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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The basis of belief : the cognitive and cultural foundations of supernatural belief Willard, Aiyana K.


In this dissertation I explore the relative roles of cognition and culture play as the foundations of religious and supernatural belief. On the cognitive side, theories of religion have postulated several cognitive biases that predispose human minds towards supernatural belief. However, to this date, very little empirical evidence exists to show how these hypotheses preform in predicting actual religious beliefs. I explore these biases and how they interrelate to support supernatural beliefs using individual difference measures across several large samples from Canada, the US, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. On the cultural side, I look at how different theories of secularization and the CREDs theory of cultural learning support supernatural belief and religious practice. I compare these effects of culture to the effects of cognition and find that cognitive biases support supernatural belief generally, but these effects are stronger for paranormal beliefs than religious ones and are almost non-existence for religious practice. Religious belief and practice are largely supported by social and cultural factors. Finally, I compare religious and non-religious participants to spiritual but not religious (SBNR) participants to further break down the differences between religious and non-religious supernatural beliefs and religious practice. I find that the SBNR are more like the religious than the non-religious but can still be identified as a unique group in terms of cognition and culture.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada