Don’t understand religion? Experiment with it.

As William James reminded his readers a century ago, our internal mental states and attitudes don’t arise independently of our actions. If you want to make peace with the oddity of other people’s religious worlds, start by stepping, even ever so lightly, into those worlds – and the concrete actions that make them possible. Read more

Is science more “unnatural” than religion?

Is religion more “natural” than science? Cognitive scientist Robert McCauley says yes, because religion depends on our brains’ basic default intuitions. Science, meanwhile, requires us to challenge our cognitive defaults. But are things really this clear-cut? Read more

Big changes are coming to politics in America. Here’s why

Libertarians and social conservatives are headed for divorce. So are liberal Democrats and working-class minorities. The reason why? Simple: religion and tradition versus individualism. Burke versus Locke. And communitarianism versus radical personal autonomy. Read more

Being powerful makes you think analytically

There’s a causal relationship between social pecking order position and analytical cognition – so it’s worth thinking about how this potentially thorny relationship plays into real-world debates about scientific issues. For an analytical enterprise like science to make personal contact with everyday human people, we’d do well to remember that displays of social power can be alienating. Read more

An historian’s call to understand and engage creationists

We can no longer pretend that the disagreement about the origin of species is only a scientific debate, because to creationists it is much, much more. For those of us who think that evolution is currently the best explanation of the origin of species, understanding and engaging with the moral and religious aspects of the creationist worldview is paramount. Read more

Sinai and Synapses: A video about studying religion

Together with my friend and colleague Tim Maness, I made a couple of videos last week on the relationship between science and religion. They went up yesterday at Sinai and Synapses as part of its “More Light, Less Heat” initiative, and again today at the Huffington Post. Read more

The Nye-Ham debates, or why fundamentalism exists

The people who think the world was created in six days six thousand years ago are Just. Plain. Wrong. By hinging their sense of meaning in life to this ludicrous cosmogonical error, creationists are doing more and deeper damage to the life of the spirit in this age than any Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett could ever do for them. Read more

Holden Caulfield and the Super Bowl

Is the Super Bowl stupid? Sure. But let’s stop the Holden Caulfield Syndrome of mocking it to show we’re superior. Because athletics is ritual and subjunctive play, and all rituals – all social conventions – are are objectively arbitrary and irrational. Like life, sports are a consensual brotherhood of the absurd. Read more

Spirit possession: everyone’s doing it

Anti-religion writers and cognitive scientists of religion alike tend to consider religion as if it were mostly sets abstract, linguistically representable propositions, like “God exists” or “Jesus saves.” But spirit possession shows us that if we really want to tackle the question of what religion is and why we humans have it, we have to look squarely at practices that don’t fit into our own, Western cultural schemas. Read more

My employer: The Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion

The Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, also known as IBCSR, is an independent research institution. IBCSR researchers make use of a staggering variety of different research tools and methods, drawn from a number of fields, to study religion from biological, cultural, and evolutionary perspectives. Read more

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