Understanding Belief: Some Qualitative Evidence

in Journal of Empirical Theology
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The purpose of this paper is to explore the question of religious belief by bringing in some qualitative evidence about the meaning of religious behaviors and ideas. Whereas mainstream cognitive approaches to the study of belief have traditionally focused their attention on the memorability of religious ideas, the problem of meaning has been somehow left unexamined. New approaches have emphasized the role of the so-called “Credibility-Enhancing Displays” in the actual production of religious beliefs. But still there is no clear explanation as to what makes those displays enhance credibility. With the help of data coming from an ethnographic research conducted in an Irish Catholic community, this paper attempts to address the question of religious belief by turning it into a question of meaning, of the transmission of religious meanings and of the constitution of religious beliefs through meaning-producing practices.



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See also Gervais & Henrich (2010) and Gervais,Willard, Norenzayan & Henrich (2011).


Cf. Lévi-Strauss‘s (1952) nuanced symbolic analysis of Santa Claus as an instance of an initiation rite and the complexities of belief and disbelief that it entails among adults vis-à-vis children.


Lévy-Bruhl (1966) was the first to postulate the participatory nature of what he termed “primitive mentality,” presumably in opposition to the contemplative attitude characteristic of modern modes of thought. See Tambiah (1990:84-110) for an interesting reassessment of Lévy-Bruhl’s contribution to the analysis of ritual action.


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