Religious narratives may have different purposes in production and may be taken up for different purposes in reception. The case stressed by Professor Benzon was creation stories. To characterize something as a “creation story” is to suggest that its function is explanatory—specifically, that it serves to explain why something exists. I suggested that such stories probably do have universal patterns. However, those patterns are probably, first of all, a matter of how the human mind engages in causal inference (e.g., our tendency to over-attribute agency), rather than a matter of emotion systems as such. Thus they are more in the province of writers such as Boyer.
On the other hand, many—perhaps most—religious narratives have emotional purposes, sometimes along with explanatory ones. In these cases, the aim of producers or recipients is to foster an emotional response. Religious stories of this sort fall under the purview of my research and, indeed, I have talked about them in TMAIS and elsewhere. One recurring emotional purpose of religious storytelling is to foster fear of God or reverence for religious prescriptions. A large number of such stories involve a sacrificial narrative. The paradigmatic story of this sort in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition is that of Adam and Eve, which of course figures significantly in TMAIS—despite Professor Benzon’s worries that I ignore the Bible.
Benzon also mentions Native American works, including the myths collected in Claude Levi-Strauss’s Introduction to a Science of Mythology. Opening the first volume at random, I come upon the following story from the Bororo (“M20” in Levi-Strauss’s scheme). A group of men want honey. But the honey they receive from their brother-in-law is spoiled by the fact that he had sexual relations when collecting it. They leave to make ornaments. On completing the ornaments, they make a ritual vocalization. Hearing this, their sister spies on them. This violates a taboo. The men kill themselves in a fire. The sister gathers plants from the place where they killed themselves.
Admittedly, this is not highly prototypical, at least not at first glance. That is not surprising, given the nature of oral stories, the limited circulation of these tales (circulation tends to push stories toward prototypicality), the limited community in which they circulated, and so on. Nonetheless, it is recognizably sacrificial. Sacrificial plots prototypically involve a loss of food due to sin, commonly sexual sin. This is precisely how the story begins. There is the unusual feature of the intervening episode with the ornaments. But this too involves a violation, specifically one bearing on gender taboos. This leads to a sacrifice, which in turn produces the growth of agricultural products, including food—thus the standard reversal and resolution in the sacrificial prototype. Someone might object that the story does not involve the usual causal rigor of a sacrificial plot. But that actually supports the prototype-based analysis. The story does not unfold due to an inexorable internal logic. That apparent absence of internal necessity suggests that the story is, indeed, developing out of a prototype.
On the other hand, I suspect that the part about the ornaments would make more sense if we knew the relevant details about Bororo culture. (They are not provided by Levi-Strauss.) In a forthcoming article for The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences, I make an argument along these lines about the romantic prototype in another South American myth drawn from Levi-Strauss. There I suggest that certain peculiar features of the story (e.g., the main female character being a jaguar) become more comprehensible—and more clearly connected with the prototype—as we learn more about the culture.
The mention of the romantic prototype brings us to another common emotional aim of religious narratives—the fostering of devotion (something quite different from fear). This is what we find centrally in mystical and related writings, ranging from Sufism to the Song of Songs to Hindu bhakti literature. Devotion is routinely emplotted in the romantic structure. I have treated that in TMAIS, and touched on it elsewhere (e.g., in a recent book on Indian film).
Finally, a large number of religious narratives concern emotions surrounding the relation between the religious in-group and out-groups. These are almost invariably versions of the heroic narrative. In TMAIS and elsewhere, I point to highly prototypical instances from, for instance, the Muslim and Hindu traditions (e.g., the Ramayana). Despite Benzon’s worries, such stories figure significantly in the Bible as well. For example, in Understanding Nationalism (forthcoming this summer), I discuss the stories of Saul, David, and Solomon in these terms.
Beyond this, I am currently completing a manuscript in which I expand this analysis. In this manuscript, I argue, first, that my account predicts the existence of several other cross-cultural genres and, second, that we do in fact find these genres across cultures, though they are not as prominent as the heroic, romantic, and sacrificial prototypes. (The theory in fact leads us to expect this reduced frequency as well.) For example, I analyzed the romantic prototype in terms of a fusing of sexual and attachment goals. This suggests that there should also be stories with either sexual or attachment goals separately. These do in fact occur, with some surprising patterns. Needless to say, there are religious stories of these sorts as well, covering still further cases.
Obviously, I have not dealt with all the complex issues involved in the study of narrative, emotion, and religion—far from it. However, I hope the preceding reflections help to clarify some of the issues involved.
Patrick Colm Hogan (2003). The mind and its stories: Narrative universals and human emotion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.