as persons started to die from infectious diseases andundernourishment. This was above all a condition that characterizes the wholeclan; theoretically, it was possible for even larger units to be affected, althoughShirokogoroff had not witnessed such cases. The only way to prevent the clanfrom perishing altogether was to find a new shaman who could control thespirits. The shaman thus seems to play an important role in the organization ofthe community. Like Durkheim’s God, the shaman represents the whole of thecommunity and its shared knowledge. Knowing the spirits and their mind isequivalent to having all strategic knowledge; the shaman thus knows the men-tal organization of the community and can therefore keep it in a balance. Whenthe shaman is absent, persons try to make sense of social life by imitating eachother ’s speech and gestures, thus going at the roots of social cognition. Whena new shaman emerges, he or she must receive the recognition of the group.There are signs indicating that someone really has the essence of a shaman,such as an inclination to altered states of consciousness; the inferred essenceis then used to explain the observable signs, and the person is recognized as apotential shaman. It is not enough for someone merely to claim being a sha-man (see Honko 1969, 30 –31, 38; Shirokogoroff 1999, 274– 75). Shamanismthus cannot be explained merely by selective processes of attribution of powerto some individuals; in contrast, some features of individual behavior serve asattractors, that is, intrinsically attention-grabbing traits that render certain per-sons more likely to be regarded as shamans (see Claidière and Sperber 2007).
    • 82 supernatural agencyIn the Siberian context, shamanhood is not a social role available to more orless anybody. The shamanic performance has been described as an actualization of theshaman’s latent role as a shaman (Honko 1969), although the concept of roledoes not carry much explanatory power. A more fruitful perspective mightbe to try to map the human intuitions that make the idea of shamanhoodand shamanic performance attention-grabbing and plausible. These intuitionsrelate especially to ideas about spirits and HUI: people understand biologicalprocesses and inexplicable events as intentionally caused by invisible agents.Because they are intentionally caused, the only way to try to interfere withthem is to communicate with the supernatural agents that have intended themand to try to influence their minds. This is the shaman’s task. Whether people believe the shaman’s soul travels outside his or her bodyor an alien spirit comes into the shaman’s body is a matter of emic interpreta-tion. From the scholarly point of view, we cannot say that one or the other reallyhappens. All we can explore is whether the soul journeying outside the bodyand the alien spirit coming into the body are accompanied by different kindsof changes in the organism or different kinds of social systems and practices.To the best of my knowledge, no such clear-cut typology exists (see also Cohen2007, 28, 96; Sjöblom 2002, 140 –47). The problem is that we cannot build a coherent typology relying only onemic folk concepts that are understood in an essentialist way and terms that aretaken to name categories having a core essence. Scholarly typologizing shouldbe theoretically motivated; such typologizing, however, easily shows the vacuityof folk concepts, which are then best replaced by a scientific taxonomy. Bothfolk concepts and scientific concepts receive meaning from the underlyingmodels of the world; the difference between them is in the explicit and reflec-tive nature of scientific models in contrast to implicit folk models (Sørensen2007, 2–3; see Quine 1969). Shamanism thus seems to be a practice in which beliefs about souls servenot only for physical healing but also for maintaining and monitoring socialrelationships in the group (see Siikala 1978, 319). The shaman gains specialknowledge about social relationships by consulting the “spirit world” duringthe ritual processes. This ritual has been called a “display of healing ” becauseit is an elaborate ceremony resembling a play in which the shaman acts inthe main role (see Honko 1969; Siikala 1978). The ritual thus serves the pur-pose of publishing the information the shaman supposedly gains from his orher visit to the spirit world. The shaman uses trance as a technique to consultthe shared knowledge of the group that exists in the form of beliefs about whatthe ancestors and other spirits know and want. The shaman interprets thisknowledge and conveys it to her or his public in the ritual. Thus, trance andhealing in the sense of finding a psychosocial cause for an illness or a misfor-tune are combined and presuppose each other.
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 833.3.2 Spirits and PossessionBeliefs about evil spirits and witchcraft, spirit possession cults, and shaman-ism all share the common idea that disembodied souls exist that can leave andenter human bodies. In this section, I analyze these beliefs, focusing on twoexamples: the demonology of the inquisitors’ handbook written in 1486–87,the Malleus maleficarum (Hammer of witches [Institoris 2007]), and an Afro-Brazilian spirit possession cult. The first example comes from medieval andearly modern Europe, which was plagued by witches and evil spirits. As Fed-erico Pastore has put it, “at the end of the fourteenth century, the feeling ofliving in a city under siege on all sides by evil spirits who, with increasingfrequency, assumed forms suited to ensnaring human beings and bringingthem to perdition was widely diffuse” (quoted in Maxwell-Stuart 2007, 1). Whywould that be? P. G. Maxwell-Stuart argues that Pastore may be exaggerating, at leastwhen it comes to the general population, whose thoughts and feelings haveleft no trace in the recorded history. But Pastore is not exaggerating whenit comes to the literate and powerful in medieval Europe. Although the veryreal sense of being encompassed by nonhuman hostile forces, nonmaterialentities that could penetrate human bodies, was not something new, at theturn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a combination of factors led topeople having exceptionally intense emotional reactions to the spirit world.The conviction that the Anti-Christ had been born and the Last Judgment wasvery near was invigorated. In the background were growing criticism of theCatholic Church (John Wyclif, Jan Hus, Hans Böhm) and various emerginganti-Scholastic movements (Meister Eckehart and devotio moderna, Beghards,Beguines), all of which culminated two centuries later in the Reformation (seeKenny 2007, 99–105). Maxwell-Stuart thus thinks that the heightened beliefin evil spirits reflected a sense of “extreme danger ” and a wish to purify theChurch (2007, 1–5). As Heinrich Kramer, alias Institoris, author of the Malleus,put it: “They [witches] now appear to be depopulating the whole of Christen-dom” (2007, 94).28 An inquisition was first established in the twelfth century to fight the her-etics known as Kathars or Albigensians (see Maxwell-Stuart 2007, 6). Thisrather inefficient inquisition was replaced by a renewed organization in 1231.The inquisitors did not first deal with witches, who were not considered her-etics but representatives of a pagan religion. It was only in 1484 that the popeallowed the burning of witches, at the request of Jacob Sprenger and HeinrichInstitoris (see Edwards 2003; Russell 1992, 300; Verrill 1931).29 In the Mal-leus, witchcraft is explicitly equated with perfidia ( betrayal of faith, as distinctfrom infidelitas, heathenism). The witch knows what faith implies but willfullyseeks to betray it (Maxwell-Stuart 2007, 7). Such policing of a doctrinal sys-tem typifies doctrinal religiosity (see the appendix, part 3). A prosocial attitude
    • 84 supernatural agencyand a sense of unity among a large number of peoples and nations can onlybe maintained through the idea of an imagined community of cobelievers, achurch. In the absence of any other common denominator, it is the doctrinethat is supposed to unite the members of a church. This, of course, does notimply that all members are truly created equal or that cooperation actuallytakes place reciprocally, following the classical ideal of suum cuique (“let eachhave his share”). We must take into account power. The political unity that issupposed to accompany doctrinal unity serves the interests of those in power.Mystics and reformers are not suspect because of their extremist behaviors butbecause they may cause political unrest (see Pyysiäinen 2004a; Taves 1999).Although this would make a hugely interesting topic of research in itself, I willconfine myself to an analysis of the nature and role of evil spirits in the Malleusmaleficarum. Although Institoris’s main argument may at first sight seem rather com-plex, it has a few basic principles that are relatively straightforward: evil spir-its (demons) are really existing beings that cause harm in the world throughhumans whose bodies they invade. Witches are persons who let this happenby entering into a pact with the Devil.30 Maxwell-Stuart (2007) translates theLatin masculine form maleficus as “male worker of harmful magic ”; the pluralmalefici refers to both men and women, while malefica/maleficae is translatedas “witch(es).” Much of Institoris’s discussion centers on the theme of how it ispossible for a spirit to cause something to happen in material reality. Institoris argues that as every action is performed by contact, and as evilspirits have no real bodies, it seems that they cannot make the contact requiredfor physical causation (2007, 61). Getting to know something through senseperception is based on a physical process that is irreversible: although theimagination is a treasure house of forms received via the senses (79), one can-not cause something in the external world “ by having an idea or formulating anintellectual conception and then simply giving verbal expression to it ” (72). On the other hand, it is known that spirits can move physical things in thesame sense as people’s bodies are moved by their souls (2007, 79). Thus, itseems that evil spirits must somehow enter a human body and take control inorder to be able to cause something in the physical reality. “Evil spirits operatethrough artifice and therefore cannot produce any shape . . . without the helpof a second person or thing acting [ for them].” When they have such assis-tance, it is possible for them to produce the genuine characteristics of illnessand other forms of suffering (51). But in doing this, the evil spirits must firstget an approval from God, because nothing can happen against God’s will.“When they are permitted by God, evil spirits have power over physical objectsand over people’s imaginative faculty.” Although many stories about witch-craft are based on pure imagination, without any factual basis, not everythingis mere imagination (45). Workers of harmful magic produce real outcomeswith the help of evil spirits because they have entered into a pact with them,
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 85and God allows this to happen (47–49). To deny this is “heretical perversity ”(49, 102). What, then, is an evil spirit, if it is not a physical entity? At least evil spiritsdo not reside in Hell, but live in “murky air around the earth” (Institoris 2007,67). They make themselves bodies that have a shape, using air, which theymake thicker with the aid of “coarse vapours lifted from the earth.”31 Thus,air is packed closely together to form a kind of body. It is this kind of bodythat evil spirits inhabit. But as they have no lungs, lips, and so forth, how canthey, for example, talk? Institoris explains that when evil spirits want to makea meaning known, they do it by means of sounds that have some likeness tovoices. This they do by forcibly striking the air “ bottled up in the body they haveassumed.” Then they send it out syllable by syllable (139–40). Thus, evil spirits “do what they do via the intellect and the will” (Institoris2007, 61). Moreover, the acuity of their nature allows them to do things thathumans cannot (44). When an evil spirit uses a woman as its instrument, itseems that the instrument is dependent on the will of the original agent andthus is not acting of its own free will (52). Does this not free the controlledmind from all personal responsibility? Institoris replied that no such excusesmust be made, because “evil spirits always work in partnership with workersof harmful magic ” (54). Although workers of harmful magic serve as only theDevil’s equipment, they have minds of their own and have made their choiceby an act of free will. After they have entered into an express pact with evil spir-its, they are no longer in possession of their own liberty (57). The Devil is notthe direct cause of all people’s sins because people sometimes choose to sin oftheir own free will; indirectly, however, he is the cause of people’s sins becausehe persuades them to sin (78). Although human will is normally governed by God, evil spirits can con-fuse a person’s intellect through misleading images that the person interpretsin accordance with his or her own wishes. When an evil spirit enters a body,it takes possession of the powers of the physical organs and so imprints thesethat an image is created; this image then affects the person’s will and intellect.Angels also can read a person’s mind and character to some extent, much as adoctor reads his patient ’s emotional state, without being able to penetrate hisor her inmost thoughts. The Devil can tell what a person is thinking and feel-ing by scrutinizing the physical changes accompanying thoughts and emotions(Institoris 2007, 81). Thus, although evil spirits cannot penetrate the secreciesof the heart, they can try to guess what is in the mind (130). Institoris speaks often of a special kind of evil spirits, the incubi and suc-cubi. Incubus (“lying on top”) is male, and succubus (“lying underneath”) isfemale. These are “morally foul spirits” that nonetheless are not impure bynature. They are full of only mindless lust, and Institoris says that the arts ofmagic came into being through them (2007, 61– 62). Human beings are some-times procreated by a specific technique used by incubi and succubi (62). One
    • 86 supernatural agencyevil spirit (an incubus) can take the place of the succubus, who then receivesthe semen from a human male and passes it on to the incubus. The incubusthen inserts it into a human female (3, 63; Maxwell-Stuart 2007, 15). If a babyis born from this intercourse, it is more liable to witchcraft than ordinaryhuman children are. Institoris says the incubi and succubi want to harm aperson both in body and soul, so that there may come into being people whoare more inclined to all of the vices (62– 63). According to Institoris, harmful magic is so often connected with the pro-creative power because this is the domain in humans that is most liable to becorrupted (2007, 82). Thus, for example, many men have been bewitched intosuch a state that they cannot have sexual intercourse within marriage. This“can really and truly be caused by the power of an evil spirit,” acting eitherthrough a witch or even without such mediation. Among Christians, however,the Devil prefers to work through witches (45). Impotence may, of course,have a natural cause as well. In such cases, the penis simply remains flaccid.If it has an erection but still cannot perform, the cause of the condition is inevil spirits (83). In another place, Institoris, however, says that evil spirits cancause an impediment to procreation—by preventing erection, by preventingthe animating essences from reaching those parts of the body that will impartmovement to them, or by closing the seminal ducts (148). Another thing witches can do when they have entered into a pact with theDevil is to make a man believe that his penis has disappeared. When one is sobewitched, one can neither see nor feel one’s penis. But, “in no way should any-one believe that these parts of the body are torn out by the roots”; they are onlyhidden by an evil spirit (Institoris 2007, 84–85, 151). Institoris illustrates thiswith the following story. A man who (apparently) had lost his penis approacheda witch to help him get it back again. The witch instructed the man to climba particular tree, where he would find a nest filled with penises of which hewould be allowed to take any one he liked. When the man climbed up andreached for the biggest penis, the witch immediately told him not to take thatone because it belonged to one of the parish priests (153). Third, some husbands have seen their wives in bed with another man, astranger who, when they then have tried to grab a weapon to kill him, has dis-appeared by making himself invisible. This, of course, means that the unwel-comed guest was an incubus (2007, 144). A related theme is the idea of evilspirits substituting changelings for human babies, which Institoris views as avery real possibility (135). The cognitive framework may help us to understand a number of pointsin Institoris’s doctrinal reasoning. First, in the Malleus and in medieval demon-ology in general, evil spirits were understood as having mentality. Entitieslacking mentality cannot cause anything intentionally; this much is obviousboth in folk psychology and in Scholastic theology. Yet it is difficult to imaginepure mentality, without physicality or at least spatiality. It seems that in folk
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 87psychology, spatiality (and physicality/solidity) and mentality are endpoints ona continuum of more or less coarse or “subtle” forms, as I said in chapter 1.Other, more “subtle” bodies exist in addition to ordinary biological bodies. Atsome point along the continuum very subtle matter and “thickened” mental-ity meet. Thus, the mind-body problem is apparently solved, without givingany detailed account of how and at what point exactly mentality and physical-ity overlap or depart. In the Malleus, such subtle matter is represented by theidea of “thickened air ” out of which evil spirits make bodies that have shape.Insofar as they are not residing within a human body, evil spirits thus exist asmentality combined with spatiality ( but apparently not with solidity or evenphysicality). When an evil spirit enters a human body trying to take control, this cre-ates a free will problem: who is responsible for the acts of the possessed body?Institoris’s view is plain and simple: when one enters into a pact with the Devil,one is no longer free to choose between good and evil; yet one acts freely indeciding to enter into the pact with the Devil (see also chapter 4, section 4.1.4).After the fatal decision, the evil spirit controls one’s body and mind. One’s ownfree will thus is somehow suppressed, tied, or eradicated. Although this seemsto imply that after the fatal decision everything one wills is willed by the Devil,this seems more like a reflective doctrine than an on-line intuition.32 In every-day life, persons must assume that their fellow human beings do at least somethings willingly and not by spirits’ remote control (see Cohen 2007). As a Christian theologian, Institoris could not think that anything wouldhappen against the will of God. Therefore, God must let evil spirits do whatthey do; hence the problem of theodicy. Institoris meets it with the commoncounterargument that God wanted humans to have free will and this necessar-ily entails the possibility of sin (2007, 97). However, Institoris also says thatGod allows harmful magic for “a cleansing and proof of the faith of the righ-teous” (96). The existence of harmful magic is believed to prove the faith ofthe righteous in the sense that it is a means of distinguishing between thosewho are genuinely committed to the Church and those who are not (free rid-ers). Because the community of believers is based on the acceptance of thecorrect doctrine and such acceptance can only be inferred and not directly per-ceived, there will never be any absolute certainty about anybody’s true beliefs.This is why “costly ” and “hard-to-fake” signals of commitment are needed(Atran 2002a). Sperber (2006, 148) suggests that some societies are characterized bybeliefs about witchcraft as the cause of misfortunes, while others character-istically blame them on transgressions of taboos. It seems that only explana-tions referring to witchcraft tend to go with such a suspicion about the motivesof others that costly signaling comes to be needed. Transgressions of taboosare usually people’s own personal actions that people use to explain their ownpersonal misfortunes. This may be an overgeneralization, but it serves to
    • 88 supernatural agencysuggest that concern about the sincerity of people’s commitment typifieslarger, imagined communities more than small-scale communities based onpersonal contacts among members. One way to signal one’s commitment to the group to others is by one’swillingness to punish those whose cooperation is suspect as well as those whorefuse to punish others. As punishing may be costly and yet not directly benefitthe punisher, it can serve as a costly signal of being committed and thus fosterreciprocal altruism (Henrich et al. 2006). The willingness to denounce allegedworkers of harmful magic and to torture and kill them in most horrible waysserves as an ultimate signal of one’s own commitment. The witch hunt is arunaway process in an arms race of sorts: when someone produces a morecostly signal than others, the others are in danger of becoming suspect of beingnoncommitted defectors. They have to develop even more costly signals, lead-ing to a vicious circle, as happens in blood revenge, which only works whenevery now and then somebody is really killed ( whereas killing literally every-body who insults your relatives would be disastrous; see Atran 2002a, 131–38;Dickie 2004). Such processes become important when both the size of the social groupand its geographical dispersion increase, creating large-scale doctrinal com-munities of nonrelated people who are only combined together by an ideology(see Dunbar 2006, 177). In medieval and early modern Europe, the gap thatseparated the world of the laity and biological kinship from the world of thepriests—especially the religious orders, which were based on institutional pseu-dokinship—may also have made the witch hunt easier by making commitmentto the Church seem natural (see the appendix). The monastic orders attractedyoung recruits from different parts of western Europe, required strict celibacyfrom their members, stressed obedience without question, and separated themfrom their families (see Dunbar 2006, 177; Qirko 2004a, 687–89). These factors have contributed to the process the Church used to defendits imagined community against the threat of defectors, attributing their sup-posed actions to the agency of the Devil. Persons’ beliefs that they were com-manded by God and were fighting the Devil made them capable of horrendouscruelties (see Bushman et al. 2007). And no satiety signals told them when thewitch trial ritual had succeeded, because the suspected witch usually had onlythe options of either dying or confessing (Institoris 2007, 203–54; see Boyerand Liénard 2006). One could never be sure who was being controlled by theDevil and who by God, because no empirical signal can help decide one wayor the other. The process then culminated in people committing unbelievablecruelties. This is also reflected in a remark Institoris made that reminds one ofDurkheim’s argument (1925, 60 – 63; 1965, 59– 61) that only religion wasdefined by a church (Église) and that magic was only a private matter between amagician and his client. Institoris distinguished between good Christians who
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 89perform miracles in accordance with the divine order and “with public har-mony ” and a magician who works “through a pact into which he has enteredwith an evil spirit, and so is said to operate through a private contract ” (Insti-toris 2007, 71– 72). The opposition is viewed as being between public, com-mon good and private interests that may endanger the unity of the doctrinalcommunity. Evil spirits are evil because they try to destroy order and unity bypromising to advance the interests of separate individuals who enter into pactswith them, thus defecting instead of cooperating. Concepts and beliefs aboutevil spirits are contagious because they trigger intuitive cognitive mechanismsthat are dedicated to monitoring social relationships. A salient example is the central place speculations about sexuality andsexual relationships occupy in Malleus. Beliefs about changelings, for exam-ple, may derive part of their appeal from the fact that men will always have totake into account the possibility of cuckoldry and cannot be absolutely certainthat their babies really are theirs (Carruthers 2006, 42; Trivers 2002, 59, 66;Voland 2007; see Miller 2001b; the appendix). A woman also has to face thepossibility that her baby might be switched to another after birth, unless shecan see it constantly after the delivery.33 Why does it matter so much that one raises one’s own biological childand not someone else’s (if the switch takes place immediately after birth)?This should not happen if the family is only a socially constructed ideology(cf. Jaisson 2006). Beliefs about changelings actually form a common motivein folk traditions (Briggs 1976, 69– 72; Jauhiainen 1999, 194–96) and reflectthe importance of the biological relationship between parent and child. AsI argue in the appendix, the theory of parental investment predicts that invest-ing all resources in the nearest relatives pays off best in terms of reproductivesuccess (Carruthers 2006, 42–43; Trivers 2002, 56–110; see Dunbar 1988,217–18). We can predict that the fear of the baby being changed is the great-est in the case of the first son, but this has not been studied. In any case, itseems that beliefs about changelings reflect the fear of losing one’s own childand inadvertently having to rear someone else’s baby. This fear is what makesbeliefs about changelings so salient and contagious. Beliefs about lost penises and impotence as caused by harmful magic maybelong to the same family of beliefs. In Scholastic theology, sexual desire dif-fers from other passions in that its occurrence is completely autonomous andindependent from reason; sexual organs also move without the command ofreason, although in their original state, before the fall, humans could controlthem at will, just as they can control their hands and feet, as Augustine observed(see Knuuttila 2006, 157; Wolfson 1961). If sexuality is beyond conscious con-trol, its impediments and perversions cannot be explained with reference to afailure of an individual’s will and reason. And since biological organisms mustalways be directed by a rational soul (cf. Aristotle), sexual failures and perver-sions must therefore be caused by a soul or spirit—in this case an evil one. The
    • 90 supernatural agencybeliefs about lost penises thus may reflect the male experience of confusion inthe face of impotence that occurs against one’s will (whereas for a monk such acondition might be welcome). The idea of an incubus seducing one’s wife mayhave served as a way of making instances of marital infidelity more bearable:the woman was only seduced because the man was not a human. Institoris recounted an interesting case of possession (2007, 159– 61). Acertain inquisitor had told him about a man who had brought his son—whowas a priest outside of the religious orders—to Rome to be delivered from pos-session.34 The inquisitor met the two men by chance in a guest-house, and thefather shared his concern about his son with the inquisitor. The inquisitor feltvery sorry for the man, but in looking at the son, who behaved quite normally,he began to think that the young man could not possibly be possessed. Theyoung man, however, told him that a certain witch had put an instrument ofharmful magic (maleficium) under a certain tree, saying that he would be pos-sessed for as long as the instrument remained there. The bad news was thatno one knew under which tree the maleficium was hidden. The young manfurther explained that he was only deprived of his reason when he tried totake part in services or visit holy places. The inquisitor then took the youngman to various shrines and tried to exorcise him. Every time the young manshrieked and wailed in a terrible manner. Whenever he passed a church andgenuflected to salute the glorious Virgin, the Devil caused his tongue to sticka long way out of his mouth. The poor man heard the Devil speak throughhim but had no strength to resist. When he tried his best to concentrate onprayer, the Devil attacked even more vigorously by thrusting his tongue out.At some point, when the evil spirit was asked to leave the man, it replied thatit did not want to come out “ because of the Lombards.” Then the young manstarted to list in fluent Italian “all the very worst of sexual vices” the Lombardswere guilty of, although he did not know any Italian (the inquisitor did knowItalian).35 A certain bishop took pity on the young man and fasted and prayedfor forty days to cure him. This did the trick, and the young man was deliveredand returned home rejoicing. This account very much resembles the many cases of possession by evilspirits documented within modern Christianity and popular culture (Martin1992; Peck 1998, 182–211; see Cuneo 2002). However, in Afro-Brazilian pos-session cults such as the Candomblé, for example, people do not necessarilyregard the spirits as evil (see Wegner 2002, 242–54). Recently, Emma Cohen(2007) has produced a lucid ethnography of a syncretistic spirit possession cultin the city of Belém in northern Brazil.36 Members of the cult maintain thatbodiless spirits may temporarily possess the bodies of living people. Someof these spirits never had bodies of their own; some are the spirits of thedeceased. In some cases, people regard these spirits as unwelcome intruders;in others, people warmly welcome them after weeks or months of prepara-tion and waiting (vii). Possession is associated with medium-centered séances,
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 91healing and counseling, the delivery of oracles, and many other activities (132).The situation is in this respect very different from prescribed Catholicism,although this Brazilian cult has its roots in folk Catholicism as well as Africantraditions and Iberian folklore. As one of Cohen’s informants put it, the spirits(orixás)37 “are entidades [entities] that came to help people with whatever theyneeded . . . they are spirits of light who are ready to help us at the time we needthem” (113). As one of the persons Cohen interviewed says, “for me the Orixás are likeGod for our religion. We cultivate and respect them—for me, it is as if theOrixá was a person, a god, because we really respect the orixás” (2007, 110).Or “Orixás, for me—I think they are our divinities, ancestors that were inAfrica . . . and now we have the opportunity to cultivate and receive them inBrazil” (111). Again: “There were orixás that lived and afterwards, they passedto a spiritual existence [in another dimension—“se-encantaram”] and came tobe cultivated. The orixás are manifestations of nature, the orixás are presentin everything—in the air, the leaves, the day-to-day, in technology, even in thekitchen” (112). The common opinion among people was that the spirits really enteredthe body, specifically the head, and took control. It is commonly said that one“catches” or “receives” a spirit and that “spirit X is in the head of Person A.”If one is not sure whether a certain person is possessed, one asks “Who is it?”or “who is speaking.” This seems to imply that at any one moment one com-municates either with the person in question or with the alien spirit. Beingpossessed means that one’s own personality is away or somehow lies dormant.As one of the informants explained, “I don’t know where my spirit goes, I don’tknow. I only know that I switch off. I don’t remain in me.” Once when Pai waspossessed, the possessing spirit spoke of him in the third person, offering anopinion, and added: “I don’t know if Pai would agree” (Cohen 2007, 123–24).38 Cohen also recounts how a certain possessed medium greeted her with akiss on both cheeks, then returned to work with clients, and finally came backto her now being “pure” ( puro; not possessed) and without greeting her again.Cohen is certain that she was neither unwelcome nor inadvertently overlooked,because the medium greeted everyone else who had arrived. Therefore, eitherthe possession was a fake one—which is not considered to be commonplaceamong the members of the community—or the medium could recall hav-ing met with Cohen, despite having been possessed (2007, 135; see Wegner2002, 251). Cohen (2007, 129–31, 146) points out that observers’ perceptions of pos-session are not always straightforward and unambiguous, and that the psy-chological transformation of the one who is possessed is not total. As theobservers cannot directly perceive the spirits entering somebody, they mustinfer it, just as we normally infer another ’s beliefs and desires from observablecues. However, observers do not consistently explain the behavior of one who
    • 92 supernatural agencyis possessed by referring to the beliefs and desires of a spirit; there is instead acertain incongruity between what people say about possession and what theyactually do (e.g., behave as though the person were still present in the pos-sessed body). The observers’ understandings of the possession obviously areinfluenced by cognitive mechanisms of which they are not necessarily them-selves aware (Cohen 2008). Cohen (2007, 133–34) argues that according to the people she studied, allbehaviors and statements of the possessed were unambiguously attributableto the possessing spirits, and persons often informed Cohen about the identityof the possessing spirits. For as long as the possession lasted, the “hosts’” nameswere replaced by spirits’ names when talking with or about them. We mightthink that there is here little difference between communication with a pos-sessed person and everyday communication, but possession communicationis different in that there is only one body involved yet potentially two or morecandidate agents. It happens, for example, that one and the same spirit behaves quite differ-ently in different “hosts” and one and the same spirit can come into two differ-ent “hosts” at once. The spirit called Zé Pelintra, for example, is a nonsmokerin the head of one “host ” but a chain-smoker in the head of another. Personsoccasionally comment about such contradictions that “mutual influences” areexchanged between the spirit and its “host.” Whether people really considerone instance or manifestation of the spirit to be the true one is difficult to deter-mine through observation and direct-question interview techniques (Cohen2007, 142, 146; see Wegner 2002, 246–50). The arguments developed in the Malleus likewise seem not to be meredoctrinal reasonings but also to have a point of contact with folk psychology.Persons seem to reason about good and evil spirits guided by the idea thatmentality can leave and enter the physical body at will; yet nothing in Cohen’sethnography seems to suggest that the spirits would be mentally represented asbeing completely without spatiality. Concepts and beliefs about spirits and theirnature are actualized when someone is supposed to be possessed; persons donot seem to speculate on the issue of where and in what form the spirits existwhen they are not in some live human “host.” No idea of pure mentality thusseems to be involved (see also Cohen 2008). Although there are also spirits other than those that come into a humanbody, such as the spirits of the forest and of waters (encantados),39 personsdo not speculate much about their nature and location or conceptualize themas completely free of spatiality. It is believed that somewhere between super-natural (orun) and material (aiye) existence is another dimension in whichthe mestres, caboclos (“indigenous backwoodsmen,” non-African spirits), andencantados dwell. Families of spirits occupy their respective territories, orencantarias, in an unseen world that is somehow parallel to the material earthinhabited by humans (Cohen 2007, 9, 44–46, 55–56, 208). Thus, we again
    • souls, ghosts, and shamans 93meet the attempt to create an intermediate category between the physical real-ity and agency by combining agency and spatiality but leaving out biology andmaybe also physicality. Psychologist Daniel Wegner (2002, 221–35) argues that possession involves“virtual agency,” in that persons project agency to imaginary agents that arethen considered to be the sources of persons’ own actions. People come tobelieve the imagined agents to be real just as they judge anything to be real ineveryday thinking: if it seems real, feels real, and acts real, it is real. Seemingreal means that there is a lot of perceptual detail. Memories with perceptualdetail are judged as more likely to be correct than memories that lack them.Accordingly, in the case of possession, one can think one’s perception of visualdetail means that one is possessed. Feeling real means that one’s perceptionshave an emotional impact on one. Acting real refers to the perception that theimagined agent cannot be controlled. When the possessed person appearsunable to control her or his body, the natural inference is that some other agentis controlling it. Thus, the way the mind works makes possession beliefs both possible andcontagious. In the case of the Afro-Brazilian possession cults, these beliefsgain salience in a syncretistic sociocultural situation in which people’s beliefshave roots in differing traditions and people are cut off from the land andculture of their African ancestors. West African beliefs and rituals have beencombined in this case with some American Indian traditions and Catholic folktradition to create a new type of shared knowledge. In the following chapter, I analyze the Christian concept of God to seewhat kind of cognitive trajectory is involved in the transformation of mythicalrepresentations of cognitively optimal gods and spirits into a cognitively costlytheological concept. I will focus on the philosophical elaboration of the sameagentive properties that are represented in beliefs about souls.Summary 1. All peoples have beliefs about various types of souls that are respon- sible for the liveliness of the body as well as for various cognitive- emotional functions; these are folk psychological conceptualizations of human agentive properties, not mere “mythology.” 2. Such conceptions thus cannot be analyzed merely at the level of their linguistic expressions and are not spread only through cul- tural contacts. 3. Beliefs about personalized spirits do not belong to more “advanced” cultures only (contra R. R. Marett). Although all peoples have beliefs about impersonal forces, humans have always been capable of
    • 94 supernatural agency representing personal agency as well. (But chimps might project animacy without mentality to the natural world.) 4. Although people everywhere understand that biological bodies die, it is much more difficult to imagine the death of personal agency because it is immaterial. Souls of the dead thus are often regarded as an impor- tant part of human communities. In nondoctrinal traditions, it is difficult to differentiate between spirits of the dead and gods. 5. Because pure mentality is difficult to imagine, spirits are often com- bined with something physical: a “subtle” body resembling mist, clouds, or vapor; the grave as the place where the dead agent is dwelling; the house a dead agent keeps haunting; and so forth. 6. The belief that spirits form an integral part of the society plays a central role in shamanism (a vague category). The shaman is a specialist who maintains the social order by negotiating with the spirits and thus making shared knowledge explicit; this often happens in a ritualized drama. The shaman’s transformations into animal form may partly derive from anomalous experiences caused by the use of psychoac- tive drugs and ritual techniques. Beliefs about such transformations persist among common people to the extent that beliefs are cognitively optimal. 7. Beliefs about spirit possession are based on the belief that agency is separable from a biological body. Yet there is little speculation about the nature of the spirits when they are not in a body. The possessing spirit is usually imagined to be in the head, controlling the body. One and the same spirit is imagined to behave differently in different bod- ies. Possessed persons seem to retain memory of things that happened during their alleged possession, however. Like shamanism, possession is used as a means of maintaining health and social order, with the spirits communicating about the shared knowledge of the group.
    • 4God as Supernatural Agent4.1 From Myth to Theology4.1.1 Gods and Supernatural AgentsGod is not a unit-idea. Not only have “different men [sic] . . .employed the one name so signify superhuman beings of utterlydiverse and incongruous kinds” but also “beneath any one of thesebeliefs you may usually discover something, or several things, moreelemental and more explanatory, if not more significant, than itself ”(Lovejoy 1960, 4–5). It thus is extremely difficult to specify what itis that makes an entity belong in the category of gods (Pyysiäinenand Ketola 1999). What unites all gods into a single type of beingand differentiates them from other types of supernatural agent?This question has received amazingly little attention from scholarsof religion. The Judeo-Christian tradition has provided an implicitprototype for god concepts; yet this tradition itself contains a varietyof representations of God (Barrett and Keil 1996; Pyysiäinen 2005b;Saler 2000). Barrett points out that the theological concept of “God”may not be a “full-blown concept in the sense of providing a setof causal relations between various features of God that generatepredictions, explanations, and inferences.” The God of theologyis either a list of decontextualized properties such as omniscienceor a set of attributes whose applicability is context-dependent(1998, 616 –17). Early evolutionary anthropologists, such as Tylor, regarded theJudeo-Christian God as the end-product of a long developmental pro-cess. L. R. Farnell (1925, 215), for example, argued in his Gifford
    • 96 supernatural agencyLectures that the idea of omniscience was not found “in the polytheisms ofcultured peoples.” Tylor ’s somewhat dissident follower Andrew Lang,1 how-ever, changed his mind about this soon after his first book. He had thoughtthat “ghosts, or other spiritual existences fashioned on the same lines, pros-pered till they became gods” (1898, 1). Myths were partly irrational and partlyrational, and in the “childhood of the human race,” with the idea of cause andeffect completely missing, people had considered myths to be perfectly rational(1913, 1:7–9, 305– 7; cf. Durkheim 1925, 34, 118–22, 299, 324, 1965, 39–40,240, 258–59). In his later works and in the 1913 edition of Myth, Ritual andReligion (published one year after his death), Lang argued that the idea of God“need not logically be derived from the idea of spirit ” and that the conceptionof a Supreme Being who sanctions ethics seemed to be present also in the“remote past of savagery.” Yet it appeared to have faded or even disappearedin “some conditions of barbarism.” People thus had reached “the highest reli-gious concept ” but then more or less lost it during the process of social evolu-tion. The highest being was neglected, while ghosts or minor gods were servedand adored (1898, 2, 1901, v, 1913, 1:308, 2:1–2), Lang accepted Tylor ’s view ofhow spirit beliefs had originated but did not accept that all representations ofhigher gods were derived from these beliefs. There was no logical reason whythe idea of a Maker should not be prior to the idea that there were such thingsas souls and ghosts (1913, 1:2–4, 310; see Stocking 1995, 50 – 63, 81–83). By sucha God, Lang (1898, 173) meant “a primal eternal Being, author of all things,the father and friend of man, the invisible, omniscient guardian of morality.”The ultimate origins of beliefs about God and of the immortality of the soulwere either in “actual communion with Deity ” or in an innate and intuitive“unanalysable sensus numinis” (51, 1913, 1:306). The reason anthropologists thought the most primitive savages lacked theidea of God was that anthropologists considered God to be a Spirit and thussaw God as the idea of spirit “carried to its highest power.” But if it can beshown that the idea of God does not imply the doctrine of spirit, then thisidea may have existed before the idea of spirit evolved. The two “factors inreligion—ghost and god—seem to have perfectly different sources” (Lang1898, 176, 201–2). For Lang, “the savage Supreme Being, with added power,omniscience, and morality, is the idealization of the savage, as conceived of byhimself, minus fleshly body (as a rule), and minus Death” (203). He is not nec-essarily a spirit.2 Thus, although Lang denied that God was a spirit in a Tyloriansense, he describes God as an immortal human being without a body and withsuperhuman cognitive (and moral ) powers. This being, however, amounts toa disembodied agent with superior cognitive powers in the exact sense of thecognitive theory. To the extent that “spirits” means disembodied agents, God isa supreme spirit.3 In what follows, I analyze Christian concepts of God, focusing on God’snature as an agent, as well as on the relationship between cognitively costly
    • god as supernatural agent 97and everyday representations of God. Conceptualizing agency on the basis ofattributions of beliefs and desires means that I do not approach God’s “super-naturalness” as objective nonexistence; I instead start from the human pointof view and the fact that God (or gods) cannot be perceived and observed in thesense that natural agents can. Therefore, it may be difficult to draw a solid linebetween the supernaturalness of God and that of such figures as the king inpremodern Europe, for example, when ordinary folks only knew about the kingwhat they had heard by way of rumors. We, of course, now know that kingshave existed and that they thus are perfectly natural beings, whereas the exis-tence of God cannot be established in the same way (see Stenger 2007). But forsome persons under some circumstances, God and some human agents mayseem equally distant. The enslaved African American plantation workers in North America, forexample, regarded the most popular Northern generals and especially AbrahamLincoln as messianic figures identical to Jesus. When one unidentified blackschoolboy was asked who Jesus was, he replied: “Him’s Massa Linkum” (quotedin Alho 1976, 83). Lincoln was generally believed to be a heavenly messengerwho was then raised up by the Lord; as one worker in Beaufort, South Caro-lina, said: “Massa Linkum be ebrywhere. He walk de earth like de Lord” (141).Lincoln and Jesus were equally supernatural from this enslaved person’s pointof view. The king ’s supernaturalness figures in the doctrine of the “king ’s two bod-ies” as elaborated by the English crown jurists of the Tudor period. They freelyborrowed from the Christian doctrine of the two “natures” of Christ and thedogma of the Church as the mystical body of Christ (de Lubac 2006; Kantoro-wicz 1957, 7–16; Maitland 1901; see below). According to Maitland (1901, 131),the thought occurred to Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634) or some other lawyer ofhis day that the king of England “ought to be brought into one class with theparson [“parsonified”]: both were to be artificial persons and both were to becorporations sole.”4 Even today, the monarch of the United Kingdom is a corpo-ration sole and may possess property as monarch that is distinct from the prop-erty she possesses personally. Kantorowicz quotes Edmund Plowden’s Reportsin particular to describe this idea. The crown lawyers wrote: For the King has in him two bodies, viz., a Body natural, and a Body politic. His Body natural (if it be considered in itself ) is a Body mortal, subject to all Infirmities that come by Nature or accident. . . . But his Body politic is a Body that cannot be seen or handled, con- sisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for the Direction of the People, and the management of the public weal, and this Body utterly void of Infancy, and old Age, and other natural Defects and Imbecilities, which the Body natural is subject to, and for this Cause, what the King does in his Body politic, cannot be invalidated or
    • 98 supernatural agency frustrated by any Disability in his natural Body. (quoted in Kantoro- wicz 1957, 7)Or: Although he [the king] has, or takes, the land in his natural Body, yet to this natural Body is conjoined his Body politic, which contains his royal Estate and Dignity; and the Body politic includes the Body natural, but the Body natural is the lesser, and with this the Body politic is consolidated. . . . Ergo the Body natural and the Body politic are not distinct, but united, and as one Body. (quoted in Kantorowicz 1957, 9) Plowden also argued that while the natural body consisted of natural mem-bers like in all humans, the members of the body politic were the king ’s sub-jects; the king and his subjects thus together composed the corporation of theCrown. The king is incorporated with his subjects and his subjects with him;the king is the head and the subjects the members of the body (see Kantorowicz1957, 13). All of this exemplifies the way agency can be supernatural even when theagent in question is natural. For the sake of simplicity, I speak of supernaturalagents whenever a person or persons think or feel an agent ’s agency to besomehow detached from a biological body and cannot give a natural explana-tion about the mechanism by which this agency is supposed to work. Fromthis point of view, it may not always be possible to distinguish between literallysupernatural agents, such as God, and supernatural agency attributed to natu-ral agents. A supernatural agent is (at least temporarily) invisible, acts fromafar, and often has an exceptional power to interfere with peoples’ lives. Someof them, such as gods, are often represented as having full access to the con-tents of human minds; others are not (see also Kantorowicz 1957, 271– 72). Highly abstract supernatural agent concepts and beliefs tend to appearin religious traditions only after a long historical process of reflection, madepossible by external memory stores and social institutions such as monas-teries and universities. This is not to say that there is a necessary universaldevelopment from folk religion to a cognitively costly theology, and especiallynot to say that such cultural developments correspond to “stages” of biologicalevolution. I also do not aim at any kind of exhaustive historical description;instead, I use a few representative examples to show how cognitively costlyelaboration of the idea of God takes place as a refinement and expansion ofmore intuitive ideas that historically precede the more costly ones (see Ferré1984; McCauley 2000). There is also a dynamic tension between natural waysof thinking and cognitively costly processing, because, in the case of coun-terintuitive concepts, reflective thinking tends to lead to impasses that aredifficult to solve.
