Please answer the following question in reference to "A Few Kind Words for Superstition": The essay opens with the author asserting that society is in the middle of a renaissance of the irrational.  Does he make any attempt to justify this statement?

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In “A Few Kind Words for Superstition,” Robertson Davies suggests people superstition is common, despite a general unwillingness to admit it. Rather than constructing a formal expository or literary essay, Davies discusses employs informal anecdotes and musings to talk about his experiences with the four major types of superstition. The essay appeals to the emotional side of a reader more than the logical, rendering the text something between a narrative and descriptive essay. A narrative essay usually relays a more linear narrative about real life experiences, while a descriptive essay tends to focus on objects, places, and situations with detailed sensory information. While Davies incorporates some personal experience, he also relies on generalizations about formal religions and historical information that he doesn't appear to have any direct experience with. If the style was more formal, I would expect to see direct evidence and citations.

Instead, Davies offers a handful of casual observations regarding the tendency for North American middle-class people, mostly those involved in the university system, to exhibit superstitious behavior without openly admitting it. Davies looks through the lens of what “theologians” call the four branches of superstition: “Vain Observances,” “Divination,” “Idolatry,” and “Improper Worship of a True God” (3-6).

In discussing Vain Observances, he tells an anecdote about “a deeply learned professor of anthropology . . . throwing a pinch of [salt] over his left shoulder.” In discussing Divination, he cites “another learned professor [he] know[s] who . . . had resolved a matter related to university affairs by consulting the I Ching” as well as “thousands of people [in North America] who appeal to the I Ching” whose “general level of education seems to absolve them of superstition.” In discussing Idolatry, he describes supervising an examination room and seeing many “jujus, lucky coins and other bringers of luck . . . on the desks of the candidates.” Finally, he describes Improper Worship of a True God by relating a secondhand story about an engineering student who would put a “$2 bill . . . under a candlestick on the alter of a college chapel” for a romance, who “thought that bribery of the Deity might help” (3-6).

Next, Davies questions if religion is turning into a sociological pursuit. He makes a blanket claim about the psychoanalytical explanation for superstition, takes a brief glance at the history of common superstitious practices, such as saying “bless you” after a sneeze, and notes the popularity of astrology in newspapers and fashion magazines. After an example of his mother's childhood superstition, killing spiders on July 11th so that it might rain and spoil the Orangemen's parade, Davies concludes by noting his own superstitious behavior: giving four shillings to touch a Lucky Baby before taking exams in college.

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I think there are two reasons why Davies does not do this.

  1. I think that he believes that it is an obvious statement.  He is not so interested in trying to prove it as he is in trying to talk about the various kinds of superstition.  However, I would point out that he proves it a number of times by giving examples of how people are superstitious even in unversities.
  2. I think that there is no way you can actually prove that people are more superstitious today than they have been at some point in the past.  This is because it is not clear that there are opinion polls or anything like that about supersition.
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