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“Magical thinking” and the Emergence of New Social Movements: Cognitive Aspects of Reformation Era Debates over Ritual Efficacy

Issue: Vol 1 No. 2 (2014)

Journal: Journal of Cognitive Historiography

Subject Areas: Ancient History Cognitive Studies Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jch.v1i2.17275


Sørensen’s (2007) cognitive theory of magic offers more precise tools for analysing the cognitive dimensions of novelty and change across a range of cultural domains if we extract it from academic discussions of “religion” and “magic” and recast it generically in terms of the attribution of non-ordinary powers within temporally structured event-frames. Focusing on the agreements required to generate new collective rituals reveals the chief limitation of Sørensen’s theory of magic and Lawson and McCauley’s theory of ritual for understanding the emergence of new groups with new rituals: neither attends sufficiently to the contestations surrounding the interpretation of presumed originatory events, either when the original attributions are made or when “reformers” reanalyse them. Reformation Era debates over the Eucharist illustrate how subtle shifts in the interpretation of originatory events can signal critical shifts in counterpart connections that in turn lay the foundation for new movements based on new or “reformed” rituals. Although the historical interactions that lead to or preclude such agreements are the basic “stuff” of historical analysis, use of cognitive tools to describe underlying shifts provides a more adequate basis for comparing processes of emergence within and across cultures and time periods.

Author: Ann Taves

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