Beyond Heaven and Earth: A Cognitive Theory of Religion
An approach to understanding religion that draws on both humanities and natural science but rejects approaches that employ simple monisms and radical dualisms.
In Beyond Heaven and Earth, Gabriel Levy argues that collective religious narratives and beliefs are part of nature; they are the basis for the formation of the narratives and beliefs of individuals. Religion grows out of the universe, but to make sense of it we have to recognize the paradox that the universe is both mental and material (or neither). We need both humanities and natural science approaches to study religion and religious meaning, Levy contends, but we must also recognize the limits of these approaches. First, we must make the dominant metaphysics that undergird the various disciplines of science and humanities more explicit, and second, we must reject those versions of metaphysics that maintain simple monisms and radical dualisms.
Bringing Donald Davidson’s philosophy—a form of pragmatism known as anomalous monism—to bear on religion, Levy offers a blueprint for one way that the humanities and natural sciences can have a mutually respectful dialogue. Levy argues that in order to understand religions we have to take their semantic content seriously. We need to rethink such basic concepts as narrative fiction, information, agency, creativity, technology, and intimacy. In the course of his argument, Levy considers the relation between two closely related semantics, fiction and religion, and outlines a new approach to information. He then applies his theory to discrete cases: ancient texts, modern media, and intimacy.
Praise for Beyond Heaven and Earth: A Cognitive Theory of Religion
“A bold attempt to expose the problematic metaphysics underwriting traditional cognitive science of religion . . . Levy’s ability to bring all these subjects to bear on a new cognitive science of religion is impressive. It is an achievement I do not wish to undersell.”
—Journal of the American Academy of Religion
“...[O]verwhelmingly successful in bringing Davidsonian ideas into careful, thoughtful, and fruitful dialogue with the academic study of religion....displays the vigor of Levy’s thought....deserves to have a substantial impact on the field...”
“Beyond Heaven and Earth is a bold and intriguing methodological project. The publication of this book is a testament to the potential of [Cognitive Science of Religion] to develop its unique methods and perspectives beyond the confines of a natural science paradigm. . . Its insights have implications that extend beyond the discipline, challenging our assumptions about the nature of science and the narratives we use to make sense of the world.”
—Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion
“I think that Levy is right that our best bet for mutual consilience between science and the humanities is a nonreductive ontological monism like Davidson’s, and I hope that other philosophers of religious studies develop this idea further.”
—American Journal of Theology & Philosophy
“One of the major lessons that Levy wants the reader to learn is that cognition leads to hubris, the solution to which, according to him, is to see the link between mind and life. Here is where the book’s ultimate value lies: in breaking down disciplinary and mental barriers and silos to increase understanding and decrease scholarly hubris.”
—Religious Studies Review
“Interesting, unique, and challenging.”
—The European Legacy