Category Archives: Methodology

Plains, Rocks & Cosmos

In anticipation of a summer touring the Great Plains, I took some time off from the blog to immerse myself in a surprisingly rich literature on the subject, which of course has nothing to do with religion. I will say, however, that anyone who has yet to discover this richness or is thinking about exploring the Plains should consider reading some of the books listed at the end of this post. Having just read each in succession, the immersive effect is pronounced and I’m ready to go but the weather is not yet cooperating. While waiting, and in anticipation of the anthropology of religion course I will be teaching in the middle of the summer, it’s time to round back toward religion.

The good news is that in doing so, I won’t run the risk of being brutally murdered. For the third time this year, a “secular” Bangladeshi blogger has been hacked to death by irate religionists. These three blasphemous bloggers were writing on subjects and topics similar to those that appear here, but were doing so knowing they would be targeted. Talk about courage.

Here in the United States, we fortunately do not have to confront this sort of thing, though we do have young earth Creationists who are relatively harmless. While I have never paid them much mind because arguing with them is futile, a geology professor thinks that the rocks disprove creationism. He apparently does not know that young earth Creationists have considered his argument and flatly rejected it. They are not interested in science and accept it only when it suits their psychological needs or religious purposes. But having said this, I was a bit shocked to encounter the following sentence in the professor’s piece:

“Embracing young Earth creationism means you have to abandon faith in the story told by the rocks themselves.”

This is an unfortunate choice of words. Why should we have faith in a story told by rocks? Rocks don’t tell stories. Geologists provide us with theory and data based narratives about rocks. These “stories” are subject to challenge, revision, and reversal. This method has nothing to do with faith.

From rocks to the cosmos, which is timely for anyone who has recently seen “Interstellar,” a movie with some brilliant science marred by metaphysical speculations about trans-dimensional love tunnels. It was marred even further by Matthew McConaughey’s overwrought acting, but that is another story. The main story here is the science based on Kip Thorne’s work and book, Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy. Though I am only about halfway through and not sure I understand everything, it is great for bending the mind. The cosmos is stranger than fiction and perhaps even myth.

Finally, the cosmos — and cosmological theories — are the subject of this dense piece by Ross Andersen over at Aeon. Cosmology, it appears, is in crisis and may stay that way for quite some time, perhaps forever. While this may unsettle some, I find it invigorating. When it comes to large and perhaps intractable subjects like this, I always find it helpful to read a good history of the field, so thanks to Andersen for recommending Helge Kragh’s Conceptions of Cosmos: From Myths to the Accelerating Universe: A History of Cosmology. It’s next on my list.

And speaking of lists, here is the one I promised at the beginning of this post, for all lovers of the Great Plains:

Great Plains by Ian Frazier
The Great Plains by Walter Prescott Webb
Love Song to the Plains by Mari Sandoz
Prehistoric Man on the Great Plains by Waldo Wedel
The Last Prairie: A Sandhills Journal by Stephen R. Jones
Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on the Great Plains by William Ashworth
Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains by Jack Brink

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All About Islamism

The web is currently on fire with some great writing, and serious thinking, about “Islam” and Islamism. In this post, I covered some notable aspects of Graeme Wood’s Atlantic article on ISIS. As good as that article is, and I think it superb, there has been some pushback, including this response in the Atlantic by Caner Dagli. Although Dagli is a professor of religious studies, his interest – or perspective – is not purely academic: he approaches these issues from inside the tradition. As a Muslim, he takes issue with the outsider idea or claim that ISIS is “Islamic.” As an insider, he argues that ISIS is in fact “un-Islamic” and disputing this puts (the vast majority) of non-militant Muslims in an impossible position: How can they denounce ISIS if they can’t rely on the texts and tradition to argue that ISIS-Islam is inauthentic, wrong, or as Dagli puts it, “phony”?

As an outsider, I can empathize with Dagli’s position and certainly want him, and other Muslims, to continue arguing that ISIS-Islam is “un-Islamic” and wrong. But as an outsider, I also recognize that these kinds of arguments may make pragmatic sense from inside a tradition but are analytically suspect from outside the tradition. This may explain the relative incoherence of Dagli’s response: it rings weak to my outsider ears. As an insider and an academic, Dagli is in a double-bind. While I don’t find his argument persuasive, I certainly hope that Muslims do. There is no way that outsiders can adjudicate issues of authority or authenticity within “Islam.” Lacking such standards, it behooves us to take Islamists, and their beliefs, seriously.

