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Dr Declan Taggart
School of English
Declan Taggart comes to the School of English at UCC from a PhD at the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Scandinavian Studies, which followed a BA in English Literature from Durham University and an MA in Medieval Studies from the University of York. He is the author of How Thor Lost His Thunder (Routledge, forthcoming) and has undertaken a research stay at Stockholm University’s Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies, sponsored by the Royal Gustavus Adolphus Academy for Swedish Folk Culture. His work examines cognitive variation in representations of Old Norse deities and their interactions with humanity.
Philologists, archaeologists and historians have studied the pre-Christian religions of northern Europe for centuries, scrutinizing in impressive detail topics like myths’ origins and the forms of rituals. Yet, in all this time, no attention has been paid to the ways in which conceptualizations of gods changed according to their worshippers’ circumstances.
In Old Norse mythology, gods like Thor, Odin and Freyja are often remarkable, if sometimes amoral, people-like beings. But were these the characterizations used in prayer? During collective rituals? Underpinning moral strictures? From, for example, comparative studies and ethnographic accounts of Old Norse devotion, it seems not; rather these deities could just as validly have been conceived in some circumstances as divinity is in Abrahamic theology: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent sources of morality. My book is the first to investigate this form of diversity in Old Norse religion, with major consequences for pre-existing assumptions regarding the nature of divine encounters across northern literature and archaeology.
The book is entirely interdisciplinary: I elucidate textual and archaeological sources of pre-Christian religion with the aid of Cognitive Science of Religion, a field that studies religion through the theories and methods of disciplines like psychology, anthropology and neurobiology. Through this prism, I scrutinize moral aspects in representations of Old Norse supernatural agents, contradictions between different textual portrayals, and the effects of religious objects and places on conceptualization.
Cognitive Science of Religion offers a way of probing the minds of past worshippers, with values and perceptions very unlike our own, without resorting to ad hoc fallacies. Equally, as my doctoral research demonstrates, the diverse dataset of Old Norse religion can materially inform, challenge and modulate the arguments of cognitive scientists of religion. My results and the paradigm provided by my methodology will therefore have an impact in two fields: cognitive science and Old Norse studies.