Gabriel Levy, “Beyond Heaven and Earth: A Cognitive Theory of Religion” (MIT Press, 2022)

In Beyond Heaven and Earth: A Cognitive Theory of Religion (MIT Press, 2022), 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). Levy contends that we need both humanities and natural science approaches to study religion and religious meaning, but we must also recognize the limits of these approaches. First, we must make the dominant metaphysics that undergirds the various disciplines of science and humanities more explicit. 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 to understand religions, we must 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.

Tiatemsu Longkumer is a Ph.D. scholar working on ‘Anthropology of Religion’ at North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong: India.

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