Beings Without Bodies: An Experience-Centered Theory of the Belief in Spirits

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Beings Without Bodies: An Experience-Centered Theory of the Belief in Spirits

David Hufford

Quote:This essay concerns a particular set of "folk beliefs, that is unofficial beliefs. The meanings and implications of this definition are discussed at some length below.Most academic theories have assumed that folk belief-especially beliefs about spirits - is false or at least unfounded, "non-rational" and "non-empirical."

Because my experience-centered theory is contrary to this very powerful and old intellectual tradition,the following exposition must be some what complex.It will, therefore, be helpful for the reader to know where we are going right at the start: the "bottom line" of my experience centered theory is the proposition that much folk belief about spirits is reasonable, that it is rationally developed from experience. That is to say, the reasoning involved in many such beliefs utilizes methods of inference, based on observations, which are commonly accepted as valid. Such reasoning does not show neurotic defenses or other overwhelming biases that lead to obvious fallacies, such as posthoc reasoning, equivocation, or consensus gentium.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell

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Great find, Sci. I especially endorse the conclusion (although I read the entire chapter):

Quote:Today many are frustrated by facile dismissals of spiritual belief and experience by self-proclaimed experts wrapped in the mantle of science. They often assert that our understanding of spiritual matters has been corrupted by "too much science and reliance on rationality." But the problem of the modern world is not too much intellectual activity and reasoning, and science and rational analysis do not contradict basic spiritual beliefs. The problem is a too narrow view of what intellectual activity is and who has the capacity to reason soundly. Folklore as a field has the capacity to help our society find more democratic ways of sharing cultural authority.

There's a pointed lesson (reminder?) here that that which purports to be science does not necessarily have a more exclusive claim to rationality and to primacy of interpretation than do humans simply recognising the reality of their basic and fundamental experiences.
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