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Richard Hutch
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(2,153 words)

Attaching meaning to a person’s behavior is attribution theory. For example, is someone happy because the person is predisposed to look on the bright side of things or because something good happened? Is the “Hand of God” always at work in bringing about natural disasters, or is the cause something simply impersonal? Meanings are based on either continuous internal attributions, like personality traits, or discontinuous external attributions, like unexpected or novel events, or both. Most research emphasizes internal attributions as the key to linking together a person’s behaviors and motives. However, this emphasis is limited to observing behavior in specific moments where “corresponding inferences” about meaning are linked to personality, or a simple synchronic assumption about attributing meaning to an event. More recent developments of attribution theory are not so limited. Information about a person’s behavior comes not from any one specific moment but over time and in differing situations. Hence behavior for which meaning is sought is a matter of a “covariation” of information, or a complex diachronic view of what counts in making a proper assessment of meaning. Attribution theory has limits. But researchers continue to seek multiple necessary causes and multiple sufficient causes by which meanings can be attributed to human behavior. Attribution theory goes directly to investigating the connections between religious belief and doubt, including how motives to believe are strengthened and weakened. ⸙

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Vocabulary for the Study of Religion Online

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