This, in fact, is what Michael Walzer argues in this dense piece over at Dissent. He chides his political fellow travelers on the secular left – liberals, journalists, and academics – for failing to recognize that religion itself can provide powerful, and perhaps even primary, motive force for human action. As I observed in my post on Wood’s ISIS article, this may sound strange to those who take their religion or religious beliefs seriously, but academics have a long history of explaining (or explaining away) religious beliefs-actions as the product of something else. Walzer argues, rightly in my estimation, that this is a mistake:

In the three and a half decades since the Iranian revolution, I have been watching my friends and neighbors (and distant neighbors) on the left struggling to understand—or avoid understanding—the revival of religion in what is now called a “post-secular” age. Long ago, we looked forward to “the disenchantment of the world”—we believed that the triumph of science and secularism was a necessary feature of modernity. And so we forgot, as Nick Cohen has written, “what the men and women of the Enlightenment knew. All faiths in their extreme form carry the possibility of tyranny.”

Today, every major world religion is experiencing a significant revival, and revived religion isn’t an opiate as we once thought, but a very strong stimulant. Since the late 1970s, and particularly in the last decade, this stimulant is working most powerfully in the Islamic world. From Pakistan to Nigeria, and in parts of Europe, too, Islam today is a religion capable of inspiring large numbers of men and women, mostly men, to kill and die on its behalf.

So the Islamic revival is a kind of testing moment for the left: can we recognize and resist “the possibility of tyranny?” Some of us are trying to meet the test; many of us are actively failing it. One reason for this failure is the terrible fear of being called “Islamophobic.” Anti-Americanism and a radical version of cultural relativism also play an important part, but these are older pathologies. Here is something new: many leftists are so irrationally afraid of an irrational fear of Islam that they haven’t been able to consider the very good reasons for fearing Islamist zealots—and so they have difficulty explaining what’s going on in the world.

The root cause of religious zealotry is not religion, many leftist writers insist, but Western imperialism and the oppression and poverty it has bred. So, for example, David Swanson, first on the War Is A Crime website and then on the Tikkun website (with a nervous but only partial disclaimer from the editor), asks “What to do about ISIS?” and answers: “Start by recognizing where ISIS came from. The U.S. and its junior partners destroyed Iraq . . .” That’s right; there would be no ISIS in Iraq without the U.S. invasion of 2003, although if Saddam had been overthrown from within, the same religious wars might well have started. For ISIS doesn’t “come from” the U.S. invasion; it is a product of the worldwide religious revival, and there are many other examples of revivalist militancy. Swanson might offer a similar explanation for all of them, but the explanation loses plausibility as the instances multiply.

The left has always had difficulty recognizing the power of religion (emphasis added). Aren’t all religions the ideological tools of the ruling class? And aren’t all millenialist and messianic uprisings the ideologically distorted response of subaltern groups to material oppression? Religious zealotry is a superstructural phenomenon and can only be explained by reference to the economic base. These ancient convictions are particularly obfuscating today. Parvez Ahmed, a Florida professor who is fully cognizant of the “scourge” of Boko Haram, provides a typical example in a recent blog. He argues that “much of the violence [committed] in the name of Islam is less motivated by faith and more so by poverty and desperation.” Similarly, Kathleen Cavanaugh from the National University of Ireland, writing on the Dissent website, insists that “the violent and oppressive actions [of ISIS] have little to do with religion per se,” but rather are “underpinned” by material interests.

But is this right? Why don’t poverty, desperation, and material interests produce a leftist rather than an Islamist mobilization? In fact, the religious revival, not only among Muslims but around the world, among Jews and Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, has enlisted supporters from all social classes, and the driving motive of revivalist activity seems, incredibly, to be religious faith (Fawaz Gerges’s Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy provides ample evidence of religion’s power).

[W]e have to acknowledge that the academic theory (which was also a left theory) that predicted the inevitable triumph of science and secularism isn’t right—at least, its time horizon isn’t right. Leftists have to figure out how to defend the secular state in this “post-secular” age and how to defend equality and democracy against religious arguments for hierarchy and theocracy. The appeal of religious doctrine and practice is obvious today, and we need to understand it if we are to persuade people that religious zealotry is frighteningly unappealing.

