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Identifying with Fictional Characters

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The study of literature, which has traditionally been the work of the humanities, has seemingly opened up to biology in recent years through an infusion of cognitive science and evolutionary

The study of literature, which has traditionally been the work of the humanities, has seemingly opened up to biology in recent years through an infusion of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. This essay examines two perspectives on the potential for reader/character identification, one perspective from cognitive/evolutionary studies, and the other from the humanities. Building on both perspectives, I propose my own notion of reader/character identification called immersive identification. I argue that fiction is especially suited to prompt readers to identify with fictional characters in an immersive way. Then, I demonstrate how different cognitive/evolutionary perspectives of fiction can accommodate my notion of immersive identification. Finally, I defend my account of immersive identification against a counterexample.

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  • 2014-05

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Rappaport, Revisited

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In Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, Roy Rappaport misses an opportunity to more tightly theorize the synergistic relationship between concepts of the divine, the psyches of ritual

In Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, Roy Rappaport misses an opportunity to more tightly theorize the synergistic relationship between concepts of the divine, the psyches of ritual participants, and the adaptive dynamics of religious sociality. This paper proposes such a theory by drawing on implicit features of Rappaport’s account, fulfilling his goal of a “cybernetics of the holy.” I argue that concepts of the divine, when made authoritative for participants through ritual, have three important effects: they invite intense and meaningful reconstructions of personal identity according to paradigmatic examples; they act as a form of encoded social memory by organizing human relationship according to a “spiritual map”; and they provide the cognitive framework that make religious community organization robust, adaptive, and reproductive. We can characterize divine concepts as “specified absences” that ground each of these effects and link them together in a mutually-reinforcing set.

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  • 2013-11-30