No time to philosophize : Norwegian oral tradition and the cognitive economics of belief
AbstractThe article employs a cognitive narratological approach to elements of the oral tradition from the Norwegian province Telemark, attempting to utilize tools developed in the cognitive science of religion for historiographical case studies. The aim is to identify and account for recurring patterns both in the style and content of folk religious tales, giving way to an improved analysis of fragmented and - due to the process of textualization - ambiguous sources. Instead of asking for the "believed" substrate of the folk religious oral tradition, the analysis focuses on the stylistic function of counterintuitive concepts in the narrative context of legends about the Hidden People. Against the backdrop of cognitive story processing theory (Zwaan and Radvansky), it is shown how the narrators applied a set of narrative techniques suitable for utilizing basic cognitive mechanisms of sensory and narrative processing to create credibility. The basic traits of the legends are shown to maximize cognitive effort in story processing, forcing the recipient to recognize the coherence between highly heterogeneous information and to position him- or herself with respect to the ambivalence of the stories. This cognitive effort is often resolved by reference to superempirical elements, which are not provided in the story, but concluded by the recipient. The narrative culture not only kept their belief in the Hidden People alive, but provided an experiential reality where official Christian doctrine, skeptical thought, and traditional belief elements were synthesized, forming a dynamic field of discourse. Although mostly static in content and form, the legends were used as reactions to objections from the church and framed an arena in which norms, values, religious beliefs, and individual lifeplans could be negotiated.
Johannsen, Dirk. (2010) No time to philosophize : Norwegian oral tradition and the cognitive economics of belief. In: Past minds. London, S. 77-88.