Few empirical studies have examined the oft-mentioned psychological construct known as suspension of disbelief. This article examines suspension of disbelief as a function of perceived realism during the viewing of a genre that often blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction: documentary-style films. To do so, an initial model of the relationships between suspension of disbelief, perceptions of realism, narrative involvement, and enjoyment was proposed and tested. Participants (n = 205) viewed one of two full-length documentary-style movies. Differences were observed in the way that both suspension of disbelief and perceptions of realism predicted emotional and cognitive aspects of involvement, with subsequent impact on enjoyment. An explanation for these differences is offered.
Belief and Disbelief of Mystical Forces, Perilous Conditions, and the Opacity of Being
This article explores mystical belief and disbelief in Jeanne Favret-Saada’s ethnography of Bocage witchcraft in relation to the ontological turn in anthropology. The ethnographic archive provides numerous examples in which natives display seemingly contradictory practices of belief and disbelief when it comes to mystical forces. A common way by which anthropologists deal with such contradictions is to attempt to explicate their social function and cultural significance. In doing so, they perceive belief and disbelief to be cognitive states of clarity. Favret-Saada differs in her approach since she apprehends mystical belief and disbelief to be ambivalent and connected and, as I argue, portrays it as being caught in a perilous arrangement of death. In order to convey these points, I compare her ethnographic work to that of E. E. Evans-Pritchard and Rane Willerslev. The article goes on to analyze Favret-Saada’s minimal ontology of the opaque subject and how it can inform ontological anthropology.
Drawing on my experience of a Muslim version of exorcism in urban Macedonia, this article continues a methodological discussion of the implications of being an atheist anthropologist when researching religion, a situation known as 'methodological atheism'. Methodological atheism is often linked to the problem of suspending one's intellectual disregard of people's religions as delusions. This article will argue instead that there are barriers to participation in religious rituals that are not covered by questions of disbelief. The notion of 'dispositional atheism' is discussed against the backdrop of the anxieties, uncertainties, and inhibitions experienced by an atheist anthropologist caught up in a moment of religious intensity.
Godless People, Doubt, and Atheism
Ruy Llera Blanes and Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic
In the introduction to this special issue, we set the agenda for researching the aspirations and practices of godless people who seek to thin out religion in their daily lives. We reflect on why processes of disengagement from religion have not been adequately researched in anthropology. Locating this issue's articles in the anthropological literature on doubt and atheism, we argue for the importance of a comparative investigation to analyze people's reluctance to pursue religion.
Materiality and the Morality of Atheist Materialism
Jacob Copeman and Johannes Quack
Atheists are not the only people who donate their bodies, yet the practice is strikingly prevalent in a variety of atheist circles. We concentrate here on the Indian case, exploring body donation as a key instance of the material culture of atheism. Recent efforts to reinvigorate study of the material culture of religion are to be welcomed, but they should be extended to non-religion in order to address the irony that sees scholars representing materialism as an abstract doctrine and, hence, as immaterial. Body donation holds value for Indian atheists as a bridge between 'positive' and 'negative' modes of atheist thought and action. It also provides a ready-made solution for atheist activists keen to circumvent the cadaver-centered death rituals they find so redundant.
Norman N. Holland
Metafictions tell stories in which the physical medium of the story becomes part of the story as, classically, in Tristram Shandy or Don Quixote. In our times, both metafiction and metafilm have proliferated. Examples of metafilm include Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr., Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo, Alejandro Amenábar's Abre los Ojos, Ingmar Bergman's Persona, the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers and, in particular, Spike Jonze's Adaptation. In my experience and that of others, metafilmic movies have a peculiarly disconcerting effect, sometimes arousing fear, sometimes seeming comic. Why? Metafilms play tricks on the levels and kinds of our belief (or our suspension of disbelief). To explain the effect, we need to understand how our brains are functioning when we are, as we say, "absorbed" in a film. The answer lies in the fact that reality testing depends on activity in the motor regions of the frontal cortex. But in experiencing the arts, we are not moving or even planning to move. As a result, as Richard Gerrig's experiments show, we momentarily believe (or suspend disbelief in) the film we are perceiving. Metafilm, however, introduces another, more real reality, the physical medium of the film. Metafilm thus sends conflicting messages to the brain about moving. The result is what Freud called "a signal of anxiety." If the metafilmic effect is brief, we laugh. If it persists over time, it can arouse anxiety.