Science on Religion

Exploring the nexus of culture, mind & religion

The possible origin of modern religion

World religions blue on blueContrary to popular belief, throughout most of history, the world's religions were in fact not moral or spiritual in nature. Instead, they focused on rituals, sacrifices, and taboos. The rise of modern religions, with their emphasis on spirituality and morality, would not occur until a mere 2500 years ago. Oddly enough, when this modern form of religion arrived, it arose simultaneously in three different areas of the world – China, India, and Mediterranean basin. Curious as how this could be, Nicolas Baumard (University of Pennsylvania) and colleagues hypothesize that affluence explains why moral and spiritual religion emerged.

Knowledge confusion predicts belief in the religious and paranormal

MirazshResearchers have often puzzled over why people believe in the religious and paranormal. Neither of these beliefs has scientific evidence yet the vast majority of people still believe in them. It would seem to be a mystery why so many would believe in things so suspect. Tackling this problem head-on, neuropsychologist Marjaana Lindeman (University of Helsinki) and colleagues look for the cognitive biases that underlie supernatural beliefs, and they found that ontological confusions best predicted religious and paranormal belief.

Paranormal thought priming can influence the interpretation of events

Paranormal BNWThe desire for the magical and supernatural seems deeply ingrained in the human psyche. As seen in the great fantasy worlds such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, people seem naturally interested in a world beyond the mundane. This interest, however, may affect people's judgment. Psychologists Christine Mohr (University of Lausanne, Switzerland) and colleagues investigated whether they could prime people to believe in the paranormal. They found that people primed to believe in the paranormal were more likely to think they could predict random numbers than those who had not been primed.

Internet usage correlates with no religious affiliation

Internet religionThe Internet has undoubtedly revolutionized society. From the ability to communicate across the world, to being able to buy practically anything, and to perhaps shadier things, the Internet plays a vital role in modern daily life. Computer scientist Allen B. Downey (Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering) wonders whether the Internet could have an effect on religion. More specifically, does frequent Internet usage have any effect on one's religious affiliation? In his research, Downey concludes that, indeed, the more one uses the Internet the less likely one is to be religious.

Does religion actually encourage generosity?

CharityA variety of previous studies have looked favorably upon religion, concluding that religion correlates with generosity, responsibility, charity, and a host of other virtues. Given all of this data, one would think that, at the very least, religion correlates with certain virtues. However, independent scholar Roy Sablosky challenges these findings. He argues that all of these studies have one or more of the following fatal flaws: they rely entirely on self-reports, fail to precisely define “religiosity,” fail also to precisely define “generosity,” and cannot discern the reason for the positive correlation between religiosity and generosity.

The roles of religion and ethnicity in cooperation

Ethnic CooperationWhen people think of tight-knit groups, religious and ethnic groups often come to mind. One might think of a stereotypical Italian family where family members tell inside jokes recognizable only by other Italians. Likewise, religion also can lead to tight-knit groups, which, unfortunately, can sometimes devolve into cults. Of course, what exists in the popular imagination may not exist in reality. Researchers Swee-Hoon Chuah (RMIT University, Australia) and colleagues want to know how religion and ethnicity impact cooperation. They found that religious and ethnic similarity increase cooperation among strangers.

The religious profiles of American business people

Business Guy PrayingWhen people think of American business CEOs, they often think of cold-hearted, calculating individuals who will stop at nothing to maximize profits. At the same time, especially if you live in America, they may also think of the ideal American, someone who works hard in order to achieve the American dream. Perhaps somewhere in between these two extremes lies, oddly enough, entrepreneurs' religiosity. Research by sociologist Kevin D. Doughert (Baylor University) and colleagues analyzes the religious profile of American entrepreneurs, and finds that American entrepreneurs are more likely to see God as personal, to pray more frequently, and to attend churches that encourage business.

Pain binds people together, part 2

PicanteAs seen in part one, sharing a pain experience bonds people with each other. Brock Bastian (University of New South Wales), Jolanda Jetten, and Laura J. Ferris (University of Queensland) found that, compared to groups who engage in a pleasant or neutral activity, groups that engage in a painful activity form greater levels of closeness. The researchers now want to expand these findings and determine whether this increased closeness translates into increased trust.

Pain binds people together, part 1

Blue friendsVarious religions and rituals in some way involve pain. From rites of passage that include hunting on without adult guidance, to painful hooks inserted beneath tendons, pain rituals are found across cultures. Yet, also in these rituals, often people share pain together. Brock Bastian (University of New South Wales), Jolanda Jetten, and Laura J. Ferris (University of Queensland) wanted to investigate whether pain and social bonding have some sort of link together. As it turns out, shared pain correlates with greater social cohesion.

Children prefer the supernatural

Child with ghostChildren (and many adults) enjoy the idea of the supernatural: from wizards to Jedi to witches in Oz, children are fascinated by the idea of human beings possessing supernatural powers. Consequently, it may not be surprising if they want to encounter these kind of supernatural humans in real life. Research by Sunae Kim (Ludwig Maximilian University, Germany) and Paul Harris (Harvard University) suggests that when children can distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary information gathering, they prefer the person who has extraordinary or supernatural access to the human mind.

Religiosity correlates with lower porn use in teens

Computer addictionMany people assume that viewing pornography is a natural part of being a teenager, but for those of a religious background this may not be so natural at all. A religious environment, through the internalization of religious ideals and social norms, could encourage different ideas about what is and is not natural and edifying. Psychologists Sam Hardy and colleagues (Brigham Young University) sought to investigate religion's relationship with pornography. Specifically, they found that religion does discourage pornography use in teenagers.

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