Pyysiäinen applies the philosophies and theories of thinkers that include Émile Durkhiem, Mircea Eliade, Jerry Fodor, Clifford Geertz and Robert McCauley in this analysis of the cognitive basis of religion. Central themes include religion and culture, religion and society, ritual and emotion, and ethics.
Arguing, perhaps controversially, that mechanisms underlying religious thought and behavior are something that can be naturally explained in the same manner as any other cultural and cognitive phenomena, the author examines how cognitive science can shed light on religious phenomena. After defining the ideas and behaviors to be studied, he argues that cognitive theories of the representation of agency and counter- intuitiveness can make sense of the widespread belief in supernatural beings. The theories of religion of Geertz and Durkheim are examined and criticized as arbitrary abstractions. In the end, Pyysiäinen argues that religion should be understood both as a distinct cognitive phenomena and as being related to other phenomena of counter-intuitiveness revealed in empirical studies.