Archive for ‘Religion’

January 28, 2012

The Cognitive Approach to Religion

Greetings from SPSP! I’ve been quiet this week as I am at the largest conference in my field, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. It’s been a great experience so far. Yesterday, I attended a symposium on religion and prosociality that was extremely exciting and has inspired my next blog topic: the supernatural punishment hypothesis. But that will have to wait until Monday!

For now, I wanted to let you know that there is a post by me up at The Religious Studies Project. Recently, the fine folks over there posted an excellent interview with Armin Geertz, one of the leading cognitive scientists of religion, and they invited me write a response. Because the site is aimed to introduce people to different ways of studying religion, I thought it would be useful to summarize some of the major findings in that have resulted from the cognitive approach. So head over there and take a look and subscribe to the podcast.

June 16, 2011

New Conference: Daniel Dennett and the Scientific Study of Religion

The Center for Inquiry has announced a conference, in honor of Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell, for December 2-3 this year on the theme of the scientific study of religion. The invited speakers list includes some prominent figures from the field, such as Dennett himself, Pascal Boyer, and Azim Shariff.

CFI has released a call for papers for the conference, with a deadline of September 1.

June 8, 2011

Looking Over Your Shoulder from Beyond the Grave

Ghost Plushies by Katspurl on Flickr

Recently, a friend suggested I make up my own version of a WWJD sticker — one that said “What Would Jesse Think?” See, both of my academic advisors have been named Jesse, and, being an insecure person, I am constantly worried about what my advisor will think of my work. Fortunately, for me, these thoughts are productive: They drive me to do work that I hope would please my advisor, even when I know that I am alone and my advisor has no idea what I am doing!

Anxiety about being watched by invisible agents (an agent is anything that has intentions, desires, or goals) appears to be a powerful motivator for other people, too, and the agents who we think are watching us don’t need to be human or even real for the effect to work. This effect has been proposed as one of the bases of belief in the supernatural: If people think they’re being watched by God, a spirit, or a ghost, they will be less likely to behave badly. Jesse Bering, Katrina McLeod, and Todd Shackelford (2005) tested this idea in the laboratory through a clever experiment.

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June 6, 2011

Foreign Ideas & Moral Indigestion

Welcome to anyone coming from Genealogy of Religion! I hope you enjoy what you find here. It’s not much, yet — I’ve just started! — but more is coming soon. Of course, if you don’t like what you see, feel free to let me know; it will only help me improve as a blogger!

For anyone who is coming to ATOM from anywhere else, Cris, the blogger behind Genealogy of Religion (an awesome religion science blog; you must check it out), came upon my blog a few days ago and was extraordinarily kind in offering to introduce me and have me do a guest post. I decided to write about some new research from my own lab on disgust at ideas. Here’s a teaser:

Imagine you are dining at a friend’s home. Your host is excited because she has prepared a special dish for you. When dinner is finally served, you are surprised to see a whole egg on your plate and when you open the egg, you are even more surprised to see this . . .

To find out what’s on your plate and what that might have to do with religion, you’ll need to read the whole post over at Genealogy of Religion!

June 3, 2011

Does Religion Cause Racism?

Birth of a Notion comic from Town Called Dobson

Birth of a Notion comic series from Town Called Dobson, about the history of racial prejudice in America

The title of this post is a pretty big question. Popular media accounts of links between religion and racism are not hard to find (for example, this recent story about a prison inmate suing to receive racist literature on the grounds that it is part of his faith). A recurring theme in discussions of racism and religion is the idea that religions are like “clans” and help us divide the world into people who are in our group and people who aren’t. This mode of thinking might spread from religion to other social categories, such as race. Thus, two things that at first don’t seem related (religion and race) are connected by our general tendency to think in an “us” versus “them” fashion. For sure, it’s not hard to think of examples of groups who promote both racial and religious hatred. The Ku Klux Klan is just one such group and also an example of when religion is associated with harm.

The question of whether religion causes racism is an important part of the public debate over whether religion is responsible for more harm or more good. It’s easy to come up with examples of both. Religion has been cited as a motivation for all kinds of harm, from the Crusades to the persecution of women. But it also is given credit for inspiring profound acts of charity and for leading to better health and longevity. The overall good and bad created by anything, of course, is enormously difficult to calculate, and it depends a lot on what you personally value (for example, is prejudice more or less important than longevity?). Smaller questions about individual goods and bad, however, are much easier to answer. So what does science have to tell us about religion and prejudice?

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