Journal articles on scientific study of religion available online this month

Connor Wood

RBB Cover

In 2011, Wesley Wildman, contributor to Science On Religion here at Patheos.com, made an agreement with Taylor & Francis to start publishing a new academic journal, Religion, Brain & Behavior.  The journal’s mission was to provide a centralized venue for the most insightful, methodologically sophisticated, and academically valuable research in the field of the scientific study of religion – a field that’s seen rapid, even explosive, growth in recent years. Since then, Religion, Brain & Behavior has became, in scholar Michael Blume’s words, “THE cutting-edge journal for evolutionary studies of religion.” So we decided to post about the fact that Taylor & Francis is making articles from Religion, Brain & Behavior free for online access and download through the month of February.

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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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Does suffering drive us to religion? Yep.

Connor Wood

Sad woman and destroyed house

It’s a puzzling riddle: If God is in charge of everything, then why do people who undergo profound suffering often profess the greatest faith? Shouldn’t they retaliate at God by not believing in him?  The commonsense answer might be “yes,” but the facts seem to say otherwise. New research shows that New Zealanders who suffered from the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake actually became more religious afterwards than their fellow countrymen. What’s more, those who lost their faith after the quake suffered significant reductions in their self-reported well-being. [Read more...]

Religion the opiate of the poor?

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Karl Marx saw religion as an opiate of the poor: it soothed them so that they did not rise up against their capitalist oppressors. For Marx, this short-term relief hardly outweighed the long-term cost of poverty. It turns out that Marx may have been right. Research by political scientists Frederick Solt, Philip Habel, and J. Tobin Grant (all from Southern Illinois University) suggests that greater economic inequality correlates with greater religiosity, a correlation which they argue stems from the rich using religion to discourage wealth redistribution.

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Prisoners who attend religious services have fewer disciplinary problems

Nicholas C. DiDonato 

Civil authorities have long wondered what leads some prisoners to reform themselves and go on the path towards good citizenship, while others become lifetime prisoners through repeated offenses. While any answer to this question involves many variables and dimensions, religion’s role continues to be a matter of great dispute. Seeking a balanced analysis, criminologist Kent Kerley (University of Alabama at Birmingham) and colleagues argue that after controlling for demographics, criminal history, and self-control, frequent attendance at religious services predicts reduced prison deviance.

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Do you believe in magic? Seriously.

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Magic

No self-respecting defender of science would admit to believing in magic. Science has surpassed magic by providing real explanations. Yet, when put in the right situation, even these defenders betray an affinity for magic. Psychologist Eugene Subbotsky (Lancaster University, United Kingdom) has compiled a series of studies to argue that belief in magic begins in the consciousness of children (who explicitly accept it) and then persists by living in the subconscious of adults (who explicitly deny it).

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Interview: Michael Ruse on Evolution, Creationism, and Religion

Daniel Ansted

Creationism vs Evolution

Michael Ruse is a professor of philosophy at Florida State University and a worldwide expert on the relationship between religion and science. His work has focused especially on the convoluted relationship between the American public and Darwinian evolution; he famously testified in McLean vs. Arkansas in 1981 that creation science – a form of Christian creationism that claims to be scientifically valid – should not be allowed in public science classes, because it features virtually none of the characteristics of true science. Contributor Daniel Ansted studied under Ruse during his time at FSU, and recently asked his former mentor for an interview. Here is their (slightly abridged, and still fascinating) conversation.

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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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Europeans increasingly drawn to the occult

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Many atheists see Europe as a trend-setter for the rest of the world: Europe has become less religious over the years, and soon the rest of the world will follow (if it manages to become so enlightened). However, simply because Europe has become more atheistic does not mean it has become a bastion for reason and science. As research by European ethnologist Sabine Doering-Manteuffel (University of Augsburg) suggests, belief in occult forces is growing in Europe.

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Why atheist scientists bring their children to church

Nicholas C. DiDonato

The formula seems simple: parents pass down what they believe to their children. Atheist parents don’t believe in God or go to church, therefore…. Yet, a surprisingly large number of atheist scientists from elite universities raise their children in a religious community such as a church. Sociologists Elaine Ecklund (Rice University) and Kristen Lee (University of Buffalo, SUNY) found that these atheist scientists do so because they want to give their children religious choice, have a religious spouse, or think that religious communities will give their children moral bearings and community.

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