Negation and doubt in religious representations : context-dependence, emotion and action.
Evolution and cognition, 10
Religious representations are often held to be counter-intuitive, in that they represent properties that contradict deeply-held assumptions about the natural world and its behaviour. In this paper, I consider some implications of understanding such counter-intuitiveness not in terms of simple negation of those assumptions (as is also widely assumed), but rather in terms of casting them into doubt. Doubting such properties implies that possessors of the representations are not certain about whether religious entities follow ontological assumptions about the natural world or negate them. However, religious doctrines and culture also carry the promise that such doubt can and will be resolved, so that believers have the anticipation of arriving at a clear knowledge of the ontological nature of gods, spirits, and so on. Such conceptual doubt and the promise of its resolution imply that the content of religious representations is more sensitive to context than widely countenanced. Now, since this doubt concerns ontological properties whose truth or falsity cannot be assessed by ordinary empirical means, the important kinds of context are ones that do not primarily offer new empirical information. Instead, they prompt resolution by providing input whose force can be to change belief in the doubted properties into belief in their truth or falsity. I argue that these inputs come from three key sources, which may interact – religious actions or rituals, emotions, and social deference. These sources follow well-understood patterns for both religious and non-religious representations. However, given that they do not provide new information per se, the resulting resolutions of doubt may not easily generalise beyond the specific contexts of action, emotion and social relations that produces those resolutions. As a result, holders of religious representations are seen as recurrently revisiting their doubts, with rituals, emotions and social deference providing means of – usually, temporary – resolution.
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