    • god as supernatural agent 994.1.2 Mythical Agency in the Old Testament4.1.2.1 gods. We can partly reconstruct the folk-religious mythical backgroundof more reflective Christian beliefs from what is preserved in the narratives ofthe Old Testament, Ugaritic texts, and related documents. Although it is gener-ally thought that even Moslems worship the same God as Christians and Jews,we may well ask what kind of continuity there actually is between the earliestJudaic beliefs and the God of modern Christian theologians and laypersons.Mark Smith (2001, 6 – 7) observes that it is by no means self-evident how oneshould identify an agent as being a god (Akkadian ilu) even within Semitictraditions. Listing the various figures called “divine” in the Semitic languages(Akkadian ilu, Ugaritic ‘il, Hebrew ‘ēl ) gives us not only major deities but alsosuch phenomena as monstrous cosmic enemies, demons, some living kingsand dead kings, the dead in general, images of deities, and so forth. In addition,in Akkadian cuneiform writing, special signs are used to indicate the so-calleddeterminative; one of these signs (transcribed as dingir) means that the follow-ing word is the name of a god (see Di Vito 1993, 74–120). This sign appliesnot only to names of deities proper but also to many other phenomena suchas stars, images of monstrous creatures, heroes of old, and so forth. What iscommon in all divine beings is the fact that they are considered to be somehowgreater than humans yet also somehow resembling them. Another strategy would be to study the etymologies of the various appel-lations of gods in order to find a common core. Ilu, for example, derives from*’y/wl, “to be preeminent, strong.”5 But the relationship between etymology andmeaning is often a complex one and can easily be used to support very specu-lative conclusions. Moreover, this does not solve the comparative problem of“God” as a universal category. A third approach might be to compare Ugariticand West Semitic sources in order to better understand the specific nature ofthe god of the Israelites (as in Smith 2002). As a fourth alternative, Smith listsattempts to create typologies of gods on various grounds. In his later book,Smith tries to combine all these approaches (Smith 2001, 6–8). His work helpsto illumine the early development of Judaic concepts of God but does not solvethe more general problem. Theologians have often regarded the Yahweh of the Israelites as somehowunique in being the God of an ethical and exclusive monotheism, in contrastto the polytheism and “nature religion” of the Canaanites. This view doesnot receive much support from the historical evidence or the new analysesthat accumulated during the 1990s, as Smith recognizes (2002, xii–xli) in thepreface to the second edition of his Early History of God (see Wyatt 2005). First, the origins of Yahweh are partly obscure; second, historical sourcesdo not point toward any “original monotheism” (contrary to Albright [1968]).Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian inscriptions from the ninth and eighthcenturies speak of the Yahweh of Samaria, the Yahweh of Teman, and the
    • 100 supernatural agencyYahweh who is the god of Jerusalem and of the whole country—to him belongthe mountains of Judah (see Smith 2001, 9–14). The figure of Yahweh mayhave originated at the southern sites of Seir/Edom/Teman/Sinai, located in thenorthwestern Arabian Peninsula east of the Red Sea; the cult of Yahweh wasthen transplanted to highland sites such as Shiloh. However, these southernsites do not seem like a probable home for a god of storm and war such as Yah-weh. Evidence from Ugaritic texts, in fact, suggests that the figure of Yahwehmay actually derive from those of El and Baal (see Wyatt 2005). Smith thinksall we can safely say is that Yahweh has a complex and partly unknown relation-ship with El (Smith 2001, 145–46, 2002, 19–31, 43–47). It seems very probable that El was the original god of the Israelites. First,the name of the Israelite people contains the element *‘ēl (Isra-el ); if Yahwehhad been the original god, then the name might have been *yiśrâ-yāh. Whenthe name of Israel came to refer to a people in the Iron I highlands (1100–950BCE), it perhaps no longer referred to the god to whom that people was devoted.Second, biblical texts (e.g. Gen. 49:24–25) attest to Yahweh and El as differentgods sanctioned by early Israel. In the Septuagint, Deuteronomy 32:8–9, forinstance, presents El (Elyon) as the chief god and Yahweh as one of his five sons(also 4QDeutj in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Third, in Exodus 6:2–3, Yahweh says toMoses that he had previously appeared to the ancestors as El Shadday (Smith2001, 142–43, 2002, 32–43; Wyatt 2005, 8–9, 88). Scholar of ancient NearEastern religions Nick Wyatt (2005, 3–4) argues that in the so-called Elohistsource,6 for example, El as the original proper name of a god has at some pointbeen systematically replaced by the expression elohim (“gods, God”)7 because ofan aversion to the name El. The earliest gods in the world’s religious traditions usually have tendedto be local, in that their identity has been based on a specific cultic practiceor a specified territory (see Pyysiäinen 1997; 2004d). Archaeological and his-torical evidence, along with cognitive theorizing, points to the conclusion thatthe earliest forms of religion cannot have been based on authorized doctrinesabout counterintuitive realities and instead involved ritual practices withoutany standardized interpretation (see Mithen 2004; Whitehouse 2000, 2004).Goody (2000, 105– 6) suggests that saints, ancestors, and the like belong tooral religions, whereas god beliefs of the monotheistic type belong to literatereligions in which words and ideas can be decoupled from a particular context(see Pyysiäinen 2004d, 147– 71; Person 1998; Smith 2002, xxiv, 191–93). In biblical traditions, monotheism indeed first appears as a theme in textsdating from the sixth century BCE, representing an intra-Israelite developmentover hundreds of years (Gnuse 2000, 19–25; Smith 2002, 182–99). Monothe-ism is not a separate stage of religion in ancient Israel but a form of rhetoric thatunderscores and reinforces Israel’s exclusive relationship with its deity (Smith2001, 9–14). We can hypothesize that the monotheistic discourse developed ina process guided by reflective thinking and supported by the cultural institution
    • god as supernatural agent 101of scribalism, as Smith has suggested (2001, 176 – 77, 295 n. 49). He argues thatthe remarkable absence of mythical elements in the later texts of the Old Testa-ment, compared to West Semitic traditions, might be due to the scribes respon-sible for the now extant biblical traditions either consciously censoring olderdescriptions of Yahweh or deleting them more as a secondary consequenceof the literary processing of the traditions. The Wisdom literature especiallyreflects the transformation of mythic imagery into more elaborate narrativeform. The legal and prophetic social criticism that emerged in the monolatrous( but not monotheistic) cult owe much to writing (2002, 191–93).8 We need not think of the scribes as mere copyists; they may have activelyhelped create a fixed version of varying oral traditions (see Niditch 1996; Per-son 1998), hence transform, a cult-based religion into a more doctrinal one.The idea of God was removed from its cultic context and developed as an ideaimportant qua idea. El and Yahweh were no longer tied to specific places or asingle social function. Smith (2001, 143–45) suggests that Yahweh became the sole god of Israelin three overlapping stages of development. First, El was the original chief god.Second, he became the head of an early Israelite pantheon, which had Yah-weh as its warrior god. Finally, El and Yahweh were identified as a single god.The merger probably took place at different rates in differing parts of Israel(see Wyatt 2005, 88); El as a separate god gradually disappeared, with Yah-weh incorporating his characteristics. The peculiar Israelite monotheism thenemerged when it was declared that people should worship Yahweh alone andthat other gods were really nothing. The period of late monarchy (ending in 539BCE) and exile seem to represent the period when this form of monotheismemerged (Smith 2001, 149– 66). The earliest strata of the Old Testament texts express many conceptionsthat resemble conceptions of a god that we find in Ugaritic literature thatdescribes the storm-god in his meteorological procession; yet Yahweh is notpersonified to the same extent. In later texts, the absence of anthropomor-phisms is even more salient, the emerging tradition of scribalism having putemphasis on other than mythical themes (Smith 2001, 175– 78). We may, how-ever, differentiate between anthropomorphisms in the literal sense and havingmentality (see Boyer 1996c). God walking in the Garden in the cool of the daywith Adam hearing him ( literally “the sound of [him] walking,” Gen. 3:8–10)is a clear instance of anthropomorphism. God calling Moses from a bush thatwas on fire but did not burn up and Moses hiding his face “because he wasafraid to look at God” (Exod. 3:1– 6) entails that God is animacy and mental-ity combined with spatiality and probably even physicality. The Garden nar-rative derives from the so-called Yahwist source, traditionally dated from thetenth to the sixth centuries BCE; at that time, Yahweh may have been moregenerally anthropomorphized (Smith 2001, 88). The burning bush narra-tive derives from a combination of the accounts given in the Yahwist and the
    • 102 supernatural agencyElohist sources. Wyatt (2005, 9) argues that the Yahwist’s account was inspiredby the Elohist ’s version in the sixth century. The early version of this passagetold of Moses meeting El in the desert after the flight from Egypt and El callinghim from the mountain, not from a burning bush. The burning bush was analteration meant to help harmonize this version with the Yahwist ’s (6 –17; seeSmith 2001, 146 –48). In the later strata of the traditions of the Old Testament, human-likeagentive properties also appear: such cognitive-emotional factors as hearing,making promises, having emotions, and so forth (see Gnuse 2000, 4– 6). Theincreasing power of Yahweh goes hand in hand with a less physical representa-tion of him (see Pyysiäinen 2005b, 82). Yahweh’s nonphysicality seems to haveincreased, together with his elevation as the only true god; this, in turn, seemsto relate to an increased awareness among the Israelites of themselves as adistinct nation (cf. Smith 2001, 175– 78; Gnuse 2000, 13–25). This gradual development was not always recognized by theologicallyminded biblical scholars who instead wanted to see the Israelites as interestedonly in history, not mythology ( Wyatt 2005, 151–88). Hans-Joachim Kraus, forexample, argued in 1954 that there was no evidence in the Old Testament ofthe idea of a mythicization of Yahweh (cited at 153). New labels such as “reli-gious imagination” were substituted for the concept of “mythology,” whichhad fallen in disrepute, especially because of David Friedrich Strauss’s 1835book Leben Jesu (178). Such relabeling does not, of course, change anything;the cognitive perspective also helps us realize how improbable it is that theIsraelite religion would have been totally devoid of intuitive elements (166).“Myth(ology)” is a vague concept, as Wyatt also recognizes, but in this context,it can be taken to refer to the fact that the Israelites and the neighboring peo-ples expressed their intuitions about supernatural agents in narrative form.9A mythical god is (close to) cognitively optimal; those who deny the mythicalnature of Yahweh (and El ) are looking at early Israelite religion through thelens of later theological elaborations. In the next chapters, I analyze the trajectory of this theological devel-opment, showing how Christian theologians have elaborated the mythicalrepresentation of El and Yahweh into an abstract metaphysical principle, firstrelying on Aristotelian concepts and later influenced by the advancement ofthe empirical sciences. Lovejoy (1960, 5) considers it “one of the strangest andmost momentous paradoxes in Western history ” that philosophical theolo-gians identified the God of the Sermon on the Mount with the God of Aristotle,although these two “had almost nothing in common.” I will soon show howthis happened; but first, I take up the issue of God’s spirit. the holy spirit and the church. In the older texts of the Old Tes-tament, “the spirit of God” (rûah elōhîm/ēl ) is an invading or violent powerthat takes possession of people; it is considered probable that it was only in the
    • god as supernatural agent 103exilic and postexilic period that the term rûah acquired a theological signifi-cance, although it is not possible to demonstrate a general semantic develop-ment of this term (Gentz 1986; Horn 1992, 262– 63; Tengström 2004, 373; seealso Levison 1997). The word rûah, a verbal noun modeled on the infinitive,refers to “blowing ” (of the wind) and “respiration.” By analogy, it also came tomean “breathing,” “spirit,” and “life.” Its base, rwh, appears throughout theentire range of the West ( but not East) Semitic languages ( Tengström 2004,367– 69). What seems to be instead unique in the texts of the Old Testament isthat rûah is used to refer to a vital power of an individual that is not confined tothe physical body (72). As a wind that blows, rûah can stand for vanity, worthlessness, and transi-toriness of life, on the one hand, and for God’s action, on the other hand (Horn1992, 262). Most often it is east wind or the sirocco, which appears in thespring and fall, inflicting damage. The “idols” are worthless and their images“empty wind.” On the other hand, they can also be said not to have rûah; theyare like dead bones. Deceit and lies, like those of false prophets, are also calledrûah. Wind (or breath) represents vanity because the wind vanishes without atrace and because it carries off everything insubstantial. Or as Ecclesiastes (1:6)puts it, “Round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.”Yet it is Yahweh who makes the wind blow, and the wind thus is in his service( Tengström 2004, 374– 75, 380 –82). In the sense of “breath,” rûah is the spirit of life that distinguishes betweenliving and dead entities; it also signifies the spatial locus of personhood “inside”an individual ( Tengström 2004, 375– 76). The noun nepeš shares with rûah themeanings “life” and “breath”; when it appears together with rûah, both shouldbe understood to mean “soul,” “mind,” or “life.” “Soul,” “spirit,” and “heart ”(rûah, nepeš ) are also used as personal or relative pronouns. Used in the senseof “throat,” nepeš can also denote “hunger ” and “thirst,” in the sense of “desire”or “longing.” Rûah is also associated with “heart” (lēb), denoting the liveliness ofthe body. “Heart ” is also the seat of the intellectual functions, will, and emo-tions, and can also signify hidden thoughts or “mind.” “Heart ” is the seat ofwisdom, whereas rûah is never used in this sense (375– 77; cf. Lauha 1983). Whereas nepeš is only rarely associated with Yahweh, rûah is regarded asgiven to humans by Yahweh. As Job (33:4) puts it, “the spirit of God (rûah-‘ēl )has made me, and the breath of Shaddai (nišmat šaddai) gives me life.” Thisrefers to Yahweh having created humans by forming Adam from the dust of theground and breathing the breath of life (nišmat hayyîm) into his nostrils. WhenYahweh takes away his breath, all living things return to dust (Ps. 104:29–30),the breath (rûah) returning to God. What gives life to all animated beings, notjust humans, is God’s vitalizing spirit, shared by all humans and (other) ani-mals (Tengström 2004, 375, 386–88). Tengström (388) observes that rûah thusrefers both to the vitalizing spirit of God and to an individual’s subjective men-tal activity. From the cognitive point of view, it looks as if mentality could be
    • 104 supernatural agencysubjective, while animacy is shared by all humans and (other) animals and hasits foundation in God. Rûah is not used to describe God’s inner life (375). In the Septuagint, rûah is translated as pneúma 264 times; when the mean-ing is “wind,” words such as ánemos are also used. When the reference is to theinner forces and emotions of humans, various other words are used, such asthymós (the “spirited” in Plato) and makrothymía ( Tengström 2004, 395). Therange of meanings the Greek pneúma can suggest covers entities as diverse assubterranean vapors, heavenly winds, human attitudes, and ghosts (Levison1997, 1). Basically, pneúma (*pnewo) denotes air in movement. It can refer towind, breath, or life, in the sense of animating power (“spirit ”); as such, itis occasionally used synonymously with psuchē, but never with noús (“mind”).Pneúma first occurs in the first century BCE in connection with the oracles ofApollo at Delphi: the priestess, known as the Pythia, sat over an opening inthe earth, and when she became intoxicated by the vapors that arose from thefissure she fell into trance, which was interpreted as possession by Apollo. Shethen spoke in riddles that the priests of the temple interpreted (Horn 1992,261– 62). In the Old Testament, the compound “holy spirit ” (qōdeš + rûah) occursonly in Isaiah 63:10 –11 and Psalm 51:13. “Holy ” (qōdeš) and “secular ” ( hōl ) aremutually exclusive terms (Kornfeld and Ringgren 2004, 522). Leviticus 10:10(New International Version) says: “You must distinguish between the holy andthe common ( hōl ), between the unclean and the clean,” and Ezekiel 44:23 says:“They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the com-mon ( hōl ) and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and theclean.” The etymology of the root qdš is still unresolved; most scholars agreewith Baudissin’s thesis that qd has the basic meaning “separate, sunder ” andqdš thus means “separated, isolated, different from the surroundings.” Theproblem is that the notion of separating is attested largely by pr-constructions,so the meaning “separated” for qdš is then only a derived one. The word qādôš,which is formed like the adjectives of verbs of condition, qualifies ritually sig-nificant places, the people of Israel, its priests, believers, and God himself. Themost frequently occurring derivative is the abstract noun qōdeš (“holiness”),which is used in the narrative of the burning bush, for example, to signify “holyground” (Exod. 3:5). Later, qōdeš came to denote the temple as the “sanctuary ”(Kornfeld and Ringgren 2004, 523, 528, 535; see Anttonen 1996b; Lutzky 1993;cf. Choksy 2003). The holiness of the spirit thus is not simply an ethical qual-ity; it might have originally characterized a spirit that is different from humanspirits and thus set apart as approachable only in special, especially ritual, ways(see Anttonen 1992, 1996a,b). In the Septuagint, qdš derivatives are generally rendered with hágios (whichfirst appears in Herodotus) and its derivatives. Hágios seems to be related toházomai (“stand in awe of, dread”), which Chantraîne (1968, 25–26) derivesfrom the Sanskrit yájati (“honor with prayer and sacrifice”) (see Lutzky 1993,
    • god as supernatural agent 105292). Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE–50 CE), who tried to find the Stoic-Platonictheory of spirit ( pneuma) in the Old Testament, used pneuma theon, not pneumahágion. For him, pneuma meant wind, air, breath, and supernatural beings.The Greek equivalent, (to) hágion (to) pneuma, is unknown in Greek literatureoutside the New Testament (Horn 1992, 261, 264), where it appears first inPaul’s letters—13 times; pneuma alone appears 113 times (see Horn 1992, 261).Mark (1:10) and Matthew (3:16) also use (to) hágion (to) pneuma, but only Lukeand John use it as a technical term with theological significance (Horn 1992,261). According to Luke (2:22), “the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like adove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are My belovedSon; in You I am well pleased.’ ”10 Paul says that the Holy Spirit ( hágios pneuma)spoke to our fathers through the prophet Isaiah (Acts 28:25). In other places,Paul argues that the human body is “the temple of God” or “temple of the HolySpirit ” and that the Spirit of God dwells in it (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19). The Holy Spiritthus is identified with God and his presence in humans. As to the idea of wind “blowing,” it can be understood as an expressionof the HUI: winds are created by an invisible agent who blows. This idea canalso be a metaphor or a dead metaphor, that is, a metaphor that is no longerunderstood as a metaphor, however. In the Old Testament, God is only onceexplicitly said to create the wind (Amos 4:13), although the idea of wind as aninstrument of God’s action is more common ( Tengström 2004, 374, 381). Thehistorical development toward monotheism seems to go hand in hand with amore ethical understanding of the spirit of God. The Chronicler, in contrastto the earlier Deuteronomistic History, ascribes prophetic speech to the rûahof Yahweh, for example (373). Philo argued explicitly that inspiration by God’spneuma also was the basis of the noús (Horn 1992, 264). The idea of all life hav-ing a common root in the spirit of God has provided a good basis for abstractmonotheistic theology to develop. Paul’s idea of the human body as the temple of the Holy Spirit soon grewinto a doctrine of the Church as the mystical body of Christ (corpus Christimysticum). Early fathers of the Church occasionally referred to the Churchas the body of Christ. Christians were united through participation in Christ,thus becoming—in Athanasius’s words—“one body, possessing the Lord inthemselves” (quoted in Kelly 1989, 404). The life and power of Christ werecommunicated to humans in the Eucharist, with Christ joining together manydistinct spirits, making them as though a single spirit. Augustine elaboratedthis into the idea of the Church as the mystical body and bride of Christ. Justas an ordinary body was permeated and held together by the soul or spirit, sothe Holy Spirit gave life to the mystical body. The unity of Christians was botha unity of belief and a union of love. Schism meant cutting oneself off fromthe mystical body of Christ, the Church. The Church was a mixed commu-nity (corpus permixtum) consisting both of true and false believers; only the goodwere Christ’s body in the proper sense (Kelly 1989, 403, 406, 412–15). Later,
    • 106 supernatural agencyProtestant theologians developed the distinction between the visible Church(ecclesia visibilis) as a corpus permixtum and the invisible or hidden Church (eccle-sia invisibilis/abscondita). Yet it was impossible to know who truly belonged tothe invisible Church (see Härle 1989, 287–88). The term corpus mysticum does not appear in the Bible. It gained promi-nence with the Carolingian theologians, for whom it meant the consecratedhost, not the Church (which was corpus Christi). Then around the middle of thetwelfth century the meanings of the terms started to change. The doctrine oftransubstantiation, accepted in 1215, emphasized that in the Eucharist, the truebody of Christ (corpus verum) was present, and the term corpus mysticum came torefer to the Church. Pope Boniface VIII then dogmatized the doctrine of theChurch as the mystical body in the bull Unam sanctam in 1302. According toKantorowicz, this development coincided with the emergence of the ideas ofthe corporational and organic structure of the society (de Lubac 2006; Kanto-rowicz 1957, 194–99). Actually, these ideas are not that mystical. I have noted that humans haveintuitions about the body being an animated organism driven by mentality.Humans also have intuitions and reflective ideas about others’ mentality, whichleads to shared knowledge and degrees of intentionality. This, again, makesit seem as though the group has a mind of its own. Thus, when groups andsocieties are likened to a body, it is not merely a question of using the body asthe most convenient “container metaphor.” On the contrary, likening a socialorganization to a body brings along the idea of the liveliness (animacy) of thebody as well as the idea of the organism being directed by mentality. I suggest here that humans’ experience of the relationship between an ani-mated body and mentality, as expressed in soul beliefs, also leads humans tothink of shared knowledge and degrees of intentionality as being related to asocial body much as individual mentality is related to a biological body. It thusis no wonder that the state or the king ’s power, as well as that of the Church,have been conceptualized as bodies. This is not merely a question of using theword “body ” as a metaphor; rather, people actually think of the Church as a body.Christians form a body to which the Holy Spirit gives life much as biologicalbodies are permeated and held together by the soul or spirit. This is reflectedin a unity of belief and a union of love ( beliefs and desires). As an individualmind could not entertain mutually contradictory beliefs, the Church could onlybe the mystical body of Christ if there was doctrinal unity. The idea of a union of love expresses the fact that large-scale cooperationrequires altruism. Augustine, however, realized that the possibility of defectionwas very real, even though it was not always possible to know who was a truebeliever and who was not. The Church thus included free riders who only pre-tended to be believers. It is all too easy to say the creed without any real beliefin it. More costly (in time and resources) signals of commitment are needed,as I noted in discussing the witch hunt. The history of the Church shows that
    • god as supernatural agent 107it may be wiser not to try to distinguish between true believers and defectorsat all; the same history also shows that in doctrinal religion, people cannot inreality resist the temptation to do so (see also Pyysiäinen 2004a; Whitehouseand Martin 2004; the appendix).4.1.3 Philosophical ElaborationPhilosophy was introduced into Christianity very early by the fathers of theChurch who had been born and raised as non-Christians and had studied Greekphilosophy. Called Apologists, they flourished around 140–180. They made useof the writings of Philo of Alexandria, who expressed philosophical views inhis sermons, trying to combine Judaic mythology and Greek philosophy. HarryWolfson (1948, 3–9, 56 –57) points out that the Alexandrian Jews, such as Philo,were the only Hellenistic people who made a radically new contribution to Helle-nistic philosophy by remaking it according to the pattern of their own belieftradition. In doing so, they developed what came to be known as the allegoricalmethod of interpreting scripture. People who were unaffected by philosophywere satisfied with the traditional, literal interpretation; others, such as Philo,then tried to combine the traditional with a new kind of method, arguing thatan allegorical interpretation was needed because the literalists sometimes cameto conclusions that contradicted their own beliefs. In his Legum allegoriae, Philo claimed that all anthropomorphic descrip-tions of God had to be understood allegorically. The essence of the scripturalreligion was that God existed and was one, and that the Platonic ideas andthe Mosaic Law also existed. Only the latter idea was exclusively Jewish (seeWolfson, 1948, 115–16, 164– 77). In De opificio mundi, Philo then reinterpretedPlato’s view in Timaeus of the creation of the world. Philo understood Plato tohave argued that there was an unlimited void that was the abode of the ideas,and within it was a limited void that Plato called a “receptacle” and “space.”In it were copies, or shapes, of the ideal four elements (earth, fire, water, air),from which Plato thought the world was created. The Demiurge (“the Artisan”)transformed these copies into the four elements, creating the world from theseelements.11 Both the limited void and the copies of the four elements came tobe regarded as a kind of preexisting matter (see 304–5). In Philo’s opinion, the creation of the world of ideas was described in thebiblical account of the first day of creation (see Wolfson 1948, 305– 6). As therecould be no eternal beings besides God, and as there could not be anythingin God other than God, Philo thought that the Platonic ideas were integratedinto an intelligible world of ideas (Plato’s “intelligible animal”) contained in abodiless Nous (“mind”) or Logos (“reason”; pure mentality), which had existedfrom eternity as God’s thought, prior to the creation of the world, and was thencreated as a real incorporeal being (see Wolfson 1948, 32–38). Philo’s reason-ing exemplifies the tendency to view the natural world from the tool-user ’s
    • 108 supernatural agencyperspective, characterized by a promiscuous teleology: everything that exists ismade, and the world is a material realization of a disembodied agent ’s willfuldesign. Apologists such as Justin the Martyr considered Philo’s works to be com-mentaries on the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture (the Septuagint).Following his example, they presented the Christian doctrine as a philosophy,restoring the original meaning of the few philosophical terms in the early Chris-tian literature. This was how Christianity gradually became philosophized;mythological themes and ideas presented in narratives and completely mun-dane everyday prose were elaborated into a grand philosophical system (seeWolfson 1961, 1, 39, 105). To give just one example, Cyril of Jerusalem, an early Church father not usu-ally considered a philosopher, employed argumentation that can be regarded asphilosophical. For instance, he defines “faith” (Gk. pístis) as an assent of thesoul. In Greek philosophy, pístis was an epistemological term, not a religiousone. It referred to a special kind of opinion or to the sense of a judgment of thetruth of knowledge. “Assent ” (synkatáthesin) is hardly ever used in the New Tes-tament, although in philosophy it is equivalent to pístis ( Wolfson 1961, 105– 7). The philosophical elaboration of the Christian doctrine took place firstin the Augustinian-Platonic and later in the Aristotelian tradition of medievaltheology (see Kenny 2007). Although such early works as Petrus Abaelardus’s(1078–1142) Sic et non and Petrus Lombardus’s (c. 1095–1160) Sentences relyheavily on authorities, a shift toward a more independent philosophical analy-sis took place in the transition between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries(Kenny 2007, 47–48; Levi 2002, 40). At that time, the large body of authorita-tive traditions involving complex argumentation and counterintuitive represen-tations had introduced many new problems and contradictions. A method wasneeded to organize knowledge so that new true sentences could be derived frommore general sentences and apparent contradictions could be understood andanalyzed. The quaestio method of conceptual analysis was developed for thispurpose. In it, certain sentences emerged as manifesting exceptionally diffi-cult problems; they came to be called sophismata and were used as means ofsolving problems that were structurally similar to them (Kenny 2007, 98–99;Knuuttila 1981, 163– 62). The Catholic Church then came to accept the systemof Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) as representative of its teaching about God. Medieval Scholastic literature in general represents a large body of philo-sophical reasoning; its specifically religious feature is the way its the wholeconceptual system is anchored on the concept of God. Although this God ishighly abstract, he has a human-like mentality (although his animacy, not tomention physicality, might be questioned). The Scholastic discourse very muchfocused on understanding the intentionality in God’s actions; the discussionscentered by and large on the nature of God’s free will and the modal concepts of“(im)possibility ” and “necessity.” The concept of God posed difficult problems
    • god as supernatural agent 109for Aristotelian logic, which was based on an elaboration of everyday intuitions.In mundane matters, it was easy to accept the inherited idea of a “principleof plenitude,” according to which “No genuine possibility can remain foreverunrealized” (see Hintikka 1981a, 58–59; Knuuttila 1981, 163, 1993a, 4; Lovejoy1960, 52). However, with regard to God’s agency, it led to difficulties. In 1936, Lovejoy (1960) distinguished three related unit-ideas in ancientphilosophy. First was the principle of plenitude (P), which derived from Plato’sTimaeus, in which the Demiurge transformed all possibilities of being intoactuality (45–55). Second, from (P) could be deduced the Aristotelian principleof continuity: if there was a theoretically possible intermediate type betweenany two natural species, that type had to be realized (55–58). Third, Aristotlesuggested the principle of unilinear gradation: the arranging of all animals ina single graded scala naturae according to their “degree of perfection” (58–59).Lovejoy thought that Aristotle had rejected (P), however. Hintikka has shown that he did not (Hintikka 1957, 1981a; Knuuttila 1981,1993a). Hintikka (1957 69– 71) shows that modal and temporal concepts coin-cide in Aristotle; he endorses not only (P) but three additional principles: 1. That which is, always is by necessity. 2. Nothing eternal is contingent. 3. That which never is, is impossible (Hintikka 1957, 69– 71).Philosopher Simo Knuuttila (1981, 1993a) has amply shown that the medi-eval Scholastics knew and employed this kind of “statistical” or “temporal-frequency ” view of modalities. Knuuttila (1981, 199), following Lovejoy (1960),suggests both that (P) was retained because it had played such an important rolein ancient philosophy—despite the fact that it contradicted the doctrine of cre-ation—and that there was no real alternative to (P) before Duns Scotus (c. 1266 –1308) elaborated the Nominalist approach (165– 66; Normore 2003, 129). Augustine (c. 354–430), for example, thought that in creation, God chosethe actual course of history from among a set of alternatives (see Knuuttila2001). But how could these be genuine possibilities if they were never real-ized? How could God be free either to create or not to create the world if allpossibilities must be realized at some point in time? Unfortunately, Augustinedid not develop the idea of the unrealized divine possibilities any further; inother passages, he even seems to think that all true possibilities have beenrealized in the actual world, or that God does not let unrealized possibilities bereal alternatives for natural events (Knuuttila 1981, 199). In the early medievaldoctrine of God’s omnipotence, the idea of unrealized divine possibilities wasstill commonly accepted, but its implications for the theory of modality werenot seriously considered (224–25, 236). Aquinas, for example, follows Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109) in argu-ing that by “God” is meant that thing than which nothing greater can be
    • 110 supernatural agencyconceived.12 As that which exists both in reality and in mind is greater than thatwhich exists only mentally, a perfect God must also have extramental existence(Summa theologiae I q. 2 a. 1). Theology thus is the science of an existing being,not of a mental concept that the human mind tends to produce. We can knowsomething of God through negations ( he is unmoved, etc.) but also positively,by way of analogy. Aquinas says, for example: “when we say ‘God is good,’the meaning is not ‘God is the cause of goodness’ or ‘God is not evil’; but themeaning is ‘Whatever good we attribute to creatures, preexists in God,’ and in amore excellent and higher way ” (I q. 13 a. 1–12). Yet “it is impossible to predicateanything of God and creatures univocally ” (I q. 13 a. 5); humans’ words onlydescribe God analogically (equivocally). There were five ways it was possible to prove the existence of God (Summatheologiae I q. 2 a. 3; see Kenny 2007, 303–2). First, anything in process ofchange is being changed by something else, because a thing in the processof change cannot itself cause the change. To cause a change is to bring intobeing what was previously only a possibility; this can only be done by some-thing that already is. Thus, there is a chain of changes that goes back to a firstcause of change not being changed by anything else. “This is what everybodyunderstands by God” (“et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum”). The second argumentpostulates a first cause of everything and is difficult to distinguish from the firstargument. Third, some beings can exist but need not exist. This implies that there wasa time when they did not exist. If all beings were like this, there would havebeen a time when nothing existed. But then nothing could have ever come intobeing, which clearly is not the case. Therefore, there has to be a being that mustexist and that owes this necessity to no other thing. Fourth, things can be more good, more true, more noble, and so on. Some-thing thus must be the truest, best, and noblest of all things. It is by the sametoken a being that is most fully in being (“et per consequens maxime ens”),because Aristotle said that the truest things are the things most fully in being.It is this that we call God. Fifth, all bodies obeying natural laws tend toward a goal. Yet nothing thatlacks awareness can tend to a goal, except under the direction of someone withawareness and understanding. This is what we call God. Aquinas then describes God as characterized by the following features(Summa theologiae I q. 3 a. 1–8, as summarized in the Caramello ed.): 1. Not having a body (“Deum non esse corpus”) 2. Not being a composition of matter (materiam) and form ( forma) 3. Being one with his essence (essentia) and nature (natura) 4. Being not only his essence but also his existence 5. Not being in any genus as a species (“Deus non est in genere sicut species”) or as a cause (sicut principium)
    • god as supernatural agent 111 6. Lacking “accidents” (accidens) 7. Being totally one (“Deum omnino esse simplicem”) 8. Not being combined with anythingA central role is played by the view that there are no metaphysical distinctionsin God, including the distinction between subject and attribute (Leftow 1990).Before the Nominalist turn, most Scholastics agreed that God was identicalwith his necessary intrinsic attributes, such as omnipotence and omniscience,although this seems to make God an abstract object (Leftow 1990; see Cross2005, 103–14; Wolfson 1961).13 For Aquinas, God was in a way the superattri-bute of his own essence (essentia) and existence. There were no distinctions inGod, although the words used to describe him were not simply synonymous(Cross 2005, 103–4). Although Aquinas may at first blush seem to be engaged in extremelyabstract reasoning with little point of contact with the reality of everyday think-ing, we should not let this prevent us from seeing the natural folk-psychologicalbackground of his argumentation. The central theme is the relationshipbetween the mental and the physical-biological. God is not a material bodygiven a form by the soul (cf. Aristotle), and there are no other distinctions inhim, because he has existence and an essence but nothing attributed “on top”of that essence, as it were. Thus, it is the philosophically elaborated folk theo-ries of matter and living kinds that Aquinas wants to exclude from descriptionsof God. It seems that Aquinas’s God is something like pure mentality, althoughthis is not directly said. Yet Aquinas does not say that God lacks beliefs anddesires; he only denies material properties and relationships to God. God obvi-ously has beliefs and desires; it is because of these beliefs and desires that theuniverse exists, being God’s willful creation. God is the ultimate explanationon which all other explanations are anchored, the first intention that broughtintentionality into the world (cf. Lawson and McCauley’s [1990] idea of ritualchains). Hintikka (1957, 77) points out the obvious when he observes that the thirdproof of the existence of God clearly relies on (P): the possibility of existenceentails actuality at some moment of time. If it is possible that God exists, hemust exist at least sometimes. But as it belongs to the concept of God that he iseternal, he thus must exist by necessity and always. There are various modernversions of this argument (Plantinga 1968, 123– 72); from a modern secularist ’spoint of view, they all simply boil down to the claim that God must exist becausehe is defined to exist (Edis 2002, 23–27; Martin 1990, 80 –95). For Anselm andAquinas, however, the possibility of the existence of God necessitated the actualexistence, because “God exists” is either necessarily true or is false; as it ispossibly true, it is possibly necessary, and what is possibly necessary is (neces-sarily) necessary (see Morris 1987, 179–83; on Duns Scotus’s modifications ofthis, see Cross 2005, 36 –39). If it is possible that God exists always, this fact
    • 112 supernatural agencymust also be realized in actuality, because no genuine possibility can remainunrealized. Thus, the Scholastic descriptions of God are highly abstract elaborationsof a belief and desire psychology, using the cognitive capacity for formingcounterfactuals. God has mentality because he has beliefs and desires (thequestion of his animacy may be a more difficult one). God is immovable andthus cannot be said to be self-propelled or to move in a goal-directed fashion.Yet he makes things happen in the material world. Evil spirits have to invadehuman bodies to cause something in the material world; God obviously doesnot have to (although he was only able to save humans by becoming a human).His mentality does not have spatiality because he is not a composition of mat-ter and form as humans are, being material bodies that are given a form by asoul (Aristotle). By the same token, it is very difficult to think that God has alocation. It thus seems as though Scholastics such as Aquinas tried to describeGod as pure mentality. The result is a concept whose relationship with thematerial world is a complete mystery. This makes it easy or at least possible todefend this concept against all kinds of empirical criticism; this advantage,however, comes at the cost of the relative impossibility of making empiricalinferences from the concept of God. Nevertheless, people have tried to do justthat with regard to God’s mentality; an important theme has been the freedomof the will and its relationship with God’s omniscience.4.1.4 Freedom of the Will and Modal LogicKnuuttila (1981, 165, 195–98) observes that (P) was first rejected by the Nomi-nalists (nominales) of the twelfth century, who argued that the truth-value ofa proposition does not change: for example, when persons who lived beforeChrist believed that Christ would be incarnated, they held the same belief asthose who later believed that Christ had been incarnated. The truth-value of aproposition could not change over time, propositions being temporally defi-nite. Therefore, the statistical interpretation of modality made no sense. If aproposition was true, it was always but not therefore necessarily true. Orthodox Aristotelians condemned this view, although the later thinkersDuns Scotus (c. 1266 –1308) and William Ockham (c. 1290 –1349), among oth-ers, seem to have adopted it. Scotus is the first to use the expression “logi-cal possibility ” ( possibile logicum) and distinguish it from the concept of realpossibility (Knuuttila 1981, 231, 1993a, 143; Normore 2003, 129; see Cross1999). “Being logically possible” means that one without contradiction canthink that something takes place in at least one of a set of alternative states ofaffairs. According to Scotus, in order to avoid determinism, it was necessaryto assume that something that existed or took place could have existed or hap-pened differently in the same moment of time (Knuuttila 1981, 217–34, 1993a,138–49).
