Testing theories of superstition using a random sample

Posted on November 4, 2008


To those familiar with David Sloan Wilson’s work the title of this post will look familiar. His article, published in Human Nature, examined various competing evolutionary hypotheses concerning religion by taking a random sample of religions (taken from an encyclopedia of religion) and seeing how well this sandom sample fit the various theories. The actual research was done by him and a group of his students during the course of a subject he taught. When I talked with him in Altenberg he suggested that I might try something similar. And so, I am.

I am currently teaching a Superstition, Religion, and Science course in Lublin and the assessment for that course is based upon students taking two random superstitions – picked from Roud’s Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland – researching as much information as they can about them, and then answering a series of questions regarding those superstitions. I’m asking each student to do two superstitions as there are only about ten students in my class and I’m looking at two superstitions, myself. At this point, we have picked the superstitions and are busy gathering the information. The lists of questions have been handed out and, in a couple weeks, we’ll meet up to discuss the draft versions of people’s answers. The idea is to have a draft version of an article finished by the end of semester. We’ll see how we do – I’ll blog any significant progress.