Implicit Religion, Vol 13, No 3 (2010)

Superstition and Human Agency

Janet Goodall
Issued Date: 19 Dec 2010


While much ink has been poured on the phenomena of human (and indeed, avian) superstition, most of the attention has been focused on a process seen as somehow pejorative, as negative – as correlated with feelings of inadequacy or powerlessness, or with faulty understanding of science can causality. This paper proposes a different thesis: that there are some forms of superstition which actually reflect an exercise of human agency, of exertion of control over a universe which is perceived as capricious, rather than as absolutely predetermined or fated. To this end, a new system of classifying superstitious beliefs and practices is proposed, which delineates not on the purported outcome of the action but on the level of human agency involved. Many superstitions are based on the ultimately hopeful premise that willed human action can have an effect on the future.

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DOI: 10.1558/imre.v13i3.307


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