    • god as supernatural agent 113 In the fourth chapter of his Tractatus de primo principio, Duns Scotus arguesthat the principles of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic metaphysics are at odds withthe idea of the contingency of the world. When something is caused contin-gently, its first cause must also be contingent and thus something voluntary(Knuuttila 1981, 218; Cross 2005, 55–89).14 Contingency here means, unlike inAristotle, that at the same moment that something happens, its opposite couldhave happened (Knuuttila 1981, 220 –21). Scotus says: “I do not call somethingcontingent because it is not always or necessarily the case, but because itsopposite could be actual at the very moment when it occurs” (Ord. I, d. 2, p. 1,q. 1–2, quoted in Knuuttila 1993a, 143). If there is no alternative to a temporallydefinite event, it cannot be said to be contingent (Knuuttila 1981, 222). Such modal logical considerations have a direct application to the prob-lem of free will. The ancient statistical interpretation of possibility went handin hand with the view that one acted out of a free will when one acted on thebasis of an inner motive, even if one could not have done otherwise in a givensituation. Only when one was compelled to act by an external force was one’saction not voluntary (see Wolfson 1961, 171– 74). Freedom of the will thus didnot mean that one could have done other than what one actually did. Scotus, however, says: “Hence, if we assume that the will exists at somemoment only, then it wills freely and ‘it wills freely’ only because it can not-will.” The proposition “the will willing at a, can be not-willing at a” is true inthe “divided sense” (sensu divisionis) (Lect. 1.39.52). The distinction betweendivided and composite senses derives from Aristotle’s argument (Soph. el.166a22–30) that the meaning of a statement changed according to whether itselements were understood in the composite or in the divided sense. In the caseof, for example, the sentence “A man can walk while sitting,” if one combinedthe words, it meant that it was possible to walk-while-sitting, as though it werepossible to walk and sit at the same. But if one divided the words, the sentencemeant that a man had the power ( potentia) to sit while he was walking, whichwas possible, according Aristotle. In this divided sense, the possibility had to beactualized at another time, however (Knuuttila 1981, 167– 68). When Scotus said that “ ‘the will willing at a, can be not-willing at a’ istrue in the divided sense,” he thought that the power ( potentia) to will couldactualize the logical possibility, without it being necessary that this potentia everbe actualized (Lect. 1.39.51, translator ’s comment in Duns Scotus 1994, 119).Even if the will could not will a thing and its opposite at one and the sametime, it was free “in regard to opposite acts” (“Voluntas enim nostra libera estad actus opposites”; 1.39.45).15 A standing person could, for example, will notto stand. The divided sense not only meant willing different things at differ-ent times, but also that while willing something, the will could be not willing(Knuuttila 1981, 226). Thus: “Hence, if we assume that the will exists at somemoment only, then it wills freely and ‘it wills freely’ only because it can not-will”(1.39.52). The divine will, however, is infinitely more free than ours; therefore,
    • 114 supernatural agencyit can “only have one single volition, and therefore it can will opposite objectsby one single volition” (Lect. 1.39.53). Thus, throughout Lectura 1.139, Scotus developed the argument to showthat the contingency of things was compatible with God’s knowledge: as a full-access agent, God had foreknowledge about everything; yet this did not lead todeterminism (which would deprive human actions of intentionality). Naturalphenomena were causally necessary, but they took place in a world that wasonly one of several possibilities; thus, the truths about the actual world were notconceptually necessary (unlike in Aristotelianism), and it was clearly meaning-ful to try to study the reality empirically (Knuuttila 1981, 223). God as the firstcause did not act by necessity but was free to choose which kind of world hecreated (225, 1993a, 143). Nor did Scotus (or Ockham) think that future contin-gent sentences were known to God because the flux of time was simultaneouslypresent to God (Knuuttila 1993a, 145). Scotus thought that God foresaw thefuture because he was aware of his own intentions; future events were contin-gent because God’s decrees about the world were contingent. Ockham pointedout that this did not help reconcile human free will and God’s foreknowledge(Kenny 2007, 309). Yet both Scotus and Ockham considered natural theologyto be possible in a positive way, even though part of the Christian doctrinecould only be understood by divine grace. Some of the Scholastics thus admit-ted that God as pure mentality was a massively counterintuitive idea.4.1.5 The Knowability of GodMoses Maimonides had argued that the only sound way of describing God wasthrough negations. Although it had been proved that God existed by necessityand that he was noncomposite, it was thought that we could only apprehendthat he was, not what he was. God thus could not have any positive attributes.Saying that God was living only meant that he was not dead, for example (Guideof the Perplexed 1.58; see Kenny 2007, 50 –53). Duns Scotus dismissed the dis-tinction between negative and positive knowledge of God (see Mann 2003,240 –42). Without mentioning Maimonides explicitly, he pointed out four prob-lems with negative theology.16 First, negations could only be known through affirmations; there couldthus be no simple negative concepts, negations always being parasitic on somepositive concept. Yet God was supposed to be simple. Second, all negativedescriptions of God were understood to be true only insofar as they deniedsomething of God that contradicted some such affirmation that was known tobe true. Our knowledge of this affirmation could not be explained negatively.Third, love of God could not be directed at a mere negation. Fourth, negationscould either be substantival or predicative. Substantivally, for example, “notstone” referred to a set of objects that were not stones. Predicatively, “not stone”indicated that the subject in question either was not a stone or was not made
    • god as supernatural agent 115of stone (Mann 2003, 241–42). We could also say that when “not stone” wasunderstood de dicto, it referred to whatever entity had the property of not beinga stone. Understood de re, it meant that there was a specified entity that had theproperty of not being a stone. Thus, the substantival argument saying “God isnot bad” attributed to God everything that was not bad; consequently, it failedto distinguish God from other good things. If “God is not bad” was used pred-icatively, it presupposed a grounding in something positive (242). Scotus thought that natural knowledge of God had to consist of a positiveconcept that was acquired naturally and applied uniquely to God (Mann 2003,240, 242). The fact that some creatures were wise, for example, was the basisof the natural concept of wisdom. However, when we said that God was wise,we did not mean that God had the (separate) property of being wise but thatGod was wisdom itself. Our natural concept of God was “quidditative,” in that itaddressed the question “What kind (of thing) is God?” The quiddity of a thingexplained why its essential properties were essential to it (243–45; see Ockham,Quodlibet 2, q. 4, Ockham 1991, p. 105–107). But what reason did we have to think that the naturally acquired conceptof wisdom applied to God? In contrast to Aquinas, Scotus emphasized that indescribing God, we were not using natural concepts only analogically; conceptssuch as “wisdom” applied to humans and God equally (univocally). No naturalconcept of God could be both simple and equivocal (Knuuttila 1993a, 141). Ifthere was a simple concept of God, it had to be univocal. We could not bothaffirm and deny a concept, such as “wisdom,” of God; second, a valid con-cept had to be such that it did not allow one to pass from true premises of asyllogism to a false conclusion (Mann 2003, 245–47). Scotus then claimed that God had all “unqualified” perfections possible;he also possessed nothing that was not an unqualified perfection. A qualifiedperfection was such that it had limits: sharpness, for example, was a limitedperfection because it was good only in some of the things that could be sharp.An unqualified perfection had no intrinsic limitations and did not confer limi-tations on its possessor. We had concepts of unqualified perfections becausewe found the ( limited) perfections in creatures. We then understood that theseperfections were maximally ( but univocally) realized in God. In possessing allunqualified perfections, each realized to its maximum degree, God was infinitebeing. Infinity was here not a property of an infinite being but an “intrinsicmode” of that being (i.e. God) (Mann 2003, 247–51). Thus, natural reason could reach the conclusion that omniscient, omnip-otent God existed but not such conclusions as that God was triune and a con-tingently acting creator. The latter understanding represents supernaturalknowledge, which characteristically is not accompanied by a knowledge thatone knows (supernaturally) (Mann 2003, 252– 60). In the thirteenth and four-teenth centuries, the relationship between Aristotelian logic and divine revela-tion was discussed in the context of the doctrine of Trinity, for example. Robert
    • 116 supernatural agencyHolcot (d. 1349), for instance, thought that the human intellect had been sothoroughly corrupted in the Fall that it was unable to understand divine mat-ters without the grace of God. In his Questions on Peter Lombard’s Sentences,he admitted that although God could cause faith in some people, the articlesof faith had to remain mysteries. Natural logic and the “logic of faith” did notoverlap. Holcot seems to have thought that drawing inferences from revealedpropositions required a supernatural logic, but he did not develop this ideafurther and may later have changed his position (Knuuttila 1993b, 348–49;Levi 2002, 63). William of Ockham argued in the third part of his Summa logicae (3.360.29–32) that in the light of natural reason, the articles of faith were improbable,incomprehensible, and apparently false (Knuuttila 1993a, 152; 1993b, 351). “Anarticle of faith cannot be proved evidently (evidens)” (Quodlibet 1, q. 1, Ockham1991, p. 5). Our insufficient knowledge of the true nature of Trinity thus pre-vented us from using Trinitarian propositions as premises in reasoning. Inprinciple, we could only understand the laws governing the alien, supernaturalworld of God by learning a new system of symbolic representation (see Nor-more 1990; Tweedale 1990). Unfortunately, it was not possible for humans toimprove the natural understanding of the supernatural world; the semanticrelations of the “mental language” of thinking were inaccessible (see Kenny2007, 144–45; Knuuttila 1993b, 355–56). In the Quodlibet (2, q. 3, theses 1–2),Ockham argued that only “one who is happy in heaven and sees God” could,for example, infer that God was three and one, whereas the “wayfarer ” (via-tor) on earth only accepted it on faith. As Anthony Kenny (2007, 309) putsit, this point of view is a combination of “devout fideism and philosophicalagnosticism.”17 Ockham’s thesis seems to have been more radical than Heidegger ’s andGadamer ’s views of natural, verbal language as the universal medium (see theappendix and chapter 2, section 2.1). If the semantics of the language of thoughtwere inaccessible, then the human cognitive system (thinking), as well as lin-guistic systems, was a fixed system that could not be looked at from outside,changed, or manipulated (Pyysiäinen 2004d, 21; cf. Knuuttila 1993b, 355–56).If a proposition could not be conceptualized in the language of mind and yetwas claimed to be sound, it had to refer to a supernatural world that was totallydifferent from the natural reality that the language of mind referred to (Knuut-tila 1993b, 351, 353, 355). This is like an anticipation of Jerry Fodor ’s remark(1983, 122) that explaining the reality as a whole might require “one more neu-ron than, de facto, anyone will ever have.” Ockham applied his idea only tosome Trinitarian formulations, but Holcot generalized it to all revealed theol-ogy: natural and supernatural discourses were totally unconnected and naturaltheology impossible (Knuuttila 1993a, 152–53, 1993b, 353–54). The doctrine ofthe Trinity thus was something a Christian had to believe without understand-ing it (Knuuttila 1993a, 151). From a cognitive scientific perspective, it can be
    • god as supernatural agent 117predicted that this means trouble in the context of folk psychology. Incompre-hensible concepts and beliefs may be quoted as being “true,” but it is difficultto make relevant inferences from them.4.1.6 Reason and the ReformationOckham’s view of revealed knowledge was clearly a case of the kind of meta-representation Sperber speaks of: poorly understood concepts and beliefs arequoted in the validating metarepresentational context of “is true.” Here, how-ever, it was not a question of propositions with an undecided truth-value butof propositions that were outright incomprehensible. They could be quoted astrue statements, but no rational inferences could be made from them. Holcot ’sposition thus resembles Protestant agnosticism, which denies natural knowl-edge of God and puts strong emphasis on God’s revelation. This attitude typi-fied Luther’s thought but was perhaps best exemplified by the reformed view ofKarl Barth (1886 –1968). Barth saw a deep gap between God as the foundationand religion as a vain attempt to go beyond human limits in an attempt to reachthe foundation. God’s revelation came “directly from above” and was not con-strained by the human capacity for knowing. This seemed to lead to the conclu-sion that humans cannot know anything about God, and Barth gladly acceptedthis. For him, the theologian’s greatest anguish was in the simultaneous neces-sity and impossibility of speaking of God. Compared to this, everything elsewas “mere child’s play ” (Moltman 1974, 199; Barth 1980, 225–38; see Tillich1955, 1–3). “When men stretch out their hands and touch the link which bindsthem to God, when they touch the tree in the midst of the garden, which oughtnot to be touched, they are by this presumptuous contact separated from Him”(Barth 1980, 247–48; see Wilson 2007, 171–87). Scotus and Ockham, however, thought that natural theology was possible;it just had its limits. Although some aspects of God could only be accepted onfaith, others could be understood by natural reason. Such a concept of Godarose very much from Aristotle’s conception of the unmoved mover as the firstcause and the “first philosophy ” or theology as the science of eternal substances(Phys. 260a.1–2, Met. 1026a, 1071b–1072a). The anthropomorphic God of bib-lical narratives is here almost completely irrelevant, the only common featurebeing that both Yahweh and Deus are creators of the visible world. As ThomasMorris (1987, 10) puts it: “Many philosophers who travel the high road of apriorism are a bit perplexed by their Biblicist colleagues and find the God of thetwo testaments something of an embarrassment.” Scholastic theology involved a highly reflective attempt at mapping thebounds and capacities of the human mind that made natural knowledge ofGod possible. This meant analyzing a concept that was so far removed fromthe intuitive concept of God that it might even be misleading to speak of “God”in this context. We have to bear in mind that in the Aristotelian theological
    • 118 supernatural agencytradition, theology was a “science of everything,” in that it was the foundationof a huge conceptual system that included everything there was to be known.In medieval times, people believed that Aristotle had made all empirical obser-vations that were necessary and there no longer was any need to try to findsomething new about reality. Scientific inquiry (“natural philosophy ”) merelymeant learning and organizing the extant body of knowledge; Scotus and Ock-ham were perhaps the first to realize that new facts about nature might befound by empirical inquiry, although this was more fully realized only duringthe Enlightenment. Alistair Crombie (1971, 1, 16 –18, 24–35) claims that it wasthe thirteenth-century philosophers who “transformed the Greek geometricalmethod into the experimental science of the modern world.” In the twelfth andearly thirteenth centuries, the practical arts’ empiricism confronted the concep-tion of rational explanation. The “God” of the Scholastics was a concept thatserved as the ultimate anchor of everything in the grand scheme of Aristotelianscience. But the more sophisticated Aristotelian-based theology became, the morecontradictions were introduced. The gap between natural reason and doctrinalformulations widened until Scholasticism as a theological system reached apoint of disintegration (Levi 2002, 65). John Wyclif (1330?–1384), an early criticof Scholasticism and Nominalism, defended philosophical realism againstScholastic “sophistry ”: anyone who believed in objective truth was by the sametoken committed to belief in real universals. If A resembled B in respect to C,C-ness was a property of A and B; understanding this C-ness was equivalent tounderstanding a universal common to A and B, namely, C-ness. As Ockhamcould not explain how his “mental language” was related to verbal language(Latin), Wyclif wanted to force the conversation back to the reality of soundsand ink marks, thus—in Kenny’s ironic words—“anticipating Wittgenstein’smethod of philosophizing by turning latent nonsense into patent nonsense”(2007, 151–53). Wyclif was also an outspoken critic of the pope and argued that religiousauthority came through personal piety, not ecclesiastical hierarchy. He starteda project of translating the Bible in vernacular, which was probably completedby his followers, who were known as Lollards (possibly from Dutch lollaerd,“a mumbler”). Wyclif was finally expelled from Oxford University because ofhis teaching that the bread and wine at Mass were the body and blood of Christonly in the same analogical sense that paper and ink in the Bible were theword of God. However, Wyclif had initiated a new movement that was to per-sist among not only his immediate followers but also the followers of Jan Husin Bohemia, among others (Kenny 2007, 99–102, 211–13). As Anthony Levi(2002, 65) argues, by the mid–fourteenth century it had become clear thatScholasticism was “leading to a catastrophic alienation from the properly reli-gious function it was expected to fulfill.” Massively counterintuitive doctrinesdid not have the required inferential potential; it was also impossible for the
    • god as supernatural agent 119Catholic Church to maintain unity and loyalty in the large geographical area ofwestern Europe (see Diamond 1999; chapter 3, section 3.2 here). The Reformation thus can be seen as a reaction to the loss of relevance(understood in the Sperberian sense) of Christian beliefs. If concepts andbeliefs are relevant to people to the extent that they are able to process themcognitively in the context of everyday life and without too much cognitive effort(Sperber and Wilson 1988), the Christian doctrines certainly suffered a rel-evance problem. As it is difficult to make practical inferences from abstract andreflective theological concepts and formulations, people are likely to abandonsuch processing at the outset, favoring concepts and beliefs that yield the sameamount of inferences with less effort. From Martin Luther ’s perspective, for example, Scholastic theology hadlost contact with ordinary everyday life, although Luther was in some respectsinfluenced by Ockham and Nominalism and called Ockham “mein lieber Meis-ter ” (1909, 30/2:300, lines 9–10; Gerrish 1962, 45–56; cf. Levi 2002, 66 – 67,272). Nominalism with regard to universals such as “humanity ” also went wellwith Luther ’s emphasis on the individual. But although Luther did praise thewonderful powers of human reason, he considered reason to be useful only inearthly matters. It could never reach God; even to attempt anything like know-ing God by natural means was preposterous. Humans were totally dependenton God and could only know anything about him through his self-revelation inChrist and the Bible. Theology had to be based on biblical revelation, and allexternal, metaphysical speculations rejected. Even apparent paradoxes in thedoctrine, such as the fact that man was supposed to be simul iustus et peccator,had to be accepted as such (Gerrish 1962; Spitz 1985, 84–87). Inspired by Ockham and Holcot, Luther thought there was a deep gap sepa-rating natural reason and articles of faith (Denifle 1906 –9, 1:3, 609). Althoughtruths can never contradict one another, one and the same proposition couldbe true in one discipline but not in another. That the Word came into fleshwas true in theology but an absurdity in philosophy, for example.18 As Gerrish(1962, 52–54) puts it, “word of God and faith” was “another dialectic ” that wouldreplace natural reason in theology. Yet we must bear in mind that in Luther, thisdistinction ran much deeper than in Ockham, who considered natural reasonto be capable of understanding that there was a God. Luther reserved a place fornatural reason only in earthly matters. Thus, to restore the lost relevance of theology, one had to go back to thevery roots from which the elaborate theological concepts had arisen, (the mythsof ) the Bible, and interpret the Bible literally (“grammatically ”), not allegori-cally (see Frei 1974, 18–37). In this regard, two contradictory tendencies werepresent in Luther. He wanted to restore the relevance of religion in everydaylife, but he criticized the use of natural reason in religious contexts ( becauseit had led to nonrelevant speculation). The latter concern related to the dis-tinction between the “worldly ” and “spiritual” kingdoms (see Braaten and
    • 120 supernatural agencyJenson 1998). By separating the spiritual from the social, Luther made it prob-lematic to find the practical relevance of religion. As religion becomes purelya matter of personal experience, detached from the social reality, it is difficultto see how it can contribute to social affairs and cooperation (see Pyysiäinen2001b, 174– 79). What unites the group of “believers” in a religious sense is thesharing of the same experience, not anything over and above subjective experi-ence (see Pyysiäinen 2004a, 2005e). There seems to have been a long-term historical development that finallyled to the modern separation of reason and religion (see Dawkins 2006;Dennett 2006; Hitchens 2007). Reason was assigned a new task within thesciences, while the concept of God became a problem that cried for an expla-nation. God was even said to be dead.19 While in Catholicism the highestauthority always has rested with the Church and its tradition, Protestantismascribed this authority solely to the Bible. The Bible thus became the very foun-dation of religion (cf. Phillips 1995; see Biderman 1995; O’Flaherty 1979). TheBible was supposed to be explained only by itself; one should not try to findany external evidence or argumentative support for biblical claims (Biderman1995; Pyysiäinen 1999; 2004d, 160 – 71). For Luther, scripture was the mostcertain and comprehensible source of truth, interpreting itself (“Scriptura suiipsius interpres”) and capable of providing judgment of all the words of allmen (1897, 7:96 –97). “Scriptura per scripturam interpretanda et concilianda,”as Johan Bengel argued in 1742 (1855, 33). To study the Bible relying on somenonbiblical standards and evaluating its truth claims critically in the light ofexternal evidence directly challenged its foundational role (see Räisänen 2000;Wyatt 2005, 165). The Bible is often treated as if it were an agent. Just asone ordinarily thought that a person herself knew best what it was she reallymeant when she said something, the Bible itself was the best guide to whatindividual passages in it meant. The Bible thus seemed to be an intentionalagent and could speak to people in their different situations (see Malley 2004).The agentive properties of God were thus attributed to a physical object: Godspoke through the Bible, in that the Bible was an agent representing God muchas the priest represented God in rituals. The difference between Scholastic and Protestant theology seems roughlyto conform to Thomas Morris’s (1987, 10) distinction between “the God of rea-son” and “the God of faith and history ” (see also Tillich 1955). There are thosewho think that the idea of God as the greatest possible being is self-evident apriori and those who are committed to an a posteriori, experiential mode ofdeveloping the idea of God. The latter build their view of God on the ideas ofreligious experience and revelation. What is in question here is a shift in the context in relation to which reli-gious concepts acquire relevance in cognitive processing. The “God of reason”is relevant in the context of abstract thinking aiming at an exhaustive theo-retical description of reality, apart from more practical concerns. Its cognitive
    • god as supernatural agent 121processing requires much cognitive effort. One must dedicate much of one’stime to developing the needed personal database and learning the explicit rulesof processing the pertinent sentences. This, again, requires institutions thatsupport such activity; the Church, its monasteries, and later the universitiesprovided the proper institutional framework for the Scholastics. The “God of history and revelation” acquires relevance in the context ofpersonal experience, emotions, and feelings (“faith”). It serves a more directlyemotional function, relates to people’s intuitions, and can be used to generatepractical inferences in everyday life in an emotionally satisfying manner (seethe appendix). Such intuitive thinking does not require as much external sup-port as the reflective thinking behind the “God of reason.” As its applicationsare in the context of everyday life, it is little wonder that Luther, for example,was led to leave the monastery and to marry. Yet the spirit of the Reformationinvolves the paradox that while faith has replaced reason in matters religious,great efforts have been made to argue against “magical” and “superstitious” ele-ments in religion and thus to make religion “reasonable.” As I will show in thenext section, Protestant theology reinterpreted Christianity to fit the scientificworldview. The first steps toward rationalizing Christianity in the light of mundaneconcerns were taken in the critical study of the scripture that began withRenaissance humanists’ interest in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, con-tinued with Spinoza’s theological reflections and later Strauss’s Leben Jesu, andevolved into the modern debates about the justification of historical exegesis(Frei 1974, 17–18, 51– 65, 233–44; Penner and van der Stichele 2005; Räisänen2000). Scripture became a meeting point between faith and reason because itoccupied a very special place in Protestant Christianity. Without the historical basis of the biblical texts, theological ideas wouldapparently be about nothing (see Pyysiäinen 2005c, 299). Therefore, it isimportant for theologians to anchor their systems in the historical events ofthe life of Jesus as described in biblical texts. At the same time, it is impor-tant that mere historical study is irrelevant from the theological point of view,because there is always a potential conflict between historical facts and thedogma. Some day, for example, historians might come to the conclusion thatJesus never actually lived. The relationship between theology and history isasymmetrical, in that theology must be anchored in history, but history readthrough the lens of the dogma. Consequently, the emphasis on history and onscripture as foundational have laid the Christian faith open to new criticismsbased on scientific and philosophical grounds (e.g. Stenger 2007). Protestant philosophy of religion and philosophical theology are by andlarge post-Enlightenment reactionary phenomena, attempts to rescue the ratio-nality of faith in the face of a continually increasing empirical knowledge ofreality. Philosophers and theologians mostly try to show in what way religion isrational, not to evaluate whether it is rational; atheist philosophers, in turn, try
    • 122 supernatural agencyto show that these arguments fail (see Martin 1990; Nielsen 1985, 1989; Stumpand Murray 1999; Taliaferro and Griffiths 2003; Yandell 1999). For a “believer,”three basic strategies are available. First, one can be claimed that belief in Godcan stand the test of science (Swinburne 1996; see Peters et al. 2002; cf. Edis2002; Stenger 2007). This minority view comes close to being eccentric. Second, one might claim that it is equally rational to believe (without pre-tending to know) that belief in God is a foundational truth as to believe that sci-entific truth is foundational (see Phillips 1995, xiii–xiv, 14–122). This is becausethe foundationalist thesis itself is not a foundational proposition. By founda-tionalism is meant the view that a belief is justified only if it can be rationallyrelated to propositions that make up the foundation of all beliefs. Representa-tives of the so-called Reformed epistemology point out that if only self-evidentor incorrigible propositions can be accepted as foundational, then we need toask how do we know this? The foundationalist does not arrive at her or hisfoundationalism as a result of scientific inquiry (xiii). Alvin Plantinga (1990),for example, regards the belief that God exists as a kind of foundational beliefsimilar to the one that other minds exist; it is based neither on empirical evi-dence nor on deductive reasoning (cf. Barrett 2004b, 97–105). Arguments forthe existence of God thus are not needed for rational belief (see Martin 1990,266 – 77). But as anybody or any group can claim that their belief systems arerationally justified once one accepts the “basic beliefs” of their system, the vieweffectively stops all rational debate (272– 76). The third alternative is to refrain from evaluating to what extent religiousbeliefs refer to a reality that lies beyond them. The so-called Wittgensteinianphilosophers of religion claim that the distinction between real and unreal itselfmakes sense only within certain epistemic practices (Phillips 1995, 2000).John Wisdom (1944) observed over fifty years ago that the existence of Godwas no longer an experimental issue in the way it used to be, precisely becausepeople now had better knowledge of why things happen as they do. Whereasquestions such as “Do dogs think?” are partly metaphysical (conceptual ) andpartly scientific (empirical ), questions about God had gradually become whollymetaphysical (188, 191–93; see Pyysiäinen 2005b, 91). Belief thus is not a question of some persons expecting something to bethe case while others do not. One cannot say who is right and who is wrong.Yet the difference is not merely in the exclamations with which each partyfaces life. Believers and nonbelievers debate as if they are concerned with sometranssensual and transscientific facts. Yet the dispute also involves feelings andthus is more like a debate over the alleged beauty of an object ( Wisdom 1944,192, 196). In my view, this all boils down to the following: folk psychologycontradicts science; religion is essentially based on folk psychology; therefore,religion contradicts science. But as folk psychology is here to stay, religion alsoseems to be here to stay. One may criticize religion from the scientific point ofview, but science cannot replace religion or folk psychology in general.
    • god as supernatural agent 1234.2 Theology and God in the Wild4.2.1 Modern Protestant Theology4.2.1.1 the doctrines. In this section, I look at theology through the writingsof one individual theologian, Paul Tillich. His views are not necessarily rep-resentative of the official teachings of the Protestant churches, yet they repre-sent well the kind of cognitively costly religious ideas that have been producedwithin the Christian tradition. Before discussing Tillich’s views, I will briefly outline western Christianity’smain ideas about God, as expressed in such official documents as the threeecumenical or universal Creeds of the early, undivided Church (the Apostles’Creed, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed), TheCatechism of the Catholic Church, and the Augsburg Confession of the Lutheranchurches. The latter two documents express and elaborate the views of thethree Creeds (see Kelly 1989, 41–48, 223–309; Ott 1974; Pöhlman 1973). The Catholic Church teaches that “God is one in nature, substance andessence” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §200). This is based on the deci-sion of the Council of Nicaea (in 325) that as the Son of God, Christ was of thesame essence or substance (Gr. ousía, Lat. substantia) with the Father. He wasalso “born, not made.” In the so-called Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, whichmay derive from the Council of Constantinople (381), belief in the Holy Spirit( hagios pneuma, spiritus sanctus) was added (see Kelly 1989, 231–47; Ott 1974,52–53, 59– 75; Pöhlman 1973, 146 –56).20 The Council of Chalcedon (451) deter-mined that the relations between the three persons of the Trinity were as fol-lows (see Kelly 1989, 338–43): In agreement, therefore, with the holy fathers, we all unanimously teach that we should confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same Son, the same perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, the same of rational soul and body, consubstantial [Gr. homoúsios, Lat. consubstantialis] with the Father in Godhead, and the same consubstantial with us in man- hood, like us [ hómoios, similis] in all things except sin; begotten from the Father before the ages as regards His Godhead, and in the last days, the same, because of us and because of our salvation begotten from the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos [Mother of God], as regards his manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, made known in two natures [ fýsis, natura] without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means removed because of the union, but the property of each nature being preserved and coalescing in one prosopon [ person] and one hupostasis [substance]—not parted or divided into
    • 124 supernatural agency two prosopa [ persons], but one and the same Son, only-begotten, divine Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets of old and Jesus Christ Himself have taught us about Him and the creed of our fathers has handed down. (quoted in Kelly 1989, 339–40) Here the idea of the Holy Spirit has been developed into a clearly formu-lated doctrine. The threefold structure is very much reminiscent of the folkconceptions of soul I analyzed in chapter 3. God as Father is free mentalitythat works in the world of humans as the Holy Spirit (which has also inspiredthe text of the Bible) and comes into flesh in Jesus Christ. Christ is a biologicalagent whose real self is God, while the Holy Spirit is an agentive principle thatcan leave and enter bodies. The Holy Spirit thus is in a sense the animatingprinciple of the Trinity. As for God the Father, the Catholic Church “teaches that the one true God,our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty from his works, by thenatural light of human reason” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §47). “God’struth is his wisdom, which commands the whole created order and governs theworld. God, who alone made heaven and earth, can alone impart true knowl-edge of every created thing in relation to himsel f” (§216). God also has a name;he is not an anonymous force (§203). We can “name God, starting from theperfections of his creatures, which are likenesses of the infinitely perfect God,even if our limited language cannot exhaust the mystery ” (§48). The classical proofs for the existence of God provide “converging andconvincing arguments” that allow people to attain certainty about the truth ofGod’s existence (§31). “Of all visible creatures only man is ‘able to know andlove his creator ’ ” (§356). “It was for this end that he was created, and this isthe fundamental reason for his dignity ” (§356). “Being in the image of God thehuman individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something,but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freelygiving himself and entering into communion with other persons” (§357). “The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’: it is a humanbody precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul” (§364). “The unity ofsoul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’of the body ”; it is “because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matterbecomes a living, human body; spirit and matter.” In a human being, the unionof spirit and matter forms a single nature (§365). Every spiritual and immortalsoul is created immediately by God, not produced by the parents (§366). The “desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is createdby God and for God.” Only in God will humans find the truth and happinessthey never stop searching for (§27). Humans’ whole being is being in God:“The Word of God and his Breath are at the origin of the being and life of everycreature” (§703). But, as “our knowledge of God is limited, our language abouthim is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting
    • god as supernatural agent 125point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and think-ing ” (§40). God transcends all creatures and is inexpressible and incomprehen-sible with humans’ representations (§42). When humans listen to the messageof creation and to the voice of conscience, they can “arrive at certainty about theexistence of God, the cause and the end of everything ” (§46). Yet God is not only the Father but also the Son and the Holy Spirit. God’swork is mediated by the Holy Spirit, in that “the mission of Christ and theHoly Spirit is brought to completion in the Church” (§737): the Spirit preparesmen and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. TheSpirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens theirminds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes presentthe mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, tobring them into communion with God, that they may “bear much fruit.” Just as Paul affirmed the human body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit,the Church as the mystical body of Christ is the temple of the Holy Spirit(§737). “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body ofChrist, which is the Church” (§797). As an invisible principle, the Spirit ofChrist is responsible for the fact that “all the parts of the body are joined onewith the other and with their exalted head; for the whole Spirit of Christ isin the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each ofthe members.” In this way, the Holy Spirit makes the Church “the temple of theliving God” (§797; see de Lubac 2006). The Augsburg Confession, for its part, starts with the following claim (1):“Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Coun-cil of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning theThree Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting; that is to say,there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, withoutbody, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker andPreserver of all things, visible and invisible; and yet there are three Persons, ofthe same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son, andthe Holy Ghost.”21 God thus is three persons who are of one substance, eternal and undivided.In Luther ’s writings, however, God is not so much an Absolute, existing initself, as a person who acts in history. In his wrath, God is a hidden God (Deusabsconditus), while in his grace he is the revealed God (Deus revelatus). Wraththus is not part of God’s essence; it only means that his essence, which is love,is withdrawn (Pöhlmann 1973, 73– 75). Protestant theologians often emphasizethat God’s essence is holiness and love. While holiness sets apart, love unites.Only after having experienced the excruciating holiness of God can a humanbeing fully feel the loving grace of God (81). paul tillich. Individual Protestant theologians have a variety of viewsof God (see, e.g., Wilson 2007). I shall briefly discuss one example that clearly
    • 126 supernatural agencyexemplifies a theological reaction to the challenge of science: the views of PaulTillich.22 They represent the costly end of the cognitive continuum and thusdo not exemplify the spontaneous intuitions of Protestants; nor are they infull agreement with the teaching of the Churches. However, they reveal some-thing about the ways reflective thinking more generally elaborates religiousintuitions. Tillich’s basic idea is that God should be regarded not as a person but“as being-itself or as the ground of being ” ( Tillich 1967, 1:235, 3:235, 3.294).23This idea appears both in his sermons (e.g. Tillich 1948) and theological works(e.g. Tillich 1967). Although there are relatively few explicit references to Hei-degger in Tillich’s Systematic Theology, Tillich was influenced by Heidegger ’s(1987) philosophy of being (see Vunderink 1969). Heidegger ’s (1987) basicstarting point was that philosophers had taken the concepts of “Being ” (Sein)and “being ” (seiend ) as self-evident; he himself wanted to ask the questionsabout Being and being themselves, not merely the philosophical questions thatfollow once we accept that something is in being (that is, “has being ”) in anunproblematic way. David Hopper (1968, 104–5) argues that the ontologicalboundaries of Tillich’s thought were already outlined his 1912 treatise Mystikund Schuldbewusstsein in Schelling ’s philosophische Entwicklung (Mysticism andguilt-consciousness in Schelling ’s philosophical development). His idea of Godas being-itself thus partly arose from Schelling ’s view of the identity betweenthe subjective and the objective and from Cusanus’s idea of the coincidence ofopposites (104–29; Wilson 2007, 222).24 However, it may also be that the Old Testament idea of all beings as shar-ing in God’s animating power also is in the background of Tillich’s theology.25Although the Holy Spirit is not central in Tillich’s argumentation, in the thirdvolume of Systematic Theology he briefly discusses the concept of Spirit. In hisview, Spirit (capitalized) translates the Hebrew rûah and the Greek pneuma andthus refers to the Spirit of God and its effects in humans. It is the power of lifeor power of animation that does not add any new part to a human individual.Philosophers with mystical or ascetic tendencies tend to separate spirit andbody, giving “spirit ” the meaning “mind, intellect.” By the same token, the ele-ment of power gets lost. As “spirit ” is no longer needed in “the doctrine ofman,” it has also lost its religious meaning. A new theological understandingof “spirit ” is therefore needed. To the extent that spirit is a dimension of life,beings with spirit exist but spiritual beings in the sense of spirits or ghosts donot. A transmuted psychophysical existence after death is not Spiritual (capital-ized) and does not correspond to the Christian idea of life eternal. The origi-nal element of power is only retained in “spirited” as a translation of Plato’sthymoeides ( Tillich 1967, 3:21–23). In this sense, human being (Sein) is indeedGod-dependent. The holiness of God consists of his unapproachable character,the impossibility of having a relation with God in the proper sense of the word(1:271, 285).
    • god as supernatural agent 127 God’s being is not the existence of a being alongside others or above others;his being is “being-itself.” God is not a being but being-itself. “Whenever infi-nite or unconditional power and meaning are attributed to the highest being, ithas ceased to be a being and has become being-itself ” ( Tillich 1967, 1:235).Being-itself, ground of being, and power of being thus seem to be synonymous.Tillich claims that it has been known ever since Plato—though disregarded bythe Nominalists and their modern followers—that “the concept of being asbeing, or being-itself, points to the power inherent in everything, the powerof resisting nonbeing ” (1:236). Instead of saying that God is being-itself, it isalso possible to say that God is the infinite power of being in everything. Godmust be being-itself because otherwise he would be subordinate to it, which isimpossible. As being-itself, God is beyond the contrast of essential and existen-tial being (1:235–37, 242). In the Aristotelian tradition, God’s existence is derived from the world,whereas in the Augustinian tradition, the divine existence is included in God’sessence. Aquinas tried to unite these two traditions by deriving the existence ofGod from the world and then arguing that God’s essence and existence wereidentical ( Tillich 1967, 1:236 –37). Tillich accepts that there is no differencebetween God’s essence and existence but also argues that God is being-itselfbeyond essence and existence. We cannot argue about the “existence” of Godbecause, as being-itself, God cannot be said to exist. He cannot be found withinthe totality of beings. It is not the case that the world is given while God must besought in the given world (1:204–05). “It is as atheistic to affirm the existenceof God as it is to deny it ” ( Tillich 1967, 1:237). True pantheism does not meanthat God is everything; instead, God is the substance or essence of everything,the creative power and unity of nature ( Tillich 1967, 1:233–34, 237–38). The question of “why there is something rather than nothing ” is mislead-ing because it suggests that being can be derived from nonbeing. Yet being isthe original fact. The Greeks distinguished between two kinds of nonbeing,denoted by the expressions mèe ón and ouk ón ( Tillich 1967, 1:188; see Chad-wick 1966, 46 –47; Chantraîne 1968, 692, 835). For example, when Clementof Alexandria (d. c. 215) wrote that God created the world “out of nothing,” heused the expression mèe ón, which refers to unformed matter, not absolutenonexistence (Stromata 5.89.6, 5.92.3, 5.126.2). God’s creation thus consistedin giving a form to the unformed matter.26 Around 180 CE, Theophilus ofAntioch (Ad. Autol. 1.4.5) wrote that God had made “everything out of nothing[ex ouk óntoon],” thus implying a creation de nihilo (which in due course becamethe official doctrine). Tillich accepts the doctrine and argues that matter can-not be a second principle in addition to God and therefore must be created(1967, 1:188). Yet the idea of nonbeing is important. The “threat of nothingness” wascentral in Heidegger, and Tillich adopted this idea in speaking of “our threat-ened historical existence (“Die Bedrohtheit unserer geschichtlichen Existenz”)
    • 128 supernatural agency(see Hopper 1968, 99). As mortal beings, humans are threatened by nonbeingin an ultimately inescapable way ( Tillich 1967, 1:189–90). The “threat of non-being ” produces the “ontological shock ” in which the negative side of the mys-tery of being is experienced. In revelation and ecstatic experience, this shock isat once preserved and overcome (Otto’s mysterium tremendum and fascinosum)( Tillich 1967, 1:113–14). Revelation shows our own finitude but at the sametime reveals being-itself (God), which does not have a beginning and an endbecause it does not arise from nonbeing; as entities that have a being, humansshare in this being-itself or God ( Tillich 1967, 1:189–91). Actually, everythingparticipates in being-itself ( Tillich 1967, 1:239). The biblical assertion that God is makes the ontological question necessarybecause both the popular and biblical understanding is that if something “is,”it can be found “in the whole of potential experience.” But then it follows thatif God can be found within the whole of reality, the whole of reality is the basicand dominant concept. If God is in reality, reality as such is greater than God.Thus, the “God who is a being is transcended by the God who is Being itself,the ground and abyss of every being ” ( Tillich 1955, 82–83). Tillich thus seems to think that God cannot be a being because the mereo-logical sum of all beings is greater than any single being and because God is thegreatest thing humans can think of (as Anselm argued). God cannot be a being,unless the mereological sum of all beings itself is a being.27 This reasoning isbased on abstracting “greatness” as an attribute of God and reducing the wholeidea of God to this single attribute. Yet Tillich does not simply equate God withthe universe in its entirety. As being-itself, God is not the same as all existingthings (their mereological sum); God is being as apart from everything that isin being ( being-itself ) ( Tillich 1948, 45). God’s being is being-itself, which Tillich seems to equate with the “groundof being ” ( Tillich 1967, 1:235). But he also writes: “God as being-itself is theground of the ontological structure of being without being subject to this struc-ture himself. He is the structure; that is he has the power of determining thestructure of everything that has being ” (1:239). God is the ground of being thatis manifest in existence (1:155–56). Such a divine act of self-revelation can onlybe described using symbolic concepts; “ground” is such a concept, and “God”is the religious word for it. The ground oscillates between cause and substanceand transcends both, because God is not a cause in the sense of somethingseparate from the world; in a symbolic sense, there is no difference betweenprima causa and ultima substantia (1:156 –58, 238). The statement that God is being-itself is not symbolic, however; it doesnot point beyond itself. Other theological assertions about God can be madeonly on this basis. This foundation is implicit in every religious thought aboutGod; it is the theologian’s task to make explicit what is implicit and to startwith the abstract and nonsymbolic statement saying that God is being-itself.After this, all that can be said of God is only symbolic ( Tillich 1967, 1:238–39).
    • god as supernatural agent 129Tillich even goes so far as to say that anthropomorphic symbols are adequatefor speaking of God religiously and nothing “is more inadequate and disgust-ing than the attempt to translate the concrete symbols of the Bible into lessconcrete and less powerful symbols” (1:242). Theology must not weaken theconcrete symbols only to analyze and interpret them in abstract ontologicalterms. “Theology can only explain and systematize the existential knowledge ofrevelation in theological terms” (1:242–43). In other words, theological analy-sis cannot be substituted for religion. Yet Tillich’s own sermons ( Tillich 1948)clearly are constructed so as to illustrate his theology and are not philosophi-cally “innocent.” Tillich thus distinguishes between the philosophical and religious atti-tudes (see Tillich 1955, 1–5). Philosophy deals theoretically with the structure ofbeing; religion deals existentially with the meaning of being. Yet religion canonly express itself through the ontological elements and categories of philoso-phy, and philosophy can discover the structure of being only on the conditionthat being-itself has become manifest in an existential experience expressedin the idea of God. Theology, for its part, can deal with assertions about thenature of being either philosophically, evaluating their truth, or existentially,struggling with them as expressions of ultimate concern on religious grounds(1:18–28, 230, 2:10). As being-itself, God is not merely passive—as the divinepower “is the power of being-itself, and being-itself is actual in the divine lifewhose nature is love” (1:283), God is “being-itself, in the sense of the power ofbeing or the power to conquer non-being ” (2:11). To the extent that the divinepower of being is the power of life (rûah) and regarding God as being-itself is aliteral description, God is the foundation of human (and animal ) animacy notonly symbolically but literally. God’s mentality, however, is only symbolical: inreligious language, we attribute beliefs and desires to God, but theology canshow this to be merely an expression of a personification of being-itself. Thus, for Tillich, religion works in terms of everyday thinking and possiblyeven of HUI; theology is mere theory about religion that does not itself neces-sarily have a direct religious function. Yet theology must be symbolic when-ever it goes beyond describing God as being-itself. Tillich, for example, tries toexplain theologically the religious idea of God as a person. God is represented asa person because humans symbolize their ultimate concern in terms of humanbeing (Sein). The symbol of a “personal God” is fundamental because an exis-tential relation is always a person-to-person relation; humans are ultimatelyconcerned only about personal things or the very foundation of personhood( Tillich 1955, 29; 1967, 1:243–44). Thus, while ontology generalizes, biblicalreligion individualizes (39). “The God who is encountered as a person acts inhistory through persons and their inner experiences” (37). However, even though God is called a person and personhood involvesindividuality, God is a person “not in finite separation but in an absolute andunconditional participation in everything.” God is “the absolute participant ” in
    • 130 supernatural agencya personal relationship. Individualization and participation are rooted in theground of divine life, and God is equally “near ” to each of them while transcend-ing both ( Tillich 1967, 1:243–45). God’s personhood does not mean that God is aperson; he is instead the ground of everything personal (1:245, 271, 285). Thus,God’s will and intellect are not to be understood as metaphysics recapitulatingpsychology (1:247). Tillich even argues that such omniscience as is attributed toGod in some of the sayings of Jesus “transcends primitive personalism” ( Tillich1955, 29–35, 84). The ontological view of God depersonalizes reality, and the“search for ultimate reality seems to by-pass that concrete reality in which theultimate is personally present ” ( 39). “The God who is a person is transcended bythe God who is the Personal-Itself, the ground and abyss of every person” (83). For Tillich, such a God is something that cannot be doubted; it is by mak-ing God an object besides other objects, the existence and nature of whichare matters of argument, that “theology supports the escape to atheism.” Thefirst step to atheism is “always a theology which drags God down to the levelof doubtful things” ( Tillich 1948, 45). Boyer (without familiarity with Tillich’swork) presents an apparently similar argument when he writes that theologytends to lead to atheism because the more abstract theology becomes, the lessinferential potential it has in everyday thought (Boyer 2001, 285; see chapter 1,section 1.1 here). However, on closer examination, Boyer ’s argument is the veryopposite of Tillich’s. Tillich does not locate the problem in the abstractnessof theology but exactly in its concreteness: when it is claimed that God is aconcrete being, it is possible to doubt his existence in the absence of evidence.This pitfall is supposedly avoided in a theology that treats God as being-itself,because such a God cannot be doubted. Tillich also points out that in the ecumenical creeds, three persons—Father,Son, and Holy Spirit—are mentioned but God as such is not called a person.God only came to be regarded as a person in the nineteenth century, followingKant ( Tillich 1967, 1:245). This is a dubious claim; nonetheless, Tillich is cor-rect in that God is neither a fourth person in addition to the Trinity, nor is themereological sum of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit a person. Tillich, however,overlooks the fact that the concept of God is often used as implicitly or explicitlyreferring to the person of the Father (especially in Eastern theology). The tension between personalism and ontology also means a strugglebetween polytheism and monotheism. There are three types of monotheism:monarchic, mystical, and exclusive. In monarchic monotheism, a single Godrepresents the power and value of a hierarchy of gods. Mystical monotheism isan attempt to suppress the quest for concreteness and personhood in represen-tations of God, although it does not completely succeed in this. Only exclusivemonotheism is able to resist polytheism; an abstract transcendence developsin exclusive monotheism as the concrete god is elevated to ultimacy and uni-versality. Yet this development is supposed to take place without the loss of theconcreteness of a personal God ( Tillich 1967, 1:225–29, 235–37).
