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Remembering religious rituals: Autobiographical memories of high-arousal religious rituals considered from a narrative processing perspective

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  • Valerie van Mulukom, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford

Autobiographical memory and religion both have the ability to guide us in our understanding of the world. One place where memory and religion intersect is in religious rituals, which have the potential to generate important memories. Religious rituals with high levels of arousal are expected to generate especially vivid memories. In this article, previous experimental anthropological work on memory and religious rituals will be discussed within the context of an extensive background of autobiographical and episodic memory research (including aspects like episodicity, emotionality, valence, and specificity), accompanied by recommendations for future research in the cognitive science of religion. Moreover, a novel perspective, based on the literature of narrative processing, memory reconstruction, and reflection, will be proposed. In this article, it is suggested that the experience of the ritual itself may be the goal of high-arousal religious rituals, giving rise to memories with high levels of emotionality. The subsequent narrative processing of these memories, in which interpretation rather than accuracy is pivotal, allows the memories to become an important part of the participants’ life narratives, thus contributing to the participants’ identities and sense of coherence and purpose.

Original languageEnglish
JournalReligion, Brain and Behavior
Pages (from-to)191-205
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2017

    Research areas

  • arousal, Autobiographical memory, emotion, episodic memory, religion, ritual

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