“Empirical Perspectives on Religion and Violence”

“Empirical Perspectives on Religion and Violence” May 21, 2019


On St. Salvator's quad
A view of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where Russell Kirk and David Larsen earned their doctorates, where N.T. Wright currently serves as a research professor, and where I spent a remarkable week in 1976, hanging out with, among other folks, several once and future Nobel laureates in economics.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


A potentially significant article recently appeared on a certainly controversial topic:


Joshua David Wright and Yuelee Khoo,  “Empirical Perspectives on Religion and Violence,” Contemporary Voices: St Andrews Journal of International Relations 1/1 (2019)): 1–26.


The authors examine the claim that religious faiths are more inherently prone to violence than secular ideologies are and, following an evaluation of the scientific literature on religion and violence, argue that wherever evidence appears to link specific aspects of religion with aggression and violence, these aspects are not unique to religion. To the contrary, these aspects are religious variants of more general psychological processes. Further, there are numerous aspects of religion that actually buffer against — that is, they tend to reduce — aggression and violence among its adherents. The most distinct feature of religion, supernaturalism, is not often the focus of researchers on religion and violence. Despite this, the paucity of research that has been conducted on this key feature suggests that supernaturalism is associated with reduced aggression and violence. There appears very little support for the notion that there is something uniquely religious that causes violence among followers.  (Based on the authors’ abstract; emphasis mine.)


In connection with the article, a fellow academic in the American Southeast kindly called my attention a few days ago to an account of the backstory behind its publication, thinking (correctly) that I would find it interesting:


“How An Academic Article On Violence And Religion Almost Got Unpublished For Political Reasons: An interesting case study in politics and science colliding in an unhealthy way”


Incidentally, the opening paragraph of this second, background, article makes a point that I myself have sought to make multiple times in the past.  It seems obvious and entirely non-controversial to me, but a few readers wax indignant at it:


“It’s neither original nor radical to point out that all science is, to a certain extent, political. Science is a human endeavor and all human endeavors entail politics in one sense or another. So the questions of which academic researchers enjoy widespread publication and which ones watch helplessly as their careers languish, and of which areas of research get a great deal of attention and which are neglected, are tied up in politics — always. Usually, the forces that politicize science remain somewhat in the background. Quiet decisions are made for questionable reasons, and the process is obscured to the public.”


Posted from Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, England



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