    • god as supernatural agent 131 This understanding, however, seems to contradict what Tillich says aboutencountering God as a person. Tillich therefore hastens to admit that the Godof exclusive monotheism “is in danger of losing the concrete element ”; God’sultimacy and universality tend to swallow his concrete character as a livingGod. When personal features and anthropomorphisms are removed, Godseems to be reduced to the philosophical absolute ( Tillich 1967, 1:227–28; cf.Ferré 1984). Tillich (1:229) then explains that God’s transcendence is not theinfinite abyss of mysticism; it is the transcendence of “the absolute commandwhich empties all concrete manifestations of the divine.” But the concrete element cannot be simply rejected; certain mediating pow-ers must be assumed. These are the historical person of Jesus Christ, angels,and hypostasized divine qualities such as Wisdom, Word, and Glory (see Tillich1967, 1:146 –47). And such superhuman beings as angels are not to be under-stood as beings; they are “concrete-poetic symbols of the structures of being ”(1:260). But in religion, a struggle for a personal God resists all philosophicalcriticism. Thus, humans attribute personal characteristics to stones and stars,as well as plants and animals, angels and spirits, when they appear as symbolsof human ultimate concern (1:223; 1955, 29). It is in the mediating powersthat the absolutely transcendent God becomes concrete and present in timeand space. As the distance between humans and God increases, the signifi-cance of these mediating powers grows, ultimately resulting in the paradox ofthe simultaneous humanity and divinity of Jesus. In a symbolic description ofGod, a segment of finite experience is affirmed and negated at the same time(1:229–30, 239–40). Tillich may be right that it is not possible to doubt the existence of Godas being-itself, but this is not because Tillich’s claim is so evidently true butbecause it is so unclear what his thesis actually means. No one would deny thatall beings are in being and thus have the property of being in being. But hypos-tasizing being into an entity-like something is already controversial. Then call-ing this “being-itself ” “God” is an argument an outsider finds extremely hardto follow. As Kai Nielsen (1985, 37) puts it, with Tillich’s talk about being-itself,“it becomes utterly unclear what, if anything intelligible, is being affirmed thata skeptic could not affirm as well.” Although Tillich claims himself to “believein something mysterious and profound and crucial to the human condition” ofwhich the nonbeliever has no real understanding, he seems to be incapable ofarticulating what this something is. Tillich’s idea is, of course, that whenever persons use the word “God” theyare (for the most part) unconsciously talking about being-itself. However, thisis only Tillich’s personal view; he has neither operationalized the concept of“being-itself ” nor described a cognitive (or any other) mechanism responsiblefor translating conceptions about being(-itself ) into religious ideas about God.Thus, Tillich offers no explicit criteria by which we can determine whether areligious idea is about being. A theologian instead just chooses to view religious
    • 132 supernatural agencyideas as ideas about being-itself because doing so yields interesting interpre-tations (see also Gnuse 2000, 1). But Tillich’s deconstruction of the idea of apersonal God could just as well have led to a complete rejection of the wholeidea of God. Something like this happened in the “death of God theology ” ofthe 1960s, which Kenneth Hamilton (1966, 45) says means “Barthianism andTillichianism are out” (Tillich died in 1965). This new theology was representedby Thomas J. J. Altizer, Paul van Buren, William Hamilton, John Robinson,Gabriel Vahanian, and also the Jewish rabbi Richard Rubenstein, among others(see Hamilton 1966; Robinson 1963). These authors were by and large willingto continue to do theology, but they did not want a transcendent God to be partof it. Robinson, for example, wrote in 1963 that a radical recasting of the Chris-tian message was needed. The fundamental categories of theology, such as“God” and the “supernatural,” he said, have to go into the melting if the gospelis to mean anything, because there is a growing gulf between traditional ortho-dox supernaturalism and the “ ‘lay’ world” (Robinson 1963, 7–8, 21–22). Follow-ing van Buren, Hamilton (1966, 17) calls these theologians “Christian atheists”(they certainly can and must be distinguished from “new atheists” such asRichard Dawkins, Dan Denett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens). Tillich, of course, thinks that his theology can save the concept of God inthe face of rational criticism based on empirical science. Tillich’s criticism isbased on highly reflective thinking and scientific knowledge of natural pro-cesses. However, such thinking can lead to a change in one’s basic convictionsonly with great difficulty. One does not necessarily reject belief in God in theface of new evidence, because God can be endlessly reinterpreted. Beliefs aboutGod are not due to mere rational inference: they are embedded in social andemotional contexts. Thus, radically revising belief in God is extremely costlyboth cognitively and emotionally. Such belief change necessitates changes inexternal memory stores and other types of cultural and social “scaffolding ” ofpersons’ mental processes: a change in one’s family, friends, work, place of liv-ing, hobbies, and so on can trigger a change in one’s religiosity from the bottomup, as it were. If nothing like this happens, only the cognitive surface of beliefschanges. Persons may redefine God at the level of reflective thinking, but theirintuitive belief in God remains more or less intact (see Hamilton 1966, 42). Tillich himself seems to predict this when he separates religion from the-ology (see also Pyysiäinen 2003c; Wiebe 1991). According to him, the God ofreligion is and also should be an anthropomorphic person, although the theolo-gian gives this a new meaning. God is an agent having all strategic knowledgeand thus representing the shared information of the group. This is expressed inthe doctrine of God’s omniscience. Tillich actually seems to be after somethingsimilar in his theological interpretation of God’s personhood as “unconditionalparticipation in everything.” God is “the absolute participant ” in personal rela-tionships, being equally “near ” to each participant in human relationships yettranscending all. God is the ground of everything personal, “the Personal-Itself,
    • god as supernatural agent 133the ground and abyss of every person.” Therefore, God is not to be understoodas a personal agent in a psychological sense, even though in religious practiceGod is represented this way. However, nothing in Tillich’s analysis makesimpossible an alternative analysis in which actual religious representations areexplained as a folk-psychological way of representing shared knowledge, not asan everyday way of talking about being-itself.4.2.2 God in Persons’ ThinkingIn this section, I analyze the Christian concept of God as it appears in the datagathered in Finland by Lindeman, Pyysiäinen, and Saariluoma (2002). TheEuropean Values and World Values Surveys, which have been done since 1981(see www.worldvaluessurvey.org/), have measured the religious beliefs of Finnsas well as people in other countries. According to this data (from 2005), 26 per-cent of Finns regarded God as very important (scoring 9 or 10 on a 10-pointscale); 21 percent regarded God as more or less important (7 or 8 points), and17 percent considered God to be of no great importance (1 or 2 points). Thereis very little variation over 1981–2005, and no significant drop of belief in Godwas observed. (Finns are slightly below the average worldwide.) Those who saythey believe in one God make up 47 percent, while 30 percent believe in somekind of spirit of life force; 7 percent say that there is no God or spirit of lifeforce. Those who regard themselves as religious make up 59 percent of Finns;35 percent regard themselves as nonreligious, and 3 percent as committed athe-ists (see Borg et al. 2007, 47–58). The Gallup Ecclesiastica Survey of 2003 measured belief in eight Christiandoctrines. Those who firmly believed that Jesus is the Son of God were 37 per-cent; 31 percent considered it probable, 12 percent considered it improbable,and 14 percent did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God at all (5 percent saidthey did not know). Those who firmly believed that God created the world were32 percent; 27 percent considered it probable, 20 percent considered it improb-able, and 17 percent did not believe in God’s creation at all (4 percent said theydid do not know). According to the World Values Survey 2000, 45 percent ofFinns (compared to 44 percent of all Europeans) believed in life after death(Kääriäinen et al. 2003, 148– 63; 2005, 106 – 7). In Lindeman, Pyysiäinen, and Saariluoma (2002), we studied in moredepth what kinds of properties persons attribute to God and how the attribu-tion relates to religious participation. Our subjects (357 in all ) rated on a 5–pointscale how much they agreed with each of seventy-eight imaginary attributesof God (1, strongly agree; 5, strongly disagree). A great majority of the sub-jects were members of the Lutheran church (316; there were 29 nonreligiousand 11 representatives of other traditions). A factor analysis yielded five sets ofattributes: omnipotence, nature, incorporeality, curious metaphors, and othergods. God was most often associated with incorporeality by all subjects, while
    • 134 supernatural agencyassociating God with omnipotency was linearly related with religious partici-pation (Lindeman, Pyysiäinen, and Saariluoma 2002). Some of the subjects also received an open question on how they woulddescribe God to someone who did not know anything about Christianity; theseanswers were not analyzed in the published results. Heiskanen (2005) later ana-lyzed the replies of 180 subjects to this question. Heiskanen had three hypothe-ses, all of which were confirmed: the respondents described God more in terms offolk psychology than theology; more in terms of folk psychology than folk biology;and less using negative psychological properties than other psychological proper-ties. Heiskanen (2005) classified the replies into 1,378 reply items (expressed bya single word or a sentence) and divided these in turn into several classes. Two independent assessors then classified the data, following the sameinstructions. Reliability varied in different classes between 86 and 100 (mean 94).Heiskanen (2005) says that subjects on the whole described God as a materialbeing or thing only in that they said God was present in nature, and describedGod only modestly as human-like and not as having biological properties (exceptfor two subjects who considered God to be male). However, Heiskanen seems toneglect such things as seeing and hearing, for example. Although these are cog-nitive phenomena, they can also be considered biological processes (or based onbiological processes). As to God’s agentive properties, subjects said God “gives mercy,” “loves,”and “understands” (subject nos. 1, 4, 11, 62, 70, 95, 153, 154) or is “angry,” “pun-ishing,” and chauvinistic (nos. 121, 196).28 Subjects also said “God sees the truthabout humans and of the world” (no. 1) and “God means well” (no. 4). Godis also “loving ” and “merciful,” and humans can “communicate” with God.29“God loves every human being ” (no. 62), and “God is such that he loves and lis-tens to everybody, and helps” (no. 153). “God is merciful and a forgiving father ”(no. 154). In some descriptions, God’s agency is vaguer, however: he is some-how “present ” even though not perceivable (nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 17, 38, 109, 112,130, 138, 145, 170). “God cannot be seen, heard or felt, and yet he can be seen, heard, and felt ”(no. 1). Or: “God is something very vague. Even though he cannot be seen, his‘presence’ can be sensed” (no. 3). God is “present everywhere every minute”(no. 7). God is also “a sensation, a certainty that there is some other variety of‘spirit ’ that guards life, in addition to humans” (no. 9). “God is always present,in a human being itself, a sort of inner voice” (no. 17). One subject said thatGod could only be perceived by “the eyes of the soul” (no. 38).30 God is “ourfather in heaven who is present everywhere” (no. 112). Subject no. 130 wrote:“God is the totality of everything; all in all.” Finally, “God is everywhere. He isnot some thing; he is in every place. . . . Sometimes it feels like God might bein the person sitting in the next seat in the subway ” (no. 145). In the most typical descriptions, God was associated with omnipotence andomniscience and with being the creator. God’s omnipotent cognition appears
    • god as supernatural agent 13581 times and omnipotent acts 55 times in the data; God as creator appears 123times (Heiskanen 2005, 27, 29). Subjects said God is omnipotent (nos. 6, 16,36, 100, 123, 132, 133, 179, 155, 158, 197), is omniscient (nos. 57, 147, 171, 179,195), and sees everything (nos. 147, 197).31 God is “the force that keeps lifegoing and determines what is right and what is wrong ” (no. 23). God is “eternal;everything that is, is from him” (no. 164).”God is a force in which everything hasits beginning, a kind of a foundation on which the world rests” (no. 175). Onesubject said God is a spirit ( henki) without physical form (no. 43). Another saidGod is a concept we use to organize chaotic reality (no. 54). Another describedGod as “something greater than humans” (no. 50). These descriptions appeared both in more personal accounts and indescriptions that clearly echoed prescribed theological vocabulary.32 One sub-ject wrote: “God is the creator, ruler who has all knowledge and who rewardsand punishes. From a less religious point of view [my italics]: God can be found inthe human being herself, nature, or anywhere” (no. 20). Some others explicitlynoted the difference between their own conceptions and the prescribed ones.Subject no. 7 emphasized that according to Christianity, God is the creator, andso forth. Subject no. 21 said that according to the church, God is triune. Subjectno. 24 said he felt the task to be alien to himself because he did not identifywith the church. Subject no. 26 said God is personal and triune but his ownview was panentheistic. Subject no. 126 said he did not want to say anythingbecause his own view differed so much from the traditional view. Subject no.68 wrote that one has to detach oneself from a worldview in order to viewthe world; this is a direct quotation from a poem by Pentti Saarikoski (1983,14), which the subject did not mention.33 Subject no. 199 said that he himselfbelieved in “a different way.” Thus, there seems to be both discrepancy and overlap between prescribedand actual beliefs of persons. If we exclude radical dissenters who do not atall identify with the Christian tradition, the strongest overlap between pre-scribed and actual representations seems to be in the attribution of omnipo-tence, omniscience, and creatorship to God. These are the beliefs persons citemost often. Prescribed and actual beliefs thus are not insulated from eachother but interact. Although the question was how one would describe Godto someone who did not know anything about Christianity, it is remarkablehow little effort subjects made try to help an outsider really understand God.Many subjects merely cited prescribed ideas as if they were comprehensiblewithout any explication, describing God by listing half-mysterious attributes.Omnipotence, omniscience, and being a creator figure prominently, eitherbecause these are the concepts persons most readily associate with God in anycase, irrespective of theological tuition, or because these are the best-knowntheological doctrines. In the latter case, we need to explain why preciselythese doctrines are the most popular ones, because others are being taughtas well.
    • 136 supernatural agency The most obvious explanation is that these doctrines are the most salientones, in that they are easy to remember and/or serve some vital function onreligious cognition. They seem to fit very well with the kind of “promiscuousteleology ” that takes the whole of reality as due to an agent ’s intentional actionand reflects the tendency to see the natural world as designed for a purpose.As everything exists and happens because God wants it, the teleological designof the natural world gets connected with intentional agency. The teleology oflife derives from God’s intentions and will. God is the agent whose existencepeople think helps make their experience of life and the world meaningful evenwhen things seem to happen purely mechanically. This view is a natural intu-ition, in that it is based on spontaneous expectations that theological instruc-tion then can enrich and elaborate. Thus, it seems to be the HADD, HUI, andHTR that make God concepts contagious. The explication of the content andmeaning of God concepts seems to follow Sperber ’s prediction, in that personsare not really capable of explaining “God”; instead, they merely quote tradi-tional attributions of God.Summary 1. Ideas of the anthropomorphic Gods of the Israelite myths were philo- sophically elaborated into the idea of a triune God. We can clearly detect the folk-psychological understanding of agency in the back- ground of reflective theology. In modern times, this kind of God has evolved into a philosophical absolute (“being-itself ”) or even into the idea of a dead God (in death of God theology). 2. What remains the same in the various representations of the Christian God is the idea of personal agency: El and Yahweh, God the Father in the definition of the Council of Chalcedon, and Tillich’s “being-itself” are all persons. God has a will and knowledge. 3. God’s omniscience means that God has full access to all possible con- tents of humans’ minds. God in a way represents all possible “orders of intentionality ” at once (I know that she believes that he wants that she wishes that . . .). The mind of God thus is a shortcut to the shared knowledge of a group. 4. The Church has been regarded as the body of Christ made alive by the Holy Spirit. 5. Simplified versions of official doctrines seem to live on as quotations whose real meaning people do not reflect on much in everyday thinking. People metarepresent them in the validating context of the belief “is true” without a detailed understanding of their content. Such quotations from the doctrine serve as a “protective shield” (as Dennett [2006] calls it) for more idiosyncratic understandings of the doctrine.
    • 5Buddhist SupernaturalAgents5.1 Buddhism and the WestAs I have already noted, “Buddhism” is not an essentialist category,and we cannot hope to reconstruct a coherent “Buddhist doctrine” onthe basis of literary documents. Yet Western attitudes toward Buddhismhave been and are to this day very much characterized by the implicitor explicit belief that the “original” Buddhism of the Buddha him-self can be found in the Pali Canon and that this Buddhism wasan atheistic philosophy of life, not a religion. This is partly becauseWestern fascination with Buddhism began at the end of the nine-teenth century and was intimately related to such phenomena asa growing dissatisfaction with Christian orthodoxy, a new trust inthe sciences, Romanticism, and pessimistic philosophies. It wasemphasized that the Buddha had been only a human being, not agod, and that therefore Buddhism was not a religion. It was a rationalphilosophy or a self-help psychology that revealed the ultimatecauses of human suffering and helped to end it by a rigorous self-discipline based on insight. Buddhism supposedly was egalitarian,was antiauthoritarian, and laid emphasis on reason and personalexperience. This kind of attitude was characteristic both of certainscholars and of those for whom Buddhism had a more personalappeal (e.g. Dahlke 1912; Grimm 1957; Rhys Davids 1880; What IsBuddhism? 1928; see Almond 1988; de Lubac 1952; Oldenberg 1903;Windisch 1917; Yamamoto 1967). In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Theravada Buddhismof South Asia dominated Western discussions, which emphasized
    • 138 supernatural agencythe supposed rationality and empiricism of Buddhism; new trends becameprominent from the 1950s onward. Meditation, religious experience, irrational-ity, and even humor became the focus, and Zen Buddhism was an importantsource of inspiration (see Fields 1981; Kripal 2007). A central figure in thisreinterpretation was Daisetz T. Suzuki, who came to be regarded as an unri-valed master of Zen (he was not; Sharf 1995, 1998). Robert Sharf (1995, 1998)has amply shown that the popular idea of “Eastern religions” as emphasiz-ing subjective, “mystical” experience is an unfounded Western projection. Forexample, the mārga-texts (“path texts”) of Theravada Buddhism, often regardedby Westerners as meditation manuals, function “more as sacred talismans thanas practical guides” (Sharf 1995, 241). Whether it was Theravada, Tantrism, orZen, historical and ethnographic reports show that Asian practice has nearlyalways emphasized rigid ritual practice and faithful repetition of the doctrine, notany “altered states of consciousness.” As Robert Buswell (1992, 219) observes,for instance, the “testimony of Korean [ Zen] monastic community . . . suggeststhat a disciplined life, not the transformative experience of enlightenment,”is the most important element in this form of religion. Stephan Beyer (1973)argues likewise that in the Tibetan Tantric rites he observed, the visualizationof deities always took place in a ritual context, along with rhythmic recitationof a text, which made visualization so difficult that even high-ranking incarnatelamas admitted they really could not master it (see Pyysiäinen 2006b). I cannot go into the details of the encounter between Buddhism and theWest here; I offer these examples only as a reminder that the popular imagesof Buddhism can easily lead the scholar astray. Kenneth Livingston (2005), forexample, writes in his otherwise fine article, with no references to Buddhistliterature, that the “original belief systems in Buddhism” do not posit gods,angels, or other supernatural agents.” This is a gross oversimplification. And akind of textualist bias similar to that of biblical exegesis has dominated the aca-demic study of Buddhism: religion has been approached exclusively from theperspective of prescribed doctrinal ideas (e.g. Griffiths 1994; see Luomanen et al.2007b). Over the past twenty-five years, however, scholars have increasinglyshifted the focus toward the variety of Buddhisms that can be found in popularpractices and folk beliefs (Kinnard 2005; see e.g. Gellner 2001; Gombrich 1995;Jones 1979; Spiro 1972; Strong 2004; cf. Griffiths 1994, 1–3). In what follows,I use Buddhist scriptures and ethnographic and historical studies in an attempt todescribe and explain the representation of supernatural agency in Buddhism.5.2 The Buddha in the Texts5.2.1 Gautama BuddhaRather than giving an overview of the general development of what is knownas “Buddhism” or outlining its basic teachings, I will focus only on what is
    • buddhist supernatural agents 139immediately relevant from this book’s specific point of view: how supernaturalagency is represented in various forms of Buddhist thought and practice. As inthe previous chapters I provide contextual information only to the extent that itis necessary for understanding the central argument. We know very little with historical certainty about the historical Buddha,Siddhārtha Gautama, or Śākyamuni (“the sage of the Śākyas” as he is alsocalled.1 The Buddha was born into a Śākya family that belonged to the tribe ofthe Pāndavas (“the pale ones”), foreigners of Iranian affinity who came to Indiaaround 800–400 BCE and are associated with the megalithic culture of Mahur-jhari and Khapa in Mahārāshtra in western India. The name Śākya derives fromŚaka, a common name for Iranian steppe nomads. And the father of Pandu-Vāsudeva, the second Sinhala king of Sinhala Dvīpa, that is Ceylon (modern SriLanka) is called Pandu or Pandurājā in the Pali texts. The king ’s father-in-lawwas likewise called Pandu and belonged to the Śākyas. The Sinhalas came fromGujarat, introducing agriculture, cattle-raising, and megalithic burials to Cey-lon beginning around 800 BCE. The second phase of the megalithic culture ofCeylon began in 450 –350 BCE, the date also of Pandu-Vāsudeva’s rule (Parpola1984, 450 –60, 2002a, 2002b, 247–48, 251–54; see Bronkhorst 2007, 265–68;Dīpavamsa, chaps. 9–11; Mahāvamsa, chaps. 6–10). Some scholars are willing to accept more of the Buddhist tradition as his-torical fact than others (compare e.g. Gombrich 1988, 21, 1990; Rhys Davids1880; Schumann 1982; on the one hand and Bronkhorst 1993b; Pye 1979;Vetter 1988; Williams 2006, 21–30, on the other hand).2 Scholars have debatedwhether certain inconsistencies in the Pali Canon (known as the Tipitaka, Skt.Tripitaka, Three Baskets) reflect a development in the Buddha’s own thinking(e.g. Vetter 1996, 1988), testify to a borrowing from non-Buddhist sources(e.g. Bronkhorst 1993b), or are not inconsistencies at all (Ruegg 1989, 9 n.9;cf. 142–43) (see Bronkhorst 1993a, 1993b, vii–xii ). The traditional dating of the life of Buddha is based on the supposed year ofhis death and the belief that the Buddha he lived to the age of eighty (see Bareau1953; cf. Bareau 1974a, 281 n. 2; Foucher 1949, 322–23). The so-called longerchronology dates his death in 544/3 BCE and the “corrected longer chronol-ogy ” to 480 BCE; the “short chronology” of certain Mahayana sources date hisdeath a century before King Aśoka’s reign (273–32 BCE). The longer chronol-ogy has been shown to be based on a Sinhalese attempt to make the Buddha’sdeath simultaneous with the coming to Sri Lanka of Vijaya, the cultural hero ofthe Sinhalese people.3 Some scholars thus date the Buddha’s death roughly to350 BCE (Bechert 1986, 39; Eggermont 1965–79, 8.57; Hirakawa 1990, 22–23,91–93). Others still argue that the Sinhalese chronicles are the oldest and mostreliable sources and that his death can be dated to 400 BCE plus or minustwenty years, as Bareau (1991, 221) puts it (see Bechert 1991; Ruegg 1999). I shall not take a specific stand on this issue here, except to emphasize thatthere is a gap of about three hundred years between the death of the Buddha
    • 140 supernatural agencyand the writing-down of the Tipitaka. Friedrich Weller (1928, 161–64) arguesthat the testimony of the Sinhalese chronicles on this matter is a later inter-polation and the writing-down of the Tipitaka may have taken place as late asin the second decade BCE. Final agreement about the contents of the Tipitakais said to have been reached as late as the fifth century CE (Bechert and vonSimson 1979, 26, 69–71; Geiger 1968, 1–2, 11; Winternitz 1972, 5–8). Linguisti-cally, the Tipitaka consists of various strata, and parts of it have obviously beentranslated from another language. It thus is not a sound proceeding to lumptogether texts ranging from the fifth century BCE to the fifth century CE as onecategory and treat the Tipitaka as a homogeneous whole (Chakravarti 1987, 2).There never was any original canon, and the various parts of the Tipitaka can-not always be harmonized with each other. Only a small number of texts, aboveall verses and stereotyped dogmatic formulas, attained a definite form at anearly stage and were subsequently translated into Pali and other Middle-Indo-Aryan languages (de Jong 1979, 17; see McDermott 1984, 22–23; Pyysiäinen1993, 54–71). Thus, we can make any historical claims about early Buddhismonly with care (see Gombrich 1990; Norman 1990). When I speak of the Buddha, I am for the most part making no historicalclaims about the human person who is regarded as the founder of the religionknown as “Buddhism.” Instead, I focus on how the oral and textual traditionsand material culture represent the Buddha. In the textual tradition (parts ofwhich first continued for decades or even centuries as oral traditions), the Bud-dha is referred to as either the Bhagava(n)t or the Tathāgata, not as “the Buddha.”In the Vedic language, bhagavat (< bhaga-) meant “possessing fortune, fortu-nate, prosperous, happy”; in classical Sanskrit, baga means both “wealth, pros-perity” and “lord, patron,” the idea being that the master of the house giveseach member his or her rightful share (see Monier-Williams 1899, 743). Inthe Rgveda, Bhaga is also a specific deity (Kazanas 2001, 274). As an epithet ofthe Buddha, Bhagava(n)t is often translated in English as “the Lord” (which isquite correct). The French specialist on the biography of the Buddha, AndréBareau (1962, 1963, 1970 –71, 1974a,b, 1979), translates it into French as Bien-heureux, “the happy/ beatific one.” Tathāgata means either “thus gone” (tathā + gata) or “thus come” (tathā +agata); the name can, for example, refer to Gautama Buddha’s having comeinto the world in the same manner as previous buddhas had, or his havinggone “to the other shore,” beyond the world of suffering.4 Technically, the wordcould also mean “he who here has come” and could be an epithet the five ascet-ics gave to Gautama when he came back to them after gaining enlightenmentin solitude. “Thus gone” might also be a euphemism for the fact that Gautamawas dead (“late Gautama”).5 Such reasonings are an expression of an endlesssymbolic exegesis and as such very speculative. The word buddha appears in Buddhist texts in the context of, for exam-ple, the Buddha announcing to his first followers that he has just recently
    • buddhist supernatural agents 141become a perfectly awakened one (abhisambuddha). This and some relatedpassages are among the few in the Tripitaka in the first person singular. Yetthe texts are remarkably reticent on what actually happened in Gautama’smind at the moment of his awakening or “enlightenment.” Paul Griffiths (1994) argues that there is “a classical doctrine of Buddha-hood” that can be extracted from the śāstra literature of “monastic intellectu-als” dating from the third to the ninth century CE. This doctrine consists oflists of epithets and of properties or attributes of a buddha (60 –75). Griffiths isonly interested in “the sentential expression of doctrine” and the “conceptualrelations among ordered sets of sentences”; he wants to avoid descriptive andexplanatory reductionism and seeing doctrines as only “epiphenomena of socialsettings or institutional arrangements” (2–5). The classical doctrine thus issomething Griffiths reconstructs by harmonizing different conceptions foundfrom texts of different schools from different periods and from different cul-tural settings, without paying any attention to such historical differences (xviii,1, 3, 4, 12, 28). Griffiths wants to study the texts’ own self-understanding andtreat them as systematic collections of doctrine-expressing sentences (56).6 I for my part do not want to harmonize the different views about the Bud-dha and buddhas; I do not aim at a strictly historical analysis either. I willinstead take historically and contextually different views about the Buddhaand buddhas and try to show what kinds of cognitive mechanisms might helpexplain their construction and functions. There is no need to presuppose a pri-ori that these views form a coherent whole—nor do I need to explore the socialcontext in detail, though this would be both perfectly possible and interesting.The questions I ask of my sources arise from my own theoretical perspectiveand entail looking at them from a particular angle. In this, there is no needto postulate any kind of “own self-understanding ” of the texts (texts, after all,are nothing more than configurations of ink on paper). I do not pretend to bestudying a coherent doctrine but certain recurrent patterns in the ways peopleunderstand and have understood the nature of buddhas. What is often called the “Buddha legend” is a collection of episodes fromdifferent sources dating from different periods. The available sources on thelife of the Buddha can be divided into the following groups: 1. Fragmentary episodes in the sutras of different Hinayana schools7 2. Biographies or fragments of biographies in the vinaya-texts 3. Independent biographies that end in the story of how Buddhism began 4. Complete biographies, such as the Buddhacarita of Asvaghosa and the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya 5. Sinhalese texts, such as the Nidānakathā and three suttas of the Suttanipāta (Lamotte 1958, 718, 731)The oldest sources are the episodes contained in the Theravada Tipitaka (seebelow) and in the corresponding sutras of other Hinayana schools (see Bareau
    • 142 supernatural agency1962, 1963, 1970 –71, 1974a). In the Tipitaka, the Mahāpadānasutta (Dighanikāya2.1–54) relates the miraculous birth of the Buddha, his luxurious youth andgreat renunciation, and his awakening ( bodhi, nirvāna); the Bhayabheravasutta(Majjhimanikāya 1.16–24) and the Dvedhāvitakkasutta (1.114–18) contain theepisode about the awakening; the Ariyapariyesanāsutta (1.160–75) describes theBuddha’s luxurious youth, renunciation, listening to teachers, and the awakening;the Māgandiyasutta (1.503–13) contains a dialogue in which the Buddha relateshow he gave up his life enjoying sensual pleasures; the Sangāravasutta (2.209–13) includes the episodes concerning the Buddha’s youth, renunciation, listen-ing to teachers, practice of austerities, and Awakening; the Mahāsaccakasutta(1.237–51) tells of the youth, renunciation, teachers, austerities, and awakening;the Sukhumālasutta (Anguttaranikāya 1.145–46) contains the youth episode; theAcchariyabbhutadhammasutta (Majjhimanikāya 3.145–46) describes the miracu-lous birth of the Buddha; the Mahāparinibbānasutta (Dighanikāya 2.72–168) isa description of the death and funerals of the Buddha. The Suttanipāta—a textin the Khuddakanikāya, a somewhat later collection of texts in the Suttapitakathat includes some very old texts as well—includes descriptions of the Buddha’srenunciation (Pabbajjāsutta, Suttanipāta 3.1) and of his awakening (Padhānasutta,Suttanipāta 3.2), as well as the prediction that the newborn will either become agreat king (cakkavatti rāja) or “go from home into homelessness” (Nālakasutta,Suttanipāta 3.11).8 The Mahāvagga, in the second part of the Vinayapitaka, con-tains a continuous narrative about the birth of the Buddhist community. sources for the buddha legend Birth Dighanikāya 2.1–54; Majjhimanikāya 3.145–46 A great man’s Suttanipāta 3.2 future Youth Dighanikāya 2.1–54; Majjhimanikāya 1.160 –75; Majjhimanikāya 1.237–51; Majjhimanikāya 1.503–13; Majjhimanikāya 2.209–13; Anguttaranikāya 1.145–46 Great Dighanikāya 2.1–54; Majjhimanikāya 1.160 –75; renunciation Majjhimanikāya 1.237–51; Majjhimanikāya 2.209–13; Suttanipāta 3.1 Giving up Majjhimanikāya 1.503–13 sensual pleasures Teachers Majjhimanikāya 1.160–75; Majjhimanikāya 1.237–51; Majjhimanikāya 2.209–13 Practice of Majjhimanikāya 1.237–51; Majjhimanikāya austerities 2.209–213 Final liberation Dighanikāya 2.1–54; Majjhimanikāya 1.16–24;
    • buddhist supernatural agents 143 Majjhimanikāya 1.114–18; Majjhimanikāya 1.160 –75; Majjhimanikāya 1.237–51; Majjhimanikāya 2.209–13; Suttanipāta 3.2 Birth of Vinayapitaka 1.1–44 Buddhism According to the legend, the Buddha had been striving for buddhahoodthrough many rebirths and finally chose to be born in a particular family inthe Śākya clan in northwestern India by descending from the heaven of theHappy Gods ( Tusita) into the womb of Queen Māyā. The birth of the Buddhais miraculous, and in later texts an old seer (rsi ) named Asita predicts that theboy will either become a great king (cakravartin rāja) or a perfectly enlightenedbeing. His early life was filled with all kinds of sensual pleasures, until he sawthe “four omens”: an old man, a sick person, a dead body, and a wanderingmendicant. These led the youth to renounce the world. He listened to variousteachers and practiced austerities but did not get rid of his anxiety. Then oneday, while meditating alone, he finally attained the “perfect enlightenment ”(samyaksambodhi ), returned to the company of his fellow ascetics, and startedto preach his new doctrine. Many persons reached liberation after listening tothe Buddha and then joined the new order (sangha). The Buddha died at theage of eighty, and a funeral was arranged. His relics were distributed amongvarious clans, and memorial monuments (stūpa) were erected. From my point of view, the most interesting thing is the nature of theawakening, because the whole idea of buddhahood is based on it; buddhahood,for its part, is the constitutive element of a specific category of supernaturalagency. Buddhas are supernatural agents, much as gods, despite the fact thatthere are many differences between buddhas and gods. Buddhas differ fromdevas (“gods”), although both are supernatural agents.9 When the Buddha,asked whether he was man or god (deva), replied that he was not a god, angel( gandhabba), evil spirit ( yakkha), or human but was a buddha (Anguttaranikāya2.38–39; see Bareau 1969, 12; de Jong 1979, 27). There is also only one Bud-dha at a time in the world (Dīghanikāya 2.225; Anguttaranikāya 1.27–28;Abhidharmakośa 2:198). There is also a kind of an Indian version of the scala naturae, with variouskinds of gods (devas) and other agents populating the three levels or dimen-sions of existence (dhātus, lokas, or vacaras): the world of sense pleasures(kāmadhātu), the world of material forms (rūpadhātu), and the world of noforms (arūpadhātu). The kāmadhātu consists of the four elements, humans,animals, hells, “the happy gods” (tusita), Māra the Evil One (Masson 1942,99–113), and the four guardians of the world (cāturmahārājika). The rūpalokaincludes the four states of meditation and gods with “mind-made” bodies such
