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God’s Rage: Muslim Representations of hiv/aids as a Divine Punishment from the Perspective of the Cognitive Science of Religion

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Research from a number of disciplines indicates that the interpretation of hiv/aids as a divine punishment for illicit sexual practices dominates both a contemporary intra-Muslim public religious discourse and perceptions of the disease among Muslims. This dominance persists despite the existence of alternative theological interpretations, and despite seemingly contradictory empirical evidence. The present article develops a hypothesis on why this is the case and poses it against existing attempts at explanations. The theoretical basis for this hypothesis is elaborated with the help of findings from within the cognitive science of religion, and particularly the notion of an “epidemiology of representations.” According to the hypothesis, a combination of general psychological and cognitive factors and specific contextual factors provide the notion of hiv/aids as a divine punishment, with a selective advantage in certain social contexts over both theological alternatives and non-religious understandings of the disease. The article finally puts forward some predictions that may be tested empirically in further research.

Affiliations: 1: Linnaeus University, Department of Cultural Sciences351 95, Växjö


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