How criminals use religion to justify their crimes

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Handcuffs & Bible

Redemption stories are the stuff of movie magic: a hardened criminal goes to jail, has a religious conversion, and then turns his life around and becomes a force for good. While this makes for compelling drama, it does not make for an accurate description of criminals’ actual appropriation of religion. Research by criminologists Volkan Topalli, Timothy Brezina, and Mindy Bernhardt (all Georgetown State University) suggests that “[t]hrough purposeful distortion or genuine ignorance” criminals take advantage of religious beliefs in order to justify their ongoing criminal behavior.

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Does religious belief make you a better person?

Jonathan Morgan

Religious guy

When evolutionary psychologists look at religion they tend to highlight the way it could strengthen communities to make them successful. The intuitions behind this theory also spur a large body of research linking religiosity to prosocial behavior. As Robert Putnam famously put it, religious people make better neighbors. They’re more generous, trustworthy, helpful, cooperative, and generally healthier…or so the theory goes. But a recent review of these studies suggest that we may be drawing too simple and hasty conclusions. [Read more...]

Religious households more likely to save money, plan for the future

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Family savings

Some see religion as an unnecessary burden because it requires time and money. While time cannot be recovered, money has a way of yielding returns on investment. Research by economists Luc Renneboog and Christophe Spaenjers (both Tilburg University, Netherlands) suggests that religious households tend to save money and plan for the future more than non-religious households, and, further breaking their results down, that Catholics attach greater importance to thrift and less importance to risk than Protestants.

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How are religious values passed down through families?

Nicholas C. DiDonato

For the most part, it seems that religious parents raise religious kids, who in turn pass down this religion to their kids, and so on. While genetics may very well play a role in facilitating this transmission, the transmission itself must come from social interaction. Focusing specifically on how grandmothers pass on their religious values to their granddaughters, psychologists Denise Lewis, Desiree Seponski (both University of Georgia), and Thomas Camp (Samaritan Counseling Center) found that granddaughters learn religious values from their grandmothers through role modeling, indirect communication, and “just knowing.”

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Forgiveness may affect longevity, health

David Rohr

From the mythical fountain of youth to modern cryogenics, the desire to extend our lives runs deep in the human psyche. Peruse any magazine stand and you’re likely to find a dozen ways to maximize your stay on planet Earth. Some are obvious: eat healthy, exercise, and don’t abuse yourself with drugs and alcohol. Other solutions are a bit more surprising: drink green tea, eat dark chocolate, and own a pet or two. Even more counterintuitive (and perhaps less self-congratulatory) than enjoying chocolate, a recent study suggests that longevity is also linked to your readiness to forgive those who harm you.

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Not conservatives, but religious people, more charitable

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Donation

Despite the stereotype that conservatives couldn’t care less about the poor, research in the last decade indicates that they actually donate more to charities than political liberals (in America at least). This result has led some scholars to believe that political conservatism correlates with generosity. However, as sociologists Brandon Vaidyanathan, Christian Smith (both University of Notre Dame), and Jonathan Hill (Calvin College) argue, once religion factors into the equation, religion completely accounts for the political difference. That is, religiosity, not political conservatism, correlates with generosity.

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Dalai Lama: We need ethics beyond religion

Ian Cooley

Global ethics

We’ve all experienced that haunting sensation of dismay in the middle of the grocery store. Do you reach for the bottle of mustard now, or is that elderly woman near enough to notice that the bottle is not…gasp…organic!? Perplexed by a seemingly intractable moral dilemma, to whom do you turn? The philosophers are no help, of course (remember, we’re seeking clarity); the scientists, too cold and mechanical. Before reaching for the trusty assurances of your religion in such matters, however, a recent proposal made by the Dalai Lama may give you reason to reconsider.

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AAP: Health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh risks

Baby boy

Nicholas C. DiDonato

In a time when medical knowledge seems to grow exponentially, suspicion of ancient medical practices seems to grow at nearly the same pace. If an ancient medical practice has religious meaning, then skepticism skyrockets. Many consider male circumcision an obsolete, if not barbaric, practice. Yet, its medical efficacy remains an empirical question, regardless of people’s gut reactions. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their position on circumcision, concluding that it reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and penile cancer.

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A mystery in the history of Anabaptists

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Amish buggy

The attitudes of Anabaptist Christians toward violence have created quite a mystery for historians. On the one hand, some Anabaptists embraced extreme pacifism, renouncing violence altogether (for example, Quakers and Mennonites). On the other hand, some Anabaptist congregations embraced an opposite extreme: violence as a means to overthrow the establishment and create a theocracy. How could a tent seemingly as small as Anabaptism cover such contrasting ideologies?

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Orthodox and progressives differ worldwide

Connor Wood

Hindu_woman

From religion blogs to blockbuster academic books, debates and conversations on religion are plentiful in today’s world. But if one digs deeply into the mass-media conversation about religion, something becomes apparent: people are just not understanding each other. Writers and thinkers constantly express bafflement at their ideological opponents’ outlandish views. Pundits seem to talk right past each other. A research paper from the late 1990s may give us a hint as to why – around the world, progressives and the orthodox use completely different language for talking about the right way to live.

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