Culture, Cognition and Society

What drives humans’ thoughts and deeds? Which factors influence their decision-making? To what degree are we the product of our culture and society, and how do we contribute to their reproduction or transformation?

In anthropology, culture and society have been defined in various ways and, recently, declared to be doomed due to the allegedly static and hermetically closed nature of human interaction they imply. At the same time, differences in thinking, believing and acting have been held by some as causing a given culture to be unintelligible to outsiders.

From a different perspective, culture refers to a universal trait of humans. It describes the acquirement of ideas, concepts and models of the world by way of socialisation within specific social groups, however defined. Ultimately, the property of individuals, cultural models or schemes are shared among those with similar experiences and produce equally shared frameworks for mutual interaction. In other words, cognitive processes of model-building help us learn what we need to know in society and how to act appropriately. Cultural models are thus also the epistemological basis of social institutions; they create a world that is, to a certain degree, predictable and trustworthy.

At the ISEK we aim at a closer understanding of the linkages between culture, cognition and society from a number of angles and for different purposes. This includes questions of the individual and society, ethnic identity and its meaning in everyday life, the role of religion and ideology as models of and on the world, the rationality of decision-making and sociality, and the positioning of humans as cultural and biological beings.