In this article I explore the possibility of a dialogue between cultural studies and cognitive science by proposing a “cognitive” reading of Anna Laetitia Barbauld's 1781 book Hymns in Prose for Children. Literary critics have pointed out that the tacitly catechistic mode of Barbauld's Hymns implicates it in the eighteenth-century ideological project of socializing children, particularly those coming from working-class families, to their proper stations in life. I investigate possible cognitive underpinnings of one particular aspect of Barbauld's “catechist,”namely its reliance on a functional approach to human beings (i.e.,“children are made to praise God who made them”). I argue that, to get an integrated account of the rhetorical appeal and the ideological potential of such a functional approach, we should inquire into the ways it mobilizes the contingencies of our evolved cognitive architecture involved in our differentiation between natural kinds and artifacts.

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