Samuel Ward - student profile

SAMUEL AGW WARDSamuel Ward - profile photo

I hold a BA in Social Anthropology, and an MA in Cognition and Culture. My work lies within the interdisciplinary field of the Cognitive Science of Religion. I examine the concepts of magical contagion (when the characteristics of one object/subject are perceived to transfer to another object/subject, simply coming into physical contact – such as a belonging of Hitler’s becoming repulsive in its own right) and reciprocal exchange with supramundane beings, utilising both qualitative and quantitative methods. Specifically, I attempt to analyse whether magical contagion might be applied to spirit possession, and why less powerful yet more anthropomorphic supramundane beings are appealed to more for divine intervention than more powerful yet less anthropomorphic beings (for instance, many Roman Catholics throughout time have preferred to pray to saints over God or Jesus Christ). I explore these questions through experimental methods, and through ethnographic research on the African diasporic religion of Vodou, in New Orleans, Louisiana; Vodou being a religion which practices spirit possession, and in which practitioners engage in reciprocal exchange with spirits known as the Lwa. However, I posit that the mental mechanisms which underpin these beliefs and practices may be found in all human minds.

I am an audio editor for the Religious Studies Project podcast; an international, collaborative project which produces a weekly podcast on the social scientific study of religion. I have also contributed to the Cultural Evolution of Religion Consortium (CERC), for their Database of Religious History.

Besides cognitive anthropology and the Cognitive Science of Religion, I maintain an interest in behavioural economics, economic anthropology, and the potential for cross-fertilisation between the two, especially in term of policy applications.