The CMBC is committed to offering training experiences for graduate students, faculty, and post-docs that will introduce them to new research perspectives.

Each summer, we offer a workshop open to students and facullty from the Emory community. Our summer workshops are typically announced in early March of each year.

Here are the details for our Summer 2017 workshop:

Social Cognition, Autism, and Religiosity

Thursday, May 18, 2017
Chemistry Building, Room 360

Pivotal to our ability to manage the complexities of the social world is our capacity to draw inferences readily about the states of other people’s minds, i.e., about the contents of their mental representations, their attitudes towards those contents, and their influences on behavior.  Variously described as “theory of mind,” “mentalizing,” and “mindreading,” that capacity seems central to human social cognition.  Some theorists also accord theory of mind an important role in making sense of many features of autism, proposing that people with autism are “mindblind,” i.e., that for them theory of mind abilities do not emerge unconsciously and comparatively effortlessly in the typical developmental time course (if they emerge at all).  Cognitive scientists of religion have proposed that social cognition and theory of mind capacities, in particular, play a prominent role in shaping many recurring features of religious representations and conduct.  This workshop examines the confluence of the three topics comprising its title and the consequence of the proposals in the cognitive science of religion that if people with autism have impaired or atypical theory of mind capacities, then they might exhibit impaired or atypical understandings of some aspects of religion.  

Register for the CMBC Summer Workshop here.

Social Cognition, Theory of Mind, and Belief in Gods - Dr. Ara Norenzayan
For a given person to believe in a deity or deities, she must (a) be able to form intuitive mental representations of supernatural agents; (b) be motivated to commit to supernatural agents (and related rituals) as real and relevantsources of meaning and control; and (c) have received specific cultural inputs that, of all the supernatural agents or forces one could possibly think of, one or more specific deities should be believed in and committed to. In this talk, I present these interrelated hypotheses from the new cognitive science of religion and the science of cultural evolution in light of the growing evidence from diverse fields. I also present new research about belief in karma in relation to cognitive theories. Throughout the talk I explore the current controversies and debates about the social cognitive and cultural learning capacities that make human beings a believing species. 

A Tale of Intertwining Spectrums: Is There a Link Between Autistic Tendencies and Disbelief in Gods? - Dr. Ara Norenzayan
Are non-clinical populations high on the autistic spectrum less likely to “get” religion? Building on the first talk, I ask whether autism increases the odds of disbelief, as has been predicted by some cognitive theories of religious belief. Probing further, I ask whether this link is statistically explained by the selective deficits in theory of mind associated with the autistic spectrum. Next I explore whether gender differences in autism and theory of mind offer a novel, if partial, explanation for the well-documented gender gap in religious belief. Further, I present new research on links between the schizotypal spectrum in non-clinical populations – a cluster of traits partly characterized by a hyperactive theory of mind – and hyper-religiosity.  This link in turn may offer insights into the psychological profile of the “spiritual but not religious“ phenomenon.

Social Neuroscience and the Nature and Origin of Religious Experience: Lessons and Non-Lessons from Autism and Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders - Dr. Gordon Ramsay
Recent attempts to use findings in neuroscience to inform our understanding of religious experience have focused on explaining the origins of religious activity and belief as potential byproducts of neural structures that evolved for, and were exapted from, other biological functions. Brain mechanisms implicated in attributing agency, detecting intentions, social reward, pro-social adaptation, and other aspects of social cognition have variously been proposed as potential pathways leading to the emergence of commonalities in religion and ritual across cultures. Conversely, conditions where those mechanisms are perturbed or impaired are potentially useful in testing new theories in neurotheology. Most proposals in this area have neglected the role of development and early experience in shaping neural function throughout the lifespan. This presentation will provide an overview of recent research in developmental social neuroscience, in the context of autism, in order to explore the extent to which social cognition in general and neurodevelopmental disorders in particular may or may not be able to shed light on religiosity.

norenzayanAra Norenzayan obtained his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan.  He is the Director of the Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture and Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia.  He is the author Big Gods:  How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict (Princeton University Press, 2013) and the co-editor of Evolution, Culture, and the Human Mind (Psychology Press, 2010).  He as published more than seventy articles in such journals as Science, Nature, Psychological Review, Cognitive Science, and Behavioral and Brain Sciences.  His co-authored paper “The Weirdest People in the World” in BBS was the source for one of the New York Time’s “words of the year” (viz., WEIRD people)  in 2010, and his work on “The God Effect” was included in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas” in 2007.  

ramsayGordon Ramsay holds a Ph.D. in electronics and electrical engineering from the University of Southampton and received an M.Phil. from Cambridge University in speech and language processing after undergraduate studies in engineering. He was a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Institut de la Communication Parlée (France) for two years and also worked at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and the Universita Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). He has held visiting positions at the University of Western Sydney (Australia) and Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia). Before coming to Emory and Marcus Autism Center, he was an Associate Research Scientist at the Yale Child Study Center, a Fellow of Saybrook College at Yale University, and Senior Scientist at Haskins Laboratories. At Marcus Autism Center, he directs the Spoken Communication Laboratory.  Dr. Ramsay has published in such journals as Nature, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.