What does Husserlian phenomenology contribute to the cognitive study of religion? In discussing the dominant methodologies in cognitive theory I argue that neuropsychological approaches risk losing the cultural aspects of religion, while cultural approaches suffer from the lack of systematic tools and methods with which to study religious experience and the meaning systems involved. In contrast to many other phenomenologies of religion, the Husserlian tradition in phenomenology offers various systematic tools useful in studying the structures of religious meaning systems. Specifically, three important themes are the notion of the descriptive study of cognitive phenomena; the centrality of intentionality; and the theory of wholes and parts, a central component of so-called commonsense ontology.
THE COGNITIVE APPROACH IN THE STUDY OF RELIGION
The cognitive approach to religious phenomena is based on the assumption that religious phenomena are generated by lawful cognitive mechanisms. In other words, religious thinking and doing is generic human functioning and does not differ from other modes of cognition and action. If a mechanism such as Gestalt formation affects the perception of traffic signs, it also affects religious perception. If human memory constructs and distorts courses of events in the case of personal life histories, it does the same in the case of religious remembering.
The postulated cognitive mechanisms are universal, even though they account for diverse religious appearances. The cognitive approach is reductive in the traditional sense inasmuch as religious phenomena are seen to be related to more fundamental mechanisms, such as a set of cross-cultural properties that account for the diversity of religious occurrences.