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Memory of Deductive and Inductive Sermons: Empirical Research into the Effects of Transmission of Theological Concepts in the Doctrinal Mode

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Transmission of religion is important in order to pass on the beliefs, rituals, stories, devotional practices etc. as part of a religious tradition to the next generation. According to Whitehouse (2004) two requirements have to be fulfilled in order that this transmission is successful: it must take a form that people can remember and people must be motivated to pass on these beliefs and rituals. In the empirical research, five categories of predictors can influence memory in the doctrinal mode. With regard to memory of sermons five predictors were included in the research: (1) the type of reasoning that is used in the sermon in order to achieve logical integration and coherence (deductive or inductive reasoning); (2) word comprehension; (3) frequency of church attendance as an indicator of the number of times that believers have heard the same (complex) theological teaching; (4) strength of believing, especially orthodoxy and (5) the value an individual places on the theological teachings (concept) of the sermon and the relevance for life situations. Memory is measured by the number of elements of the reasons offered in the sermon that could be reproduced by the believers. The sermons were part of the ordinary Catholic Sunday service by the local parish pastor in order to guarantee ecological validity, i.e. to resemble the real-life situation of sermons which are researched. The sample consisted of 77 listeners to the deductive sermon and 64 listeners to the inductive sermon. The results of the research show that listeners in general have a poor memory of the content of the sermon. Listeners remember more if they are frequent church attendees and if they hold more orthodox beliefs. These results corroborate the modes theory developed by Whitehouse and also lead to further refinement. The type of reasoning in sermons and word comprehension (intelligence) are elements which should be included in the modes theory for the doctrinal mode because of their influence on memory. The research also suggest a tedium effect in the influence of repetition on memory. The element of personal valuation and connection to life situations finds no support in the research.

Affiliations: 1: Radboud University Nijmegen The Netherlands, Email:; 2: Radboud University Nijmegen The Netherlands


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