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Superstition: A Very Short Introduction [#623]
Superstition: A Very Short Introduction [#623]
  • Explores the history of our deepest superstitions, and the psychological reasons behind why they persist today
  • Reveals the surprising connections between current everyday superstitions and the ancient world
  • Provides an up-to-date assessment of the psychological foundations of superstitious belief
  • Gives an overview of the fascinating array of contemporary superstitions throughout the world

Do you touch wood for luck, or avoid hotel rooms on floor thirteen? Would you cross the path of a black cat, or step under a ladder? Is breaking a mirror just an expensive waste of glass, or something rather more sinister? Despite the dominance of science in today's world, superstitious beliefs - both traditional and new - remain surprisingly popular. A recent survey of adults in the United States found that 33 percent believed that finding a penny was good luck, and 23 percent believed that the number seven was lucky. Where did these superstitions come from, and why do they persist today?
This Very Short Introduction explores the nature and surprising history of superstition from antiquity to the present. For two millennia, superstition was a label derisively applied to foreign religions and unacceptable religious practices, and its primary purpose was used to separate groups and assert religious and social authority. After the Enlightenment, the superstition label was still used to define groups, but the new dividing line was between reason and unreason. Today, despite our apparent sophistication and technological advances, superstitious belief and behaviour remain widespread, and highly educated people are not immune. Stuart Vyse takes an exciting look at the varieties of popular superstitious beliefs today and the psychological reasons behind their continued existence, as well as the likely future course of superstition in our increasingly connected world.



1: The meanings of superstition
2: Religious superstition
3: Secular superstition
4: Superstition today
5: Why do people believe?
6: The future of superstition

Further reading

About the author: 

Stuart Vyse is a behavioral scientist, teacher, and writer. He holds PhD and MA degrees in psychology and BA and MA degrees in English Literature. He taught at Providence College, the University of Rhode Island, and Connecticut College, where he was Joanne Toor Cummings '50 Professor. Vyse has written two books: Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition (OUP, 1997), which won the 1999 William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association, and Going Broke: Why Americans Can't Hold on to Their Money, an analysis of the current epidemic of personal debt, the second edition of which (Going Broke: Why Americans (Still) Can't Hold on to Their Money) is due to publish in 2018. He has written dozens of personal essays, most of which have appeared as op-eds in various newspapers and online publications, and he is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.


"Stimulating and informative." - Alexander Faludy, Church Times
"This succinct summary of the history of and psychology behind superstition is so superb that I am adopting it for my college course on critical thinking and recommend it be required reading for all social science students. Stuart Vyse is such a marvelous writer and clear thinker, in fact, that this book should be required reading for all humans susceptible to superstitions, which is to say all of humanity." - Michael Shermer, Publisher, Skeptic magazine

"Stuart Vyse has packed a lot into this little book, including a comprehensive discussion of the way in which the concept of superstition has changed across the ages, the psychology of superstition, and the implications of superstitious thinking for the modern world - all presented in an engaging and informative style. Highly recommended!" - Professor Chris French, Goldsmiths, University of London

Product details

ISBN : 9780198819257

Stuart Vyse
160 Pages
111 x 174 mm
Pub date
Jan 2020
Very Short Introductions
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Superstition: A Very Short Introduction [#623]

Superstition: A Very Short Introduction [#623]

Superstition: A Very Short Introduction [#623]