    • 144 supernatural agencyas the brahmakāyika. The arūpadhātu consists of the five “formless medita-tions”10 and of gods such as the brahmavihāra (Kirfel 1920, 207; Masson 1942;Dīghanikāya 1.195). Another way of representing the various dimensions of existence is theimage of the “wheel of life” ( bhavacakra), a circle divided into three sectionson the upper half and three on the lower half. Much as in the shamanic drum,the upper half represents the good and the lower one the bad realms or desti-nies ( gati ). The sections are humans, gods, giants (asuras), animals, hells, andghosts ( preta). The pretas are spirits who suffer from insatiable and unsatisfi-able appetites as a punishment for greed and avarice in previous lives. In theVedas, the asuras were giants or “titans” who waged war against gods; theywere adopted to Buddhism in the same function. In addition to these are spiritsknown as yaksas (Pali: yakkha), which were originally benevolent nature divini-ties who would protect people if propitiated; in later Buddhism, they came to beregarded as malevolent, flesh-eating demons. Most Buddhist schools agree that(re)birth to the gati happens immediately after death; in Tibetan Buddhism, anintermediate state ( bardo) is postulated between any two lives. In the bardo, thespirit of the deceased views all six destinies for up to forty-nine days and thenis drawn toward any one of the six realms (Keown 2004, 23, 223, 338; Masson1942; Prebish and Keown 2006, 14–18).5.2.2. Nirvāna and BuddhahoodThere is much confusion both in Buddhist texts and Western scholarship regard-ing such terms as “awakening” (bodhi), “perfect enlightenment” (samyaksambo-dhi), nirvāna, parinirvāna, and “liberation” (vimutti) (see Norman 1994). Scholarshave approached the ultimate goal of Buddhism as if it were a clearly identifi-able state, condition, or experience, trying to fit different descriptions and allu-sions together into a coherent whole (cf. Sharf 1995, 1998). Yet the Buddhisttraditions contain no clear and unequivocal explanation of what it was thatmade Gautama a buddha, distinguishing him from all other beings. The situa-tion is the same as in most religions: some state, condition, or goal is regardedas the human summum bonum, whose nature and implications people keepinterpreting anew in an endless process; no original meaning of the prescribedidea is ever found (see Pyysiäinen 2007). The following is what we can gatherfrom the early passages in the Theravādin Suttapitaka. The word bodhi appears only in the Mahāsaccakasutta, where the Buddhaasks himself “Could there be another way to enlightenment ” (“siyā nu kho aññomaggo bodhāyati”) apart from the extreme self-mortification he had practicedalready for years in vain (1.246). A more recent tradition, recorded in the Vinay-apitaka, reports that Gautama had recently become a “fully enlightened one”( pathamabhisambuddho) (Vinayapitaka 1.1). The Buddha then approached thefive ascetics with whom he had practiced austerities and said: “Monks, do not
    • buddhist supernatural agents 145address Tathāgata by name and by the word ‘friend.’ Monks, Tathāgata is an ara-hat, a perfectly enlightened one. Listen, o monks, the death-free has been found,I will instruct you, I will teach dhamma” (Vinayapitaka 1.8–10; see Dessein2007). Nirvāna is “death-free” (amata) in that the one who has attained nirvānais free from redying just as from being reborn (see Norman 1994, 218–20). The word nirvāna (Pali nibbāna) appears in the earliest preserved Ther-avadin accounts of the Buddha’s experience only in one passage in theAriyapariyesanāsutta. In this passage, it is said that after years of vain attempts,while meditating in the surroundings of Uruvelā, the Buddha instantaneouslyattained “the excellent freedom from bondage, nibbāna,” which is not subjectto birth, aging, illness, sorrow and suffering. At that very moment, Gautamaknew: “My liberation [vimutti ] is steadfast; this is the last birth, there will be nomore [re]births” (Mahāsaccakasutta 1.167; see Bareau 1980; Vetter 1996). According to the Mahāsaccaka, Bhayabherava, and Dvedhāvitakka Suttas,the Buddha’s liberation was preceded by the four states of meditation ( jhāna)and the three mental abilities (ñāna). The Buddha describes his experienceafter attaining the third ability this way: “When I was liberated to freedomI knew: birth is destroyed, Brahma-life lived and the task accomplished. Therewill be no new life” (Mahāsaccakasutta 1.17–23, 114–17, 247–49). The Ariya-pariyesanāsutta is completely silent about how the Buddha reached nirvāna,and the Mahāsaccakasutta describes the awakening as a result of the four jhānas(Skt. dhyāna, “state of meditation”), which the Buddha had already practicedfor years in vain. In the Tipitaka, the jhāna states are described by a traditionalformula eight-six times. Four different functions are ascribed to them: theyare (1) preparation for “insight ” (vipassanā); (2) preparation for the four or fivearūpajhānas (“formless meditations”); (3) preparation for the “ways of livinglike Brahma” ( brahmavihāras); or (4) an independent way to nirvāna (Griffiths1983, 57–59, 62–65). As to the three mental abilities (ñāna) preceding the awakening, only theability to understand the arising and destruction of the āsavas (“influxes”) isspecifically Buddhist.11 The other two are the ability to remember one’s pastlives and the ability to see how all beings are (re)born and die; these abilitiesbelong to the traditional list of six paranormal faculties (abhiññā) common inIndian sources (see Anguttaranikāya 1.254–56; Jaini 1974; Jayatilleke 1963,437–38). The knowledge of the āsavas has been regarded as the real essence ofthe enlightenment as here described (Bareau 1963, 79–84; Démieville 1927,283, 290 –91). The destruction of the āsavas seems to have been so important in earliestBuddhism that we can consider it to have been the ul timate goal. The arahatwas called a khīnāsava (“one whose āsavas are destroyed”), for example. Yet theāsavas are not mentioned in the “four noble truths,” which put “suffering ” or“unease” (dukkha, Skr. duhkha) in their stead (see Norman 1990, 28, 1994, 215).K. R. Norman (29) thinks that the destruction of the āsavas may have been the
    • 146 supernatural agencyearliest goal and were associated with jhāna-meditation, whereas the idea ofdukkha as expressed in the four noble truths belongs to a later phase in Bud-dhism’s evolution, characterized by an emphasis on karma. Johannes Bronkhorst argues that at some point in time, the idea that thefour jhānas culminate in the destruction of the āsavas got connected with theidea that insight was based on an understanding of the “four noble truths”about suffering, thirst (tanhā; Skt. trsnā) as its cause, and of the noble eightfoldway as a means of ending suffering. In this way, a combination of the two alter-native ideals—the destruction of the āsavas and an understanding of the fournoble truths—has come to be regarded as the true description of the liberatinginsight (1993b, 98–103, 104–11; cf. Schmithausen 1981, 205). Yet another way of describing the ultimate goal is to say that it consists ofthe cessation of desire, anger, and delusions (the three “poisons”; Gombrich1988, 64; Tilakaratne 1993, 56). This cessation is described using the Pali verbnibbāyati (“to be blown out, to be extinguished”) and the noun nibbāna (“blow-ing out, extinction [of a lamp, or fire]”). It is the three poisons that are extin-guished, not the person or the person’s life. The one who has realized thisgoal is nibbuta— a word derived not from nibbāyati but from the Sanskrit wordnirvrta, “satisfied, happy, tranquil, at ease, at rest.” Nibbuti (Skt. nirvrti ) means“happiness, bliss, rest, ceasing ”; the extinction or extinguishing (nibbāna < Skt.nirvāna) of a lamp is sometimes used as an explanation of such happiness.Therefore, nibbuti and nibbāna have been erroneously regarded as synonyms,and it has been thought that a person is “blown out ” like a lamp in nibbāna(Norman 1994, 221–23). The Buddha obviously was not “blown out ” when he reached the sam-māsambodhi, however. Therefore, it was thought that there must be two phasesin the “blowing out ”: nibbāna in this life means a “blowing out ” of the threepoisons and of karma; nibbāna at death means that the one who has “blownout ” karma will not be reborn (see Norman 1994, 215). In one canonical pas-sage (Itivuttaka 38–39), the distinction between nibbāna in this life and nibbānaat death is said to be a distinction between nibbāna with and without a “remain-der ” (sa-upādisesa and anupādisesa). The exact meaning of the Sanskrit wordupadhi and Pali upādi is not known (Bronkhorst 1993b, 98). Norman (1994,215) takes upadhi to mean “acquisitions” or “belongings” attachment to whichleads to rebirth. In modern Buddhism, nirvāna without remainder, or the finalnirvāna, is often called parinirvāna—an interpretation that seems to be basedon a misunderstanding. In the Tripitaka, parinirvāna is also used of the nirvānaof living persons, and the distinction between nirvāna and parinirvāna is onlygrammatical: parinirvāna refers to the “attaining of nirvāna” (Bronkhorst1993b, 97–98; Gombrich 1995, 83 n. 14; Keown 2004, 212; Norman 1994,216–17; Thomas 1971, 121; Williams 2006, 48–49). A disciple who has reached the highest goal under the tuition of a bud-dha is called an arhat (Pali araha[n]t, “worthy one”) (Keown 2004, 18; Williams
    • buddhist supernatural agents 1472006, 137–38). In the sutras, it is never implied that all beings could strive forbuddhahood. The word bodhisattva (“enlightenment being,” that is, a Buddha-to-be) is only used of Gautama in his previous lives. The career of a bodhisattvais first presented as an alternative for the ideal of an arhat in the avadāna litera-ture of the Sarvāstivāda school (Dīghanikāya 2.225; Foucher 1949, 148; Thomas1971, 167–68;). In Mahayana literature, nirvāna is then associated with arhat-ship and contrasted with perfect buddhahood, which is beyond the dichotomyof samsāra (the round of rebirths) and nirvāna ( Williams 2006, 139). Walpola Rahula (1907–1997), a famous Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhistmonk who also became a professor at Northwestern University, quotes thedifferent characterizations of nirvāna in his widely read book What the Bud-dha Taught; he warns that the question of the nature of nirvāna “can never beanswered completely and satisfactorily in words, because human language istoo poor to express the real nature of the Absolute Truth or Ultimate Realitywhich is Nirvāna” (Rahula 1959, 35).12 Nirvāna cannot be produced; it just is.There cannot be anything after or beyond nirvāna, because nirvāna is the Ulti-mate Truth. If there were something after nirvāna, then this something wouldbe the Ultimate Truth ( Tillich used the same kind of reasoning in arguing forGod as the ground of being). Thus, nirvāna is a half-understood concept ina Sperberian sense; it triggers an endless series of searches in memory, andthe word nirvāna is metarepresented in the validating context of “is UltimateTruth.” The word nirvāna serves as placeholder for whatever is the UltimateTruth, without any need for a clear definition of nirvāna (35–40). Before attaining nirvāna, Gautama had supposedly been striving for bud-dhahood through many lives. His 547 former lives are described in the so-called “birth stories” ( jātaka).) The verses of the Jātaka, but not the stories thataccompany them, are part of the Khuddakanikāya in the Suttapitaka (see Jones1979). The jātaka stories are old folktales whose motives antedated Buddhismand only later were adapted to Buddhist usage. The standard Ceylonese jātakacollection dates from the latter half of the fifth century CE. The popular intro-duction to these this collection, the Nidānakathā, was written in Ceylon in Paliin the fifth century CE. It is divided into three sections, describing the for-mer lives of Gautama, the life of Gautama until his “enlightenment,” and thebirth of the Buddhist community (Jones 1979, xii–xiv, 6; Lamotte 1958, 731–33;Thomas 1975, 41–50). In addition to the former lives of Gautama, there are beliefs about otherbuddhas besides Gautama. The beliefs about previous buddhas precedingGautama may not have been part of the earliest tradition but yet must predatethe split of the various schools, as the names of six buddhas are identical inthe texts of the various schools (e.g. in the Buddhavamsa and the Cariyāpitaka)(Foucher 1949, 148; Thomas 1971, 167–68). Two sutras in the Tipitaka, theMahāsaccakasutta and the Acchariyabbutadhammasutta, describe the way bud-dhas in general are born, without explicitly applying these regularities to
    • 148 supernatural agencyGautama. The Mahāsaccakasutta lists sixteen properties that characterized thebirth of Vipassi Buddha; the Acchariyabbutadhammasutta lists nineteen wonder-ful (acchariyam) and astonishing (abhutam) features that characterize the birthof buddhas (Mahāsaccakasutta 1.237–51; 3.118–24). After the sutra period, thenumber of buddhas was then at some point increased to twenty-five (Gautamaincluded), perhaps after the model of the twenty-five tīrthankaras of Jainism. In Mahayana, the idea of buddhahood was reinterpreted within a monis-tic ontology that denied the traditional distinction between samsāra and nir-vāna. This led to the ideas of a “buddha-nature” (Chinese fo xing, Japanesebusshō; probably from *buddhadhātu) and “tathāgata embryo” (tathāgatagarbha)inherent in all living beings (King 1991; Ruegg 1969). The latter idea can beunderstood in three different ways: (1) all beings are the interior (womb) oftathāgata; (2) tathāgata is identical with the inner essence (embryo) of all liv-ing beings; (3) the inner essence of living beings is the embryo of tathāgata(e.g. the Ratnagotravibhāga; see King 1991, 48–56; Pyysiäinen 1993, 108–10;Ruegg 1969). The tathāgatagarbha idea (Ruegg 1969) is closely related to the idea ofBuddha-nature, which was appropriated by the four major indigenous schoolsof Chinese Buddhism, and then transmitted to other East Asian schools of Bud-dhism. This doctrine holds that all sentient beings already are buddha-like; theyjust do not realize it. Buddha-nature thus is understood both as the potential torealize buddhahood and as that buddhahood itself (King 1991). Opinions varyon the constituents of buddhahood and the relationship of buddhahood withother important metaphysical terms. That some kind of buddhahood exists isnot doubted in Mahayana texts; only the conceptual formulations vary. In manyMahayana treatises, such basic concepts as buddhahood and nirvāna are evensaid to be “mere words and signs” and not to correspond to the Ultimate Truth( paramārtha satya) (see Pyysiäinen 1993, 104–24). That has never meant thatone would give up Buddhist practice as unnecessary for spiritual development(see Sharf 1995). Griffiths (1994, 57–75) takes the core of buddhalogical doctrine to consistof the various epithets of the Buddha and of the attributes or properties ofthe Buddha (guna, dharma, laksana) discussed in commentarial treatises (theśāstras). The many titles of the Buddha have been condensed into brief stan-dardized lists of epithets, as follows following (60): Tathāgata Arhat Samyaksambuddha Vidyācaranasampanna (Accomplished in Knowledge and Virtuous Conduct) Sugata ( Well-gone) Lokavid (Knower of the Worlds)
    • buddhist supernatural agents 149 Anuttarah Purusadamyasārathih (Unsurpassed Guide for Those Who Need Restraint) Śāstā Devamanusyānām ( Teacher of Gods and Humans) Buddha BhagavatIn Griffiths’s view, “it is clear ” that the epithet lists represent an attempt tosketch the properties of a “maximally great ” being (65). The same motiveunderlies the property lists, although they come from “a different world ofthought,” characterized by a systematic and detailed presentation not foundin the epithet lists (66). Griffiths’s “standard list ” is found in such sourcesas Mahāyānasūtrālamkāra(tīkā) and Bodhisattvabhūmi (66–70, 211). The eigh-teen properties consist of such things as, for example, the four “immeasurablestates” (apramāna), various altered states of consciousness, four kinds of spe-cific understanding, the thirty-two major marks of a “great man” (mahāpurusa),the ten powers, great compassion (mahākaruna), and omniscience (sarvajñatva,sarvajñāna). Griffiths (70) divides these into five groups: perfections of appear-ance, action, cognition, attitude, and control. A buddha who manifests theseproperties obviously cannot be an ordinary human being. Buddhahood insteadmakes its bearer or realizer a superhuman agent with counterintuitive proper-ties (Pyysiäinen 2003a). Underlying this view is the basic distinction between nirvāna and samsāra,later problematized in Mahayana. In Hinayana cosmology, the phenomenalreality is compounded (samskrta, Pali sankhata) of basic elements calleddharmas.13 According to the Theravadins, there are eighty-one compoundeddharmas that have the characteristics of arising, changing, and passing away(Anguttaranikāya 1.152; cf. Abhidharmakośa 1:150, 222). They are classified inthree categories: (1) twenty-eight material forms (rūpa) like the four elementsand the six senses; (2) fifty-two ethically good, bad, or neutral psychologicalfactors related to the thinking mind (citta) and consciusness (viññāna); and(3) the pure thinking mind as such. All dharmas are real entities with anessence of their own (Skt. svabhāva), despite the fact that they are transitory(anitya). Behind the compounded reality is an uncompounded reality: “There is,o monks, a supranormal [abhūtam], an unborn, a not made and an uncom-pounded [asankhata), because, o monks, if there were not this supranormal,unborn, not made and uncompounded one would not know an exit (nissarana]from what is born, produced [bhūta], made and compounded” (Udāna 1982,80 –81).14 The word “uncompounded” (asankhata, “not made by putting together ”)was originally coined as a negative description of nibbāna, in the same wayas ajāta (“not born”); the opposition of the uncompounded and compoundedrealities thus parallels the opposition between nirvāna and samsāra (Bareau
    • 150 supernatural agency1951, 5, 18–19, 218, 250). In Hinayana sutras, nirvāna is the one and onlyuncompounded reality not conditioned by anything else, and not seen to arise,change, or pass away. We must take the fact that the sutras often speak of theasamskrta dharmas in the plural as only a stylistic feature, since no uncom-pounded dharma other than nirvāna is ever mentioned (Anguttaranikāya 1.152;Bareau 1951, 15, 31–34, 248, 250; Lamotte 1958, 675; von Rospatt 1995;). In thelast two sections of the Dhammasanganī of the Abhidhammapitaka, this uncom-pounded is described as transcendent ( lokottara) to the world of samsāra, ofwhich it is an “exit ” (ut[t]inna) (see Bareau 1951, 25–28; Udāna 1982, 9, 80).One way of trying to solve the obvious tension between the ideas of the Buddhaas a historical human person and as a supernatural agent—who in Mahayanacame to be regarded as the philosophical Absolute—is the doctrine of the threebodies of the Buddha (trikāya) (discussed later).5.2.3. Soul and SoullessnessSo far, I have spoken of the Buddha in his “previous lives,” as if there were anunproblematic continuity of personhood between lives. This is not the case, forthe Buddhist doctrine includes a denial of the soul (ātman). Both this doctrineas such and its implications for karma and rebirth have inspired much debate(e.g. Bronkhorst 1998; Collins 1982, 1–26; Pérez-Remón 1980; Reichenbach1990, 127–33). To the extent that conceptions of supernatural agents are basedon intuitions about human agency, the ātman question is relevant for under-standing the supernatural agency of buddhas. In various non-Buddhist traditions, especially in the Upanisads, the wordātman referred to soul, in the sense of an inner essence on which personalidentity was based (see Bronkhorst 2003; cf. chapter 3, section 1 here). Ātmanwas the immutable agentive principle that left the physical body at death andwas then transferred to a new body when a baby was born. In English-languagescholarship, this is often but somewhat erroneously referred to as the doc-trine of “rebirth.” Ātman neither dies nor is born.15 Only physical bodies die,while the ātman is eternal; in the Upanisads, ātman is actually considered tobe identical with Brahman, the soul of the cosmos. As a word, ātman refers to“breath,” and from the Rgveda onward is used as a reflexive pronoun and thustranslates as “self ” (Mayrhofer 1992, 164–65; see Collins 1982, 27–40, 71–73;la Vallée Poussin 1917, 26). Another word for “soul” is jīva, which carries themeaning of liveliness but refers more to an immortal essence of a person thanto the physical body. Thus, the Pali attā (Skr. ātman) is often used reflexively, as in expressionslike “self-reproach” (attānuvāda), “self-guarded” (rakhitatta), and so forth (Col-lins 1982, 71–72). This, of course, does not necessarily and as such indicateany belief in an immutable soul. It is just a linguistic convention; so schol-ars sometimes argue that anattā should be translated “nonself,” not “nonsoul”
    • buddhist supernatural agents 151(see Collins 1982, 96; Williams 2006, 56–62). However (as I showed in chap-ter 3, secton 3.1), in folk traditions it is often difficult to distinguish betweenself and soul because the meanings of the words overlap. What in LatinizedChristian tradition is called a soul is paralleled by various folk conceptions ofspirits or selfhood in other traditions. David Snellgrove (1987, 20 –22) actuallyargues that the early Buddhists did not know the Upanisadic concept of ātmanat all, and that for them, ātman was an animistically understood entity found intrees, rocks, and so forth, in addition to humans (cf. Marett ’s animatism). The locus classicus of the Buddhist idea of soullessness (Skr. anātman, Palianattā) reads as follows (Vinayapitaka 1.1.13–14, translated by I. B. Horner): Body, monks, is not self. Now were this body self [attā], monks, this body would not tend to sickness, and one might get the chance of saying in regard to body, “Let body become thus for me, let body not become thus for me.” But inasmuch, monks, as body is not self, therefore body tends to sickness, and one does not get the chance of saying in regard to body, “Let body become thus for me, let body not become thus for me.” [ The same is then repeated for feel- ings (vedanā), mental representations (saññā), mental formations (sankhārā), and consciousness (viññāna).] The Buddha then proceeds to explain that the aforementioned five con-stituents of an individual person (khandhā, Skr. skandhā) could not be the self(attā) because they are transitory (aniccam) and because all that is transitory isof necessity unsatisfactory and painful (dukkham) (Vinayapitaka 1.14). This isusually regarded as an absolute denial of the existence of a self ( because thefive khandhas supposedly form an exhaustive description of a person). Some,however, emphasize the fact that the existence of the self is never unequivocallydenied in the Tripitaka (Pérez-Remón 1980, 193; Vetter 1988, 41). Only later isthe denial clearly expressed, as in for example Vasubandhu’s AbhidharmakośaBhāsya, a Sarvāstivādin-Vaibhāsika work written in Kashmir in the fifth centuryCE (see Pyysiäinen 1993, 65–66).16 Early European scholars of Buddhism were at a loss to understand suchapparent nihilism (Saint-Hilaire 1996 [1860], 13–14; la Vallée Poussin 1917, 31–32, 107, 116–23; cf. Oldenberg 1903), and the real meaning of this teaching isstill under debate (Pérez-Remón 1980; Smart 1992). According to Claus Oetke(1988, 65–6), scholars have not really distinguished between whether the Bud-dha (or whoever was responsible for this teaching) meant to deny that experi-ences and states of consciousness belong to a subject, that they have “somekind of ” ([ irgend]einen) bearer, that they belong to an immaterial substance,and that a self (ātman) exists. Oetke himself thinks that the early passages ofthe Tipitaka did not mean to deny the existence of a self in an everyday senseof the term but merely underlined the view that there is no permanent andimmutable entity that a person could identify with at all times (zu allen Zeiten)
    • 152 supernatural agency(89, 154; see Williams 2006, 56–62). To me, this sounds like the most parsimo-nious and plausible explanation. Monk Khemaka, for example, is said to have had the feeling “I am,”although he was not able to say what or where this “I” was (Samyuttanikāya3.126 et passim). In another passage, the Buddha explains that his teaching maysound distressing to those who think “The universe is the self, I shall be thatafter death, permanent, abiding, everlasting, unchanging, and I shall exist assuch for eternity.” When the Buddha says that such an idea is “wholly andcompletely foolish,” people think “I will be annihilated, I will be destroyed,I will be no more” (Majjhimanikāya 1.136–38). When the monk Vacchagottaasked the Buddha whether there was a self (attā) or not, the Buddha remainedsilent. Then he explained to Ānanda that if he had said that there was a self,he would have subscribed to the eternalist view; if he had said that there wasno self, he would have taken the annihilationist view; and such explanationswould only “have been a greater confusion to the already confused Vaccha-gotta” (Samyuttanikāya 4.400 –401). Thus, persons seem to have a natural feeling that an “I” exists ( becausethey feel they exist), although they cannot explain it. When they hear about theidea of soullessness, they feel that the Buddha is claiming that they do not exist.For them, the Buddha appears to be a nihilist who for some weird reason wantsto deny an obvious fact. Moreover, as the text also mentions the idea of identitybetween the self and the universe, this may suggest that the Buddha (as rep-resented in this passage) thought that the everyday understanding of the selfincluded an inability to think of one’s own death. If “I am” is true, then this “I”is imperishable. What the Buddhist teaching, as presented in the sutras, deniesare the ideas that the self is an immutable entity and that the self reduces tosome or all of the khandhas. Logically, this leaves open the possibility that somekind of self exists (see Pérez-Remón 1980, 38, 85, 156–64, 195, 222–27; cf.Vetter 1988, 39 n. 8, 41 n. 10). As I see it, the most natural interpretation is thatthe teaching of soullessness only leaves room for an everyday feeling of “I am”and the use of the word attā as a linguistic convention; what it denies is thereflective interpretation of the self as a specific entity. However, if there is no permanent self, the idea of reincarnation seems to col-lapse. There simply is nothing to reincarnate. As the Buddhist teaching still seemsto presuppose the ideas of karma and reincarnation, it has been one of the greatchallenges of Buddhist scholarship to explain this apparent contradiction (seeBronkhorst 1998). A typical Theravada response is to say that in death, the fivekhandhas forming an individual are somehow taken apart; then, in the new birth,they are somehow rearranged. The whole process is like a fire that leaps fromone burning log to another—we could not meaningfully ask whether it is thenthe same or a different flame (see Reichenbach 1990, 127–33; cf. n. 2 above). This simile, however, only begs the question of the nature of the continu-ity (see Bronkhorst 1998, 2000, 77–97). The jātakas presuppose some kind
    • buddhist supernatural agents 153of continuity between different lives; so does the distinction between nirvānain this life and nirvāna after death. Although it is often said that realizing thatthere is no self brings about liberation from the round of rebirths, this reallyinvolves a contradiction. An insight into the doctrine of soullessness cannotliberate a person from the round of rebirths because to the extent that there isno self (attā), there cannot be any samsāra to be liberated from. What such aninsight could do is to liberate one from the belief that there is life after death inthe form of continuous reincarnation. In that case, “death-free” (amata) and“unborn” (ajāta) as attributes of nirvāna could mean that one has realized thatthere will be neither (re)dying nor (re)birth ( jāti ) because such things neverexisted in the first place. As the distinction between the two nirvānas is not found in the oldestsources, this might be a plausible interpretation. It hinges on the conditionthat the original teaching of Buddhism was based on a conviction that there isneither a permanent self nor reincarnation. If the more formal belief in rein-carnation came from nonVedic traditions of the Indian continent and the Bud-dha descended from the Pāndavas of an Iranian origin, it is at least conceivablethat he had not adopted this belief and it was only later included in Buddhism.17According to Akira Hirakawa (1990, 6, 185), for example, “rebirth is not a nec-essary tenet of Śākyamuni’s teachings”; it is a background assumption that onecan accept or reject without any important consequences for Buddhist teaching(see 187–88). This is a hypothesis I am not able to prove, but it does help solve some dif-ficult problems. However, it introduces a new problem: if the Buddha did notbelieve in karma and reincarnation, why did his followers adopt this view?18This need not be a fatal objection; we know that practically all religions haveadopted new elements in the course of their evolution. The denial of a perma-nent self is a massively counterintuitive idea that is very difficult to retain incultural transmission. Soullessness does not fit intuitive thinking, and evenhighly reflective thinking can often be used to enrich the intuition about a per-manent self rather than to deny it, as has been done in Christian theology, forexample. Reincarnation and the idea of self are certainly more intuitive thantheir denial. As Rahula (1959, 51) says, Buddhism is unique among religionsin its denial of the self. In everyday Buddhist discourse, the doctrine of soul-lessness is actually used more as a rhetorical way of differentiating Buddhismfrom Hinduism than as a premise of everyday reasoning about personhood(Collins 1982, 12). The everyday idea of a permanent self, in turn, requires a belief in life afterdeath, be it a life eternal or an endless series of rebirths. Belief in reincarna-tion thus is a form of intuition (and therefore relatively common even in themodern Christian West).19 The fact that the Buddhist doctrinal tradition hasretained the ideas both of soullessness and of reincarnation without recog-nizing any contradiction is a curious mixture of intuition and reflection: the
    • 154 supernatural agencyreflective idea of soullessness is accompanied by the intuition of continuityafter death, albeit a continuity that is interpreted nonpersonally. Rahula (1959, 32–33) argues that all being is a combination of “physicaland mental forces or energies” that do not stop altogether with the nonfunc-tioning of the body at death. “Will, volition, desire, thirst to exist, to continue, tobecome more and more, is a tremendous force that . . . even moves the wholeworld.” This force produces reexistence that is called “rebirth.” Although thereis no permanent self, there is some kind of continuity that makes it possible tospeak of “my” current condition being affected by “my” previous deeds and of“my” current deeds as determining “my” future lives.20 As Bronkhorst (2000)has eloquently shown, all or most of the Indian traditions are characterized bysuch a karmic account of life on Earth as due to agents’ intentional action. TheBuddhist version of this theme seems to me an attempt at a more mechanisticaccount (see Prebish and Keown 2006, 20). There is no problem of free will inBuddhism, as Rahula (1959, 54) observes. Yet the idea of personal continuityhas not been completely shaken off. The early history of ideas of karma and rebirth in India is partly obscure.The Sanskrit word karma (Pali kamma) means “action”; the law of karma saysthat persons’ past deeds determine practically every aspect of reality: the worldis the way it is because of humans’ (and animals’) past deeds (Goldman 1985;Reichenbach 1990, 79). Although scholars used to look for the origin of theseideas in the Veda, this has more recently been severely criticized (Bronkhorst1993a; 1998; Williams 2006, 11). The role of traditions other than the Vedicones of India’s Aryan invaders in the shaping of what is known as “Hindu-ism” has now been recognized (Bronkhorst 1993a,b; Collins 1982, 31; Parpola2002a,b).21 I accept as a plausible hypothesis Bronkhorst ’s suggestion thatthere are two principal sources for Indian “asceticism,” Vedic and non-Vedic,and that Buddhism is anomalous with regard to both (Bronkhorst 1993a,b). Atan early phase, the karmic explanation of evolution and fate only belonged tothe non-Vedic tradition (although Bronkhorst [1993a, 94] thinks that belief inrebirth determined by one’s actions was part of early Buddhism). Vedic asceticism developed independently out of the Vedic sacrifice. Thevānaprastha ascetic lived the life of a sacrificer, with some additional restrictionsand mortifications; the samnyāsa was an aged sacrificer who renounced theworld, “interiorizing ” his sacrificial fire (Bronkhorst 1993a, 43–65). Non-Vedicasceticism came in two forms: elimination of all action and insight in the truenature of the self (ātman). Both relied on the idea that the actions one performeddetermined one’s fate in the round of rebirths. Representatives of non-Vedicasceticism were known as śramanas, while the Vedic ascetics were referred toas brāhmanas (see Karttunen 1997, 55–64); śramanas renounced the world forgood at a relatively young age. This tradition is represented by Jainism, for exam-ple, but its ideas also appear in the Upanisads, despite the fact these texts areconsidered to be part of the Veda (Bronkhorst 1993a, 60 –61 et passim).
    • buddhist supernatural agents 155 Śramanas developed truly extreme forms of self-mortification, includ-ing voluntary starvation to death, for example. The Jains in particular werefamous for this kind of behavior. The underlying idea was that becauseaction as such tied one to rebirth, the way to salvation was inaction and com-plete immobility, quite literally. By stopping doing anything, even moving,one could not only prevent the accumulation of karma but also somehowreduce already accumulated karma (Bronkhorst 1993a, 1993b, 26–53; 2001,380 –81).22 Bronkhorst (2001, 408) argues that these and all similar practicescan be explained by an “ascetic instinct,” a feeling that one’s true self is some-thing immaterial and clearly different from the physical body, which is aliento the true self. To the extent that the experience of disembodied agency is ahuman universal, it is evident that imagining oneself as an immaterial ownerof a body cannot as such lead to extreme forms of asceticism, however (seeBronkhorst 2001, 414). We are instead dealing with some kind of runawayprocess in which the experience of disembodied agency is for some reasonunnaturally heightened, leading to extreme behaviors. An alternative reactionin the same situation was the idea that liberation was attained by realizingthat one’s self (ātman) was identical with Brahman, without actually stoppingall action. Although Buddhism shared features with other śramanic movements, itrejected both of the foregoing views: self-mortification was not needed, andātman carried no deep metaphysical meanings (Bronkhorst 1993b, 1–30, 2001,385; see Williams 2006, 11–15; Gombrich 1992). To understand this, we needto look more closely at the ideas of karma and rebirth. According to the law ofkarma, everything that is or happens is determined by the actions of beings insuch a way as to reward or punish them. This happens either mechanically orthrough some kind of divine intervention (theistic schools). But we may wellask what exactly is the mechanism that mediates between a deed and its rewardor punishment (Reichenbach 1990, 79–80). Karma is strictly individual, and goodness and badness are properties ofdeeds of isolated individuals. This raises the problem of the moral status ofcollective formations: how can the moral quality of actions of individuals deter-mine the nature of social and cultural forms (Halbfass 1991, 299–300)? Is thestate or nature of the entire universe at any given time t due to some kind ofaveraging of the effects of the deeds of billions of individuals? If so, then thereis no simple cause-effect relationship; the consequences of any deed r of anindividual A depend on what many other persons are doing at the same time.As there are millions of persons performing billions of actions every minute,it is quite impossible to calculate the effects of any deed without some kindof chunking of information. As Bronkhorst puts it (2000, 51), “it would be adaunting task to give ‘mechanical’ explanation of karmic retribution withoutfalling victim to teleology.” In the Indian traditions, dealing with this problemhas been very much avoided.
    • 156 supernatural agency Moreover, to maintain that a given event, for example an earthquake, hap-pened in order for a given individual A or group Z to receive a punishment isto attribute intentions to natural events, thus explaining them teleologically,which is problematic. There were also attempts at nonteleological explanationin classical Indian philosophy (Bronkhorst 2000, 4, 8). According to Bronk-horst (17–21), the Nyāya and Vaiśesika psychology explain human behaviornonteleologically, for they consider the soul to be motionless by its very nature;humans only learn to repeat or avoid behaviors through experience in a “behav-iorist ” manner (Bronkhorst 1993b, 61–62, 2000, 17–21). To me, this soundsmore like a blank-slate empiricism that allows for a gradual development ofgoal-directedness.23 The Vaiśesikas ran into trouble in trying to explain karmicretribution. They developed an explanation saying that activities led to virtue(dharma) or sin (adharma), which stuck to the soul. Because souls were omni-present, virtues and sins could exercise influence on all kinds of things at thelevel of the smallest possible entities (2000, 31–35). Nonetheless, the Vaiśesikas were led to reject atheism with regard to a cre-ator and assigned a central role in the retribution of karma to God (Īśvara).God creates Brahmā, who then knows the effects of the deeds of living beingsand creates everything according to the nature of the deeds of persons. Theprice of this argument is that God cannot have any freedom of will (Bronk-horst 2000, 37–38). Later, the Vedānta philosopher Śankara (eighth century)put it thus in his Brahmasūtra Bhāsya: “For it is proper that He, who con-trols all, brings about the fruit in accordance with their actions for those whohave acted, while ordering creation, preservation and destruction” (quoted inBronkhorst 2000, 50). Thus, understanding how the myriads of mechanicalprocesses work in karmic retribution is made easier by positing a single mind,God, in which all information is (49–53). Such Buddhist authors as Vasubandhu and the Yogācāra philosophers alsodiscussed the problem of goal-oriented action and karmic retribution (Bronk-horst 2000, 77–93). Early Buddhism met this problem by refraining from spec-ulations about the nature of the self and deconstructing the idea of an isolatedindividual. There is no idea of a free will, for everything is always conditioned bysomething else (Rahula 1959, 53–55). This idea is expressed in the doctrine of“dependent coarising ” (Skt. pratītyasamutpāda, Pali paticasamuppāda).24 Schol-ars have sometimes understood this formula as a causal chain in which causesand effects follow each other serially, the first two components representing thepast, components 3–10 the present, and the rest the future (e.g. Jurewicz 2000,81). There are, however, differing versions of the pratītyasamutpāda in the texts,and it seems that no strictly serial order is implied; there is no first cause ( Tila-karatne 1993, 41; see Collins 1982, 103–10, 203–5; Rahula 1959, 52–55; Wil-liams 2006, 62–72). As Rahula (1982, 54) interprets it, this doctrine meansthat “the whole of existence is relative, conditioned and interdependent.” Thereis nothing absolutely free or independent in the world, including the self.
