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Fringe Cognition

Led by Dr Marco Bernini and Dr Ben Alderson-Day

Can experiences at the periphery of everyday life, for example dreams, provide insights on larger issues such as consciousness, the self, social cognition, and our relationship with reality?

Drawing on the intersections of cognitive literary studies, psychology and medical humanities this strand explores liminal, ephemeral experience, which is both absent in and intractable to scientific models. 


Core projects and areas of research in Fringe Cognition include:

Religious Experiences and Hypnagogia

‘Hypnagogia’ or hallucinations on the borders of sleep and wakefulness can involve experiences like hearing voices, seeing shadowy figures, feeling an emotionally charged presence in the room and sleep paralysis. We are investigating spiritual and religious interpretations of hypnagogia in 19th and 20th century Mormonism, as well as in present day Christian and Spiritualist medium communities.



Felt presence

Have you ever had felt like you are in the presence of somebody, even when no-one was there? Or had the feeling that someone or something was close by, who you couldn’t see, hear or touch?  Our researchers are exploring the different contexts in which feelings of presence occur (e.g. within bereavement, sleep paralysis, survival scenarios and spiritual reflection), and shedding light on what these experiences mean and why they happen.


Threshold Worlds: Dreams, Narrative and Liminal Cognition (2020–2021)

Led by Marco Bernini and Ben Alderson-Day, Threshold Worlds was an interdisciplinary research programme that brought narrative theorists, psychologists, artists and literary scholars together to improve our understanding of dreams and liminal cognition. The project sustained a dynamic series of online seminars and workshops during the Covid-19 pandemic and founded a network of over 20 international scholars with an interest in dreaming and liminal states (Threshold World Affiliates). Our researchers also launched the world’s first interdisciplinary survey on dreaming, which collected over 300 dream reports from members of the public. These reports will form the basis of future research and underpin a co-edited volume Dreams, Narrative and Liminal Cognition: An Interdisciplinary Framework (eds. Bernini & Alderson-Day) which is forthcoming at Oxford University Press.


Explore research and activity in this strand:

Alderson-Day, B. (2023). Presence: The strange science and true stories of the unseen other. Manchester University Press.

Barnby, J., Park, S., Baxter, T., Rosen, C., Brugger, P. and Alderson-Day, B. (2023). The felt presence experience: from cognition to the clinic. The Lancet Psychiatry. 

Bernini, M. (2018). Affording Innerscapes: Dreams, Introspective Imagery and the Narrative Exploration of Personal Geographies. Frontiers of Narrative Studies 4(2): 291–311.

Powell, A. and C. Cook (2020). The etheric place: Notes on finding the supernatural at the boundaries of sleep. Journal for the Study of Religious Experience 6(1): 45–51.

Powell, A. (2018). Mind and Spirit: hypnagogia and religious experience. Lancet Psychiatry (5): 473–475.

Sleep Circus – A point and click poetry game produced by artist Lucie Treacher in collaboration with Threshold Worlds.