Rituals boost self-control

Maybe you’ve heard of the “marshmallow experiment” for testing people’s self-control. In this classic psychology study, scientists offered young children a choice: either eat a single marshmallow immediately, or wait for a few minutes and get to eat two. Findings have shown a remarkable correlation between children’s ability to delay gratification and a plethora of positive outcomes later in life, from higher SAT scores to better physical health. But where does self-control come from in the first place? A new… Read more

Religious beliefs are a kind of play

Why do people believe in God or gods? One philosopher argues that religious beliefs are actually more like play or metaphor than literal claims. Read more

Science and religion really are in conflict, people

The culture of science breaks ties with the past, while religion cherishes them. So for those who need a coherent meaning in life, science can be rough. Read more

Cognitive biases don’t explain religion, after all

A new study finds that the reason why Slovakians are religious, but their close neighbors the Czechs aren’t, is because of culture – not cognitive biases. Read more

In New Zealand, religion reduces prejudice – but media inflames it

In New Zealand, strongly religious people have less prejudice for Muslims and immigrants. But nightly news-watchers feel more prejudice and less warmth. Read more

Cool new research in religion

If you ever want to get seriously frustrated, I suggest getting advanced graduate training in religious studies. Why’s it frustrating? Because everyone thinks they understand religion already. Seriously, biologists don’t sit down next to strangers on airplanes, let slip that they’re biologists, and then find themselves subjected to a 10-minute lecture on their seat mate’s poorly informed ideas about cellular signaling pathways. But the equivalent happens to people who study religion all the time. You say, “Oh, I study ritual… Read more

Is a global community really possible?

This was supposed to be an era of globalism and tolerance. But if we want the global community to seem real, we have to use ritual and myth to make it real. Read more

Is a secular America a worse America?

After centuries of being more religious than other Western societies, the United States in the 21st century is becoming more secular, with attendance and membership in most mainline churches plummeting. Many secularist writers have lauded this development, arguing that a less religious America will be a more open and tolerant – in short, more liberal – one. But in a fierce, tightly-argued online op-ed, Atlantic editor Peter Beinart raises the question of whether this decline in traditional religiosity might be,… Read more

A computer model of atheism?

Will secularism continue to grow? Computer models suggest that the answer worldwide is “not really.” Read more

Want to study the science of religion? Start with this MOOC

A science of religion would help us understand some baffling things. Why do otherwise normal people spend thousands of dollars to flock from halfway around the world to Mecca? What’s with all the fasting and ritual? Why do people people pray to invisible personalities? None of these questions is simple, but a growing community of researchers from diverse disciplines is buckling down to try to answer them – scientifically. From cognitive science to social psychology to evolutionary modeling, the tools… Read more

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