How much are your sacred values worth?

Connor Wood

Value

The best things in life can’t be bought…but everyone has his or her price. The age-old wisdom about values and money can be contradictory. Fortunately, new research from both sides of the Atlantic helps clear things up – scientists using brain scanning technology have found that people will give up some values for money but not others. The values that people won’t sell light up regions of the brain associated with rules, not with utilitarian choices, implying that those values aren’t the products of mere cost-benefit analyses. Some “sacred” choices and values, it seems, just aren’t for sale.
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Religion: is it sexist?

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Sexism

For many in the West, religion seems to oppress women. Conservative Christians not uncommonly reject the idea of female clergy, educators, and leaders. While this may (all too) roughly characterize Christianity, the question remains as to whether other religions fare any better. Drawing upon world-wide data, covering most of the world’s religions, Stephanie Seguino (University of Vermont) indeed found a correlation between how one views the importance of religion (whichever religion that may be) and one’s attitudes about gender inequality.

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Religion may reduce anxiety response

Connor Wood

ANXIETY

You’ve felt it before: the embarrassed, self-conscious realization that you’ve just committed a major error, made a mistake when you should have been performing better. We all experience this unpleasant feeling. Measuring electrical activity in the brain, researchers call it “error-related negativity,” relating it particularly to a part of the midbrain called the anterior cingulate cortex. New research indicates that religiousness may reduce activity in this part of the brain, physiologically buffering people against their own mistakes. Most interestingly, the source of this effect may be the generation of meaning itself.

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Political views may affect how we pray

Jonathan Morgan

Old_lady_prayer

On the brink of election season, it’s sometimes easy to imagine that liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds. But does this mean that they also pray differently? Past research has shown that personality is directly linked with both political worldview and religiosity. This connection is examined more closely by new research on how liberals and conservatives pray. They differ, but not as we might expect.

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Darwinism: It’s true. But it ain’t pretty

Connor Wood

Dangerous lionFor the scientifically literate, few things are as confusing as the persistent, even rabid refusal of millions of Americans to accept the theory of evolution by natural selection. How, the science-minded want to know, can these blubbering know-nothings ignore the vast body of evidence that supports Darwinism? How is it possible for them to trust a millennia-old Hebraic tribal legend over the hardworking efforts of countless brilliant scientists? Are they simply that stupid? The viscerally satisfying answer to that last question might be “yes.” But as a researcher, I believe the reality is far more complicated.

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Rituals may affect memory in different ways

Connor Wood

shaman_ritual

Do you remember what you were doing when you heard about the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001? How about the details of the pastor’s outfit at your wedding? Memory is powerfully affected by the contexts and circumstances within which we form our memories, but perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the rites and rituals that undergird religion. István Czachesz, a researcher the University of Helsinki, Finland, thinks that affecting memory may be among the most important functions of religious rituals.
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Gamma waves help meditation change the brain

Connor Wood

Gamma_waves

Long-term meditators know that meditation can change people’s experience of the world, usually for the better. Highly experienced practitioners of meditation often report greater feelings of equanimity, patience, and compassion for others – even at times when they’re not meditating, such as during the workday or at dinner with family. Now researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany say they have an explanation for the new states of consciousness that arise as a result of meditation – gamma brain wave states, associated with expert-level meditation, assist in the reshaping of brain structures that persist beyond actual periods of meditation.

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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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