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date: 23 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter outlines an analytical concept of magic and considers how it contributes to our understanding of early Christian rituals. The first section addresses the problematic history of the academic study of magic. The second section proposes a heuristic definition of magic in the context of a cognitive and behavioural approach to religion. The chapter then discusses the role of associative learning in magic, particularly in so-called superstitious conditioning. The fourth section deals with explanatory strategies, arguing that implicit, cognitive mechanisms that support magic (such as moral contagion and confirmation bias) tend to be cross-culturally consistent. Explicit theorizing about magic (such as the ancient concept of magical helpers) is more varied across cultures. Finally, the chapter turns to the relationship between magical practices and miracle stories and addresses the role of magic and miracle in the success of the early Christian movement.

Keywords: confirmation bias, magic, magical helpers, minimal counterintuitiveness, miracle stories, moral contagion, superstitious conditioning

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