Field Site

Tanna, Vanuatu

Vanuatu, a Melanesian island nation in the South Pacific, is one of the most remote, culturally and linguistically diverse, and understudied countries in the world
(Norton, 1993). Vanuatu provides a unique opportunity to explore explanatory coexistence in both educational settings and home environments, ranging from villages that maintain traditional ways of life, to those accepting of Western cultural institutions and practices (Gregory & Gregory, 2002). Vanuatu consists of 65 different islands, each with villages that speak their own languages and maintain distinct cultural traditions.

In collaboration with the Tafea Cultural Center and the Vanuatu National Cultural Center we examined explanatory coexistence in a cultural context with minimal Western cultural influence. We propose explanatory coexistence is a function of the flexibility of our cognitive system and does not simply apply to Western debates about science and religion. Natural and supernatural explanatory frameworks may be well integrated within cultures that do not separate explanations for phenomena along a science-religion divide. We explored the coexistence of natural (e.g., folkbiological) and supernatural (e.g., animist) explanations in a cultural context not exposed to Western cultural institutions. The cultural comparative aspect of our research provides much needed insight into the development of explanatory systems across diverse cultural and religious contexts.