Science on Religion

Exploring the nexus of culture, mind & religion

Religious songs help to ease stress

SingingThe sad reality is that stress happens. Everyone knows this. What everyone does not know is how to handle stress. Some turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, others to ineffective techniques, but most want to be a part of the few who find and practice ways that actually work at reducing stress and coping with the curveballs life throws at them. One such common way is singing religious songs. Medical expert Jill Hamilton (University of North Carolina) and colleagues took special interest in African Americans’ use of singing religious songs as a way to alleviate stress.

Working towards a Chinese psychology of religion

Pensive BuddhaPsychology of religion has become a fairly common and well-respected field of study, with a rich history featuring geniuses such as William James and Sigmund Freud. In the West, one cannot study religion without encountering psychology of religion. But therein lies the problem: in the West. Other nations without the West’s history have not focused on psychology of religion in the same way. Psychologists Yongsheng Chen and Xiaojuan Chen (both of Zhejiang Normal University, China) suggest ways of constructing a psychology of religion in China.

“God image” and diversity

Diverse godsAll too often, it seems that researchers use the word “God” to refer to something clearly defined and universal in meaning. Regardless of age, culture, or upbringing, researchers expect their participants to answer their survey questions about God in the same way. Not surprisingly, some researchers, such as Louis Hoffman (Saybrook University) promote circumspection. Hoffman argues that scientific treatments of “God image” need to account for diversity across age and cultures.

Review: Atheist Delusions

Atheist delusionsDavid Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies has a most unfortunate title, and one not of the author’s making (the subtitle is Hart’s original title). Anyone expecting Hart to go toe-to-toe with Dawkins or Hitchens will be disappointed because (although he touches briefly upon them) they are, to put it bluntly, beneath him. He easily and casually dismisses them in the first few chapters in order to set up his main task: understanding the revolution Hart claims Christianity brought to the West.

God, prayer, and self-control

Adam Even AppleIt’s gonna be one of those days. Maybe it started with your morning mug of joe, piping hot and all over that freshly pressed shirt. No matter, you’re way past that now, headlong into an unrelenting spectacle of mishap and calamity when, finally…it happens. Floating down ever so gently from above, almost mocking in its graceful descent, a tiny leaf lands faintly upon your nose: the last straw. Unleashing a torrid display of accumulated frustration, you go all-out Tarantino on that little piece of foliage. If this sounds familiar, then you’ve probably been the victim of what is known as self-control depletion. But it turns out there may be hope, and especially for those who pray.

Religion and income inequality

Bible and moneyRecent research has shown a correlation at the national level between high levels of religiosity and income inequality. That is, countries with high religiosity also have high income inequality. While theories vary as to why this is the case, Turkish economists believe they have a fairly definitive answer. Ceyhun Elgin (Bogazici University, Turkey) and colleagues explain this correlation by arguing that religious people make less demand for government services because they prefer voluntary and direct charity.

God and prejudice

Angry guyMost religions urge their adherents to higher ideals. Love your neighbor. Help the helpless. Forgive. Yet religious people have a reputation for being downright bigoted and prejudiced. Something has to give. In an attempt to determine through empirical research methods the relationship between prejudice and religiosity, Megan Johnson Shen (Mount Sinai School of Medicine) and colleagues conducted research that found that flexibility of religious belief decreases prejudice, while strength in belief in God increases it.

What (analytic) philosophers really believe about religion and science

Modern philosopherPhilosophers are often seen as people who have too much free time on their hands and who are lost in the ivory tower of their own abstract thoughts. More positively, philosophers should have well thought-out positions in the area in which they are experts. In any event, there is only one way to learn what philosophers actually think: the empirical way. That is, design a survey to determine what most philosophers believe. Two philosophers have done just that: philosophers David Bourget (University of Western Ontario) and David J. Chalmers (Australian National University) have surveyed philosophers on a variety of issues, including religion and science.

Religious premarital sexual attitudes in Kenya

Kenyan girlMost people know that Christians (especially conservative Christians) typically oppose a host of sexual behaviors, including premarital sex. However, all too often what most people know tends to come from their immediate context and not from careful empirical study. To see if there really does exist a correlation between Christianity and opposition to premarital sex, sociologist Stephen Gyimah (Queen’s University, Canada) and colleagues investigated the sexual attitudes of Christians in Kenya, finding that Pentecostals were most opposed to premarital sex.

“Neurotheology” examined

Empty head“Neurotheology” is the field that tries to explain the religious with neuroscience. In particular, it seeks to provide a common, neurological basis for all of the types of mystical experiences found in the world’s religions. Neurotheologians reason that since all experiences have a neurological root, this would include mystical experiences, and thus all one should find and understand the common root of mystical experiences in order best to understand them. In a recent paper, however, scholar David T. Bradford takes a critical look at neurotheology, and argues that it bites off more than it can chew. In other words, neurotheology fabricates unity among religions were none exists.

Examining near-death experiences

NDENear-death experiences (NDEs), as their name suggests, sometimes occur when a person nears death. The person experiences an array of sensations, including, a light at the end of a tunnel, feelings of peace, meeting deceased loved ones, and having an out of body experience. Researchers have found these same symptoms across cultures, suggesting a biological root. Fascinated by NDEs, neuroscientist Enrico Facco and psychologist Christian Agrillo (both University of Padova, Italy) argue that the current neurological and psychological explanations for NDEs are far from adequate.

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