    • buddhist supernatural agents 157 The solution the Buddha or early Buddhists offered was based on the for-mula of dependent coarising ( pratītyasamutpāda),which takes ignorance ornonknowledge (avidyā) as the cause from which the whole phenomenal worldarises. According to the Buddhist scholar Asanga Tilakaratne (1993, 39), thepaticcasamuppāda is “what the teaching of the Buddha is all about.” JoannaJurewicz (1995, 2000) argues that the pratītyasamutpāda actually parallels, linkby link, the cosmogonical myth of the Rgveda (especially in 10.129; see Brere-ton 1999, 260). In it, ātman as the primeval man ( purusa) existed before therewas existence (sát) or nonexistence (ásat); “that One” (tád ékam) was born by thepower of heat (tápas), and when this self-cognizing Absolute “breathed with-out wind through its inherent force,” a cognitive process was initiated and theworld born (see Brereton 1999). In the Buddhist formula, the presuppositionof ātman is questioned, and the end result of the whole process—birth, aging,death, sorrow, lamentation, suffering, grief, and depression—is deemed unsat-isfactory (duhkham). The Buddha thus ironically criticizes Brahmanism.25 If Jurewicz’s interpretation is correct, this is not merely a diagnosis ofhuman suffering but also a sarcastic critique of Vedic cosmogony: the worlddoes not arise from any kind of pure agency ( Tilakaratne 1993, 41). That ide-alistic view is gravely mistaken because the world is in a state of constant flux(see von Rospatt 1995); what is regarded as the cognizing subject is not any-thing separable from this flux. This subject is the product of the same naturalprocesses as everything else, at once an end-product and a cause. If early Buddhism really represented such “empirism” and “realism,” thenwe have to explain why some kind of idealism emerged in Mahayana, espe-cially the school of Yogācāra, or Vijñānavāda (“mind-only”) as it is also called.Vasubandhu, for example, describes in his Abhidharmakośa Bhāsya how deedsas mental events bear fruit. Even such material things as mountains and con-tinents are the result of living beings’ deeds. As a Buddhist, Vasubandhu couldnot take recourse to the idea of a creator God in trying to explain the mecha-nism by which karma operates, though. Both deeds and the “series” that led totheir fruition were mental, but the fruition itself was not exclusively mental. Inhis Vimśatikā (a Yogācāra work—see Pyysiäinen 1993, 65–66), however, Vasu-bandhu adopts an idealist position and thinks that the “impressions” (vāsanā)of deeds enter into the series of consciousness (vijñānasāntana), and fruitiontakes place there. In other words, everything happens in the “mind only”(vijñaptimātratā, cittamātratā) (Bronkhorst 2000, 67–73; see Hirakawa 1990,189–96; Pyysiäinen 1993, 120 –24). The Lankāvatārasūtra explains this doctrine using the simile of a hare’shorns (see Pyysiäinen 1993, 110 –20). Nonexistence is a relational conceptreceiving its meaning from its opposite, existence: “Long and short, etc., existmutually bound up; when existence is asserted, there is non-existence, andwhere non-existence is asserted, there is existence” (Lankāvatārasūtra 1932,49). Thus, a hare’s horns are nonexistent in reference to, for instance, a bull’s
    • 158 supernatural agencyhorns: “The non-existence of hare’s horns is asserted in reference to theirexistence (on the bull . . .)” (48). And yet Mahayana ontology takes all exten-sions of verbal expressions to be nonexistent: “but really a horn itself has noexistence from the beginning ” (48). Thus, no-existence loses its relationalcounterpart and becomes meaningless. Neither being nor nonbeing can bepredicated on anything. Thus, “all things are devoid of the alternatives of beingand non-being and are to be known, Mahāmati, as the horns of a hare, a horse,or a camel” (47, 55, 64). Therefore, “of neither existence nor non-existencedo I speak, but of Mind-only which has nothing to do with existence andnon-existence” (133). Both other Buddhists and Western scholars have often taken this affirma-tion of “mind-only” as a garden-variety idealism. Doing so, however, leads tothe dilemma of having to choose between solipsism and the view of an abso-lute mind (as in Vedānta); both ideas are at odds with the doctrine of anātman.Lindtner (1986, 250) cites the (Madhyamaka-)Ratnapradīpa, in which Bhavyaargues that if the “mind-only” doctrine is correct, then when a person sees, forexample, a jar, he or she should also perceive the mental contents of all livingbeings. In other words, living beings should have an “intuition” (abhijñā) ofother minds ( para-citta). This, however seems to bestow to the mind an abso-lute position as the basis (see Wood 1991, 261–62). Thomas Wood (1991, 191–92) argues that from a philosophical point ofview, absolute idealism is conceptually implied in the Vijñānavāda doctrine butthe Vijñānavādins denied such an implication as non-Buddhist. Another possi-bility might be that the Vijñānavādins only wanted to argue that rational agentsdo not have any unmediated access to external reality. All perceptions and men-tal representations are constructed by the mind (citta); this need not neces-sarily imply that nothing exists outside of the mind (cf. Niiniluoto 1984, 89,2002, 88–91; Murti 1980, 315, attributes such a position to Śankara). The mindinstead is a construction that arises from material processes in accordance withthe pratītyasamutpāda. For example Vasubandhu in his Trimśikā actually arguesthat the essence of “mind-only” is nonmind (acitta) (see Wood 1991, 49–60). Thus, Buddhist authors can be said to have tried to develop an account ofcausality that does not take recourse to teleology, absolute idealism, or God.Nāgārjuna (first centuries CE), representing the Madhyamaka school, evenwrote a formal refutation of the existence of “God” (Īśvara), the Īśvarakartrtvanirākrtih.26 According to Nāgārjuna, God cannot create the world because whatis nonexistent cannot be made existent, as there can be no point of contactbetween existent and nonexistent. Second, no thing has an essence (svabhāva);everything arises from something else in the way the pratītyasamutpādadescribes. This makes the idea of God as the first cause impossible. Thus, the Indian ideas of karma and reincarnation are based on the intu-itions of disembodied agency and a “promiscuous teleology”: the agentive prin-ciple or self wanders from body to body, and its deeds determine everything
    • buddhist supernatural agents 159that is or happens in the world. The problem of mental causation, especiallyin its collective aspect, is then solved by either invoking a god who mediatesbetween the intention behind a deed and its “fruit ” or adopting an idealist posi-tion. Either a god makes things happen in accordance with the intentions ofliving beings or the effects of mental causation are interpreted as being mental,too. Early Buddhism may have represented a radically different alternative inwhich teleology was replaced by a mechanical causation and, possibly, withoutbelief in reincarnation. Yet the Buddhist views concerning the agency of theBuddha are interesting from the religious point of view, because they postulatea specific type of supernatural agency.5.3. Embodied Buddhahood5.3.1. The Three BodiesEspecially in the śāstra literature, it is emphasized that only a single body,the “essential body” (svābhāvikakāya) belonging to all buddhas, really exists.According to Griffiths (1994, 81, 134), the three different bodies are actu-ally three different functions of a numerically single entity: the first is theDharma-body, which is the “basis” or “support ” (āśraya) of the “apparitionalbody” (nirmānakāya) and the “body of communal enjoyment ” (sāmbhogakāya)(e.g., Samdhinirmocanasūtra 10.1; Ratnagotravibhāga, 1966, 289–90, 324;Mahāyānasamgraha 10.1; cf. Lankāvatārasūtra 1932, 51–52; see Lamotte 1958,689–90). The idea of the Buddha’s Dharma-body is based on the fact that the Dharmaof early Buddhism was not just a set of Buddha’s teachings; it was instead the“original Absolute of Buddhism” that somehow embodied nirvāna (Rosenberg1924, 82; Takasaki 1966, 26). Much like the eternal speech (vāc) underlyingthe Vedas, which was not produced by human agency (it was apauruseya; seePadoux 1990), the Buddhist Dharma is a set of ideas that exist in eternity, irre-spective of whether they are cognized by anybody (see Gombrich 1992, 165).The Buddha’s authority was based on his immediate relationship with thisDharma (Gombrich 1988, 33, 71). Thus also the Buddha’s first converts “sawthe Dhamma, attained the Dhamma, knew the Dhamma” and even “plungedinto the Dhamma” ( pariyogālhadhammo) (Vinayapitaka 1.12). In the Samyuttanikāya (2.25), we read: “Whether, o monks, tathāgatas willappear or not appear this nature of things (dhātu), this conditioning by Dhamma(dhammatthitatā), this orderliness based on Dhamma (dhammaniyāmatā), thisdependent nature of things (idappacayatā), just stands.” The monk Kassapais said to be entitled to regard himself as the Buddha’s own son and to beborn of his mouth and of the Dharma because as a teacher, the Buddha hasa Dharma-body and a Dharma-nature (dhammabhūto) (Samyuttanikāya 2.221;also Mahāsaccakasutta 3.195).27 In another passage, we read about a certain
    • 160 supernatural agencymonk who had for a long time wanted to see the Buddha face to face. TheBuddha told him that there was nothing to see in his vile body; he who seesthe Dhamma sees the Buddha, and he who sees the Buddha sees the Dhamma(Samyuttanikāya 3.120). The Dharma-body is the Buddha as he (she, it?) really is, not as he appears.It is whatever is ultimately real; and thus the Buddha is actually “homologizedwith everything there is,” as Griffiths puts it (1994, 148; 147–80). This equiva-lence of the Buddha’s body and his teachings is explicitly established in theDhammakāyassa Atthavannanā, a much later Theravada text.28 By identifyingstages of the Buddhist path with parts of the Buddha’s body, this text explainsthat the Buddha’s body and his teaching are the Dharma-body (dhammakāya).The contents of the text are arranged according to the following scheme (Coèdes1956, 255–56, 260 –61; see Reynolds 1977, 385–86). the buddha’s body and the doctrine The mental ability of omniscience = head Nibbāna = hair The fourth jhāna = forehead The mental ability to attain the thunderbolt = the hair between the eyebrows (vajirasamāpattiñāna) (unnā) The visual fixation on the blue meditation = the eyebrows object (nīlakasina) The most excellent divine eye, eye of = the eyes knowledge, all-seeing eye, Buddha-eye, Dhamma-eye (dibbacakkhu-paññācakkhu- samantacakkhubuddhacakkhu-dhamma cakkhu) The divine ear = the ears The mental ability of a converted Buddhist = the nose (gotrabhū; see Rhys Davids & Stede 1972, 255) The knowledge of the fruits of the path and = the cheeks liberation (vimutti ) The knowledge of the thirty-seven wings of = the teeth enlightenment Mundane and supramundane mental abilities = the lips ( lokiyalokuttarañāna) The knowledge of the four paths = the canine teeth The knowledge of the four truths = the tongue The irresistible knowledge = the jaw The mental ability to obtain unequaled = the neck liberation (anuttaravimokkha)
    • buddhist supernatural agents 161 The knowledge of the three properties of things = the throat The knowledge of the four subjects of = the arms self-confidence The seven limbs of enlightenment = the chest The capacity of the ten powers = the stomach The knowledge of the net of mutual = the navel dependencies The five powers of the five faculties = the buttocks The four perfect efforts = the thighs The ten paths of meritorious action = the legs The four bases of supernatural power = the feet Psychic mastery of moral practices = the sanghātī-robe Remorse = the robe (cīvara) Knowledge of the eightfold path = the inner garment (antara vāsaka) The four applications of mindfulness = the belt In the Prajñāpāramitā literature of Mahayana, “Dharma-body” is oftenreplaced by the “perfection of wisdom,”29 with which the Buddha has an inti-mate connection (see Pyysiäinen 1993, 132–37).30 The manifestation of the ulti-mate reality before human eyes in the person of the Buddha is only due to theBuddha’s “skill in means” (upāyakauśalya; Large Sūtra on Perfect Wisdom 1984,622). The “skill in means” is an important concept in Mahayana Buddhism andhas made it possible to explain why the Buddha does many things that yet lackall reality. He merely accommodates his behavior according to what is properin the world of unenlightened beings (Pye 1978). In Mahayana treatises such asthe Ratnagotravibhāga (1966, 213), the Buddha’s Dharma-body is identified withthe absolute reality so that the whole phenomenal reality is reduced to it. Thus,“the Tathāgata is the highest Absolute Essence” and “reaches up to the limitof the space,” and his life lasts as long as the utmost limit of the world. In thissense, the “multitudes of living beings” are said to be included in the Buddha’swisdom ( buddhajñāna), and the Buddha’s body is said to “penetrate everywhere”(1966, 184, 197, 304; Mahāyānasamgraha 2.33.1, 10; 2.33.2, 20 –21). In the Lotussūtra, the pervading quality of the Buddha’s Dharma is describedwith a simile comparing it to a rain-cloud (dharmameghā) that pours rain on allbeings alike (1968, 118–27; see Pye 1978, 43–47). It is said: As the rays of the sun and moon descend alike on all men, good and bad, without deficiency (in one case) or surplus (in the other); So the wisdom of the Tathāgata shines like the sun and moon, leading all beings without partiality (1968, 136).31
    • 162 supernatural agencyIn his Dharma-body, the Buddha also is omniscient, in that his mind doesnot construct mental representations of phenomena; everything is directlyreflected in the mind of the Buddha just as it is (Griffiths 1994, 151–55, 168).The śāstras use words such as nirvikalpa (“nonconstructive”) and ādarśajñāna(“mirror-awareness”) to describe the nature of the Buddha’s awareness (164).Griffiths quotes the Mahāyānasūtrālamkāra: “Bodhisattvas who are free fromconstruction [kalpanāmātram] and who see all this (sc. the entire cosmos) justas has been described, as nothing but construction, are said to have attainedawakening ” (1994, 155). The Buddha in his Dharma-body appears in various imaginary worlds inhis “body of communal enjoyment ” (sambhogakāya). This word is usually trans-lated as “body of enjoyment ” but Griffiths (1994, 127–28) adds “communal” asa translation of sam-. The idea is that there is always a multitude of bodhisattvaslistening to the teaching of the sāmbhogakāya and “enjoying ” it in way analo-gous to the way one enjoys a meal. Only highly advanced practitioners of thepath can see the the sambhogakāya, in a heavenly realm called a buddha-field( buddhaksetra). These fields are mere mental images (vijñapti ) produced by theneeds of living beings, without having any referents in external reality. Strictlyspeaking, it is not necessary that the teacher be a buddha; bodhisattvas can alsoappear in a sāmbhogakāya (127–37). The Buddha’s actions as a human person in worlds such as the human oneare always actions of an apparitional body (nirmānakāya). Yet the Buddha inhis nirmānakāya can also appear in any form and in any destiny in the world,for example as a “hungry ghost ” ( preta) (Griffiths 1994, 90 –91). The Buddha’sactions in the nirmānakāya have three characteristics: first, the absence ofintentions or volitions (cetanā, abhisamskāra) as causes of action; second, theabsence of any effort (yatna, ābhoga) or deliberation involving constructive oranalytical thought (vikalpa) guiding action; and third, the absence of any pos-sibility of wrong action (103–4). The Buddha always does everything right com-pletely spontaneously, not reflecting on different alternatives. Although, different buddhas with different names exist, only one nir-mānakāya is in the world at a time. As there are numerous different bodhisat-tvas gathering merit that will eventually lead to full awakening, there must beseveral nirmānakāyas. And because the actions of a buddha in his nirmānakāyacannot bring everybody to awakening, and the Buddha yet always achieves hisends, there must be several nirmānakāyas. Finally, because the awakening thatproduces a buddha in his nirmānakāya can only be based on the fact that abodhisattva has gathered merit under the guidance of a buddha, there musthave been an innumerous number of buddhas but not any original Buddha(ādibuddha) (Griffiths 1994, 120 –21). The traditional thirty-two major and eighty minor bodily marks of a GreatMan (mahāpurusa), that is, a Great King (cakravartin rāja) or a religious leader,belong to the nirmānakāyas of buddhas, not to their “essential being ” (e.g.,
    • buddhist supernatural agents 163Dīghanikāya 2.16–19, 169–99, 3.58–79, 142–45; Ratnagotravibhāga 1966, 344–49; Lankāvatārasūtra 1932, 12, 68; see Large Sūtra on Perfect Wisdom 1984,551–52 [Astadasasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra in Gilgit manuscript]). The thirty-two marks are described in, for example, the Lakkhanasuttanta (Dīghanikāya3.142–45), the Pañcavimsatisāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra (Large Sūtra on PerfectWisdom 1984, 657–64), the Astadasasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra (Large Sūtraon Perfect Wisdom 583–87), and the Bodhisattvabhūmi (quoted in Griffiths 1994,99–100). This idea is a Buddhist adaptation of old folk beliefs and may havebeen influenced by the statues of the Buddha that were first made in northwest-ern India, in Gandhāra, at the beginning of the Christian era (Bareau 1969,13–14; Gombrich 1988, 124; Lamotte 1958, 479–86; Thomas 1975, 219–22;Waldschmidt 1967, 227). Among the thirty-two marks are such things as firmlyplaced feet, thousand-spoked wheels on the soles of feet, long fingers, web-likehands and feet, a sheathed penis, body hairs pointing upward, golden skin,forty even teeth, a long and thin tongue, a voice like Brahma’s, blue eyes, and ahead like a turban (usnisaśīrsa).32 Thus, we find here a line of reasoning similar to that found in the Chris-tian sources I analyzed in chapter 4: besides a natural body “subject to all Infir-mities that come by Nature or accident,” the Buddha has a body “utterly voidof Infancy, and old Age, and other natural Defects and Imbecilities, which theBody natural is subject to” (to apply quotations from Kantorowicz [1957, 7] ina new context). No idea of borrowing or travel of narrative motives can explainthis similarity. It instead seems that there is a recurrent human tendency totreat social organizations and ideologies as agents because this is a cognitivelyeconomical way of making inferences. People say “the Church wants” or “theBible says,” as if these two entities are agents with beliefs and desires. It wouldbe cognitively costly to reduce abstract entities such as the Church or the Bibleto various individuals’ beliefs and desires. In most cases, the cognitive costs ofsuch mental operations would far exceed the possible benefits. The natural connection between agency and some kind of bodily form hasthe effect that treating an abstract entity as an agent also brings along the ideaof a body. Within the Christian tradition, the Church is the mystical body ofChrist, and the Bible embodies the word of God and the person of Christ. Nowwe find a similar line of reasoning in the Buddhist tradition. The Dharma asthe Buddhist teaching is viewed as an agent, and this, then, brings along theidea of the bodily form of the Dharma. The Buddha’s body is used to give theDharma a form; in addition, it is also used as a “scale-model” of the cosmos.The agency of buddhas is exceptional, in that ultimately ( paramārthatam), bud-dhas do not have beliefs or desires. There is no active mental construction inthe mind of a buddha; everything is reflected in a buddha-mind just as it is,without distinctions (see Pyysiäinen 1993, 104–24, 137–39). Thus, the buddhasalso do not wish for anything; they know that everything happens just as it hap-pens. Therefore, buddhas do not have to reflect on several alternatives or make
    • 164 supernatural agencychoices. Buddhas are not beings separate from the rest of the reality but theonly thing that is real. Yet buddhas are understood as being immanent ratherthan transcendent.5.3.2. Images and RelicsSo far, I have mostly analyzed prescribed ideas in Buddhist texts, although thejātakas, for example, represent folk beliefs rather than official doctrine. How-ever, a number of anthropological studies from Buddhist countries conveysome idea of the actual (v. prescribed) beliefs of living Buddhists (although thereare practically no experimental studies). One central topic in literature has beenthe alleged “syncretism” of South Asian Buddhism: people identify themselvesas Buddhists yet also worship many Hindu deities and have animistic beliefs(see Gellner 2001). Gombrich (1995, 54–57) argues that this is actually not acase of syncretism, because the Hindu gods have been part of Buddhism fromthe very beginning. Their existence was never denied, although they are notconsidered to be important from the human point of view. It is possible forhumans to be reborn as gods, but eventually gods must be reborn as humansin order to attain liberation from suffering. There is thus a division of laborbetween the Buddha and the gods: gods might be able to help in worldly mat-ters, whereas only the Buddha can teach the way to ultimate liberation (seeObeyesekere 1966). Yet most Theravada Buddhists, monks included, think thatit is practically impossible to attain nirvāna; they only aim to gather such meritor good karma (Skt. punya) as ensures a better rebirth. For a person with goodkarma, it will then be possible to attain nirvāna when a new buddha comes tothe world (Bunnag 1973; Gombrich 1995, 19–20; Prebish and Keown 2006,21–22; Spiro 1972). People venerate not only the Hindu gods but also the Buddha images.The worship of the Buddha image was actually modeled after South IndianHindu temple worship, which was modeled after the court ceremonial (Gom-brich 1988, 146). The veneration consists of offering of flowers and food, burn-ing of incense, and recitations in Pali (see Gombrich 1995, 134–38, 140 –50).The prescribed interpretation is that it is only the intention of the worshiperthat counts, not the offerings as such, ex opera operato (138–39). The Theravadadoctrine is clear: the Buddha is dead and no longer active in the world; yet inmoments of crisis some individuals may pray to him. Gombrich (1988, 120) regards this as a “spontaneous outburst of emo-tion” that is then denied as soon as one’s mind is calm (see Gombrich 1995,139). From the cognitive point of view, we are interested precisely in how suchautomatic cognitive-emotional processes work (see the appendix), not merelyin finding out what the prescribed ideas are (“real Buddhism”). Gombrich (143)also acknowledges that the emotional attitude brings about a “break-through”to the cognitive level, because the Pali verses recited in offering food to the
    • buddhist supernatural agents 165Buddha image clearly address the Lord (Bhante Bhagavant) as if he were alive.And Gananath Obeyesekere (1966) argues that Sri Lankan Buddhists “intel-lectually” recognize that the Buddha is dead yet “emotionally” feel that he issomehow present in his relics. The prescribed ideas of Buddhism thus seemto be costly in such a way that they cannot be consistently applied in everydaysituations. Relics and the Buddha images are ritually treated as though the Lord werepresent in them, although the prescribed idea is that he is dead. Gombrich(1995, 134) argues that the statues are “sacred objects” and points out that theirmanufacture is the prerogative of the subcaste of painters (sittaru) only. Today,others may also make Buddha statues—there is even mass production—butusually others do not paint the eyes; without the eyes, the statue is only anordinary object, not in any sense sacred. As soon as a sittaru paints the eyes, theimage becomes sacred. This fact is no mere coincidence; eyes have a specialcapacity to trigger animacy assumptions, and they play an important role inmind reading: it has been experimentally shown that in following a conver-sation, people focus their gazes on the eyes of the speakers and the spacesbetween their faces (von Hofsten 2007; von Hofsten and Gredebäck 2007). Inthe case of the Buddha images also, it is the eyes that trigger the feeling of thepresence of the Buddha’s agency. According to Gombrich, the custom of offering food to the Buddha imageemerged rather early, in the form of offering food and drink to an image orcasket (cetiya) containing a relic (Gombrich 1995, 143). The veneration of relicswas actually a Buddhist invention originally (Gombrich 1988, 123). After theimages receive offerings of food, it is afterward given to either dogs or Tamil(Hindu) beggars. The situation thus is very different from the Hindu customof offering food to gods and then happily consuming it together with the oth-ers who are present. And there are statues of Hindu gods in many ( but not all)Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka; in some, the gods even receive food offerings(while in others they are mere decorations); part of this food is then returnedto the worshiper. This does not happen to the food offered to the Buddha; noself-respecting Buddhist would touch it because it is the property of the sangha(monks), from whom laypersons are not allowed to take anything (Gombrich1995, 140 –44). The monks themselves do not need the extra food, of course.To the extent that the food is given to the Buddha by the sangha and the foodyet remains the property of the sangha, the sangha seems to be the embodimentof the Buddha and the Dharma. It also seems that the Buddha images—likethe crucifix—effectively trigger animacy assumptions and agentive inferences.These intuitions are then used to guide the veneration of images, although thispartly contradicts the prescribed doctrine. The Buddhist veneration of relics is particularly interesting because it wasunheard-of in India in the centuries following the death of the Buddha, asMonier Monier-Williams (1889) and Jean Przyluski observe (quoted in Strong
    • 166 supernatural agency2004, 15; see also Bareau 1963, 122). In “Hinduism,” corpses and remains ofbodies were regarded as impure and polluting, not as objects of veneration.However, Gregory Schopen (1998, 261) opines that relics are not associatedwith death at all, so taboos of pollution do not apply to them. This argumentsomewhat begs the question, because not being impure and not being associ-ated with death are aspects of the same problem. Why are relics not connected with death? First, relics are always theremains (or personal belongings) of extraordinary individuals whose remem-brance does not fade away within five generations; their agency lives on in theirworks and achievements. It seems that such remembering is crucial in relicworship: when an individual’s agency continues after his or her death, peopleconnect his or her animacy and mentality with something physical so as tomake his or her presence more concrete. Pure mentality is too costly to processcognitively. Relics thus serve, partly at least, the same function as various kindsof subtle bodies of spirits: they embody mentality, which is difficult to imagineapart from all spatiality and physicality. Connecting agency with relics is made possible by the kind of implicit (oreven explicit) essentialism in which an agent ’s personal essence as a wholeis supposed to be present in every part of him or her, also including such exten-sions of personhood as various kinds of personal belongings and artifacts,such as works of art, made by him or her. And a single bone of a saint canbe believed to be equivalent to the presence of the saint, for example; thus,the bodily remains of the saint, however small, can work the same kinds ofmiracles as the saint himself or herself. A relic contains the essence of the per-son whose relic it is, and the agency of this person continues in the relics. Inthe case of the Buddha, the extension of his agency is, of course, the Dharma.Thus, in addition to body relics and contact relics, there are also Dharma relics,that is, such embodiments of the Buddha’s teachings as the sutras, for exam-ple (Strong 2004, 8–9). And he who sees the relics sees the Buddha, as theMahāvamsa puts it (quoted in Strong 2004, 9). Buddha, Dharma, and Dharma-body are more or less interchangeable. Second, the purity of the relics is related to the fact that mostly bones areused as physical relics, never rotting flesh. John Strong sees the enshrinementof relics as a kind of a second burial in which clean bones are put in the reli-quary, much as only the clean bones are buried in double burials. Yet this doesnot mean the end of agency but its continuation. In this sense, relics indeedare not associated with death but with life. In India, this kind of attitude towardthe life of an individual seems to have been a novelty introduced by the Bud-dhists. And the burial of non-Buddhist ascetics, who were considered to havebeen liberated from samsāra, was exceptional, in that they were entombed, notcremated (Bareau 1979, 71–2; Bronkhorst 2007, 268); often a tumulus wasalso made (Strong 2004, 16). We can only speculate about the possibility ofthis being related to the belief that the liberated one was not going to return to
    • buddhist supernatural agents 167a new body, so he needed an alternative physical connection with physical real-ity (note that liberation was not necessarily identical with death, because deathwas only a gateway to a new life). Whether people felt that the spatial location of those “Hindu” asceticswho were liberated from samsāra was a problem or not, it certainly becamea problem in Buddhism. Where the Tathāgata is after his death is one of thetraditional questions never answered by the Buddha.33 In India, the bodiesof Buddhist monks were always cremated and not buried. If the self was alsoconsidered perishable, then it truly became a problem to explain where a deadagent was, if not reborn. The idea of complete annihilation is simply too counter-intuitive to become widespread. As the memories of the dead continue in peo-ple’s minds and as pure mentality is difficult to imagine, memories of the deadare connected with something physical or at least spatial, like the grave, forinstance (Nilsson 1930, 90). In the case of the Buddha, the images and relicsserve this function. The origins of relic worship are described in the Mahāparinirvānasūtra, atext found in the Tipitaka (about one hundred pages), in Sanskrit versions, andin Chinese translations (see Bareau 1970 – 71, 1974b, 1979). It contains the fol-lowing account of the Buddha’s death. When Cunda the goldsmith offers to the Buddha a meal of sūkaramaddava,the Buddha becomes ill and predicts that he will “enter parinirvāna” (i.e. die)the following night.34 He says that no one is to blame Cunda, who only didwhat was necessary (Dīghanikāya 2.126–36). A bit later, the Buddha tells howhis body should be treated after his death. The monks should not worry aboutthe funeral.35 Many brāhmanas, ksatriyas, and householders will worship thebody of the Tathāgata. His funeral should be like that of a wheel-turning king(cakravartin rāja’s): the body should be wrapped in a new cloth and then incarded cotton wool and then again in a new cloth, with five hundred layers ofboth cloths altogether. Then the body is to be put in an ayasāya tela-doniyā (“oilvessel of iron”) and covered close up with another ayasāya tela-doniyā. Then afuneral pyre of all kinds of perfume should be built and the body burned andstūpas erected at the four crossroads. Whenever somebody places garlands orperfumes or paint or makes a salutation there, he shall gain profit and joy(Dīghanikāya 2.141–42). The last words of the Buddha were “O monks, I say to you: all phenom-ena are bound to destruction, strive conscientiously!” (Dīghanikāya 2.155–56).After this, the Buddha went through the four meditative states ( jhānas) and thefour formless meditations back and forth. From the fourth jhāna, he enteredparinirvāna ( parinibbāyi ), which here means that he die (Dīghanikāya 2.156).The preparation for the Buddha’s funeral took six days; on the seventh day, thecitizens of Kusinara tried to carry the corpse outside the city gates, but the bodywas too heavy to lift. This was because the Mallas (a clan) wanted to carry thecorpse through the southern city gate, whereas the gods (devatānam) wanted
    • 168 supernatural agencythe Buddha to be carried through the north gate, then back to the town, andthen through the eastern gate to the shrine of the Mallas called Makutaban-dhana (Dīghanikāya 2.159–60). The Mallas were not able to set the funeral pyre alight, however. Only whenAnuruddha and five hundred monks arrived and paid homage to the Buddhadid the funeral pyre catch fire—by itself. When the body was burned, neithersoot nor ash was seen; only the bones remained. Then streams of waters camedown from sky and extinguished the pyre. The Mallas worshiped the bonesfor seven days. Different clans then claimed the relics of the Buddha for them-selves; the Mallas decided to divide the bones into eight so that all got their share(Dīghanikāya 2.163–67). This is how the relic worship is legitimated in the tex-tual tradition. Thus, the actual practice of worship has a legitimation in “canoni-cal” literature, although this creates a certain tension in Buddhist doctrine. Some Sanskrit Buddhist texts, such as the Avadānaśataka, hold that rel-ics can help persons embark on the path of arhat-ship, while some Therava-dins argue that relics cannot guide anybody to the Buddhist path, althoughin Sinhalese practice, for example, they are important (see Gombrich 1995).Mahayanists often claim that relics can even be the equivalent of living bud-dhas (Strong 2004, 48). In actual practice, the Buddha, understood to be dead,is felt to be immanent in his relics, which is a kind of a folk-psychological expla-nation for the feeling of the Buddha’s presence (Gombrich 1995, 124; Obeye-sekere 1966, 8).5.3.3. Buddhas and BodhisattvasThe Mahāvastu of the Mahāsamghika-Lokottaravāda school is a “ bridge work ”between Hinayana and Mahayana, written in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit andcontaining “much mythological enthusiasm but little intellectual penetration”(Pye 1978, 60; see Pyysiäinen 1993, 59–61, 66). It emphasizes the completetranscendence of buddhas. Thus, one of the fourteen ways a bodhisattva ofthe third stage can “lapse and fail” is by teaching buddhas to be of this world( lokasamatāye deśenti ) (Mahāvastu 1949–52, 1:75– 76). Yet “there is nothing inthe Buddhas that can be measured by the standard of the world, but every-thing appertaining to the great seers is transcendent ( lokottara)” (Mahāvastu1949–52, 1:125). This idea consistently guides the presentation of the Buddha’slife in the Mahāvastu, starting with the description of his immaculate concep-tion and birth.36 According to this text, the birth of a buddha is due to certain cosmic laws:the bodhisattva is born virginally and by the strength of his own karmic merit.37Thus, he is uncontaminated by any “worldly” qualities from the beginning.The Buddha is a transcendent light of the world and comes down from heavento earth in order to enlighten humans who have become blind: “Desiring toenter the womb of Queen Māyā in the form of a noble lotuswhite elephant, he,
    • buddhist supernatural agents 169the light of the world, left the realm of Tusita[-gods], and came down to earthto raise up the people whom he saw were wanton and blind and who had suc-cumbed to doubt and unrighteousness” (Mahāvastu 1949–52, 1:77– 78). The Buddha is then born in a “mind-made” body (manomayakāya) fromthe right side of his mother, yet without piercing that side (Mahāvastu 1949–52, 1:117–18, 174, 2:18). The Buddha deliberately chose a mother who had tenmonths and seven days of life left, because she must not make love after thebirth of a Buddha (2:3–4). The Buddha here is no longer a man who became abuddha but a buddha who became a man. Consequently, he must have beenin an ultimate sense perfect in every way, even before his enlightenment(see Pyysiäinen 1993, 144). The Buddha’s transcendent quality is described ina passage inserted en bloc, beginning with the conduct, root of virtue, walking,standing, sitting, and lying down of the Buddha, all of which are said to betranscendent ( lokottara). The same holds true of his body, wearing of the robe,eating, and teaching (Mahāvastu 1949–52, 1:132). Despite being transcendent, the buddhas still appear to be ordinary mor-tals, since they accommodate themselves to the world. They practice the fourpostures of the body even though they feel no fatigue; they bathe, clean theirteeth, and wash their feet even though no dirt is ever found on them. Thiswashing is “mere conformity with the world.” The buddhas put on robes as a“mere conformity with the world” since no cold wind could harm them. Forthe same reason, they sit in the shade even though the sun would not tor-ment them, take medicine though they are never ill, and eat food though neverhungry. They also take on the semblance of being old even though in realitythey have overcome old age. The buddhas remain in the world for a certainspan of time, though they could immediately leave it if they wished (Mahāvastu1949–52, 1:132–33). Bareau, following Przyluski (1918–20, 11:515–26, 13:365–429, 15:5–6) arguesthat for his first followers, the Buddha was only a human being. Only duringthe Maurya period (322–185 BCE) did he become equated with a wheel-turningking, was he raised to a “functional god” of sorts, and did he become the objectof religious veneration (Bareau 1962, 32–33, 1963, 361–62, 1969, 1974b, 288,1979, 2, 64, 72– 73). Whether or not Bareau’s view of the first followers’ atti-tude toward the Buddha is correct, he is certainly correct about the venerationof the Buddha deriving from a period at least as early as the Mauryan. Thisdevelopment was followed in Mahayana by the emergence of beliefs about vari-ous kinds of “celestial and cosmic” buddhas (in addition to the buddhas whohad preceded Gautama and who had been worshiped from the Aśokan periodonward [Reynolds and Hallisey 1987, 327–28]). The number of celestial buddhas is infinite in principle, and many of themare named in Buddhist literature; mythological and devotional traditions haveonly developed in a few cases, notably in the case of Amitābha (“boundlesslight”), whose cult originated in northwest India or Central Asia (Reynolds and
    • 170 supernatural agencyHallisey 1987, 328; see Getty 1962). Amitābha (also called Amitāyus, “Bound-less Life”) rules over his “Pure Land” paradise, described in the short and longversions of the Sukhāvatīvyuha, translated into Chinese in the second cen-tury CE, as well as in the Amitāyurnidhyānasūtra (Amstutz 1977, 1–25; Getty1962, 37–42). The cult of Amitābha (Jap. Amida) became important in Chinaand Japan, but there is little evidence of it having been widespread in India( Williams 2006, 185–87). In addition to such cosmic buddhas, there are also bodhisattvas, “enlight-enment beings” traditionally interpreted as beings who postpone their own(pari )nirvāna in order to stay in the world and teach others, out of compassion.This view, of course, depends on the belief that the final goal is reached onlyin death. Moreover, as the Mahayanists emphasize that the nirvāna of buddhasis beyond the dichtomy of samsāra and nirvāna (see Pyysiäinen 1993, 104–24),the Buddha’s attainment is called a “nonfixed nirvāna” (apratisthitanirvāna);thus, there is not really a nirvāna to be postponed, and the Buddha is not, ofcourse, regarded as inferior to the bodhisattva ( Williams 2006, 139). The bodhisattva ideal was developed within Mahayana as an alternative toHinayana exclusivism: anybody can strive for buddhahood by taking the vowsand then cultivating the six perfections ( pāramitā). The spiritual way of the bod-hisattva, divided into ten stages or levels ( bhūmi ), is long and hard. At first, theMahayana bodhisattvas were a group of people, not celestial beings. But earlyMahayana also embraced a number of cults centered on particular sutras someof which described the Pure Land of Amitābha and the means of being rebornthere. In due course, certain advanced bodhisattvas were associated with PureLands and the idea emerged of “Buddha-fields” ( buddhaksetra) as places to bereborn in or to be visited in meditation (Griffiths 1994, 129–33; Keown 2004,38, 43–44; Williams 2006, 176–91). This is the way the historical Buddha’s agency has been extended sincehis death. His bodily presence (animacy) continues in the images, relics, andsacred texts, while his mentality is represented as the Buddha-idea (“buddha-hood,” Buddha-nature, tathāgatagarbha). This Buddha-agency is not restrictedto the historical Buddha but has been elevated into an absolute principle thatgoverns the whole of reality. In Mahayana doctrine, the possibility of person-ally realizing this ideal is, in principle, open to everybody in the career of thebodhisattva. This view of the ultimate goal actually being within the reach ofeverybody is expressed by various kinds of paradoxical claims. It is argued, for example, that the bodhisattva should understand that theuncompounded cannot be made known through the exclusion of the com-pounded, or the other way around (Large Sūtra on Perfect Wisdom 1984, 94;Nāgārajuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 7.35). Therefore, “that entity which is thesign of something conditioned is neither other than the inexpressible realm,nor not other (Large Sūtra on Perfect Wisdom 1984, 647),” and “nirvāna isneither an existent thing nor a non-existent thing ” (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā
    • buddhist supernatural agents 17125.10). “The Bodhisattva . . . neither discriminates Samsara as Samsara, norNirvana as Nirvana. When he thus does not discriminate, they, i.e. Samsara andNirvana, become exactly the same” (Large Sūtra on Perfect Wisdom 1984, 650).According to the Samdhinirmocanasūtra, “the mentioned things are of twosorts: the compounded and the uncompounded. However, the compounded isneither compounded nor uncompounded; and the uncompounded is neitheruncompounded nor compounded” (1.1). Thus, “It is said from the highest view-point that the Phenomenal Lifeitself is Nirvāna, because (the Bodhisattvas) realize the unstable Nirvāna(apratisthitanirvāna), being indiscriminative of both (the Phenomenal Life andNirvāna)” (Ratnagotravibhāga 1966, 219–20). So: “worldly convention is notone thing and ultimate truth another. What is the Suchness [tathatā] of worldlyconvention, that is the Suchness of ultimate reality” (Large Sūtra on Perfect Wis-dom 1984, 529). This view was put to practice in Zen Buddhist meditation as it is describedin the famous kōan collections Mumonkan and Hekiganroku, for example (seePyysiäinen 2006b). The conclusion is formally similar to Luther ’s simul iustuset peccator argument: the ultimate goal is not something distinct from everydaylife but something that is present all the time. This is an almost literal descrip-tion of a supernatural mind as being the sum of all worldly knowledge. Thisidea has been elaborated on the basis of the historical Buddha’s agency, whichhas been extended beyond all physical limits and yet connected with the physi-cal reality through the Buddha images and relics.Summary 1. Buddhism involves supernatural agents such as spirits (yakkha), giants (asura), gods (devas), bodhisattvas, and buddhas. 2. Buddhas are regarded as omniscient, in that they do not have to actively construct mental representations of phenomena; instead, everything is directly reflected in the mind of a Buddha, just as it is. 3. In certain “Hindu” schools, the ideas of karma and rebirth may have resulted from a runaway reasoning process based on “folk-genetic” explanations of the observed fact that offspring resemble their parents. Problems involved in explaining all states of affairs in the world as based on the past actions of isolated individuals were often solved by postulating a God who directly saw the merits and dismerits of indi- viduals and then fixed the future correspondingly. In Buddhism, both the ideas of an immutable self and God were rejected, and all things and events were thought to arise from purely mechanical processes (the pratītyasamutpāda).
    • 172 supernatural agency 4. As the Buddha’s mentality has been regarded as living in the doctrine, the natural relationship between mentality and embodiment has brought along the idea of a Dharma-body of the Buddha. 5. Sacred texts, like to the bodily relics of the Buddha, are also called Dharma-relics. Both relics and the Buddha images are a means of representing the presence of the Buddha’s agency after his death. Although the official doctrine is that the Buddha is dead, believers emotionally feel that he is present in his relics. The official doctrine cannot penetrate everyday thinking; for the layperson, the doctrine of soullessness, for example, serves as a means of expressing a depar- ture from “Hindu” philosophies. In this way, intuitions can be given a Buddhist identity without a detailed understanding of the doctrine.
    • 6Conclusion6.1 AgencyIn this book’s two introductory and three analytical chapters, I havefirst developed a conceptual framework based on cognitive scientificresearch on human intuitions about basic ontological categoriesand the ways certain representations counterintuitively violate theirboundaries. I have then focused on the category of agency thatconsists of animacy ( liveliness, self-propelledness) and mentality( beliefs and desires). Two things about agency have been of specialinterest: first, the relationship between agency and physical bodies,and second, the processes involved in making inferences from otheragents’ mental states. It might be argued that it is part of human intuitions that agencyalways comes with a biological body. There are no human-like(or hominid-like or maybe even primate-like) bodies without agencyand no agency without a biological body. Or not quite so. There areexceptional beliefs about zombie-like bodies that are at least in somesense animated yet lack mentality. (In Haiti, for example, zombiesare believed to be remotely controlled by the sorcerer.) We also finda variety of beliefs about agents that do not have ordinary biologi-cal bodies. Ghosts, for example, have only an ephemeral body thatresembles clouds or mist. The God of Christian theologians is anagent that has beliefs (called “knowledge”) and desires (called “will”)yet lacks a physical body. Moreover, we also find beliefs about solidobjects like statues and amulets having agentive properties such ashearing prayers.
    • 174 conclusion Transferring agency to a solid object violates intuitive ontology and thus iscounterintuitive. Denying agency to a human-like body also seems to be a viola-tion of intuitive expectations. Denying an ordinary body to an agent is a morecomplicated case. Paul Bloom argues that disembodied agency is actually anintuitive idea: one feels that one is an owner of a body, not a being identicalwith the body. Thus, people feel it as completely natural that agency can beseparated from the body, just as happens at death. The question arises, then,whether ideas of ghosts and spirits are also something natural rather thancounterintuitive. The question is difficult because personal agency is a muchmore elusive category than, for example, solid objects. It seems that people intui-tively postulate agency to account for certain kinds of event structures, irrespec-tive of whether a physical body as the locus of agency is perceived or not. YetI argue that the idea of agency triggers intuitive expectations of some kind ofbodily form. People cannot imagine pure mentality. Thus, although agency isimagined as something that is not identical with the body, it is not completelyseparable from embodiment either. It instead is a principle that is responsiblefor commanding and guiding the body. Souls, for example, can leave and enterbodies, yet they are imagined as flying around in the form of insects or birds,or in some other physical form.6.2 Soul BeliefsMy starting point has been E. B. Tylor ’s and Wilhelm Wundt ’s ideas about vari-ous peoples’ soul beliefs. Wundt thought that the oldest soul beliefs concernedwhat he called a “body-soul” (Körperseele), which was responsible for suchproperties of a living body as feeling, mental representations, and thinking.It was divided into several different “soul organs.” The “free-soul” or “psyche”was identified with breathing (Hauchseele) and one’s shadow (Schattenseele). Itwas not constrained by the bounds of the physical body, which it could tempo-rarily leave. In death, when the body stopped breathing, the soul left the bodyfor good. Wundt ’s classification was known to many researchers who studied thesoul concepts of North-American Indians and the various Finno-Ugric peo-ples in Finland, Russia, and the Soviet Union, for example. Although Wundtis often mentioned in passing, classifications similar to his are usually pre-sented as based on independent research (e.g. Uno Harva-Holmberg). A livelydebate followed, as scholars tried to establish a reliable classification of typesof souls. Ernst Arbman, for example, argued against Wundt that the divisionbetween the body-soul and psyche (“free-soul”) belonged to the earliest phaseof development and that the idea of psyche was not derived from the idea ofa body-soul. Åke Hultkrantz cited Arbman in arguing that we are not dealingwith two functions of a single entity but with two different souls the ideas of
    • conclusion 175which are equally old. The idea of the free-soul (“psyche”) is based on memo-ries and dreams about other persons, while the idea of the body soul is basedon the observation of agents being alive, both bodily and mentally. Ivar Paul-son extends Hultkrantz’s typology by dividing the body-soul into a “life-soul”(Lebensseele) and a “self-soul” (Ichseele); the free-soul is further divided into a“double” (Doppelgängerseele) and a “fate-soul” (Schicksalsseele). However, doubtshave been raised about people having a unified concept of the soul. Harva, forinstance, argued that the peoples he had studied did not have any explicit doc-trine of the soul, only ideas with associative connections. He warned scholarsnot to follow Tylor and project their own “learned concepts” of soul onto primi-tive peoples. From the cognitive perspective, these “soul concepts” are folk-psychologicalconceptualizations of agency. It is striking how the soul concepts correspondwith the various aspects of agency as scholars describe them. Leslie dividesagentive properties into mechanical, actional, and cognitive ones. Agents areself-propelled, act teleologically in pursuit of goals, and have cognitive capaci-ties such as thinking and remembering. Of these, the mechanical propertiescorrespond to the liveliness and self-propelledness for which the body-soul isresponsible; actional properties correspond to the embodied emotional andcognitive functions that the body-soul bestows on the body; finally, cognitiveproperties correspond to the free-soul, which is not constrained by the body. In addition to the souls of live human beings there are also souls of thedead and other kinds of spirits. Beliefs about evil spirits, as found in the Mal-leus maleficarum (Hammer of witches) of 1486, by Heinrich Kramer (alsoknown as Institoris), offer an example. Institoris said that evil spirits madethemselves bodies that had a shape, using air, which they made thicker withthe aid of “coarse vapors lifted from the earth.” This is a kind of a subtle body,somehow transcending the difference between materiality and spirituality aspeople know them. Another example I discussed was that of some more mod-ern beliefs about ghosts in the Finnish tradition as well as in Afro-Brazilianspirit possession cults. Ghosts are souls of the dead that appear to the living inone form or another. In spirit possession, they invade living bodies and speakthrough them. There are also spirits that do not come into a human body, suchas the spirits of the forest and of waters (encantados) in the Brazilian spirit pos-session cults; persons do not speculate much about their nature or location,however. Families of such spirits occupy their respective territories (encantar-ias) in an unseen world that is somehow parallel to the material world thathumans inhabit. Guthrie argues that people tend to see human-like but nonhuman beingseverywhere because evolution has programmed humans to postulate agencyon the basis of minimal cues—because it is better to mistake a coiled rope for asnake than the other way around, for example. Boyer points out that the HADD(see chapter 1, section 1.3.1) can be adaptive, on the condition that people are
    • 176 conclusioncapable of swiftly discarding false positives. Actually, despite his use of the term“hyperactive (or hypersensitive) agent detection device” (HADD), it may beonly animacy detection that is hyperactive. When one sees faces in the cloudsand so forth, it is a question of inferring the presence of an animate being;one does not necessarily make any assumptions about the beliefs and desires(i.e. mentality) of this being (in some cases this may happen, though). Thereverse may also happen: thinking of what someone else might be thinkingabout at a given moment may trigger a feeling of the presence of that person.In such cases, ideas about mentality trigger animacy assumptions. However, when people start to make inferences about the beliefs and desiresof agents, they use mind reading, also known as “mentalizing ” and ToM. Beingable to embed one intentional state within another in a series and thus, forexample, to think about what another person is thinking about a third personwho thinks about what I am thinking is a unique capacity of humans (Den-nett ’s “orders on intentionality ”). Humans can also make inferences about thebeliefs and ideas of absent or even imaginary agents: if such-and-such a personor being exists, then he or she might think thus-and-so in this or that situa-tion. Because agency has only a loose connection with bodily form in humans’minds, they can postulate all kinds of agents whose agency is not constrainedby ordinary physical boundaries. Gods are among such beings.6.3 GodsIn many cases, it is not possible to distinguish between spirits and gods. Forexample, the Orìshas of the Yoruba religion (discussed in chapter 3, section 3.2)are both ancestral spirits and divinities under the high God Olorun or Olódù-marè. The word vodon (> “Voodoo”) in the Fon language of Benin and Togomeans both “god” and “spirit ” (Davis 1986, 11). And the Japanese word kamiin the Shinto religion refers to both spirits and gods, such as Amaterasu. Thedevas of Indian religions can be seen as gods, demigods, spirits, or some othervariety of supernatural agency, depending on which deva one is speaking of.Īśvara (“Lord”) comes closer to the Christian God in being a creator. Moreover, it is important to distinguish between supernatural agents andsupernatural agency. I quoted Ernst Kantorowicz’s classical study The King ’sTwo Bodies to show that under certain conditions, it is possible to regard a natu-ral agent ’s agency as supernatural, in that it is both detached from all ordinaryphysical constraints and given a new kind of embodiment in social institu-tions. The king ’s “body politic,” for example, could not be seen or handled andconsists of “Policy and Government.” It was also understood to be “utterly voidof Infancy, and old Age, and other natural Defects and Imbecilities.” For anordinary peasant, the king or queen was often an invisible but extremely pow-erful agent, almost comparable to God. Although from our modern, scholarly
    • conclusion 177point of view there is a world of difference between a king and God, for manypersons in bygone ages this has not been so. I have therefore used the conceptof “supernatural agent ” as applicable in all cases of supernatural agency, evenif the actual agent is natural from the objective point of view. Only gods aresupernatural from the objective point of view. The idea of gods is basically an idea of agency without ordinary bodily con-straints; often this is supplemented by one more relaxation of constraints: themind of a god is like a one-way mirror-window, in that god sees what humansare thinking of but humans cannot know the minds of gods. The human intu-ition seems to be that even though the mind is nonphysical, it is impenetrableto other minds, at least partly: only I know what I really think. The minds ofgods are thus also impenetrable, even though the human mind is not impene-trable for gods and other supernatural agents, such as buddhas. There may alsobe ignorant gods, but usually the role of a dummy is reserved for evil beingssuch as the Devil or the Buddhist Māra. The relative or absolute omniscience of gods cannot be due to their incor-poreality, because the human soul is also often understood as transcendingbodily boundaries; yet it is not omniscient. Instead, some sort of omniscience isan inherent characteristic of the minds of supernatural agents. Both Bronkhorst(2001) and Boyer (2001), apparently independently of each other, have observedthat omniscience should not be understood literally; instead, the omniscienceof supernatural agents means that they know the contents of other minds andthe moral value of human deeds. These exist in the mind of a god. Thus, theidea of gods is very much an idea of free agency with full access to strategicknowledge (as Boyer calls it). The idea of god would simply not be possible with-out the human capacity for mentalizing and postulating minds on freely actingagents. It is in this sense that the ideas of souls and of gods belong together, asTylor once suggested. Mentioning Tylor should not mean forgetting Durkheim. Religion is alsoa social phenomenon, and this fact becomes obvious in the omniscience ofgods. The idea of a god who knows all minds comes close to Durkheim’s “col-lective consciousness” and the view that gods are representations of a group’scentral values and norms. I predicted that the shared knowledge of a groupwould be difficult to represent because of the huge amount of recursive embed-dings: I know that she knows that he knows that we know what they know, andso forth. Some kind of chunking is needed; the varying points of view mustbe somehow combined. Humans do this by imagining a supermind that ina way contains all other minds. Knowing the mind of a god equals knowingeverything directly, instead of the more cumbersome way of representing suchchains as “his ideas of her ideas of their ideas . . . of my ideas.” I have examined the God concepts of the Judeo-Christian tradition. From ahistorical point of view, there is a development from mythological narratives tophilosophically elaborated doctrines of God. Although the anthropomorphic
    • 178 conclusiongods of Semitic myths had physical features and a spatial location, the Chris-tian God gradually grew into a philosophical Absolute that yet has a will andknowledge. The Scholastics tried to explain how it is possible for God to knoweverything, including the future, without human agents losing their free will andwithout the kind of determinism in which everything happens by necessity. Itwas also a challenge to explain how God could have freely chosen to create or notto create the world, because the ancient modal theory, (P) (see chapter 4, section4.1.3), said that all genuine possibilities must be realized at some point in time. The emergence of Nominalism among the Franciscans in the fourteenthcentury introduced a new kind of modal logic. For the first time, the idea ofa purely logical possibility was suggested (first by Duns Scotus). Somethingcould be logically possible without ever actually having happened. Now it wasalso possible to think that one acted out of free will when it was logically pos-sible for the person in question to have chosen otherwise. Thus, God’s possibil-ities increased hugely, as his actions were no longer temporally constrained. Yet, on the other hand, Nominalism shifted the emphasis from universalsto individuals. “Humanity,” for example, was a mentally constructed abstrac-tion based on the existence of multiple individually existing human beings. Itdid not exist as an abstract universal. By the same token, the Aristotelian viewof the world and the sciences became inadequate. Aristotelianism in theologyand natural philosophy had meant that a scholar ’s task was only to learn whatwas already known, based on the observations made by Aristotle, and to sys-tematize this knowledge. The ideas of empirical study of the natural world andof new discoveries did not exist. With Nominalism and the Enlightenment,this changed. God became an unnecessary hypothesis in natural philosophy,although scholars by and large still believed that God existed. Such Scholastics as Duns Scotus, William Ockham, and Robert Holcot hadargued that some theological propositions were outright incomprehensible andcould only be accepted on faith. In the Reformation, this attitude was extended toall of theology, and natural reason was confined to earthly matters only. Itsoon became difficult to see what kind of role religion actually could play ineveryday life. Whereas Scholasticism by its extreme abstractness had largelydestroyed the everyday relevance of religion, Protestantism gradually did thesame thing by distinguishing the “spiritual dominion” from the “worldly”one. Various anti-Scholastic movements such as the devotio moderna, theBeghards, and the Beguines, as well as Pietism within Protestantism, werereactions to this loss of relevance. I have used Sperber and Wilson’s relevancetheory, which yields the following prediction: (a) When the processing costs of two interpretations are equivalent, an inferentially richer interpretation is favored; ( b) when the inferential potential is the same, the less costly interpreta- tion is favored.
