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Journal of Cognitive Historiography

Founding and Senior Editors
Esther Eidinow, University of Bristol
Luther H. Martin, University of Vermont

Managing Editors
Leonardo Ambasciano, Masaryk University
Nickolas P. Roubekas, University of Vienna

Associate Editor
Travis Chilcott, Iowa State University

Editorial Assistants
Justin Lane, University of Oxford

Send books for review to:
Roberto Alciati
SAGAS - Dipartimento di Storia, Archeologia, Geografia, Arte, Spettacolo
Università degli Studi di Firenze
Via San Gallo 10
50129 Florence

The Journal of Cognitive Historiography is the first peer-reviewed publication for research concerned with the interactions between history, historiography, and/or archaeology and cognitive theories.

The journal provides a forum for scholars from a range of different disciplines, and draws on diverse approaches to examine how cognitive theorizing may support historical research, and vice versa. Examples of areas of research include the relationship between universalizing theories and specific historical events, the mental worlds and functions of historical agents, and the transmission of ideas and/or practices across time and place.

The editors welcome contributions from all periods and on all topics of historical and archaeological study, as well as those raising diverse methodological or theoretical issues. On the cognitive side, these may include, but are not limited to, those found in the disciplines of cognitive psychology, cognitive anthropology, cognitive sociology and neuroscience, as well as evolutionary theorizing.

Indexing & Abstracting coverage

Publication and Frequency
2 issues per volume year

ISSN 2051-9672 (print)
ISSN 2051-9680 (online)



Call for Papers 2019


PDF version


Pathological and Maladaptive Beliefs, Biases, and Behaviours throughout Human History

"History - as expressed by preservation of signs from the past - provides the only sensible explanation for modern quirks, imperfections, oddities, and anomalies".

Stephen J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002)


Human beings excel in devising astonishing ways to cause (un)intended damage to their own health, their wealth, their kin, and their kith - not to mention themselves. Intuitive biases that shortcut rational examination, lack of sufficient (scientific) knowledge, the influence of unwarranted beliefs, and prestigious templates ready for blind imitation, provide preferential avenues that lead to the adoption of maladaptive behaviours, thus apparently contributing to self-sabotage one's own wellbeing, culture, or fitness (i.e., one's contribution to the genetic pool of future generations).

Cultural transmission of folk explanations and schemata concerning social, technological, and natural environments - supported and boosted by indoctrination, prestige, or emulation - allows the survival of unhealthy practices or post-truth beliefs, whose outcomes and (un)intended consequences might go unnoticed for months, years, decades, even centuries and millennia - thus affecting individual life-histories and future generations alike. In a society dominated by strong religious precepts, ultimately, critical thinking is trumped: if it is God's (or the gods') will, then so be it. Even in ancient and modern societal sub-systems dominated by rational and critical approaches to understanding (e.g., ancient philosophical schools, early modern academia and royal societies), unwarranted, sub-optimal, or damaging traditions and political interventions have prevented a smooth and steady progress in the advancement of science.

Sometimes, the positive value of folk knowledge is overwhelmingly evident, such as Andamanese geomythological records concerning how to behave in case of a major tsunami, the alimentary process of nixtamalization in ancient Mesoamerica, or the mnemonical power of timekeeping mythological storytelling to keep track of seasonal animal migrations through environmental clues (e.g., constellations). However, toxic traditions are kept alive either in bad faith for the economic, political, and social benefit of key stakeholders (e.g., the tobacco, sugar, and oil industries keen on minimizing or withhold the lethal effects of their products) or in good faith as the outcome of the social diffusion of cognitively appealing - and outstandingly toxic - cultural representations (a couple of examples will suffice: 1. past and present religious justifications for political activity and violence: circumcellionesparabolani, Taliban, Aum Shinrikyo, etc.; 2. interactions between cognitive predispositions, technology, and psychosocial wellbeing - from ancient writing, sedentism, and agricultural innovations causing psychophysical mal-adjustments to current smartphone addiction, etc.). From the most ancient times to the present, from the agentive notion of healing (i.e., an illness willed by a divine, supernatural being as a warning and a punishment for someone's wrongdoings) to the intuitive resistance against the germ theory of disease and disinfection; from macroeconomic growth models based on unlimited industrialization and unchecked capitalist consumerism to the Anthropocenic combined crisis of global warming, plastic pollution, and sixth mass extinction; from religious dogmas promoting the unbridled proliferation of one's own progeny to overpopulation in a finite world-system of limited resources, the list of belief-behaviour complexes (henceforth, BBCs) that give rise to toxic traditions is almost limitless.

Despite their aberrance, most BBCs can provide human agents with (in no particular order):

  • a feeling of epistemic satisfaction (sometimes temporary);
  • a personally meaningful and renewed sense of affective attachment to and investment in one's own identity and roots;
  • a purposeful explanation of cause-effect relationships (albeit erroneous);
  • a compelling way to assuage cognitive dissonance;
  • an in-group means to make sense of social and individual (in)justice or theodicy (albeit questionable);
  • a societal justification and a safety valve to egocentric, psychopathic, or sociopathic behaviours.

To make things more complicated, some of such sub-optimal BBCs can also show a stunning and potentially adaptive facet (again, in no particular order):

  • group-cohesion strengthening (even though individuals or out-groups might suffer);
  • male intra-sexual power balance (at the cost of inflicting coercive and violent gender subordination);
  • resource management and elite support of the in-group, i.e., family (sometimes at the expense of individual reproduction while implementing out-group economic exploitation; e.g., monasticism and celibacy, clergy);
  • coercive, secured sexual access (at the expense of someone's health or reproductive potential; e.g., female genital mutilations);
  • costly signaling (to flag one's willingness to cooperate with the in-group).



The present Call for Papers aims at (1) deconstructing what (mal)adaptive traditions and their transmission are usually held to be, in order to create the bases for (2) (re)building a first cognitive, psychological, and evolutionary compilation of the main cognitive biases and logical fallacies behind toxic traditions past or present and their historiographical roots. We also aim at (3) posing the foundations for an archive of historiographical case studies focusing on the epidemiology of toxic traditions.

Therefore, we welcome submissions dealing with the past and present of worldwide cultural and religious toxic traditions and able to tackle from an inter- and cross-disciplinary perspective the following basic questions:

1.       Is it possible to define neuropsychologicallycognitively, and historically what a toxic tradition is? When does a toxic tradition become an adaptive strategy for the group and for the individual - at what cost?

2.       What are the main cognitive processes and logical fallacies behind the diffusion, the success, and the resilience of toxic traditions?

3.       What are the main socio-cultural, religious, and political forces that select for or constrain specific toxic traditions?

4.       When do sub-optimal BBCs backfire and develop into toxic traditions, and how do they interact with each other?

5.       What is the role of mythology and theology in the preservation of toxic traditions?

6.       How can we conceptualize the diachronic and cross-culturaldevelopments between toxic traditions?

7.       Is it possible to develop a comparative classification of sub-optimal historical toxic traditions despite cross-cultural differences?



Deadline MARCH 1, 2019 - Publication in Vol. 5, no. 1

Contributions are to be a maximum of ca. 5,000-6,000 words in length (bibliography excluded). All submissions are to be uploaded through the JCH website, after registration and login:

All contributions are evaluated through a double-blind review process which may include review both by editorial board members and external reviewers. For information concerning submission guidelines, please refer to the Author Guidelines available on the JCH website:

For any additional information, please contact the editors:

Dr. Nickolas Roubekas:
Dr. Leonardo Ambasciano:

Posted: 2018-08-24 More...
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