The relevance of these developments for biblical studies has been recognized by a growing number of biblical scholars. The new approach has a potentially huge pay-off. As the published and forthcoming work of the steering committee members and their colleagues demonstrates, CSR approaches can provide new insights about the emergence and success of theological concepts (e.g., minimally counterintuitive ideas, resurrection, body imagery), the development of the ritual systems of Judaism and Christianity (e.g., baptism as a special-agent ritual, the involvement of memory systems), the moral instincts that shaped Jewish and Christian ethics (e.g., empathy, altruism, symbolically marked groups), the socio-cognitive capacities of the human mind that influenced the formation of early Christian social networks (e.g., forgiveness, proliferation of weak social ties), and the interaction of miracle stories and magical practice in biblical religions.
The program unit works toward the integration of cultural and cognitive approaches, for example, by combining most recent results in cognitive memory research with perspectives from social or collective memory studies. This objective derives from the conviction that biblical studies, as part of the larger family of religious and cultural studies, greatly benefits from joining the recent dialogue between the humanities and natural sciences. A number of conferences on cognitive approaches to biblical religions will take place in the next couple of years in Europe and elsewhere.
The MSR unit has organized joint sessions with other SBL and AAR groups, such as “Ritual in the Biblical World” section (SBL) and “The Cognitive Science of Religion” group (AAR).