Cambridge Archaeological Journal

Beyond Belief: Religious Experience, Ritual, and Cultural Neuro-phenomenology in the Interpretation of Past Religious Systems

Jennifer L.  Dornan  a1
a1 University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Anthropology, 341 Haines Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA;

Article author query
dornan j l   [Google Scholar] 


While there is growing agreement within anthropology and archaeology that notions of ‘experience’ can contribute to our interpretations of the past, this article suggests that there is a need to incorporate insight gathered from the fields of cultural phenomenology and cultural neuro-phenomenology into general anthropological understandings of cross-cultural religious experience. Specifically, this article explores the insight offered by cultural neuro-phenomenology into the relationships between religious symbolism, ritual, power, religious belief, and individual religious experience. In assessing the role that belief, as instantiated through ritually-induced religious experience, plays in the maintenance or alteration of state-level religious systems, this article will outline the ways in which this insight may both help us better to understand past religious experience as well as to interpret the maintenance and alteration of past religious systems. To demonstrate the potential of this approach, this article will conclude with a brief discussion of the fall of the Classic Maya state religious system.

(Received June 17 2003)

Key Words: cultural neuro-phenomenology; religious experience; religion, Maya; Classic Maya state; belief systems.