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Causal Stories and the Role of Worldviews in Analysing Responses to Sorcery Accusations and Related Violence


This paper uses the concept of causal stories to explore how death, sickness and misfortune lead to accusations of sorcery or witchcraft. Based on empirical research in Papua New Guinea, we propose a new analytical framework that shows how negative events may trigger particular narratives about the use of the supernatural by individuals and groups. These narratives then direct considerations about the cause of the misfortune, the agent who can heal it, and the appropriate response from those affected by the misfortune. We also categorise the factors that attract people towards magical causal narratives or towards competing non-magical causal narratives. We situate our analysis within a context of worldview pluralism, where individuals possess multiple worldviews, such as a magical worldview or a scientific worldview. We argue that causal stories operate to activate the dominance of one worldview or a combination of worldviews in given circumstances. Our theoretical contribution may be extended to discrimination and violence against those suffering from health-related stigma, as this too gives rise to competing causal stories that either take hold or are ignored depending upon diverse factors.

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Fig. 1


  1. Our fieldwork reveals consistently particular narratives exist within distinct geographical locations.


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This research is supported by the Australian Government in partnership with the Government of Papua New Guinea as part of the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program.

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Correspondence to Miranda Forsyth.

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Forsyth, M., Gibbs, P. Causal Stories and the Role of Worldviews in Analysing Responses to Sorcery Accusations and Related Violence. Found Sci 27, 773–784 (2022).

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  • Worldview pluralism
  • Causal stories
  • Magical thinking
  • Violence