Religious conservatism may be driven by the disgust response

Connor Wood

In today’s culture wars, religion plays a major role. And in the United States, it often seems to fall on the conservative side of the spectrum. For example, you hardly ever see rowdy hordes of secularists protesting against immigrants or gays, do you? Decades of research has confirmed that religion is correlated with mistrust of outsiders, sexual minorities, and other common targets of prejudice. But why? A new research paper has a fascinating, if unsettling, answer: conservative religiosity is partly an expression of our bodies’ need to protect against disease and germs – and throughout history, nothing has been a bigger source of new diseases than outsiders.

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Disgusting religion

Connor Wood

Disgusting_religion

When you think of the word “religion,” what comes to mind? Candles flickering in darkened chapels, cheerful baptisms, or ancient texts in dead languages? Sure, those images are pretty good. But how about disgusting bodily fluids and revolting lovemaking practices? Some types of Tantra, a variety of Hinduism often associated with the goddess Kali, enjoin practitioners to participate in some of the the most disgusting acts imaginable. And new research suggests that there might be important biological reasons for these behaviors. Specifically, disgusting acts transgress people’s innate biological desire to avoid pathogens, thus forcing a religious confrontation with death. (Warning: this article isn’t for the easily nauseated!)

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