Why meaning is more important for humans than comfort

Religion does many things. It can form bonds between people, foment conflicts, and inspire people to sacrifice for higher causes. But one of the most important things that religions do is create meaning. Meaning in life is difficult to define, but people who report more meaning in their lives are psychologically healthier and less likely to suffer from mental illness than those who don’t. Consider the profound distress that many returning veterans face when returning to civilian society from a military… Read more

Elitism Is a Problem. Being Elite Is the Solution.

It’s almost 2018. We survived the past year, but it was a stormy one. Global politics are more unstable than at any time since the height of the Cold War, and maybe before that. Populist leaders are wresting power away from establishment parties in country after country. And within the United States, political rancor and malfeasance may be leading toward a serious crisis. But behind all these separate problems is one big problem: all around the world, our leaders and fundamental… Read more

How Religion Is Like Play

Is religion a form of play? I asked this question in a recent article in Orbiter, a new online magazine that tackles the relationship between science and meaning. Taking an evolutionary biological perspective, the article argued that, despite often seeming very serious, religion actually has many features in common with animal play behavior. I also drew on the historian Johan Huizinga’s famous argument that human civilization itself is founded on play to show how religious practices and rituals have many points… Read more

Yes, religion is connected with morality. Here’s how

One of the most common ideas about religion is that it’s somehow intrinsically connected with morality. Showcasing just how widespread this assumption is, a recent study found that people around the world tend to implicitly (or not-so-implicitly) believe that, compared with religious believers, nonbelievers are less moral and more prone to criminality. One of the study’s co-authors, anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas, summed up the study’s results last week in the web magazine The Conversation. There, he argued that in fact religion isn’t… Read more

Individualism Is on the Rise Worldwide

Individualism is on the upswing all across the world, new research shows. How will this change affect the future of religion? Read more

How the Brain’s Predictions Shape Religion

A cognitive process called predictive processing may be how the brain generates religious and spiritual experiences, according to a pair of neuroscientists. Read more

Religion and self-regulation: a model (and a trip to Norway)

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend a conference in Norway. For four days, I hung out near the shore of a beautiful lake with around 300 other scholars, caught up with friends, and heard presentations. I also gave a presentation myself: an overview of a computer model I recently built with my partner in crime, Saikou Diallo. This model simulates the way that self-regulation, the basic psychological process that guides human behavior and stabilizes emotions, is affected… Read more

Science Is Classist. Here’s a Solution

Science is an incredible thing. But classism and prejudice against working-class people are endemic in science, harming both science and democracy. Read more

Science and democracy go hand-in-hand – and democracy is in danger

Science and democracy are mutually entwined. Both require independent thought and reasoned consensus. When democracy is in trouble, what’s next for science? Read more

Call for fellows: Sinai and Synapses

A few years ago, out of the blue, a rabbi named Geoff Mitelman wrote me an email. He was starting a fellowship program in New York, and wanted to know whether I’d be interested in joining it. The fellowship, called “Sinai and Synapses,” was focused on religion and science and would bring scientists, scholars, and religious leaders together for lectures and conversations three times per year in midtown Manhattan. Travel and hotel would be covered in full! I said yes…. Read more

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