    • conclusion 179 Cognitive costliness means that the amount of time and resources it takes toprocess a costly concept or idea in mind is greater than the benefits achieved.To the extent that persons try to maximize the cost-benefit relationship,abstract theology is always at a disadvantage compared to simpler forms of reli-gious reasoning (“folk religion”; see Pyysiäinen 2004b; Martin 2004b). I havecalled theological ideas “prescribed” in contrast to the intuitive, “actual” ideasof persons. Actual ideas do not usually form any coherent doctrinal system; therecurrent patterns we find in them instead derive from the natural inclinationsof the human mind, most notably the tendency to use agent-causality as anexplanation for things that happen and the concomitant “promiscuous teleol-ogy” (Deb Kelemen’s expression). In the Christian traditions, this is expressedin ideas of God deciding on each and everyone’s fate as well as that of thewhole world. Things do not happen merely mechanically and by chance; theyinstead follow a preexisting plan and God’s will. This was also apparent insubjects’ written responses to the question “How would you describe God tosomeone who does not know anything about Christianity?” In their responses,subjects most often described God as an omnipotent and omniscient creatorand maintainer of the world and of human life. The natural world thus hasbeen designed for a purpose: everything exists and happens because Godwants it to. According to the prescribed doctrine, God is pure spirit; persons may alsocite this doctrine in everyday attempts at trying to describe God, although it ishardly possible in practice to imagine a completely bodiless agent. In theology,God as pure spirit acts in the world through Christ. With the death and resur-rection of Christ, the Church itself became the material component of God’sagency: the Church is the “mystical body” of Christ. The Church as an institu-tion is understood as an agent whose mentality is from God and animacy is fromthe Holy Spirit. Thus, God’s agency consists of the same three components ashuman agency: liveliness (Holy Spirit), teleological action (Christ), and cogni-tion (God the Father). Christ also joins together “many distinct spirits,” thusmaking them as though a single spirit (Augustine). The unity of Christians wasseen as both a unity of belief and a union of love; schism and heresy consistedof cutting oneself off from the mystical body of Christ. In this way, the ideas ofGod and Christ helped represent the recursive structure of shared knowledge:I believe that you believe that I believe that we believe, and so forth. This also implies that one’s agency is not only individual; to the extentthat personal agency is partly independent from the biological body yet alsoreceives its individuality from the body, the disembodiment of agency meansa partial blurring of the boundaries of individuality. The question of the loca-tion of dead agents received two different answers in the writings of the NewTestament, for example. The dead are imagined as in their graves, waiting forthe day of resurrection; yet death is imagined as an immediate entry into eitherheaven or hell. When a dead agent is represented as a ghost, he or she is often
    • 180 conclusionbelieved to dwell around the grave or the house (see Pyysiäinen 2007). Whenthe emphasis is on the dead agent ’s absence rather than presence, he or she isoften understood as being merely “somewhere there” or “with God.” Accord-ing to Paul, for example, living Christians were “in Christ,” while after deaththey were “with Christ.” Agency continues after death, but it is imagined asstripped of from the more bodily aspects of perception, cognition, and experi-ence (see Bering 2002).6.4 BuddhasAn obvious alternative to a continued disembodied existence is the kind ofrebirth or reincarnation we find in “Hinduism.” It is not a qualitatively differ-ent option from, for example, the Brazilian spirit beliefs. In spirit possession,disembodied spirits come temporarily to an adult human body; in rebirth, aspirit or soul comes to a body at birth and stays there for as long as the bodylives. What remains the same is the idea that an agentive principle can leaveand enter bodies. The idea of endless chains of reincarnations may actually be a kind of folkgenetics gone wild—the observation that children resemble their parents andother relatives having led to the idea that certain characteristic traits are some-how transferred from elders to offspring. Before scientific genetics, people hadno idea of the mechanism of such inheritance, although the fact that the off-spring resembled their parents was too obvious to have gone without notice.Even in cultures where there are no clearly articulated views about continu-ous reincarnation, we can find such customs as, for example, naming a childafter a dead relative or a famous saint, thus bestowing on the child some ofthe properties of the relative or saint (or the name is given because the childis already believed to have the properties of the relative or the saint; see Penti-käinen 1990). Reincarnation thus is not an arbitrary “doctrine” but an intuitiveidea that keeps reappearing in various cultures despite the theologians’ warn-ings against it. In India, the idea of rebirth has been accompanied by the idea of karma:everything that is or happens is determined by the actions of living beings orby the intentions behind the actions of living beings. Yet it is very difficult inpractice to explain events by karmic causes because one is always dealing withmultiple variables. Many events that take place affect many persons at once,which makes it difficult to point out the exact links between karmic causes andeffects. Karma is usually regarded as something belonging to an individual; yetif a hundred persons are killed by an earthquake, they all have the same causeof death ( broadly speaking). Does this, then, mean that they all had exactly thesame kind of bad karma? How is one to analyze the causes and effects in suchcollective events? Moreover, if it is maintained that the earthquake happened
    • conclusion 181in order that a given individual (or a group of individuals) receive a punishment,intentions are attributed to natural events. Certain Indian traditions have triedto avoid such promiscuous teleology and to provide a mechanical account ofkarma—but this has turned out to be difficult, though. An easy solution has been to postulate a god who knows the effects of thedeeds of living beings and creates everything according to the nature of theirdeeds. The Vaiśesikas, for example, assigned a central role in the retributionof karma to God (Īśvara). It was God who read the karma from persons’ inten-tions and assigned them their deserved fates. The price of this argument wasthat God could not have any freedom of will. He was merely a passive recordkeeper. Thus, the ideas of karma and reincarnation are surprisingly similarto the Christian idea of divine rewards and punishments. The similarity alsoextends to the problem of free will: if the deeds of human individuals are to havea moral value, individuals must have the freedom to choose between good andevil. This, then, implies that God cannot be omniscient, because God know-ing at time t1 that person X will commit an act Z at t2, makes it necessary forX to do Z. In Indian discussions, God’s passivity has not been a central prob-lem, however. Authors have been more interested in developing an account ofkarma than in saving the freedom of God. In Buddhism, the formula of dependent coarising ( pratītyasamutpāda)serves as an alternative explanation. It is possible that it was once meant asa critique of the cosmogonical myth of the Rgveda. It is not from ātman asthe primeval man ( purusa) that the whole world has arisen; instead, the wholephenomenal world arises from ignorance (avidyā). Birth, aging, death, sorrow,lamentation, suffering, grief, and depression are “unsatisfactory” (duhkham)and arise because of ignorance. What is regarded as the cognizing subject(ātman) is not anything separable from the continuous coarising of phenom-ena; the ātman is as conditioned as anything else. Even though the idea of reincarnation is part of Buddhism as it has cometo be known to us, it is very difficult to combine rebirth with the ideas of depen-dent coarising and the nonexistence of a permanent and immutable “self ”(ātman). The five constituents of an individual (skandhas) are taken apart atdeath and then recombine in a new birth in a way that is determined by theindividual’s karma; postulating any other continuity between the two lives isagainst the doctrine of soullessness (anātman). Therefore, I have ventured tospeculate that rebirth may not have been part of the earliest Buddhist doctrine.We will never know if this is true; but this option would certainly make the Bud-dhist doctrine more coherent. It also helps solve the problem of promiscuousteleology: everything that happens can be explained mechanically and withoutthe idea of God. Some later Buddhist authors have chosen another way of solving the prob-lem and have taken recourse to idealism. In the Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda school,the problem of mental causation was solved by arguing that the “impressions”
    • 182 conclusion(vāsanā) of deeds enter into consciousness (vijñānasāntana) and bear fruit inthe mind only. In other words, the karmic consequences of actions are some-thing we imagine. This leads either to solipsism or the idea of some kind ofsupermind encompassing all individual minds (Boyer ’s “full-access strategicagent ”), but the Yogācārins did not want to adopt either. I have raised the pos-sibility, therefore, that the real point of the “mind-only” doctrine was more epis-temological than ontological: one can only have knowledge about one’s ownmental contents, but this is not to deny the existence of an external reality. Prescribed doctrines are one thing, the actual beliefs of persons another.Although an intellectualist and textualist tradition has dominated Buddhiststudies, there have also been a number of attempts at mapping the beliefs ofliving Buddhists. They show that although the prescribed doctrine is that theBuddha is dead, in actual practice he is emotionally felt to be present in hisrelics and images. This is a distinction not simply between cognitive and emo-tional representations, as has been suggested, but between prescribed andactual ideas. Folk psychology is not devoid of cognitive elements, and reflectivethinking is not entirely free of emotion (see the appendix). In the Buddhist doc-trine, the Buddha’s continued presence is conceptualized as the Buddha’s bodybeing identical with the Dharma (dharmakāya). The Dharma (the texts) is alsoregarded as a type of relic of the Buddha. The relics and images of the Buddhathus are the physical form in which ideas about the continued presence of theBuddha’s agency lives on.6.5 Supernatural AgentsBeliefs such as these are culture-specific versions of the cross-culturally recur-rent pattern of a “promiscuous teleology”: the tendency to see things as exist-ing and happening for a purpose. This phenomenon is based on the cognitivemechanisms of HAD, HUI, and HTR (see chapter 1, introduction to section 1.3).These cognitive mechanisms channel the spread of beliefs about supernaturalagents; supernatural agent concepts are contagious because they resonate withan innate tendency to view more or less everything in teleological and inten-tional terms, and because they help process recursive orders of intentionality(“We know that they know that we know that they know ” and so on all the wayto “God/the Buddha knows”). Humans do not consciously use supernaturalagents as a “symbol” of the group (cf. Durkheim); instead, humans spontane-ously and intuitively attribute the group’s shared knowledge to a kind of super-mind. It is because of this tendency that the various culture-specific forms ofsupernatural agent concepts are contagious and easy to spread. They give aform to a vague intuition. The various types of natural and supernatural agency can, in principle,be mapped in a Cartesian coordinate system in which the x-axis describes
    • conclusion 183the degree of mental activity from zombies to omniscience and the y-axisthe degree of embodiment from ordinary biological bodies to a lack of body.Humans are placed somewhere near the origin (O) on this plane. The variouskinds of spirits and demons are embodied to varying degrees and can also bemore or less intelligent. A z-axis is needed to express the fact that, for example,the embodiment of a given spirit may be understood differently at times t1, t2,and so on. Thus, we get a three-dimensional space where different types ofsupernatural agents can be located. If we give numerical values to the degreesof mental activity and embodiment of particular types of agency, we can usealgebraic equations to describe the location of types of agency on the coordinatesystem. My two main points here are, first, that the various kinds of supernatu-ral agents in the world’s religious traditions are comparable across culturesbecause the cognitive mechanisms of HAD, HUI, and HTR sustain a cross-culturally recurrent pattern of perception and reasoning. Second, representa-tions of supernatural agents, in that they are related to the need to understandthe ways others understand the minds of others, are intimately linked with theorganization of human societies. Gods typically have more or less open access to all beings’ mental contents,thus transcending the world of a single human individual. Gods are typicallynot used to advance only the worldly interests of separate individuals; theyinstead relate to the common good of groups (see Pyysiäinen 2004d, 90–112).As Heinrich Institoris put it in his Hammer of Witches, good Christians per-form miracles in accordance with the divine order and “in accordance withpublic harmony”; a magician operates through a private contract and works“through a pact into which he has entered with an evil spirit ” (2007, 71– 72;see Durkheim 1925, 60–63, 1965, 59–61). Gods therefore relate to the humangoals that are transcendent, while spirits are related with those that are imma-nent and purely practical. Gods’ access to agents’ mental contents thus is lim-ited; people often consider evil spirits even more ignorant and foolish than anaverage human. Even though God and spirits are clearly distinguished in Christian theol-ogy, this is not so in all other traditions. The distinction between an all-knowingGod and mere spirits seems to be a feature of the kinds of doctrinal religionthat are characteristic of large populations. In these, the coordination of thenorms, values, and other forms of shared knowledge becomes important, andpeople’s commitment to them is ensured by making the abstract communitymore concrete through public rituals that engage with gods as either agents orpatients of actions. In smaller communities, it is not necessary make an effortto create the group through doctrine and rituals, so rituals aim instead at anemotional arousal that strengthens the mutual solidarity among the partici-pants, who all know each other personally. Such rituals tend to focus more onspirits (e.g. ancestors) than on gods, and more on emotional arousal than ondoctrinal unity.
    • 184 conclusion6.6 Delusion or Delight?I have touched on the recent debates on the (ir)rationality of religion (Dawkins2006; Dennett 2006; Edis 2002, 2007; Hitchens 2007; Stenger 2007), inwhich a very long process of rational elaboration of mythological ideas is todaycoming to a logical end (see chapter 4, section 4.1.6). While gods and othersupernatural agents are an integral part of everyday thinking in folk religion,rational reflection has consistently led to the view that ultimately the nature ofsupernatural agents is beyond human reasoning powers. Before the emergenceof science, this was not particularly problematic, because everyday theories ofnatural phenomena are very static, and because Aristotelian natural philosophywas not concerned with new empirical findings. Thus, a relatively open placewas reserved for God at the fringes of human imagination. However, with theemergence and incredible success of empirical science, it became no longerclear what kind of God really could be postulated “beyond” the grasp of humanunderstanding. First, human understanding has penetrated to unforeseen newareas, and second, scientific knowledge keeps growing and approximating truthmore and more closely in an unending process (see Niiniluoto 1984, 1987).There are now two options: either God’s nature can be scientifically studied orGod is completely beyond scientific inquiry. Theologians are usually wise enough to discard the first alternative, becauseit is easy to see that it leads to a dead end: science cannot find God1 (Stenger2007; cf. Swinburne 1996). Thus, it becomes necessary to claim that God issomehow beyond the reach of science. This, however, leads to the followingargument: 1. Whatever is part of the empirical reality is not God; whatever is not part of empirical reality is God ( because God cannot have rivals); 2. Scientific inquiry into the empirical reality increases humans’ knowl- edge and understanding of the empirical reality; 3. Scientific knowledge keeps on approximating truth; 4. Therefore, scientific inquiry increases our knowledge of what God is not. Note that if the ancient (P) is not valid, and all possibilities are not neces-sarily realized, scientific knowledge can grow forever (Niiniluoto 1984, 86). IfGod is “beyond” the reach of science and the scientific view of the world keepschanging, then our understanding of God must also change. This, of course,is something theologians have always denied because there is supposed to beonly one, and a complete, “revelation.” It does not help to argue that God isimmutable and eternal and science has certain a priori limits beyond whichit can never grow. First, the existence of such limits would have to be shownempirically (which has not been done), and second, scientific knowledge
    • conclusion 185already has grown, so God is understood differently in 2008 from, for example,1008. Thus it seems that science can approximate truth about God in the sameway it approximates truth about the empirical reality; the odd thing is that itis the natural sciences, not theology, that approach God (without assuminganything about God’s existence). Theology is only reactionary. When knowl-edge and understanding about physical reality in this way constrain religiousimagination, growth of scientific knowledge always narrows down the range ofpossible interpretations of religious concepts. The concept of God must beconstantly reinterpreted, and this is precisely what has happened in the courseof history. It might also be argued that religious concepts are mere metaphors or akind of mental imagery with no reference in the material world (see Munz1959; Wisdom 1944); so religious concepts cannot be used in making infer-ences about things and events in the world as ordinarily perceived. Yet it isprecisely such inferences that make religious concepts useful and important.If inferential potential is lost, religious concepts will either be dumped in thetrash bin of history or radically reinterpreted. Dawkins and the “new atheists”recommend the first alternative; modern theologians such as Tillich the latter.However, the El and Yahweh of the Old Testament texts have so little in com-mon with Tillich’s God as “being-itself ” that it may not be entirely clear whatis lost when God is denied. Some theologians have even tried to develop ideasabout the death of God (e.g. Robinson 1963) and about religion as mere fiction(Kliever 1981). But as any cognitivist would predict, such ideas are not terriblycontagious; people do not easily adopt them because they do not have muchinferential potential in everyday life. What about atheism, then? Dawkins (2006) argues that religion is a dan-gerous delusion, and he seems to have acquired many followers. Durkheimalso argued that religion was a form of delusion, illusion, or hallucination(délire).2 His point was, first, that mental representations are not based on pureperception; people perceive everything through the lens of “the social” and thusadd a meaning to sense data and project their own sentiments and feelingsonto external objects. Nearly all social representations are illusory in this sense;religious beliefs are only one particular case of this general law (Durkheim1925, 295–304, 321–25, 1965, 237–44, 255–60). Durkheim’s second point was that the illusory nature of religion has todo with the fact that the “believers” are not aware of the way the social affectsthem. God or “the social” affects persons “through mental pathways.” Althoughthis pressure is real and has objective meaning and value, its nature is not cor-rectly understood by the “believers,” who, for example, imagine themselves tobe transported into an entirely different world in religious experience. What isthis but délire? Durkheim asks. The intensity of religious life implies a psychi-cal exaltation that obviously is reminiscent of an illusion. Thus, when the prim-itives ascribed the cause of religious ecstasy to an external power appearing
    • 186 conclusionin the form of a plant or an animal, they were wrong only about the name of thecause (sur la lettre du symbole), not about its existence. The exaltation is real, andit is caused by forces outside and superior to the individual, that is, “the social.”Religion is illusory, but this illusion is well founded (Durkheim 1925, 294–304,320–25, 1965, 236–44, 255–60; see Pyysiäinen 2005d). Dawkins’s thesis is more radical, although he, like Durkheim, thinks thatwe can “only understand religious behavior once we have renamed it” (Dawkins2006, 174). Dawkins asks the reader to think of the moth that flies into thecandle flame and dies. As the moth seems to do this deliberately and on pur-pose, we may well ask why. Scholars might get so fascinated about this fact thata new discipline emerged: the study of self-immolation behavior in moths. Yetwe can only understand this self-immolation behavior after we have renamedit, because it is quite meaningless to ask, for example, why moths commit sui-cide. We should instead ask what the nervous and perceptual system of a mothis like and how it leads the poor moth to fly to the flame. The answers will con-sist in a purely mechanistic explanation. The moth as a species has evolved inan environment without any candles; the only night lights they have seen havebeen the moon and the stars. Because the moon and the stars are at opticalinfinity, the rays coming from them are parallel and can be used as compasses.The moth’s nervous system makes possible a rule of thumb saying: “Steer acourse such that the light rays hit your eye at an angle of 30 degrees.” In thisway, the insect finds its way back home (Dawkins 2006, 172– 73). Now, we can say that the moth flies to the candle flame because its nervoussystem has been designed by natural selection to steer the insect toward lightcoming from a 30-degree angle. Because the candle is not at optical infinity, therays of light are not parallel but diverge like the spokes of a wheel. The nervoussystem applying a 30-degree rule will steer the poor moth, via a spiral trajectory,into the flame (Dawkins 2006, 173). What was called self-immolation behavioris only a by-product of a nervous system designed to do something completelydifferent. Interestingly, this is precisely what the standard model in the cogni-tive science of religion (Boyer 2005a) claims: religion is only a by-product ofevolved cognitive mechanisms (e.g. Barrett 2004b; Boyer 1994b; Pyysiäinen2001b). Thus, we may well ask how “natural” religion really is, if it really isonly a by-product of evolved cognitive mechanisms (cf. McCauley 2000). Whatdoes it actually mean for religion to be “natural”? And does such naturalnessreally mean that religion is immune to all kinds of scientific criticism and willof necessity persist in human cultures until the end of time? I doubt it. I recall that Boyer once replied to a journalist ’s question that saying thatthe world would be a better place without religion is like saying that the worldwould be much better without gravity. Wishful thinking just cannot changethe facts. Even though Boyer was speaking as a scientist and not as a defenderof religion, I do not think this analogy is entirely valid. Whereas gravity is anempirically necessary feature of the physical conditions on earth, religion is
    • conclusion 187not. Religion is a by-product of certain cognitive capacities (a “spandrel”), andone can, in principle, live without it just as one can live without an appendix,for instance. Yet having an appendix is at least as natural as being religious.In Europe, the traditional, institutional forms of religiosity have actually beendeclining for quite some time. Yet “spirituality” and new religious movementsprosper (see e.g. Ketola 2008). This might actually be taken as a proof of thenaturalness of religion: religion persists even when its institutional support iswithdrawn. Some cognitive scientists of religion, indeed, think that religion isnatural, while science is unnatural, and that religion will persist even if sciencedoes not (McCauley 2000; see Wolpert 1994). Therefore, we should not ask,for example, why North Americans are so religious; the real question is whyEuropeans are not (see Barrett 2004b, 107–18). I agree that for the time being, religion seems to persist in some form oranother; but to the extent that its naturalness is “derived” rather than “intrin-sic,” religion is not a necessity in the same sense as gravity. The mechanismsof mind obviously can also be used to criticize religion. Although folk psy-chology may be here to stay, religion—as far as we can distinguish it fromnonreligion—does not have to be part of it. Although it is utopistic to expectthat scientific thinking could simply replace folk psychology, it certainly is pos-sible to allow more room for critical reflection on folk beliefs. Science certainlycan and should challenge religious beliefs; there is no reason why one aspect ofreality should be a priori excluded from the purview of science. As Ted Petersputs it (without necessarily sharing my views), “there is no ‘science free’ zonetoday where theology can proceed with its business untrammeled by the calei-doscopic pictures of reality projected by the various sciences” (2002, xii). Thisis not simply a plea for a higher level of education. Increase in education andreflective thinking does not at all necessarily lead to an abandoning of super-natural beliefs (see Lindeman and Aarnio 2007). As we have seen, reflectioncan also be used to enrich and embellish counterintuitive and supernaturalbeliefs. All kinds of social, cultural, and personality issues have an effect onhow reflection is used. In addition, it is not that easy to tell religion apart from everything else.Although the “new atheists” tend to use the word “religion” as if there were ageneral consensus on what belongs to religion and what does not, this really isnot the case (see Geertz 2004). Thus, in the future, reflective thinking could beused to transform religious concepts and beliefs in such a way that we wouldhardly continue to recognize them as religious, even though violations ofintuitive ontology would still remain (see Markusson 2007). In my view, usingreflective thinking and the best scientific evidence to continuously reevaluateall kinds of cherished beliefs is far more important than vigorously attackingan imagined totality (a quasi agent of sorts) called “religion.” If “religion” as weknow it withers away some day, this will be a by-product of other changes—justas religion once emerged as a by-product.
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    • AppendixCognitive Processes and Explaining ReligionA.1 Dual-process Theories and ModularityA.1.1 Intuitive and Explicit ProcessesThe cognitive science of religion very much rests on the rather vaguedistinction between “intuitions” and “reflective beliefs” (Barrett 1999,2004a). While it is true that people seem to use two different types ofreasoning, a spontaneous and intuitive one, and a reflective and systematicone (Ch. 1.1.), it is not altogether clear how this distinction actually should bedrawn (cf. Pyysiäinen 2003b,c, 2004c; Tremlin 2005, 2006, 172–82). Simplyput, intuitive cognitive processes seem to be fast and easy, whereas reflectiveprocesses take time and effort (see Anderson and Lebiere 2003; Sperber1996, 89–92, 1997; Stanovich and West 2000). It is, for example, easy torecognize faces, whereas higher mathematics gives most people a hard time.Computers work in the opposite way: face recognition or reading handwrit-ing is relatively difficult to program, but even a simple pocket calculator out-performs humans in computing tasks. Since around 1990, the so-called dual-process theories explaining thisdichotomy have probably been the most popular large-scale theories inresearch on social cognition (Deutsch and Strack 2006). Scholars have dif-ferentiated between two types of neural pathways, cognitive mechanisms,and mental contents; examples follow. • Automatic v. controlled processes (see Kokinov 1997; Sun 2002, 16–18); • Intuitive v. analytical thinking (Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1987); • Subconceptual v. conceptual processes (Smolensky 1988);
    • 190 appendix • Intuition and implicit learning v. a deliberative, analytic strategy (Lieberman 2000); • A reflexive v. a reflective system (Lieberman et al. 2002); • Associative v. rule-based systems (Sloman 1996, 1999); • “Mindless top-down” v. “mindful bottom-up” processes (Moskowitz et al. 1999); • An experiential or intuitive v. a rational mode of thinking (Denes-Raj and Epstein 1994; Epstein and Pacini 1999; Epstein et al. 1992; Simon et al. 1997); • An effortless processing mode that works through associative retrieval or pat- tern completion in the slow-learning system elicited by a salient cue v. a more laborious processing mode that involves the intentional retrieval of explicit, symbolically represented rules from either of the two memory systems to guide processing (Smith and DeCoster 2000); • Implicit v. explicit cognition (Holyoak and Spellman 1993); • Intuitive v. reflective beliefs (Cosmides and Tooby 2000; Sperber 1997). Important differences between these dichotomies notwithstanding, this list asa whole describes distinctions that characterize the two systems of reasoning I havelabeled the A- and B-systems (Pyysiäinen 2004c) and Stanovich and West (2000) havelabeled systems 1 and 2. The distinction between these two systems seems to run some-how parallel to the distinction of “cognitivism/functionalism” versus “connectionism”in cognitive science. According to the cognitivist/functionalist view, sensory experienceis somehow “transduced” into amodal symbols that are stored in the brain and can beretrieved and manipulated at will (see Barsalou 1999; Barsalou et al. 2005). In this view,behavior regulation takes place through various kinds of algorithms that resemble com-puter programs. Electrochemical impulses travel along neuronal pathways much theway electric current travels on silicon chips. Different tasks require different kinds ofcomputer programs: we use Word for writing text, Excel for computing, and Photoshopfor creating images, for example. The human mind is a similar set of different programs(“modules”) for such tasks as face recognition, agent detection, cheater detection, and soforth. These programs unfold in development and are “triggered” by the proper input,thus being by and large independent of developmental processes (see Pinker 1998,27–31; cf. Lickliter and Honeycutt 2003b, 822–24). An alternative to cognitivism is the kind of connectionism that emphasizes the factthat some cognitive tasks may not involve rule-based processing at all; they are insteadhandled by constraint-based, parallel distributed processing that is working to opti-mize, not maximize, performance (see Elman et al. 1998; Prince and Smolensky 2004;Tesar and Smolensky 2000). Connectionism emphasizes that the brain guides behav-ior without performing abstract computations on fixed mental representations withina language-like structure. Whereas in Fodorian functionalism almost all concepts areregarded as being innate (see Laurence and Margolis 2002), connectionism does notrequire the “nothing more from something less” principle. The so-called neural netsshow cumulative learning to be possible with only a minimal initial bias (Churchland1989, 1995; Elman et al. 1998; Goldblum 2001).1 Whereas older dual-process theories merely assumed two different routes to judg-ments, a new family of dual-system models invokes two mental systems, as in Deutschand Strack’s (2006) reflective-impulsive model (RIM), for example. In this model, social
    • appendix 191cognition and behavior is a function of a reflective system (RS) and an impulsive system(IS), each operating according to different representations and computations. Althoughthe two systems serve different functions and have different conditions for optimalfunctioning, they operate interactively. My A-system is responsible for fast, associative,and emotionally colored thinking with purely practical goals, receiving informationfrom innate, biologically instantiated dispositions and from the environment throughanalogic encoding. It is a subsymbolic pattern-recognition system that seems to relyon connectionist, parallel distributed processing.2 It operates reflexively, not reflec-tively, drawing inferences and making predictions on the basis of temporal relationsand similarity. It employs knowledge derived from personal experience, concrete andgeneric concepts, images, stereotypes, feature sets, and associative relations, relying onsimilarity-based generalization and automatic processing. It serves such cognitive func-tions as intuition, fantasy, creativity, imagination, visual recognition, and associativememory (see esp. Pyysiäinen 2004a; Sloman 1996). The A-system also is largely responsible for what is known as “common sense,” or“everyday thinking.” In contrast to scientific thinking, everyday thought proceeds fromindividuals’ immediate experience; it aims at short-term, practical efficacy, not at creat-ing general theories; it seeks evidence and not counterevidence; it makes use of indi-vidual cases as evidence and personalizes values and ideals; it makes use of abductiveinference; and its argumentation often takes a narrative form (Denes-Raj and Epstein1994; Epstein 1990; Epstein and Pacini 1991; Epstein et al. 1992). The B-system is a rule-based system capable of encoding any information witha well-specified formal structure and works by computing digital information syntac-tically. It thus needs to rely on external memory stores and cultural communication.Inferences are carried out in a “language of thought” that has a combinatorial syntaxand semantics. The rule-based system thus looks for logical, hierarchical, and causal-mechanical structure in its environment, operating on symbol manipulation. It derivesknowledge from language, culture, and formal systems, employing concrete, generic,and abstract concepts. It serves such cognitive functions as deliberation, explanation,formal analysis, verification, ascription of purpose, and strategic memory (see especiallyPyysiäinen 2004c; Sloman 1996). Such complex mental processes as those the social sciences study can hardly beeither purely automatic or purely controlled; they instead are combinations of featuresof each (Bargh 1994; Deutsch and Strack 2006, 170). Yet the distinction between twodifferent systems of reasoning has been successfully applied in the study of judg-ment and choice in the context of economic behavior, for example (Kahneman 2002,2003a,b). Economic theory used to be dominated by the conception of humans as self-ish and rational maximizers of utility (see Simon 1955, 1959, 1978). In 1950s, HerbertSimon presented the competing idea of “limited rationality,” and in the 1980s newevidence of it began to accumulate. Guth et al. (1982) introduced the “Ultimatum” gameand showed experimentally that in low-income countries, people will choose to pun-ish others for an unfair offer rather than accept a small amount of money. The psy-chologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman provide more experimental evidenceto support the claim that persons frame problems to be solved in different ways thatthe rational choice models cannot account for. Kahneman then developed the idea of“bounded rationality” (in a number of publications that earned him the Nobel Prize in
    • 192 appendix2002). Rationality has bounds because tacit and often emotional intuitions intrude onpeople’s calculating inferences (Kahneman 2002). These bounds also exist in religiousreasoning. Those who see the mind as “massively modular” (see below) tend to think that cer-tain tasks are intuitive and easy because they relate to distinct domains about which allhumans have tacit knowledge. Leda Cosmides and John Tooby (2002, 146), for example,refer to such ability to routinely solve predefined problems as “dedicated intelligence.” Itis distinguished from “improvisational intelligence,” which helps solve novel problemsfor which one does not have tacit intuitions (cf. Kanazawa 2004; see Neisser et al. 1996;see Miller and Penke 2007). The modularity thesis is not without its problems. As a col-league once ironically put it, some seem to think that we know for sure that the mind ismodular; what we do not know is what modularity actually means (see Carruthers 2004,2006; cf. Woodward and Cowie 2004).A.1.2 Modularity of MindAs early members of the genus homo lived in exceptionally stable conditions during thePleistocene epoch (about 1.6 million to ten thousand years ago), the adaptive problemsthey had to face remained the same generation after generation. This may have made pos-sible the evolution of domain-specific cognitive adaptations such as social intelligence,cheater detection, and mating preferences. People did not have to think in the modernsense of the word; instead, they could rely on evolved responses that were automaticand modular (Kanazawa 2004; see Johnson 1987). Later, in the face of rapid ecologicalchanges, cognitive plasticity came to be favored, and the so-called general intelligenceevolved, either as a modular adaptation (Kanazawa 2004) or as an emergent by-productof modular abilities (Cosmides and Tooby 2002). This is a very important distinction;flexibility in the face of environmental variation seems to be a specifically human (butpoorly understood) trait (Alexander 1979, 94–98; Kitcher 1990, 282–88). The crucialissue then becomes in what ways intuitions and general intelligence interact. There are basically two types of intuitions: those acquired through routinizationand those that are “innate” (see Bjorklund 2003, 837; Pyysiäinen 2004c). Innate intui-tions supposedly are processed by innate cognitive “modules” (in a sense a new ver-sion of Durkheim’s “categories”). Routinization, for its part, may be due to explicit orimplicit learning, or a mixture of the two. Because persons are not, for example, bornwith a chess module up and running, becoming a grand master in chess must be dueto explicit learning. Modularity, then, is the outcome of a learning process, not its pre-requisite (see Buller 2005a, 155; Hirschfeld and Gelman 1994, 5–20; Karmiloff-Smith1992, 165– 73; Simpson et al. 2005). Implicit learning refers to acquisition of knowl-edge that by and large takes place independently of conscious attempts to learn andwithout much explicit knowledge about what has been acquired (Reber et al. 1999).Learning thus can lead to domain-specific skills that are independent from generalintelligence or other specialized skills. Evolutionary psychologists argue that most intuitions are evolved adaptations andas such modular,3 while other scholars either deny this or even reject all evolutionaryconsiderations in the case of the human mind.4 While the modularity of perceptualand affective processes is generally accepted (Fodor 1983), the modularity of cognitive
    • appendix 193processes is under debate (see Carruthers 2006, 3; Gerrans 2002). The debate is dif-ficult partly because of the vagueness of the concept of a module. There are at leastthree basic alternative ways of defining an evolved cognitive module (Gerrans 2002,307; cf. Craver 2007, 217–21): 1. The human brain consists of distinct neural mechanisms dedicated for solv- ing well-specified problems such as cheater detection, face recognition, and so forth. 2. Cognitive specializations are algorithms individuated by their computational (but not physical) architecture. 3. Humans have domain-specific bodies of innate knowledge. The first alternative is problematic because evolutionary psychology has been iso-lated from neuroscience and is based almost exclusively on behavioral measures, ignor-ing neurophysiology and genetics (see Lickliter and Honeycutt 2003a,b; Panksepp andPanksepp 2000; Woodward and Cowie 2004; cf. Sperber 2005); only recently has theimportance of neurophysiology been recognized. In Sperber’s words: “the true modu-larist is interested in ‘boxes’ that correspond to neurologically distinct devices” (2005,57). A module thus should have a distinct history in the ontogeny of the brain. Biologi-cal adaptations are always produced by an environmental selection pressure acting ongenetic variation. Thus, for a cognitive function to be an adaptation, it should have agenetic basis. Yet genes can only have an effect on a function by affecting the physicalstructure of the organism performing the function. Therefore, cognitive modules couldonly be shown to be adaptations by showing how certain brain structures have beenselected for in evolution (Buller 2005a, 85, 200). As Panksepp and Panksepp put it,“without a strong linkage to neuroscientific research, evolutionary psychology has nocredible way of determining whether its hypotheses reflect biological realities or onlyheuristics that permit provocative statistical predictions” (2000, 109; cf. Atran 2005). The second alternative—cognition is based on modular algorithms—best capturesthe central tenet of evolutionary psychology. Peter Carruthers (2006, xii), for example,defines a module as a functionally distinct processing system of mind, whose opera-tions are at least partly independent of those of others, and the existence and proper-ties of which are partly dissociable from the others. This is a controversial idea (seeEdelman 1992; Carruthers 2006, 3). The third alternative leaves room for the idea ofdomain-general mechanisms processing information that is stored in domain-specificdatabases (Buller 2005a, 127–200; Gerrans 2002, 307 n. 2; Samuels 2000). We may thus distinguish between representational and computational modules,in that representational modules are mechanisms for storing symbols, while computa-tional modules are mechanisms for processing symbols in a modular fashion. Repre-sentational modules are domain-specific bodies of data, while computational modulesare domain-specific mechanisms. These two may also interact (Samuels 2000; Simpsonet al. 2005, 12–15). Representational modularity means that perception and storage ofinformation takes place in a modular fashion. In computational modularity, the compu-tations on symbols in the brain are also based on modular algorithms that are evolvedadaptations.5 Just as humans do not have any general-purpose biological organs butinstead have separate organs such as the liver, heart and so on, all serving specific func-tions, the mind is divided into functionally different units (see Sperber 2005, 54–57).
