The paper investigates a bio-cognitive hypothesis about the origin of religious meaning: change in the human posture allowed human beings to divert their gaze from the immediate environment and direct it towards the infinity of the sky. At the same time, neuro-physiological mechanisms of face perception encouraged individual and collective pareidolia, consisting in seeing faces in natural visual patterns such as clouds or vegetation. That in turn contributed to the construction of systems of spiritual beliefs based on the anthropomorphism of transcendence. The paper will expound on this hypothesis through analysis of data on the bio-cognitive evolution of face perception, on the neurophysiology of pareidolia, on the history of religious anthropomorphism, all in the framework of a new cognitive and cultural semiotics of the face in religion.
Full Tenured Professor of Semiotics at the University of Turin and at Shanghai University. He is the PI of the ERC project FACETS, Face Aesthetics in Contemporary E-Technological Societies (2019-2024).