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Mindscapes of Dread

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Mindscapes of Dread focuses on supernatural explanations of personal misfortune from a psychological and cognitive perspective. Using ethnographic data from her field research in Eastern Europe, the author analyses different aspects of witchcraft and sorcery beliefs. Contrary to the majority of studies on witchcraft beliefs, the author does not only focus on accusations as reflections of social conflict but approaches witchcraft as a complex set of beliefs and behaviours. If the social environment enables, and/or supports the spread of superstitious beliefs, it then becomes necessary to explain how the connection between macrolevel (public discourse, media) and microlevel (individuals, small groups of people) is established, and to describe in broader context psychological and cognitive mechanisms behind them. Thus, the author’s methodological aim here is to combine the “micro” factors of cognition and information processing with both social causes and the consequences of supernatural–harm beliefs (witchcraft and sorcery).

While previous analyses offer important aspects of these beliefs, the author goes beyond the usual accusation/conflict issues. With this research the claim that someone’s misfortune relates to someone else’s bad wishes is only the beginning; what comes next is the (relatively long) process of unwitching. Therefore, the various aspects of this process will be analysed: the idea of contamination behind supernatural influence, the role of ritualized activities in the unwitching process, the coexistence of different explanatory frameworks in the context of misfortune events, but also why the explanations based on Christian Orthodox doctrine do not have the same validity under some circumstances as witchcraft and sorcery beliefs. The relationship between social insecurity, a threatening environment and supernatural explanations will also be analysed. The book also covers ambivalent attitudes towards unwitchers (experts), and the mechanisms they use to legitimize their claims and methods, i.e. the ways through which their credibility is established. Partial analyses will be related, interconnected, and approached both from the cognitive and social perspectives.

Published: Oct 1, 2024