    • 194 appendixAs Tooby and Cosmides put it, a “psychological architecture that consisted of nothing butequipotential, general-purpose, content-independent or content-free mechanisms couldnot successfully perform the tasks the human mind is known to perform” (1995, 34). But training and experience can extend the domain of a module far beyond its orig-inal limits, as Boyer and Barrett (2005) observe. Sperber thus suggests that we differen-tiate between the proper and actual domains of a system. By the proper domain is meantthe things the system evolved to represent; the actual domain consists of things that arerepresented by the system at any given time after the system has evolved. These two donot always completely overlap. It is possible to extend the actual domain by training andexperience and thus to create artificial “superstimuli” that have superb power to triggera given module (Sperber 1994; Sperber and Hirschfeld 2004). A picture of a car with ahuman-like, smiling face, for example, readily triggers the “ToM module,” in additionto mechanical reasoning (see Guthrie 1993). Sperber and Hirschfeld (2004, 45) predictthat ideas that at once trigger two separate intuitive systems may be especially salient. Another example is the ability to read. This is a very demanding cognitive task, formany reasons. Healthy humans learn with considerable ease to recognize, within a frac-tion of a second, a pattern of light on the retina as a word, irrespective of the position,size, case, or font in which the word is printed (Dehaene et al. 2005). It even “deosn’tmttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are; the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht fristand lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae.” Stanislas Dehaene and colleagues have identifiedthe left occipito-temporal sulcus as the brain area that systematically identifies visualletter strings. This “visual word form system” plays an important role in informingother temporal, parietal, and frontal areas of the identity of the letter string, thus mak-ing semantic access and phonological retrieval possible (Dehaene 2005; Dehaene et al.2005). Although this neural system does not seem to be strictly modular, it neverthelessexemplifies the way an existing neural system is adopted for a new use. The inventionof symbol systems such as the alphabet and Arabic numerals relies on an extendedrange of cortical plasticity unique to humans; small changes to functionally specifiedbrain areas in other primates suffice to adapt these regions to a new cultural domain(“recycling” of preexisting brain circuitry; Dehaene 2005).6 There is, indeed, much plasticity in the human brain. Not all neural connectionsof the cortex are genetically determined. Brain mechanisms are not built in accordancewith rules but result from a “proliferate-and-prune” process of overproduction and sub-sequent death of unnecessary neurons (apoptosis) (Buller 2005a, 197–98;7 see Changeux1985; Edelman 1992; Panksepp 1998, 61– 79). The brain builds itself in ontogeneticinteraction with the environment (see Lickliter and Honeycutt 2003a,b). Only the gen-eral structure is genetically controlled, while many areas of the cortex have much plastic-ity in the ways they help their owner adapt to the environment (Buller 2005a, 132; Deacon1998, 193–224; Kujala, Alho, and Näätänen 2000; Panksepp and Panksepp 2000). The human brain starts to develop about twenty-five days after conception, growingat the rate of 250,000 cells per minute. This continues until birth, with cell produc-tion taking place differently in the evolutionarily older parts of the brain (the midbrainand the limbic system) than in the more recent, cortical part. In the older parts, newlyformed cells are simply added by pushing existing cells outward; in the cortex, cells“migrate” to their final destination through a long and winding path. Some time afterbirth, the brain’s development takes a different form: the neurons and synapses that
    • appendix 195are not needed start to die. An adult brain thus is sculptured by gradually subtractingextra neurons and neural connections. The kinds of environmental stimuli the develop-ing child is exposed to play a crucial role in shaping the neural circuitry of the cortex.Patterns of innervation from sensory receptors are projected on more and more remotebrain structures, so that even the circuits that have almost no direct connection withsensory receptors yet are shaped by sensory perception (Buller 2005a, 131–35; Changeux1985; Edelman 1992). As there is no genetically encoded developmental program responsible for thefunctional roles of different cortical circuitries, the idea of hundreds of geneticallyencoded cognitive modules becomes suspect. It might instead be the cortical plasticitythat is an adaptation. There is continual reorganization in the brain, and most cognitiveprocesses are not isolated from each other. Neural circuits may be domain-sensitive,but they are not encapsulated. This concerns the neocortex in particular; the older partsof the brain seem to work differently and to contain more rigidly dedicated systems(Buller 2005a, 135–43). The newer theories of modularity actually reject Fodor’s (1983) old criteria for mod-ularity, emphasizing that there may be different degrees of encapsulation and modulesmay even share parts with each other.8 A modular system is turned on by a specifickind of information yet may need to consult also other systems. Face recognition, forexample, may require consulting naïve physics but is not turned on without its properinput. Modules are isolable function-specific processing systems, all or most of whichare domain-specific. Most (but not all) of them also are domain-specific in their inputconditions. Although some modules are genetically channeled, many are constructedthrough learning (Barrett and Kurzban 2006; Carruthers 2006). Carruthers (2006,150–210) argues that it is unlikely that the primate mind would have been so changedin evolution that its modular architecture would have been swept away. Nor is it plau-sible that the human mind is only the end-product of an increase in processing power.Instead, new modules have been added, especially the modules for ToM, language, andfor dealing with social norms. To the extent that the evolutionarily older parts of the human brain process spon-taneous and unreflective behavioral responses and emotions (the so-called affect pro-grams), the question becomes how the cortical processes interact with these more basicprocesses. Higher brain areas surely are not immune to subcortical influences. Thelower areas, however, produce affect responses blindly: the fear system, for example,is triggered at the sight not only of a snake but also of all coiled shapes, such as hoses,ropes, and so forth. It is only cortical processes that can mediate such reflective thoughtsas “Silly me, it was only a rope!” In emotional turmoil, bottom-up processes take over,overpowering top-down processes (Buller 2005a, 143; LeDoux 1998; Panksepp 1998,300–306). It has therefore been argued that evolutionary considerations of the brainand cognitive functions should always begin with the subcortical structures, wherehomologies among mammals and specifically human modules are found. The cogni-tive modules that supposedly emerged in the Pleistocene may actually reflect our multi-modal capacity to conceptualize world events and to relate them to primitive affectsrelated to fitness concerns (Panksepp and Panksepp 2000, 110–11). As the debate on modularity is related to the one on adaptationism, it may be illu-minating to consult Peter Godfrey-Smith’s (1999, 186) division of adaptationism into
    • 196 appendixthree types (see Shanahan 2004, 152–69). Empirical adaptationism claims that naturalselection is a ubiquitous force and helps explain almost all important questions of bio-logical variation; explanatory adaptationism claims that apparent design of organismstells about their adaptedness to the environment and that explaining this is the coreintellectual mission of evolutionary biology; methodological adaptationism says that thebest way for scientists to approach biological systems is to look for features of adapta-tion and design. I thus suggest that we distinguish between empirical, explanatory, and method-ological modularity, in that empirical modularity refers to the massive modularity ofmind as a fact, explanatory modularity claims that the best way to explain human cogni-tion is to explore its modular structure, and methodological modularity suggests that westudy cognition as if it were modular (although it may be found not to be). I think thatsuch methodological modularity has been successful in the study of religion becauseit has guided scholars to look for the individual cognitive processes that make religionpossible, instead of treating religion as a single entity–like whole (e.g. Boyer 2001; seeDay 2005). Whether cognitive processes really are modular in some delicate and uneas-ily explicated manner is of little consequence for the study of religion. What is more important is the way affects interact with higher cognition. It isnot enough merely to study the functional roles of religious concepts in thinking andbehavior (see Lewis 1972) because these roles seem to be partly determined by emotionsthat yield themselves to neurophysiological explanation (see Panksepp 1998, 2007).I will return to this from a methodological point of view in section A.2.2. Here I want toemphasize that religious belief and behavior may in some sense resemble such thingsas fear of flying, for example. Although religious belief is defended by rational argu-ments, it may actually be based on the fact that persons just feel that way; rational justi-fication comes afterward (Anselm’s fides quarens intellectum). Similarly, merely knowingthat flying an airplane is safer than walking on the Madison Avenue does not removethe fear of flying, because the fear is not based on a lack of statistical information. It isdeeply rooted in affective brain processes beyond conscious control. It just feels thatway. The same seems to hold for religious belief. Thus, the information-processing approach to cognition needs to be supplementedby what Panksepp (2007) calls “energetic dynamics.” He points out, for example, thatthe human social brain arises from a set of innate emotional tendencies shared by allmammals. Emotions such as fear, rage, seeking, and lust are even premammalian. Pro-social feelings, for example, arise from dynamics of genetically provided instinctual sys-tems, and social experience is mediated by opioids in the brain. Play releases opioidsinto the brain, leading to increased play and satisfaction (“social comfort ”). In autisticbrains, there is an overabundance of opioids and thus no need for social interaction.In various kinds of addictions it seems to be the other way around: drugs are used tocompensate for the lack of natural opioids. It is thus possible that affects or emotions exercise an influence on higher cog-nition through the link of (modular) intuitions. Edmund Rolls (2007), for example,argues that emotions, by and large produced by rewards and punishers, are adaptationsenabling genes to specify goals for action. This leaves room for much cognitive andbehavioral flexibility. Genes code for emotions, and emotions guide us toward rewards,while higher cognition guides the choices between various alternative ways of achieving
    • appendix 197the rewards. To the extent that religion is intimately linked with social cognition, itseems to be driven, at least partly, by the affects related to social experience. There is,for example, experimental evidence that persons who have been induced to feel discon-nected from other humans report stronger belief in supernatural agents (Epley et al.2008). To further study this necessitates various kinds of experimental designs; it hasnot been possible for me to explore this idea here on the basis of historical materials. Inthe next section, I move on to provide some theoretical foundation for an explanatoryapproach to religion.A.2 Explaining ReligionA.2.1 Studying Religion from OutsideAnthropologists distinguish between emic and etic concepts and respective anthro-pological approaches. In its most simplified form, this dichotomy boils down to thedistinction between the concepts of the people studied and scientific or scholarly con-cepts (Harris 1968, 571, 575, 1990, 50; see Headland 1990, 15). However, Kenneth Pike(1971), who coined the concepts of emic and etic, wanted to develop a formal model foranalyzing units of behavior in different cultural contexts. Pike’s book was published inthe same year as Malinowski’s diaries, which, as Clifford Geertz put it (1993, 55–56),revealed that anthropologists had no special capacity to think and feel like true “natives”and that the ideal of an empathetic understanding of other cultures had to be recon-sidered. Pike’s emic-etic distinction came in handy in that situation. Geertz (57–58), forexample, pointed out that focusing only on the emic aspect leads to speculations aboutan illusory identification with the people studied, while a one-sided emphasis on theetic aspect leads to abstract jargon with no clear connection to the materials studied. Pike originally coined the emic-etic distinction as a behavioral analogue to the dis-tinction between phonemics and phonetics (Pike 1971, 323–43. 1990b, 65; see Keating1999; Nespor 1999). A phoneme is the smallest linguistic unit that can be used toexpress a difference in meaning; phonology studies how different phonemes are usedto differentiate between different word meanings. Phonetics, for its part, studies all thedifferent phonemes in various languages, irrespective of meaning. Thus, phonetics isthe necessary basis for phonology: the way speakers use different phonemes to expressmeanings in individual languages can only be studied using phonetics to identify dif-ferent phonemes. Pike thought that human behavior consisted of “behavioremes” and“utteremes” as building blocks analogous to phonemes. Therefore, human behavior, justas language, could be studied either from an emic or an etic perspective. The scholaridentifies the smallest meaningful units in any cultural context by starting from an eticunderstanding of the structure of human behavior. There is no direct access to the emicaspect, without the mediation of an etic perspective, because all the emic units we useare our scholarly reconstructions (Pike 1971, 1990a, 30–31). There is thus no absolutedichotomy between the scholars’ and the “natives’ ” perspectives; instead, the latter isreconstructed on the basis of the former. In the present study, “soul,” “God,” and “buddha” are emic concepts reconstructedfrom the etic perspective of comparative religion. “God,” however, is problematic because
    • 198 appendixit can be used both as an emic concept, denoting the god of Christianity, and as an eticconcept, in the sense of a general label for a type of beings (“gods”; see Pyysiäinen andKetola 1999). The concept of “supernatural agent” and the cognitive mechanisms ofagent representation are understood from an etic perspective, of course. I do not intendto view beliefs about supernatural agents simply from the point of view of the believersthemselves. My approach is comparative and explanatory, not interpretive and local.In the background of this choice figures the more general issue of the proper way tounderstand and explain human behavior. Some philosophers argue that in the human sciences, it is not legitimate to useconcepts that are unfamiliar to the people studied. It is not legitimate to say that X didY because of Z, if X does not know or understand Z. Peter Winch (1958, 95–108, 127,1970), for example, argues that as social life supposedly consists entirely of conceptsand ideas, a social scientist can only study social life at the explicit conceptual level. Ifsocial life is not studied from within, trying to grasp the way people understand theirexistence, it is reduced to the purely physical aspects of behavior (but cf. Bhaskar 1998,134–35; Martin 2000; Pyysiäinen 2004d, 1–27). This, in turn, is unacceptable for anantireductionist who does not want to reduce social life to something that it allegedlyis not. In religious studies, reductionism is a notorious scarecrow; its basic functionseems to have been to keep unwanted approaches away from the field, rather than tohelp analyze ways of explaining religion (see Idinopulos and Yonan 1994). Antireduc-tionists claim that reductionist approaches lead to a misrepresentation of religion as aphenomenon, while reductionists often argue that antireductionists are only trying todefend religion, not study it scientifically (see Wiebe 1999, 2005; cf. Gothóni 2005). AsI have argued elsewhere, much confusion has been caused by not keeping separate thetwo different questions: (1) reduction in the sense of explaining intentional religiousbehavior from a nonreligious, third-person perspective (naturalist reductionism), and(2) reduction in the sense of intra- and interlevel theory reduction (theory reductionism)(Pyysiäinen 2004d, 67–80, 2004e; see Craver 2007, 3 n. 2). The logic that underlies naturalist antireductionism can be criticized by elabo-rating further the counterargument, the basics of which I have presented elsewhere(Pyysiäinen 2004d, 71– 74). Antireductionists typically claim that insofar as scientificexplanations do not embody what is subjectively and religiously important in religion,they are somehow incomplete as scientific explanations. Because scientific descriptionsand explanations are made from a third-person perspective, they do not grasp the rich-ness of subjective experience. And because they thus leave something out of the picture,they are incomplete. The inescapable incompleteness of scientific explanations of reli-gion, then, means that religion always escapes scientific analysis. This line of reasoning can be illustrated with an analogous example from philoso-phy of mind. Frank Jackson presents the following “knowledge argument” against phys-icalism (Jackson 1982, 1986). He invites us to imagine Mary, a brilliant neuroscientistwho has lived all her life in a black-and-white room, watching a black-and-white televi-sion, and reading books without color illustrations. By these means, she has acquiredall possible physical information about vision and color that there is. The moment sheis released from the room, she will not only see things she has never seen before but alsolearn something new about the world and visual experience that she did not know before
    • appendix 199(if we ignore the unfortunate fact that her neuronal pathways would by that time beatrophied for good). Jackson thus concludes that physical information about subjectiveexperience is incomplete and physicalism false. The point is that Mary will gain newfactual knowledge about seeing colors in general, not just that she acquires a new kindof subjective experience (Jackson 1982, 132; 1986). However, although subjective expe-rience thus seems to bring along new knowledge, the argument fails to show why thisknowledge should be something extraphysical.9 It might just as well be only a matterof new neural activations. Antireductionist arguments in the study of religion are implicitly based on thesame kind of reasoning. We could imagine a completely nonreligious scholar, Muriel,who has never had any religious feelings, although she knows everything there is tobe known intellectually about religion. If God then kindled a religious feeling in herheart, she would for the first time have a subjective experience of what it is like to be abeliever. It thus seems safe to conclude that Muriel would learn something new aboutreligion and that her previous third-person knowledge would have been incomplete.Three problems remain, however. First, although the new subjective experience might bring something new to Muriel’sprevious knowledge about religion, a sense of understanding is not necessarily the sameas actual understanding, and personal experience is not an argument. A new experi-ence may help create new hypotheses, but there is no necessary link between an experi-ence and understanding; the sense of understanding is only a fallible indicator of actualunderstanding. Moreover, knowing an increased number of facts about a phenomenondoes not necessarily lead to a better understanding (Ylikoski 2008; see Keil 2003). Second, “religion” and “religious experience” are wide and nebulous categories (seeProudfoot 1985; Taves 2008). The analogy to color vision may well be quite misleading.It is very difficult to say what one actually lacks in lacking religious experience and feel-ing. Opinions differ widely among philosophers of religion as well as among religious“believers.” Would it really be easier to understand Theravada Buddhism if one werea Calvinist? Does being a shaman help one understand Judaism? I doubt it. Or if theclaim is that some kind of general religiosity (whatever it might be) helps one under-stand whatever religion, then we are no longer talking about seeing things simply fromthe point of view of the “believer.” Third, it is not clear whether the antireductionist claim is that (1) the scholar asa person should be religious, or that (2) (also) the explanations the scholar providesshould be religious. If the claim concerns the person of the scholar, we have twooptions. Either the person’s religiosity has nothing to do with her or his science, orit somehow extends its influence on the explanations she or he puts forward. In thefirst case, religiosity is obviously inconsequential from the scholarly point of view. Thesecond option brings us to claim (2): explanations of religion are incomplete as longas they do not somehow embody religiosity. This, however, means that the explanationshould actually replace the explanandum. This leads to a difficult situation. Claiming that explanations of religious behavior should also serve as a substituteor surrogate of religious practice implies that the scholar should provide religiously rel-evant scientific answers to religious questions, which may turn out to be a difficult com-bination. Although it is possible to both have a religious motivation for one’s scholarlywork and gain religious rewards from it, it is difficult to say how this should actually
    • 200 appendixchange the scientific practice and in what sense such religious science would be supe-rior as science. Not only is there a legitimate place for a nonreligious study of religiousbehavior but also mixing these two introduces serious new problems. However, antireductionists sometimes refer to Brentano’s idea of intentionalityand Husserl’s phenomenology, the basic claim being that the study of religion explainsor interprets religious intentions in themselves, “bracketing” all their empirical con-straints (Brentano 1924; Husserl 1950a,b; see Dreyfus 1982a,b; Føllesdal 1982; Kusch1997). Brentano (1924, 1:124–28) argues that all psychological phenomena (and theyalone) are characterized by the fact that they refer to a content: the objects toward whichmental acts are directed somehow reside in the mind itself. These phenomena aregrasped by understanding, in contrast to explanation (Hintikka 1975, 192; see chapter 1,section 1.3.2). Husserl (1950a) takes the task of phenomenology to be the study of what “appears” insubjective consciousness, without any attempt to ground immediately given phenomenaon anything that would explain them. The “intentional objects” of consciousness shouldbe studied irrespective of whether or not anything in external reality corresponds to them,and irrespective of the processes that gave rise to them (perception, hallucination, etc.).10The object of analysis is pure consciousness, apart from the factual world; in the “eidetic”reduction, facts are reduced to their “essences” (see Kusch 1997, 241–43). Thus, trying to found epistemology on psychology or on any natural science is“nonsense” to Husserl; the natural sciences only lead us to senseless skepticism bymaking the laws of logic relative (Husserl 1950a, 20–21, 35–36). This is because Husserlthinks that logic, which cannot be derived empirically from the human constitution, cannever be considered from outside—all inquiry already presupposing logic (Haaparanta1995, 157–59; cf. Kusch 1989, 2–3; van Heijenoort 1967).11 The problem is the same aswith Durkheim’s categories: are they simply given or do they arise from experience?Yet Husserl considers language (unlike logic) to be merely a calculus that can be lookedat from outside, changed, and manipulated, whereas for Heidegger and Gadamer, lan-guage is the “universal medium” whose semantic relations are inaccessible to us (Kusch1989, 1997; see Hintikka and Hintikka 1986). Thus, phenomenologists of religion can argue that the relevance of religious datamust be judged not in relation to the “believer’s” point of view or to a scientific theory,but in relation to a religious intention’s “inner structure” (Utriainen 2005; Kamppinen2001). Religious intentions are objects of study in their own right, not merely insofaras they tell something about something else (brain, society, culture, etc.); the scholardescribes the religious intention as it appears to him or her in the variable data, withoutpostulating any foundational essence to religion (Utriainen 2005). Scholar of religionTerhi Utriainen thinks this leaves us with two alternatives: a never-ending reworkingof our understanding of religion by providing ever new phenomenological descrip-tions of different religious situations, or a search for a final truth by “implanting reli-gion (or at least the precondition of religion) to the natural constitution of the humananimal” (47). It is misleading, however, to oppose reworkable phenomenological descriptions tothe final truth of a naturalistic approach. There is no final truth in science (e.g. Niini-luoto 1984, 1987, 2002). Explaining religious thought and practice in the light of thebiological and psychological capacities of the human species that make religion possible
    • appendix 201in no way means a search for general laws or immutable essences (see Bhaskar 1998;Halonen and Hintikka 1999; Hintikka 2001). The idea of an essence is contrary to abasic principle of evolutionary theory: emphasis on populational in contrast to typologi-cal thinking. Thus, the concept of religion (in the singular) may also be altered and rede-fined in the course of exploration, even though religion is studied within an empiricalframe of reference (see Pyysiäinen 2001b, 1–5; Day 2005). And yet religion can be con-ceptualized from a coherent perspective, as is not the case for the kind of phenomenol-ogy that conflates data and theory.12 (How can one claim that only pure religion shouldbe studied if religion is whatever one decides to call religion?)A.2.2 Explanatory Pluralism and the Study of ReligionReductionism can also refer to what philosophers of science call theory reduction (seeBechtel 2008, 130–35), which is based on the view that reality presents itself to us inhierarchically ordered layers or levels, starting from micro- and macrophysics and pro-ceeding through chemistry, biology, and psychology to culture (Pyysiäinen 2004d, 24).13It is usually thought that all macrolevel causal powers are somehow inherited fromlower levels in some noncausal manner. The levels are differentiated on the basis oftheir relative complexity. The higher levels are more complex, in that they involve morecomplex causal mechanisms and we thus have to include more variables in our explana-tions. The altitude of a level of analysis is directly proportional to the complexity of thesystems it deals with. The altitude of the level is also inversely proportional to the size ofthe domain of events in question: psychology, for example, is a higher level than biologyand deals with only some of the phenomena within the realm of biology. In addition,the age of the relevant phenomena decreases from the bottom up: the lower the level,the longer its phenomena have been around in the world (McCauley 1986, 1996, 2007;Ylikoski 2001, 78–82). Recently, Carl Craver has presented a detailed taxonomy of levels (2007, 171).First, the levels of science include the products of scientific inquiry, such as analyses,explanatory models, and theories. Second, the level of units consists of research groups,perspectives, and programs, and so forth. The levels of nature show by virtue of whatcriteria two items can be said to be at differing levels; causality, size, and compositionhave been suggested as criteria. Thus, it has been argued that things at lower levels aresmaller than things at higher levels, or that things at higher levels are more complex.Some say that things at differing levels are causally related. Craver’s levels of mecha-nisms are levels of composition, but the composition relation is ultimately not spatialor material; instead, the units are behaving mechanisms at higher levels and their com-ponents at lower levels. Craver argues that there is no uniquely correct answer to theplacement question for levels of mechanisms (171– 72, 188–89). Craver’s idea is that neuroscientific explanations always cover multiple levelsbecause the components of the explanandum form a hierarchy of levels. He uses spa-tial memory in mice and rats as an example (Craver speaks of both, without a distinc-tion). At the highest level, we have the phenomenon of spatial memory; then comesthe level of spatial map formation in the hippocampus and the temporal and frontalcortices; third is the cellular-electrophysiological level; fourth, we have the molecularmechanisms that make the chemical and electrical activities of nerve cells possible
    • 202 appendix(Craver 2007, 163– 70). Thus, levels of mechanisms are not levels of objects (such ascell, organism, society) and do not correspond to any fixed ontological division. It alsodoes not make sense to say that things at different levels causally interact with oneanother. To the extent that the levels are levels of mechanisms, “interlevel causation”would mean an interaction between the behavior of a mechanism as a whole and theparts of the mechanism (but there is no difficulty in things of one size scale interactingwith things of another size scale) (190, 195). It thus is not meaningful to ask if “culture” or “society” are independent levels (seeBechtel 2008, 129–57). The question instead is whether we can describe mechanismsabove the level of such things as spatial memory. According to Craver (2007, 1–9), amechanism is “a set of entities and activities organized such that they exhibit the phe-nomenon to be explained.” Entities are the components of mechanisms and have prop-erties that allow them to engage in a variety of activities that are the causal componentsof mechanisms (see Bechtel 2008, 14). The entities and activities of a mechanism areorganized spatially, temporally, causally, or hierarchically. A mechanistic explanation thus is not only an argument or an invariance. Expla-nations consist of objective features of the world and of public representations suchas texts describing these features (Craver 2007, 26–28, 100–01). Craver (28–49) thusrejects Hempel’s covering law model, Paul Churchland’s prototype activation model,and Kitcher’s unification model, adopting Woodward’s manipulationist account of cau-sality. In this view, X is causally relevant with regard to Y if an “ideal intervention I on Xwith respect to Y is a change in the value of X that changes Y, if at all, only via the changein X” (95–96). The explanatory generalizations describing causal relevance relationsare stable or invariant but not necessarily or even usually universal. This means that therelation between cause and effect holds under a range of conditions (99). Thus, cultureis causally relevant with regard to religion if an ideal intervention I on culture with(respect to religion) changes culture so that a change in religion follows. Consider now Alan Garfinkel’s imaginary example of explaining increase anddecrease in populations of rabbits and foxes (Garfinkel 1981, 49– 74). Let the frequencywith which foxes encounter rabbits (and eat them) be the main influence on the levelsof populations. Both the fox level and the rabbit level have an effect on the frequency ofencounters. When there are many foxes around, this places great pressure on rabbits.Imagine now that we want to explain the death of a rabbit. We might say: The cause of the death of the rabbit was that the fox population was high.As this is an explanation of a microstate by a macrostate, it should—by a theory-reductionist’s lights—be reducible to a microexplanation: Rabbit r was eaten because he passed through the capture space of fox f. But here the explanandum is no longer “the death of the rabbit” but something like“the death of rabbit r at the hands of fox f, at place p, at time t (and so on and so forth).”But this seems to include unnecessary details, considering that the original questionwas “why the rabbit was eaten {rather than not eaten}.” A rabbit, for example, mightwant to know why rabbits get eaten, not why they get eaten by specific foxes. A micro-explanation, however, says “The rabbit was eaten {by fox f at time t . . . [rather than by
    • appendix 203some other fox . . .] }.” But it does not follow that “If rabbit r had not been at place p, attime t (and so on and so forth), he would not have been eaten” (Garfinkel 1981, 163).The problem with microexplanations thus is that they bring a certain instability to theconditions under which they work. It can be said that microexplanations answer how-questions by providing a mecha-nism for the operation of macroexplanations answering why-questions. As a particularmechanism is not necessary for the effect, it is not a good explanation. As Garfinkelputs it, it is “too true to be good.” Something materially being something else does notmean that the relevant explanation could be reduced (1981, 58–59). Therefore, upper-level explanations are often needed. Neither eliminative reductionism nor its antithesiscan provide a satisfactory model for explaining religion, however. Robert McCauley’s (1986, 1996, 2007; McCauley and Bechtel 2001) explanatorypluralism and Craver’s multilevel model offer an alternative for all kinds of “fundamen-talist ” views, according to which good explanations can be formulated only at the mostfundamental level (Craver 2007, 9–16; see Pyysiäinen in press). A multilevel view ofexplanation should be combined with a contrastive counterfactual theory of explanation,because explanations are always answers to contrastive questions (Craver 2007, 202–11;Garfinkel 1981; Ylikoski 2001). This is because only some of the available informationis relevant for any given explanation. Adding details to the explanation of why the rabbitgot eaten, for example, does not make the explanation better or more accurate; it insteadchanges the explanandum. In order to be able to specify the explanandum properly,we need to contrast the question asked with something else: why did f occur instead ofc? Second, it is necessary to specify a mechanism that ensures that f occurs insteadof c. Consider the case of the bank robber Willie Sutton, for instance. When the prisonchaplain asked him “Why do you rob banks?” he replied: “That’s where the money is!”thus making the erroneous contrast “Why do you rob banks {instead of, say, news-stands}?” The correct answer thus depends on how we conceive the question; a contrastis an economical way of fixing the causal field as it delivers us from the burden of listingall the components of the field (Garfinkel 1981, 21–22; Ylikoski 2001, 22, 27, 36, 2006). Thus, religion can be explained in terms of cognitive mechanisms when we bear inmind that these mechanisms span different levels from molecular systems to culture,in the sense of shared knowledge. Take as an example the relationship between theserotonin system in the brain and spiritual experience. Borg et al. (2003) argue thatthe serotonin 5–HT1A receptor density correlates with the tendency to spiritual experience.It should now be possible to describe a causal mechanism whose levels consist of themolecular level, the appropriate cellular-electrophysiological level, the cognitive aspectof the experience, and the phenomenon of spiritual experience. Moreover, as social neu-roscience is also interested in the neural representation of social phenomena, it shouldalso be possible to add a fifth level, the societal role of spiritual experience (see e.g. Bruce2002). Spiritual experience may have causal relevance with regard to society, but societyis also causally relevant with regard to spiritual experience. Whereas a scientific fundamentalist claims that good explanations of religion arepossible only at some chosen level (be it culture or cognition), multilevel mechanis-tic explanation is based on the realization that good explanations of religion engagethe levels of neurobiology, cognitive processes, and sociocultural systems. Religion is ahybrid formation and can be approached at any of these levels. Clearly, advance at any
    • 204 appendixlevel can in principle also benefit scholarship at other levels by, for instance, helpingformulate new research questions and testable hypotheses. There is no religion withoutneural activity, but neuroscientists often do not have expertise in the study of religion.Religion cannot be identified at the neural level alone, but scholars of religion do nothave expertise in studying the neural processes involved. Therefore, interdisciplinarycooperation is needed, and religion should be explored from different angles, and theo-ries developed at different ontological levels (Boyer 2005b). Individual scholars maywork on specific levels; the general understanding of religion may develop simultane-ously at different levels. By contrasting explanations with counterfactual scenarios, it is possible to specifythe explanandum properly. In studying the serotonin system, for example, a propercontrastive research question could be, for example, “Does individual variation in sero-tonin 5-HT1A receptor density correlate with self-transcendence {rather than with someother personality traits}?” In Borg et al. (2003), serotonin binding potential correlatedinversely with scores for self-transcendence (but no correlations were found for anyof the other six “temperament” and “character inventory” dimensions). One possibleinterpretation of this finding is that subjects with low 5-HT1A receptor density havesparse serotoenergic innervation and thereby a weaker filtering function, allowing forincreased perception and decreased inhibition. An improper research question is exem-plified by such (imaginary) contrasts as “Does serotonin 5-HT1A receptor density {ratherthan social factors} serve as the basis for spiritual experience?” This question is basedon an implicit fundamentalist assumption that there is only one proper level at whichgood explanations work. Insofar as “religion” is not a unitary entity with clear boundaries, it is necessary tospecify mechanisms of religious behavior at differing levels. This also helps connect thestudy of religion with other sciences across the board—though doing so is not alwayseasy. The human sciences have a long history in research that is centered around thescholar as an individual; this type of research is by and large characterized by Boyer’s(2003c) “relevant connections” model: 1. There is no agreed corpus of knowledge. 2. There are no manuals, or agreed techniques or methods. 3. The history of the field is crucial, in the sense of a continual reframing of past theories. 4. Books are more important than articles. 5. There is no specific developmental curve of the scholar: one may be able to produce interesting connections from the beginning. 6. There is no agreement on who is a competent performer, although there are coalitional cliques and bitter feuds. In contrast to this, studying religion at different levels of mechanisms often requirescooperation among several disciplines and scholars (see Boyer 2005b). The difficultiesof doing so should challenge us to rethink the traditional division of labor betweenvarious disciplines that is supposed to reflect some kind of natural ontology. As real-ity does not consist of natural compartments, we should try our best to overcome theobstacles created by artificial disciplinary boundaries.
    • appendix 205A.3 Religion as By-product and Sexual SelectionThe question remains why religious rituals often take the elaborate forms they do. Oneway of answering this question is the modes-of-religiosity theory, according to whichthere are specialized causal mechanisms that determine the development of religioustraditions either toward an “imagistic” or a “doctrinal” form (Whitehouse 1995, 2000,2002, 2004). Whitehouse calls these forms “attractor positions,” but it is not entirelyclear what this is supposed to mean; as real-life religious traditions always seem tocombine imagistic and doctrinal variable contents, attraction must be something veryabstract (see Ketola 2007, 102–3; Whitehouse and Laidlaw 2004; Whitehouse and Mar-tin 2004; Whitehouse and McCauley 2005). The attraction seems to take place on something like the level of an abstract “com-petence,” as distinguished from “performance” (to use Chomsky’s terminology as aloose analogy; Pyysiäinen 2006c). However, the idea of modal causality has been criti-cized for vagueness (Wiebe 2004) and a more reductive strategy recommended (Boyer2005a). In the standard model of the cognitive science of religion, causal mechanismsare searched below the surface level of what is referred to as “religion” (Boyer 2001;Sperber 2006; Kirkpatrick 2006, 2008). Religion is made possible by cognitive mecha-nisms that are adaptations for solving problems related to survival and reproduction.Another and much less studied option is that what biologists call sexual selection mayalso have played a role in the evolution of the capacities and behaviors of which religionis a by-product (Dennett 2006, 87–89; Pyysiäinen 2008). I have elsewhere argued that sexual selection may have begun to operate on theindividual tendency to ritualized behavior (Pyysiäinen 2008; see Dennett 2006, 87–89).I mean by ritualized behavior individual behavior that is repetitive, rigid, and noninstru-mental (Boyer and Liénard 2006; Liénard and Boyer 2006). Ritual behavior, in contrast,refers to all actions that take place in the context of a collective ceremony. Boyer andLiénard (2006) argue that ritualized behavior results from a specific hazard precau-tion system (or several such systems) geared to the detection of and reaction to inferredthreats to fitness. Such threats create a specific adaptive problem because (1) they arequite diverse; (2) there is no straightforward feedback demonstrating that a threat hasbeen removed, it being in the nature of such threats that they are not directly observable;(3) appropriate measures cannot be mapped one-to-one onto physically different classesof threats, since each type of threat may require very different precautions, dependingon the situation. Ritualized action is then typified by stereotypy, rigidity, repetitiveness,and partition of behavior into subactions that do not seem to have any immediate instru-mental goals. Such ritualization of action is found not only in cultural ceremonies butin children’s rituals and obsessive compulsive disorder as well (see also Liénard andBoyer 2006). The activation of a hazard precaution system leads to an arousal and a feeling thatsomething must be done. Certain actions seem intuitively to be called for, although onedoes not have any explanation for why this is so. In the aroused state, one’s attentionis focused on low-level properties of action, which thus is “parsed” in smaller units thannormally. Such upper-level categories as “walking” are replaced by such lower-level cate-gories as “walking-in-this-or-that-specific-manner.” To this is connected a “just right”syndrome: everything must be done very carefully, yet one can never be sure that a goal
    • 206 appendixhas been reached. As the relationship of the low-level actions with the more general goalof the ritual is close to a mystery, repetition of action follows. The types of actions con-cerned relate to a few salient themes, such as pollution and purification, danger and pro-tection, as well as intrusion of others and the construction of an ordered environment(Boyer and Liénard 2006; Liénard and Boyer 2006). These are also the themes underly-ing rituals as collective ceremonies: religious and magical rituals relate to purification(e.g. baptism, libations), protection (so-called crisis rites like rainmaking), and creationof social order (rites of passages such as initiations). Inferred threats also tend to trig-ger the HADD and HUI/ ToM, because postulating an agent is in most cases necessaryfor effective precautions (see Taves 2008, 216). Thus representations of supernaturalagents also get activated, and people try to please and propitiate them in attempts to dosomething about the inferred threat. According to Geoffrey Miller (2001a, 345), ritualization results from such sexualselection of signals and displays in which movements and structures are modified toexcite optimally the perceptual systems of receivers. Such ritualization may be accompa-nied with hazard precaution triggered by an inferred threat to one’s fitness: not findinga mating partner means not leaving any offspring. As Westermarck (1891, 185) pointsout, in tribal societies, only men run the risk of being obliged to lead a single life (seeTrivers 2002, 66). Courtship thus may be ritualized because of the inferred threat andthen get more elaborate because of sexual selection. In sexual selection, as found among sexually reproducing organisms, the relativeparental investment of the sexes in the young is the key variable: when one sex investsmore time and resources in the care of the offspring, members of the other sex will com-pete among themselves to mate with the members of the former ( Trivers 2002, 102). Insuch a situation, some individual phenotypic trait may become a sign either of the goodoverall condition of its bearer (good genes) or of the fact that the individual is likely to becapable of and willing to invest resources in the care of the offspring. A peacock’s tail,for example, takes much energy to grow, is difficult to carry, and is an obvious handicapwhen trying to avoid predators. For the peahen, it thus is a reliable sign of the peacockbeing in good overall condition, because it can afford the tail. In some other species ofbirds, females prefer males who rule over a favorable territory (Dunbar 1988, 288–91;Howard 1948). Biologists now recognize such female mate sampling and choice as afact in many species (Byers and Waits 2006; Fisher et al. 2006; Trivers 2002, 56–110;cf. Rhodes and Simmons 2007). When at some point in evolution, a given peahen had a liking for a long tail inthe male, her offspring inherited both the liking (peahen) and the long tail (peacocks).The average length of the tail gradually grows in each generation, because peacockswith the longest tails have more offspring than their competitors. In each generation,it thus takes a little bit more to be above the average. Not all peacocks can grow a longtail, however, because a long tail presupposes a good overall condition, which, in turn,is determined by many different genes at different loci (see Kokko et al. 2003, 2006;Kotiaho et al. 2001; Miller 2001a,b; Tomkins et al., 2004). However, females also seemto prefer novel or rare phenotypes; when such choosiness is common, rare genotypes inone generation tend to become common in offspring generations (Kokko et al. 2007). Psychologist Geoffrey Miller provides theoretical arguments to the effect thathuman cultural phenomena such as music, morality, and religion also might be due to
    • appendix 207sexual selection (Miller 2001a,b, 2007). Haselton and Miller (2006), for example, showthat in short-term mate choice, women near peak fertility (midcycle) prefer inheritedcreativity over wealth due to good luck. As creativity is a sign of good genes, womenprefer creative males as short-term mating partners. Miller (2001a, 349–50) points out that early human hunting strategies relied on thehunters’ long-range running, high aerobic capacity, and sweating ability. The best hunt-ers were in good overall condition with good motor control under conditions of highaerobic effort over long periods of time. From the gene’s–eye perspective, females shouldhave preferred them as mating partners. To the extent that they would have been unableto accompany men on the hunt to see who was the fittest, they would have neededsome other means of rating men. Observing ritual dancing may have been one suchmeans. As most tribal and folk dancing includes repeated high stepping, stamping,and jumping, using the largest and most energy-consuming muscles, dancing may wellhave evolved as a display of the fitness needed in hunting. Ritual dancing is universalamong humans and has its origins close to the time of the emergence of Homo sapiensin Africa, before the spread of the human species on other continents (Kaeppler 1978;Kurath 1960; Bachner-Melman et al. 2005). The good overall condition that skillful and prolonged dancing requires is mea-sured by the so-called fluctuating asymmetry (FA) of the body (minor deviations fromperfect bilateral symmetry of the body; see Trivers 2002, 309–27).14 The validity of FA,which has been used as a measure of developmental stability and thus of good genes, isdiminished by the fact that the effect tends to be smaller than errors in measurement(Rhodes and Simmons 2007). However, the study by Brown et al. (2005, not included inthe metaanalysis by Rhodes and Simmons [2007]) presents evidence of strong positiveassociation between bodily symmetry and dancing ability, especially in men. Womenalso rate dances by symmetrical men relatively more positively than men do. It thusmight be argued that ritual behaviors serve as courtship displays that have been sexuallyselected (Brown et al. 2005). Rhodes and Simmons (2007, 360) observe that althoughthere is little reason to believe that a preference for symmetric bodies is an adaptationfor obtaining indirect genetic benefits from mate choice, bodily symmetry yet may con-vey information about possible direct benefits in the form of provided resources. A recent study of Bachner-Melman et al. (2005) suggests that two polymorphicgenes seem to add to differences in aptitude, propensity, and need for creative danc-ing. These are the arginine vasopressin 1a (AVPR1a) gene and the SLC6A4 gene, whichencodes the protein that transports serotonin. The AVPR1a gene makes a profoundcontribution to affiliative and social behavior, including courtship, in vertebrates in gen-eral; thus, the association between AVPR1a and dancing in humans may reflect theimportance of social relations and communication in dance. The role of the SLC6A4 gene with regard to dancing may relate to sensitivity toaltered states of consciousness. The protein that this gene encodes terminates the actionof serotonin and recycles it; it is also a target of such psychomotor stimulants as amphet-amine, for example. Serotonin receptor density, for its part, has been shown to correlateinversely with apprehension of phenomena that cannot be explained by objective dem-onstration (“spirituality ”) (Borg et al. 2003). The amphetamine derivative 3,4-methylene-dioxymethamphetamine (known by its recreational users as “ecstasy ”) causes a markedincrease in serotonin and dopamine, an effect that is enhanced by such things as loud
    • 208 appendixmusic and hot, overcrowded conditions (Parrott 2004). Such conditions are typical oftribal rituals as well (see, e.g., Whitehouse 1995). Ritual dancing thus is also a favor-able context for the so-called religious experiences of being in contact with supernaturalagents (see Pyysiäinen 2001b, 77–139). Ritual dancing is just one example of the kind of skills underlying religion that pos-sibly have been favored not merely by natural selection but also by sexual selection. Thisexample also shows how difficult it is to try to explain the evolution of religion; socialinstitutions can only evolve if certain materially realized skills and capacities first evolve,which leads directly to the standard-model idea of religion as a by-product. However, we may well also ask why many religious traditions favor institutional-ized celibacy, if religion has evolved driven by sexual selection. There are several waysof trying to answer this question (see Deady et al. 2006; Qirko 2002). One option isthat celibacy is an alternative strategy in conditions where it is not possible for every-one to find a partner and reproduce (see Deady et al. 2006, 394–96 for examples).Another line of reasoning is based on Trivers’s theory of parental investment as “anyinvestment by the parent in an individual offspring that increases the offspring’schance of surviving (and hence reproductive success) at the cost of the parent’s abilityto invest in other offspring” (2002, 67). The chances of reproductive success are thebest when a parent invests all resources in one of the sons (often the oldest), because ofthe higher reproductive capacity among males and because dividing scarce resourcesamong several offspring may mean that no one gets enough to survive (Boone 1986;Hartung 1976). This has led to various kinds of cultural practices meant to keep some of theyoungest offspring as “helpers at the nest” who do not reproduce. There is, for example,anecdotal evidence from German folk traditions of people having “systematically kept[children] dumb and crippled” to ensure that they would stay at home (Voland 2007,424–27). Deady et al. (2006) provide evidence from nineteenth-century Ireland, whereone of the sons in each generation would inherit land that enabled him to marry; for theothers, emigration or staying as a helper at home was often the only option (4.2 millionpeople emigrated from Ireland between 1852 and 1921). At the same time, there was a sharp increase in both female and male celibacywithin Irish Catholicism. Deady et al. (2006) cite Larkin’s study that shows that voca-tions increased from five thousand priests, monks, and nuns for a Catholi