That was weird – are you a mind reader? Thinking style affects how we interpret weird experiences.

Psychologists have identified that all of us have two kinds of thinking styles. There’s the slow, deep thinking style where you ponder things for a while before making a decision. And then there’s gut instinct – where you make a decision based on intuition. Some people tend to prefer one kind of thinking style over the other, and that can have important implications for the conclusions we make about the world around us. For example, research in Australia has shown… Read more

Distrust of atheists is widespread and pervasive: more evidence

A new opinion poll has some bad news for atheists. Some 40% of the US population would not consider voting for an atheist presidential candidate, regardless of their policies. That’s fewer than would vote for a gay or lesbian – or even (gasp!) a Muslim! It’s pretty much in accordance with a previous poll which showed that atheism is a bigger no-no for presidential candidates than homosexuality, extra-marital affairs, or drug use. Why do people hate atheists so much? One… Read more

The Pope’s call for climate action is more radical than you might think

Next Thursday, the Vatican is going to release its latest encyclical – a 192 page document entitled “Laudato Si: On the care of the common home” (source: BBC News). The text just got leaked, and it confirms that Pope Francis is going to call for “swift action to protect the Earth and fight global warming”. Well, better late than never, you might be thinking. After all, it’s 25 years now since the world’s leading scientists and politicians gathered in Rio… Read more

Churchgoing has been on the decline for decades in Western nations: here’s why

It’s a fact that, in the West at least, fewer people are going to religious services than they used to a few decades ago. Countries do follow different trajectories – secularization happened first in the Protestant countries of Northern Europe and Australia, and more recently the Catholic countries of Europe. The Americas have fought the trend, but in both North and South America change is underway. Erik van Ingen, of Tilburg University and Nienke Moor of the HAN University of… Read more

The statistics are clear: a cultural shift away from religion is underway in the USA

From time to time, we see surveys from the USA that suggest an increasing tide of non-affiliation to religion, especially among the young. Taken in isolation, it’s really hard to know what to make of them. Maybe, for example, what we are seeing reflects religious apathy among the young. Maybe it’s simply that people believe just as strongly as ever – they just don’t identify with any particular religion. Or maybe it reflects a fundamental shift in underlying cultural values…. Read more

Follow Epiphenom on Reddit!

I’ve set up a new Reddit sub for articles on the psychology of religion and non-belief. For those of you who don’t use Reddit (why not???), this will mean nothing to you, so you can safely move along. But if you do use Reddit, well then you can subscribe to this sub and get notifications of new Epiphenom posts as I add them – and of course, upvote or downvote! In time, I’d like this to grow into a proper sub,… Read more

Live in a religious country? Your work ethic might be different.

One of the seminal pieces of research on religion and society was done in the early 20th century by a guy named Max Weber, who concluded that what he called the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ helped explain why the countries of Northern Europe and America were so prosperous. It’s a provocative conclusion that later research has shown was something of an oversimplification (see The Protestant ‘Work-Shy’ Ethic?, for example), but still it’s enormously influential. Hamid Yeganeh, at Winona State University, Minnesota wanted to know whether… Read more

You can make people less religious by flicking their brain with magnetic pulses

Many years ago, a guy called Michael Persinger achieved a certain amount of fame with a claim that stimulating the right part of the brain with a magnetic field could give people a religious experience. Although others weren’t able to get the same results, studies since then have found that brain damage to parts of the right-hand side of the brain just above your ear (the Parietal lobe) does seem to be linked to an increase in religious experiences (see… Read more

State and religion: a tale of waning influence and modern resurgence

One of the characteristics of the modern world is the emergence of the secular state. In many nations there was an almost symbiotic relationship between the state and religion., but over the centuries we’ve seen a gradual disentanglement of religious authority from state authority and the emergence of the secular state. A fascinating new 1000-year data series from Metin Coşgel and colleagues at the University of Connecticut in the USA not only shows how this happened, but helps to explain… Read more

In the face of discrimination, non-believers commit more strongly to their atheism

It’s widely recognised that atheists are one of the most marginalised groups in the USA. As you might imagine, this can cause all sorts of problems for non-believers. But might it also help explain why the public face of atheism in the USA is so stridently vocal? Many American atheists are passionate about their identity as non-believers in a way that you don’t really see in more secular parts of the world – you just have to check out the atheist… Read more

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