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Research Trainee Project on Religious Narratives as Plausibility Structures launched

Religions involve belief in the unbelievable: in evil spirits causing disease, in souls surviving death, and in gods punishing wrongdoers and blessing the just. Cognitive studies suggest that humans are predisposed to speculate about fate and divine agency, but support from so-called ‘plausibility structures’ is needed for spontaneous religious cognition to develop into firmly held beliefs. Narratives that assert the reality of the supernatural constitute one form of plausibility structures.

Between January and August 2017 the research project ‘Religious Narratives as Plausibility Structures’ will investigate how religious narratives help make religious beliefs plausible. The project is part of the Research Traineeship Programme of the Leiden Faculty of Humanities. Two research trainees, Bas van Rijn (Study of Religion) and Marlies de Groot (History), carry out the research, under supervision of Markus Altena Davidsen (LUCSoR) and Kim Beerden (Ancient History). The main output from the project will be a research article co-authored by Davidsen and the two research trainees.

Concretely, the research trainees will examine how self-biographical, (supposedly) historical, and literary narratives have supported religious beliefs in two very different cases: contemporary Western belief in angels, and belief in the reliability of the Apollonian oracle at Delphi in antiquity. The project aims to identify the rhetorical strategies that various forms of narratives employ to persuade readers or listeners to adopt or maintain religious beliefs. Results from the project will be shared via the Leiden Religion Blog.

For more information, please contact Markus Altena Davidsen

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