Where the Gods Dwell: a Research Report

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 Fuller Theological Seminary

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Abstract

Are the places that superhuman beings purportedly act and dwell randomly or arbitrarily distributed? Inspired by theoretical work in cognitive science of religion, descriptions of superhuman beings (e.g., ancestors, demons, ghosts, gods, spirits) were solicited from informants in 20 countries on five continents, resulting in 108 usable descriptions, including information about these beings’ properties, their dwelling location, and whether they were the target of rituals. Whether superhuman beings are the subject of religious and ritual practices appeared to co-vary in relation to both features of physical geography and cognitive factors. Good gods were more likely the focus of religious practices than evil gods, and where the gods are thought to dwell mattered. If either the being was thought to dwell in a dangerous place or a resource rich place, it was more likely to have practices directed at it.

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