Because I’m an academic of sorts, I have considerable interest in all the non-religious theories (e.g., economy, politics, power, imperialism, colonialism, symbolism, etc.) that may explain religious beliefs and behaviors. But because I was raised in an American evangelical environment, in which wildly diverse people from all walks and stations of life take their spooky religious beliefs seriously and act accordingly, I have never discounted – or explained away – those ideas and actions on the basis of something else. While non-religious theories may partially explain why some people take their beliefs so seriously and are moved to act on those beliefs, these explanations are rarely and perhaps never sufficient.

While searching for an explanation which brings us closer to a necessary condition, we should acknowledge there is a psychology at work which predisposes some people, at all times and in all places, toward religious beliefs and consequent actions. We should take them seriously when they tell us they are doing something for religious reasons. Sometimes religious actions are just what they appear to be and what believers say they are. This is the methodological lesson that Robin Horton so forcefully made about the anthropology-sociology of religion, and I reckon he is right.

There are of course those, primarily academics, who disagree with this view in general and Walzer in particular. In this response, Yale professor Andrew March takes Walzer to task with alternative theories of Islamism and in this Berfrois article, Justin E.H. Smith (whose work I greatly admire) states his disagreement. While I do not disagree with either March or Smith, their arguments are not exclusionary or alternative: they are complementary to Walzer’s point, as I think he makes evident in this reply.

— Cris

Radical-Islam-Pig

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Speaking of Spiders & Chickens

Back in October, Nature published a study showing some evidence of group level selection among social tangle-web spiders. If that is in fact what the study demonstrates or strongly suggests, it would be a major finding. To date, arguments about group level selection have been dominated by evolutionary theorists and mathematicians. There is precious little empirical evidence of group level selection operating in nature, though some have argued that “religion” confers competitive advantages on human groups and is therefore an adaptation.

This is David Sloan Wilson’s controversial argument in Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (2002). While Sloan Wilson’s theory is mathematically plausible, I have long doubted there was sufficient historical evidence to support it. Aside from the fact that human groups are never strictly bounded nor identity-based as “religious” in the way that the theory requires, I have always been suspicious of its teleologically-biased endorsement by evolutionary theists. It could of course be the case that humans are evolutionary outliers or freaks of nature when it comes to group level selection. Why? Because we alone have language.

This is precisely the argument that Roy Rappaport makes in Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology) (1999). While Rappaport’s theory is provocative, he may simply be describing selection for traits, such as proto-language and language, that conferred communicative advantages on individuals who have a long evolutionary history as social or group living primates. This would not be, at least initially (i.e., with the appearance of early Homo) and for a few million years thereafter, an example of group level selection. It could be such an example if some human groups evolved linguistic fluency in isolation and then used this ability to out-compete other groups. This may be what happened ~75,000 years ago with the gradual archaeological appearance of behavorial modernity and subsequent transition to what some call the Upper Paleolithic “revolution” ~50,000 years ago. If this is what happened, then Rappaport’s argument for group level selection involving language — which obviously is not coeval with “religion” — becomes more compelling.

With these theoretical issues and human stakes in mind, let’s get back to the oddly social spiders. I first became aware of them, and the Nature study, while reading this article in Quanta. Aside from an interesting sidebar on what looks like artificial (i.e., human-induced) group level selection in domesticated chickens, the story was hard to follow, if not actually confusing. Upon reading it, I resolved to dissect the actual study at a later time and then present my findings here. The good news is that I have finally read the study and even better news is that someone else has done the same and already written about it.

So without further ado, I encourage interested readers to visit hbd chick for her superb analysis of the study. She is skeptical and rightly so. Why? Because while perusing the methods section of the paper, she found the probable explanation for these otherwise remarkable results: the experimenters selectively bred the spiders in a way which almost assured the outcome. Because of this assortative mating (something that would not occur in nature), we do not need to speculate about the “missing mechanism” that could account for the study results.

