Vol. 28 No. 1  Spring 2001

Cognitive Emotions and Emotional Cognitions in Religious Studies

Iris M. Yob

Religion, Cognition, and Emotion

A surprisingly large number of the challenges confronting teachers of religion revolves around determining the relative roles that should be accorded to emotion and cognition respectively. In publicly supported institutions, the perceived challenge is to minimize emotion in order to maximize the objective, non-partisan, intellectual pursuit of the knowledge of religion—and for some very good reasons. Deviation from this ideal could well lead to muddled understanding at least and a lack of intellectual rigor at worst and so undermine any claim religious studies might have to being an academic discipline among disciplines. Open and free inquiry cannot be hampered by blind religious devotion or the persuasive influence of religious authorities however benign these might be. Furthermore, religious studies carry the additional responsibility of maintaining the line of separation between church and state. They must be seen as nothing more than a "teaching about religion"—a somewhat distanced enterprise from the swirl of commitments, excitements, and passions of the religions they examine.

In church supported institutions, on the other hand, the challenge is somewhat a reverse of this for here part of the intent is to "teach for religion" and so commitment, involvement, and passion are actively promoted. Here, faith is experienced as more than belief, while hope through despair, awe in the presence of the Almighty, and a longing for holiness are cherished and nurtured as foundational for religious growth. Learning the skills of critical thinking and rational argument are encouraged but often in a supporting role to appropriating and applying a heritage of beliefs and practices, personally and wholeheartedly.

These distinctions between cognitive-centered and affective-centered approaches may be overdrawn, but questions emerge which address the tendency to move in the direction of either extreme. On the one hand, does all emotion potentially dull the perception of truth and undermine rigor of understanding? On the other hand, are logic, evidence-seeking, and meticulous reasoning by nature at odds with worship, a longing for holiness, or devotion to God? The combined impact of these questions led me to an exploration of that ground where reason and feeling might meet. I began with Israel Scheffler’s "In Praise of the Cognitive Emotions,"1 in which he analyzes four instances of emotions which serve cognitions or arise from the epistemological status of particular cognitions. His paper prompted me to wonder what one might find if something of a Copernican revolution took place and one could look also for instances where cognitions might serve emotion or arise from the ontological status of particular emotions. This led to the positing of emotional cognitions which approximated reverse images of the cognitive emotions.2 Where Scheffler probed the realm of scientific learning, I have argued that these categories are usefully applicable to arts and music education.3 Here, we shall ask if they are also applicable in religious studies so that we might analyze and critically assess the role of each.

[Spring 2001 Issue Contents]