Science on Religion

Exploring the nexus of culture, mind & religion

Muslim views of AIDS, part 2

HIV graphicIn part 1 of this article, Jonas Svensson (Linnaeus University, Sweden) provided the theoretical background for a sensitive topic: why do Muslims tend towards interpreting the AIDS epidemic as punishment from God rather than appealing to some other explanation? As seen, he theorizes that this interpretation outcompetes its competition by being a more intuitive, powerful explanation that requires the least amount of cognitive work (thus resulting in a minimal amount of cognitive dissonance). Now Svensson must move on to the next step and test his theory.

Muslim views of AIDS, part 1

Mulsim Woman Looking UpAs scientists continue to inch closer to a cure for AIDS, people in some of the poorest parts of the world continue to struggle against the disease. With no cure availabe and with limited resources, impoverished nations can only do so much to combat AIDS. In such circumstances, it is no surprise when people turn to the supernatural for answers. Cultural scientist Jonas Svensson (Linnaeus University, Sweden) looks at Muslim responses to AIDS and tries to figure out why the “divine punishment” response is so prevalent.

Religious uncertainty correlates with greater fear of sin

Snake and SinReligious people often struggle with uncertainty. They may attend church on a regular basis, read their sacred texts, and pray daily, yet they may still have nagging doubts about their religion. Such religious uncertainty may have an unexpected side-effect: an increased fear of sin. Thomas Fergus and Wade Rowatt (both of Baylor University) found that greater uncertainty about one’s religion indeed correlates with a greater fear of sin and its consequences.

Religion undercuts how others perceive moral deeds, part 2

Homeless helpIn part 1 of this two-part article, psychologist Will Gervais (University of Kentucky) discovered that people perceive a moral act as less moral if they know the person doing the act was motivated by religion. In fact, this finding extends to non-moral acts as well – if you say the reason behind someone’s action, whether moral or not, is religion, people will regard that action as less moral than if it had a secular motivation or an unknown motivation. Not satisfied with stopping at this finding, Gervais next wants to see whether religious motivation also decreases perceived responsibility in addition to perceived morality.

Religion undercuts how others perceive moral deeds, part 1

Collection plateAs noted in a few different studies, religion appears to correlate with moral behavior. While religion’s correlation with morality may be a great boon to the person on the receiving end of a good deed, and perhaps even to the good deed-doer, psychologist Will Gervais (University of Kentucky) suspects that onlookers may not look so favorably upon a religiously motivated moral act. In fact, he conducts six experiments to show how religious motivation lessens the perception of the morality of an action.

The modern economy and the decline of religion

Christ moneyAs seen in Western Europe, something about the modern economy (and its success) correlates with a decline in religiosity. It appears that as the economy grows under capitalism, religion shrinks. Economists have debated why exactly this happens for over a century. In an effort to find an answer, Jochen Hirschle (University of Innsbruck, Austria) compiled data from 1970, concluding that prosperous economies provide non-religious alternatives to religious needs – hence the decline in religion.

Religiousness may have a genetic basis

Religion genesThe old debate of “nature vs. nurture” continues well into the 21st century. Both sides claim to have science on their side, and both have statistics to support their case. Regarding the topic of religion, most studies have tended to favor nurture over nature, but Dorte Hvidtjørn and colleagues from the University of Southern Denmark recently looked to twin studies for a genetic influence on religiousness. While they mostly confirmed the importance of environmental factors, they did uncover some overlooked genetic factors on religion.

Why atheists and theists differ morally

Justice in GoldMany religious people in the West believe that a person cannot have a good moral compass without belief in God. In the US, 53% said that theism (belief in God) is a requirement for being a morally good person. As for the other side, many atheists argue that nothing good, nevermind morality itself, comes from religion. Rather than settling the debate, Azim Shariff, Stephanie Kramer (both University of Oregon), and Jared Piazza (University of Pennsylvania) looked for why exactly atheists and theists disagree when it comes to morality. They found that this disagreement may stem from different attitudes towards sociality and from cognitive style.

The myth of the myth of martyrdom

Terrorist eyesAdam Lankford has argued that the likely cause behind suicidal terrorism is the suicidal tendencies of the terrorists rather than religion. He claims to have found strong links between a general disposition to suicide and the actual acts of terrorist suicide. However, not everyone agrees. Psychologists Yael Sela and Todd Shackelford (both of Oakland University) counter that it really is religious, not psychological, factors that motivate suicidal terrorism.

The myth of marytrdom, part 2

Suicide eyesAs seen in part 1, Adam Lankford (University of Alabama) believes that religious suicide exists part and parcel with suicide in general. In other words, those who tend to become suicide bombers already had suicidal inclinations. The leap from living to suicide bombing stems not from religious ideology but from psychological stress. Part 1 explains why Lankford rejects previous research that seemed to indicate no link between religious suicide and non-religious suicide, and now part 2 will consider positive arguments for his position.

The myth of martyrdom, part 1

Car on FireIn the secular West, people can only wonder in confusion when they witness martyrs or suicide bombers. The notion that a person would sacrifice their own life for the sake of religion makes little sense. In the case of terrorist suicide bombings, most scholars have agreed that social and situtational factors adequately explain suicide bombings. Adam Lankford (University of Alabama) disagrees. He argues that this standard line of reasoning misses the critical link between terrorists who commit suicide and the general psychological make up of anyone who commits suicide.


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