Do social crises lead to religious revivals? Nah!

Back in 2010, I made a prediction: that the financial crisis of 2008 would lead to an uptick in religion. It seemed reasonable enough. After all, the study I quoted showed how, in the USA, religious beliefs and attendance acted as a buffer against the stress of poverty. And I wasn’t flying out on a [Read More…]

What kind of woman would pray for health or use spiritual healing?

You probably have some preconceptions about the kind of person that might resort to prayer or spiritual healing as a way to treat illness. Take a moment to think about that stereotype now, and let’s see if you’re right. Angela Rao (University of Technology Sydney, Australia) and colleagues used data from a huge, ongoing study [Read More…]

Can you use religion to change attitudes towards immigrants?

Migration is a hot topic at the moment. While Americans debate the infamous ‘wall’ proposed between Mexico and the USA, in Europe the language around the waves of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa is becoming increasingly inflamed. Does religion play a role in attitudes to migrants? It’s difficult to unravel because migrants [Read More…]

Dogmatic atheism and fundamentalist Christianity: creating certainty in an uncertain world

Evidence is building up that, because religion helps people to deal with uncertainties of life, it’s particularly attractive to the kind of people who have a hard time dealing with uncertainty. But what about atheists? Some atheists seem rather fixed and absolutist in their beliefs. Perhaps they use atheism as a prop in much the [Read More…]

Use of prayer by African-Americans can help explain why they are more sensitive to pain

African-Americans are more sensitive to pain than Caucasian (white) Americans. That’s been shown in comparisons of much pain is experienced in illnesses such as AIDS and arthritis, after surgery, and in conditions such as lower back pain. It’s also been shown experimentally, when volunteers undergo painful experiences (like holding your hand in ice-cold water) and report [Read More…]

Do you wanna be in my clan? Moralising gods encourage long-distance sharing with co-religionists

Most gods that have been invented don’t give a damn about what us mortals get up to. Researchers think that  belief in the few that do, the ones that can be thought of as moralising gods, might have a significant effect on behaviour. For example, more complex societies are more likely to believe in moralising [Read More…]

The decline of religion in Europe did not lead to a decline in moral standards

Morality is a complex notion, and means different things to different people. Still, there remains a pervasive idea that religion is linked in some general way to moral behaviour. Trying to work out from the data what truth there is in that is tough, but at least we can say with some confidence what people’s [Read More…]

Religion linked to reduced levels of stress hormones in young American Blacks

Compared with Whites, Black Americans have  high levels of an important stress hormone called cortisol circulating in their bloodstream. No-one really knows why this is, but the differences remain even after you take into account social and psychological factors. It seems likely that simply being black exposes you to a cumulative effect of increased lifetime [Read More…]

How religious schools led to the decline of Arabic science

The world’s first scientific renaissance took place not in Italy, but in the Arab world. The period between the 9th and 11th centuries AD, when Islam took hold of a band of territory strategy from Spain in the West through to what is now Pakistan, saw an extraordinary intellectual flowering. Scientists in the Arab world [Read More…]

A sense of mystery results from the brain failing to shut down flights of fancy

People who have a mystical experience might describe it as being “touched by some higher or greater truth or power“, or as “experiences felt or experienced beyond the realms of ordinary consciousness”. Psychologists define them as a breakdown in the usual sense of time or space, or of the difference between the self and the [Read More…]


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