Neuroscience and cognitive science have undergone explosive advances since the 1990s, the effects of which have even been felt on religious studies. I will explore here what new perspectives these developments might generate by looking at two specific issues. The first is that of what concepts of kami (deity), imi (taboo) and kegare (pollution) exist in modern Shinto. The second is connected to research concerning the debate over the nature of the founders of new religions and the process by which people adopt those faiths.
The question of what is distinctive about the kami concept in Shinto can be seen as part of the broader question of what leads the human mind to conceive of gods and deities in the first place. Similarly, such common Shinto ideas as imi and kegare come under the broader topic of why humans establish taboos for certain acts and behaviors. While discussing prior research, I also stress the need to study these new perspectives. Max Weber’s theory of charisma is widely used in discussions regarding the founders of new religions, but I believe that the phenomenon of people becoming entranced with a certain person can be examined from a broader perspective that incorporates neuroscience. The same may be said for the conversion process.