The lesson we can learn from hbd chick is always to peruse the methods section, especially when a study is astonishing or controversial. And speaking of chicks, the sidebar in Quanta about group level selection in egg-laying hens whetted my appetite for more. The issue, as might be expected, is not settled and not everyone thinks that domesticated poultry provides an example of group level selection. As is so often the case when it comes to this controversial theory, those arguing in its favor have ignored more parsimonious explanations. In Group Selection for “Goodness”? An Account of Chickens, a Comparison with Plants, and Implications for Humans (pdf), biologist Lonnie Aarssen connects the underlying interspecific dots and asks:

Can “goodness” evolve in humans through group-selection? It can, according to a new book, Evolution For Everyone, which claims support for this possibility from a recent research program involving artificial group-selection in chickens. Data from this study, showing increased egg production across generations, are interpreted as a product of the evolution of good, cooperative behaviour among hens. In this commentary, I propose that there is a more parsimonious and more plausible interpretation for these results involving something much less noble – a system of dominance and subordination, where maximization of egg production across generations resulted from selection that increased the relative frequency of subordinate “crumb-collector” hens that passively tolerate domination by relatively few aggressive “strongpluckers.” Evidence for such dominance/suppression effects in maximizing group productivity is common in vegetation where most coexisting plants are relatively small and highly suppressed by a few larger ones, and where high productivity is interpreted by plant ecologists, not in terms of any group-selection effects, but rather in terms of traditional individual Darwinian natural selection favouring tolerance of resource deprivation, reproductive economy, and complementary resource use strategies.

It just so happens that I rented some egg-laying chickens this past summer and they spent lots of time plucking one another in my overgrown garden, so I am able to confirm anecdotally Aarssen’s rank-ordering observations. All in all, I think he has the better of this argument.

huntsman-spider_chicken_620

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Genealogizing Cognitive Science

While preparing to write a chapter on the cognitive science of religion, I thought it would be a good idea to investigate the foundations of cognitive science before getting to the “religion” offshoot of it. My main concern was that the words “cognitive” and “science” cast a talismanic spell: when they ritually appear together, it is easy to assume that what follows is authoritative and firmly grounded in theory, method, and data. One of the best ways to conduct such an investigation, and test assumptions about authority, is to read histories of the field. Intellectual histories, which might also be called genealogies, examine the origins of an idea, or discipline, and trace its development over time. The best genealogies expose assumptions, examine conflicts, and raise doubts. They can be corrosive, undermine faith, and disrupt myths. Though its name may suggest otherwise, cognitive science is not without its fair share of faith and myth.

My purpose here is not to examine these in any detail, but to point interested readers to sources which may prompt healthy skepticism. A good place to start is with Howard Gardner’s The Mind’s New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution. Though it is a bit dated, having been published in 1985, it more than adequately covers the deep origins of cognitivism, in Cartesian-Kantian philosophy, and more recent origins in the 1950s with Chomsky’s revolt against behaviorism. It also covers the early debates and subsequent development of artificial intelligence or “AI,” which was originally wedded to cognitivism but has since gone mostly in separate algorithmic and engineering ways.

For the truly intrepid, I recommend Margaret Boden’s two-volume magnum opus, Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science (2006). Though it is oddly organized and at times idiosyncratic, it covers just about everything. Because the chapters are weirdly named and the index rather sparse, finding precious bits within its 1,708 pages can be daunting. Fortunately, an internet search will lead you to a virtual copy of both volumes, which you can then search with Adobe’s tool for key words, names, or phrases.

Because Gardner and Boden are committed and practicing cognitivists, it may seem strange that their histories engender skepticism. Yet ironically they do. While the cognitivist enterprise identifies as science, situates itself within science, and uses scientific methods, these alone do not secure its status, or authority, as science in the manner of physics, chemistry, or even “messy” biology. The mind, in many discouraging ways, remains a mysterious black box.

While reading conflicting cognitivist accounts of the way the mind supposedly works — “mechanically” and “computationally” — nagging concerns arise about whether these literate-symbolic representations of inner-mental representations are scientific metaphors or descriptive analogues. Metaphors do not become scientific simply, or complicatedly, because we can model, mathematize, and chart them. There are also nagging concerns about whether tests of these models are investigating anything other than the symbols, or terms, which these models presuppose. It is hard to find satisfying or foundational empirical proof in this complex conceptual pudding. Of course many cognitivists eschew such proof because it muddles the models.

