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Implicit Cultures: Towards a Psychosocial Theory of ‘Intuitive Religious Beliefs’

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:29 authored by McVicar, Timothy J.

This thesis defines and resolves some persistent criticisms of Justin Barrett and Jessie Bering’s shared contention that religious beliefs are compelled by ‘default’ cognitive systems. I contend that the source of these criticisms is correctly the ‘naturalness of religious belief’ metathesis. This metathesis justifies the methodological reductions that both use to account for ‘intuitive religious beliefs.’ Through a review of the critical literature sourced from various methodologies including anthropology, hermeneutics, and social neuroscience, I uncover a recurrent set of criticisms that I contend theories of ‘intuitive religion’ need to confront in order to strengthen the theoretical, and by inference, empirical validity of their theories. Yet I also discuss why it is that Bering and Barrett fail to incorporate insights relative to persistent criticisms of their research, emphasising that it is because they fail to see the experimental plausibility of alternative methodologies and theories. Somewhat proactively, I argue that Mathew Day’s proposal for a psychosocial theory of religion offers a step in the right direction. Day’s psychosocial theory rejects the ‘naturalness of religion’ metathesis. My own revision and application of psychosocial theory allows for the reinterpretation of Bering and Barrett’s findings from the vantage point of cultural psychology. I close by offering a developmental theory of ‘intuitive religious beliefs’ that includes the numerous theoretical perspectives addressed throughout this thesis and, crucially, is empirically grounded in research from cultural psychology. I propose a tentative empirical test to trial my claims.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Religious Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Bulbulia, Joseph