Project Information

Kurt Lewin Instituut
Heidelberglaan 1
Room Number H1.42
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)30 - 253 3027

Project Information

Project Title
"Cognitive Science of Religion"

University of Amsterdam - Social Psychology

PhD Student
David Maij

Dr. Michiel van Elk (University of Amsterdam)
Prof.dr. Joop van der Pligt (University of Amsterdam)

1 February 2014 - 1 February 2018

NWO - Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research


One of the most remarkable characteristics of the human species is our ability to engage in religious thought and behavior. Even in a highly secularized society like the Netherlands, still many people hold beliefs in a higher power or afterlife and are engaged in an eclectic variety of religious practices that support these beliefs. Besides the more negative connotations associated with religious thinking (e.g. dogmatism or obsessive compulsive behavior), many studies have shown that religious faith can have positive effects on both mental and physical health. For instance, religious people with an intrinsic motivation to believe are less depressive, have lower blood pressure and lower mortality rates than non-religious controls. As these examples illustrate, religious thought has a profound impact on people’s lives and behavior. However, only little research has been conducted to investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms that play a role in religious thought and behavior. Studying religion from a cognitive neuroscience perspective will be relevant to the scientific community, as it directly links different research fields (e.g. agency, evolution, social cohesion, superstition, motivation, self-consciousness etc.) and to the society in general (e.g. providing insight in the psychological mechanisms that play a role in religious influence and extremism).

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