Scientific article

The wrath of the gods: appraising the meaning of disaster

Published inSocial Science Information, vol. 47, no. 2, p. 187-204
Publication date2008

Beginning with the Flood story from ancient Mesopotamia, which is related to similar Biblical and Greek accounts, we focus on the genre of disaster myths, in which man is overcome by divine retribution for his misdeeds. Psychologically speaking, myth has to be considered as part of our human search for meaning. Man looks for the causes of effects; he also expects the effects of causes to be proportionate, which may be the basis of the notion of justice. We review the concept of appraisal as a necessary prelude to emotion: human beings ‘size up’ the situation to see what caused it and whether it was deserved or not before they react. In the case of myth, this psychological mechanism led ancient man to supernatural explanations for natural disasters, namely divine retribution. This is not the case in all cultures; in animistic ones, the cause of misfortune may be sought in hostile outside agency, such as witchcraft. This just goes to show the importance of appraisal biases in emotion, which typically rest on a cultural and religious foundation. The psychological perspective can thus contribute to the understanding of myth at work in human thinking, as part of an interdisciplinary effort involving anthropology and the study of religion.

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Citation (ISO format)
GRANDJEAN, Didier Maurice et al. The wrath of the gods: appraising the meaning of disaster. In: Social Science Information, 2008, vol. 47, n° 2, p. 187–204. doi: 10.1177/0539018408089078
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Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal0539-0184

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