My scholarship re-examines core assumptions behind the classic sociological topic of culture through the lens of contemporary theories of cognition. Questions that inform my research on culture and cognition include:
How are cultural categories created and lived in everyday life? What is the relationship between culture and cognition? What methods are best for studying the interplay of culture and cognition?
I argue that in the absence of robust understandings of the cognitive processes used by subjects, we come to incorrect conclusions about the nature of cultural elements, and their meanings. For example, religious actors often express their religious identities differently in different contexts; the same person might variously think of herself as religious, Christian, evangelical, Baptist, etc. It turns out that some of these identities take more cognitive “work” to enact while others are expressed reflexively with little conscious thought. As sociologists, we can measure these cognitive differences and use the information to develop more robust cultural theories, not only concerning religious identities, but also with respect to other complex cultural categories like politics, gender or race, among others.
For example, I have published research using response latency to measure dual process cognition in order to better understand how people understand "religion."
I am also preparing a book manuscript entitled Thinking through Religion: Atheists, Evangelicals and Metacognition. The book considers how the cultures of atheist and evangelical groups encouraged particular styles of metacognition – that is, ways of thinking about one’s own thinking. Drawing on recent scholarship on dual process cognition that distinguishes between “fast” (more intuitive) and “slow” (more reasoned) thinking, the book argues that atheists and evangelicals differed in which type of thinking they thought was most appropriate in a given situation.