It is proposed that explaining religion in evolutionary terms is a misleading enterprise because religion is an indissoluble part of a unique aspect of human social organization. Theoretical and empirical research should focus on what differentiates human sociality from that of other primates, i.e. the fact that members of society often act towards each other in terms of essentialized roles and groups. These have a phenomenological existence that is not based on everyday empirical monitoring but on imagined statuses and communities, such as clans or nations. The neurological basis for this type of social, which includes religion, will therefore depend on the development of imagination. It is suggested that such a development of imagination occurred at about the time of the Upper Palaeolithic 'revolution'.
Predictive testing for Huntington disease (HD) has been offered in some parts of Canada for nearly 5 years. Candidates who were expected to have a significant likelihood for psychological problems were those who received an increased risk for developing HD. Sixty-six persons have now received such an increased risk result. In this manuscript we describe in detail the experience of 4 such persons who were chosen to illustrate recurrent and common themes which have emerged during counselling, and to highlight the strategies of coping with this information. Themes include difficulties communicating about HD, defensive postures adopted in preparing for testing, ramifications of testing for the whole family, and the impact of being at high risk on the candidates' perception of the future. One candidate has had testing postponed due to active suicidal risk. Only a few candidates have expressed regret at taking the test and no person receiving an increased risk result has made a suicide attempt or required hospitalization. After receiving results, symptoms of depression and anxiety are most common in the first 2 months, but over 1 year, candidates, in general, have less depression but live with a heightened perception of the present. The potential risk of premature diagnosis of HD in an individual with an increased risk results is highlighted. The significant ramifications of testing for the relative are shown. The importance of communication as a means of establishing a social support network, as well as the hazards of open communication, are discussed. Longitudinal evaluation will provide much needed data on the long-term effects of living at increased risk for HD.
Recent studies of symbols in ritual share two features. First, they isolate symbols from the ritualprocess; second, they interpret symbols as units containing meaning. In this paper I want to argue thatsymbols in ritual cannot be understood without a prior study of the nature of the communication medium of ritual in which they are embedded, in particular singing and dancing, and that once this has been done we find that symbols cannot any more be understood as units of meaning simply on the Saussurian signifier/signified model, however subtly this model is handled. Such varied writers as Bettelheim (1954) and Turner (1959) are to my mind examples of writers ultimately using this model for the study of meaning in ritual.
The paper concerns the role of intentionality in reasoning about wrong doing. Anthropologists have claimed that, in certain non-Western societies, people ignore whether an act of wrong doing is committed intentionally or accidentally. To examine this proposition, we look at the case of Madagascar. We start by analyzing how Malagasy people respond to incest, and we find that in this case they do not seem to take intentionality into account: catastrophic consequences follow even if those who commit incest are not aware that they are related as kin; punishment befalls on innocent people; and the whole community is responsible for repairing the damage. However, by looking at how people reason about other types of wrong doing, we show that the role of intentionality is well understood, and that in fact this is so even in the case of incest. We therefore argue that, when people contemplate incest and its consequences, they simultaneously consider two quite different issues: the issue of intentionality and blame, and the much more troubling and dumbfounding issue of what society would be like if incest were to be permitted. This entails such a fundamental attack on kinship and on the very basis of society that issues of intentionality and blame become irrelevant. Using the insights we derive from this Malagasy case study, we re-examine the results of Haidt’s psychological experiment on moral dumbfoundedness, which uses a story about incest between siblings as one of its test scenarios. We suggest that the dumbfoundedness that was documented among North American students may be explained by the same kind of complexity that we found in Madagascar. In light of this, we discuss the methodological limitations of experimental protocols, which are unable to grasp multiple levels of response. We also note the limitations of anthropological methods and the benefits of closer cross-disciplinary collaboration.
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