Religion makes cooperation a winning strategy

Connor Wood

FirewalkingHuman life depends absolutely on cooperation. Unlike other animals, we don’t have big fangs, sharp claws, or leather-thick hides. Instead, we have our ability to work efficiently with each other. In modern industrial civilization, we take this flair for cooperation to the next level, depending each day on thousands of strangers to bring food to our cities, keep the roads clean, and mine coal to power our homes. And it just might be religion that makes this all possible.

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Liberal Buddhism: at the boundaries

Connor Wood

modern_buddhism

In Europe and North America, most religious people are Christian. This means that debates between theological liberals and conservatives in these countries are often about things like the divinity of Christ, the validity of other world religions, and the existence of Hell. But a team at Boston University has been researching patterns in ideology that transcend just the Christian tradition, and contemporary Buddhism offers a powerful example of how conservative/liberal differences play out in non-Christian faiths. A series of innovative websites on Buddhist culture and secularism demonstrates exactly how.

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Mountains and mysticism

Connor Wood

mountainReligions make some pretty outrageous claims. Many traditions assert that angels have visited important people here on Earth. Most insist that life after death is real. But one fact about religious claims that’s often lost in contemporary debates is that even the wildest religious propositions don’t just come from out of the blue. They often arise, as theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher pointed out, from religious experiences. And researchers from Israel and Switzerland think that many of these experiences may be triggered by high-altitude environments on mountainsides.

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Animals have empathy too!

Connor Wood

AwwwwwwwYou come home from a long day, tired and worn out. The boss chewed you out, so you’re also anxious and blue. You flop down in your recliner, reach for the remote – and feel the familiar, loving nuzzle of your faithful dog. It’s a heartwarming image, but does your dog’s concerned-sounding whining and extra attentiveness really mean he feels empathy for you? New research – and one local news story – hint that the answer may be yes, raising questions about the origins of empathy, altruism, and other traits often associated both with humanity and with religion.

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Religious Americans: science is mostly okay

Connor Wood

Religion_vs._scienceTo believe the hype around science and religion, you’d think that nearly all religious folks in the United States were sunlight-fearing science-haters. And in fact, most social scientists assume that conservative religious people reject all basic scientific methods of gaining knowledge, preferring instead to stick with Scripture and religious authority. But new research makes a different claim: according to John H. Evans of the University of California, San Diego, religious Americans accept science in general – and are often highly scientifically literate – but they distrust scientists in a few key areas where the theological stakes are high.

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Why the feud between Darwin and religion?

Connor Wood

Darwin

In 2009, the world marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the bushy-bearded biologist known for being the first to articulate the theory of evolution by natural selection. His tome On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, forever changed how people think about their place in the world. But despite near-universal scientific acceptance of his theory, if Darwin were alive today he would find himself surrounded by enemies, particularly among religious believers in the United States.

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Medicine and religion – Part II

Connor Wood

Physician_prayerIn December 2011, the Journal of Behavioral Medicine dedicated an entire issue to studies focusing on religion, spirituality, and health. Many of these papers attempt to correct shortcomings in the previous religion-health literature, including a lack of good theoretical grounding and lack of longitudinal, or long-duration, research methodologies. This is Part II of a two-part article summarizing and reviewing the studies from this issue. [Read more...]

Medicine and religion, Part I

Connor Wood

Recently, researchers have gotten serious about studying the effects of religion on health. For decades, there were abundant studies that seemed to link church attendance with better health and lower mortality, but investigators weren’t sure what those connections might mean. Was religious activity actually causing better health among adherents, or were there other factors in play? As part of current efforts to address questions like these, the Journal of Behavioral Medicine recently devoted an entire issue to exploring the concrete relationship between religion and measures of physical and mental well-being.

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Religious beliefs affect neural self-processing

Connor Wood

Nerve cellIt’s one of the most basic human experiences. The world and I are different things – the world is out there, and I’m looking out at all the action. But this division might not be so strict for everyone. Researchers in China have discovered that people from different cultures show distinctive patterns of neuronal activation when asked to think about themselves. Specifically, Tibetan Buddhists do not exhibit the typical brain activity associated with concepts of a self. This suggests that religious beliefs directly affect not only our neurology, but our fundamental experience of the world.

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Richard Dawkins to debate the Archbishop of Canterbury

Joel Daniels

Sophia_Europa

Oxford University has announced that it will host a debate between famed science writer and atheist Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The event on February 23rd, which will be webcast live here, is sponsored by the Oxford theology faculty. The theme of the debate is “The nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin,” and it will be moderated by Anthony Kenny, a philosopher at the university.

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