Science on Religion

Exploring the nexus of culture, mind & religion

Science on Religion Research News

BREAKING NEWS: Religious children don't share stickers

Kids playing trainsMany people believe that religion teaches children to be just and moral. Even if adherents dispense with the unscientific dogma, there’s a lingering sense that religious tradition is necessary to hold society together. Jean Decety disagrees. The distinguished neuroscientist recently led a worldwide study which, according to his team, shows the opposite is true: kids brought up outside the faith are more “prosocial” because they are more generous and less punitive than those raised in religious households. Therefore, the authors assert, a secular society will produce kinder people. Cue group hug and drop the needle on John Lennon's “Imagine.” But what if Decety's entire approach is skewed by faulty definitions of “prosociality”?

When being unfalsifiable is a good thing

Laboratory FunCommon knowledge says that you believe what you’re taught, or what your gut tells you is right, or – better yet – what the facts tell you is true. We say that we believe things because we have reasons to believe them, and common knowledge says that if the facts change, our beliefs will change, too. This idea is called falsifiability. The problem is that a lot of our beliefs are unfalsifiable, which means there's no way to test whether they’re right or wrong. And this can be a problem, particularly if it leads to extremism and dogmatism. So unfalsifiability is often seen as a bad thing. But could it actually be a good thing when unfalsifiable ideas unite a community or nation?

A farewell and reflection on the scientific study of religion

FarewellAfter five years of working for Science on Religion, my time here is at an end. Over these five years, I have reported on a wide variety of findings and arguments from the field of the scientific study of religion, the field that employs the sciences to study religion. Rather than report on yet another study, I would like to step back and reflect on the field of the scientific study of religion as a whole. In a nutshell, I offer a sort of “the good,” “the bad,” and “the ugly” of the scientific study of religion.

Meditation may help mitigate anger towards unfairness

Meditating Monk HandsBuddhists practice meditation in order to cultivate a state of calmness and compassion. Through this mental technique, they train the mind to stay focused and ethical, regardless of what the world throws at them. In theory, then, Buddhist practitioners should display greater levels of compassion and kindness than those who do not practice any sort of meditation at all. To test this, social neuroscientist Cade McCall and colleagues compared meditation practitioners with non-practitioners and found that those who practice meditation emotionally handle unfairness better than those who do not practice meditation.

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  • Institute Mission

    The Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion promotes and conducts research at the intersection of culture and the mind, focusing on religious behaviors, beliefs, and experiences.

    The Institute trains students, scholars, and scientists in the multidisciplinary methods needed to conduct such research effectively and responsibly.

    The Institute also exercises by disseminating research results. The aims of public outreach efforts are to deepen public and scholarly understanding of the culture-mind-religion nexus; to equip experts to resolve conflicts that arise in this area; and to help cultural, political, medical, and religious leaders enhance physical, mental, spiritual, and social wellbeing.

    You are also invited to read a more elaborate statement of the Institute's vision.

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    The media room provides information for journalists who write on, or are interested in, this field of research and in the Institute's activities. It includes news releases, references to the Institute in other media sources, and contact information for media inquiries. The media room is still under construction; media kits and downloadable graphics will follow soon.

    How Does Journalism Fit with the Institute's Mission?

    Far from being an academic exercise in navel-gazing, we believe that the rigorous scientific study of religion is a vital exercise for those who want to address the most serious challenges of our time. Religion is fundamental to human culture, and many of the most formidable controversies we currently face have tacit or overt religious overtones. To understand these dilemmas, we must understand religion.

    And as anyone who takes the subject of religion seriously knows, it's not all negative, either. Far from it – religion also serves as a source of profound meaning and direction in the lives of billions (literally!). We think that understanding this search for meaning is an equally important goal, because it's one of the most important – and worthy – motivators of human action and decisions.

    Journalists help translate the most important research into language that's accessible to the interested public. The Institute and its website serve to produce and collect the most cutting-edge research on religion, science, and culture, a valuable resource for journalists who specialize in the sciences, religious topics, and cultural issues.

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