So just how does the mind work? Steven Pinker, a true cognitivist believer, thinks he knows, so I re-read his popular classic, How the Mind Works (1997). While skimming over the just-so evolutionary stories he is so fond of telling, I focused on his modularity theses and computational arguments. I could not help but think that minds might work the way he claims, or they might not. We cannot get inside heads to observe the logically elegant unfolding and symbolically impressive inferencing he describes. There is no direct data. We can see all sorts of behavioral outputs, but describing these with plausible models is not the same as explaining them with definitive proofs.

Like most cognitivists, Pinker has been greatly influenced by Noam Chomsky’s work in linguistics and Jerry Fodor’s early work on modularity. These were plausible models, in their day, but Chomsky’s has undergone so many major revisions that no one is really quite sure where he stands, and Fodor has rejected the massive modularity extension of his original proposals. This leaves Pinker, and his version of cognitivism, on rather shaky ground. It also led to Fodor’s rebuke in The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way: The Scope and Limits of Computational Psychology (2001). Others, such as Kim Sterelny, have critiqued the massively modular-evolutionary model and offered alternative accounts. In Thought in a Hostile World: The Evolution of Human Cognition (2003), Sterelny states his particular case. Like most models, it is plausible though not compelling and certainly not definitive. None of the cognitive models command our acquiescence or obedience by virtue of scientific authority.

Where does this small sampling of sources leave us? Regardless of who is more right or less wrong, the fact that these and many other arguments exist – among the most accomplished scholars in cognitive science – tells us something important about the status of the field. The foundations are far from being settled. This also tells us something important, cautionary to be sure, about the cognitive science of religion.

A Boy Entering A Circuit Board Head

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Shrouded History

Did we really need another 8,400 words devoted to the Shroud of Turin? Apparently so. Those who wish to see in the shroud scientific evidence of “supernatural imprinting” have been indefatigable in their efforts, and spared no expense, to show it is miraculous – an empirically verified exception to known natural laws. Not surprisingly these efforts have failed, but when faith is at stake, contrary evidence will be endlessly countered. All this countering has led to buckets of ink being spilled, a process not dissimilar to the way in which pigments were applied to the shroud. The shroud, in other words, was painted: not just once, but several times. This is the conclusion reached by Charles Freeman in his 8,400 word essay over at History Today.

What makes this essay particularly interesting, indeed remarkable, is that it appears to be the first in-depth historical inquiry into the shroud. Previous inquiries, at least the reputable ones, have been scientific. This is how Freeman describes the situation:

There is enough uncertainty about the Shroud’s origins to convince some that it is the actual burial shroud of Christ. The mystery is deepened by the claim that no artefact has ever been the subject of so much research. However, when the scope of this research is considered, it is obvious that many areas of its history and the iconography of its images have not been fully explored. For example, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), which examined the Shroud in 1978, when it was still owned by the Savoy family, did not have a single expert in the history of relic cults, techniques of ancient weaving or the iconography of medieval painting on its team. No one appears to have investigated the kinds of loom, ancient or medieval, on which a cloth of this size may have been woven. Nor has anyone closely examined the many early depictions and descriptions of the Shroud that illustrate features now lost. 

This seems odd. In an investigation of this or any similar kind, it would make sense to begin with historical sources and subsequently address any remaining questions, or evidentiary gaps, with scientific tests and data. The historical investigation, if solidly sourced, might even settle the issue (at least to the satisfaction of those who contingently accept historical sources as evidence). Even if it did not, the historical investigation would suggest what kinds of scientific tests should be done. In the case of the shroud, however, the methodological order has been reversed.

There are probably two reasons for this. The first is that religionists have long wished to find scientifically acceptable evidence of the supernatural or miracles. The complete absence of such evidence is not only cause for doubt among believers, but is also a source of sustained skepticism and occasional ridicule among non-believers. The second is that science has such enormous cultural prestige that it sometimes causes us to ignore, or at least subordinate, companion disciplines like history. This may account for the rush to test the shroud before historicizing it. Had the order been reversed, the painting hypothesis — suggested by history — could have been specifically tested.

