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Religion, Language, and the Human Mind$
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Paul Chilton and Monika Kopytowska

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190636647

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190636647.001.0001

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Linguistics and the Scientific Study of Religion

Linguistics and the Scientific Study of Religion

Prayer as a Cognitive Register

(p.89) Chapter 4 Linguistics and the Scientific Study of Religion
Religion, Language, and the Human Mind

William Downes

Oxford University Press

Registers of language are cultural templates, normatively constituting the situation types that make up a culture, and yet reciprocally determined by the situation’s linguistic requirements. This chapter proposes that a register such as prayer has typical psychological effects within the mind/brain of its users. These make it also a cognitive register, a linguistically enabled and shaped way of thinking and feeling. This process is analysed using cognitive pragmatics, more specifically relevance theory. Processing petitionary prayer can produce specific psychological effects. It is proposed that the petitions are not directive speech acts, but tools for learning. Petitionary prayer also shapes affectivity and motivation. This is explored using Panksepp’s concept of the SEEKING system. The mind-brain of one who prays is trained into habits of understanding and feeling otherwise unavailable. By bringing together these two approaches, the sociological and the psychological, the essay investigates how a cultural linguistic practice shapes religious cognition.

Keywords:   petitionary prayer, register, cognition, cognitive register, directive speech acts, cognitive pragmatics, relevance theory, emotions, affective neuroscience, seeking system

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