Machines for the Making of Gods? Henri Bergson and the Psychology of Fabulation

Stenner, Paul (2021). Machines for the Making of Gods? Henri Bergson and the Psychology of Fabulation. International Review of Theoretical Psychologies, 1(1) pp. 125–141.



In the early 1930s Henri Bergson made a bold attempt to trace the source of religious experience, belief and practice to a psychological process he called ‘fabulation’ (a term deriving from the Latin fabula, meaning either talk / conversation / discourse, or a story, tale, myth, legend or fable). Beginning with an illustration from the drama series Humans, this paper delineates six main features of fabulation and concentrates attention on two of these: the occasioning of fabulation by a significant event of rupture, and a subsequent double attribution of a powerful agency addressing a powerless subject. The first, which was left implicit by Bergson, is developed via liminality theory. An understanding of fabulation as occasioned by liminal experience also enables an account of the second feature inspired by Heider’s concept of the ‘person’: ‘person’ attributions typical of social perception come – under liminal conditions – to be made with respect to events that otherwise invite naturalistic attributions. Given the tendency in Psychology to treat fabulation purely negatively as part of a mission to explain personhood naturalistically, a more productive and creative orientation to fabulation is called for in the conclusion. This orientation may become increasingly necessary given the liminal nature of the ‘accelerating’ world order/disorder that was the topic of ISTP Copenhagen.

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