Shroud-Turin

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Evolving Methods

Evolutionary psychologists commonly assert that some trait or propensity identified in lab studies is universal or pan-human and this means the trait or propensity evolved for adaptive reasons in the ancestral past. The problem with most such studies is that the test subjects are highly derived or WEIRD: “white, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic.” It is exceedingly odd to infer, based on studies of weirdos, that traits or propensities are human universals. This is especially true when it comes to sex preferences, which are notoriously malleable and strongly conditioned by culture.

A recent PNAS study examined allegedly universal or “ancestrally evolved” sex preferences using test subjects from a wide variety of cultures. The findings, unsurprisingly, are significantly at odds with those that dominate headlines here in the West:

It is a popular assumption that certain perceptions—for example, that highly feminine women are attractive, or that masculine men are aggressive—reflect evolutionary processes operating within ancestral human populations. However, observations of these perceptions have mostly come from modern, urban populations. This study presents data on cross-cultural perceptions of facial masculinity and femininity. In contrast to expectations, we find that in less developed environments, typical “Western” perceptions are attenuated or even reversed, suggesting that Western perceptions may be relatively novel.

A large [evolutionary psychology] literature proposes that preferences for exaggerated sex typicality in human faces (masculinity/femininity) reflect a long evolutionary history of sexual and social selection. This proposal implies that dimorphism was important to judgments of attractiveness and personality in ancestral environments. It is difficult to evaluate, however, because most available data come from large-scale, industrialized, urban populations. Here, we report the results for 12 populations with very diverse levels of economic development. Surprisingly, preferences for exaggerated sex-specific traits are only found in the novel, highly developed environments. Similarly, perceptions that masculine males look aggressive increase strongly with development and, specifically, urbanization. These data challenge the hypothesis that facial dimorphism was an important ancestral signal of heritable mate value.

These findings militate in favor of methodological caution. There is also a large evolutionary psychology literature which asserts that allegedly universal cognitive traits give rise to and sustain “religious” beliefs. Most of these studies are based on tests of weirdos. Until these findings are replicated and confirmed cross-culturally, we should be cautious.

EVOLVING-SIGN

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Data Meets Durkheim

Ever since Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912), most scholars have assumed that collective rituals function to arouse emotions and bond people together into more cohesive groups. In this post, I commented on this assumption and the remarkable fact that Durkheim’s big idea had never been tested or supported with anything other than qualitative observations. The post also noted that the idea was in fact being tested by Dmitri Xygalatas and that this seemed to be a nice start. In response to all this, Dominik Lukes left a comment which bears close consideration:

My first reaction was “proof, what proof.” [Durkheim’s idea] is so obvious, no additional proof is needed. And indeed, we could easily think of this in an axiomatic way. But on reflection, I think that it is far from obvious that “collective rituals function to maintain the cohesion of groups or society.”

This notion has such wide appeal because it resonates with so many situations all scholars can relate to both personally and professionally. It is hard to think of groups of any size that don’t develop some ritualized behaviors over time. But I could easily think of at least two other ways in which this could be explained.

1. Since all groups have to have some cohesion to be groups in the first place (groups with no cohesion are not groups but just random groupings), rituals could be an expression of that cohesion rather than a necessity for it. This would explain why those who express stronger attachments are more likely to take part in the rituals.

2. Rituals could be an expression of something else (e.g. human tendency toward repetitive behavior) and groups simply have to accommodate them. They may become carriers of cohesion once they’re in place but they don’t do anything to maintain it.

But I don’t think you can test for these hypotheses because you always have to find some proxies – such as expressing a feeling of belonging – and make some testable predictions about them. But because group cohesion is such a complex thing (frankly we don’t have an unproblematic definition of group or ritual – let alone cohesion) you can’t formulate any definitive set of testable prediction types. Or it will be so large you’re bound to meet some and fail others simply by chance. But I think we can take these scenarios as metaphors and play them out on any given piece of evidence and see what that can reveal about them.

Can Durkheim’s idea be tested? In this recent Aeon article, Dmitri Xygalatas explains his research and findings in much greater detail. His methods and results appear sound, though the intensity of the rituals he has studied may limit any larger inferences. It’s a fantastic article, but while reading it I kept thinking about Dominik’s comments (above) and the alternative ways in which Xygalatas’ results might be construed. Regardless, some testing is better than no testing, and it’s nice to see data meeting Durkheim.

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