A Cognitive Theory of Magic

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Rowman Altamira, 2007 - Body, Mind & Spirit - 218 pages
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Magic is a universal phenomenon. Everywhere we look people perform ritual actions in which desirable qualities are transferred by means of physical contact and objects or persons are manipulated by things of their likeness. In this book Sorensen embraces a cognitive perspective in order to investigate this long-established but controversial topic. Following a critique of the traditional approaches to magic, and basing his claims on classical ethnographic cases, the author explains magic's universality by examining a number of recurrent cognitive processes underlying its different manifestations. He focuses on how power is infused into the ritual practice; how representations of contagion and similarity can be used to connect otherwise distinct objects in order to manipulate one by the other; and how the performance of ritual prompts representations of magical actions as effective. Bringing these features together, the author proposes a cognitive theory of how people can represent magical rituals as purposeful actions and how ritual actions are integrated into more complex representations of events. This explanation, in turn, yields new insights into the constitutive role of magic in the formation of institutionalised religious ritual.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
Magic in the History of the Social Sciences
9
The Cognitive Foundation of Magical Action
31
Magical Rituals and Conceptual Blending
63
Transformation and Manipulation A Typology of Magical Actions
95
Frames of Ritual Action Causation Diagnosis and Prognosis
141
Ritual Purpose and the Relation Between Magic Culture and Religion
171
References
193
Index
209
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About the author (2007)

Jesper Sørensen, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in Comparative Religion, Institute of Philosophy, Pedagogic, and the Study of Religion, University of Southern Denmark, and International Fellow at the Institute of Cognition and Culture, Queen's University Belfast. He is the author of numerous other works and articles in the fields cognitive and evolutionary underpinning of religious phenomena, method and theory in the study of religion, and Western Esotericism.

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