Embodiment in religious knowledge

Lawrence W. Barsalou, Aron K. Barbey, W. Kyle Simmons, Ava Santos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence suggests that mundane knowledge about objects, people, and events is grounded in the brain's modality-specific systems. The modality-specific representations that become active to represent these entities in actual experience are later used to simulate them in their absence. In particular, simulations of perception, action, and mental states often appear to underlie the representation of knowledge, making it embodied and situated. Findings that support this conclusion are briefly reviewed from cognitive psychology, social psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. A similar representational process may underlie religious knowledge. In support of this conjecture, embodied knowledge appears central to three aspects of religious experience: religious visions, religious beliefs, and religious rituals. In religious visions, the process of simulation offers a natural account of how these experiences are produced. In religious beliefs, knowledge about the body and the environment are typically central in religious frameworks, and are likely to affect the perception of daily experience. In religious rituals, embodiments appear central to conveying religious ideas metaphorically and to establishing them in memory. To the extent that religious knowledge is like non-religious knowledge, embodiment is likely to play central roles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-57
Number of pages44
JournalJournal of Cognition and Culture
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes


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