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Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn't Hardcover – February 26, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0195169263 ISBN-10: 0195169263 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"An exploration of the reasons why religious people often behave in unorthodox, if predictable, ways, Jason Slone's Theological Incorrectness is the latest in a growing number of cognitive studies of religion--and the most accessible to date. The chapters presenting this new approach--which argues that religion is a natural by-product of ordinary cognition--are exceptionally clear, making the book a welcome choice for use in undergraduate education. And Slone's examples--Buddhism, Christianity, and the perseverance of luck in religious practices--convincingly demonstrate its value not only to those encountering it for the first time but to established scholars of religious studies as well." --Luther H. Martin, Professor of Religion, The University of Vermont

"This is a splendid book that greatly adds to our knowledge of religion. Slone demonstrates how cognitive science illuminates persistent mysteries of religious thought and behavior: why some religions apparently dispense with gods and transcendence, why beliefs in luck will outlive all religious systems, and many other such enigmas. He tackles one of the most puzzling features of organized religion, that theologically sanctioned beliefs rarely command complete adherence even from the most devout followers. People do believe, but they often do not believe what they think they believe, and Slone brilliantly explains why that is so. --Pascal Boyer, author of Religion Explained

The cognitive science of religion aims to explain religious thinking and behavior in ways that are both precise and testable. Jason Slone shows how many previous theories of religion have fallen short in this respect and he provides a masterly overview of the new sciences that reverse that trend. But Slone has done much more than that. He has managed to produce a concise survey that is as accessible and entertaining as it is authoritative, interwoven with his own distinctive and important ideas. The result is a book that will appeal as much to lay readers and undergraduates as to advanced scholars and scientists interested in the psychological foundations of religion. --Harvey Whitehouse, author of Arguments and Icons: Divergent Modes of Religiosity

"Jason Slone's Theological Incorrectness shows in an erudite, humorous and compelling way how the cognitive science of religion is in the process of developing intriguing, plausible and empirically confirmable answers to the many puzzling features of religious ideas and the practices they inform. He distinguishes between the theologically correct explicit beliefs and the intuitive beliefs that actually drive religion on the ground. This important and groundbreaking book will make waves not only in the academic community but also in the larger marketplace of ideas. If I were a salesperson I would advise people to run rather than walk to buy it. Slone has made a signal contribution both to scholars engaged in the scientific study of religion and to the wider audience tuned to new voices presenting compelling ideas in exciting ways. --E. Thomas Lawson, Editor, Journal of Cognition and Culture

About the Author


D. Jason Slone is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Findlay in Ohio.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195169263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195169263
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.9 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,228,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By R. Brekhus on October 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Slone's book will make the "reflexive" or "intuitive" religious believer uncomfortable, because it defines personal intuition and emotion as parts of ourselves that have been formed in the crucible of the brain's evolution, much like what many people think of as "animal instincts."

Slone suggests that there is a wide gulf between religous philosophers and average believers, and that the latter are predisposed to belief because the kind of brains that produce religious belief are, for other reasons, the kind of brains that helped our early ancestors survive in a hostile enviornment. All of Slone's examples from particular religions that show the contradictions between religious dogma or philosophy and popular expressions of the same religion seem to be a sort of lure to draw religous thinkers into Slone's way of conceiving of an origin of religious thought that need not involve an actual deity at all, which is the really interesting part.

I won't spoil the surprise and say WHAT it is about a well-tuned brain that, accidentally, also tends to produce religious thinking. To find out, read the book!

Because I am both an atheist and someone who is interested in cognitive psychology (I like Steve Pinker's work, for instance), I am inclined to feel that Slone's explanation of run-of-the-mill religous belief makes a lot of sense. I'd like to see these explanations expanded in a later book, and perhaps brought together with other evolutionary theories of the more social aspects of religion.

However, I fully expect people with a large emotional investment in religion to run from this book screaming.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Adam L. on January 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why do human beings find religious ideas such an appealing explanation for events and why is supernatural attribution so ubiquitous and often more satisfying than naturalistic accounts? Jason Slone goes a long way in answering these questions and the short version is somewhat paradoxical - supernatural beliefs are a natural by-product of cognition.

For anyone read in the literature in this field, you will find many ideas that aren't new - Slone draws heavily on the ideas of Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, and Stewart Guthrie among many others. But the book isn't just rehash and regurgitation as its thesis weaves the ideas into a coherent and refreshing look into religion and how human beings interact with it, generate it, and often use it to understand the world around them.

The main thrust of the book, from which the title is derived, is that the often simple ways religious beliefs contradict or are inconsistent with each other in the minds of believers can offer a keen insight into the nature of religion. To paraphrase an example given in the book: Christians were asked if God was omnipotent and of course they gave the "theologically correct" response of yes. They then were asked about the idea in practice as such how God operates with prayer requests. Their description consisted of a "naturalized" account more in tune with intuition - that God dealt with them one at a time. The key here being that as per the professed theological doctrine, God would be capable of dealing with all prayer requests devoid of any chronological constraints. But that turned out to be inconsistent with the "online" thinking of the prompted conceptualizations. The conclusion that reverberates here is that religion is constrained by cognition, not that cognition is constrained by religion.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In order to have a good scientific study of religions, says Slone, you have to know why people believe. You have to know why people believe certain things and not others (which involves finding what is common in religions). And you have to know why people believe things that are not “theologically correct”–things that actually go contrary to what the religion’s authorities say a believer should believe. To do this, you need to know what is common in people’s minds.

Slone describes a number of findings in psychology that are relevant. For example, those who have read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow will find similarities to Slone’s “online” and “offline” thinking. Offline thinking is like Kahneman’s System 2: slow, logical, requiring time and substantial mental effort. Online thinking is like his System 1: intuitive, requiring less mental effort. Much theological incorrectness occurs because the brain is partial to System 1.

I found the book very interesting. However ... Maybe half of the book’s 125 pages are about the title. Much of the rest is a history and critique of the academic study of religion. Fascinating, a little catty (e.g., the title of chapter 2, which characterizes the two most common early approaches as “Religion for Dummies and Romantics”), but not always relevant.

I frequently found his explanations of the link between brain and belief too skimpy. There was a fair amount of jargon and, though he usually defined terms, all too often there was little beyond definition: not enough context, not enough examples. An exception was the important word abduction, which is not even defined. If you do read the book (and I recommend it), be sure you know what it is and how it differs from deduction and induction.
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